Iridescent snowflakes fluttered down, their icy edges illuminated by the gas lights lining the street. Not a soul was out at the 10:00 pm hour, not even at the saloon. There was a good reason for that. The street was buried under about a foot of snow. The small blizzard had blown in out of nowhere, catching all the residents, and two ex-outlaws, off guard. At least being snowed in the two wanted men didn’t have to worry about the law finding them for a while.
That was the only consolation to be had.
From a darkened second floor hotel room, a pair of brown, sad eyes stared out the icy blue tinted, frosty window. Hannibal Heyes sat cross legged on his bed, his arms resting on his knees, one hand holding a glass of whiskey, the blanket pulled up around his shoulders. His brows were furrowed slightly as he looked out, not really seeing anything, just lost in memories of a time long past. Sniffling softly, he rubbed a hand across his eyes.
It was December 24th, a time for joy and celebration with family for most people. But most people didn’t have anguish and despair circling their minds like a horse on a racetrack. Anguish that he managed to keep hidden behind the inner wall of his subconscious the whole year through. Except for this specific holiday.
Except for Christmas.
Christmas hurt. It hurt terribly. He wished he could just sleep for the whole month of December and wake up in mid January. All Christmas did was remind him of the precious gifts he no longer had.
Except for one. His cousin.
Jed Curry. The only person he had in the world that cared for him. The only person in the world he cared about. Kid is what kept him going, kept him grounded, brought him back from the dark abyss he sometimes found himself in. Like now. His only family. He was thankful he still had his loyal cousin. Jed would never know how much he depended on him.
He tore his blank stare away from the snow outside to glance back at the bed across from his. Kid lay there softly snoring on his side facing him. Jed Kid Curry. The only lifeline Hannibal Heyes had to keep him sane.
He turned back to stare back out into the cold darkness. Dark empty cold, just like he felt deep down inside when the memories he fought won the battle and crossed the boundary to torment his mind and break his heart once again.
What he wouldn’t give to be back in Kansas, surrounded by his Ma, Pa, and Kid’s big family. To be there helping to decorate the tree, exchanging gifts, sitting down to the big Curry table to a delicious feast made by his Ma and Aunt, with help from Kid’s two annoying sisters.
But like the snowflakes falling, they shone beautifully in life for only a brief moment of time before they disappeared forever.
Heyes closed his eyes against the tears fighting to seep out. He wiped a sleeve across his eyes again, angrily. Angry at the world, angry at what they were now fighting for, angry at the hand life had dealt them, angry at all they’d lost.
He was glad Kid was sleeping. He didn’t want him to see this breakdown of emotions. At times, his cousin seemed to enjoy Christmas. At least a bit. Heyes knew he was just as full of sorrow as he was. If not more.
Kid seemed to feel things a bit more deeply than he did. Or at least he let them show more. Being two years older, Heyes felt it was his job to be the strong one when it came to such matters.
Only when he heard a quiet voice did he open his eyes, brought out of his despondent reveries.
“Heyes? What’re you doin’?”
The ex-outlaw leader cleared his throat before answering. “Nothing. Just sitting here watching it snow. Can’t sleep.” He snaked a hand up under the blanket over him to hold the bridge of his nose, composing himself. Before he knew it though, his cousin had slipped up to stand looking down at him, one hand resting on the footboard of the bed.
“You might not be able to sleep but you’re not just sittin’ here watchin’ it snow.”
“Yeah I am. I’m looking out the window and it’s snowing. Therefore, I’m watching it snow.”
“Han.” Kid’s voice was softer this time. “Don’t try that. I know exactly what you’re doin’. You’re sittin’ here lettin’ your mind wander to things best left alone.”
Heyes knew that Kid would know. He always did.
“Wanna talk about it?”
A dark haired head shook. “No. I don’t. I’m cold and I’ve sat here long enough. Besides, this whiskey’s made me a bit tired. Think I’ll lay down and sleep.” He stood and threw the blanket back across the bed and sat the now empty glass on the bedside table.
Curry just nodded. If his partner didn’t want to talk, then no force on the planet could make him. He went back to his own bed and lay down.
Heyes buried himself down in his bed under the pile of sheets and blankets, his back to Kid. He lay thinking for a long time until he was actually able to fall into a light, restless sleep.
A few short hours later, Heyes was awakened by Kid calling out in his sleep. He turned over and could barely make out that his cousin was sitting up on his elbows. He sat up, threw his legs over the side of his bed, and lit the lamp. His cousin turned his head, but not before Heyes could see the wet tint to his cheeks.
“Kid, what’s wrong?”
“Just had a dream.”
“Looks more like it was a nightmare.”
Heyes was more correct than he realized.
Kid had been dreaming of ‘that’ day. It was no doubt due to his knowing what his partner had been sitting and thinking about, but he’d never tell him that. It’d just make him feel worse.
It’d been a long time since he’d had such a vivid dream of those events. He hated that it’d come tonight of all nights. It was Christmas and his cousin was already feeling the effects of it.
He tried to stay on the lighter side of his own moods during this time of year, but it was hard for him as well. Maybe not as hard as it was for Heyes however. Heyes kept things locked away, bottled up, and hidden from view. How that didn’t drive him crazy, Kid would never know.
Curry bent his head down on his elbow hidden from Heyes’ view and subtly wiped his eyes. When he rose back up and stared down at the blankets covering him, he could feel the brown eyes boring into his side. “What, Heyes?”
“To see if you want to talk.”
“Come on, Kid. You know about what. That nightmare you just had. And don’t tell me it wasn’t. Nice dreams don’t leave your face wet.”
Curry was embarrassed. He hadn’t wanted that to be noticed. But if anyone would see it, his cousin would. Heyes noticed everything, except when he was deep in thought.
“I’m fine, Heyes. Lay back down. I’m goin’ to.” Kid turned his back to the enquiring stare and lay back down. It wasn’t two seconds later he felt a hand on his shoulder.
“You need to talk?”
The blond curly head didn’t move. “No. Said I’m fine.”
“I know better than that. Just like you knew better when you asked me earlier.”
Curry looked back at that statement.
“Come on, Jed. Sit up and scoot over.”
Kid hesitated. He didn’t want to burden Heyes anymore than he already was.
“I’ll stand here and stare at you all night if you don’t.” Heyes removed his hand from the shoulder he’d been holding and put both hands on his hips. It was time to push his feelings back into the recesses. His younger cousin needed consoling and that took precedence over his own emotions.
Curry finally did what was asked. He sat up and scooted over.
Heyes, completely ignoring the supposed way men are expected to act, sat down beside him and leaned back against the headboard. “Now, I’ll ask you again. Do you need to talk?”
Kid looked down and played with the edge of the blanket. “Said no. Hurts you just as much as it does me.”
“I can handle it. Don’t worry.”
“Didn’t look like you could earlier.”
“Looks can be deceiving. I can tell whatever you dreamed is eating at you bad. Now what was it.”
Curry opened his mouth slightly then closed it again before he spoke very softly. “I wish I could have good dreams about them. I wish…I wish I could see their happy faces clear again. But I can’t. They’re always…”
“Clouded. Like in a red fog.”
Kid looked over surprised. “How’d you know?”
Heyes sighed. “Because I see them the same way in my dreams. But I can see their faces clearly sometimes in my sleep, like they used to be, happy.” He looked down at the piece of skin he was picking off his finger. “Especially this time of year. Always this time of year…”
They sat in quiet companionship for a few moments before Heyes spoke again. “Bad thing about the mind is it seems to always want to hold on to the last time you see…somebody. It’s like that image gets burned into your brain and nothing can cover it for good. Seems the only time you see what you want is when you’re asleep, like your mind wants to torture you.”
Kid was silent another minute. His next words were almost a whisper. “I don’t even get to see them happy in my dreams. I mean, I can remember them all fairly well sometimes. But not always. It just ain’t fair.”
“Life isn’t fair. In no way at all.” What Heyes wasn’t saying was that the aftermath of that day was what he seen most. Again, always at this time of year. At first, he’d see them happy, then the next second…
“Don’t worry about it, Heyes. Let’s not talk about it anymore. I’m okay.”
“No, you’re not okay. IT’S not okay. It never will be. That day haunts us both. But you’re not alone, Jed. Never will be.” Another moment of silence. “Jed? You remember that day when you were forced to have your picture taken with your heathen sisters? You might not because you were only four.”
“No. Not really.”
“If I remember right, your Ma had to wrangle you all over the house and half the yard to get you dressed and standing in the right place.”
A ghost of a smile crossed Kid’s face as Heyes got up and walked over to his boots to retrieve his knife. Blue eyes watched him curiously as the black hat was picked up off the dresser. “What’re you doin’ now?”
“You’ll see.” The older cousin turned his hat over and started cutting at something on the inside of it. “You’re always giving me grief over my hat. Why don’t I get a new one or at least have this one cleaned? Well, this is the reason.” Recovering what he was after, he held it in his hand and sat back down on the bed.
“What’ve you got?”
Heyes sighed. “There’s something I’ve had for a very long time and I always debated with myself on giving it to you. I wanted you to have it badly but I didn’t want to hurt you by ever bringing it up. But, I finally understood that it was hurting you more not having it. So, I’ve been saving money up to have it restored and after searching for a while, I finally found a place that could do it just right. I was going to give it to you tomorrow but I think now is the right time to do it.”
He stopped talking as his eyes started to water. Fighting it back, he continued, scared of what reaction he might be about to get. “I, uh, found this while…well…after I was finished that day and before we were taken from there when the sheriff and other people came to check on our farms. I’ve always kept it hidden in a place nobody would ever find. I would sew it into the linings of my hats. I didn’t know if you could handle it when you were younger, and I still questioned it when we got older. But you need it. I…I hope you don’t get mad that I’ve had it all this time.”
Heyes held out his hand and opened it. In his palm lay a locket on a chain.
Kid looked at the necklace, up at his cousin, then back down at his hand. He stared at the locket a minute before swallowing hard. When he could finally speak, his voice was soft and wavering. “Is that…Ma’s?”
His partner nodded. “Look…inside,” he said gruffly.
Curry held the locket, looking over every little detail. After wiping his eyes with one hand, he opened the precious treasure he’d been given. In it, on one side, was a small picture of him and his sisters, on the other, his Ma and Pa. And unlike other pictures taken at the time, they were all smiling. He took one finger and softly ran it around the edges of each side of the locket. Not being able to hold it back anymore, Jed Curry did something he hadn’t done in a very long time. He broke down and openly cried.
Seeing that almost made Heyes cry as well. He tried to keep his voice sounding normal but it quivered. “Now you can always see them how they were, no matter what you dream or what thoughts pop up.” He looked down at the floor. “I’m sorry I kept it from you this long. I really regret it. I just wanted it to be perfect when you got it. Not that many people can restore pictures in the places we’ve been.”
Kid was now stroking the faces of his folks. “I’m not…this means…so much.” It was hard for him to speak. But he truly wasn’t mad at all. He was happy and amazed that his cousin had managed to keep it safe all those years. “No way I could be mad. This is…the best…Christmas gift you…could’ve ever given me.”
Heyes got up and handed over a bandana and then walked back to look out the window. He wanted to give his cousin some time to himself. But a few minutes later, he saw Kid come up beside him with something in his hand. “What’ve you got?”
A candle was brought up, lit, and sat on the windowsill. “I knew you’d be up thinkin’ about them tonight just like me. So, I figured we could set this candle in the window, so they’d know we were. A light for them to see us in the dark.”
Heyes could hold it no longer. Tears streamed from his eyes at the thoughtfulness of his only earthly family. “That’s…that was a wonderful idea, Jed.”
They both stood in the light of the flickering candle and looked up to where the clouds had parted just enough to let a family of stars shine through brightly. Both cousins looked up and, not meaning to, spoke at the same time.