Well, I've been sitting here for about four hours now, with nothing to do but think. Or I guess I should say I'm talking to myself... hell, might as well be. Doesn't seem like anyone listens to me, anyway.
No, that's not true. I mean, sure, sometimes my mouth gets ahead of me, and by the time my brain catches up, I've said or done something stupid. But, hell, who doesn't from time to time. I imagine everyone does something stupid from time to time. Even Chris.
Of course I'd never ask him about it. I wouldn't point it out to him, either. I may be young, but I'm not stupid.
Buck would say different, though. To hear Buck tell it, I'm the greenest greenhorn who ever hit the territory. I doubt that's ever going to change. If I live to be a hundred, I'll be a greenhorn compared to the rest of them. That doesn't mean that I'm stupid or ignorant about things out here. Sometimes it pays to be seen as dumb; folks take the time to teach you things.
Vin's taught me a lot about tracking, hunting and shooting. He's also taught me about setting up a camp where you'll be safe if you're alone, and how to build a fire so it doesn't smoke. He's taught me that you take care of things on your own if you can, but that you also watch out for your friends and accept their help If you need it. And, along with Josiah, he's taught me respect for folks that are different.
Nathan's shown me a lot about healing herbs and poultices. That's handy out here, for sure; he's taught me a lot about things that can get you killed, too. Not guns and killers, but plants you need to stay away from, how to tell when water's bad, even some things about animals... bugs that can kill you.
Ezra's shown me a lot about how to read a man or read a room; to know when you can trust a man standing beside you and when you need to find the back door.
Josiah's taught me some about religion, but he's also taught me about different cultures. Sure, we had immigrants back East, but I never gave them much thought. They were usually working really hard at blending in, anyway. But out here, it's different. I'm the immigrant out here and I tend to stand out a bit more than I'd care too. But, with Josiah around... well, I won't get all flustered if I ever walk in on a bunch of naked Indians again!
Chris started teaching me the second we met. "You don't shoot no one in the back." I thought he was going to shoot me! But it's part of his code, and I figured that out pretty quick. See, I'm not a fool. When Raphael and that fancy pants, Don Paulo, were here he taught me a lot. I was pretty hot about it at the time but later, after I'd cooled off, I understood. Chris and Raphael were on opposite sides and, even though they were enemies, they respected one another.
Buck's shown me a lot about taking care of myself, too. Not just handing a gun, but how to handle life. How to watch a friend's back and hold my own in a gunfight. But, and sometimes I figure it's even more important, how to enjoy life. I think he enjoys life more than anyone I know. It's not just about bedding a lady, although he's bound and determined to teach me all about that, but how to just have fun.
Of course every time I start thinking about... bedding a lady... I start thinking about Casey.
I don't understand her. She drives me crazy sometimes, and I'm never certain what's going on. Well, most of the time, any way. After Annie... well, it was a long time before she'd talk to me after that. She was pretty upset after she caught me in the stable with that crazy Maddy Stokes, but after I got shot, she let it drop. For a while anyway. As soon as I was healed up and all, we had a long talk. Well, more like she talked and I listened. And she let me know just what she thought of the whole thing; let me know that if it ever happened again, we were through. I don't want that to happen. I care about Casey. A lot. I'm not certain if it's love or not, but I care about her. It's complicated.
Well, the sun's straight up, it's getting hotter than Hades, and there's not much shade to be had. Think I'll take a little nap.
The sound of horses approaching woke the young man up. He blinked sleep filled, hazel eyes opened and saw six horsemen silhouetted against the late afternoon sun. He smiled and waved as they drew near. "Hey, fellas. Wondered if you were gonna get here any time soon."
"You okay?" Buck knelt beside him, a concerned expression on his face and in his tone of voice.
"Been better." JD grimaced as his friend gently touched his leg. "Damn it, Buck!" He meant it to come out angrily, but instead it sounded a lot like a whine.
"Buck, get out of the way and let me do my job." Nathan was pushing the other man's hands away. Turning toward the younger man he asked, "What happened?"
"Horse got spooked by a rattler and threw me. That wasn't good enough, so he stomped on my leg before he took off."
"He came into town this morning, Kid." Vin understood how JD felt about his horse.
"Foot sore and saddle sore, but he'll be fine in a few days."
"Nathan, how is it?" Buck asked.
"Leg's broken - "
"I could have told you that, I tried to stand on it -"
"And he's got a pretty good gash from the hoof - "
"Even I can see that," Buck interrupted in a tone of exasperation.
"You two wanna shut up and let me finish?"
"Sorry," Dunne and Wilmington said in unison.
"If we can keep the gash from getting infected you should be fine in two, three months."
"Months?" There was that annoying squeak in his voice that appeared at the worst times.
"Better than lame forever. It's gonna be tricky getting the bone to heal straight and keep the wound clean. You're gonna be in bed for a couple of weeks, anyway.
"JD," Chris said in that quiet, warning tone. "You'll do what Nathan says, or I'll handcuff you to the bed myself."
Properly chastised, the youngest member of the group nodded, then sighed and looked away.
"Okay, I need you fellas to help out here. Ezra, can you go back into town and get a wagon?"
"Certainly." Standish had been quiet until then.
Looking closer, JD could see the concern on the man's face. It shocked him, but at the same time it warmed his heart. Then he took in the face of each man. There was worry and concern on every one of those faces. Men, hardened by life and experience, and they were worried about him.
With a sigh, JD laid back and let himself drift, feeling safe amongst his friends.
I've been laying here for almost two weeks, although I don't remember the first week much. I ended up getting a fever and got pretty sick. When I was awake, though I remember seeing every one of my friends at some point. Buck was sitting beside me the first time I woke up; he was wiping my face down with a damp cloth. It felt like ice to me, but it felt good, too. He talked to me for a long time, his voice soft and worried sounding.
Ezra was there another time, shuffling his cards and staring off into space. He smiled so wide when I said something that I could see his gold tooth. I guess he realized I was pretty fuzzy, he didn't even use so many big words that I had to stop and figure them out. Buck came out of no where, or at least it seemed like that to me, and he translated Ezra's words, even though I'd understood them all.
Josiah was there, praying, the next time I can recall. His voice was soft and so deep it sounded more like a rumble. I guess I was pretty bad off; he looked awful worried. When he saw that I was awake, he said something, but not to me. Then Buck was there, too, smiling and telling me I had better shake off the fever, because he had plans for both of us to go out to Eagle Bend. He'd heard there was a new saloon opening up, and that usually meant a new group of "sportin' women".
Once or twice I woke up to hear a harmonica. Vin would be sitting by the window, staring out at the sky and blowing into that noise maker of his. He doesn't play any tunes on it, just blows into it. He told me once that he wasn't interested in playing music, he just liked to listen to whatever sounds he could make.
Chris was there another time, reading. He was leaned back in the chair, his stocking feet propped up on the end of the bed. He seemed so relaxed, just sitting there reading. As soon as he figured out I was awake, he sat up, feet on the floor and the book set aside. He leaned forward and smiled. "Your fever broke a little earlier, how are you feeling?" I waited for Buck to show up again, but Chris told me that Nathan and Josiah had made him leave, because he'd been sitting with me for days.
Nathan was there most of the times I woke up, but I can't say I want to remember those times. He had to do all the poking and prodding, cleaning out my wound, forcing that snake piss he calls medicine on me. But, the one thing I don't want to forget is just how much he cared for me and how gentle he tried to be all the time he was caring for me.
Since my fever broke, they haven't been here as much, which is a shame. I could enjoy the company now.
Last night was the first time I could eat something more than broth for dinner. I was surprised when all six of them came into the room, carrying chairs and trays and bottles of whiskey. They all sat around my bed, talking and sharing news of the town with me. Vin told me that he was going to ride out in the morning - this morning, I guess - and let Casey know what had happened. I'm glad, because she probably figures I'm mad at her or something; I usually try to get out there every week at least.
After a while I just sat back and watched them. My friends. Men with pasts and reputations, men with scars on their bodies and their souls. They were sitting there, sharing stories and jokes and I knew that it was all for me. These men are my family.
And I'm a very lucky man.
December 16, 2007