Tossing off the sheet tangled about him, Lafayette stared into the darkness trying to grasp hold of his nightmare. The images were dissolving quicker than he could make sense of them. ‘There was fire, death, and something else,’ he thought. ‘Well, it is gone.’ Searching his dark room, it felt as jumbled as his mind until it came to him, ‘I am in Gabe’s room.’
Then, yawning until his jaw popped, he burrowed into the pillow, hoping to fall back to sleep. Yawning again, he released a deep, shuddering gasp of air. A little of the tension from the dream flitted away. Figuring another, might let go the last haunting vestiges, he took a big breath and succeeded in filling his nose with Gabriel’s scent. Grunting, he threw the pillow from the bed. Grabbing the second one, he gingerly sniffed it and deciding it was not Gabriel’s usual pillow, he settled in, closing his eyes.
He laid there a bit, realizing, ’perfect, I am wide-awake, and I can smell Gabe all over me.′ Rolling over, he tried to find a comfortable position, ’Figures Taddy’s given a clean bed, and I get Gabe’s thoroughly wallowed in mess. Wonder where the hell mon gran frère is? Not like he would confide in me.′
Flopping onto his back, Lafayette laced his fingers behind his head, giving up and allowing his mind to wander. ’Gabe and I ain’t ever been necessarily close, most likely, because he is so much older. Then again, it could be Mère’s death. Losing her had very little of an effect on me. Hell, why should it, I was still babe, but Gabe... he was ten. That would have been quite the different story. From what I have been told, Father up and disappeared for an entire year after she died. A whole year. Damn!′ He frowned, ’Gabe and Katharine must have felt like orphans. Me, I never have. ’Course, I ain’t ever known much more than Mams and Peter and they have always been here for me. Well, and Father, when he deemed to be home.
Would be mighty interesting to know what Father used to be like. Par Dieu, I would bet my name he did not leave for months on end when Mère were here. Way he speaks of her, she was his angel. Ain’t non man who believes a fille is an angel, going to traipse around racetracks leaving her alone. More I think on it… this has to be what separates Gabe and Katharine from the rest of us. Strange, I ain’t considered it before. Does explain a lot. Like why Gabe only confides in Katharine and how most times, he only seems to tolerate the rest of us. Then there is the way he avoids Father. Maybe I will ask’em?’ Lafayette chuckled, ‘yeah, and maybe, I ought to go ahead and ask for a punch in the nose while I am at it.’
Rolling on his side, he yawned long and hard. ‘Wonder why I am awake? Cannot imagine it was the dream. I cannot recall the last time one woke me. I must have heard something. Was it Taddy?’ With this thought, he sat up, swinging his feet to the floor. Sitting there, scratching at the back of his head, he jumped when a brilliant flash of light filled the room, followed by a roll of thunder so powerful it set the glass panes to rattling.
Standing, he altered his course from checking on Thaddeus to peeking outside. Three steps from the bed, the floorboards creaked hideously, ’Chiant, I know which ones to avoid in m’ chambre.’ He thought, and tiptoeing to the French doors, he opened them, stepping out onto the veranda where cool, moist air swirled around him. ‘Hmm, the yard is still bone dry. Storm ain’t reached us, yet.’ For a time, he watched the light show before returning inside. ‘Well, I am up. Might as well peek in on Taddy,’ and as he shuffled across the room another shattering boom rocked the house. Despite knowing it was thunder, he jumped. Chuckling, he mumbled, “Well, I know what woke me.”
From the darkness, Thaddeus hissed, “Lafe?”
Padding through the open doors between their rooms, Lafayette said, “You should be asleep.”
“First crash woke me. Been lying here thinkin’ ever since.”
“How much faith that fuckin ′ Lieutenant has in you being a border ruffian?”
Lafayette shrugged, “Seems Father has more faith in what that man thinks than in me.” He responded, moving to once more watch the light display outdoors. “All I know is, it was a dreadful mistake attackin ’em.”
“Merde, I would have jumped’em long before you did.”
“I know. It still would have been a mistake.” Lafayette said, taking a seat on the cowhide settee. “With the current politics, it was more than a personal fight between deux men.”
Thaddeus exhaled, “wish I had something worthwhile to say. Except, you rightly know, I do not keep up with politics. Hell, most times I could not give a rat’s ass. All I need is the chevals, meeting up with my pals, a good night of gamblin’, little bit of sparking with a pretty fille, oh... and the feel of a well-balanced pistol. Yup Lafe, I just like life fuckin’ simple.′ He ran a hand through his hair, ‘Anyway, I would much rather toss dice in the back than smoke cigars talkin’ politics with the boiled shirts.’
“I know that, Taddy.”
Watching his brother by the glare of the lightning, he could see Lafayette licking at the ragged split in his lip, ‘fuck… this might be a good time though, to give one of them deep opinionated discussions a chance.’ And, clearing his throat, he asked, “Well, what is you reckoning on?” For a long while, the only sound was the cottonwood trees creaking painfully, and Thaddeus thought, ‘the wind has’em soundin’ like they are goin’ to break. Sure fire, there is goin’ to be damage to clean up when it gets light.′
At last Lafayette, spoke up, “I been a thinkin’ on how people have been changin’.”
“What do you mean?”
“Somehow, I built a notion in my mind that...” he waved a hand about, “all this border rubbish would ultimately fall to the wayside. All I need do was keep clear of it. And, as far as a National War, I figured, given time it would all be hashed out in Washington and Congress and all. Truth is I have been, damn well, deluding myself.”
“I do not believe that, Lafe. You are always up on all the current happenings.”
“Try to be, but suppose all I do is use’em to create new versions of the lies I tell myself,” he said sadly, coming over to sit on the edge of the bed. “Anymore you hear people nattering on using unseemly, spiteful slurs against their neighbors. Things they would not have considered uttering even a year ago.”
Silvery light streaked across the sky, illuminating the room and revealing the deep lines of worry grooving Lafayette’s battered face, before darkness reclaimed the room.
“What do you mean lies? I do not understand what it has you so all twisted up?”
“Damn it Taddy, I figured on remaining impartial until all this blew over.”
“Ain’t that what you been doin’?”
“What the hell is so different?”
Lafayette shot him a condescending look, “Oh, let me see… today.”
“Today?” Thaddeus questioned, “Oh, you mean the fight.”
"Oui, the fight. I destroyed all I have worked for because I dealt with the situation like a child.” Running a hand over his face, Lafayette was rewarded with pinches of pain from the wounds left behind from the fight. “Chiant!”
“It was a mistake.” Thaddeus said, leaning forward, laying a hand on his brother’s arm. “Hellfire, I would have done the same thing.”
Lafayette snapped tersely, “Obviously, you would have.”
Thaddeus pulled back.
“Taddy, excusez-moi, I did not mean it the way it sounded. It is who you are, is all I meant.” Lafayette started to rub at his face and recalling the bruises, stopped himself. “I am just pissed at myself and there ain’t non need for me to take it out on you.” With a shake of his head, he stood to leave the room.
“Sit yourself right the fuck down,” Thaddeus growled. “Say your piece.”
A startled look crossed Lafayette’s face and with a sigh, he sat, “Well, that damn O’Rourke tricked me. Here I am supposed to be so smart and he up and tricked me. He threw out deux choices and I should have come back with a trois. Instead, I went and lumped myself with those simple minded, red-faced secessionists.”
“It will be all right, Lafe, you will see.”
“Non, it will not. Jackson believes the entire country is headed for war. I deem he is correct and with me livin’ in Louisiana, I will only be given the choice of enlisting. It will be the only one.”
Thaddeus fidgeted with his crucifix. “Which side do you think Missouri will be on?”
“Less than ten percent of our State’s population is slave. Do the math, Taddy. Missouri is more aligned with Northern ideology than the Deep South’s.”
“Oh?” There was a little boy quality to the ‘oh’ that caught Lafayette’s attention.
“What is it?”
“I do not give a damn about North or South. My duty is to m’ famille, m’ State, and then m’ country. But, Lafe...” He sat up, grabbing his brother’s shoulder, “I have no fuckin’ desire to fight for the right of slavery. But, I cannot take arms against the South; our famille comes from there. How would I fight against our own kind? And fuck, once you enlist, it might be you I wind up fuckin’ fighting against. I could never do that.”
“Then do not.” Lafayette said, patting the hand gripping him so firmly.
“How? I ain’t goin’ to be given any more damn choice than you.”
“Not so sure, Taddy. At least, you will not be in a large city surrounded by flag waving secessionists. Who knows, I might not enlist. Hell, we can be shirkers together. Besides, I cannot see one damn bit of honor, in the prospect of murdering man after man in a war, I do not believe in; until at last, one of ’em does the same to me.”
Thaddeus thought to argue that he too would be forced to fight, except by a burst of lightening he made how rapidly his brother’s dimple was moving.
Except Lafayette’s anger was aimed at himself as he thought, ‘what a hypocrite I am, tellin’ Taddy I do not want to murder another man. Par Dieu, if’n Jackson had not stepped in; I would have done just that today. And why? For no more reason, then he had tarnished my so-called honor. Still, I do not believe in an unjustified war, and I do not believe in secession.’
Silence had enwrapped the brothers.
As the silence drug out, Lafayette began wishing he had lit a lamp, so he could read Thaddeus’ face. Swallowing loud, it was heard in the darkness, Lafayette finally said, “Taddy, I appreciate you havin’ your thoughts on it and all... I just hope you ain’t too ashamed to call me your frère?”
“What the fuck!” Thaddeus barked, “There ain’t a damn thing you can, ever fuckin’, do to make me ashamed of you!”
“Why then silence… after I laid myself open?”
“I was givin’ you room to think and...” Thaddeus shook his head, falling to popping his knuckles.
“Spit it out, Taddy.”
“If’n we do not join the fight, will Southerners, men we most likely know come out here shootin’ for us? Well hellfire, shootin’ for me and Gabe, ‘cause you ain’t goin’--” Thaddeus snapped his mouth shut, stopping his words.
’Chiant, I ain’t even left yet, and it is Taddy who is the first to say, how I will be tucked securely away from our State’s hostilities.” Lafayette thought, ‘I damn-well told Father, he would have me branded.’ Swallowing the hard spot in his throat, he decided to ignore what his brother had let slip, and just address his worries. “By not enlisting, you will remain a civilian. Rules of war are reserved for soldiers, so if’n you choose to be a civilian you will not have anyone shootin’ at you. However, if you do not join, are you prepared to be called a coward or worse? Will you be able to remain meek? ‘Cause you ain’t goin’ to be able to fight every damn man who slights you, and they will.” Lafayette stood, walking over to the glass doors. “Also Taddy, if’n for any reason you need me, send a wire. Pour l’amour de Dieu, I will return if’n I have to wade through hell to get to your side.”
“I know that.” Thaddeus replied, unable to think of anything to say which would erase how his slip had made his brother feel.
“It is rainin’ to burst the gullies out there.” Lafayette commented. “The din should settle soon.”
“Uh Lafe, about earlier, when I listened in on you and Father, I was in the wrong. Mes apologies.”
Lafayette stiffened, continuing to watch the front drive becoming a fast flowing river, ‘apologizing ain’t one of Tad’s finer points, so when he does choke one out, all on his own accord, he means it. Except with him bringin’ it up, truth is, I still feel like rippin’ his impertinent ass. The question is; do I feel like doin’ it after all that has occurred?’
More thunder filled the room and still Lafayette did not reply. “Aw, come on, Lafe, I am admittin’ I was wrong. I understand you being ’round the bend with me and all. Fuck, I am sure I would have been madder than a cornered coon, if’n it was me.”
“Mmm hmmm,” was Lafayette’s only reply.
“Do you forgive me or not?”
“I pardoner you... and you owe me. Because, I am fuckin’ lettin’ you off this time.” Lafayette said, walking back and taking a firm grip of Thaddeus’ shoulder. “You invade mon privacy like that ever again, and I will flatten you ’till you cannot walk straight.”
A red flush ran across Thaddeus.
“Go to sleep. You need it.” Lafayette stated, passing back over to Gabriel’s room.