I'm Not Sure If I Know The Way
22 Years earlier, 1860, Lawrence, Kansas
Jed had been the one to come up with the nickname that hot summer day. The boy had been playing in the creek, amusing himself while he waited for his cousin to show up when, all of a sudden, Heyes came storming in.
Jed turned around in annoyance. “Daggone it, Heyes – ya scared all the tadpoles away!” Then, as he caught sight of his friend’s face, he added, “Somethin’ wrong?”
“Yeah - I don’t wanna be called Hannibal ever again!” he shouted.
“Sheesh, you’re yellin’ loud enough for the folks in the next county to hear ya!”
Heyes pivoted about to direct a scowling glare at the other boy. “You wanna make something of it?” he snapped.
Jed held up his hands in mock surrender. “I was jus’ sayin’…” He shook his head vigorously and grinned. “I’d rather tangle with a mother grizzly bear than you any day when you’re in this kinda mood!”
Some of the anger left Heyes’ face.
Jedediah Curry held his eight year old cousin in high esteem and always had time to listen to what he had to say and today was no exception. He cocked his head to one side. “Well, what do ya wanna be called, then?”
“Heyes - I just wanna be called Heyes – plain an’ simple!” he shouted back in frustration. “Is that too much to ask?”
With a thoughtful look on his young face, Jed plopped down on the riverbank. He watched Heyes pace restlessly back and forth along the water’s edge for the longest time, not saying a word. Finally he stood up and walked towards the other boy and stepped directly in his path, causing Heyes to halt in mid-stride. There was a solemn look in the blue eyes which made the boy look much older than his six years.
Jed had been eager to share his thoughts with his cousin. “Okay,” he began in a serious tone, “so if ya wanna be called Heyes, well then, guess that’s what people should call ya. Only problem is, the grownups ain’t gonna do it. Jus’ like they call me Jedediah most of the time,” he added and made a face. “Shoot, I ain’t even big enough for a name that long!” With a deep, heartfelt sigh, the boy returned to the problem at hand.
“Ya know, if ya think about it, jus’ ‘Heyes’ sounds like it’s your pa, kinda like it needs a ‘Mister’ to go along with it, ya know. Anyways, the way I got it figured, if we was to find ya a name that made everybody happy, ya might stand a better chance of gettin’ your way. So, that’s why - if it’s okay with ya - I’m gonna call ya Han. Whatcha think? How’s that sound? Would ya mind that… Han?” Jed watched the older boy’s face, rocking back and forth from one foot to the other in his anxiety, unable to stand the suspense as he waited for an answer.
Hannibal was suitably impressed with the length of the boy’s speech. His cousin hardly ever spoke more than two or three sentences strung together at one time. And, equally impressive, was Jed’s perception of how to solve his problem. Heyes mulled over his friend’s suggestion for a while, rolled the name around in his head and tested it out.
Han... hmm, that wasn’t too bad and Jed did have a good point. Maybe even some of the grownups just might start using it if they heard Jed saying it all the time. Anything was better than the dreaded Hannibal! He flashed a dimpled smile at Jed; no words were necessary.
Jed pulled his cousin off the rock he’d been sitting on and after they had whooped and hollered for a bit, he punched Heyes in the arm playfully.
“Come on, Han, I’ll race ya! Let’s go tell everyone your new name!”
Despite all his good intentions, the name hadn’t been as well-received as Jed had hoped, but it had solved the problem of what the boy would call his older cousin. Once in a while, if Jed was really mad and wanted to get his point across, he’d call his older cousin “Hannibal” knowing how much Heyes disliked it.
Heyes grinned. Just like he did earlier today on the cliffs.
If the boy was a bit more than a little upset, he might call him ‘Hannibal’ in a mocking tone, just to tease him. Other times it was plain “Heyes” when the younger boy was irritated with him, but for the most part, he had become Jed’s ‘Han.’
With Curry quiet and resting at last, Heyes leaned back and his eyes drifted shut as more memories from their younger days were brought to mind...
SEVEN YEARS LATER, 1867, WYOMING TERRITORY
Seven years had passed since that day down by the river. A lot of changes had occurred in the lives of the two cousins from Kansas. Han and Jed were now out on their own. They had recently left the Valparaiso Home for Waywards, the place where they had been sent to live after they lost their families. Leaving was something they had been forced to do or suffer the consequences, so the boys had run away; it was run away or be separated from each other.
Having reached the age of fifteen, Heyes would have been old enough for the officials to turn out, but Jed would have been kept at Valparaiso for another two years for the money he brought in. After talking it over, both boys had agreed there was no way that they were going to let that happen; they would stick together no matter what it took.
However, after being out on their own for a while, it was soon apparent that things were not going to be as easy as Han and Jed had first thought. There were times when their sparse ammunition ran out and the two boys went without food for days at a time. More often than not they had to settle for finding shelter wherever they ended up, road sore and too weary to travel anymore. It became commonplace that where they spread out their blankets to lay their heads for the night was the hard, rocky ground with only their arms for a pillow. Uncomfortable, and their bellies growling with hunger, their slumber was fitful.
The cousins who, in addition to being relatives, had been friends as far back as they both could remember, began to grate on each others nerves like fingernails scraping on a blackboard. Scared, but unwilling to admit their fears to the other, they were like sores that festered.
Heyes felt a keen responsibility for his younger cousin. He had been the one to convince the boy how good life was going to be once they were free of Valparaiso. But so far, the picture he had painted had not materialized yet. He took it deep to heart that he wasn’t able to take better care of him. “This isn’t the life I promised Jed!”
On the other side of the coin, Jed was well aware that he wasn’t doing his fair share. Unable to pull his own weight, he felt he was nothing more than a burden to the older boy, holding his cousin back. “Han would be better off without me!”
A confrontation seemed inevitable. And so it was. A few days later the two young men found themselves at loggerheads.
Heyes stood by himself, a solitary figure, alone in the middle of the road. He watched his cousin walk away with the indisputable knowledge that he was as much responsible for the fight as Jed was; probably more, if the truth were told. They had both yelled things at each other, mean, hurtful things, said in the heated passion of the fight that never should have been said.
“We wouldn’t have said them neither if we’d just been able to get some food in our bellies and a decent place to rest our heads,” Heyes muttered in frustration. “If we’d been able to find some work it might’ve helped a bit, but we’ve reached the point of no return; a place where our anger made both of us feel like it was our fault. Guess we took our anger out on each other,” he sighed.
It was Jed who had been the one to walk away. He had stared in hurt silence at Heyes after they had run out of things to yell at each other.
“This ain’t gonna work anymore, Hannibal! I’m tired of ya tellin’ me what to do an’ when to do it! I’m old enough to take care of myself, an’ so are you, so let’s jus’ call it quits right now! I’ll go my way an’ you go yours - we’ll both be better off!” With those final words, Jed had turned and walked off; never once had he looked back.
What Heyes didn’t know, the reason that Jed didn’t look back, was because he couldn’t. He didn’t want his cousin to see the telltale moisture that had gathered in his eyes. The truth was, he was scared; more scared than he had even been in his life. The boy wanted nothing more than to turn around, to go running back to tell his best friend that he didn’t mean one single word of what he had just said. But he didn’t; he knew that he had to keep on walking.
If I don’t walk away, Han’s never gonna make it... an’ one of us has to! With grim determination he put one foot in front of the other all the while telling himself he was doing the right thing. Right foot, left foot, right foot... NO! Jedediah Ezekiel Curry, don’t ya dare turn ’round! Jed chastised himself. Left foot...
Heyes reached down and scooped his hat up out of the dirt, then held it in his hand, at a loss to understand. What had just happened? How had it ever reached this point? he wondered. After we ran away so that we could stay together, now we’re gonna split up over a few angry words? How stupid is that?
Although it was hard, he resisted the temptation to go after his cousin. He just needs some time to cool down. Heyes shrugged, confident in his assumption that by nightfall Jed would be back at camp, probably carrying something he’d caught for supper as a peace offering. They’d both be embarrassed and then they’d laugh and apologize, just like all the times before.
He and Jed would sit down and make plans together for what they were going do for the next few days, like nothing had ever happened. Heyes grinned, as a plan came to mind; one that was guaranteed to coax Jed into a better mood for sure.
“I’ll go find that berry patch and get enough to have with supper tonight.” Jed loved berries and, as Heyes pictured the look on his cousin’s face when Jed saw what he’d done, he knew things would work out just fine. His plan might be simple, but he was positive it would work.
But, that wasn’t the way things went; sometimes even the most simplest of plans go awry. Heyes had waited for Jed’s return that night until exhaustion won and he finally fell into a troubled slumber, refusing to believe the cold, hard fact.
Jed wasn’t going to come back this time.
The boy had stopped being Han that day, the moment the two boys had split up and gone their separate ways. Eventually, he had joined up with the Devil’s Hole Gang, first as an outlaw named Heyes, then later he’d gone on to become their leader. When the Kid became a member of the same gang, he’d always referred to his cousin as Heyes.
Han had been left behind with their other childhood memories, forgotten, until tonight.
Heyes’ attention was diverted once again when Curry moaned and became restless and began to thrash about in his agitation, fighting against the hands that tried to help him. As he tried to get his partner comfortably situated, Heyes reflected back on another time when Jed had been hurt and how much he had needed Han’s help...
VALPARAISO HOME FOR WAYWARDS, KANSAS, 1864
“Jed? Hey, Jed - you up here? If you are, you’d better answer me - or else!” twelve-year-old Heyes hissed. “Okay, guess you win, Kid - I give up. You are the hide an’ seek Champeen today.” A dimpled grin stretched across his face as he added under his breath, “You may think you’re the Champeen Hider, but I’m the Champeen Tracker – and you can’t hide from me for very long, cousin!” His brow furrowed. Jed had to be up here hiding somewhere; he had looked everywhere else. All the usual hiding places were empty and soon it would be dark.
Heyes stood still, poised on the ladder, not going all the way up into the attic while he let his eyes adjust to the darkness and listened for any telltale sounds that would prove him right. He had the patience to outwait his friend; being still and quiet was as foreign to ten-year-old Jed Curry as missing a meal.
He eased himself up and through the hole in the floor to sit on the edge. Now that he could see better, he looked the whole room over thoroughly to figure out where his cousin had found to hide himself this time. Heyes dismissed the collection of old boxes and trunks immediately. There were a few other possibilities, the most promising being the large pile of old clothes scattered over in the corner, but before he could make a move towards it, he heard a noise.
That had sounded like a cry! That was all that it took for Heyes to jump up and run over to the pile of clothing. He knelt down to push them aside and discovered that he had been right. There was Jed all right, all curled up into a ball.
“Jed, it’s me, Han. Hey, dontcha know I’ve been lookin’ all over the place for you? You really had me worried there for a bit, ’specially when you didn’t come in to supper. I had to stay there so they wouldn’t notice that both of us were gone. Look, I saved you some food. Had to be real careful and sneak it into my pockets. I know you like ’em, they’re your favorite - jelly biscuits. I brought you three of ‘em...” Heyes’ voice trailed off. Jed hadn’t moved or made any further noise since being discovered.
Something really bad must have happened; Jedediah Curry never refused food!
Heyes set the food on the floor and moved more of the clothes away from his friend as he made an attempt to see Jed’s face in the fading light. Both eyes were squeezed shut, one hand clenched tight into a fist that was pressed against his mouth and his top teeth cut deep into his knuckles.
“Hey, buddy... talk to me, tell me what’s wrong?” Heyes whispered and reached out a hand to touch Jed on the shoulder. From previous experience, when it came to dealing with his cousin, the older boy was pretty much prepared for almost anything. What he wasn’t prepared for, was that Jed would suddenly turn and pitch straight into him.
Caught off guard, Heyes was knocked over backwards, the breath sucked from his lungs. Jed grabbed hold of his cousin and buried his head on Heyes’ leg. Stunned by his cousin’s actions, Heyes could only stare down at the boy that clung to him like a burr.
What in the world...?
He hadn’t seen Jed this upset since their families had been killed last year. He put a tentative hand on Curry’s back and began to pat it with awkward but gentle taps. Uncertain of his next move, Heyes was left to wonder and wait until Jed was able to tell him what had happened. When he felt he had allowed the boy enough time and his cousin had still shown no signs of talking, Heyes took the lead.
“Kid, it’s getting late. I wish we had more time, but we don’t have long before they notice we’re not in our beds. You know what Miss Menius will do to us...”
Heyes’ warning had the desired effect. Embarrassed by his outburst, his head still buried in his arms, Jed’s voice was muffled. “Han, would it be all right, do ya think, maybe... could ya let me lean on ya, jus’ for a little bit?”
Heyes turned sideways so the boy could lean back against him. “We need to talk.”
“I know.” Sitting with his knees bent, his head resting on his arms, Jed’s voice was barely audible. “Han... I’m... I’m real sorry...” he stopped to take a deep shuddering breath, “I know... its wrong... but... I... Han – I... want... m-my... my... mom!”
The gut-wrenching words, combined with the tear-streaked face that Jed finally turned towards Heyes were almost the older boy’s undoing, more than he could take. Balling his hands into tight fists, he fought for control. He couldn’t - no, he wouldn’t - give in now!
There was a mutual unspoken agreement between the two of them that they didn’t talk about these things anymore. The memories were still too fresh - too painful - for both of them, but even more so for the older boy. Heyes was the one who had been forced to take charge to ensure that his younger cousin didn’t see the ravaged bodies of their families.
Heyes was the one who’d had to grow up overnight and leave his childhood far behind, never able to give in to the overwhelming sense of grief he had felt at their loss. Even at his young age, he had been smart enough to realize that if he did, he would be lost...and worse, so would Jed. For one of the few times in his life, Hannibal Heyes was at a loss for words, unsure of what to do, much less of what to say. His mind was a total blank and yet, there Jed sat, waiting for an answer.
He had been ready to help find a solution to any number of the problems that seemed to find Jed, but this? This would require a lot from him, maybe something he wasn’t ready to give, even if it meant he could help Jed. He needed time. But as Heyes looked into his cousin’s eyes, still glistening with the remnants of his tears and so full of trust, he knew that time would not be an option.
“I know how you feel, Jed, and I -” He closed his eyes and took a deep breath “.… I miss my mom, too.” As the admission left his mouth, Heyes was rewarded for the effort it had cost him to say the painful words when he heard Jed’s response.
“Really, Han? Ya really mean it? You’re not jus’ sayin’ that, are ya? Ya don’t think I’m bein’ a baby? ‘Cos that’s what they called me this mornin’ when I got hurt an’ cried for her!”
“Hurt?” Heyes looked Jed over with concern.
“It’s nothin’ - it was early this mornin’, guess I was havin’ one of my bad dreams. Michael an’ Matthew - they got mad at me - said I woke ’em up! They said they tried to wake me up, but guess they must’ve pulled too hard on my arm, ‘cos they pulled me clean outta bed! I landed right smack dab on my arm, Han, it hurt somethin’ fierce!” Seeing the other boy’s expression, Jed backpedalled, “I mean, it hurt then! I tried real hard not to cry, but they still poked fun at me anyways!”
“You sleep in the top bunk - that’s a long way to fall. Shoot, I might’ve cried too, if I fell that far.” Heyes was rewarded with another grateful look.
“Anyways,” the sandy-haired boy continued, “guess I was still sorta dreamin’. Han, my mom was in it! An’ I knew if I told her I was hurt, she could make it better. So I guess I must’ve called out to her, but then when they started laughin’ at me, I realized it was jus’ another dream.” He heaved a deep sigh before he added, ”You weren’t in your bed, an’ I didn’t have anyone else to help me!” Jed shot his cousin a glare filled with accusation.
Before Heyes had a chance to reply, the boy went on. “Then, Miss Menius came in, told us all to get back into bed, an’ that she wanted to see all three of us in the mornin’ - before breakfast!” he cried, as if this was the worst news possible. “Han, both Michael an’ Matthew said they were gonna make me sorry for gettin’ ‘em into trouble, an’ THEN Danny said he was gonna flatten me ’cos I made trouble for his friends!” The boy’s eyes were sparkling with anger at the injustice of everything.
“Jed, did anyone ever check out your arm? Did you even tell anyone you got hurt?”
“Umm, well, no...” Jed quickly amended his answer. “I was gonna go see Doc... but, Han, ya ain’t listenin’ to me!” he rushed on, his words tumbling over each other to get out. “There wasn’t no time - we all had to get back into bed. Guess they must’ve went back to sleep, but there was no way I was gonna close MY eyes, nosiree, not with all three of ’em mad at me!”
Jed paused long enough to take a deep breath. “Well, I wasn’t gonna fall asleep, but I guess I must’ve, ‘cos when I opened my eyes again it wasn’t dark no more, an’ everyone had already gone down to eat. Han, they jus’ let me sleep! I found out later that Danny had threatened ‘em all not to wake me up so I’d be late an’ get in even more trouble! I jumped outta bed ‘cos I didn’t wanna miss breakfast, then I remembered I was s’posed to go see Miss Menius first. I figured maybe I’d better jus’ go ahead an’ get it over with.”
Heyes held up a hand. “Hold on; let’s see if I have all this right. First off, you have a bad dream, then you get pulled out of your bed, you hurt your arm, get threatened by three bullies, miss breakfast and have to go see Miss Menius? Did I forget anything?”
“Umm, well, I...” Jed hung his head and scuffed the ground with the toe of his shoe. “Well, ya stopped me ‘fore I got to the part when Miss Menius sent us all to the kitchen to do extra chores an’ they started makin’ fun of me again.”
“Making fun of you, why?”
“They kept callin’ me a big baby!”
“Who called you that?” Heyes’ head was reeling as he tried to keep up with everything his cousin was revealing to him.
“All of ‘em - Danny, Michael an’ Matthew - they all made fun of me! Pushed me down on the ground an’ said they were gonna go find me a bottle of milk to drink an’ some diapers to wear! Han, they made me so mad - I know ya made me promise not to fight - but I jus’ couldn’t let ‘em get away with sayin’ all that! An’ ’sides that,” Jed sent Heyes a defiant look, “YOU weren’t anywhere ’round to talk me outta it!”
“Aw, Kid,” Heyes groaned. “You didn’t get into a fight with them - did you? Please tell me you kept your promise! I’m sorry ’bout not being there.” He attempted to explain his absence. “They woke me up this morning before it was even daylight. I tried to let you know, but there wasn’t any way. I wanted to, I mean I did try, but they wouldn’t let me wake you up to let you know where I was going. Guess what they did? They gave me barn duty - uggghh!” Heyes pinched his nose and made a face, which at least coaxed a small grin out of Jed.
“I had to clean out all the stalls and then I had to go out to the field and help round up the cows for milking. At least today was the last day of my extra chores; I’ll be back to my regular ones tomorrow.” That is, IF we get downstairs and into our beds before they miss us, he thought to himself as he looked at the darkening shadows. “So, if you didn’t get into a fight, what did you do? You were kinda outnumbered you know, three to one.”
Jed raked a shirtsleeve across his eyes and edged away from Heyes to lean back against the wall. “I tried to find ya, Han!” he whispered. “I needed a plan, an’ I knew if I found ya that you’d help me.”
Once again, Heyes found himself looking into his cousin’s eyes, usually filled with trust. Right now they were troubled and reflected the hurt the younger boy felt.
“I was all alone; all by myself! Nobody cared whether or not I was okay. Han, its jus’ not any fun without ya ’round to help plan things! I can’t think of stuff the way ya can. I wasn’t gonna let ‘em get away with it, so I jus’ kept outta their way until -” again Jed halted in mid-sentence and then dropped his head in defeat to rest on his knees. “Ya know what, Han? I don’t ever wanna spend another day like today! I jus’ felt so...lost!” Despite his attempt to prevent it, Jed’s voice quavered on the last word.
Heyes got up and knelt down on one leg before his cousin. He reached out and put a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Jed - did you? Did you figure out a way to get even? Please, tell me you didn’t try to do it all by yourself? Those bullies were already mad and out to get you. Look at me! Tell me you didn’t do one thing to them – I’m not kidding - I want the truth!”
Jed raised his head to look straight into his cousin’s face. “Honest, Han, I promise, cross my heart,” he made an x across his chest. “I didn’t do one thing to ‘em; that’s the truth, an’ that’s why I’m up here. I jus’ couldn’t take their teasin’ no more!” The boy’s words were sincere, as was the look in his eyes.
Heyes released the breath he had been holding. Satisfied with Jed’s answer, he reached down to pull his cousin to his feet. “Okay, now all we’ve gotta do is get downstairs and into our beds before they notice we aren’t in ’em. Before we go, there’s something I have to do first.”
Ignoring Jed’s questioning look and not giving him a chance to talk him out of it, Heyes took hold of the boy’s arm and pushed the sleeve up, whistling softly when he saw the bruises. He made a mental note for the future, tucking away the fact that Jed made no attempt to pull free from his grip. In fact, he’s staying perfectly still. Reading the look of protest in the boy’s eyes even before Jed started to deny it, Heyes held his tongue and waited to hear what his cousin had to say. I’ll give you all the rope you need, Kid…
Although it was true Jed had winced and sucked in his breath at Heyes’ initial touch, he shook his head in denial and hurried to explain. “It’s okay, Han - really! It looks worse’n it is, it only hurts a little. I’ll jus’ havta be real careful. Honest, I promise I’ll tell ya if it doesn’t feel better tomorrow, but like ya said, it’s gettin’ late an’ we’re both gonna be in big trouble if we ain’t in our beds. C’mon, let’s get goin’, I sure don’t wanna get in no more trouble today!” He pulled Heyes’ fingers loose from his arm. Once free, he tried to push past Heyes.
Having arrived at his own conclusions, Heyes put out a hand to restrain him. “Alright, I’ll let it go...for tonight, but I’m giving you fair warning, Kid, if it gets worse, and you don’t tell me, I’m gonna have to flatten you!” Heyes softened his words with a smile.
Jed’s answer was a matching grin of his own; he turned to leave, but pivoted about. “Hey, wait a minute.” He ran over to the jelly biscuits and picked them up, managing to stuff a whole one into his mouth while holding the other two, one in each hand. Everything was gonna work out fine, now that they were together again.
From his behavior, Heyes deduced that Jed must be feeling better; food was the one thing guaranteed to fix anything as far as he was concerned. He had to smile as he watched his cousin tackle all three biscuits at one time. Only Jed could manage to enjoy himself so much, with so little.
The sandy-haired boy licked his fingers. “C’mon, Han, let’s go!”
“You might want to take a look in the mirror first,” Heyes laughed at the expression on the younger boy’s face as he complied.
Turning around to dart a look at his cousin, Jed defended himself. “I guess some people jus’ know how to enjoy their food.” He reached down to take one of the old rags from the pile, rubbed the jelly off his face and glanced back into the mirror. “Okay, now can we go?”
Heyes nodded and the two boys climbed down the ladder. Heyes went first to make sure the coast was clear. At least that was the explanation he gave Jed, his real motive being so that he could watch the other boy climb down. Heyes had to admit, his cousin deserved credit for his effort.
Reaching the downstairs safely, they still had to make it inside their room and into bed without being caught. Heyes gave Jed the all-clear signal and they walked into the room to join the others already in the process of getting ready for bed. The two boys breathed sighs of relief. Their relief was short-lived however, for no sooner had they got near their beds when the trouble began.
“Hey, guys, lookee here - look who finally decided to come to his wittle beddie- it’s wittle baby Jeddie-weddie!” Danny sauntered across the room and made his way over to Jed. Once there, he bent down to peer into the younger boy’s face and resumed his mocking assault. “Awww, look, poor wittle baby, he’s been cwyin’ again!” he announced to the room in a loud voice.
His mouth clamped shut, Jed backed up a step and turned away, his back to the room.
“Yeah, anyone find Jeddie-weddie’s wittle baby bottle?” Matthew taunted the boy next, “Guess he must’ve lost it somewhere!”
Heyes had been watching his cousin throughout the interchange thus far and was puzzled by Jed’s behavior. The only sign the boy gave that he had even heard one word that was being hurled at him was the stiffening of his back and his closed eyes, which no one but Heyes could see.
“Hey, Jeddie-weddie... ya gonna put on your own diapers? Or does your gweat big cousin Heyesey-weysey have to do that for ya, too?” Michael added insult to injury.
The whole room went silent, a small miracle in itself considering the number of boys gathered together in the one room. Heyes and Jed might be the newest additions to the group, but the other boys had been quick to learn that if you picked on one, the other always came to his defense; the two cousins looked out for each other. The roomful of boys waited with expectancy to see what would happen next.
Eyes smoldering with anger, his hands balled into tight fists at his sides, Heyes started towards the three bullies.
Jed stepped in front him and put a restraining hand on his chest. “No, Han, don’t do it!” he whispered. “You’ll jus’ get into trouble, too!” He stared up into Heyes’ face, his blue eyes pleading with brown as he waited.
A few long seconds later, the older boy quit glaring at the three bullies long enough to turn away and look down at his cousin who still blocked his way.
While some of the anger was still present, Jed was glad to see that Han was at least willing to listen.
“You feelin’ okay, Kid?”
“You’re right; they’re not worth the trouble. If you can let it go, then I guess I can too, but... I just don’t see how you’re doing it!” Heyes shook his head. “I’m the one usually holding you back. You know something I don’t?”
Jed grinned. “Nope, I jus’ remembered what Grampa Curry always used to tell us: ‘Don’t get mad, get even!’”
Heyes closed his eyes as he too, recalled their grandfather’s words of wisdom. When he opened his eyes, he looked down at Jed, who still had that big smile on his face. Maybe his ‘little’ cousin wasn’t quite so little anymore.
“This ain’t over, you two, so if you know what’s good for you -”
“Everyone should be in their beds by now!” Miss Menius’ shrill voice could be heard not far down the hall and forestalled any further comments. “Quit dawdling around; there will be no more talking... or else!”
Jed slid an uneasy glance over and up to the top bunk. He bit down on his lower lip as he absently rubbed his sore arm. He shifted his look sideways to see Han leaning against the bunkbed, arms folded across his chest, watching and waiting. Jed swallowed and put his foot on the bottom rung of the ladder, but before he could go any higher, Heyes put a restraining hand on his shoulder to stop him. Blue eyes wide, Jed turned to his cousin.
“Uh, uh, not tonight, Jed, you get the bottom bunk; I’ll take the top one,” Heyes announced in a voice loud enough that it carried across the room for the other boys to hear. “I’ve got some thinking to do and there’s not as many distractions way up there.” Heyes sent the younger boy a wink.
Relieved that Han had not made a big deal out of it in front of the other boys, the look of gratitude Jed shot his friend said it all; his smile told his cousin he understood.
“Sure, Han, you go right ahead an’ do all the thinkin’ ya want, I’m goin’ to sleep!”
As Jed crawled under the blanket, he looked across to where the three bullies were getting into their own beds and smiled to himself. Tomorrow’s gonna be a mighty interestin’ day... He rolled over onto his back, his good arm under his head and looked at the bottom of the bunk above him. An’ I really didn’t lie to ya, Han; I promise I didn’t do one thing. I jus’ remembered somethin’ really important ya told me once when I asked ya how come ya didn’t jus’ flatten someone when ya got mad at ’em.
Heyes had answered, given him some advice which the younger boy had tucked away in a corner of his mind for future use. And, although Jed personally thought it was much easier to just flatten someone and get it over and done with, he also figured his cousin must know what he was talking about.
Han’s sure gonna be real pleased when he finds out how I listened to him, an’ sees that I paid attention to what he said. Yep, the boy nodded, he sure will... probably right after he gets done flattenin’ me!
And with that last comforting thought, Jedediah Curry yawned and burrowed deeper under the covers, pulling them up under his chin, and drifted off to sleep. As it shone through the window, the pale moonlight revealed the Cheshire Cat smile that played upon the young boy’s face.