Chapter 12 A Kiss is Just a Kiss
Now the hard part began. The healing process. Confusion and memory problems, inability to chew and swallow food, damaged vocal chords, insomnia, nightmares, groundless fear, and the pain. The constant and unending pain. Headaches, jaw aches, swollen and bruised neck muscles, the inability to turn your head, the constant ringing in your ears, the difficulty breathing with a swollen nose, the eye strain and the flashes of both very bright light and very black darkness. A never ending litany of pain.
Bret and Beau always teased Bart because he liked to grumble about the small aches and pains that riding horseback for twelve hour stretches could cause. Or tell the two of them how badly he slept because the ground or bed was too hard. So they were prepared for what they expected to be an onslaught of never ending complaints about everything.
Bart never said a word. No moaning, groaning or complaining, no matter how difficult or painful things became. That's how they came to the conclusion that he must truly be in agony. Around the fifth day after they found him on the floor at death's door he became more responsive to them, trying to smile and finding his voice again, even though it sounded like nothing more than a hoarse croak. He tried to sit up but his head and neck muscles were so swollen that five minutes at a time was all he could manage. Bret, Beau, Georgia, Jody and even Harry took turns staying with him, trying to get whatever he needed and making sure that he didn't try to do anything he wasn't capable of yet. Whoever wasn't in the hotel room was at the saloon, where business continued to boom as word got around town of the brutal beating inflicted on one of Jessie's nephews. Even the ladies of the church, who had sometimes snubbed and gossiped about Jessie, were moved enough by the unprovoked attack on the handsome young man to bring food and various needed items to the hotel. Of course they wouldn't go up to his room; that would have been improper. So they left things at the front desk and the hotel clerk made regular 'delivery runs' to the upstairs landing.
The first real test came the day Doc Washburn decided it was time for the invalid to try and walk. Bart had been sitting up for several days and was beginning to look human again as the swelling in his face receded. He hadn't been out of bed for anything more than a few minutes in weeks but the doctor had declared it was time. He'd lost a lot of weight, mostly due to his inability to chew and swallow anything but liquids, and he was weak from the lack of substantial nourishment and inactivity. So Beau and Bret got him up, one on each side of him; they practically lifted him out of bed and onto the floor. Bart was a determined fellow but when he tried to put his weight on his legs they couldn't hold him. Bret had the better angle and grabbed Bart as he went down, picking him up as if he were a little child. This was not the man he carried from the floor to the bed the morning after the beating. This was his brother, weak and frail as he had been at ten years old with two broken legs and an almost fractured skull.
Determined as ever to show Doc Washburn what he was capable of, Bart insisted that Bret put him back down. So back he went. This time bracing himself between his cousin and his brother, he succeeded in standing up and taking a few steps before collapsing again. He caught Beau's shoulder and steadied himself, actually managing to remain upright for several minutes. The doctor declared the day a success and the rapidly healing invalid actually got to sit in a chair at the table for a while. Georgia had been there for the attempt to walk and she went to the dining room for some food. Bret left with Doc Washburn; one went back to his office and the other to 'The Three Mavericks.' That left Beau and Bart alone in the room for the first time in several days.
It seemed to Bart that Beau had been avoiding being alone with him, ever since he'd witnessed what he thought of as 'the kiss.' Truthfully, Beau had been spending a lot of hours at the saloon, allowing Bret more time to be with Bart. Knowing how close Bret had come to losing his brother and how much he suffered because of that convinced Beau to take on more of the burden of keeping the business on solid ground.
So Bart finally got to sit with Beau and poke around for the truth of the encounter with Georgia. Beau did everything that he could to avoid discussing matters until Bart finally pinned him down.
"What's going with Mrs. Mayfield?" Bart still had trouble getting out all his words.
"You mean what's going on? Nothing." Beau was being deliberately evasive.
"Kiss wasn't nothing." Bart was insistent.
"That was weeks ago. And it meant nothing."
"Didn't look like nothing."
Beau did not want to discuss Georgia or any feelings he might or might not have for her. Why wouldn't Bart drop it?
"Nice woman. She likes you a lot."
"No, she does. I can see it."
Beau was exasperated at this point. "You can't see what isn't there." As soon as the words came out of his mouth he was sorry that he'd said them. The last few weeks had been hard enough on Bart without Beau making things more difficult.
Bart hung his head. "Sorry," he mumbled. He'd really hit a sore spot with Beau.
"No. I'm sorry," Beau came right back with the apology. "I didn't know what I was doing. I don't know what I'm feeling. And I've needed you to talk to and tell me what I should do and you haven't been able to and you still can't and it isn't your fault. Let's get you back to bed, shall we? You've got to be worn out from today."
"Sure." That had become Bart's 'go to' word. It was the answer he had for almost every question asked of him. "Do you want something to drink?" "Sure." "Want to play some poker?" "Sure." "Do you want to lie down?" "Sure." "Do you want to be well so that you don't have to depend on us?" "Sure."
"No, why would I be mad?" Beau and Bart made their way slowly across the room, back to the bed. Bart leaned heavily on Beau but managed the few steps back.
"Cousin Bart, you always were. That's nothing new."
"Worse now. Nothing better to do."
"We'll see about that. Now that you've walked it's time to start building your strength back up. Get some weight on you. Get you out in the world. Get you healed so that you're well when we have to deal with Uncle Edgar."
"Ever come back?" He looked at Beau with anger in his eyes.
Beau didn't know whether to tell Bart the truth or not. Truth won out. "Yes, he came back from Denver. Denied having anything to do with the shootings or your beating. Sheriff didn't have any evidence and couldn't hold him. He's been lying low ever since."
Bart stood straight up and pushed himself away from Beau. There was fierce determination in his body and his voice. "Got some things to discuss with Mr. Pike. Want to do it in person."
Beau stepped back just a little and looked at the frail, single-minded man standing there. "Yes, I'm sure that you do. And you shall, dear cousin, you shall."