Summary: Slim’s musings sitting in his chair on the porch on a summer night waiting for Jess to come home. Most of this story is true to cannon but not in the order in which the show was presented. Slim is in a particularly pensive mood, and so he is not thinking along a specific timeline.
Word Count: 1450
The first time he asked me a question it was not challenging. It was as if he knew somehow that there was one way and my way and he didn’t balk.
The next time he asked a question it was about my safety. Did I need help? I said “if you wouldn’t mind,” and then he took on a drunken man who was taller and heavier than himself and laid him out flat and then grinned at me.
The first time he said “goodbye” nearly crippled me, that is after I got over being mad. In the early years, it happened a lot but I never got used to it.
The first time I heard him call out in fear was for me. “Slim, it’s Jess! Slim!” I heard the fear in his voice but I couldn’t answer him. I had been shot and pushed over a cliff. The freezing rain had pelted my body for hours and I was frozen to the bone. “Slim” his voice was soft but filled with compassion and worry and fear. He had found me.
The first time I heard him remark about the ranch as being home to him, set my heart on its axle. The house, the land, the cattle, the horses and us meant so much to him that he was willing to die for it.
The first time he called me his friend was early that first year he was on the ranch. We faced a test together. An innocent man, a former friend of Jess’, was lynched in our front yard. I tried to stop the unjust trial and give Jess time to track down the real killer, but Hendrick’s mob attacked me and while I was unconscious, murdered Mac. Poor Jess. He rode into the yard with Cowan and saw Mac’s body. He was out for bear. I remember he asked, sarcasm dripping from every word, “ Did you help them tie the knot? Did you even try to stop them?” When I struggled to stand up, and he saw my head wound, he immediately turned into a caring Mother Hen. “Can I do anything for you?” I heard the brotherly love and concern in his voice.
When he said he was riding out because trouble kept following him and I tried to convince him that the judge and the men would get what was coming, he decked me. Already dizzy from the head wound, I lay on the hard ground for a few minutes. For the first time, he had really hit me hard. Somehow, in my hazy state, I heard him say “I’m sorry Slim. You’ve been a good friend.”
We’d had dust ups’ before, but the first time he ever pulled a gun on me I couldn’t think straight. I wasn’t scared exactly, cause somehow, I knew he’d never shoot me, but I could tell there was something getting to him and when I said, “don’t make me ask twice,” I saw the hesitation, the embarrassment and maybe a little grief at what he had just done.
The first time he asked me why I never asked questions about his past, why I took him in and made a friend out of him, I answered that he “needed me to.” When he said he wanted to help Powers, like I had helped him, my heart swelled twice its size. No one ever has made me feel like that since.
The first time he acted tender-hearted was the night after the Japanese entertainers left. We set about doing ranch chores, showing Mike the corrals and horses and Betsy the cow. He trailed after us asking hundreds of questions. Afterwards, while I made supper, Jess took Mike for a ride on Traveler’s patient back. After supper, when he got very tired, we helped him put on my brother’s rather long night shirt and tucked him into bed. While I went out to heat up some milk with sugar in it, Jess told him a bedtime story. Little did we know, but we started a ritual that night that still exists today. Later, on the porch, Jess looked at me. His face was all soft with wonder like when he sees a beautiful sunset or a baby colt or kitten. “Slim, we gotta get to town,” he started “he needs clothes; he’s wearing the only ones he owns!” I looked back at him and nodded and then he said, for the first time, “he’s growing on you same as me.”
The first time he spoke about the bond of friendship that was slowly growing between us was when I had followed him and Brady up the Lolo Trail to Canada. One look at Brady and I knew he was trouble. I wouldn’t help a deserter but I would help Jess. I had a lot of time to think following him those 500 miles. I personally thought that once Brady was through with Jess, he’d kill him. I felt that Jess was helping him because of his sister. In any case, there I was having coffee with Jess when he said that he had never been to Canada and might stay awhile, my heart sank. It might be a year before I saw him again if ever. And then he glanced at me, sort of rueful like, “It ain’t good when a friendship makes a man go against himself.” I saw forced resignation in the way he lay beside me. I remember saying that “sometimes a friendship or a man needs a test.”
The first time he asked about stakes was after we saw the sergeant off on the stage. His eyes moved up and down, his eyes never quite meeting mine. “Do you think the country will take them stakes again?” I smiled at him and shrugged, “They never let go of the other ones.”
The first time he really began to understand how important he was to me and the family was when Jack Slade, the newly appointed Overland Stage’s Superintendent wanted him fired. I stood up to Slade, coming between him and Jess, and told him, in no uncertain terms, that this was my ranch and I did the hiring and the firing. Slade was a ruthless killer and liked to intimidate people. I knew of his reputation of course. He was fast with a gun but then so was Jess. Slade said if I didn’t fire Jess, it would cost me the franchise. I squared my shoulders and said that if that was the way they were going to act, I didn’t need their business. While Jonesy was fixing lunch, I walked into our shared bedroom to coax Jess out to eat. I knew he wasn’t scared. I figured out that if Jess got in trouble with Slade and there was a shootout, the Overland Stage would take it out on me.
He was acting like he was going into ride out, to protect me and give us the extra money cushion we counted on. Jess never lied to me and he told me that he was kinda thinking along those lines. So I stood up and told him that the place wouldn’t be the same without him and his troubles, he looked at me in amazement. “Really?” he asked, his eyes not quite meeting mine.
“Yes,” I said firmly, “I really mean that.”
The first time he spoke about our friendship and home in the same sentence, no less, was when we rode into a small trail town called Agate in Nebraska. We were looking for a market to sell our beef. The town council wanted to hire us as town marshals to clean up their town. I said we’d like to help but we couldn’t. The mayor then offered a $25 bonus on top of the $100 apiece. As tempting as it was, I wasn’t interested in becoming part of a range war. When I suggested to Jess that he stay he said, almost nonchalantly, “Anybody shoots me, I want to be sure you’re around to carry me home.” We ended up with bags of groceries to last a couple of months and stories to tell Andy and Jonesy
It’s getting later, I wonder where Jess is. I should probably go in, but I’m comfortable and besides my memories seem more alive out here. Maybe because we’ve shared so much of our lives right here on this porch. I should just grab my jacket, that ought to wake me up.
I wake slowly to the sound of his voice all gentle and a bit teasing.
“Did ya miss me?”