The stars spread across the inky velvet of the night sky, glittering like frozen crystals, reminding Heyes of snowflakes. He laughed to himself. It was cold here in the desert, this time of the year, but probably not cold enough to snow. They had wandered up into the foothills of the Sierra Estrellas, but they would probably not see frost, let alone snow, even though the days of the year were winding to an end.
The thought of snow made a shiver roll down his back. He hunched further into his coat, and settled his hat lower on his brow. He was glad they had found enough money to come south for the winter. Looking across the cracking campfire, he saw that his partner was staring off into the brilliance of the night sky too. The solid silver band of the Kid’s hat glittered in the starlight. He had to grab at his brown Stetson as the mountain wind whistled by and almost whipped it off his head.
“Whatcha thinkin’, Kid?”
A surprised look crossed Curry’s face, and then an all too familiar closed visage presented itself back to Heyes. It wasn’t often that the Kid kept his feelings from him, but Heyes had seen the look on the Kid’s face more often than he could remember. And it was not only when he stood in the dusty street of yet another godforsaken western town.
“Why?” Blue eyes met his brown ones, giving away nothing.
Heyes simply shrugged. “I was just thinking I was glad we weren’t in Montana or Wyoming, under a couple of feet of snow.” He paused. “You seemed to be thinking more deeply than that.”
“Nothing.” A moment went by before the Kid continued. “Well, nothing new.”
The Kid cleared his throat. “You know, it’s getting close to Christmas.”
Heyes nodded. “Yeah, it’s almost the end of December, the nineteenth.”
Curry shrugged. “Guess I was remembering how our parents always made Christmas special, no matter how much money there was from the harvest. Or not.”
“Why are you thinkin’ on that?” Heyes tried not to scowl. “Other than it’s that time of year.”
Curry shrugged, and paused for a moment before he replied. “It was always something I wanted to do for my children.”
They were silent for a few moments. Only the crackle of the fire could be heard over the mournful sound of the wind.
“You still so certain?”
Heyes nodded definitively. “Yes. Gotta be.”
A couple of days later they made their way into a small community at the base of the mountains. Everyone was in a good mood, it being so close to Christmas. Even the sheriff, who looked smarter than most, just tipped his hat when he passed the boys in the street.
“I know it’s not as cold as it would be up in Wyoming.” The Kid still kept an eye on the sheriff as he made his way back to his office, while they stopped and tied up outside of the saloon. “But I have to say I’m glad we won’t be sleeping out on the mountain for Christmas.”
Heyes nodded, as they walked into the building and up to the bar. “A soft bed and hot meals are a good thing, no matter where we are.” He smiled as he held up two fingers to the portly man serving the beer. “Thank you kindly.” He nodded to the bartender, and took a big swig as he turned back to the saloon floor to view the current activity at the gambling tables. His smile grew larger. “And a profitable game of poker never hurts either.”
Christmas Day dawned crisp and cool, but the everpresent sun made everything seem warmer than it was. The boys had turned in exceedingly early for them the night before, as the saloon had actually closed before dawn. Most of the patrons were locals who had wives or at least bosses who had expected them to observe the solemnity of the holiday. Still Curry and Heyes had slept in late, enjoying the peace and quiet of the hotel, as most others staying there had found their way to church services.
Eventually the Kid’s stomach required them to rise, and see if they could scrounge up some sort of breakfast, as the cafe in town was closed that day.
Heyes was just buckling on his belt, and about to put on his hat, when the Kid pulled out a package wrapped in brown store paper.
“Merry Christmas, Heyes.” He handed the package to his partner. “It ain’t much, but I know you’d use them. Kind of needed some new, I think.”
A soft smile covered Heyes’ face. He glanced at his cousin with genuine affection. The Kid cleared his throat, and looked away as Heyes unwrapped the package. A half a dozen blue bandanas spilled out. He looked up at Curry, his smile wide and eyes sparkling. “You know me too well, Kid.” Heyes removed the well-used bandana he had tied around his neck that morning, replacing it with a fresh new one. He then turned and pulled out a rather large package wrapped in brown paper from under the bed. He turned and handed it to his friend.
“Merry Christmas back to you, Kid.”
Kid Curry sighed. “You know this is why we don’t usually exchange gifts, Heyes. This has to contain something worth a lot more than a handful of ‘kerchiefs.”
“And when’s that mattered, Kid? I’ve been very lucky at the poker tables this week, so I had to spend it on something.” He placed the package in the Kid’s hands, looking excited and eager. “Open it. You’ve sort of needed this for a while now.”
Appearing somewhat modified, the Kid sat back on his bed and untied the twine keeping the package together. As the paper fell back silver and turquoise glinted on a brown background.
“Do you like it?” Heyes asked as the Kid picked up the hat out of its wrapping and turned it this way and that.
“Yeah, I think I do.” The Kid tried it on and it fit perfectly. “Think I’ll have to break it in a bit, or this huge brim will make it fly away.”
“It’ll keep the sun off of you better.” Heyes scowled a bit as he went to pick up his black hat, sliver glinting off the conchos. “That old hat of yours never really fit you well.” He settled his hat on his head, swiping back the sides, as was his habit. “And it was plain. Didn’t have any style.”
Curry turned the new hat in his hands a bit more. “It was a bit more nondescript.” He looked up at his partner. “I though one of us with a distinctive hat was more than enough for the bounty hunters to remember.”
“Don’t ever remember any mentioning my hat.” Heyes looked up. “It isn’t on the wanted posters.”
The Kid settled the hat on his head once more. He paused, and then nodded. “Yeah, I like this.” He clapped Heyes on shoulder as they started out of the room in search of breakfast.
“Maybe by next year we’ll have that amnesty,” Heyes pondered.
“If we have amnesty by next Christmas, I’ll buy you a new hat, Heyes.”
“Don’t need a new hat, Kid. Ain’t like it’s got holes in it or anything.” He led the way down the stairs. “Let’s go find breakfast.”