"Mr. JD. Did you hear them? My pa and some other man talked to me. Mr. JD? Wake up. You promised!"
"Hey, Sara," JDs voice replied weakly. "I'm glad your pa found you. You do what they say. You're a good girl."
"They'll get you out, too." She shook his arm but the young man's stamina expired. Tears ran down her face. He promised not to leave her and he promised to take her riding. "Remember, you promised," she whispered.
Boards above her head moving made noise and she crawled closer to JD's head and the rock cellar wall to wait. A couple of boards fell down through the pile. The whole mess began to shake and a stranger descended into the hole.
"Hi, Sara. I've come to take you up to your ma and pa. They're waiting up top for ya." Vin sat in the rope harness smiling at the little girl.
"I'm not leaving without Mr. JD. We promised each other."
The tracker looked at his friend trapped between the two beams. The little girl sat on a small section of flooring that extended beneath JD's head while his feet dangled off the lower beam.
"Well, I want to get JD out as much as you do but I need help getting the wood off my friend. I need the room where you're sitting. Let me take you to your folks and then you can wait for us to bring up JD.
She looked at her companion's black hair and gently kissed the back of his head. Vin noticed the young man didn't stir. "You and JD been talkin' while you've been waiting?"
"He told me stories. He said I'm supposed to do what you say. Please help him."
Vin swung over to the little girl. He reached out to touch his friend's back and grimaced when he saw fresh blood on his hand.
"Come on sweetheart. Sooner we get you up, sooner we can get JD out, too." He signaled to the men up top and the two rode to the surface.
Sara hugged her mother and father while Nathan checked her for injuries. "Sara, do you hurt anywhere?"
"Just my leg." She pointed to her bare foot.
"Where's your shoe?" asked her mother.
"Mr. JD took it off."
Nathan felt her leg but it wasn't broken, only swollen. "This isn't your blood, is it child?" Nathan gently asked.
Chris and Vin discussed the status of their youngest member. "We need some way to pull that beam straight up. Any angle and JD will be crushed. It's wedged between the walls and squeezing his head and back."
"Is he alive?"
"We can only hope, Chris. There's fresh blood on his back but he ain't responding. If anything we ain't got much time. Besides the little girl and him promised not to leave each other. I don't know when the last time he talked to her."
Chris barked orders and several men from the town joined the assembled peacekeepers building a hoist. Ezra lowered Vin into the hole to attach the ropes to the upper beam. The men slowly lifted it while Vin helped from below to keep it level. As it rose Vin got his first look at the boy's injured body. JD's shirt, saturated with blood, stuck to his burnt back. A small board sat on his back, nails puncturing his skin. Other small boards sat between his legs, their nails piercing the wooden beam.
The men removed the structural member and attached a basket to the hoist before lowering it down to the tracker. Vin anchored it beside the injured man and carefully guided him into the basket. A faint pulse gave Vin hope but until Nathan verified it, Vin prayed all up top were joining him in asking for JD's survival.
"Larabee, why did you stop my men from cleaning up this mess? I want to get this debris burned before the winds pick up." Seth Voit voiced his anger at the delay as he joined the crowd around the small cellar.
Guarding his temper, Chris replied, "Voit, we just pulled little Sara Turner alive out of that hole. JD's still caught down there. Rather than bellyaching, have your men lend a hand and help us rescue that boy!"
"Is he alive?" the anger gone from the building owner's voice.
"We have to hope and pray he survives, Seth. I'll do anything to insure that. He rescued seven children from the fire who were trapped in your building. Now he's hurt bad but he still comforted the Turner's little girl until she could be saved. We owe him to try to get him out of that hole."
Voit and his men joined the others attempting to rescue or recover the young man. Debris came out of the small cellar. The rescuers could see the injured boy when Vin guided the basket's assent during its slow trip. JD's right hand tightly gripped a small high top boot, Sara's missing footwear.
"Mr. JD," Sara screamed when she saw her new friend. She wiggled out of her father's arms and ran to the group assessing the young man's injuries. Kneeling beside his head she whispered in his ear, "But you promised!"
= * = * = * =
"Nathan, how is the boy doing? The others are getting anxious, especially Buck."
"I don't know, Josiah. I just don't know. The burns on his back aren't all that bad; it'll be tender for a few days, but." The healer paused, apprehensive about his diagnosis, before looking into his friend's face.
"Them wounds on his back, Vin said a board full of nails was stuck into him, they're deep. I won't be surprised if'n they get infected."
"What's the bad news you ain't tellin' me?" The preacher could tell the healer hadn't explained all of JD's injuries.
"He hit that board awfully hard, then having that other beam land on him, well, he's bruised between his legs real bad. They're swollen, meanin' he's bleedin' inside, too."
"You mean his," Josiah gestured between his own legs, "they're damaged."
"Yep and I don't know how bad. His legs are discolored too. With so much pressure, I figured the blood to his legs was blocked. How bad, I can't begin to guess. This is a lot worse than when he got shot, Josiah. I just don't know how bad he is hurt. There's nothin' more I can do than to wait and watch for infections. I must of pulled fifty slivers out of his inner thighs. If he don't heal or his legs atrophy, we'll need to watch him real close. I suspect that's more than he could handle."
"Do you figure he and the girl ever did the deed?"
Nathan looked at the preacher and sighed, "I doubt it and now he may never have the chance."
The two men walked out onto the balcony outside of Nathan's room and joined the rest of the waiting lawmen. "How's the boy doing, Nathan?" Buck jumped up when the two men exited the room.
"Have a seat Buck. He's fine for now, he's got some problems and he ain't gonna be too happy about them when he wakes up."
"He's still out?" Chris asked.
Nathan nodded. "I wish he would wake up so I could get some water into him. The burns ain't all that bad but them nail holes got me worried. Vin, how long were they?"
"Pretty long, couple inches at least." The tracker held his fingers up indicating the length. "But there was lots of blood around them holes, too."
"How's his cranium? Did he get hit hard?"
"Nope, Ezra. That's another funny thing. If'n that beam held him from getting out, the way it bruised his backside why don't he have a knot on his skull."
"Too hard headed." Buck tried to smile but he could feel the unspoken worry emanating from the healer.
Vin shook his head, "No, there was this little piece of wood by his head. Must a protected it from getting hit by the beam, cause that piece of wood was wedged in there tight."
"Another miracle, brothers."
The men nodded in agreement with Josiah's declaration but Chris could see something troubled the black man. "That ain't all, is it Nathan?"
The healer frowned. "There's more." He explained the boy's injuries and each of the men cringed at the thought of their own anatomy suffering similar damage.
Nathan continued, "Now I'm not sure it's permanent but I'm worried when he come to that the shock will cause him to do something he may later regret. But," he looked directly at Buck, "hovering over him won't work either."
Buck got up and walked into the healer's room, needing to see the injured boy himself. "That was sure a foolish stunt you pulled this time, JD, and I'm damn proud of you rescuing them kids the way you did. Now I hear tell you promised that little Turner girl a ride. You got wake up and eat so you got the energy to keep that promise, son."
JD didn't move during Buck's little lecture. Laying on his side with a pillow propping him, the young hero slept unaware the other six men discussed his experience or lack of it with women. A couple of times he regained enough sense of the world around him to know he was out of the cellar but the darkness refused to let him gain full consciousness.
= * = * = * =
Two days later the summer sun illuminated Nathan's room, bathing the interior in a soothing yellow light. JD's eyes flickered and finally opened. No one else sat in the room though a gentle cooling breeze wafted through the open window. He could hear the normal sounds from the street but he wondered why he once again woke up in Nathan's bed.
Removing the pillow he tried to roll over onto his back only to stop because of the tremendous pain shooting up and down his legs. His back felt like a fire burned through it. Sweat broke out on his face and he glanced about the room looking for water. A glass full of the transparent liquid sat on the table a few steps away from the bed, beckoning the boy and he tried to get out of bed. The room kept spinning and his legs refused to support his weight, dropping him to the wooden floor. The noise alerted Vin who sat outside enjoying the cool breeze.
Upon entering the room he saw his young friend sprawled on the floor, blankets twisted around his ankles. "JD, you alright?"
"Water," a tired and hoarse voice replied.
Vin noticed the empty glass laying on its side, a puddle seeping into the wood surrounding it. "Let's get you back in bed. Then I'll get you some water." He helped the weak lawman stand and started to guide him back toward the bed when JD's eyes rolled and he hissed in pain.
"What happened to me?" he gasped as his injured body responded to movement.
"Just you out proving you're a hero again. It'll be best if you lay on your side. I don't think you're ready to be on your back yet." After situating the boy, Vin picked up the fallen glass. He wiped it clean on a towel and refilled it. Carefully lifting JD's head he helped him take a few swallows. The effort left the young man exhausted and he fell back into a healing sleep.
= * = * = * =
"I'm here to see Mr. JD. He promised he'd eat dinner with me." The little girl looked up at the tall healer, a basket tightly grasped in her small hands.
"That's mighty kind of you, Miss Sara. Let me go tell him you're here and then I'll come get you." He turned and went through the door while she sat down on the small bench to wait.
"Looks like you got company, son. Let's get you presentable for the young lady." Nathan grabbed a clean shirt and helped the pale lawman into it.
"This isn't really a good idea, Nathan. I don't want her to see me like this." JD's attempt to avoid the waiting child failed.
"A promise is a promise. Now I know you promised to take her riding but I doubt if you're up to that quite yet but the least you can do is eat some of the fine dinner she brought you." He helped JD sit up, supported by pillows. A light sheen of sweat glistened on the pale skin but the anticipated fever and infection had stayed at bay while the swelling and bruising had begun fading and healing.
"Sara, you can come in now," Nathan said as he opened the wooden door.
Dressed in a blue calico dress, Sara carried her basket to the bedside table.
"Hello, Mr. JD. Mama said you weren't ready to eat at the café with me so I helped her make something we can have here."
Shivering slightly as the perspiration evaporated he tried to smile at the small girl. "That's awfully nice of you and your mama."
"I made custard and Mama made the chicken. We both made the rolls." Sara chatted while she spread a red and white checked cloth on the small table. Pulling white plates and silverware out of her basket she added them to the table setting. Next a small vase with a wilted bouquet of wildflowers joined the dinnerware.
Nathan stood in the back of the small room and attempted to refrain from laughing at the girl's serious face while she tried to remember where everything properly belonged.
The aroma made JD's stomach rumble though he'd eaten very little since the fire and accident. "That's right pretty there, Sara, almost like the restaurant we talked about."
"Sorry about the flowers. They looked good when I picked them earlier." She continued pulling items out of the woven basket and placed them on the table. Soon the two plates held a variety of tempting foods and JD acknowledged his hunger for the first time.
Nathan brought a chair over to the table for Sara before excusing himself from the room to go get his own meal. She crawled up into the chair and bowed her head and JD followed her lead.
"Thank you Lord for this food and thank you for watching over Mr. JD and me when we was trapped. Help him get better real soon so we can go riding together. Amen."
JD sat looking at the little girl, no longer wishing he'd died in that cellar. They made a promise to each other, a promise that needed to be kept by both of them, a promise that he planned to keep real soon. 'Course his legs and Nathan would figure into the situation but he wasn't about to let them stop him now.
The chicken was cold and the custard runny. The rolls were hard and scorched on one side. It was the best meal JD ate in a long time and both the teenager and the nine-year-old girl enjoyed each other's company.
"Sara, come see me again real soon. I still plan to take you riding when I get better."
She smiled at him, lugging the basket to the door. "I can't wait for you to keep that promise, Mr. JD."
= * = * = * =
"I hear you had company for dinner today. Just the two of you, unchaperoned. Turner better be careful or his daughter's reputation will be ruined."
"Shut up Buck. Sara was here with me not you so there weren't any need for her folks to be worried." His eyes laughed at the older man's chagrinned face.
To see the enthusiasm return to his young friend's eyes might mean the boy's self-confidence could recover, too. "Looks like the little lady's visit did you a world of good."
A cloud descended over the younger man's face at his friend's implication.
"Yeah, about all I'm good for. Visiting with children."
"JD, don't start talking like that. You're healing. You didn't get an infection. The bruises are fading. Why don't you think the rest will heal, too?"
"Buck, you've got to be kidding. Nathan might as well cut the damned things off as much good as they'll do me now. You ever seen a stallion settle anything after getting kicked. No woman is ever gonna want to be with the likes of me.
"You're probably right, JD. Who would want to be with a self-centered, complaining, quitter when they could be with a real hero, ready to put his own life on the line to saves others and who keeps his promises too?" Buck stared at the man lying in the bed, a white bandage surrounding his middle. Healthy, pink toes stuck out from under the blanket. "Tomorrow how about we try keeping the rest of your promise?"
= * = * = * =
JD leaned against the fence, self-conscious of his limitations. Sara praised his riding ability back when they were trapped. Now here he was about to make a fool of himself in front of the whole town. He could feel the townsfolk's eyes watching him through their windows, waiting for him to embarrass himself. Was he ready to fork a saddle? Would it hurt? Riding was his most favorite activity and to loose the opportunity to be one with his horse would be worse than loosing his own arm or leg. Was riding worth the risk of loosing something else just as precious?
Buck led their horses from the livery with the saddles already in place. "Ready to give this a try, JD?"
"Sure," his voice said in agreement while his eyes and legs opposed the plan.
"Need a boost," Buck offered.
JD looked around and saw the deserted street. None of the other peacekeepers gathered to watch him, not even Nathan. He took a deep breath and using his arms he pulled himself up into the saddle in one swift movement. Settling into the leather seat that conformed to his own body, he felt his confidence return. Maybe he could keep his promise to Sara Turner and take her for a ride. He knew he wasn't ready for a galloping ride across uneven terrain but a slow gentle lope with the little girl could be done. He'd be careful and in time his body would heal. Slowly walking his horse, he rounded the corner nearest the jail. Sitting, standing and leaning on the porch the rest of the seven smiled as he rode by. JD had a promise to keep.
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|Promises are important. At Christmas we celebrate a promise fulfilled. Hope you enjoyed this. Merry Christmas|