I Ain't Going
"Anything yet?" Jake asked as he warmed his hands in the fire.
"No," Sully said as he knelt beside him.
"I thought Cloud Dancing was coming along," Matthew said.
"I told him about the search. So he'll join us," Sully said.
Hank listened to the conversation. He didn't necessarily like the Native American but he knew of his tracking skills. That's why he wanted to come along. He knew that with the combined skills of Sully, Cloud Dancing and Brian they would find her in no time.
"You're awfully quiet Hank," Jake said as he scraped his spoon along the bottom of his metal bowl.
"I ain't got nothing to say," Hank said. He had propped himself against a tree for the night.
"Oh. Since when?" Matthew joked. Hank remained silent. He hadn't lied. He didn't have anything to say. And he wouldn't. Not until he was face to face with Grace. Hank closed his eyes and a memory flickered into focus.
"Well if you weren't so stubborn and had told them you couldn't play, Robert E. then you might have an easier time getting it back," Grace yelled from the street.
"That Hank Lawson tried to cheat me out of my business!" Robert E. roared.
"It's not cheating if you willing played," Grace said lowering her voice. "I'll handle this," she said.
Hank watched from the front porch of the saloon as Grace strode toward him with a determined look on her face.
"I see you were talking to Robert E.," he said once she stopped in front of him.
"I was. He said you tried to cheat him," Grace said her eyes fierce.
"No I didn't," he said taking a puff from his cigar. "It's nobody's fault but his that he can't play poker."
"What'd you win from him?" Grace asked as some of the men came out on the porch. When most women would have dropped the issue at the site of the half lit men, Grace didn't falter. "Well?"
"$3.00 and a hat," Hank answered with another pull on his cigar.
"That's a lot of money."
"I'd like it back please."
"I can't help you, Grace," Hank said amused.
"Why not?" she asked as she climbed the steps to the porch. "You drink for free. And none of you should be drinking $3.00 worth of whiskey anyway."
"I didn't spend it," Hank said smoothly.
"Then I'd like it back please," she said holding her delicate hand out.
"I can't just give you the money."
"Why not? You just took it from Robert E."
"We were playing poker," Hank said with a crooked smile.
"Hank Lawson," she said stepping close to him. "You give me that money and you stop trying to cheat people."
"Alright," he said reaching into his waistcoat pocket and handing her the money.
"Thank you," she said bowing her head slightly before marching back down the steps and down the street to where Robert E. was standing.
It in that moment Hank actually saw Grace. He saw her as the beautiful, brave, smart woman that she was. Ever since that day he'd been drawn to her. Wanting her to look his way and just know what he was thinking or feeling at any given moment. He knew he was getting feelings for her because of who she was but he also knew that she didn't see him as anything but he town jerk. Just like everybody else; including Jake from time to time. Hank signed. Leaned his head against the tree and drifted off to sleep.
Hank was the first one awake. He poured water on the last dim burning embers before he headed off toward the near by creek. He pulled his hair back and splashed the cool water on his scruffy face. He shed his clothes and waded in. He let the tiny current that was running through the center of the creek carry away some of his worry. As he floated, the mix of the cool water and heat from the morning sun caressed his strong, chiseled naked body, Hank thought he heard something. It was close by and it was very quiet but it was a voice. He lowered his body into the water, closed his eyes and listened again. Nothing. He splashed the now warm water on his face before he made for the bank. He took one of his towels and dried himself. He dressed and headed back to camp.
Everyone was awake when he got back. The rest of decided not to bathe in the creek but Hank didn't care. He wanted to get moving.They loaded their belongings and continued their search. Brian was riding a little ways ahead.
"Sully!" the young boy called out. His father galloped up to him and they both examined the ground.
"What's going on?" Matthew asked as the other three joined them.
"There are too many tracks here." Sully answered dismounting. "See there are these that go straight this way but the there are these that circle back here and are going the other way."
"So what the hell does that mean?" Hank asked annoyed.
"It means that there's someone else out here," Brian said.
"I'm gonna follow these tracks," Sully said. Every fiber in Hank's being told him to follow but he didn't. A few moments later, Sully returned with Cloud Dancing alongside him. "The tracks belonged to Cloud Dancing."
"You find anything?" Matthew asked. Hank looked up hopefully.
"No. I did not," the Native man said. Hank turned away.
The six of them traveled the rest of the day and when the sky began to grow dark they set up a camp. Hank once again propped himself up against a tree. As he closed his eyes he felt someone sit beside him. He opened one eye and saw Brian sitting there."What do you want?" Hank muttered.
"Do you think Ms. Grace is alright?" the boy asked as he played with a tuft of grass.
"She better be," he thought to himself. "I'm sure she's fine."
"It's been a few days now," Brian said sadly.
"Grace is brave and strong," Hank told him placing a strong hand on his shoulder. "She's fine," he said. This time he was hoping to even convince himself.
"Ok," Brian said with a smile. "You hungry?"
"Alright then." Hank watched as the boy walked back over to the fire. He closed his eyes once again, leaned his head back and he heard it again. That faint sound. That faint voice. His eyes snapped open and his head up. He searched the trees but saw and heard nothing. Hank looked to the men surrounding the fire and they were carrying on conversation as usual. He closed his eyes again and listened hard but nothing. He was growing frustrated.
The next morning Hank awake to the sounds of Cloud Dancing praying. Usually he wouldn't care about that and he would have gotten up and gotten some food but today he waited. Just in case that prayer was for Grace. When he saw the Injun man get up from the ground so did he. Hank grabbed an apple from his bag, the knife from his boot and began to eat. When everyone awoke, they packed up and began their search again.
All of Hank's thoughts were of Grace. Her eyes, her smile, her beautiful face. The way she never backed down. Everything that was special about her.
"Dammit!" Jake yelled breaking Hank's thoughts. Hank turned his head slightly to look at his best friend. The man was a few feet behind his horse on the ground. He rolled his eyes and pulled his horse to a stop. Cloud Dancing dismounted and ran to Jake's aid. He waved Sully and Matthew over to help him. Hank rolled his eyes.
"What happened?" Sully asked, knelt down on Jake's other side across from Cloud Dancing.
"I wasn't paying attention, I guess. I hit that damned branch," Jake said his breathing slightly labored.
"I have something that will ease the pain but it is not much," Cloud Dancing said running to his horse. Jake looked up at Sully who nodded.
"Alright," Jake said. Hank watched from his saddle as Sully, Matthew and even Brian accompanied the Native man in mending Jake.
"We can not move him until tomorrow," Cloud Dancing said after he had wrapped Jake up.
"What?" Hank asked trying not to yell.
"I believe that he has rib injuries. He will need at least one day before he is able to ride," Cloud Dancing said looking into Hank's blue eyes.
"Fine," Hank said dismounting. He wasn't happy about this at all. Because Jake was and idiot, they were going to be a whole day behind. He tied his horse to a tree and took up residence against it. He closed his eyes and the voice filtered into his ears again. "Did any of you hear that?"
"What?" Matthew asked.
"That voice," Hank replied.
"I didn't hear anything," Brian said. Sully and Cloud Dancing shared a look. Hank was positive that he heard it. It was way off in the distance but he knew he had heard it. As the sky got dark, Sully began to prepare a meal.
"I think that it'd be best for Hank, Matthew and Brian to ride back to town with Jake," Sully said looking up briefly.
"Why do I gotta go?" Brian whined.
"I'm sure your ma's worried about you and Jake's gonna need the help," he said to the boy.
"I ain't going," Hank spoke up from his spot by the tree.
"Why not?" Matthew questioned, looking over his shoulder at the blonde.
"I didn't leave my saloon so that I could come out here and not finish the job," he lied. "Plus it's not my fault Jake's an idiot."
"Go to hell," Jake mumbled from his spot on the ground. Hank let the smirk cross his face before he closed his eyes again and put his head against the tree trunk.
"I ain't going," he said again before he forced sleep to consume him.