A Jess Story


by Nachuma





The night air is cold. I should probably go inside and get my coat, or at least put on some boots. But that would mean havin’ to go back into the bedroom where Slim is sleepin’ so peaceful and chance wakin’ him. And then I’d have to explain.

 

No, I guess I wouldn’t. He don’t ask me any questions so long as he knows I’m not up to something. Though how he can always tell, I don’t know. I used to have a pretty good poker face before I came here. Maybe that’s what havin’ a family means…not havin’ to wear your poker face every day.

 

It sure wasn’t like that in my family. Couldn’t tell anyone what you were thinkin’, ‘lest you get a whalin’ just for thinkin’ it. Pa, he was pretty fast with his belt, and didn’t seem to care who it was aimed at, neither. Even Francie came in for a whuppin’ now and then. Mostly when she stood up for me.

 

Francie. I haven’t thought of her in…no, that’s wrong. I don’t think there’s been a day in the past year I haven’t thought of her. Ever since that snake, Gil Brady, showed up here. He must’ve had some pretty big cojones to come here askin’ for my help…’cept if he’d been so well equipped, he wouldn’t’ve run off and left her in the first place.

 

Dang, it’s cold. I never knew a place could get so cold. Even a west Texas winter ain’t near as cold as a Wyoming summer night. I ain’t lookin’ forward to winter, that’s for certain. Last year durn near froze me solid.

 

It just didn’t sit right, what that sergeant told me about Francie killin’ herself. That wasn’t the sister I knew. Francie would stand up to just about anything, from a mad bull to a ragin’ pa, which, come to think on it, were pretty much the same thing. I can still see it, all five-foot-nothin’ of her standin’ nose-to-nose with Pa, and him with his belt in one hand and a bottle of whiskey in the other. And Ma cowerin’ in the background, lettinFrancie do her fightin’ for her.

 

No, that ain’t fair neither. Ma had a lot to put up with and was pretty near wore down with it. I guess it wasn’t easy with a man like Pa and sons that…well, I won’t be sayinnothing against the dead, but Johnny probably would have ended up on the business end of a rope before he was 20. If he’d got the chance. And I was headin’ in the same direction.

 

Maybe Billy would’ve made it. He was still a baby, though he thought himself a man…not yet 11 and bustin’ to be old enough to go ‘round with his big brothers.

 

Andy kind of reminds me of him—at least, what he might have been if he’d’a had the chance. If he’d’a had someone like Slim to take care of him, see that he grew up straight.

 

I didn’t do that for Billy. I was too busy bein’ mad at the world. I hope Slim appreciates what he’s got. If not, I’m gonna have to kick his tail every so often to remind him.

 

No, Francie wouldn’t just give up like that. None of us Harpers have much give up in us. We go down fightin’…

 

Maybe that was a dodge to get away from Gil…havin’ someone from home tell the Army she was dead so’s he’d leave her alone.

 

I should write someone…maybe Sam Tillerman’s still around, or Fred Jackson. Or…what was her name…Eva Karlson, that’s it. She and Francie were pretty good friends once. Maybe she’s heard something. Maybe she can tell Francie it’s safe to come home now Gil’s gone.

 

Maybe I’m just wishin’ things were different.

 

But my life has changed so much, and all for the better, I can’t help wishin’ it for Francie. I wish she was safe and happy like me. I wish she had a family of her own, someone to love her and care for her. I wish she got to know what havin’ a family really means. It’s taken me this long to figure it out for myself.

 

Havin’ a family means havin’ people to care for, and who care for you. It means thinkin’ of other people, and takin’ responsibility for your actions, not just for yourself, but for them as well. Because whatever you do, no matter how right you think it is, it’ll affect them too.

 

Havin’ a family means never bein’ alone, and that’s something that takes a lot of gettin’ used to.

 

But it’s worth it.

 

* * * * *

 

Dang, you startled me. Don’t you know that can be dangerous?

 

Yeah, I know it’s cold. I’ll be in soon. I didn’t wake you, did I? I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to worry you none. There’s nothing wrong. I just had some thinkin’ to do.

 

Yeah, I know that’s unusual for me. Very funny.

 

You go on back to bed. The sun’ll be up soon. I’ll lay the fire for breakfast so Jonesy won’t have to carry the firewood with his bad back.

 

I’ll see you in the morning. And Slim—thanks.

 

Just…thanks.

 

 

August 11, 2008


The episode write up for Fugitive Road is right 'chere



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