Beta Read By Carol Marsella
morning’s brilliance streamed through the window and danced its colourful
welcome across the room as the alarm
clock rang out the early morning demand to wake.
Slim quickly slammed his hand on the annoying contraption and silenced
it. He yawned and stretched the
night’s stiffness from his long lean body and glanced about the room. Young
Andy still lay curled in a tight ball in the bed next to him. His eyes drifted to the bed on the opposite wall; it
was empty. ‘Up with the birds as usual; does Jonesy ever sleep?’ As
he swung his feet over the side of his bed and onto the chilly floor and stood,
he gingerly made his way across to the window and viewed the new day.
‘Gonna be another beauty.’ He
quietly washed and pulled on his clothes, readying himself for another busy day
of hard work. Opening the door, he tiptoed out, smiling back at the still
form of his young sibling. ‘I’ll
let him sleep awhile yet.
He was right;
Jonesy was already busy in the kitchen. The smell of freshly brewed coffee and
sizzling ham reached out and beckoned its welcome to those in need.
“Don’t you ever sleep, Jonesy?” Slim asked ruefully as he poured himself the first and very much-needed cup of the day.
“Course I do, Slim. You just don’t notice cause you’re too busy sleeping yourself,” he quipped, and the two men chuckled.
Just as Slim
was about to pour himself a refill of the morning’s life giver, he noticed the
dirty cup and plate already in the washing up bowl. Even before he would get the query out, Jonesy was there with
the barn. Don’t know what’s
wrong with that boy lately. Had the
coffee brewing and eating eggs afore I even got up.
Didn’t look like he slept much either,” Jonesy remarked shaking his
head, his face marked with concern as he ushered Slim to sit and placed the
greasy plateful before him.
As he ate,
Slim’s thoughts wandered to his friend and the growing concern he felt for him
that consumed every fibre of his being. ‘It’s
that darn letter he got last week. Wish
he’d open up about it. Best not
to press him, he’ll likely tell me when he’s ready.
Just wish he’d let me in. He
paused in thought. ‘Who
am I to talk?’
right. It was the letter.
As he entered the barn, he caught a brief glimpse of Jess deeply
engrossed in the now crumpled pages.
the familiar fall of Slim’s footsteps and crammed the papers into the inside
pocket of his jacket.
“You’re up kinda early aren’t you, Jess? Anything wrong?” Slim asked casually, hoping he could lure Jess into confiding in him.
turned with a weak attempt at a smile but Slim could sense his turmoil and ached
to know what was troubling his friend.
just couldn’t sleep,” Jess responded, “so I thought I would make an early
forward and put a brotherly hand on Jess’ shoulder. “You look tired, Pard.
You sure there’s nothing worrying you?” His concern was now evident.
smiled again, and this time it was the smile that Slim knew well; it was warm
and wide filling his entire face. “Stop your
worrying, Slim. I’m just fine.
Now let’s get to work. The day’s a wasting.”
With that, he put a hand on Slim’s shoulder and headed out of the barn
towards the corral, picking up the grooming brushes as he went.
* * * * * * * * * *
was how the fateful day had begun.
their work completed, Slim and Jess had settled on the porch to enjoy the
coolness of the evening. Slim was
much relieved in his own mind because Jess had finally confided to him the
mysterious contents of the letter.
A good friend
of Jess’, Thad Davies, had written the letter over two years ago and it had
only just caught up with him.
gotten into some kind of trouble with a man called Farley up Virginia City way
and had written asking Jess to ride up and check on his family. It seems,
Thad was concerned that Farley would take revenge on them once he discovered
that Thad had skipped town.
tried to convince Jess that, after two years, whatever Thad had feared
might happen probably already had, he could see the determination on his
friend’s face. Jess’ fierce
loyalty was one of the things that Slim admired most about him. Jess was very
guarded when it came to trusting people. But
his loyalty, once earned, was steadfast and unwavering to the last making
Jess a friend for life, no matter what. Slim could see the importance of this
past friendship in the concerned features of the young man seated next to him.
Maybe it was as important as their friendship was to Slim.
two of them sat in companionable silence until Slim finally asked the nagging
question to which he dreaded hearing the answer.
as Slim had expected. He was
heading up to Virginia City the day after tomorrow, and promised not to be gone
too long. In an instant, Slim’s
mood darkened and his whole body tensed at the prospect of running the ranch
alone and his life suddenly deprived of the ubiquitous presence of his
friend…his best friend.
over at his partner, knowing that his departure pained Slim.
It pained him too. The ranch was his home now; Slim, Andy and Jonesy were his
family and he’d miss them but Thad was his friend too, from way back, and Jess
needed closure to the letter and its contents.
Jess smiled at Slim asking for his understanding.
Slim’s reflective gaze gave Jess the reassurance he needed, or so he
thought. He was unaware of how this
departure was about to change their relationship and their lives forever.
to spend time with Andy the next day to explain things to him.
He also wanted time alone with Slim.
Their friendship was still young, fragile and important to him like none
other before, a feeling he couldn’t explain even to himself.
Jess wanted to ensure that Slim understood his need to revisit his past
to Jess, Slim was thinking the exact same thing about their friendship.
It had seen the test of many trials and separations thus far and had
withstood them all, their attachment growing deeper and stronger with each one.
He and Jess had only known each other for some eighteen months, not a
long time some might say, but to Slim it was as if he had known Jess all of his
born life. In such a short
time they had shared so much and learned so much together that they had become
more like brothers than friends. But
there was still one part of himself that Slim shared with no one, keeping it
tightly shut away against the world and intruding eyes. “Let’s take tomorrow
off and go fishing,” He suggested trying to sound light hearted and cheerful, though he
idea, Slim. It’ll give me time to
explain things to Andy, make sure he understands why I have to go and assure him
that I’ll be coming home.” ‘Home,’
Jess thought wistfully and his eyes shone as the word enveloped him.
understand, Jess. Andy has sure
grown up this past year.” Slim
stared into the darkness. He’d
miss these evenings with Jess, just sitting on the porch pouring over their day,
their dreams or just sitting together comfortable in each other’s company and
sharing thoughts of life. Finally,
he stood up and stretched his arms skyward.
“I’m for bed, Jess, how about you?
We’ll need to start out early, you know how them fish love to bite at
the first sunrise.”
stretched out in the chair and agreed but he was talking to Slim’s back.
He stood and let out a deep sigh of regret.
“I’m sorry, Slim,” he uttered, his voice barely audible as he
headed inside. Tomorrow would be a good day, filled with fun and laughter; he
would make sure of that. It would
be a day they could remember and he could hold on to through the days of
separation from family. He knew he
needed to deal with Thad’s trouble but the thought of leaving the ranch
suddenly made him feel desperately lonely.
* * * * * * * * *
packing food as Slim and Jess completed the task of stowing the fishing poles,
extra hooks and line on their saddles.
why’ve you gotta go, Jess? It’s
been years since your friend wrote you that letter.
He could be dead by now for all you know.”
Andy’s words stung deeply and Jess turned his face from the youngster
but Slim saw his friend’s hurt countenance.
sharply at his brother and nodded to Jess’ hurt visage. “Andy!”
in Slim’s voice made the young boy jump.
okay, Slim. Andy didn’t mean
anything by it, he’s just mad with my going.”
Jess looked at the scared youngster and held out a brotherly arm.
Andy stepped into the secure embrace and buried his face to hide the
tears of shame and regret that welled in his eyes.
want to go, Andy, but he’s my friend and you wouldn’t want me to let him
down, now, would you?”
Andy wiped an
arm across his teary face. “Course
not. It’s just…” he looked at
Jess, his friend, who had fast become like another brother.
Jess tousled the boy’s hair.
“I know, Tiger. I’ll miss you too.” He lifted his eyes and looked at Slim
as he spoke. “But I’ll hurry
back, I promise.” He smiled
reassuringly at his family and was gladdened to see the familiar glimmer creep
back into their eyes.
his own siblings when he was about Andy’s age, Jess felt a special
kinship towards him. Slim too for
that matter. The three were joined
in a very special way that none of them could explain.
smile crept slowly forth until it finally filled his whole face.
“Let’s get to them fish, Jess. I
have a real hankering for some fried fish for breakfast.”
let’s go then,” Jess said and he picked up Andy and dumped him like a sack
of potatoes onto his mount.
Jess and Slim
swung onto theirs and the three brothers raced out of the yard and up the hill,
the younger ones a whooping and a hollering, while Slim shouted back to Jonesy
that they’d be back at suppertime with a mess of fish for him to work on.
watched as the threesome rode out. He
quietly wished they’d have a good day and build some good memories, for he
knew the days of separation ahead would be hard on them all, especially on Slim.
A few hours
later they were contentedly settled by a welcoming fire, Slim tending a
pan filled with their early morning efforts.
Andy was paddling about in the rock pools along the bank, hunting for
toads, frogs or any other creature that could be caught and rewarded with his
loving care whilst being adopted into his ever growing menagerie back at the
Jess lay on
his side, leaning on his elbow near the fire, sipping on freshly brewed coffee,
his mouth watering at the thought of their breakfast. ‘Nothing like cooking
over an open fire and eating outdoors.
Food always seems to taste better in the open air, ‘ he thought as he watched Slim add butter and herbs to the sizzling
pan. He sat up and sniffed at the
inviting aroma that floated through the air.
“How’s it coming, Slim?” Jess
poked the mess of sizzling fish with his fork.
his wrist. “It’s fine, now be
patient,” he snapped harshly, much to Jess’ surprise and avoided Jess’
scrutiny as he concentrated on his task. The
silence that followed was deafening.
that something was up with his partner but wasn’t sure why or what had caused
it. On the ride out and whilst they
fished, he had been his usual jovial self.
But now for some reason unbeknown to Jess, as Slim sat in front of the
fire cooking their breakfast, his mood had changed. He was quiet and sullen, a
note of sadness about his eyes. How
could Jess alleviate the tension? It
had been a good morning’s fishing. They
had all been successful with their catch and as the sun rose, Jess had made a
proper camp and lit the fire as he and Slim settled to rest on the bank while
Andy went off on the ‘hunt’.
Jess sighed as he watched the young
boy paddling amongst the rocks. Andy
seemed content with his leaving, having today to spend with Jess and Slim and
that had obviously heartened the boy and Jess too.
Slim however, was a different and
unforeseen problem. He seemed to be taking the situation harder than usual and
Jess couldn’t reason why. So with
Andy off wading he took the opportunity to confront Slim while they were alone.
He looked across the fire at his friend and warmly smiled.
“You’re kinda quiet, Pard, something wrong?”
Slim didn’t answer but proceeded to
add more butter to the pan.
fully upright and reached for the coffee pot to refill his cup.
“You’re gonna tell me sooner or later, so why not make it sooner.”
He waited as he poured his refill.
Slim just sat silently and poked at the
fish, but he watched Jess out of the corner of his eye.
“Fish is ready, call Andy will ya?”
Slim asked as he briefly took his eyes from the pan then gazed out across
the water sipping the hot beverage and watching as the morning rays sparkled on
had never been a patient man and his bewilderment at his friend’s mood was
starting to annoy him. He wanted to
know what was going on and he wanted to know now.
“Not till you answer me, Slim,” his voice harsh and demanding.
you’ll wait a long time and this here breakfast you and Andy have been
hankering for will be spoiled,” Slim snapped back, finally looking Jess fully
in the face, then just as suddenly averted his gaze back to the pan and dishing
up their meal.
‘No use getting hot under the collar, Harper.
Play it cool, be patient,’ Jess commanded
himself. He had a very short fuse,
well at least he used to. He was mellowing some, and that was all due to Slim’s
influence. Working steadfastly on
his calm, Jess put his cup down as he stood up and stretched.
“Andy, breakfast!” he yelled and waved to the boy, who acknowledged
back as he struggled out of the water. Jess
looked down at his friend, and smiled. “Okay,
Pard, so it’ll be later”. He
sat on a nearby rock as a plate of the long awaited feast was thrust into his
never, cause there’s nothing wrong. Now
eat before it gets cold,” Slim huffed and glared.
did not flinch as Slim’s steely blue eyes flashed his annoyance as would most
meeting Slim’s anger. He simply
took the plate obediently and thanked his friend. Today Slim needed him and he
would be there, no matter how hard Slim tried to push him away.
finished breakfast and Andy washed their dishes, he persuaded Jess to wade in
the rock pools with him while he hunted for critters of interest.
Somewhat unsettled with Jess’ impending departure, he had decided that
having today with Jess would keep him in memories for a while.
After all, Jess insisted that he was only going for a short while and
would be back as soon as he possibly could.
In all the time Andy had known him, Jess had never lied to him and he
knew of no reason why Jess would start now.
So he set his mind on enjoying this day and showing Jess just how grown
up he could be, but deep down inside, Andy cried at the thought of the absence
of his friend and the anticipation of the fear, the same fear he felt every time
Jess went away, that he might not ever come home again.
poked about the water, Andy telling Jess all about the different plants and
critters they found. Andy loved
nature and anything that walked or crawled appealed to the young lover of God
given things. Andy attempted to
catch a very intriguing lizard, one he had not seen before, that scuttled from
its hiding place at their approach. As Andy made a grab for it, he lost his
footing and began slipping downward toward the briny deep.
In his attempt to keep himself from the inevitable drenching, he grabbed
hold of the nearest thing to him - Jess.
There was a
loud yell, followed by a huge splash. Slim,
pulled back from his thoughts and, with lines of worry appearing on his tanned
face, leapt to his feet at the commotion. As
his eyes scanned the area where he had last seen the two companions, he grew
anxious as there was no sign of them. Then,
suddenly there he was, his best friend coughing and spluttering as he surfaced.
Slim gave a sigh of relief and shook his head as Andy’s head
bobbed to the surface. The two laughed and splashed each other as they made
their way to the bank. His hands on
his hips, Slim was there to greet them as the dripping big game hunters began to
wade to the water’s edge.
least you got to have a bath before you left, Jess.”
Slim was trying hard not to grin and found it exceedingly difficult with
the vista before him.
- water trailing off every inch of him - looked to his wet companion and
grinned. Andy nodded and, before
Slim could dart out of the way, he was deluged by huge waves of water.
He desperately tried to move as he yelled at them but the bank was too
slippery and, yep, into the water he fell with a resounding splash.
So for the next few minutes the three reveled in the water, troubles
forgotten, just enjoying being together in this playful manner.
After a while, totally exhausted and hoarse from laughing, they hauled
themselves onto the bank trying to catch their collective breath as they lay on
the sweet smelling grass.
his head to look at his friends, his family.
‘If only they knew how much I’m
going to miss them.’ He stood
to his feet and smiled down at his soggy companions.
staring at?” Slim’s eyes
flashed, though this time mischievously. It was obvious he was hatching a plan
of revenge for his friend.
Jess wistfully replied. “Just
glad to see your smile, Pard.” ‘That
smile,’ Jess thought. That
smile had carried him through many a dark night to the lights of home.
That smile reassured him that he belonged to a family and was cared
about, even loved. Jess cherished
it and carried it with him always. Whether
he realized it or not, it was his key to home and it was as much a part of him
shook his head in bewilderment as he reached up to his friend.
Jess grabbed the proffered hand and hauled Slim to his feet.
“Best get out of these wet things, else we’ll catch our deaths,” he
said, and he turned to pull his young brother to stand next to him.
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