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    Headstall
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

Larkspur: A Sidewinder Tale - 11. Chapter 11 Whip Stroke

Salt in the wound....

 

Whip Stroke

 

 

After dropping to the grassy ground, Mitch stayed there, eventually ending up flat on his back and staring at the sky until grayish blue became blue black and the stars came out by the thousands. It took a long while before a numbness rescued him, his emotions all played out like an exhausted colt after his first time fighting a rope. But he weren’t so numb he couldn’t still feel the remembered pressure of Will’s lips on his, and the sweet pleasure of their tangled tongues.

He was nearing fifty, same as Will, but that kiss had set his heart to racing like he was still a young bull, and he expected he’d experience it over and over until he took his last breath. It had been a foolish thing he’d done, and now he nursed a wound what hurt worse than any gunshot ever had. He’d been caught by the tip end of a whip stroke once, and as bad as it hurt, he’d prefer to suffer a hundred of those stings over the one he’d felt when Will walked away.

After the man had disappeared through the trees towards Red Apple Farm, Mitch experienced the devastation of true regret, and not just for kissing the man. No… it wasn’t just that. He’d accepted his fate from the beginning, but this was the first time dying hit him so godawful hard. He knew he’d lived far longer than he should have, given the predicaments he’d been in and the number of times bullets had found him, so it’d been almost easy to face Doc Bailey’s diagnosis. He’d been so sick at the time he hadn’t much cared when the man told him his time was soon up.

It weren’t the case now, though. He’d been alone a long time, and he’d accepted that too. Things had changed for him today, and that’s where his regret gnawed at him. Will’s proclaiming of his love had up and made him feel cheated out of a future they could have had, and he’d let self-pity have its way with him for the hours he lay there. Why did the Lord rub salt in his wound by bringing him here in the first place? It would have been better to become buzzard food out on the trail than feel the way he did now.

He’d expected Coy and Boone to come looking for him—catch him sobbing where he lay—but he was thankful they’d let him be. Wouldn’t be surprised if they’d heard his angry shouts at God and the world a time or two, though. He screamed loud enough his throat burned raw.

Still, he didn’t doubt he’d done the right thing in sending Will away, even though it’d pained him like nothing much else ever had—even worse than twenty years ago when he finally accepted Will wasn’t coming back. This time it was him doing the separating.

He knew Will hurt too—he was sorry for that—and he never should have kissed him like he done, but the man would get past it in time. And he would grieve Mitch, there was no denying that—no matter how much he wished it otherwise—but it wouldn’t be as bad as if they were together. At least, that’s what he hoped for. All he was really certain of, though, was how he’d made a mess of things.

The sudden and close chittering of raccoons—scrapping over something in the trees close by—stirred him to finally rise up from the night-dewed grass. It was only then he realized just how bad a chill he’d gotten from the ground. He’d been shivering like a hound caught with a chicken in his mouth, and hadn’t even noticed. The air was warm enough, though, that after some achy steps, his body loosened up and the shivering eased. He could hear Coy already, giving him holy hell for not taking care of hisself. The thought made him smile briefly.

A deep cough bubbled up and he spat, wondering if there might be blood in what came out. He expected there was, but couldn’t be bothered to run his hands over the grass in an attempt to search for his spittle. Even if he found it, the darkness would make it hard to tell. Sooner or later more coughing would come, he was certain of that, but until then he needed to live best he could. His new regret for dying wouldn’t change nothing, nor would fretting over what he’d done to Will.

Moonlight lit his way, and by the time he reached the crick, his thoughts had settled as much as they were going to. After getting his boots wet again, he turned and looked back up the slope of his land. As he thought about what future he still had, he made a decision about something he'd been considering—he wanted to build a bridge—one a fellow could drive a team and wagon across. It was a task he’d have a good chance of seeing finished, and would serve the boys well when he was gone, allowing them to use the land without traveling up the road.

Spinning in a circle and looking toward the stars, he counted at least eight big cedar trees, thick and straight, what looked to be the perfect size to fell and lay across the water. If he set the bridge high enough in this spot, it wouldn’t be much of a climb on either side… and certainly wouldn’t wind a man. He’d mention it to Coy and Boone in the morning. Right now, with a plan to look forward to, all he wanted was to sink into that thick, soft mattress, sleep… and forget. He climbed a few steps up the path and stopped. Oh Lord, where was his head at?

His mare. He’d planned to set up camp on his own land for the night, and had left her hobbled in the clearing near the spring. Any desire to set up camp in the dark was long gone, what with that mattress calling strong after laying on hard ground. She might be fine where she was; he’d seen no predator sign anywhere around these parts, but still, he wanted her close. She trusted him to keep her safe—so he stepped back into the dark water and sloshed his way across to the other side. Yep, a bridge was a damn fine idea.

 

Three days and nights had passed, and Mitch still hadn’t seen hide nor hair of Will Merrick. As much as he was relieved, he was also anxious as he waited for the man to show up out of the blue. His parting words still rang in his head and kept him on edge—and fact was, Mitch didn’t trust hisself to stay strong if he had to stare into that sorrowed face again.

They were in his ravine on the fourth morning, Coy, Boone, and him, and they were admiring the work they’d gotten done.  The last of the peeled, cedar base-logs for the bridge had been set in place at just about sundown the evening before. Nine of them were laid flat across the water with only a few inches between each one. The ends lay solidly on large, flat stones, and sat high above the water just like he’d planned, ensuring the slope was easy and the bridge would last a long time. There’d be plenty of room for a team and wagon to cross once they were finished laying the thick surface boards.

It had been damnable hard work, but was made much easier with Duke and Molly on opposite sides of the water, setting the downed logs in place while maneuvering on the sloped ground. He’d watched in amazement as Boone work the stud and Coy worked the mare, the horses not once getting their ropes tangled, nor ever taking a wrong step. Never saw a finer team in his whole life, and more than ever would have loved to see his mare throw a colt from the powerful stallion with the good mind. There was a lot he would miss when he left this world.

He’d had a few coughing fits after his time laying on cold ground, but it had eased some since yesterday. Blood had spotted the spittle—and still did some—but the boys didn’t need to know that. He only had hisself to blame for it, and did his best not to bring attention to his feeling poorly. Weren’t easy, though, with them working close. Coy kept staring at Mitch when he thought he wasn’t looking, but so far he’d kept his fretting to a minimum.

“All we need to do is load up the cedar logs and take them to the mill. Should get three four inch boards from each, and I reckon it’ll take ten logs for the surface… twelve to be certain, and we got more than double that stacked on the river side, north of the cabin,” Boone said as they all walked carefully back and forth across the slippery, peeled logs.

Mitch was wore out, but satisfied with what they’d accomplished in such a short time. More than satisfied. He was feeling content he’d left his mark on his land already. “No bounce to these logs at all. There’s a good stand of cedar near the road on my side. We should use those.”

“Why should we do that when we already got some cut and dried?” Boone asked.

“Because those are yourn.”

“And this is our bridge, ain’t it? Those cedars on your land will be there if we need them someday.” Boone continued to walk the logs and inspect them. “Boards should nail down good and flat. Still a few knots sticking up we can knock smooth with the axe.”

Mitch sighed. No use arguing with either of these two. “You fellas did a fine job.”

“We all did, Mitch,” Coy said. “You worked just as hard.”

“None of us worked as much as that team. They’re something special to watch, those two.”

Boone beamed with pride. “For a team trained by a man who can’t speak, they seem to understand everything we ask of them.”

“Might be they learned to pay attention to body movements,” Mitch suggested.

Boone’s eyebrows furrowed for a second. “Could be right about that. Their eyes are always on me and Coy when we work them… probably why Tiberius Corker never used blinders on their harness. Suppose they had to pay close attention to him, since I don’t think they could read his writing,” he said with a wry grin.

“I don’t know… them horses work smart enough to read if you ask me,” Mitch joked, smiling but meaning his praise. “I’ll tell you one thing. You should get top dollar for Duke’s colts. Don’t be thinking of buying cows… you boys should be stocking up on good mares. Think mine could throw a good one, judging by the two you got on the ground.”

“We’ve been thinking the same thing, and Boone loves working with horses… and so do I,” Coy said. “Be a good time to breed your mare if you’re willing.”

“Nothing I’d like better, even if I never get to see it born… she’ll be yours soon enough.”

“You told me yourself you’re living each day as they come and that you ain’t gonna count ‘em.”

“I’m not… just facing facts is all,” he said with a sigh. “Let’s put her with Duke, and God willing, I’ll see her foal early next summer.”

“God willing, you’ll get to train it too.”

Mitch grinned at the man as he chose one of the new stumps to rest on. Coy just wouldn’t let hisself be convinced he was ever going to die, and that was just fine with him. In fact, it was exactly what he needed. He wanted no long faces pitying him for his fate.

Coy picked a stump close by and asked the question Mitch had been waiting for. “Before we take a load to the mill, are you going to tell us what happened between you and Will after you walked off… so we know what to expect? He came back from wherever you two were, saddled up and rode off without a word, other than a thanks for his supper. Was looking mighty poorly, enough I was worried for him. Worried for you too… heard you yell a few times after he left, but Boone said we should stay put.”

Mitch blew out a long breath, looking down before tilting his head back and meeting Coy’s gaze. Boone was staring at him too. He had to hand it to them for their patience in not bringing that night up before now… and for leaving him be after Will left. “Pretty simple answer. We were on my land, and I showed him where I wanted to be buried… cause he asked to see it. Did something I regret, though. Kissed him… and then told him to leave and not step foot on my property again. Was about as stupid as I’ve ever been, and that’s the truth.”

“Because you told him to leave?”

“No, that ain’t it. Was stupid because I kissed him. Weren’t a lick of sense to doing such.”

“Well”—Boone said as he sat on the next closest stump—“you must have wanted to.”

“Suppose I did, but all it ended up doing was make things worse.”

“It was… was it bad?”

“Bad? Hell no. It weren’t a bad kiss at all… would have been a damn sight better if it was.”

“Takes two to kiss,” Boone said, his grin telling Mitch he was trying to make him feel better.

“I appreciate that, but it was me who started it. I knew what it would make him think and I did it anyway.”

“Why?” Coy asked quiet-like.

Mitch sighed again. “Felt the love for him and it hit me hard… the love I ain’t never been free off, no matter what I told myself.”

“So… what’s so bad about that? You have a chance to spend time together—something you both want.”

“That part ain’t so simple. I don’t want him moping after me, or worse… feeling pity for me. Hell, he already was feeling such.”

“Are you sure it was pity?”

“Truth is, I ain’t sure of a damn thing, but I couldn’t bear to see him twisted up when my time gets close.”

“I don’t think you need to worry for that, but so what if he did? Hurt’s a part of living, and that man loves you.”

“You ain’t getting it, Coy. There ain’t no future with me, and I don’t want to watch him turn himself inside out cause there’s nothing he can do to change it.”

“You don’t think he’s hurting now?”

“No, I expect he is, and he will grieve when my time comes, but it will be a lot less than if we became like we were. I know Will, and he would take it terrible hard.”

“So… you’re protecting him?”

Mitch sighed again. “I ain’t no hero. I’m protecting both of us. I don’t want to be worrying for him—for what happens to him after I’m gone. He’s… in some ways, he’s a lot like you, Coy. He might look stronger than most on the outside, but he’s got a heart big as the moon. I’ve seen it break from his fear for me in the past, and I don’t want to be responsible for that again.”

“I get what you’re saying,” Boone said. “Not sure you got it right, though, and that’s all I’m going to say.”

“Well, I got more to say,” Coy said.

“Coy, don’t,” Boone warned. “He answered your question so leave him be. This is between Mitch and Will, and it don’t matter what we think.”

A frustrated groan came out of Coy’s mouth. “Suppose that’s true, but we’ll be taking a load to the mill shortly, and you’re going to have to talk to him then.”

“Not if I don’t keep you fellas company.”

“You ain’t going?”

“Don’t see the need for all three of us to go. Be obliged if you boys would deliver the logs and tell him what we’re wanting for the bridge. Make whatever deal he wants and I’ll agree to it. Will you do that for me?”

Coy was looking bewildered. “But you have to talk to—”

“We surely can,” Boone said, interrupting Coy. “No need for all of us to go at all.”

“Thank you. And while you fellas are doing that, I figured I’d call in at the doc’s office for a talk.”

Coy’s mouth opened and stayed that way long enough Mitch was about to warn him of flies. “You’re really gonna do that? Today?”

“If’n he’s there, I reckon it’ll be today. Gave you my word, didn’t I? Don’t break my word if I can help it.”

“Yes… yes you did.” A smile slowly appeared, and was soon wide enough it made Mitch chuckle.

“And before you go off halfcocked on me again, I know I’m not being fair to Will like you think I should, and I understand you want us to talk again, but I already hurt him bad, and I ain’t wanting to do it again if I can help it. He hasn’t shown up here since I said what I said, so we’ll just leave it be for now, if’n you think you can do that?”

“I’ll do my best,” Coy answered.

“You always do, young fella. Can’t never fault you for that.” He chuckled at the boy’s happy expression as he got up from his seat on the stump. “Best get this over with, I reckon. We should get them logs loaded up, seeing how they’re already cut and dried.” Mitch began walking up the much shorter slope, his body feeling he weight of what he was about to do. He was not looking forward to seeing this new doctor at all, but if it made Coy happy, then that’s what he was going to do.

 

 

*

Thanks for reading. It's tough to say who's suffering more... Mitch or Will. Please share your thoughts if you're able, and remember to story like and recommend in the spots provided if you think the story worthy. Cheers!

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41 minutes ago, re2 said:

So true. In sickness and in health, ‘til death do us part.

And so hope they both come to this realization. 
 

 

I think the fact more than two decades have passed since they've seen each other has had an impact on Mitch's decision-making. I believe he expected that would mean the feelings wouldn't be as strong, but he was wrong... and he's beginning to realize that. He's hurting bad. We'll see whether he can keep his walls up, because we know Will is not going to give up. He may be laying low, but Mitch is expecting he'll show up again sooner or later. :unsure2: 

Thanks, re... cheers! :hug:  

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43 minutes ago, FanLit said:

“He’d had a few coughing fits after his time laying on cold ground, but it had eased some since yesterday. Blood had spotted the spittle—and still did some….” Bah Humbug!!!! 

“If you believe in fairies, wave your handkerchief and clap your hands!!”  🧚‍♀️ 👏 Yes, I know the story is written but Ima try some Tinkerbell effect anyway, lol.  (“Live Mitchell, Live”) 


“Mitch sighed again. “Felt the love for him and it hit me hard… the love I ain’t never been free off, no matter what I told myself.” :heart:  Love conquers all, Mitch.  (That’s all I got, 🤷‍♀️ lol.)

Coy’s vivacity has been duly mentioned in previous comments…. I equally appreciate  the special stalwart qualities possessed by Boone, a perfect compliment & counterpoint to his husband, they do truly bring out the best in each other.

“When will Willard show hisself to Mitch again? Will the doctor in Larkspur give a different reckoning of Mitch’s fate?  Do Coy or Mitch know how to make apple pie?  (I bet they’d have the BEST with their homegrown crop)  Guess I’ll have to find out next week on “As Larkspur Turns” 🌎


 

Lol. Are you calling me Scrooge? :P  I'm just an innocent, well meaning author writing a story... but I do believe in fairies... and magic... and shifters. Unfortunately, I have no powers of my own. :) 

It's been my experience that love doesn't conquer all, but it sure can help. Boone and Coy were friends first, and I think that helps sometimes... they really are a perfect complement to each other, and I love that Coy never minds when Boone shuts him down(as much as anyone can shut Coy down he he).

The apple pie question?  :X  Sorry, I can't divulge that. :P 

Thank you, my dear friend. I love your sense of fun. See you on Monday, for the next episode of "As Larkspur Turns". Cheers! :hug: 

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33 minutes ago, Story Reader said:

Not going to say anything about the way things are between Mitch and Will but hope there might be some good news from the doctor though. The way  he was coughing up blood was not good!

Hey, Sherye! No, the coughing up of blood is not good, but not unexpected either. Maybe the doctor can tell him what to expect so Mitch can plan better. Thankd for continuing to read and support this story, my friend... and HAPPY BIRTHDAY!! :hug: 

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