Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Closer Than Brothers - Chapter Ten

It's NOT a romance. It's not a comedy.
It's not a western. No ropin' and ridin' anywhere.
Part #10 of 13 episodes of how my heroes from Trouble in Texas met
and how they became so loyal to each other.
Book #3 Stuck Together --Vince's story--releases in June 3.

Closer Than Brothers

Chapter Ten
Luke—The Kid

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Callie kept feeding him and Luke was gaining strength and staying awake longer each day. He still hadn't seen Pa, but Callie said he came in everyday and Luke was just sleeping through the visits. They'd manage to see each other real soon.

            Then he woke up to his shoulder being gently shaken and saw a skin-draped skeleton. Ghastly. He yelped.

The skeleton smiled. “You’re alive, Kid.”

Jonas.

“Why are you bald?” Luke couldn’t believe that was the first thing that came out of his mouth. Probably better than asking why Jonas was a skeleton. He’d thought he’d never see any of his Regulator friends again.

“You’re next thing to bald. Haven’t you noticed?”

Luke raised a hand, saw how it trembled and dropped it to the blanket shocked and embarrassed to show such weakness.

He looked up to see if Jonas had noticed. Jonas was busy getting Luke a glass of water.

His friend showed no concern for Luke’s tender belly like Callie had, he let Luke drink deep. The water went down and seemed to soak into a desert. His mouth and throat almost absorbed it before it got to his belly.

“More.”

Jonas was up and gone and back with more water before Luke could tell him not to leave.

It was probably good that Luke had been given a few moments break because his stomach heaved a bit from the big gulp of water, even though it didn’t seem to hardly get there. This time Luke was less desperate and he drank more slowly, the way Callie always made him. He finished the whole glass a sip at a time. When it was empty, Luke’s gut felt stretched full.

Then Luke noticed Jonas’s baldness again and reached for his own face and head. “I've got bristles on my head. Who cut it? Who shaved me?”

“All of us in the hospital got sheered like sheep. We were crawling with lice and fleas. Part of bringing us into this hospital was throwing all our clothes away and shaving us and bathing us in harsh soap. They did it so we wouldn’t start re-infecting each other with whatever vermin we were carrying.”

“A bath.” Luke sighed. “I’d have liked to have been awake for that.”

“You’ll be awake for your next one.” Jonas ran his hand over his freckled face and his bald head.

“How long was I unconscious?”

“I asked around and they told me you’ve been more asleep than awake for nearly a month,
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Luke. So you've had a month to grow some hair back. They shaved me just last night."

“The war ended a month ago?”

“Yep. We were liberated from the camp in May and it’s June now. Your fever broke about four days ago. I’ve been talking with a chaplain in here who brings me word and he said you’d woken up. It took me until now to sneak in and see you. Dare tried to get in here as a medic right when we were liberated but they told him he wasn’t a real doctor and he was too weak to be of much help and they tried to drag him on a train. He barely got away. He and Vince and I have been hiding out ever since trying to figure out how to see you.”

“You’re all still here?” Luke felt a shocking, almost uncontrollable urge to cry. He knew just how sick he was because tears were unthinkable.

“They caught Big John and shipped him off to Texas. He's just no good at hiding." Jonas smiled. "But the rest of us are still here. We couldn’t just go. Not with you at death’s door. They're trying to get rid of everyone they can, though. They don’t have food nor shelter to spare.”

“You’re not still going hungry are you?” Horror crept up Luke’s spine to think of how long they’d all been hungry and now, when his friends could finally eat, to think they’d go without in order to see him.

“No, we’re doing all right. Vince figured out a way to get money. Not easy in the chaos around here. But he’s a wily one. He got us set up with a decent place to live and we're well fed."

"Invincible Vince. It figures he could find money and food and clothes in a place with none of those things."

"He didn't even work too hard at it," Jonas said with a fond smile. "But we have to stay clear of the Army. They want everyone to go home. Even the soldiers in the hospital are starting to be released now, so things have started to ease up. We had to cook up a plan to get one of us admitted to this hospital.”

Luke looked at Jonas. “You’re so skinny you look like a corpse that’s been dead and buried for six months. How hard could it be to get yourself thrown in a hospital?”

Jonas shrugged. “I’m good compared to you and a lot of others. Vince came up with the way to get in. Dare and Vince cut their hair and shaved but I didn’t.  There are ways to get the vermin out without having to sheer yourself, but the army isn't exactly interested in making you pretty. So we were doing fine. Anyway, you know I've had fever and ague and it's come and gone a few times, but never been serious. So we saved my old clothes and waited. Last night here comes my fever. I put my old clothes back on, and with my wild hair and ragged clothes, I staggered in here and was sick enough and looked bad enough to satisfy them. They shaved me, burned the clothes and slapped me in bed. The fever didn’t last, but no one’s noticed yet. I waited until everyone left and snuck over to see you.

“I’m sorry to wake you up. I reckon that’s the wrong thing to do to a man as sick as you, but I had to talk to you, see with my own eyes that you’re mending. How anyone as thin as you can be called better.” Jonas shook his head. “Only men who’ve spent time in Andersonville would believe how much the human body can endure.”

“I look as bad as you do, then, huh?” Luke asked.

Jonas nodded. "Worse."

Luke flinched. “I’d like to see Vince and Dare.”

“I’ll see if maybe I can slip them in." Jonas clapped Luke on the shoulder, but gently. "They’ll get caught and swept away, sent home, but maybe they can say goodbye before they get dragged off. We decided if at least one of us could see you, and report back, we’d be satisfied with it. But they want to come and look at you with their own eyes. You had us real scared, Kid.”

Luke was almost used to the ridiculous nickname, but out of habit he said, “Stop calling me Kid.”

Jonas smiled. “I’ll get Dare and Vince in if I can. If not, you can write to them at home.  I stuck a piece of paper with their addresses in your stack of clothes on your bedside. That’s where they’re both heading.”

“So Vince is really going to Chicago? He swore he’d never do that.”

Jonas frowned. “He doesn’t want to. Bad blood between him and his father. But he has to go somewhere he can rest and fatten up for a while. He may not be well enough to get a bed in this hospital, but he’d a mighty weak man. He needs good care for a while. He has to regain his strength and put on about a hundred pounds.”

Luke wanted to go home so badly. How could Vince dread it so much? “My pa is here to get me. I’ve seen Callie, and she said Pa had been in, too. I must’ve slept through his visits so far. But he came all this way. I fought with him all the time before the war, but I’m so lonely for him and for the ranch. I’m a changed man. I’m going to be the best, happiest son you’ve ever seen.”

“Glad to hear it, Luke. If I don’t see you again and if Dare and Vince can’t get past the door, you’ll hear from us somehow. We know you’ll be in Broken Wheel, Texas. We’ll be writing to you. Right now, before another minute passes, in case I get thrown out of here or we get separated somehow, I'm making you a promise Kid. If you ever need help, you only need to let me know. The way we stuck together in prison has created a bond between us that is closer than brothers. I said this to Vince and Dare and they feel the same." Jonas closed his hand on Luke's arm.

Luke felt that connection. He could never love a brother more. "I would be honored to help any of you, if you had need. I owe you my life and it's a debt I will gladly repay. You tell Dare and Vince that goes for them, too."

Jonas nodded. "I will. If you don't hear from me right away, don't give up. I'll be a while finding a place to settle. Unlike all of you, I don’t have a home.”

“Come to Texas with me,” Luke offered.

Jonas’s brow furrowed. “I’m feeling lead to the west as my mission field.”

“Texas is west.”

“It is that, Kid. But I’ve got an offer with a Missionary Society out of St. Louis. It’s the door that’s been opened for me. I’m heading to Missouri and letting God lead me onward from there. If I get close to Broken Wheel, Texas, I’ll stop in and see this ranch you’re so fired up about.”

"Aren't you going home first, to see your little sister? After all those letter she wrote."

"I don't dare. I'm a wanted man back in Ohio. I might be arrested."

"After all these years? And after serving in the Army so honorably?"

Jonas shrugged, I just don't know and I don't know how to find out without going there and the first hint I might get is having shackles clapped on. I'd love to see Tina but she'll understand. I'm heading west." 

"I hope you end up in Texas." Luke smiled.

Jonas said, “And now, I know where they keep a pot of soup simmering. How about I get you something to eat?”

Luke’s stomach growled and he nodded and wished it was beefsteak instead of the watery soup Callie kept giving him.

“Have you seen my sister?”

Jonas looked around. “Nope. But I don’t even know what she looks like.”

“I think she’s helping, doing some nursing. The things they say Dare’s too sick to do.”

“I’ll keep my eyes open for her. That’s mighty fine of your family to come all this way to care for you, Luke. You’ve got good folks.” Jonas went to find the soup.

Luke nodded, his heart warm at the thought. As he lay there waiting for the food he dreamed of how it’d be when he went back to the S Bar S Ranch. Things would be better now. He was grown up. No more of the struggles between him and Pa. Pa was a stubborn one but now he’d know Luke was a grown man. They’d be partners not father and son. It’d be a new beginning.

He could hardly wait.

What had become of Callie? She’d been here at his side faithfully every time he’d awakened. But he didn’t see her today.

Of course Jonas had probably deliberately picked a moment when Luke had been alone.

It flickered through his mind that he hadn’t been awakened by Seth the Burning Man for a while. Of course Luke wasn’t real sure about time passing so maybe it hadn’t been long since he’d last gone to sleep.

But Callie had thought she could make the man be quiet and maybe she did have a knack.
Luke forgot all about it when Jonas came back with a steaming bowl of soup. It was hardier than what he'd eaten before. With more beef and vegetables in it. Luke ate it, determined to start gaining weight and get out of here.
 ~~~~~
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2 comments:

mary ellen goodwin said...

It's like breathing a sigh of relief to know everyone is alive and getting better. They are definitely a band of brothers.

Abbi Hart said...

Another great chapter! I love the closeness of these guys!