Coming in from the backyard, Thaddeus kicked the kitchen door shut with his bare foot, dropping an armload of dirty clothing in a ladder back chair and tossing his hat onto the table. He heard cheerful laughter in the dining room. Running his hands through his clean, wet hair in an attempt to tame it, he thought, ‘I will get Peter to lop some of this off tomorrow.’ Then picking up his weapons, boots, and pocket goods, he stepped through to the dining room.
Simone pointed to his seat, a heaping plate of pork steaks and fried potatoes covered in gravy with a hefty side of greens and cornbread sat before it cooling. “Startin’ to think you drowned out in that bath house.”
“Naw, the hot water just felt really bonne,” Thaddeus answered, storing his gear on the bottom step of the staircase on his way to the table. Sliding into his chair, he discerned all eyes were on him and flashed them his mischievous crooked grin before stuffing a forkful of potatoes in his mouth.
Humming, Lakes of Pontchartrain, Simone circled the table, refilling glasses. When she got near Gabriel, he slung an arm around her, “What has you so pleased?”
“Joyful the merciful, Dieu, answered my prayers,” she said, slipping from him and taking his empty plate with her.
“Taddy, why did you tell me you were goin’ to town for supplies with Web, when you were truly goin’ huntin’ with Gabe?”
Thaddeus looked across the table at his sister, ‘I do not want to lie to her, but I sure as hell do not want to tell her what I have been doin’.’ So, instead he picked up his glass and taking a long drink of milk to buy himself consideration time.
“’Cause girl, he ain’t required to tell you everything,” Gabriel answered, kicking Thaddeus under the table.
Thaddeus jumped, shooting a look at his brother.
Gabriel ever so slightly shook his head.
Setting his glass down, Thaddeus gritted his teeth, unable to bring himself to out and out lie to his twin. Instead, he shoved his chair back, and wiping his mouth, said, “Hey, Dora, I almost forgot. I got you something in town.”
“You did?” She yelped, twisting in her chair; watching him as he went to rummage through his belongings on the staircase.
Returning, he set a damp, blue, velvet box on the table with a sheepish grin, “I hope you like it.”
Prying the lid off, her mouth fell open, “Taddy, you spent the money you was savin’ for a rifle.”
An easy smile played at the corners of his mouth, “I can save up again.”
She stroked what lay inside the box, her smile growing until her cheeks rounded out like ripe apples. “Thaddeus Robert,” she whispered. Rising, she glided around the table, placing a kiss on his forehead, “Merci beucoup. How did you know?”
He searched her face with an intensity that did not match his nature, ‘she is here.’ He licked his lips, ’she is here in…. front of all of ‘em.’ Knowing this a smile appeared, one so large it took over his face, transforming him back into a young boy. Looking her in the eyes, he whispered, “Hello, Eudora Lorraine.”
The out of character manner of the twins attracted everyone’s attention.
Withdrawing the necklace, Thaddeus held it up between them so it shimmered in the lamplight. The identical silver hearts reflected in their identical green eyes. “Mr. Willer told me of it. But Eudora Lorraine, I knew why you took to it.”
She smiled, not with the playfulness of a child, but the radiant smile of a sixteen-year-old perched on the brink of adulthood. ”Oui, it is us,” she answered, touching the hearts, setting them to pivoting into each other. “We two are connected, always and forever without end.’ She kissed him on the cheek and lifted her hair so he could put it around her neck. “I shall never take it off and when you are far away...” She fingered the hearts. “... you will be with me. When you are married and have your own famille, you will still be with me.” She touched his face, “You need not fret so, we are connected forever, my twin.”
A chair scraped, sounding exceedingly loud in the still room.
Her eyes darted to the noise, and seeing the rest of the family, a strange look crawled across her face. She looked back to Thaddeus, her hand on the necklace, and the child’s grin returned. As it did, she raced from the room, flying upstairs.
Hearing the slam of her bedroom door, Thaddeus collapsed in his chair, and with a sigh, he replaced the lid onto the blue box spinning it out into the center of the table.
Gabriel yelped, “Jésus pleura, I always figured you was trumpin’ up the truth all these years! What the hell?” He looked to the staircase, scratching his head. “There really is another side to her?”
His eyes flashing, his merriment, Thaddeus merely picked up his fork and returned to eating.
“Ain’t you gonna say anything, Mister Tad?” Marie asked.
“Just wish the others had been here to see it.” He answered, stabbing another slab of pork off the serving platter. “What the hell else is there to say? I done told y’all, time and again, and none of you had faith in me.” Setting his fork on his plate, he plucked up his glass, and raising it in a toast, drank it dry.
After dinner, the men adjourned to the study and settling into one of the leather chairs, Thaddeus crossed an ankle over his knee. ‘It is stuffy in here,’ he thought, frowning at the low-banked fire. Standing, he strode to the French doors, swinging them open, he breathed deep of the wet, spring air. Hearing a sound, he spun, his hand snatching for his Remington, although it was still lying with his boots and pocket goods on the staircase. Half-heartedly he grinned, feeling ashamed of himself.
Antonio said not a word, although his mustached dipped in a frown.
Taking the offered glass of bourbon, Thaddeus read the deep tiredness in his Father’s eyes and said, ”Mes apologies for abandoning m’ devoirs. It will not happen again, this I swear, Father.”
Patting Thaddeus on the shoulder, Antonio returned to his desk, saying, “It pleases me to hear you say so, Tad. What credence would you give that I found an entire box of cigars among the supplies Web brought back?” Removing three, he handed one to each of his sons, giving Thaddeus a wink, “I consider you owed me. Would you not agree?”
“Oui, Sir.” Thaddeus replied with his crooked grin.
Antonio paced the room, “This past week, with the two of you absent, I came to a realization of how defenseless Sienna is.”
“Father, I will not--.” Thaddeus started except Antonio waved him quiet with a shake of his hand.
“I understand that, Tad. However, it is more than all that.” Rolling the cigar between his fingertips, Antonio gazed at the fading embers in the fireplace. “Last time, I was up in Independence, I overheard a man claim the incursions into Missouri were being overseen by God, himself. Claimed it had to be true, because he had heard it straight from the mouth of Senator Lane. I have found when there is a lull in my day, these words and others just as distressing, clamor about inside my head. ” Antonio set his cigar in his ashtray, “boys, I have no doubt, despite the valiant efforts of the patrols; the marauding will become much worse before the Federal government deems us worthy of assistance. Yet, I find myself fearing the men they will send, for the papers have labeled we Missourians as backward, ignorant, slave-loving pukes.” He looked into his son’s faces. “Pray tell me, how can such descriptions encourage men of honor to aid us.” Striding to the fireplace, he leaned against the mantle.
The brothers peeked at each other, saying not a word even when Gabriel retrieved the bottle from the sideboard refilling their glasses. Eventually their Father walked back, taking a seat on the edge of his desk. “Tomorrow I want you to hire on ten or more riders,” Antonio stated pointing at Gabriel. “Men you trust, to aid us in moving our herd to Independence.”
Thaddeus sat forward so quickly, he sloshed his bourbon, “Independence?”
“Yes, I have decided to ship the herd to L’Eau Sucree .”
Thaddeus leapt from his chair, “In Louisiana?”
“That is where it was located, last I heard,” Antonio replied, with a slight grin.
“But Father, why?”
“I have spent my life creating our stable line. The horses are the future of this family and I will not have it stolen by no-account, murdering thieves.” Antonio replied. “In the morning, you, Web, and Peter will gather the entire herd into the corrals.”
“What? I told you already. We have over a hundred head spread out across this land.”
“Exactly and exactly why, I wish to send them South.” Antonio said. “By removing them from the property, I hope to steer raiders from Sienna and hopefully save our home.”
The Stark’s barn crashing to the ground in a burst of roaring, hissing flames filled Thaddeus’ mind and he dropped into his chair. Noticing the glass of bourbon in his hand, he upended it, swallowing the liquor in one gulp.
Antonio turned to Gabriel, who appeared more relaxed than he had seen him in sometime. “What do you have to say?”
“That I concur, Father. I will get the men we need.”
“I felt you would grasp the scenario.” Antonio looked about the room and then to his sons, “I will see the pair of you at breakfast. Tomorrow, I surmise, will prove to be a long day.”
Nodding and leaving their empty glasses on the sideboard, the brothers filed from the study, mulling through their own thoughts.
Gabriel was almost to his bedroom when it came to him; he had not heard Thaddeus turn off into his own room. Spinning, he caught his little brother so off guard that Thaddeus ran smack into him, “What do you want, Tad?”
“To talk,” Thaddeus answered, his dark brows bunched together in a tight arch that furrowed his forehead with line-upon-line of deep creases.
Sighing, Gabriel shoved his door open motioning Thaddeus in.
At Gabriel’s dresser, Thaddeus laid his gear down and striking a match, lit the lamp. Looking about, he did not see the hurricane globe, “Uh, Gabe?”
“I broke it a few months ago, would have been about the third or fourth one, too. I suppose Mams is fed up with havin ‘em replaced.” Gabriel answered, taking a seat on his bed and pulling off his boots. As he did so, he looked at Thaddeus’ bare feet and his untucked, hardly buttoned shirt. ’The garçon sure does have the right idea when it comes to easy-going. Maybe a bit too much so, but I sure as hell wish I could take a page from his book sometimes.’ Yawning until he felt his jaw pop, Gabriel began peeling out of his clothes as Thaddeus paced back and forth worrying at his lower lip.
’Damn, I am tired. Really thought that batch of Jayhawks had us. Still cannot believe they chased us all the way from Marais des Cygne. Never been so relieved as I was when Rance and his garçons appeared. They threw them Kansasans sufficiently off-guard for us to regroup.’ Gabriel thought and yawning again, he tossed back the blankets on his bed, “Enough already, Squirt, you are wearin’ the damn rug out.”
Thaddeus ceased pacing and slid down the wall, scrunching up against the floorboard with his elbows on his kneecaps.
“Oh, hell no! Do not be settlin’ yourself in.” Gabriel grumbled. “I am tired and I am goin’ to bed.”
Thaddeus braced his forehead against his upraised thumbs, staring at the floor between his knees, his shoulders shaking.
Dragging a hand down his face, Gabriel exhaled, his eyes flicking to the sliding doors separating his room from Lafayette’s, ‘I been enjoyin’ having the twins look up to me, but right about now, I could use Lafe’s slick doublespeak.’ With a grunt, he plopped down next to his brother. Laying an arm about Thaddeus, he reeled him in, fully expecting the boy to jerk away.
Instead, Thaddeus collapsed against him, long shudders rippling through his small, muscled body.
Leaning his head back against the wall, Gabriel held him, ‘Appears despite his tough act, there is still some gentleness left in him.’ Resting his chin on top of Thaddeus’ head, he inhaled the clean scent of cedar soap and smiled sadly, ‘He fuckin’ should not have been there.′
As the shuddering faded, Thaddeus sunk deeper against Gabriel, like a pup that had played itself out.
Patting him on the back, Gabriel asked, “Taddy, what is causin’ your sufferin’?”
His only answer was silence, a more solid silence than before. “Do not be closin’ up on me. Tell me what has you so upset.”
“That last man I killed, I see ’em every time I close my eyes. I shot ’em in the face and his blood gushed all over me...” Thaddeus sat up wiping a hand across his lips. “... hell Gabe, it even got in my mouth. And, when I was trapped under ‘em, I could see right inside his head?” He peered over at his brother, his eyes glassy, red, and swollen. “I keep remindin’ myself those men deserved to die. They burned the Stark’s place, butchered George and his boys, and who knows what the fuck else. I keep tellin’ myself that I am damn glad I killed ‘em. Then I see a boy, I tripped over, and he is starin’ at me with those dead blue eyes . . . . I feel so guilty. Lafe and I talked some about not joinin’ the fight.” Thaddeus sniffed and then touched his healing nose. “All that sounded fine and well... ’till I saw what them fuckers can do. And, Gabe, what if they come here? What if they do the same to our famille?” Thaddeus legs shot out and he leaned back into the wall. “Fuck! I did not know it would be like this.”
“Taddy, I loathe what you have seen...” Gabriel rubbed Thaddeus shoulder, “... and that you are now a part of this war. Damnation, if’n only you had done as we all said, and stayed home.” He felt his brother stiffen. “I been tryin’ to set this in your head all day, but this time. Thaddeus Robert, I need you to listen real close. Is you?”
Little hairs rose up on the back of Thaddeus’ neck.
“You break the hell off lookin’ back at what has happened. You keep examinin’ the past like you are and it will eat your soul away, leavin’ you damned. When the hard times come, you do what you have to. When you have to, then you put it behind you.” Gabriel stood, “I do amour you, Taddy. Unfortunately, that is about the only worthwhile advice, I can give you.” He offered him a hand.
Taking it and standing, Thaddeus asked, “Does puttin’ it behind you work?”
Gabriel laughed coldly, “When I can do it. Why do you think I am drunk so often? Still, what I have learned is this... live each day. Do not think too hard about the future because it will get you all knotted up. The more I focus on one day, the day I am on, the less I need to drink to stay level. Furthermore, Father is correct. We damn well need to get the blooded stock out of here. Doing so will take a worry off my list.”
Retrieving his belongings, Thaddeus mumbled, “mes excuses for breakin’ down.”
“You needed the release.” Gabriel answered. Reaching out with a long arm, he snagged his brother in a hug, “And, Taddy, you break down on me any time you need.”
“Hellfire, I ain’t plannin’ on makin’ non fuckin’ habit of it.” Thaddeus snarled, twisting free.
“I know you will not.” Gabriel yawned, heading toward his bed. “This all will harden you up right quick. Night, Squirt.”
Picking up Lafayette’s rifle from where he had laid it with his gear, Thaddeus frowned, looking from it to his holsters, “Suppose you are right, night.”
"Bonne sleep to you, petit frère”