Henry threw another piece of wood on the fire.
The sparks exploded heavenward like it was the happiest moment of their existence. He didn’t think he could ever get tired of seeing that. He might’ve had the wrong idea about this camping action, or at least the fire part, anyway. Then again, he also might be riding the summit of the ultimate adrenaline rush.
He crossed back to the picnic table and stood beside Alice, who stood beside Frank, who sat at the end of the table in the lantern light before an open bottle of rubbing alcohol, a wet rag, and a smoldering cigarette.
Bridget emerged from the shadows defining the van. As she entered fully into the lantern light at the end of the table beside Frank, Henry realized he hadn’t really seen her clearly before this moment, or maybe he just hadn’t bothered to look at her. A bit shorter than Alice, she had dark hair and wasn’t quite as pretty, but she still had a nice face under all the piercings and ink.
“How’s he doing?” he asked her.
“Ed’s sleeping,” she said, “He’s going to hurt for a few days, but he’ll get over it.”
“Why doesn’t someone ask how I’m doing?” Frank said.
“So, Frank,” Henry said, “How’re you doing?”
“Marvelous, thank you very much,” Frank said, laughing, “I still have my teeth and both eyes. Bridget assures me I’ll be as comely as ever once I heal. So, how bad can it be?”
Bridget moved behind Frank. She pulled his head back with one hand and produced a needle and suture with the other. Alice moved around to the table end and beamed a huge flashlight at Frank’s face, which was blotched in dried blood and dirt. The exception was a starkly clean splotch on his brow where a nasty looking and freshly cleaned cut smiled out.
Bridget braced Frank’s head. “Nancy, there’s no way to pretty this up, so I’m just going to say it. This is going to hurt like childbirth.”
Frank closed his eyes. “I regret that I have but one eyebrow to give for my kinsmen. And my oh my, wasn’t that was some fun!”
Bridget slipped the needle in.
Henry winced sympathetically. He watched her working the needle through the wound. She seemed to know what she was doing. The gas lantern squatting on the table before Frank was bright enough to blanch the color from their three faces. They looked like an old civil war painting of a field hospital with a doctor sawing someone’s leg off as an entourage huddled close watching, cigars in mouth.
Bridget drew the suture taut, and then stuck the needle through again.
“Ow!” Frank yelled, “That hurts like hell!”
“Funny,” Bridget said, “I can’t feel a thing.”
“This would be so much easier if I wasn’t sober. Alice, be a doll and grab a joint from the van.”
“No!” Frank yelled again, “Not until you’re done!”
“Oh, Frank,” Bridget said dramatically, “Don’t be such a pussy.”
Frank winced as the needle made another pass. Bridget pulled the stitch tight and repeated.
“I could do that,” Alice said as she steadied the flashlight, “It doesn’t look much different than sewing a precise seam.”
“Oh, it’s not,” Bridget said, “Tougher fabric, maybe.”
“Messier, too, I think,” Alice said seriously, “I mean, what with the blood and all.”
“Yeah, you’re right. You’re so clever. I hadn’t even thought of that.”
“I could probably make some fancy stitches, too. Make it a little more urban stylish, maybe use some different color threads, yeah?”
“Yeah, sure. Hey, want to give it a try?”
“No!” Frank yelled.
“Yes!” Bridget and Alice yelled back.
He tried to pull away but Bridget had a solid hold on his head.
“I’ll hold him tighter,” Bridget said as Alice reached for the needle, “It’s harder to make even stitches when they thrash.”
“I see that. I’ll just give it a good stab and hope for the best.”
“Time out! Time out!” Frank twisted out of Bridget’s grip and slapped the table. “I said time out! Are you deaf? Damn you both!”
“Damn you back, Nancy,” Bridget said, “You want to lose an eye or what? Pulling away like that? I’m armed here, Moron!”
Frank grabbed Henry’s stolen bottle of scotch and poured a generous serving into each of four tiny dixie cups. The needle danced along his face, still attached to the line of suture dangling from the half-stitched gash. It bounced against his cheek as he worked. His eye was bruising quickly. So was his mouth.
Frank hoisted one of the cups up to him. “Henry,” he said, “Thanks to your generous donation of the Vicodin, I think I may survive this. I could kiss you full on the lips for this.”
“Yeah, you do that,” Henry said as he accepted the cup, “Bridget won’t have enough sutures to put you back together.”
Frank passed another cup to Bridget and Alice.
Alice slipped her arm around Henry’s shoulder and raised her cup in salute. “To Henry!”
They all raised their cups in kind.
“Our hero!” Frank said dramatically.
“Hear! Hear!” Bridget added.
They clicked cups and downed the medicine. Then they wadded the empties and pitched them toward the fire in unison. The fire belched in satisfaction. It had become a kind of ritual.
“My dear, Henry,” Frank said as he poured another round into four fresh cups, “Due to your bravado extraordinaire, and manly defense of this clan under enemy fire, I’m officially making you an honorary member of this delightful family.”
Henry accepted the proffered whisky.
Once again, the siblings lifted their cups to him.
“To Henry,” Alice said.
“Our hero,” Frank said.
“Hear! Hear!” Bridget said.
They downed the whisky and pitched the cups. The fire again belched in satisfaction. Everyone laughed.
Henry sat down on the bench across from Frank.
Frank leaned forward and put his hand on Henry’s. “Henry,” he said, patting it, “From this moment forward, I insist you call me Nancy. After tonight, you’re honorary kith and kin. And if per chance you should find yourself alone and tortured with loneliness during the wee hours of the night, why… please know my sleeping bag is always open to you.”
“Well, thank you, Nancy,” Henry said sincerely, “I’m truly honored, though I wouldn’t wait up if I were you. And honestly, I don’t know whether to knock your teeth out or just throw you in the river.”
“Such gratitude. You’re too kind.”
“Man!” Henry said, “I still cannot believe we got out with our skins. I mean, what the hell, Frank?”
Bridget pulled Frank’s head back. “We need to finish this while I can still see straight. Light, please, Alice.”
Alice repositioned the flashlight. Bridget began stitching again. Frank beat the table with his hand.
“What did you do to get those cowboys started?” Henry said.
Frank winced as Bridget pulled the needle through. “They wouldn’t dance with me.”
“I didn’t realize they were pards, to wax southwestern.”
“Yeah, pards. You know… bunkies, bronco buddies, dos amigos.”
“Dos amigos?” Henry looked up at Alice. “What am I missing here?”
Alice winked at him.
Frank slapped the table again. “Oh baby, that hurts!”
“Good,” Bridget replied, “Means I’m doing it right.”
Henry looked at the stitching, but quickly pulled away. He couldn’t watch. It was too gruesome. “How do you manage to do that without puking?” he asked her.
“It’s what I do, baby,” she said, “I’m a RN. ED, specifically.”
“Well, that’s certainly convenient,” Henry said.
“We planned it that way,” Alice said, “With Nancy around, we need emergency medical services on call at all times. As you saw tonight, he leans toward trouble prone.”
“It’s all true,” Nancy said, snickering.
“We should’ve planned for a lawyer in the family as well,” Alice said, “That would’ve come in handy on more than one occasion. You don’t have any paralegal training, do you, Henry?”
Henry rubbed carefully at the back of his head. A tender lump was growing there. “I hope we don’t need one tonight,” he said sincerely, “If they call the sheriff we could all get—”
“Are you kidding?” Frank said, “After you got all Clint Eastwood on their asses? You told them you’d kill them dead! Believe me, none of Dorothy’s friends are going anywhere near a phone for at least a week.”
“Dorothy’s friends?” Henry suddenly realized they were all looking at him. “What?”
“Are you serious?” Frank said, “Good lord, Henry, what bus did you get off?”
Henry looked up at Alice.
Alice reached down and patted his cheek. “Henry, you are adorable.”
“Hold the damned light still!” Bridget snapped at Alice, “Christ, I’m going to sew his eye shut here.”
“Yes, Nurse Ratchet.”
“The Cheatin’ Heart’s a gay bar, Hank,” Bridget said as she resumed her work, “I would’ve thought being from California you wouldn’t need a tutorial, but there you go.”
Henry looked at her for a second. Then he said, “A gay bar?”
She glanced at him between stitches. “You’ve heard of them, right?”
“Of course, I have,” he said defensively, “I’ve been to gay clubs before. I’ve had gay friends. But this didn’t look like any I’ve ever seen before.”
“Henry,” Bridget said, laughing, “You are one naïve son of a bitch.”
“Whatever,” Henry said, “Doesn’t really matter. Gay or straight, those were some tough assed cowboys.”
Nancy laughed. “Dude, we’re in the New Mexican Outback. Even the LGBT crowds are packing heat out here. You saw Larry. She nearly separated you from your soul.”
“I suppose so,” Henry said. Then he slipped a hand around Alice’s hips as she stood holding the flashlight, and he threw a smile up at her. “It would’ve gone another direction completely if not for Annie Oakley here. She damn near clocked Larry. And she grabbed the bitch’s arm as she was about to finish me.”
Alice leaned down and kissed his forehead. “But you finished her instead, Superman.”
Bridget laughed, which made Nancy shriek. “Sorry, Nan,” Bridget said, still snickering, “Henry, you didn’t just clock that bitch. You lifted her skinny ass right off the ground. I heard teeth clattering off into the sunset.”
Henry didn’t like the direction of the discussion. He had a sour feeling in his stomach. He grabbed four new cups and began to fill them.
“What is it, dear?” Nancy said, “You look troubled.”
Henry pushed a cup his way. “I’ve never hit a woman before,” he said as he handed the other cups to Alice and Bridget, “I’m not sure I like the way it feels.”
Bridget held her shot out over the table. “Dude, she would’ve rearranged your face without even stopping to ask you how you wanted it. That woman was chiseled in muscle. You did what you had to.”
Alice pushed her cup into Bridget’s. Frank and Henry quickly joined them.
The cups flew.
The fire belched.