Monday, November 21, 1859
Waking to the sound of soft tiptoeing, he scrubbed at his short-cropped hair with a yawn as a tiny voice whispered, “Gabe?”
“What do you need?”
“For you to help us.”
Rolling over, Gabriel saw Eudora shivering next to his bed like the last leaf clinging to a tree. At her side was Patches, wagging his tail enthusiastically, “Land sakes fille, you are goin’ to catch your death. Climb on in here,” he said, lifting his heavy blankets so she could scurry in. “Nope dog, not you.” Gabriel rumbled, clamping the blanket down tight before Patches could hop in. “Hey there… Ouch!” Gabriel groused, removing a bony elbow from his abdomen.
“Excusez-moi,” Eudora giggled, squirming about trying to get comfortable, until at length, Gabriel seized her in an enormous bear hug.
“Hold still, will ya. All your buckin’ is lettin’ the heat out.”
“Mmmm, it is warm in here.” She purred, snuggling her thin body closer to him.
“Glad you think so. I do not feel nearly so warm with an ice sickle stuck up against me.”
“You want me to move?”
“Land sakes, no, hold still.” Gabriel said, not wishing to defend himself from her elbows and knees again. “Now Dora girl, why do you not tell me, what it is you want my help with?”
“Today is hog day.”
“Listen, you can hear the pots and tools being hauled out.”
She was right. He could hear the clank of metal-on-metal, behind the house.
“Pretty soon, Mams will holler everyone awake. Me, I ain’t slept good since Taddy had maladie. I wake at the littlest noise.”
Listening to her sweet voice, Gabriel thought, ‘It matches the lime verbena wafting off her. Sure has been a long time, since anyone in this family has cared to be this close to me.’ A wave of contentment washed over him, ‘Sure wish I could feel this way around the others, ain’t likely, though they always have me up on a rail fence scrutinizing me like I am an outsider.’ With silence settling back into the room, he exhaled long and low, allowing sleep to reclaim him.
“He said you would not help and that he t’wernt askin’ you.”
Yawning, Gabriel opened his eyes, “who said that, Chérie?”
“You mean I have the option of not assistin’?” Gabriel asked. Feeling her go rigid, he did not need to see her face to know her lips were pinched in a straight line and her brows were bunched up tighter than a clump of dried clay, “Never you mind, Dora gal. How about you just tell me what Squirt said.”
“Well, Taddy said… you was too proud and pissed off. Oops!” She squeaked, cringing.
Gabriel’s body vibrated with laughter, “Go on. I will not tattle on your loose use of language.”
“Cross my heart.”
“All right, Taddy said, you were too proud, and well... there was non way in... Uhm, I ain’t supposed to say that word, either.” She rolled, so they were face-to-face. “Anyway, he said he t’wernt comin’ in here so you could tell ’em to...” Her mouth twisted to the side, “Uhm, I really ain’t supposed to say that one either.”
Gabriel frowned, his anger beginning to flare.
“I do not think, I can tell you what Taddy said.”
“I cannot believe he spouts such filth around you?” Gabriel snarled, biting off his words. “I ought to tan that garçon’s hide.”
“It do not bother me none.”
“Just the same it bothers me. Bothers me quite a bit! Squirt should show better manners around a lady.”
Eudora snorted, “I ain’t a lady. But, Gabe, s’il vous plaît, do not flatten ’em.” She asked, her voice all a quiver. “He always cusses in front of me. It just be how Taddy is.”
Gabriel’s face shifted into a disgusted scowl, “Do not know why he ain’t been lessoned in a dose of civility afore now?”
Eudora sat up, letting the covers fall from her shoulders, her voice becoming more strideny, “You do not understand and I do not want you to tan ’em. ’Cause all y’all, well, y’all fib to me. But not Taddy, he talks straight. He shares everything with me. I am his best pal and he is mine. So I do not want you harming ’em.”
“All right Dora, I cotton what you are gettin’ at and I promise not to lay ’em out.”
Heaving a sigh, she dropped next to him planting a big kiss on his cheek, “Merci.”
“It must be reassuring havin’ someone in this whole dirty world who is forever up-front with you.”
She lay silent for a spell, then squeezed Gabriel’s arm, “I know, I ain’t right in the head.” He started to interrupt her, “Non! Hush up. ’Cause, I know it. I also know, when I am being fibbed too. Taddy, he never fibs.” She grinned sheepishly, “Well, to me.”
“That must be nice. Wish I had someone who treated me so straightforward.” Gabriel said, sounding almost wistful.
“Why that is easy.” Eudora answered, sitting up.
“I said that is easy. I will never fib to you. But…” In the early dawn light, he was amazed how composed her face became, “You cannot fib to me. Not ever. And you ain’t allowed to be hateful or storm off without finishin’ a talk.”
“Why Dora, it is a deal.”
“Shake on it?” She said, spitting into her hand and holding it out to him.
Seeing how solemn she was, Gabriel laughed; and sitting up, he spit into his own palm.
Before she would take it, her brows crunched giving her a severe look he had never seen before, “Gabriel Matthew Antonio Maximillian, I am serious, you do not take my hand unless you plan on livin’ up to your end.”
His mouth fell open.
“Who told you my whole name??”
She rolled her eyes, “Are you goin’ shake with me or not?”
He saw a determined sincerity about her that shocked him, and swallowing, he took her hand in a solid grip, “I will hold my end, Eudora Lorraine, ‘till my dyin’ day, I swear I will.”
The firmness stayed with her as she shook back, saying, “I Gabriel Matthew will hold my end, too. You ready for my first truth?”
“Sure, why not,” he said, thinking, ‘how bad can it be?’
“You come on downstairs. You acts like you is a part of this famille and while you are at it, you break off being so full of yourself.”
“I can see you are good at this.”
“Got lots of practice, look who my twin is.” She grinned, downright resembling her male counterpart. “You goin’ help out?”
“I will do as you request.”
“Good! ’Cause I got to get dressed and tear Taddy out of bed.”
“I will get ‘em movin’.”
She turned, eyeballing him.
Throwing up his hands, he gave in before the fight started. “I already said I would not harm ’em.”
“Yeah, but you said that, before we shook.” Leaning in, planting an elbow in his ribs, she gave him a sloppy kiss on the cheek, “See you downstairs, ami.”
Twisting to sit up, as the doors between his and Lafayette’s rooms slid apart, Thaddeus thought, “What the hell? Them doors ain’t moved since Lafe rode out.’
“Damnation, I figured you slept harder.” Gabriel said, the inner corners of his eyebrows angling up. “I was all set to route you out of bed, and you have gone and knocked all the fresh off my plans.” A sly sneer came to his face, “Then again Squirt you are still in bed.” He flexed his fingers, “I wonder…”
“Do not come near me!” Thaddeus howled, struggling to free himself from his blankets. “I mean it. Gabe, you stay back!”
Releasing a wild laugh, Gabriel leapt on him, his fingers digging into his brother’s underarms and rib cage.
“Non! Stop! NO!” Thaddeus shrieked, between peals of laughter, until he landed on the floor with a bang. Jumping to his feet, Thaddeus raced backwards across the room, the shock of the attack making him look years younger.
Rolling onto his back, Gabriel placed his hands behind his head, “Damnation Squirt, if you ain’t still as ticklish as you were in knee britches.”
“I don’t give a fuck! That was uncalled for and... and undignified to boot.” Thaddeus huffed, trying to catch his breath.
“Aw, hellfire, do not know what you are worried about? There ain’t one dignified bone in your body. Shake a leg, Squirt, we got hogs to slaughter.”