CHANGE OF HEART
Kid Curry was a peaceable man to his way of thinking. He was slow to anger and even tempered most of the time. This was a good thing, because a man with a gun hand as fast as his had to be slow to rile, else ways there would have been a long line of dead men in his wake. Yes, people who knew him could testify that he had the patience of a saint. Who else could have put up with the quirks of the Devil’s Hole Gang? Who else could have kept a straight face when Wheat came up with one of his hare-brained schemes or when Kyle got drunk and thought he was not only the smartest outlaw to ever draw breath, but the best looking one as well. A man’s pride was a very important thing and Kid Curry knew this.
But it was February. And February always brought out the worst in his partner, the inimitable Hannibal Heyes. It was hard to be patient with a man who knew all of your secrets. A man whose silver tongue could turn into a sharp blade at any moment and strip you of a piece of hide without so much as a warning. All the years they had been together had never softened the effect February had on Heyes nor the usual dust up that occurred when the Kid finally had as much as he could take and turned on his tormentor to stand his ground.
That had just happened and amid raised voices and much stomping and slamming of personal items, the Kid had done his usual. He had told his partner that enough was enough, had said that a partnership was not a permanent situation, had told him that birthday or not, he had no right to act like a spoiled brat and had exited their hotel room with the threat of never coming back. He now found himself in the saloon across the street with a bottle of good whiskey in his possession and the intent of drinking it all before he went back and made peace.
Heyes had watched his partner go with eyes black with fire. The Kid just didn’t understand what he was going through and he never would. It was February. February 24th to be exact and it was his birthday. A day he dreaded the entire year because it brought back memories that he would just as soon forget. Wonderful memories of happy days with a big, loving family. Cakes and presents and laughter and singing. Simpler times before life had dealt them a harsh blow that had effected the rest of their lives.
Sometimes he swore the spirit of his mother was haunting him. She came to him in dreams and always smiled her wonderful smile and tried to tell him things, but he could never hear what she wanted to say and he would see her sweet smile turn sad before she would vanish from his sight. This always brought him awake with a start and put him in a terrible mood. A mood, he had to confess, he took out on the Kid. He sighed and stretched out on the bed, stacking his hands underneath his head and staring at the ceiling.
The Kid would be back when he had cooled off. Heyes knew this like he knew his own name. Temper brought out the hard edge to Kid Curry but when he had a chance to calm down, he always came back and when the apologies were over, their relationship went back to the way it had always been. He closed his eyes and wished he could stop being so contrary to his only living relative and soon he was asleep.
Heyes opened his eyes and stared into the loving gaze of Amelia Brandon Heyes. She smiled at him and cupped his cheek, her touch warm and gentle. He sat bolt upright and shrank from her. She only smiled again and folded her hands in her lap waiting for him to respond.
“Who...who are you?” he demanded, his heart racing. “How did you get in here?”
“It hasn’t been that long, my son,” she admonished him. “I come to you often in your dreams and I try to watch out for you.”
“You...can’t be my mother. My mother is dead!” He scrambled off the bed and faced her.
“I’m not dead in your heart, son. You must know that.”
“Why are you here? What business do you have with me?”
“Hannibal, my darling, it is your birthday. I share this day with you every year because I brought you into this world on this day. Your father and I. You are our first born and have a very special place in our hearts.”
“How can this be?” he whispered, as he began to tremble. He came slowly around the bed and reached out to touch the woman in front of him. She was warm and she smelled of lavender. She looked up into his puzzled face and smiled again. “Mother?” he cried, sinking to his knees and wrapping his arms around her slim waist, burying his head in her lap.
She stroked his hair and rocked him gently in the way of all mothers, murmuring soft sounds of comfort until he raised tear-stained cheeks to her. She cupped his face in both hands and wiped the tears away, much as she had done when he was small.
“I can’t believe you’re here,” he said, sounding very much like the little boy he had been when he had lost her.
“I came because this year you seemed to need me more. You are getting discouraged with your life and I want you to know that you are not alone. Things will get better for you and Jed and very soon. You have to trust me.”
“I do trust you, mama. But we’ve had a hard time of it lately. I’m twenty nine years old today. What do I have to show for my life? A price on my head and a very real chance of having to spend twenty years in prison.”
“But you’ve made so much progress. Your goals are within reach. I promise.”
“Are you an angel? Can you see the future?”
“I look after you as any good mother would. Come, darling. Let me show you something.” She stood up and took his hand. Suddenly they could hear a woman moaning. They were standing in a large room full of people. A woman lay in the bed, writhing in childbirth. Two women, a plain faced older one and a beautiful, fresh faced one, stood at the foot of the bed offering encouragement. The young one held a bundle in her arms while the plain faced one urged the woman to push just one more time.
“Come on, luv. Just one more and then you can rest.”
“I can’t. I’m too tired. Please, someone help me.”
“I’m here, my love. Don’t give up. Just a little longer. Just one more push.”
Heyes watched in awe as he saw himself holding the hand of the woman in such pain and they all watched as she rallied herself to give that one last push. A squall came forth as the second baby made his entrance into the world.
“Another boy!” the older woman sang out, “and he looks just like his papa, he does.”
“These are my sons,” Heyes whispered, looking at his mother and seeing the tears on her cheeks.
“Yes, my darling. They are your sons. And my grandsons. Oh, it is a happy day. Today is your birthday and theirs. Such a wonderful gift to be given, don’t you think?”
“Is this my future, mama? Is this what I have to look forward to?”
“This and so much more. Come.” She took his hand again and they stood on the deck of a ship. The large group came tramping across the gangway, the wind blowing at their hair and clothes. Twin boys the mirror image of the other, with dark hair and dark eyes, led the way, followed by a tow headed boy not much younger than they. Behind them came another boy, his hair dark, his eyes green, who was holding hands with another tow headed boy. Then came the girls. Long dark hair graced them both but one had her father’s eyes and the other had her mothers. A small girl with blue eyes and soft golden curls toddled up to the group and stood holding onto her older brothers coat.
“Are they all mine?” Heyes asked, his breath hard to come by.
“No, silly. Some of them belong to Jed. You see, you will both get what you want. But you must keep in mind that sometimes things must be difficult before they can get better.”
“But they will get better?”
“Yes, darling. They will get better.”
Suddenly they were back in his room and she was holding his hands in hers.
“Mama, please don’t leave me. I need you to stay a little longer,” Heyes pleaded.
“I have stayed as long as I can. Give Jed my love and don’t be so hard on him on your birthday. He loves you very much and will always look out for you.”
“I know, mama. I know.” Tears filled his eyes again and began to trickle down his face. “I love you.”
“And I you, my son. Always remember that I love you. Always.......” She faded away as he watched.
Heyes sat straight up in the bed and stood up. The wetness on his face did not surprise him nor did the faint scent of lavender that still clung to the air. It had grown dark outside and the cold was creeping into the room but he felt as if a fire had been lighted under him. He ran his hands through his hair and put his hat on before heading for the saloon where he was sure his cousin would be.
The Kid was sitting in a corner nursing the bottle of whiskey and trying to decide if he wanted to go get something to eat before he went back to the hotel or not. When the doors swung open and Heyes walked in, he was very tempted to just slide right out the back door and avoid any contact until the morning, but when his partner saw him and he saw the smile on his face, he figured he might as well get the apologizing over with now.
“Thaddeus, I’ve been looking for you,” Heyes said as he slid into the chair opposite him.
“Well, it looks like you found me.” The Kid opened the bottle and poured himself another drink.
“I need to apologize to you, partner, and I want us to go over to the hotel and have dinner. It is my birthday after all.”
The Kid looked at Heyes as if he were speaking Cherokee. Never had Hannibal Heyes ever wanted to celebrate his birthday and he never said he was sorry first. Not in all the years they had been having this fight.
“What’s gotten into you, Heyes? You drunk or something?”
“I’m full of spirits. I have to admit that. But I’m not drunk. Come on. I’ll buy.” His eyes twinkled as if he had the secrets of the universe inside him. The Kid eyed him for a moment then corked the bottle and finished off his drink.
“I’ll have dinner with you, Heyes,” he said quietly. “But I’ll do the buyin’. It is your birthday you know.”
“Whatever you say, Kid. Come on. I’ve got a story to tell you and you aren’t going to believe it.”
They walked out into the night, Heyes’ arm wrapped around his partners shoulder as he began to tell him about the angel of his dreams and the wonderful things that awaited them. Happy birthday, indeed.