Light from a small fire flickered around the clearing where two riders had made camp; the night air was chilly making blankets a welcome comfort. One man leaned against a large boulder, the other lay sleeping just the other side of the fire. They hadn’t planned to keep watch but the dark haired man had abandoned his bedroll for a cup of coffee when sleep eluded him.
The previous day Kid Curry had suggested they make plans to go into town for a few days. Hannibal Heyes had vetoed the idea, pointing out that it wasn’t wise to spend money not knowing when they’d get more. Kid knew that his partner’s hesitancy had less to do with money than it did with the date; December 22, two days before Christmas. Heyes always wanted to avoid towns until after the holiday, Curry liked to be where he could feel the excitement.
Undaunted, the Kid had revisited the conversation this morning during breakfast, complaining about sleeping on the cold ground. He had repeatedly brought up the idea throughout the day, pointing out the advantages. The following day was Christmas Eve and he liked watching people celebrate, especially the children. Besides, Kid wanted some comfort for himself and his stubborn partner; a bath, a soft bed and a good meal didn’t seem like too much to ask.
Hannibal Heyes cast a glance around the camp occasionally but his contemplative look always returned to dwell on the face of his sleeping partner. Kid seemed to be able to sleep soundly anywhere; sometimes Heyes envied that ability.
Smiling slightly, he knew he was fighting a losing battle attempting to avoid town. Kid loved the idea of Christmas, when possible, he had always managed to pester his older cousin into going into town to watch people preparing for Christmas. Heyes wanted it to pass unnoticed; when they were young, he had no way to make his cousin a part of the excitement. It had always saddened him that Kid could only stand and watch from outside but he could never deny his friend the pleasure he found in watching. They were grown now, things were different but Heyes still regretted the years when the younger boy had only been able to watch others enjoy Christmas.
Quietly lifting the coffee pot, he refilled his cup and then glanced back at the sleeping man. There was a slight smile playing about the Kid’s lips. Glad that the Kid would never know he was watching, Heyes smiled, guessing that the Kid was dreaming something pleasant.
Kid Curry was dreaming of a warm kitchen filled with smiling adults and excited children. He and his cousin, Han were sing near the fireplace, eagerly watching the adults open gis. He smiled in ancipaon when his father and uncle handed the heavy burlap wrapped gis to his mother and aunt. The women smiled at each other and then at the two boys, then opened the gis. ‘Oh, it’s beauful,’ his mother exclaimed, liing a flat piece of well sanded, carefully carved pecan wood, with charred le'ers that read ‘The Curry Family’. Ten year old Jed beamed with pride; his parents were proud and impressed with his gi. Perhaps even be'er, his cousin was grinning at him with a genuine look of approval and trust in his dark eyes.
The smell of bacon and the rising sun coaxed blue eyes to open, Kid yawned and sat up. He rubbed his eyes then opened them again to see Heyes kneeling by the fire.
“Why’re you up so early?” he grumbled, sleepily.
“Couldn’t sleep an’ if we’re going to town we need to get started,” Heyes told him.
Bright blue eyes looked up, interested but cautious, “Thought you was worried about money. You stay awake half th’ night figurin’ on some way to make more?” Kid asked, frowning as he took the cup of coffee Heyes offered, nodding his thanks.
“No, an’ we can’t spend much but when you start goin’ on all day about a thing I know it means a lot to you. Marysville’s about half a day’s ride, it ain’t a very big town but they’ll have a hotel,” Heyes said.
Kid smiled, remembering his dream, “Sounds good an’ you look like you could use a soft bed,” he replied.
“Uh-huh, I could use a job or a decent poker game too but we both know we won’t find either one this time of year,” Heyes frowned.
Blue eyes fixed on brown eyes, “You get any sleep at all last night?” Kid frowned. The brown eyes wavered and Heyes stood, “I’m fine Kid, finish up breakfast while I saddle up,” he directed.
Kid sighed as he watched him walk away but he did as bidden and soon had bacon and beans hot and ready.
It didn’t take long to eat and break camp, conversation was minimal and a short time later they were riding in a north-easterly direction, each wondering what the other was thinking. They’d been riding for over an hour and Kid was growing more uncomfortable with the silence. He knew that Heyes was tired but that didn’t usually stop him from talking. Kid studied the tense set of his partner’s shoulders for a while then he broke the silence.
“You’re mighty quiet, you mad at me for talkin’ you into goin’ to town?” Kid asked softly.
Heyes forced himself to relax and slowed the horse slightly, then turned a tolerant look toward his friend. He raised his eyebrows, “Talkin’? You sure you don’t mean naggin’?” he asked lightly, determined to fight off the sadness that was lurking nearby.
Kid recognized the effort and met him half way; he shrugged and one side of his mouth rose in a half smile, “Yeah, pretty sure I meant talkin’,” he replied.
Heyes grunted and turned back to the trail, “No Kid, I’m not mad at you for naggin’ me into goin’ to town,” Heyes told him.
Kid’s smile grew, he was glad to see that Heyes was trying to maintain a lighthearted mood. “Wouldn’t haf’ to if you wasn’t so mule-stubborn,” he countered, keeping his voice low.
Kid was startled when Heyes abruptly halted his horse and turned a half smile to him, “That sounded a lot like a confession,” Heyes prodded.
Kid opened his mouth to protest then stopped and licked his lips, “Well there’s times when it’s either that or hold a gun on you,” he grumbled, frowning.
Heyes smiled wryly, then sighed and searched the horizon, “I’m sorry Kid, I don’t ---“ he stopped for a moment and shook his head, “I guess it just means something to you that it don’t to me,” he said sadly.
Kid’s blue eyes softened as he studied his friend’s tense frame, he leaned forward. “I had a dream last night Heyes; you remember that Christmas when we made those wood carvings with our family names for our fokes? Our parents were real impressed, made me proud as punch ‘cause we put a lot o’ work into makin’ ‘em,” Kid reminisced, seeing Heyes stiffen warily.
Heyes nodded curtly, “I remember,” he said, unwilling to say more. Even the happy memories always seemed to end in blood and flames.
“Relax Heyes, I know you don’t like talking about it an’ I ain’t askin’ you to. All I’m tryin’ to say is while our folks were admirin’ those carvings you looked at me an’ that was the first time I knew for sure we were real partners. I’d been followin’ you around since I could walk thinkin’ you pretty much walked on water an’ that Christmas you gave me a look that said you knew you could depend on me, that you trusted me. Yeah, seein’ families together at Christmas makes me sad that our folks are gone but it also reminds me how good it felt knowin’ you picked me an’ how lucky I am to have a partner that’s always been there no matter what,” Kid finished then smiled when Heyes gave him that same look.
For a moment they exchanged a look of deep feelings, “I’m pretty lucky myself,” Heyes replied softly then he gathered his reins and grinned, “So you thought I walked on water?” he asked, arrogantly.
Kid rolled his eyes as he nudged his horse into motion, “Don’t let it go to your head Heyes, I was a kid,” he frowned, catching up to him.
Heyes gave Kid a smile that was reserved for his partner and very few others, “You can tell me about it over a steak supper when we get to town. Wonder if Marysville has a Christmas gatherin’ like they have in that Colorado town? Could even have a Christmas tree, remember th’ one Silky had in his house? Made the whole place smell like a forest----“ Heyes continued.
Kid followed him looking confused, he had a feeling that he should have waited until they were closer to town to get Heyes talking again. Judging from the sound of it, Heyes wasn’t going to wind down any time soon.