Let Me Lean On You
But it was not to be.
Heyes was not allowed the opportunity to tell Jed anything. Instead, he spent the time worried that his cousin might not make it through this time. The coughing spasms were the worst Jed had ever had. Sometimes it was so bad they had to sit him up and pound on his back to get him breathing again.
Jed was weak, everything hurt and he still didn’t have any kind of a voice. But, as terrible as it sounded, that was the one thing Heyes was grateful for - Jed not being able to cry out with his pain. It was bad enough hearing the small whimpering sounds the younger boy made when he was hurting and the pain became too much to bear. Heyes wasn’t sure he could have taken much more.
Despite his earlier jealousy of others helping to take care of his cousin, Heyes had to admit it sure was easier with help than doing it all alone. He was glad the doctor and his nurse had decided to stay in their little town, instead of going on to someplace bigger. They were two of the nicest grownups Heyes had met since the deaths of his and Jed’s families.
It was a new experience to be able to trust them enough to get some much needed rest while they cared for Jed and, in addition, they treated Heyes like he was a man. They asked him questions and then waited for his answers and they even listened to what he had to say, as if it really mattered.
THE NEXT MORNING
Doc Martin was just pulling the door to Jed’s room shut when Heyes came down the hallway.
“Good morning, Hannibal; you’re up bright and early.”
“Mornin’, Doc, I wanted to check on Jed before breakfast.”
“He’s resting quietly at the moment.” His eyes twinkling he added, “In fact, they’re both resting quietly.”
“Both?” Surprised by the physician’s answer, Heyes’ brow shot up into his hairline.
“Yes,” the doctor smiled, “that little Jamie Thompson is curled up in the chair right next to him. Miss Menius was not very happy with the arrangement, but I pulled rank on her this time. It looks like he had an extra guardian angel watching over him all night.”
The mere mental image of Jamie as an angel caused Heyes’ mouth to curve up into a grin. “Yeah, she was pretty worried about him, too.”
“Well, I think Jedediah is a very lucky young man, to have two friends who care about him so much.”
“I think that works both ways, Doc!”
With an agreeing nod of his head, the doctor walked away. Heyes pushed the door open and peeked inside. The doc was right. Jamie had pushed the chair as close to the bed as it would go and was curled up in it, fast asleep. Her arm was stretched out, her hand resting protectively on Jed’s arm.
After watching them for a few minutes, Heyes crossed the room and touched Jamie gently on the shoulder. She opened her eyes and blinked, looking around in confusion.
Heyes put a finger to his lips and mouthed a warning, nodding towards the bed.
Jamie looked at her friend and pulled her hand back, careful not to wake him. With a yawn she sat up and stretched, then climbed out of the chair and followed Heyes to the door. He opened it and they stepped outside into the hallway.
Jamie rubbed the sleep from her eyes and yawned again. “Mornin’, Han; guess I must’ve fallen asleep, too. I heard what happened an’ I jus’ had to make sure Jed was okay! Ya don’t mind, do ya - I mean, that I stayed with him?”
Heyes gave her a dimpled smile. “Nah, it’s alright, and the doc says it won’t be long ’fore Jed’s up and running around again.”
“I sure hope so; it’s too quiet ’round here without him. I’ve missed him!”
“Is it really true what they’re sayin’, Han? Did Jed really save the whole place from burnin’ down?”
“There’s not enough time to tell you all about it right now; you’d better hurry up and get on down to breakfast. I’ll be there in just a few minutes, okay?”
“Okay, see ya later.” Jamie turned to leave but then pivoted around to face Heyes. “Han, I’m so glad ya found him, an’ that he’s gettin’ better...an’ I didn’t really mean what I said to him. Will ya tell Jed that for me? An’ tell him that I’m not mad at him no more. Oh, an’ tell him I’ll come back to see him later an’ -”
“If he’s awake, you can tell him all that yourself,” Heyes interrupted with an amused chuckle. “It’s Saturday, so there’s no school. C’mon back after you’re done doing your chores; I’ll be right here, too.”
“You bet!” Humming a happy little tune, Jamie took off skipping down the hallway.
Unfortunately for both Jamie and Heyes, they were forced to wait to talk to their friend.
It was several days later before the moment Heyes had been waiting impatiently for finally arrived. As he walked into Jed’s room early one morning, he stopped short in surprise. Jed was sitting up and had his eyes open! But even more important, the bright red patches were missing from his cheeks as he offered Heyes a weak grin.
“Mornin’,” Jed whispered.
Jed’s voice was still raspy and hoarse, as well as pathetically feeble, but none of that mattered one whit to Heyes. His cousin, his partner, his best friend, was going to be okay! He practically ran over to Jed’s side and not caring if anyone was watching, gave his cousin a bear hug. “Boy, Kid, am I ever glad to see you awake!” He released Jed and flopped down in the chair next to the bed beside him.
The two boys sat staring at each other in mute silence; Jed was the first to look away. When he did, he kept his eyes focused down at his lap, refusing to look up; he began to twist the corner of his blanket into knots.
Heyes frowned thoughtfully as he watched Jed, but decided to pretend he didn’t notice anything unusual; eventually he’d find out what was bothering his friend. “There sure is a lot to tell you, Kid; in fact, there’s so much, I don’t know where to start!”
Silence greeted his words and then Heyes snapped his fingers. “Hey, I know what; that mama cat finally had her kittens out in the barn - she had five of ’em! I made sure she had a nice, safe place to keep ’em until you could get out there to see ’em; they’ve got their eyes open now.”
The whole time he was talking, Heyes kept his eyes on Jed. He still wasn’t sure what was wrong, but Jed kept fiddling around with the blanket like it was the most important thing he’d ever seen. Heyes knew something was bothering his friend because he still hadn’t looked up or said another word since Heyes had sat down next to him. His tone a bit more persistent, Heyes decided to give it another try.
“Hey, Kid, did you hear me? Are you even listening?” He reached out and put his hand on top of Jed’s, covering it with his own as he tried to get his attention.
Jed snatched his hand away as if he had been burned. “NO!” he spoke with as much force as his sore throat would allow. Then he dove under the blanket, pulling it up over his head, but not before Heyes had seen the glimmer of tears in his friend’s eyes.
Heyes got up to close the door so they could have a little privacy, unsure of his next move. Just as he reached the door, the voice from beneath the blankets stopped him in his tracks.
“Don’t go, Han!” Jed cried out. “Don’t be mad at me... I’m sorry - don’t leave me - please?"
Heyes pushed the door shut and then hurried back to Jed who still hid beneath the covers. He stood staring down at the covered figure that huddled under the blankets, a mixture of concern and consternation on his face.
“Hey, I wasn’t going anywhere - I just wanted to shut the door so we could talk without everyone listening. What’s wrong? Why should I be mad at you? And what are you saying sorry for? After all you’ve been through you don’t have anything to be sorry about! Are you gonna stay under that blanket all morning or are you gonna come out and talk with me?”
“I think I’m safer here - under the blanket!” came Jed’s muffled reply, “It’ll make it harder for ya to flatten me!”
Heyes smiled as comprehension slowly dawned. “Aw, Kid, c’mon out of there; I’m not gonna flatten you - at least not while you’re still lying in bed, anyways,” he added with a chuckle.
Still speaking from behind the safety of his blanket, Jed’s voice was cautious, “Why not? Ain’t ya mad at me?”
“I am not going to talk to you as long as you’re hiding under that blanket! C’mon out! Kid?” Receiving no response, he continued, “Okay then, I’m going to count to three and if you don’t come out, I’m coming in after you! One, Two, Thr -”
“Okay, okay, Han - I’m out - see!” Jed cried, peeking out from beneath the edge of the blanket.
Well, Heyes conceded, I have to admit, at least most of his head is out. But Jed still held the blanket gripped tight in both hands and it still covered his face from the mouth down.
“Ya know what, Han? Ya sounded jus’ like my mom, when you said that!” Jed sounded like he was smiling, but it was kind of hard to tell since the blanket still hid his mouth from view.
“I know, that’s where I remembered it from; it worked, didn’t it?” Heyes reached over and tugged the blanket free from Jed’s hands and pulled it the rest of the way off his face.
“Can I have somethin’ to drink? My throat is hurtin’ somethin’ fierce!”
Heyes got some water and helped Jed sit up to drink it. He watched as the boy drink the whole glass down without stopping and commented wryly, “Was that enough, or do you have room for more?”
Jed leaned back against the headboard. “No, that was good; my throat feels better now.” He looked around hopefully, “Is there anythin’ to eat, Han? I don’t think I’ve had any food for... well, for a long time! Are they plannin’ on starvin’ me too?”
Heyes grinned. Yep, Jed was definitely getting better if he was asking for food! “I’ll have to check with the doc; but no, they aren’t going to let you starve. I think I heard the doc say something ’bout you taking it easy when you first started eating again so you didn’t get sick and lose it. He said it needs to be soft, too, so it doesn’t hurt your throat.”
“Oh...” Jed looked downright disappointed. “Well, that don’t leave much then, does it?” Heaving a dramatic sigh, he added, “Guess I will have another glass of water.”
Heyes had a hard time trying not to laugh at Jed’s woebegone expression. I’d better check with the doc quick and find out what Jed can have to eat; that’ll make him feel better. He handed Jed the cup of water. “Okay, Kid, when you’re finished drinking this, we’re going to talk, right?”
Jed’s answer was an indifferent shrug of his shoulders.
Heyes wasn’t surprised when the second glass of water took twice as long as the first for the boy to finish. He settled down on the bed, made himself comfortable and waited patiently.
While Jed drank, he watched Heyes with anxious eyes over the rim of his cup. Empty at last, he reluctantly handed the cup back to his cousin, sighing in resignation. “Okay, Han... I was hopin’ maybe you’d jus’ forget all about it?” He looked up at his cousin.
But Heyes shook his head. “Now why would you think I’d want to flatten you? Why would you be afraid and think that I’d just leave you?”
Jed looked up straight into Heyes’ eyes this time. Taking a deep breath, he spoke slowly, choosing his words carefully. “Because... I... I kinda forgot to tell ya somethin’. Well, lots of somethin’s...an’ I guess I sorta didn’t tell ya the truth when ya asked me if I’d done one thing to get even with the bullies...well, there were three of them, so I didn’t do jus’... one thing - I did three things! But ya did ask if I’d done one thing, Han!”
Jed cut him off and hurried on to explain. “See, I remembered what ya told me. A while back when I asked ya what to do instead of flattenin’ someone, ya said, ’Kid, you’ve got to know your enemy; learn their weaknesses. Figure out what it is they’re afraid of and use it to your advantage. You have to learn how to use your brain instead of your fists.” Yep, that’s what Han had said, alright.
“An’ then...well, then there was my arm...” Jed took a deep breath and the words rushed out. “Guess maybe I did lie to ya ‘bout that - I didn’t wanna - but if I’d’ve told ya, then ya would’ve made me go see the doc. I would’ve missed gettin’ to see what happened! I had to do everythin’ all by myself, an’ it was so hard! Han, I jus’ tried to plan like you, but I guess I forgot a whole bunch of stuff...” Jed’s agitated fingers began to twist the blanket into knots again.
Heyes stood up in order to look down at his cousin, his stern expression causing the boy in the bed to press back against his pillow. “I think there are quite a few other things you forgot about, too!”
“I told ya you’d be mad! We always said we’d never lie to each other an’...an’ then I went an’ did it! That’s why ya need to leave me - ya can’t trust me no more!” Jed cried and attempted to dive back under the safety of his blanket again.
But this time Heyes was ready; he grabbed the blanket and held on tight. He grinned as he watched Jed keep his head averted, a stubborn set to his chin. Sitting down on the bed, Heyes reached out to grasp Jed’s chin, forcing the younger boy to look at him. “Now just you wait one daggone minute - you didn’t let me finish! I was gonna say you forgot how you came up with a good plan - all on your own - to deal with some pretty big problems.”
Heyes released his grip on Jed’s chin and went on, “You forgot that even with a sore arm, you somehow managed to do everything you were supposed to do to make your plans work. You forgot to be afraid as you made your plans and carried them out. You forgot that you kept your promise to me not to get into any fights to solve your problems. But, most important of all, Kid, you forgot that sometimes it’s okay to forget.”
“Ya mean it, Han? Really? Ya don’t think ya can’t trust me no more?”
“Jed, I would trust you with my life! This doesn’t change anything between us, ’cept that maybe from now on, I’ll be sure to listen more carefully to what you say and pay more attention to your answers. You are my cousin... my partner... and my best friend; there isn’t any other person I trust as much as I trust you.”
Jed’s smile said it all. His cousin Han was the best! Everything was going to be alright, now.
“I promise, from now on, I’ll try not to lie to ya ever again,” the boy’s words were spoken in earnest, as if taking an oath. “I’ll tell ya when there’s trouble, an’ I’ll prove to ya that ya can trust me...honest. Han? Han...why’re ya laughin’? What’s so funny? Fine! Never mind...jus’ forget it - I didn’t wanna know anyways - Hannibal!” Annoyed with his cousin Jed fell silent and aimed a fierce scowl at Heyes as he toppled over backwards on the bed, holding onto his sides and laughing so hard he had tears in his eyes.
When Heyes was able to stop laughing enough to talk, he wiped his eyes and looked over at Jed, who still glared at him with a look of reproach upon his face. After he had caught his breath, Heyes held up his hands in a placating manner and began to explain.
“Sorry, Kid, but it’s all your fault! I was just thinking that if you did everything you just promised it sure would be dull around here!” Although Heyes tried his best not to fall victim to the laughter again, he failed miserably and collapsed on the bed, clutching his stomach.
Jed looked at Han first in bewilderment and then, as Heyes’ words soaked in, he grinned and toppled over backwards to join his cousin. The sound of their merriment ringing out in the room was the best medicine the doctor could have ordered!
BACK AT THE CAMPSITE…PRESENT TIME
Heyes and Curry sat in companionable silence as they reflected on how easy things had been to fix back in those early days. Years of watching out for each other had created a bond so strong that it could not be broken. The two had remained cousins, partners and best friends throughout everything life had tossed their way. They looked up across the campfire at the same time and brown eyes met and locked with blue ones.
They stopped, looked at each other and grinned, and then they began to chuckle. Soon the air was filled with the sound of their deep, rumbling laughter.
As always, no further words were needed between the two friends.
Hannibal Heyes and Jed “Kid” Curry had come full circle. Each man knew with a dead certainty that the other could always be counted on to be nearby... and ready to lean on if he needed to.
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