A Great Adventure (by Mustang Sallie)

Summary:  He had been promised a great adventure, but to twelve-year-old Mike Williams, each escapade from the first to the last, tested his moral code. He had wanted more freedom but now, alone, tired and sick all he wanted was his family. Mike Williams is twelve and has begun his journey through adolescence. Seeking more freedom and suffering from embarrassment over some physical changes, he sets out on his adventure with his friend Tommy Jenkins who is older and “wiser.”
Category:  Laramie
Genre:  Western
Rating:  T
Word Count:  12,873


 

Chapter 1 –  The Beginning

“Boys, we have a problem,” Daisy Cooper said as she opened the front door of their ranch house. She balanced a pitcher of lemonade and two glasses on a tray and addressed her two eldest sons. Slim Sherman, who had been lounging in his chair on the porch, immediately sat up, his long legs snapped to attention as his feet hit the floorboards. Jess Harper, who had been dozing with his black hat askew upon his wavy black hair raised his head in confusion.

“What do you mean, Daisy?”

“I’m not sure that you’ve noticed, seein’ as you both have been so busy, but Mike’s not a little boy anymore.”

Both men exchanged glances and Slim stood up, offering Daisy his seat as he did so. Jess rose and grabbed a glass of the cool drink as he joined Slim leaning against the porch railing. Daisy tucked a wayward strand of hair behind her ear. She sighed.

“Mike has always been an obedient and eager to please young boy, right?”

They both nodded.

“Lately, he’s becoming a handful. He balks at getting up in the morning; he doesn’t want to do his chores; he is always complaining about the work he does and is disrespectful. There’s a lot going on with him besides his growth spurt.”

Jess nodded solemnly. “His voice is changing too, Pard,” he murmured to Slim. “Have you noticed?”

Slim sighed. ‘This was almost like Andy all over again,’  he thought. “Anything going sideways at school? “ He directed his query to Daisy.

It was her turn to sigh. “He does his homework, but he turns it in late. According to Miss Mason, he spends more time staring out the window than paying attention in class.”

Both Slim and Jess frowned. “Has Miss Mason asked to see us?” Slim asked.

“She told me that a lot of boys his age go through things like this. It should wear off soon.”

Slim suddenly whirled around and stomped off the porch. Hands on his hips, he stood in the middle of the yard. “I don’t understand how he could act like this!”

While Slim fumed, Jess tried to understand what was happening. “Daisy, “ he asked carefully, “is there a little girl in the picture that has caught his eye?”

Daisy shook her head. “No puppy love Jess,” she answered. “No bullies either,” she added.

Suddenly Slim came back to the porch. “I have an idea,” he announced.

Jess and Daisy looked up at Slim. “So, what’s your idea, Pard?”

“When Andy was his age, he couldn’t understand why he had to learn about writing and arithmetic because he was going to be a rancher and ranchers didn’t need arithmetic to rope a horse. But when I explained to him that he needed to know arithmetic so he would know how much rope to buy or how much it cost to buy nails he began to understand. So,” he began to lay out his plan, “why don’t we keep him out of school next week and he can work the ranch like us? We’ll give him a logbook like ours to keep a sum of money to rely on for nails and rope and candy sticks! He’ll learn soon enough that he needs to know arithmetic cause he’s going to have to answer to us if his books don’t balance. After one week he’ll be so anxious to get back to school that it will make his head spin.”

Jess grinned, “Sounds great!” he exclaimed.

**********

Chapter 2 –  “Ranch business“ by Mike Williams

Slim and Jess are my legal guardians but they’re more like my fathers. They took me in when I was alone and scared after my parents were killed in an Indian attack. Some Japanese entertainers found me and brought me to the first place where the people spoke English which happened to be Slim Sherman and Jess Harper who owned and operated the Sherman-Harper Ranch and Relay. They have never hit me or yelled at me. They have punished me when I’ve done things I shouldn’t and even when they put me in my room they always explain why – to keep me safe.  Which is why I can’t understand why they let me out of school that week. In the beginning I thought we’d have a fun week, sort of a break but I ended up working harder than I ever have in my life.

My first day began with washing up while they shaved. Now, I’ve always been private when I took a bath. But I now had more of a reason to be private as I had discovered hair growin’ in places I never knew hair could grow on a person! Then we ate a big breakfast and I had to saddle up my pony. My job the first day was to ride fence with Jess. They gave me a pouch full of nails and I had to keep track of how many nails I used. Slim gave me a logbook to write down all the nails, and rope and other supplies we bought at Benson’s. They started me out with $10 which was a fortune. After a few mistakes, I figured out how many nails I needed in a day and how much rope to buy.

The next day, it was more of the same but it was Slim this time. We rode in comfortable silence for awhile and then he began talking to me reminding me how much they both loved me and I could come to them with anything that was bothering me. We had stopped for lunch and I finally gritted my teeth and told him about the hair on my chest. He then did something I never expected! He took off his shirt and showed me his chest. Now, I’ve seen his chest before when he’s been shot or his ribs broken and Daisy or Jess had to wrap him but I had never connected the two before. He told me that it was perfectly natural for hair to grow on my chest and other places cause it meant that I was becoming a man. He told me that since both of us were blond, I probably would have a lighter beard than Jess. That made me feel a whole lot better.

The next day we rode to the line cabin. Jess said we needed to check for firewood. They both had told me to bring my gloves but I figured that all I’d be doing was holding the horses or stacking the wood so why did I need gloves? Turns out, they were right. Jess said I needed to know how to use a two person saw. So he found some limbs to cut and we set to work. We were halfway through the second log, when I noticed my palms. They were red and bleeding. I didn’t want them to know so I just kept going but when it was time to eat dinner and they noticed that I was having trouble holding my fork, well something else happened that I wasn’t expecting. Jess took my plate and turned my hands over. Without a word, he got some warm water and bathed my hands and dried them. Slim put some salve on them and boy did they feel better. Then Jess put his arm around me and spoke softly, “it’s a good thing to keep a pair of gloves in your saddle bags Mike that way you’re always sure you have them.” I made a mental note to add gloves to my already long list of things to buy. That $10 sum was getting low.

Slim put his arm around me too and spoke softly, “Jess and I have been ranching for a good while now, Mike. You have to be prepared for things that might go wrong not just what you think you’re going to be doing. Now, I’m going to wrap those hands of yours. They’ll be better in the morning. Then it’s time you went to sleep, okay?”

I nodded and then I hugged them both. I still had some thinking to do, so going to bed early was a good thing to do for once.

**********

Chapter 3 – The Experiment

The wind was howling outside the ranch house the morning after Thanksgiving, as if to challenge anyone who had the faintest idea of hunting for a Christmas tree. Slim took notice of the racket and turned over onto his side. There was no sound from the other bed. Curiosity got the better of him and he slowly twisted over to view his Pard. But the bed was empty. ‘Aw heck!’ he thought as he reluctantly slid out from under the warm bedding. He ran a hand over his blond hair, finger combing it in place. As he reached for his pants, the door opened and quickly closed trapping the heat. Jess stood by the bed, fully dressed.

*Why are you getting up?”

“I was about to ask why you are all dressed? Something happen?”

“Yes and no,” Jess grinned.

Slim frowned. ‘Sometimes, his best friend spoke in riddles,’ he thought.

“I heard a noise in the front room earlier and went to investigate. Turns out it was Mike.”

Slim raised an eyebrow but Jess, knowing the look of concern just shook his head. “ He was writing out his Christmas list.”

“Aw,” Slim sat back on his bed. “Is it a long one?”

“Nope, and the list was filled with ideas for gifts for us not himself. “

A sharp intact of breath accompanied the look Slim shared with his friend. “How did you know?”

“He asked me if Daisy was more partial to blue or yellow.”

Slim shook the cobwebs from his brain and ran a hand over his face. “Well, considering she had us paint her room yellow, I guess it’s yellow.”

“That’s what I told him. Oh, and you can go back to bed. He did all the chores.”

Slim, who had been contemplating that long list of chores, lay back down again. “Fed the horses? “

Jess nodded. “He brought in the eggs, got water from the well and started a fire. Oh, and he said it was really cold out but no snow yet.”

“He certainly has turned the tide into being a rancher hasn’t he?”

Jess, who was removing his boots, grunted as he tugged his right foot free. “ It would appear so, Pard.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I was just wondering if he had an idea to do something and we might not like it.”

Slim shook his head. “Mike isn’t devious, and besides even if he had an idea up his sleeve, all he has to do is ask us. “

“Whatever you say, Pard, but mark my words, he’s up to something.” With that, he too lay back on his bed, both men contemplating the sudden unusual behavior of their son.

Mike, who had been thinking hard about a gift for his god father, Sheriff Mort, heard his fathers talking. In truth, he did have an idea up his sleeve but he needed to weigh all the sides of it before he sprung it on them. He was going to ask for something that Andy never got permission to do. He was hoping his experiment would work.

Later that evening after supper he could delay no longer. The suspense was overwhelming. Slim was reading a book and Jess was dozing in his rocker. Daisy had long since gone to bed. “Slim, can we talk about something?”

Slim looked up and over at their son. Slowly he grabbed a paper to mark his place and closed the Civil War Battles book. He waited patiently while Mike woke up Jess.

“On a day, where it’s not raining or snowing, I would like to go to town.”

“Well, Jess and I were planning on going on Saturday. You can certainly come with us.” Slim slowly replied.

“Um,” Mike paused, ‘this was not the answer I expected,’ he mused.

“What I meant to say is that I’d like to go alone.”

Although Mike had made the statement calmly enough, to both men it felt as though all the air had been sucked out of the room. For whatever reason, he now had their rapt attention. Slim stood up slowly, aware that his height might be intimidating. He softened the gesture by bending down to put another log on the fire. He turned around to Mike.

“Why do you want to go alone?”

It was a perfectly normal question but Mike quaked in his boots just the same. “There are some Christmas gifts I want to buy and if you were with me you would know what I was buying. “

“Sounds reasonable, don’t ya think?” Jess asked aloud, wanting to draw out Mike’s reasoning more.

Slim turned to Mike, arms folded across his chest. “How are you planning on getting there?” he asked their son.

“Well, I was going to ride in.” He watched Jess’ eyebrows rise and added hastily, “I have ridden into town by myself before,” he added almost defiant but not quite.

“A lot can happen between here and there, Mike. That’s 12 miles you know.” Slim rubbed his neck. He did not really want to have a showdown with Mike, but this was a cause for panic.

“Um, Mike, what would you do if something went wrong?” Jess questioned, his eyes fixed on Mike.

“What could go wrong?” This was definitely not what he expected them to say.

“Well, you could fall off your horse; you could drop your packages off your saddle horn; there could be a bank robbery in town…”  Jess’ voice trailed off.

Mike stood up. This had gone on long enough. He was more determined than ever to go to town without them. “I would ride or walk slower; I would put some of the presents in my saddle bags or in a large bag and if there was trouble in town I would go to Benson’s,” he said forcefully.

Slim turned to Jess. Both men had a heated yet silent conversation and then Slim spoke, “All right, Mike,  you can go under one condition. You ride into town on the morning stage and depart on the afternoon stage.”

“We want you to be safe, Mike,” Jess continued as if he hadn’t heard Slim. “We both know that you know right from wrong and have good instincts. You are not the type of boy to put your  winnings in your back pocket. As long as you ride the stage you don’t have to worry about horses, outlaws and weather, right?”

Mike nodded. They both were right. “I will wait for good weather and travel in on the stage,”  he replied happily.

**********

Chapter 4 – “My Shopping Trip”  by Mike Williams

Every morning when I woke up, the first thing I did was check the weather. Often as not, I couldn’t venture off the ranch due to snow or driving rain. Time was getting short and I was afraid that the gifts I wanted to buy would be sold before I could get to town. I didn’t have school as Miss Mason had decided that her students needed a long break and she closed up the school the same week as Thanksgiving. While I reveled in the free time I continued to read my books and practice my arithmetic using the logbooks Slim had given me. Finally the day came. There was nary a cloud in the sky and the air was crisp but not cold. Jess and Slim insisted that I take a bath and dress warmly just in case the weather turned. Suddenly the stage appeared!

I tucked my money in my shirt pocket and grinned to myself. I had over $20 to spend on my family. Due to careful savings and not buying candy sticks I had managed to squirrel away enough money for Slim’s pocket watch, Jess’ new wallet and the belt buckle for Sheriff Mort. While the buckle was not exactly what I wanted to buy, I knew that Sheriff Mort would wear it with pride. It was square with a star in the center of it and two pistols crossed each other on top.  Jess’ new wallet was made of oil skin so it would not get wet. I know that two very important pages are in Jess’ old wallet—the pages, signed by Judge Henry, that stated that he, Jess Harper, was a cleared and not wanted man. The new wallet would put his mind at ease. Slim’s pocket watch was shiny and while not nearly as new as I would  have liked, it wasn’t nicked and kept good time. The only problem was Daisy’s hat. I  had come up with an alternative gift but really wanted to give her a hat. She has hardly worn one anymore and I knew she dearly loved them. I just wasn’t sure the if I had enough money.

I spent part of the time looking out the window. I always wondered what would have happened to me if the Japanese entertainers had found another family for me instead of Slim and Jess. I was so happy with my family. They treated me as one of them and always supported me. I thought back to the time in the line cabin. They both could have yelled at me for forgetting my gloves but instead they explained why I needed them and took care of me. Slim could have laughed at me when I asked about my chest hair, but instead showed me a part of himself and made me feel like a grown up. Even now, they trusted me to ride the stage into town on my own!

The swaying of the coach almost put me to sleep but the driver’s yells to the horses kept me  from drifting too far under the spell.  Suddenly, the driver pulled up short and I recognized the stage office. I was in town. I jumped off the step with ease and before I left, asked what time they would be leaving for the ranch. I was determined to do my shopping as fast as possible, so I walked down the street at a swift clip. I had never been in town this early before on a Saturday and  I remembered Jess telling me that there were many people who went to town for supplies on Saturdays.

My first stop was Benson’s. It was very crowded and noisy. Marcy noticed me and  inquired after Slim and Jess. I told her that I was alone and had some things to buy. She excused herself for a few minutes to help a young lady with a baby and then came back to me.

“What can I help you with Mike?”

“I was wondering if the wallet and buckle and pocket watch I looked at a few weeks ago were still for sale?” I asked politely.

She smiled “Let me check,” she said and disappeared into the back room. She was back a few minutes later. “Here you go, Mike.” She held out the gifts for my family. “Do you want to hold them?”

“Can I?” I asked hesitantly.

She nodded and handed me the brown wallet. It had two deep pockets which would be perfect for Jess. Next I ran a finger gently over the pocket watch. I could imagine Slim checking the time with this watch. Finally, I skimmed my fingers over the belt buckle.

“Do I have enough money?” I asked Miss Benson handing over the money from my pocket.

“With some to spare,” she nodded. As she handed me the change she asked if I wanted some candy sticks.

“No thank you,” I replied. “I still have to buy a hat for Daisy.”

She nodded and then said that if I had any money left, I could come back and she would throw in a few candy sticks for me.

I left with my  packages tucked securely under my arm. I peered into the dusty window of the millinery. If it wasn’t for Daisy, I wouldn’t set foot into it. I wandered around and then at my wits end, I found two beautiful hat pins in a case by the window. They looked old but they sparkled in the morning sun and I thought I’d  had never seen anything else so incredibly beautiful. With some money to spare, I bought the hat pins and finally, money almost all gone, sat down in the stage office to wait for the stage going home. I was tired. The trip had been successful. I had proved to myself and my fathers that I could be trusted in town.

**********

Chapter 5 – Mark Twain Was Right

Christmas was celebrated in true Sherman-Harper style. Everything was perfect. The best part, Slim often remarked later, was having Andy show up unexpectedly. The two brothers really missed each other and they spent a great deal of time enjoying each others company. Sheriff Mort came for Christmas Eve and spent the night, so he was there at the ranch in the morning. Daisy had invited Marcy and her brother Jed for Christmas lunch and Jess loved teasing Slim after they left. Seems the shy Miss Benson isn’t shy any longer as Slim was blushing when he came into the house after seeing then off. He told Jess that it was cold outside but Jess just smirked and told him to “keep telling yourself that.”

Everyone liked their presents and Daisy’s feast rivaled any diner in town. Even the weather cooperated. Sheriff Mort left before it got dark. Mike noticed that he had swapped out his old buckle for his new one. They had exchanged a loving hug when he left and Mike was especially pleased and happy that his godfather was such a kind man. Andy had decided to stay up for awhile longer and began a checkers match with Mike.

The days after Christmas and New Years passed quickly and the long days of cabin fever began. The weather was particularly nasty with lots of “dadgum weather “ as Jess often remarked. While Slim had the logbooks and reports to write, Jess was often bored and Mike was downright moody. He had been reading some of Mark Train’s books. Andy had given him the signed book, “Roughing It” by Mr. Twain. He had begun to wonder what life was like beyond the confines of their ranch and kept asking Jess for bedtime stories about “the Big Open.”

Andy took him aside one night while they were sitting by the fire. “Be careful what you wish for, Mike.” He spoke solemnly, his eyes misting. “I was just like you once. I was surrounded by stages going north, south, east, west. Everybody going somewhere but me. I got my chance to go away when  I went to St. Louis but I missed Slim and Jess and the ranch so much. I often cried myself to sleep. I made new friends but I missed my family. Which is why, after I finish my contract with the hospital, I have decided to come home to stay.”

Slim snapped around and Jess, who had been napping, almost fell out of his chair. “Did I just hear you right?” Slim gasped.

“I’ve been away too long, Slim. I have a great life in Boston and I enjoy working with my friends in our practice but I miss the clean air and the night sounds of our ranch. I miss hearing you and Jess talk and laugh together.  I talked with Sam and he told me that while he’s not ready to share his practice yet, the time is coming soon. So, be prepared big brother, you may need to buy another bed soon!”

Slim’s smile was wide and Jess thought he saw tears form in his friend’s eyes. The hugs shared were warm and long. Mike thought that maybe the idea of leaving was not such a good idea after all.

Then one morning, everything changed. When Mike woke up, he sensed right away that something was different. His sheets were wet! ‘Oh no!’ he thought, ‘I wet the bed!’ Swiftly, he tore the covers off, changed into his clothes right away and crept out of the house to hang up the wet bedding, all the while trying to figure out why he had done it. There was no answer for it.

When Slim and Jess went out to feed and water the horses, they saw the sheets on the line. They knew that Daisy always took the dried clothes into the house at the end of the day, so wet bedding made no sense. Scratching his head, Jess went into the house.

“Daisy, did you forget to take the sheets off the line yesterday?”

“No, why?”

Mike knew in his heart of hearts that it was an accident so, taking a page out of Mark Train’s book, fessed up. “I’m sorry. It was an accident. “

Jess just smiled and said it was ok and advised him not to drink so much water before bedtime. Mike took the advise to heart and it didn’t happen again that month.

**********

Chapter 6   “Stretching My Wings” by Mike Williams

It was spring again in Laramie. I bundled up my winter coat, boots and scarf and put them away behind my hanging clothes in the closet. It was time to run free in the lush new grass and play in the sun. Of course, being I lived on a working ranch, there were only so many hours I could actually play outside but whenever the opportunity presented itself I was outside like a shot. I had another growth spurt before school started again and only wanted Slim and Jess to take me shopping. I think I may have hurt Daisy’s feelings but heck, a man doesn’t go shopping with his Ma, now does he?

After determining what size shirt I now wore, Slim let me pick out the colors I wanted. Then, I tried on different pants too. But I soon found out that the chore was more difficult cause I had grown down there too. I was real embarrassed and almost in tears. Jess came to my rescue and said it was a natural thing that happened and I just had to do some adjusting for pants to fit right. Growing up sure takes some getting used to!

One night, when they thought I was asleep, I heard Slim and Jess talking. Actually, I think they were arguing. Slim wanted to wait to tell me something and Jess didn’t. I think they were arguing about “The Talk” whatever that is. Anyway, Jess said there was no time like the present before I started asking questions and Slim said it was too early. They carried the argument out to the porch and must have laid down next to it all night too ‘cause they didn’t talk to each other in the morning. I hate it when they don’t talk to each other. I kept thinking about it all day when I was in school. Tommy Jenkins, he’s my best friend, asked what was wrong and I just shrugged and told them that Jess and Slim were gonna tell me about growing up. Well, Tommy said since he was older, all I had to do was ask him.

So I asked him why sometimes I was so happy and then I got really mad at the same time. He said my feelin’s were getting in the way and just ignore it. Then he asked me if I always did what Slim or Jess asked me to do. I had to think about that for awhile. “I guess so,” I replied. He then asked me if I ever went to town on my own. I told him how I had done my holiday shopping in town on my own. “Have you ever wanted to go to another town without Jess or Slim?” Well, that question startled me. At first I wanted to say ‘no’ but the idea started creeping around in my head. ‘What if?’

I can’t say the idea didn’t appeal to me, cause it did. Sometimes, my fathers have too many rules. They expect me to obey them even when I think they are silly. Gosh, I’m older now. I want to pull my weight around the ranch, but they still say that branding is dangerous. Andy did that and more when he was my age. Heck, he even ran away from home and lived with outlaws! Now that would be fun, well not the outlaws part. 

I guess Slim and Jess made up, cause they’re talking again. Only thing is, they’re not talking to me. Grown-ups can be so hard to figure out sometimes. I had another one of those pesky wet the bed problems the other morning. This time the wet spot was sticky and not very big. I decided to leave it alone and then, ‘cause I was in a hurry, forgot to make my bed. Daisy reminded me about it when I came home. I got real embarrassed and said I’d do it when I felt like it!

Well, she didn’t like that one bit and said how that was disrespectful and I had to go into my room and make that bed and have no supper. When Slim and Jess came home, she told them I was being punished. Slim poked his head into my room and asked me if I had anything to say. I was so mad I said ‘no’ and he closed the door. Later, when it was time for my bedtime, Jess came in and told me to go outside and then get into bed. He asked me if I had anything to say and again I was so mad that I said ‘no’ again.  I spent the better part of the night crying. I couldn’t figure out why sometimes I wanted to do things I shouldn’t do and sometimes what I should do all at the same time. I even thought about Tommy’s question and wondered where I would go if I stretched my wings and flew away. Would they miss me?

**********

Chapter 7  – Not So Sweet Summertime

Jess hadn’t served as Sheriff Mort’s deputy in a long time but one day he received a letter that came in on the stage. He was needed to help in town. Things had quieted down some so Slim said that he could go. Jess didn’t want to leave. That fact surprised Mike as Jess was usually so obliging but Jess said that for once he really wanted to stay home. Nonetheless, he rode into town the following day to see Mort.  Daisy had read that there was trouble not far from town in that some people set up a ranch with sheep on it. Mike didn’t understand why sheep should be a problem as there was so much land but Slim explained that sheep eat grass differently than cows and horses. They strip the grass right from the bottom up and even though they weigh much less than a cow, they eat a lot. There were rumors of a cattle vs sheep war in Rawlings. While some ranchers fence in their sheep, others do not and some ranchers just don’t want to share their land.

“So this could be a problem for Jess?” Mike asked.

Slim nodded. “I can understand his reluctance to go. Things could get ugly.”

“Jess can take care of himself!”

Slim smiled. “Sure he can, Tiger.” Mike loved it when Slim or Jess used his old nickname. It made him feel loved in a way Daisy would not understand.

Jess came home the following day with the news that there was the possibility of a bank robbery in town. Mort had to go out of town to testify at a trial and needed Jess to guard the town. There was a rumor of a gang that liked to rob banks in the area. Jess loaded up his guns and ammunition and vittles from Daisy and rode back into town. Whenever possible he always made sure to spend some time with Mike. They had a special bond, forged from the very beginning, and he always took the time to remind Mike how much he loved him and how safe he was with Slim. Lately, Mike had been feelin’ left out of their lives and the extra time Jess took to come back to him was special. He resolved to behave himself.

Life went on as usual except that Jess wasn’t there. Slim inquired after Jess every time the stage rolled in but all was normal until one afternoon it wasn’t.

“There was trouble in town, Slim!” Charlie shouted to the young rancher. “There was a robbery in broad daylight and one customer was hurt. Jess took after the gang right away and some men joined up as a posse and followed after him. No word yet.”

Slim clasped his hands on the stage door so hard that Mike saw his knuckles turn white. His own breath hitched out of his body and Daisy sat down with a thud. Even though Mike knew Jess could take care of himself, he always got frightened when he was in danger.

Several days and night passed without a word and then one night there was a commotion in the yard. “Mike,” Slim shouted, “ bring me a light and a blanket and wake Daisy!”

Mike did as he was instructed and when he and a disheveled Daisy entered the barn, they saw Slim cradling a very bloody Jess in his arms.

“Oh my goodness! “ Daisy exclaimed. “ What happened to him?”

“He said he’d been following them and they shot him. He managed to ride back here. Daisy, he’s lost a lot of blood. Can you help me get him into the house?”

Mike knew that time was important so he ran, unbidden, into the house and stripped off Jess’ bed, put another log on the fire, filled a kettle of water, found Daisy’s medical bag and cleared the table all before Slim appeared carrying a very injured Jess. Mike gulped. His hero/father was white as a sheet and so still. The silence in the house was deafening. Daisy looked up at Slim and said in a low tone, “he needs Sam.”

Mike swallowed the lump in his throat. Daisy was the best doctor he knew so if Jess needed Sam he was in a bad way. “I’ll get him!” he spoke up, his voice piercing the quiet in the room.

“Are you sure, Mike? I’d go but..” his voice trailed off as he grabbed his Pard’s good shoulder and looked Mike in the eye.

“I’ve ridden to town before Slim. I can do this.”

“Stick to the main roads and be careful! “ Slim advised and Mike was off like a shot, saddling his pony in record time and ridding off towards town.

“Will he be alright?” Daisy asked as she bathed Jess’ shoulder.

“He’s done it before,” Slim mumbled as he beheld his best friend’s  bleeding and battered body.

Mike reached town in record time and luckily Sam was in his office. Not wanting to waste time with a buggy, he went to the livery and saddled his horse. Together, Mike and he galloped the twelve miles back to the ranch. Mike gulped water from the well and took care of both their horses and Jess’ Traveler. By the time he finished, all was quiet in the house. Sam was in the shared bedroom with Jess and Slim and Daisy were drinking coffee in the main room.

“You must have ridden like the wind, Mike,” Slim grabbed his son pulling him into a tight embrace. “Sam said if you hadn’t gotten to him when you did, Jess might not be here right now. You helped save his life, Tiger.”

Mike pressed his head into Slim’s shirt. It wasn’t often now, that the once easy displays of love and affection were displayed but tonight was an exception and as Mike quietly sobbed, the indomitable strength of Jess Harper rallied in the next room.

**********

Chapter 8  “My Great Adventure Prologue” by Mike Williams

Six long weeks later, Jess, now fully recovered, laughingly exclaimed to his best Pard that ranching was too much work and they needed a break.

Mike giggled as he listened to his fathers bantering on the porch. They had been working hard trying to make up for Jess’ absence from ranch chores. There was only so much one person could do, after all. Since they both failed, in Mike’s opinion, to take into account that he was able to help, well so be it. Mike was getting more and more upset every day. ‘Some day he’d show them!’ he thought.

One afternoon,  Mike’s friend Tommy rode into the yard. The two friends happily spent some time fishing and Tommy had an early dinner with the family. As he saddled his horse for the ride home, Tommy asked Slim if it would be alright if Mike could spend the night next Friday. They would play, go fishing and have fun and Mike would be home on Saturday just in time for dinner. “It’ll be an adventure,” Tommy said.

Slim was reluctant to say ‘yes’. Lately it seemed to him and Jess that Tommy was acting a bit like a wild colt with no idea about fences. They didn’t know Mr. Jenkins well and had no idea how he treated his son. Of course, it was none of their business. They just wanted Mike to grow up safe. Mike had almost grown up with Tommy. They had been friends almost from the very beginning but these days, it seemed to Slim, Tommy was acting a lot like his father and it worried him. Mr. Jenkins had been put in jail for more than one occasion due to being drunk and causing fights at Windy’s. Jess, himself, had to haul him off to one of Mort’s cells on one such occasion. But still he trusted Mike to do the right thing and so he promised him that he could go.

**********

Chapter 9  “My Great Adventure“ by Mike Williams

I knew that “the great adventure” that Tommy spoke of was just that. He had promised me that one day, when he could get the buckboard, we would have a grand time away from the ranch and away from annoying parents.  I could hardly wait. The day finally arrived but I was feelin’ anything but excited. I had woken up with a sore throat. Usually, when I got a sore throat, it meant a cold coming on but I didn’t want to disappoint Tommy and I wanted my adventure so I just shrugged it off. I did manage to snag some of Daisy’s willow bark tea that she kept in a mason jar in the kitchen. I poured it into my canteen just in case I needed it  Tommy told me to pack a clean set of clothes so I put them in my bed roll. I figured that we might get dirty and that’s why he suggested it. I made sure that my new gloves were in the saddle bag and I put my watch and knife in my jeans pocket. I was ready.

Slim had saddled up my pony and with Jess’ hug and Slim’s firm handshake and with promises to behave, I rode away. Little did I know that my grand adventure was going to test my resolve at every turn.

The ride to Tommy’s was a short one but it was long enough to confirm for me that I was getting sick. I was hotter than usual. I coulda turned back but pure stubbornness made me keep going. Tommy said I could put my pony in their barn so that is what I did. We had some lemonade, which was more water than anything else, but I  was too thirsty to complain and then we went fishing. Tommy told me that we were gonna get up early on Saturday and ride into town with his father. We were gonna be on our own from that time forward. The Big Open was finally here and we were gonna go exploring. He was really excited but all I wanted was my bed.

The first thing that happened was Tommy suggesting that he drive the buckboard into town. He said he’d park it by the side door of the general store, so it would be easier to load the sacks of flour into it. Then his father would leave the buckboard at the livery and they’d all go home together. While his father took care of other business, we would go exploring the town and meet him for lunch at the diner. Sounded perfectly normal to me except that we never did have lunch at the diner. We had free sandwiches at Windy’s!

But I’m getting ahead of the story. Anyway, we left the buckboard next to Benson’s and walked around the corner into an alley. Laramie town has lots of places to hide as the buildings were put up with no thought as to a proper layout. Jess once told me that when a shopkeeper came to town if he was walking down a street and said to himself that this would be a good spot for his shop, then there is where he built it. As a result, there were lots of corners and little streets that went no where. Anyway, that’s where we landed after parking the buckboard.

I sat down on the edge of a fence. A headache was beginning to form and I was shivering. But Tommy never noticed. “Say, Mike,” he asked kinda casual like, “have you ever stolen anything?”

“No way!” I exclaimed.

“Well, what would you do if you were hungry and had no money?” he asked me.

“I would ask for a share of whatever the man was eating and offer to pay him for it when I got a job.”

“Hmmm,” Tommy looked at me hard. “And who would hire you? You’re only 12!”

“I don’t know,” I mumbled, looking down at my boots.

“Watch and learn,” he motioned his head towards Benson’s.

We walked into Benson’s which was rather noisy and full of customers. Tommy saw Marcy near the front counter and told her that he and I were just looking, whatever that meant. He was up to no good, I  just knew it and I didn’t want any part of it. Well, next thing I knew, he was motioning me to join him and we left the store. Halfway down the street, he handed me a candy stick! When I shook my head, he said “Well, if you don’t like that flavor, I took some others.”

 I gasped. He had 12 of each! “How did you manage that?” I asked him.

“Sleight of hand,” he replied smugly. I just shook my head.

“You’re loss,” he said as he made a great deal of smacking his lips and slurping the sweet sticky candy. I was so tempted to just take one cause my throat was so sore but that would be wrong.

“Hey, Mike,” Tommy whispered to me as we walked down the empty street, “Slim wouldn’t approve of stealing?”

“No, he wouldn’t,” I replied. I knew he would never understand why it was wrong to steal so I just repeated a phrase from one of Mark Train’s books, “Don’t try and teach a pig to sing. It’s a waste of your time, and it annoys the pig.”

“Uh?”

“It’s a saying from one of Mark Twain’s books. Ever hear of him?”

Tommy hated reading so I knew he never heard of the famous author who had been traveling on the stage when Jack Slade tried to fire Jess from the stage company. Andy told me all about it when he was at the ranch over Christmas. He even leant me the book Mr. Twain signed for him. I felt a little guilty for showing off but I was feeling tired and hot then.

“Hey,” he said suddenly “I bet you’re hungry.”

“How can you be hungry? You just ate two candy sticks!”

“Wanna eat some great sandwiches?”

I fished into my pocket for my money. I had just enough if I didn’t have desert.

“”Don’t worry about money, Mike. It’s free!”

“How can that be?” I asked him, more perplexed than ever. How does he know these things?

He led me back towards Windy’s. Now, I’ve heard about this saloon often enough. It’s usually the place where Jess or Slim stop for a beer every now and again. Jess has even passed out there once or twice. But I myself have never set foot there. Tommy pushed opened the bat wings and we stepped inside. It was crowded with cowboys and what I supposed were dance hall girls, that’s what Jess calls them. I looked around and then I saw him. Good heavens! Mr. Jenkins was out cold, his head on his arms and one hand clutched a whiskey bottle. It wasn’t even noon yet!

Tommy just sauntered over to him and grabbed the bottle. He tucked it under his arm. “For later,” he whispered to me. He then walked over to the bartender. They greeted each other like long lost friends.

“Howdy, Tommy! Who’s your friend? “

“He’s Mike Williams, “ Tommy answered for me.

It was often easier to just give people my last name seeing how I wasn’t a Harper or a Sherman and explaining how I came to be adopted.

“First time here?” The bartender asked me as he peered over the bar.

I nodded, not trusting my voice.

“Bet you boys are hungry. Feel free to take what you want. “

At the far end of the bar, a huge spread was set up – bread, cheese, meats and pitchers ready to serve with nice cold beer. Even though I wasn’t hungry, I knew I would be later so I made myself a sandwich and grabbed a glass of what I thought was lemonade. I then had second thoughts and made a second sandwich for later. The bartender gave me some paper to wrap my sandwich in and Tommy and I sat down behind the bar. The sandwich was tasty, I have to admit but the lemonade was so much better. I had never tasted anything quite like it and drank two glasses! I would have to find out what lemons they used to tell Daisy, I thought.

Things were getting a little fuzzy for me when I stood up and Tommy had to steady me. I figured that maybe I ought to tell him that I didn’t feel well.

“Time to go,” he said and we slowly made our way out of the bar. I forgot to look for his father. I think it was because I was having trouble walking. The room was swaying.

We were hit with a real cold blast of air when we hit the sidewalk. The sunny day had turned to a cold gray one. I suddenly remembered that I had left my slicker tied behind my saddle. There was no help for it. We were gonna get wet.

“Let’s go somewhere until it stops raining, “ Tommy suggested.

I agreed and he led the way back to Windy’s. He saw my look and whispered, “don’t worry, we won’t be in the bar, at least not really.”  The place was part of the bar alright; it was the storeroom!

“We can’t stay here!” My yell came out like a squeak. Guess I was sicker than I thought I was.

Tommy looked disgusted at me. “You’re such a big baby!”

“I am not!” I yelled back. “I’m sick!”

With that remark, he put his hand onto my forehead. “Why didn’t you say something before?” He asked.

“I wanted to go with you,” I mumbled trying not to cry.

“Well, I guess we’ll have to go another time then. Come on, we’ll head back to my place.”

“What about your Pa?”

“Oh, don’t worry about him. When he comes to, he will figure that I left without him and ride home. That’s how it usually happens.”

I was shocked. How could a father do that to his son? I thought about it all the way to the livery stable but what I saw next frightened me even more. The buckboard was gone!

**********

Chapter 1O – Revelations

Back at the Sherman-Harper Ranch, Slim and Jess had decided to fix the wagon wheel they had been neglecting for a couple of days. The forge was glowing brightly and the work, made lighter by two experienced men, made the work easier. As usual, the talk centered on their son.

“You know, he’ll be fine, don’t you?” Slim asked Jess as they turned their attention to greasing the wheel.

“Yeah,” grunted a disheartened Jess. “I just wish we knew more about Mr. Jenkins. Like why he drinks so much, who takes care of the boy when he’s drunk, those sorts of things.”

“Slim stopped and wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. He looked up into the dark blue eyes of his worried friend. “You think he’s in trouble? “

“No, Slim. I think Tommy is trouble. I just don’t like the way he leads Mike around, that’s all.”

Slim was about to say something when there was a clap of thunder and rain started pouring down onto the two men. They dashed inside the barn just before the torrent began in force.

“You were saying?” Jess asked.

“Hope they are inside by a warn fire playing checkers!”

“Slim, Jess,” Daisy’s voice sang out from the front porch. She peered through the rain sheets to see them standing side by side just inside the barn. “ Are you boys interested in lunch?”

The two men looked at each other and then with one accord, ran through the rain drops zig- zagging around puddles. Daisy clasped het hands together. ‘Sometimes her two eldest acted like little boys.’ she thought. Presently, the two said boys/men stood before her, both grinning and soaked.

“We know, Daisy,” Jess said,  as he scrapped his boots on the rug outside the door. “Get out of wet clothes, dry off, sit in front of the fire and eat our lunch!” He picked her up and twirled her around the room, despite her feeble shouts to “put her down immediately as she was getting wet!”

“Pard,” Slim’s voice of reason broke though the laughter. “She’s got a point!”

Laughter rang in the little ranch house as both men obeyed the wishes of their diminutive second Ma and finally sat down to a scrumptious lunch of tomato soup and sandwiches.

After lunch, Slim decided to read a bit and Jess sat and rocked. Daisy went into Mike’s room to tidy up and came right back out again. “Slim, Jess, I discovered something you both need to see. “Her expression was unreadable and that fact alone sent shivers down Slim’s back. Daisy pointed to Mike’s bed. It was not made.

“This is something you both need to talk to him about. I could because you forget I raised a son, but this needs to be addressed by the two of you and the sooner the better.” She pointed to the center of the bed sheet.

Jess lightly traced it with his finger. He grimaced and said lightly, trying to ease the tension in the room, “seems our young Mike isn’t so young anymore.”

As Daisy left them to sort it out she turned and asked a poignant question, “After you’ve talked with him, will you tell me? I want to make a special cake. It’s not every day, that a boy becomes a man.”

**********

Chapter 11 – “Someday You’ll Tell Your Children” by Mike Williams

“Who could have taken it?” I yelled at Tommy. I was getting really scared now.  How was I going  to get home?

“Relax,” Tommy told me, “Probably my Pa took it.”

“Oh, that’s just great!” I fumed. I took out my pocket watch and groaned. It was past two and it was raining harder. I was going to be in a lot of trouble.

“Do you want to hear my plan or are you gonna yell at me?”

I looked hard at him. I was so angry. He had promised me a great adventure and every time I turned a corner, there had been problems – stealing, drinking, lying, not to mention the cigarette he dangled in front of me as I raged in front of him.

“Go ahead,” I moaned. Life couldn’t get any bleaker.

“Okay, we’ve got some choices. We could spend the night up there in the loft. It’s really warm. I’ve done it before. No one bothers you. Then tomorrow morning, we borrow two horses, write a note that Slim and my father will return the horses in the morning and then ride home.

Or we ride back to my home in the rain. You spend the night and then ride home in the morning. They’ll think you stayed all day and didn’t come home cause it was raining.

Or we spend the night in the loft and tomorrow ride out for Cheyenne.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. Each plan of his was terrible. “You mean we would just ride away, no saying goodbye?”

“You said it yourself, Mike. They aren’t paying attention to you. They don’t care about your feelings. You want to help out at that ranch of yours and they keep saying no. Heck, they probably won’t even miss you.”

Something took hold of my heart and squeezed it when I heard his words. I pictured Slim, pacing in our yard, trying to figure out where I was. Jess would be trying to calm Slim and Daisy and all the while try to figure out why I had gone. And then there was Sheriff Mort. He would gather together a search party and Slim and Jess would never stop looking for me.

I knew then that I had to go home. I needed to go home. Not just because I was sick either. I loved my family and my family loved me. I probably would be in trouble for the rest of my life, but I’d be home. Heck, maybe I wasn’t old enough for a great adventure yet. But someday I would be. I didn’t want to end up like Andy, wishing I could travel far away and then crying myself to sleep missing my family. I turned towards Tommy.

“I want to go home,” I said.

“Now?”

“Now!” I was adamant.

So, in the end, we “borrowed” a horse and struck out for Tommy’s ranch. I needed to saddle up my pony, put on my slicker and ride for home. I wasn’t thinking too clearly by then, cause I never would have set out in the rain but I didn’t want anything more to do with Tommy Jenkins.

We mounted the horse and I put my arms around Tommy. More times than not, I found myself jerking awake. The final time, we had stopped and he said something about a shoe and dismounted. I got down too. Nothing was familiar. “Tommy,” I asked hesitantly, “where are we?”

“A couple of miles from town,” he answered more smoothly than he should. Something wasn’t right. I felt sick. We weren’t anywhere near home.

“I need to sit down,” I said to him.

“Well, you do look a bit peaked,” he had the grace to say. “Why don’t you get under these bushes and stay dry. I’!! get that blanket for you and find someone to help you. I’ll be back.”

I should never have listened to him. But I was so sick and weak so I just crawled under the brush, pulled the blanket over me and dragged the canteen close to my chest. I heard him ride away. It’s only for a few hours, I thought to myself. I checked my pocket watch. It was 4:00.

The next time I woke up, shivering, I checked my watch. Shocked, I kept turning it over and over thinking I wasn’t seeing it clearly. It was 10:00. It was dark and cold. I knew then that I was all alone. I had no idea where I was and Tommy had left me. I couldn’t get up and start walking cause it was dark and still gently raining, so I struggled to go back to sleep. I had to move in the morning. No matter what.

I woke to birds chirping and for a moment wondered why I didn’t hear our chickens and then I remembered. I was out in the middle of nowhere. I sat up for a few minutes and tried to remember what Jess always told me about being left afoot. I didn’t, for one second, believe that I was near home. Tommy probably lied about that. I needed to find water. I had my small knife in my pocket so I could cut small branches if I had to but I didn’t have anyway to get warm except the old blanket. I stood up slowly and surveyed my surroundings. Nothing was familiar. I figured that Tommy rode away from Laramie so I turned in the opposite direction and started walking. It was close to 6:00 in the morning. By now, if I knew my family, like I thought I did, they would be frantic. Slim and Jess probably would be riding to Tommy’s house right now!

I walked slowly, trying to come to grips with what had happened.. I had trusted Tommy, but in the end, he had used me. When he realized that I wasn’t going to go along with his plot, he left me alone. I no longer felt sorry for him. Now, I was just mad. I kept walking, keeping close to trees and brush for support. I rested when I needed to but kept going. I was so hungry but I never saw any berries or heard a creek anywhere. The sun was so bright. Around 10:00 I sat down to rest. I wondered where Tommy was. By now, Jess and Slim were riding towards town. They probably found Mr. Jenkins drunk at his house.

I got up after a few minutes rest and started off again. I tried not to think about how sore my feet were or how my stomach was loudly growling. I am not usually a mean person, but I began picturing Tommy’s head being hit over and over again.

I stumbled and lost my balance and fell. I rolled over and over down a small hill. Before the blackness took over, I saw my family and cried “Slim, Jess I love you.”

 

Chapter 12 – The Worst Feelin’ in the World

“What time is it?” Jess asked aloud.

“You asked me that 10 minutes ago!” Slim responded angrily.

“Now boys, “ Daisy’s calm voice tried to placate her family. “We’re all a little worried. “

Jess paced back and forth from the window to his rocker. Mike was really late getting home. “I am gonna tan his hide!” Jess grumbled.

Slim shook his head slowly. He was worried too. “Maybe it’s raining there too and he didn’t want to ride home until it stopped. “

“He’s a sensible boy. He’s learned a lot from the two of you.” Daisy added her two cents. She decided to wait to start supper, figuring that her boys wouldn’t eat anyway. Finally, when 6:00 came, she put on a pot of coffee. “I am going to start supper. He probably won’t come home now, boys. It’s pouring out.”

Jess turned from the window. “I’m just worried about him, ya know.”

Slim nodded and grabbed Jess’ shoulder. “I am too, Pard. But he’s a sensible boy. He knows not to ride in the dark.”

When it came time to go to bed, Jess stubbornly remained in his rocker.

“You coming?” asked Slim.

Jess shook his head. “Too worried to sleep, “ he admitted.

Slim nodded and grabbed his blanket off his bed. He curled up on the sofa.

“You don’t have to keep me company,” Jess remarked.

“I know,” mumbled a sleepy Slim.

The next morning dawned bright and clear. Surely, Mike would come riding home any minute, full of tales of his sleep over. But when the clock’s hands moved to 10:00, the whole family was frantic with worry. Jess and Slim carried on a silent conversation and announced that they were riding out to the Jenkins home to fetch Mike. Daisy nodded. She had spent a considerable amount of time that night worrying about her youngest son. He was smart and usually obedient but lately he was testing all of them. He was becoming a young man and probably picking up some bad habits of his friends. She wasn’t a fan of Tommy Jenkins either. But he was a friend of Mike’s and it wasn’t her place to make him change friends.

Jess and Slim found a hung-over John Jenkins in his parlor. He knew nothing about his son or Mike. Slim had to restrain Jess from knocking Mr. Jenkins into his yard. The only thing that they had to go on was that Mike’s pony was in the Jenkins’s barn.  “Where is he!” yelled Jess to no one in particular.

Slim was at his wits end. Both boys were missing. Their buckboard was missing. Mike’s pony was where it should be in the Jenkins’ barn. Slowly a scary thought ran through Slim’s mind. “You don’t suppose they ran away, do you?”

Jess stopped raving and shot a murderous look at Slim. His fists clenched. “If that boy did anything to ours, I will hurt him. I don’t care how old he is!”

“We have to find him. He could be hurt or sick. Let’s go  home and get some supplies. If we can’t find him, we’ll get Mort involved. “

Jess mounted Traveler and shot Slim a look. “This is the worst feelin’ in the world,” he sobbed.

Slim patted his arm. *We’ll find him,” he spoke confidentially. “I’m riding with the best tracker there is.”

After loading their saddle bags with extra cloths, and medical supplies and canteens full of water, the two men set out towards town. The only thing on their minds was to find Mike. The only problem was that there were no tracks to follow. The rain had washed them all away. The two men rode silently, each lost in their own thoughts. Jess kept an eye out for any branches that might be bent and Slim listened for any wagon wheels. Before long, they arrived in town. Being that it was Sunday, most of the folks were in church. Unfortunately, Mort’s office was closed, so they waited outside the church on the chance that Marcy or Jed had seen the boys.

“As a matter of fact, we did see them yesterday”, Marcy spoke slowly. “I have to tell you though, Mike didn’t look well and he kept his distance from his friend. There’s something off about that Tommy Jenkins.”

“What?” Jess inquired frowning slightly.

“I can’t be sure, but I think he stole some candy sticks yesterday.”

“How many?” Jed asked his sister.

“Twelve of each flavor,” she replied.

Jed shook his head. “That’s it. They get put behind the counter on that top shelve sis.”

Marcy agreed with her brother and added to Slim,” Mike wasn’t involved. I think Tommy wanted him to distract me, but Mike just walked away to look at hat bands.”

The next stop they made was to the livery. The new hire shook his head. He remembered the buckboard but said that Mr. Jenkins drove it home. He did remember a slip of paper that said that Tommy had borrowed a horse yesterday and his father would return it on Monday.

“That doesn’t make any sense!” Jess fumed. “The buckboard wasn’t at their ranch and why did Tommy borrow a horse?”

Slim scratched his head. “Let’s keep going Jess,  his voice strained.

A few miles out of town, they stopped to rest their horses. Both men were exhausted and extremely worried. While they worked well together, they both could feel each other’s worry meters ramping up the longer it took to find Mike. As Jess turned to continue the search, Slim suddenly grabbed his arm.”Listen!” he  whispered urgently.

Jess stopped and listened with his whole body turned towards a small hill. ‘He’s down there!” shouted Slim.

Jess dismounted and followed his Pard down the rocky incline and there, almost hidden in the cold wet grass was a scraped and bloody Mike. Jess gulped. They slowly and gently turned the young boy over onto his back. “He’s breathing,” Slim spoke as his hand rested on Mike’s chest. Cradling him in his arms and steadied by Jess they brought their son to the top of the hill.  “We need to get him to Sam,” Slim murmured.  They gently checked him for broken bones or bent ribs and finding none, breathed a bit easier. They didn’t like the sound if his breathing nor the fever heat that was quite evident. Jess got out the canteen and together they wiped some of the dirt off Mike’s face and hands. Then Slim mounted Alamo and Jess tenderly handed him up to Slim. ‘The important thing was that they found him. Everything else could wait,’ thought Slim as they reversed direction and rode towards town.

**********

Chapter 13 – Times are A-changin’

Awareness came to him slowly. He was lying on something soft. Beside him he heard gentle snoring. He turned his head slowly and saw Slim sprawled in the rocker by his bed. He looked around the room. He knew at once that he wasn’t home. Where was he and where was Jess?  He took stock of his body. His fever was gone, thank goodness as well as his sore throat. His shoulders and arms ached and he saw a scabbed over scratch on his chest. He only remembered the last part of his adventure, losing his balance on the trail going home. ‘Maybe, if he wasn’t in really bad trouble, Slim will tell me what happened,’ he thought.

As if on cue, Slim shifted in the rocker and opened his eyes. They looked at each other for a long minute and then Slim smiled.  “You’re awake. How do you feel?”

Mike was just about to answer, when the door opened and Dr. Sam poked his head into the room. “Aw, my patient is awake! How are you feeling, Mike?”

“I just asked him that,” Slim murmured, slightly annoyed that Dr. Sam was going to get an answer and he wasn’t.

“Slim, why don’t you join Jess for some coffee and breakfast with Carrie while I examine my young patient? Then I promise you that you can have all morning with him after he eats his breakfast!” Dr. Sam gently pushed a reluctant Slim out of the room and turned back to Mike. “And Jess says Slim can “worry the size of Texas!” He grinned as he reached for his stethoscope. “You had the two of them tied up in knots when they brought you in a few days ago. Now, let’s see what’s going on.”

After a breakfast of eggs and milk, Mike was propped up on pillows for his talk with his fathers. He was very nervous but he wanted to be honest with both of them. ‘At least,’ he thought, ‘if I am to be punished for the rest of my life, I’ll never have to be ashamed of lying too.’

Jess sat down on one side of him and Slim sat by his feet on the narrow bed. Both had serious expressions on their faces but their eyes shone with love. Mike told the story of his adventure, leaving nothing out. He told them how upset he’d been when they didn’t listen to him about doing more around the ranch and how he thought they didn’t care enough to even try to understand. He even told them that he felt more comfortable talking with Tommy about some things he was feeling instead of them even though Tommy didn’t help much. Finally, he told them how upset he was that he lied out of embarrassment to Daisy when he was being punished. Finally when he reached the end of his tale, he was exhausted.

Both men were more than a little stunned. The quiet in the room was broken by the ticking of the grandfather clock in the hall. Slim looked at Jess and Mike watching their silent conversation saw the depth of their feelings for him. Slim cleared his throat. He stood up and then sat down next to Mike. Jess stood up and moved back a bit so they wouldn’t be too crowded. “Mike, listen to me.”

Mike hung his head. ‘Hear it comes,’ he thought bracing for what was to come.

“Are you listening?”

Mike nodded, not trusting his voice. He looked up at Slim.

“I want you to be honest with us. Did you know that you were going to go to town with Mr. Jenkins?”

Mike nodded miserably.

“Did you know Tommy wanted you to steal things?”

“No!” Mike shouted.

Slim patted his arm. “Relax Mike. I’m just trying to get the whole picture. Did you know about Mr. Jenkins’ drinking problem?”

Mike shook his head. “I’d never been in Windy’s before or knew about free lunches either.”

Jess smiled, “Heck, Mike, if we’d known about free lunches we would have gone there more often before you landed. Would have saved me from Slim’s cooking!”

They shared a laugh, but Mike shivered remembering the storeroom and how cold and damp it had been. “Slim, how come their lemonade was so good?”

“They put whiskey in it, Mike. That’s why you were a bit wobbly on your feet. I don’t know for sure and neither do you, but maybe Tommy wanted you to get drunk so you would agree to do whatever he wanted or go wherever he wanted to.”

Mike looked aghast and shivered again.

“Are you cold?” Jess asked as he motioned to Slim to bring the covers over Mike.

“Maybe a little,” he admitted.

“Do you want to go back to sleep? “

“No, I want to finish this,” he mumbled.

“Ok, let’s see,” Slim continued, “Did you know about the loft in the livery?”

“Yes.” Slim raised an eyebrow, surprised.

“Don’t you remember, Slim? The week I spent with Sheriff Mort I spent time in the livery. I knew there was a loft but I never went up there. It was too high to climb and it scared me.”

Slim tucked his arm around their son.” I remember now.” Mike, how do you feel about Tommy now?”

Mike took a deep breath. “I thought he was my friend but he used me. He made me feel better about myself sometimes but other times he called me a baby. He hated the fact that I had two fathers who loved and cared about me when his never took notice of him. Did you know that Tommy’s Ma died giving birth to him and Tommy’s father blamed him for that? I was so mad that he left me all alone but now,” he paused, “I just feel sorry for him.” He buried his head in the pillow.

Without a word, both men put their arms around their exhausted and heartbroken son and held him while their tears fell. It had been an emotional time for all of them but somehow Slim and Jess felt that Mike had turned a corner of his life.

“Mike, one final thing,” Slim paused, “we both just want you to know how very proud we are of you and what you did in Laramie. You showed that your code of honor is intact and we’re very proud of you. There’s one more conversation we are going to have about your growing up but we’ll save that for another time. But you don’t have to be embarrassed anymore about your bed sheets. It is a normal thing that happens to young men about your age and we’ll talk about that later too. You’re growing up, Mike. Both of us want to help you in the best possible way and still keep you safe. But we hear you and we’re willing to change some things, right Pard?”

Jess nodded and tousled Mike’s hair. “Every now and then, I might mess up and call you ‘Tiger’ but I’m sure you’ll forgive me, right?”

Mike smiled for the first time that day. “I’ll always be your ‘Tiger’, Jess.”

**********

Chapter 14 – “ Special Occasions“ by Mike Williams

Several weeks after I recovered from my Laramie Adventure my fathers and I sat down for “The Talk.” I think that they were more nervous than I was. But we all got through it and I’m a lot wiser about all of it. I know I will still  have questions but I no longer feel embarrassed or scared to talk to my fathers about them. My birthday fell on a Saturday and I was ever so pleased that my family invited Sheriff Mort, Marcy and Jed and my new friends from school. Daisy out did herself with all the desserts and we all had a great time. After my friends and Marcy and Jed drove home, Slim and Jess had me come out on the porch. Sheriff Mort and Daisy had chairs set up for them also.

I had no idea what was going to happen. Slim and Jess unfurled a large banner and asked that I read it. It was a copy of the deed to the ranch with Slim’s, Andy’s and Jess’ name on it. There was a place for one more name just waiting for a signature. Slim handed me a pencil. “For you,” he said solemnly.

I didn’t quite understand. “Jess and Andy and I talked it over Mike. We want you to be part of the ranch.  This document states that you’ll own ¼  of the ranch. Now, as part owner, you’ll have a say in what we buy or improvements we make and you’ll share in our profits too. All you have to do is sign on the bottom line.“

“Oh, and be prepared to share in the blood, sweat and tears of being a ranch owner,“ Jess said with a cheeky grin.

“Where do you want me to sign?” I asked.

**********

Epilogue – “Special Occasions”  by Mike Williams

I always looked back at those days as my growing up days. I learned more about who I was and what I wanted than all the days before. Slim and Jess told me that my Great Adventure had just begun. I was becoming a man and that in and of itself was the adventure. I learned a lot about myself in those days. I will always love my first family, but Slim and Jess helped me form my own life code and gave me a life that I will always treasure.

Mr. Jenkins died not too long after our escapade. I never knew what caused his death. Tommy Jenkins was finally found by a posse looking for a bunch of rustlers. The outlaws gave him shelter in exchange for his stealing food and money for them. He was too young to go to prison so the sheriff sent him to the fort to live with one of the sergeants. As part of his sentence, he had to serve 6 years in the army after he reached the age of sixteen.  I hoped he became a better man too.

Sheriff Mort and I continued our special friendship for many years and Marcy and Jed became more like wise older relatives, except that Marcy didn’t exactly fulfill her role in that way. That is a story in and of itself for another day.

***The End***

Author’s Note: 

In Chapter 6, Mike quotes Mark Train: “If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.”

The title of Chapter 13 comes from the Bob Dylan song “The Times They are a Changin’.”

Come gather ’round people, wherever you roam
And admit that the waters around you have grown
And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone
And if your breath to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.

 

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