Pay day he was standing at the back door of the kitchen talking to Manny. Malone came down the stone path from the house. There was something about the way he was carrying himself. He looked angry. He saw Tyree, and waved him over.
“Aw shit.” He said to himself.
“We need to talk,” Malone said stiffly.
“What did I do now?”
Malone didn’t answer him. He walked to Malone’s office and once inside Malone slammed the door shut. He jumped at the loudness of it.
“I ain’t your damn…”
“Sit your ass down, Allison.”
He sat down. Malone’s face was red. He was pacing. He was making fists with his hands. Tyree’s hands were sweaty. His stomach twisted up.
“What do you want, Tyree?”
“I don’t know what you want to hear.”
“Try the truth. That would work.”
“I just want to leave.”
“You want to leave. Where are you going?”
He shrugged. “I haven’t decided yet.”
“Don’t guess. You came here looking for something. What was it?”
“You told me you wanted to learn how to train horses? Do you not want to do that anymore?”
“So you think you learned all I can teach you about that? Think you can just go get a job training horses anywhere?”
“Haven’t thought about it.”
“You’re a kid. You act like a kid. You think like a kid.” Malone stabbed the air with a thick finger. “You don’t think about nothing but the easy way out.”
“I can take care of myself,” he said defensively.
“You’ve done a real good job at that, haven’t you?”
Tyree’s face flushed, he stiffened at the sting of Malone’s words.
“You got yourself in how many fights? Thrown in jail, killed a man, damn near got hung. I gave you a job. I’m teaching you a trade, and now you’re just going to up and leave. What is it you want, son?”
“I’m not your son,” Tyree said flatly.
Malone stopped mid-pace and blinked. The anger in him was gone in an instant, replaced by something that looked like confusion, then acceptance. The color drained from his face.
“No. You aren’t. If you were my son… But, you’re right, you aren’t my son. You aren’t my little brother either. It would be easier if you were. You’re absolutely right, Tyree. I apologize. I guess I wasn’t thinking. You only work for me and you don’t owe me anything. You go on, pack your gear and head on down the road.” Malone opened his desk drawer and pulled out a lockbox. He pulled out some money and counted out fifty dollars. “Take that, you’ll need it. You take it and light a shuck.”
“I already got my pay from Pete.”
“I know what you got from Pete. You’ll need that. Don’t goddamn argue with me. Just take it and go.”
“You’re a waste of my time, Allison. I gave you all I can and it wasn’t enough. But that’s on me, I reckon. Now get the hell out.” The words hung like frost in the air. Malone dropped the money on the desk and walked out, slamming the door behind him.
Tyree sat there stunned. He left the money on the desk. The yard was barren, cold as he stepped outside. He went to the livery looking at his horse like there was something he was forgetting to do. Nothing was stopping him from leaving. He could go anywhere he wanted to go. Anywhere at all. Or as Malone seemed to suggest… nowhere.
He went to the bunkhouse and shook out his blankets, rolling them tight. He kept blinking as his eyes blurred up. Looking around the bunkhouse, nobody paid much attention to him. A cowhand lay up in his bunk reading. Wisps of snow blew in the yard as he went out to roll himself a smoke. Manny was working on dinner and muttered something in Arapaho.
He raised an eyebrow as he hadn’t heard it all. Manny said. “Two blanket night.” Thumbing at the sun sinking in the west.
Tulsa, Lonny, and Pike sat playing a game of cards. One of them pushed the extra chair out as he got even with it.
“Want to play a hand, Allison?” Tyree glanced up as Tulsa spoke. He didn’t look unfriendly for once. “Up to you jackass, do or don’t. I don’t care which,” Tulsa said.
Tyree chewed at his lip. “Maybe later. I got something I need to do,” he mumbled.
Tulsa shrugged. Tyree took his bedroll and tossed it back on his bed.
“Damn it,” he said to himself as he walked back across the wet yard. It began to frost up.
He knocked at the front door. He heard Malone yell to come in and he turned the handle and stepped inside. Malone glowered from where he sat in his big chair in front of the fireplace. He had a drink in his hand. Tyree wiped his boots on the doormat and came in, he took his hat in his hands. The big room smelled of cinnamon and cedar. He hadn’t noticed it before.
“Yessir.” He stepped closer and studied the fire for a minute.
“I forgot to say thank you.”
Malone’s eyes were dark in the dim room, his red hair caught the light from the fire and it reminded him of Marcie.
“Thank you for … for giving me a chance. Several chances. I am sorry I didn’t… I’m sorry. I can’t stay.”
“You already said as much. You come back for the money? I’ll get it for you.” Tyree shot a questioning look at Malone as he noted that the man’s words slurred a little.
“I didn’t come for the money, Boss. I… I thought it would be best if I left. It figured it would be easier.”
“For who? For you? Easy is what you want? You’re right. You should leave before you have to tell Marcie goodbye. They’ll be in tomorrow.”
“Yessir. I know.”
Malone stared at him. “I was wrong about you.”
“Don’t sir me now, you damned heathen saddle tramp. You led Marcie to believe you were a straight shooter. She snuck off to see you. You think I didn’t know that? Damned fool. She loves you. And you told her you loved her. You should go, before it starts snowing, before it gets dark on you.”
“I don’t think I deserve her. I don’t think she’ll have me now she knows what I am.”
“You really are that stupid, aren’t you?”
“She’ll be here tomorrow and if you ain’t gone she’ll be expecting a hell of a lot more than an apology.” Malone waved him away and poured himself another drink before he sank back into his chair. Tyree scuffed his boot toe on the rug.
She told him she loves me?
Tyree shook his head, a weak smile playing at his lips. She told him she loves me.
He walked outside. The bitter wind bit into his face, burning his eyes. This revelation was not what he had expected. He scanned the snow covered yard. Malone’s drunken words hammered at him. He’d been sure only half an hour ago of what he should do, how to rectify this mess he’d made and now he was confused. Getting it all right in his head was twisting his gut. Why does this have to be so hard? He spun on his heel, not bothering to knock as he strode back into the house.
Malone glared at him. “What?”
“Merry Christmas, Boss.”
He backed out the door and went to the bunkhouse. He stopped at the card table. Pete was shuffling the deck. The boys had a bottle of rye sitting on the table. Tulsa gave him a sour look.
“Gift from the boss. You want a shot?” Pete asked. Tyree nodded. A shot of whiskey was just what I need.
“You gonna play or just stand there gawking? You in or out, jackass?” Pete asked, holding the cards ready to deal.
Tyree pulled the chair out and sat down. “I’ll take a pair of Aces.” He smiled.