Summary: It’s hard to count sheep when the sheep are missing.
Word Count: 1952
Punching the pillow several times, I turn from my left side to my right, searching for a comfortable position. I don’t have to wonder at the time, as the old clock downstairs just rang out the single chime. One. One o’clock and my boys aren’t home.
Maybe I should re-light the lamp and try to read again, but my hand is just now relaxing from the last stretch of holding my book. Besides, I don’t want the light burning when my sons ride in. Oh yes, I know, I don’t have to explain myself. If I want to stay up late reading, that’s my decision. Neither do I want them to think that I don’t trust them, or that I’m mothering them in a way that has me waiting up until they return. Well, maybe I am exhibiting some mothering traits here. I can’t truly say for sure. Maybe if Marie were here, I’d be sleeping soundly beside her while she tossed and turned instead.
All right, this side isn’t comfortable either. Maybe lying on my back…
I don’t know why those boys think they need to carouse every Friday night. There’s work to do in the morning. I know I need my sleep, and even though they’re years younger, it wouldn’t hurt them to be a little more practical and turn in a bit earlier. When I was their age…well, when I was their… Okay, maybe I did a little carousing too. But not every Friday night. And for heaven’s sake, when I was Adam’s age, I already had…Adam.
This is ridiculous. They’re grown men. Capable, dependable, trustworthy. They can take care of themselves. And even if Little Joe is young and a little more… Well, Adam and Hoss are there to keep an eye on him.
My back is aching and I’m not sure…maybe I’m too tense. I’ll try my side again…
Why am I letting this bother me so much tonight? Is it because the door is unbolted, the house unsecured as I try to sleep? There was that situation at the Landers Ranch last fall, the family attacked by no-goods hoping to rob them in the middle of the night. Is that preying on my mind? It shouldn’t bother me. I’m well able to defend myself — a pistol in the drawer of my bedside table. And I’ve never subscribed to the need of locking the door with the family packing house keys in their pockets like city-folk. Besides, those men kicked in the Landers’ front door anyway. No, that’s not the problem here. I’m just letting my imagination get carried away.
Fine. Everything is good. I’m going to relax and really get some sleep this time. One deep breath, two… My muscles loosen, my limbs feel heavier… If this shoulder of mine would just quit aching. I’d actually feel pretty good about…
Shoulder. Hoss’ shoulder. It’s still healing. I’ve seen him favoring it when he didn’t know I was watching. What if they stopped in the saloon after the dance, hoping for a beer but ended up in a fight? Even Hoss, as big and strong as he is, has his limits. Reinjuring that shoulder could mean a longer recuperation this time. That wouldn’t set well, especially with the busy season ahead. Cattle to move, branding, and fences to mend. Hoss isn’t one to sit around when there’s work to do. What if…
No. Hoss will be fine. And if there is an altercation, Adam will surely watch out for Hoss. They’re grown men — they can take care of themselves. Besides, didn’t I just pray for all this a few hours ago? Well, it surely wouldn’t hurt to ask again…
‘Please God, take care of my sons, keep them safe, watch over them…you know, all the things I asked for earlier… again. Please. Amen.’
I need to sleep. I’ll think of something else.
We finished repairing the barn yesterday, so we can focus on some of the corrals tomorrow. I should send a crew out to the east line to make sure those fences held up through the winter. Strays need to be gathered from the north range. It will be a cold ride if we go up next week, but it would be best to get them moved in early. The spring grass here is looking good, and even though it’s cold…
Cold. Adam was coughing again last night, his lungs not fully strengthened after a tough winter cold kept him down for several weeks. He shouldn’t be out this late, riding home in the cool night air. It could aggravate his lungs, maybe…
I’m doing it again. Adam is an adult. My time to hover over him is past. Yes, he had a cold, but he was feeling much better this week, and told me at supper that he felt fit and ready for an evening out. I must trust him. Like all my boys. I’ve taught them well. Now I need to let them alone to make their own choices without feeling like I’m looking over their shoulder. Well…at least, for the most part.
This feather pillow is really showing the wear. Maybe I should have Hop Sing plump it up a little. Thumping the limp case a few more times, I turn my face to the wall. All right, this time I’m going to keep my eyes closed…recite some Bible verses…count sheep.
Did I actually doze off this time? Miss the sound of horses coming in? Or did my sons manage to slip in quietly, stabling their mounts and making it into the house before I noticed. For surely that’s the sound of boots on the stairs. Ahhh, what a waste this has been. Here they are, home safe and sound. The door is bolted against trouble, and we’ll all soon be asleep under one roof. If I had been more trusting, I’d be long asleep.
It’s amazing how quickly my muscles seem to relax, each limb growing heavier as sleep reaches for me. I can hear the soft whisper of my sons’ voices as they make their way down the hall, first Adam and then Hoss answering. I wait for my youngest and his inevitable giggle, but there is silence.
My eyes are open again, ears straining for each sound. Yes, there are two voices, and quiet footsteps. But there are only two. I’m sure of it now, suddenly aware that I’m sitting up in my bed.
I resist the urge to jump up and get dressed. There must be some plausible explanation. Not that Joe wouldn’t choose to stay in town, or refuse to come home when his brothers beckoned. No, my instinct says that my oldest boys wouldn’t have left their brother in town unless it was safe to do so. Not this early in the spring, when snow still dots the land, and storms could still appear out of nowhere here in the mountains.
But then those risks are always there, aren’t they? My boys have been raised here. They know how to watch the land, the weather. They can handle themselves. I’m just being ridiculous.
Leaning back against my pillows for the umpteenth time, I rub my forehead, not surprised to feel the tension against my fingertips. What is wrong with me tonight?
Joe, my impetuous young son. Maybe that’s what this is all about. The memory of watching as he was thrown from that wild bronc weeks ago, seeing him motionless on the ground, blood visible on his face as his brothers gently turned him over…
I’m sitting up again, my heart thumping hard in my chest. What a frightening memory that is. The fall and then the days that followed as Joe recovered from what we assumed was a concussion. But he’s doing fine now. I have to keep telling myself that. No headaches, no dizziness. I would never have given my consent for this Friday night trip to town if I didn’t think he’d healed. Not that he would’ve paid attention anyway. Joe had promised to take Melissa to the dance, and with the way those two keep looking at each other, there’s not much that would’ve kept him from her side. Still, there’s always the chance that he overdid it tonight…
Foolishness! He’s grown. He’s impulsive but responsible. Besides, Adam and Hoss would not have ridden home if they noticed anything out of sorts with their brother.
Unless they didn’t notice. Unless he’d done something to make them angry.
I swing my legs off the side of the bed, reaching for my robe. Where I’m going I haven’t decided. To talk to my sons? To check the barn? To saddle Buck and ride to town?
I’m being ridiculous again. One long, deep breath and I pull my arm back out of the robe sleeve and slowly lay down. Trust. I’m supposed to trust them. Faith. I must have faith. Good Lord but it’s hard to be a parent.
My eyes are wide open as different scenarios speed through my tired mind. None of them are comforting, but I suppress the desire to get up and go looking. I have to keep reminding myself: Joe will be fine. No, Joe is fine.
I’ve turned several times, but now I’m staring at the ceiling again, faint moonlight piercing the shadows. As tired as I am, sleep eludes me. My ears are focused on anything out of the ordinary. It’s getting harder to do as Hoss’ snoring echoes down the hall.
But there, a new sound…what is it? Could it be? The sound of… Yes, it is…
Whistling. Soft but clear, I hear a jaunty little tune, probably something he heard at the dance. It’s getting closer, as if he’s walking up from the barn. And then it’s gone.
The silence is deafening as I wonder if I really heard Joe or if I had just imagined it in my sleep-deprived state. No. It was him. That was the front door being bolted shut, and there’s the sound of his boots on the floor. He’s coming up the steps now, quietly as he tries to cover his progress. Has he been in the barn the whole time? Is that why Adam and Hoss were so unconcerned? I could ask at breakfast in the morning, but I would have to be careful so as not to give away the fact that I was awake. No, I won’t ask. They’re home. Safe. Another Friday night is behind me. Thank God.
I listen as Joe’s door closes quietly behind him, then with a deep sigh of relief, roll to my side and pull the quilt close around me. Finally I can sleep. I don’t have to fight it any longer. And I’m so tired.
With another sigh, I close my eyes. And almost immediately, they’re open again, my focus on the moonlight gleaming around the edges of the heavy drapes. For heaven’s sake, now I’m not sleepy. I stare at the lines of light on the carpet and groan aloud.
Maybe next Friday night, I’ll just ride into town with them, visit some friends, have dinner at the International House and enjoy a few beers at the Bucket of Blood. Yes, that’s what I’ll do.
I adjust my pillow one more time then stare through the shadows as I think about my plan. A deep breath, a little soul-searching, and I realize that next week, I’ll probably be lying in the same position, just waiting to sleep…