Uncle Buster must have had a talented muse looking over his shoulder while he was making supper for me and my daddy tonight. Extra butter, just the right sprinkling of spices, and enough pride in his effort for us to taste with every bite. Heck, I could see the grin on his face as he watched us scarf it all down like a pack of hungry dogs. I've got to be honest when I say that it's a lot of fun to see Buster like this. That's the Gospel truth.
Better this than his usual drunken stupor, waddling his way over to his bed or whatever flat surface he reckons can support him while he passes out for the next few hours or so. I'm thinking that maybe he done found a certain 'calling' when it came to making things right with himself, and the family. It sure kept me smiling. Especially while I was savoring the flavor of them buttered biscuits he made. Jam preserves and all. The whole meal was a blessing, if you ask me.
"You outdone yourself tonight, Buster." Daddy said. "I might need you to be the master cook in this house if you can keep up with tasty rations like this."
Buster giggled proudly to himself. "Well...don't go fitting me with a dress and apron just yet, buddy. I just got a touch of inspiration tonight. can't say that it'll stick around with any consistency."
"Once in a while is more than enough for me, brother-in-law. More than enough." My dad told him, and they shared a brief moment of connection before Buster sat down to join us at the dinner table. I guess you could say that it was a happy family moment. They had all but evaporated into thin air when my mama passed...but sometimes, those good feelings seem almost as if they were still within reach. I'm thankful for that.
We scraped our plates up something awful that night. Even went back for second helpings. Got to be so full that we didn't even bother much with the idea of doing the dishes before the evening was finished. They'll just have to wait until sunrise, I s'pose. But, as relaxed as I felt with a round belly...I couldn't allow myself to let my eyes blink for too long. I had a mission to carry out tonight. I just needed Buster and my daddy to sit still long enough to let the sleep take them away from whatever it was that I had planed to get up to once I made it out of here, with the darkness keeping me from being figured out by any busybody lookin' to keep watch of me. That's all.
Buster was the first to knock out for a while, but I guess he used up some of his energy putting supper together in the first place. But, seeing as I was still sitting at the table with my daddy that night, waiting for him to get up and get some shut eye of his own...I couldn't help but notice that he was giving me a side eye and a grin every now and then. I wasn't quite sure what that was all about, but he was picking a few scarps out of his teeth with a toothpick when he finally looked over at me and said, "So...what's this I hear about you and Sarah Cutler from school? Huh?"
I like to choke on my own spit when he mentioned her name. "Me and what? Who would tell you something like that?" I said, keeping my timid stare focused elsewhere to keep him from seeing the 'lie' in my eyes. Couldn't do much about the blush, though.
"Little birdies fly low in this town, Son. But they're whispers are loud." He smiled. "You got something you feel you need to tell me?"
Fidgeting in my seat, I said, "I ain't got nothing to tell. Don't quite know what you heard, but I'm willing to bet there ain't no truth to it."
"Well, it ain't nothin' to be ashamed about, Deacon. Being fancy for a gal as pretty as all that." He said. "Listen, boy...and listen good. Tomorrow's never promised. Not to anybody. If you start getting an itch for a pretty girl, don't hesitate to let her know how you feel. Especially when they come scratching around you, looking for a little attention. Ain't no harm in that....long as you keep in mind that you're supposed to be a gentleman. Ya hear?" Daddy put his hand on my shoulder, and his eyes met mine. "I promise you, Deke...you ultimately end up regretting every day of your life that you didn't spend loving who you want to love. It's easy to think that you can wait around and plead your case at a later date now...but that ain't always the way the winds carry it. Not all the time." With a sigh, he said, "Your mama...HEH! Boy, she could intimidate a hungry buzzard away from his last meal, the way she used to smile at me. Took a whole lotta gumption to walk up and talk to her for the first time. Weeks. Months. Whole seasons. And when I finally got the nerve up and she said yes...all I could think about was how much of a blessing it woulda been, had I only approached her sooner." I looked into his eyes, and I could feel the sincerity of his emotion pouring over me like never before. "What I wouldn't give to spend a few more seasons with your sweet mama right now. Sighhh...wasted time. You never get it back."
Clearing my throat, I said, "I ain't quite sure that...Sarah Cutler is what I'm searching for, Daddy." It was soft, and it was quiet. Heck, I'm surprised that I said anything at all. But, truth be told...I doubt my daddy would be telling me all this and encouraging me to go down this road...if he had any idea about who I was really craving...out there at the edge of them woods. When I saw his forehead wrinkle up slightly, I was quick to lower my eyes back down to my feet. "It ain't no nevermind. I'll think about what you told me. Maybe I'll give it a try."
He hesitated for a moment, and then asked me, "Is there something you want to talk to me about, Deke? You look like you got somethin' weighing heavy on your mind there, boy."
I don't like telling my daddy no falsehoods if I can help it. I just don't think he'd understand. Heck...I don't even think I understand. Not fully. "I'm alright. Fixin' to turn in for the night."
He looked at me sideways for a second...it was like he could always tell when I wasn't all the way up to snuff. Still, it rattled me just a little too much to really get going with any kind of father/son talk about it. Best to leave it for another time, I'm thinkin'. When I ain't so upside down over another boy, and I have some idea if I can expect anything significant to come from it or not. I simply told him that I was doing just fine, and hopefully put his mind at ease long enough for him to lay down some place and drift off to sleep. It's already dark enough outside for me to have to worry about whatever might be knockin' around, this long after sunset.
Sure enough, as I lay back on my bed...thoughts of Colby's sweet, soft, lips landing on mine again...my daddy started to snore a little bit. Buster had already been passed out for near an hour now. But, I almost didn't want to get up, just yet. I mean, I was feeling a little tight in my pants already, but I didn't know if I was gonna have time to fiddle out a good splash before sneaking out of the household. Daddy was a heavy sleeper, but the 'sheriff' in him seemed to pay attention to ever bump and footstep that walked by him. I had to make sure that I was careful of that.
I didn't even take a lantern with me because I was worried that he might wake up if I set fire to it. No matter, though. The moon was about as bright as it was ever gonna be, and I was faithful that it was gonna guide me in the right direction. So, I crept out of the front door, closing it real slow behind me, and I made my way over to the stables to get Benny and pet him to make him calm enough to not make any noise.
"I know it's late, ol' boy...but I need you to carry me on to the outskirts tonight. I hope that sits right with you." I said, stroking him softly from between his ears and down to the end of his nose. He always liked that. Even as a pony. He almost seemed to nod in agreement when I did that, and I tried to saddle him up as quietly as I could before opening the gate and leading him out into the yard, double checking to make sure my daddy wasn't peeking out through the window. "C'mon, Benny. Let's go get us a look at the splinter in my heart, huh?"
I took him out a few yards away from the house on foot, then jumped on the saddle and did my best to look around in the darkness to scope out the vague area that Colby told me he'd be in. I know that I had a lot of ground to cover, but if I wanted to make sure that he stayed away from Priest and his posse of lowlifes...I was gonna have to do it before sunrise. 'Cause they sure was lookin' to go gunning for somebody out in those woods. I didn't want my sweet vision of beauty to be one of them.
With a quick turn and a gentle kick, Benny started galloping off into the shadows. it ain't much like me to even be out at this time of night...but I'll bear it. I just want to see him again. Hold him close. Maybe even get a taste of those soft, boyish, lips of his one more tie before heading home. That's all I wanted.
Deep down, I think that's all I ever wanted. I just didn't realize it until now.
It took a good twenty or thirty minutes, I reckon, before I reached the edge of the woods. The sky was littered with stars, but the shadows between the trees were about as black as the Devil's heart. Hard to see much of anything at all. And just as we started tracing the outer rim of the woods, I felt Benny come to a stop all of a sudden. I urged him to keep going forward, but he resisted. In fact, he started backing up...making all sorts of noises and lifting his hooves up as if he was getting ready to stomp a rattler or something. "What is it? What's wrong with you, boy?" I asked, but Benny just seemed to get more and more agitated by the second. He backed up a few more steps in a hurry, and before I even had a chance to calm him down properly, he reared himself up and chucked me off of him, down into the dust while he panicked and trembled as though he were in the face of some sort of significant danger!
"What in blazes has got YOU so spooked, boy? Too dark for ya?" I said, and I tried to calm him down again with a few strokes, but he continued to move back away from me. Stubborn old cuss. "Alright, alright. I'll let you be. Just let me tie you to this tree and you make sure you're still around when I get back." I said, hitching him up in a place that he was actually allowing me to drag him over to. "Now don't you go running off, Benny. I mean it. I'm gonna be awful mad if you got me walking back home after all this fuss you done put up for no reason." He seemed to be steady enough, and I gave him another few pets to keep him loyal to me before venturing out into them dark woods by myself. Silly horse. Ain't nothing out here but dirt and a few mosquitos. At least...I don't think there is.
I kept walking forward, trying to navigate as best as I could without being able to see uch more than the dull moonlight was willing to show me. But I figured that Colby and his friends would probably have themselves some kind of fire going on something that I could spot from a distance. I mean, it just makes sense, right? Something to cook over and keep warm? That's what I was keeping an eye out for most of all. I kept my ears open to see if I could hear Colby's voice chatting away...his soft and mellow tone luring me in like a siren's song. But after searching through these woods for the better part of an hour, I reckon...I started to think that my whole trip out here was just a huge waste of time. Pretty silly, if you ask me. How was I expecting to find one boy out here in all of this empty space. I'm lucky that I was able to keep my bearings enough to possibly find my way back to Benny and ride home before sunrise. But as I was stepping and crackling through the trees, only a hot minute from turning around and going back before my daddy even realized that I was gone...I heard a couple of cracks and footsteps coming up from behind me. Not too close, but nearby, for sure.
"Hello?" I called out, not getting a response. "Colby? Colby, is that you? It's me. It's Deacon. You out there?"
I wasn't quite sure what might be lurking around in the shadows out in these parts, so I looked around in the dirt and found myself a big stick, just in case I came across a rattler or something worse. Coyotes can be awfully mean this time of year. And I wasn't looking to get caught too far off guard if I could help it. "Hello?" I called out again. "If you're trying to spook me, I should tell ya that I don't spook easy. Ya hear? I don't spook easy!" I said, shaking my stick, as if it could really do me much good if there was an savage animal out there in the woods somewhere close by. "Colby? Can you hear me? Colby...are you out here?"
"And how, exactly, do you know Colby, boy?" Came a voice over my shoulder! Scared the bejeezus outta me! I spun around and started swinging my stick back and forth with my eyes closed, not hittin' much of nothing. Then I stepped back over a tree root and tripped, falling right back on my hindquarters and coughing from the cloud of dust I kicked up in the process.
"You finished?" The voice said, and I finally opened my eyes to see another boy about my age standing over me. A bit tall from the looks of him, but with enough of a baby face to not be fooling nobody. Most of him was covered by the dark shadows of the forest, but his eyes...his eyes was glowing red like two hot coals. He got the jump on me, sure enough, but he didn't seem to be rushing in to hurt me or anything. "Who are you? And what are you doing out here?"
I tried to get back up to my feet without struggling. I wiped the dirt off of me and stared him directly in the eyes...hoping to preserve some of my manhood after taking such a ridiculous spill. "Name's Deacon. Deacon Porter." I said, putting some strength in my tone. Being sure to add, "My daddy's the sheriff in this town."
The other boy smiled wickedly. "Really now? Well, ain't that grand? A son of a sheriff."
When he stepped towards me, I couldn't really hide my jitters from him. It almost felt like he could look right through me with nothing more than wink and a grin. "I...I come out here looking for a friend of mine. I ain't got no business with the likes of you." I said, my voice cracking a touch as the trembling inside got a stronger hold of me.
"A friend? I can't much imagine you having any friends this far away from your townsfolk, kid. Especially at this time of night." He said, still coming closer to me. It was like that deep red color was burning more behind his eyes than within them. And the more he smiled, the more I noticed that his teeth didn't quite look nothing like mine. In fact, they looked more like fangs if anything else. "You wouldn't be telling me no lies, now, would you boy?"
Getting a white knuckled grip on my stick, I brought it up to defend myself if need be. "I said what I said." I told him. "I'm looking for a fella, goes by the name of Colby. Maybe you seen him?"
"Maybe. Maybe not." The boy said. "Say, Ahote...you seen a fella named Colby 'round here?"
Hardly making a sound at all, I suddenly saw another boy drop down to the ground from out of the trees behind me. An Indian boy, with long dark hair and a tribal necklace. But his eyes seemed to glow in the dark just as his other friend here. The same way a mountain lion's eyes glow when approaching the fire. Now I had one on either side of me, and I began to get real nervous on the inside. I wasn't even sure that I could hold my own against one of them...much less both of them together. I probably should have brought my daddy's si shooter with me instead of coming way out here without anything more.
This 'Ahote' boy was dead silent, but they both began to close in on me from either side. I gripped my stick harder, and was almost ready to start swinging when I heard another voice being hollered at us from out of the darkness. "Tucker! Ahote! What in blazes do you two think you're doing? Quit crowding him, already."
I recognized that voice right away. No mistaking it at all. And when I turned my head, I felt myself relax a little bit...as I finally caught sight of Colby wandering our from between the trees. Even in the dark...he was breathtaking. To the point of making me all wiggly in the middle.
There he goes...throwing me all off center again...