Assessing The Damage
Esther May checked herself over. Her hair contained brush, twigs, gravel, and dried blood. Other than that, she was covered with dust, but uninjured. “I don’t know why I was out for as long as you say I was. I’m fine. Don’t even have a headache.”
She noticed the dark circles under Easterly’s eyes before he averted his gaze. It must have been rough on him and all she was doing was thinking of herself. “Thank you for taking care of me, and I’m sorry I was more baggage for you to haul around.”
Easterly cleared his throat and forced a smile. “It was really all … um, I guess we can call him ‘Arthur’ since that wasn’t his actual name—anyway, his tribesmen. They moved us.”
“Just threw me over a horse, did they?” Esther May meant it as a joke, but it sounded rude.
“No, they didn’t.” Easterly fixed her with slitted eyes. “The medicine man wouldn’t even let me put you in a wagon. Said it’d bounce you around too much. They made a drag from two poles and tied blankets between them for you. They made one for Arthur too, to take him home.”
“I’ve seen Indians use those before. I wondered why they don’t use wheels. Where is it?” Esther May craned her neck to study the camp.
“They took it. There was a lot of food in the Mexican’s wagon so I gave them some for helping us. They put it on the extra drag when they left.” Easterly’s flat stare covered the emotion that the tear tracks down his dusty cheeks revealed.
Now she’d done it. Others had taken care of her, saved her life, if Easterly was believable, and she’d been flippant. What could she say?
Nature came to her rescue. Her stomach growled loud enough that Easterly blushed. He jumped up. “I’ll get you some food.”
“Let me go to the river first. I imagine I stink.”
When Easterly nodded, her faced burned. Was he agreeing with her priorities or her assessment?
Her answer came when he returned from a wagon and handed over soap and drying-off rags.
She walked fully clothed into the river and watched the silt stains in the water drift away.
The Best Meal Ever
The smell of frying bacon pulled her. She couldn’t have resisted any more if she had been roped and drawn.
Easterly waved her to breakfast. “Beans with fatback and jerky. We have bacon, and I found stale biscuits for sopping.” He grinned and shrugged. “It’s all I know how to cook. Oh, and coffee, of course.”
“Give me that plate,” Esther May said, grabbing it from his hand. She stirred a biscuit through the beans soaking up the juice and stuffed half of it in her mouth. After chewing to compact it to a wad small enough to jam into her cheek, she pointed at the chuck wagon kit. “Spoon!”
Easterly took two, gave her one and they fell to putting the grub behind their belt buckles. It only bothered Esther May a little that she wasn’t eating like a lady, but she noticed that Easterly seemed withdrawn.
“I’m sorry. I don’t usually eat like a hog at the trough.”
“No, it’s not that,” he said. “I was thinking it’s time to go.” He was more than withdrawn. Easterly had gone shy.
Is Easterly leaving by himself? Should the teens be on their own? Leave a comment.
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