Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Epilogue: The Promised Land
Boone was woken from an exhausted sleep by a loud yell. Momentarily disoriented, his heart hammered in his chest when he realized Coy wasn’t in his usual place next to him. That never happened. He heard another shout coming through the small, open bedroom window, an added extravagance Coy had insisted they buy and install in the very late fall, having suddenly decided the one that didn’t open wasn’t enough. Naked, he bolted from the bedroom to the front door. As worried as he was for his partner, he managed to open it cautiously.
Three days earlier, he’d stumbled upon a couple of young braves while grouse hunting—ones he didn’t know—and while they went their own way after a friendly sign of greeting, a settler could never be too sure in this untamed world. He and Coy were treated well by the peaceful local Indians, but there were still a few wandering Shawnee who’d evaded capture so far, and some of them were looking to avenge the brutal treatment their kind had suffered at the hands of the white man.
A burst of birdsong erupted as his appearance, and it startled him for a few heartbeats. It was barely dawn, but there was enough light for him to scout the yard. He searched the front of the cabin for any sign of Coy before he stepped fully out onto the front porch. He couldn’t see him anywhere, and his panic was growing. Slipping back inside, he grabbed the always-loaded rifle hanging over the big stone fireplace, imagining all kinds of godawful things.
Another yell from Coy had him back on the porch in an instant, rifle raised and ready. Boone about dropped with relief to see Coy waving his arms from the front of their small barn. “Boone! Maysie’s giving birth! Get your pretty ass down here.”
Boone, weak-kneed at the sight of him, waved back. “I’ll be right there!”
Going back inside the three room cabin, he headed back to their bedroom and pulled on his britches and boots, and then grabbed his shirt from the bedpost. He hoped Maysie and the calf were all right. Coy had a special relationship with that damn milk cow, even naming her after his dear, departed ma.
He strode past the rock-lined well that had taken them weeks to put in—fortunately they hadn’t had to go very deep—putting on his shirt as he neared the small but well-built barn, tall enough for a roomy loft. Every time he laid eyes on it, he was reminded it was only a third the size they needed, but he was mighty proud of it too. They’d do the next third this summer, god willing.
The morning chill disappeared as soon as he closed the door behind him. The warm interior was filled with shadows, but the pen they’d built for Maysie was lit by the soft glow of lantern light. Boone took but a second to see what was needed. Coy was standing behind the sweat-soaked cow with his hands gripping the two front feet poking out from her back end. He was trying to help the birth along while the Shorthorn Milker, standing up with her head over the pen wall, gave out a loud bellow. Boone reached Coy’s side just in time to help guide a slippery calf to the ground.
Coy began praising the milk cow in a soft voice, and Boone stepped back, tugging on the man to come with him. Maysie’s sharp horns barely missed him when she spun around, and she narrowly avoided stepping on the newborn.
“She almost hooked you,” Boone said. “You got to be take more care around her… I keep telling you she ain’t no dog.”
Coy’s lips curled in response. “You’re always fretting over me.”
“No more than you fret over me.”
“Not the same. Why were you naked on the porch holding your rifle?”
Boone groaned, feeling a mite sheepish. “Heard you yell, and thought Indians might have grabbed you.”
Coy turned his attention from the calf, and his face wore a maddening smirk. “No need to fear for that… Red Hawk and his bunch will warn us if there’s danger coming our way. Like I said, you fret too much.”
“Maybe so. You expecting me to stop?”
“I expect the moon to fall in the yard in the middle of the day before that happens. I love you for it, though, in case you weren’t aware.” He wiped his hands on some hay before he laid his arm over Boone’s shoulders and kissed the side of his head. “It’s the heifer we were wanting. She’s early, but she looks a fine one to me.”
“She does. Look at mama.” Maysie was licking her calf while nudging it roughly. The calf bleated, and her mother responded with a long, low moo. “They’re having their first conversation,” Boone said, feeling a sense of wonder at the connection being made.
“Lars said I should hold the calf upside down to help clear its passages and lungs, but I don’t think I need to do that. You think I should?”
Now, Coy was the one fretting, and Boone wrapped his arm around the man’s waist. “There’s no gurgling noise—just clear breathing—so I wouldn’t worry. We’ll just leave them be. She’s talking and moving, and look, she’s already trying to get up. Besides, we don’t want to get Maysie riled up for no reason.”
“I’m just relieved it’s over with and we have a healthy calf.”
“We’ll be back to having fresh milk again. It’s been two long months since we dried her up.”
“We’ve still got plenty of butter and cheese left in the larder, though. I’ll get you your milk once the calf’s had a few days drinking—then we can get back to storing some jugs in the well.”
“I can wait a while longer, I reckon. How long you been out here?”
“Can’t hardly say… not long, but it was pitch dark when I left the cabin. Just had a feeling, and couldn’t sleep. Sure enough she was grunting and pushing when I came in. Looked to have been at it a while, so might be I heard her holler. Told you that fancy window in the bedroom would come in handy.”
“Yes, you did, and I’ve come to see your great wisdom,” Boone said with a cheeky grin. “Why didn’t you wake me?”
“Cause you did all that plowing the last few days, and you were plumb tuckered out. Heck you could hardly keep your eyes open after you ate.”
“So? You’ve been digging post holes all week.”
“Seems I’m always the one doing the digging,” Coy said teasing-like. “No sense in two of us losing sleep with all the spring work still ahead of us—we’ll be planting soon—and I did call you once I saw the feet poking out.”
“I don’t like reaching over to find you gone. Not right to wake up alone.”
“Same for me when you went hunting overnight last fall. Hardly slept a wink.”
“See? You fret same as I do. Dressing and packing a big elk bull is a lot of work, but no denying I missed you that night too. Listened to the wolves and tended the fire all night long… and did my best to keep Blue out of trouble.” He stretched and groaned. His day had begun and chores were waiting. “Best let the chickens out.”
“I’ll do it.”
“No, you stay here, and I’ll do the feeding. Just keep an eye on your new baby,” he teased.
“It’s a good sign for the future, Boone. She’s our first birth on the farm.”
“Yep. Makes me happy to see her there. Next up are Buttercup and Daisy.They should drop their foals in late July, early August, so it’ll be a while yet before you need to fret.” He yelped when Coy cuffed the back of his head.
“You ain’t fooling me none. You’ll be the one pacing the yard when Daisy’s time is close.”
Boone frowned, and then smiled. “Maybe so. Duke didn’t waste any time, did he? And it’ll likely be a big colt. He had no business sneaking in on her like he did.”
“She’ll be fine, Boone. You’re just mad at him because you’ll have to ride Blue for a time.” It was a continual joke between them, but Coy did have a point. That damn mule tried his patience, and even though he’d proved handy in front of a plow and for hauling buckets of dirt from the well, Boone was convinced he enjoyed causing a ruckus whenever he could.
“As long as I don’t have to stop riding you, I reckon I can accept being without Daisy for a spell,” Boone said as he pulled Coy in for a kiss, his hands gripping the man’s ass.
Coy sighed when the kiss ended. “Go feed the horses their oats… we’re not making love in front of our newborn calf.”
Boone snorted. “I reckon I can wait till nighttime.”
“We at least got to try,” Coy said with a grin. “We need to take that load of logs to the mill. I want to get a start on the new coop before we get busy with the planting, and it’d be nice to have the lumber sitting ready when we find time to add onto the barn. Already got a nice pile of stones for the foundation… I added about ten more yesterday.”
“I’ll hitch up Duke and Molly after we have breakfast, and then we can load up. You coming to town with me?”
“Depends on how this little one is doing. I got to make sure she feeds from each teat, and if she don’t, I got to do some milking after six hours to make sure Maysie freshens right.”
“I won’t be that long, and this ain’t her first calf.”
“So? Lars has been milking cows for forty years, and he says it’s important they don’t get a tilted udder.”
Boone shook his head in wonder.
“What’s that look for?”
“You don’t miss nothing, and you never tire of it. You know when a chicken is ailing, and you kept that runt piglet going when I was sure he’d die. Had him in his own bedroll for weeks, holding him in your arms like he was a baby. Now look at him out there—he’s the biggest of the three in the pen. That’s going to be a lot of good pork and good money come this fall.”
“He was a baby, and until he’s smoked and salted, he deserves proper care, just like any other animal does.”
“He’s mighty attached to you.”
“You think I’ll have trouble dressing him out? Cause I won’t— it’s part of being a farmer, and that’s what I am.”
Boone smiled and nodded. He’d long been convinced of that. “You ever think there’s a better life out there?”
“Hell, no. Got all I need right here.”
“Then why would you think I do?”
“I don’t. I just sometimes got to shake my head at how lucky I am. I’ve always known what I wanted… but to be so lucky to have a partner who’s so….”
“So? So what?”
Boone sighed as he watched the new calf attempt to stand. “You’re a gift from the Lord, I swear. I don’t know what I did in my life to deserve all I got—to deserve the likes of you—but I make sure I thank him every day. This time last year, we were panning for gold and I was feeling… not a thing like I am now.”
“I found my gold strike too, Boone, right here, with you—with all these animals who need us—and this land that gives us its bounty. I get joy from digging a post hole, stacking hay, carrying rocks, or building a root cellar… or an outhouse, don’t matter which, because it’s good, honest work. And every night I get to lay at your side in our new home and talk about what we did and what we still got to do… just like you said once you wanted. That’s all I need… and it’s all I want. And just so you know, I say my prayers every day too, and they start and end with you.”
“After words like that, I think we should go back to bed for a spell.”
Coy shook his head. “No, sir. Day’s already started, and plans are set. I want those maple logs milled so I can get them seasoned enough to make furniture this winter… especially those matching rockers for the front porch.” He stared at the new calf as he pulled something from his pocket.
Boone saw it was Will’s small gold nugget. “You thanking your good luck charm?”
Coy’s gaze turned to him. “It’s not a good luck charm. It’s a reminder to be thankful I have the life I do… and to always see the truth of things.”
Their eyes stayed locked, and Boone could see Coy was considering.
“I don’t need no reminder anymore. Think it’s time I buried this up in the orchard. What do you think?”
“I’m wondering what’s going on in your head, is what I’m thinking.”
“He was my brother, even if he was a lowdown sidewinder—and I need to forgive him, Boone.”
“I expect you’re right.”
“Surely, I do, but why are you wanting to bury it in the orchard?”
“Can’t cash it in—wouldn’t feel right—and I can’t throw it away.” He shrugged as he broke eye contact. “It’s my only piece of him, and I at least need to know where it is… if ever I want to talk to him. Besides, apples are the first crop we sold off this farm, and I still remember the moment we saw the trees. Now that we got the brush cleared away and let more sun in, it’s just about my favorite place to sit and think… and be thankful.”
Boone nodded as those black-fringed, blue eyes shifted back to him. “Mine too. That day was the beginning for us. I’ll help, if you want?”
A big smile appeared at his offer. “You can carry the shovel, seeing as how you’ve always managed to avoid digging post holes.”
Boone laughed. “I can do that. Seriously, though… I don’t hate Will anymore, you know that, right?”
“Why not? You have every right to.”
“He’s a part of you, and I can’t hate a part of you.”
“Sweet talker. We’ll do it tonight after supper. Would you mind if I put a marker on the spot?”
“Course not. I’ll make one for you. You want his name on it?”
“Nope, and I already made one a few weeks back. Not as fancy as the sign you made for the farm, but it’ll do. It just says ‘Rest in Peace’ with a cross carved in it. Don’t need no name on it. Enough jawing, cowboy. We got a full day’s work ahead of us.”
Boone sighed once more, but it was another happy one. Coy kept them on course, and he loved that about him. He’d pushed for the little barn to be built first, to protect their tools and animals—there was just enough room to tie all the stock in if need be, even though the winter hadn’t been the harsh one they’d expected—and their log cabin had turned out better than Boone had planned. That was because Coy wouldn’t be rushed, making sure each log fit snug to the next, and they’d both gotten real good with an axe while they worked as a team.
When time was short, with the unknown of winter getting ever closer, Coy was the one who wouldn’t compromise, insisting the roof be made of milled lumber and shingled boards instead of logs and sod. He’d said it had to be straight and true to be a proper house, and it was… and it hadn’t leaked a drop.
They’d had some damn cold nights in the tent, being greeted most mornings with frozen dew on the grass, but it’d been worth it. They even had a real, honest to goodness bed, built up off the oiled wood floor, complete with a soft, grass-filled mattress… because Coy wouldn’t move in until it was done. Their first night in the cabin, it was the first time Boone had made love in a bed, and it had been an experience worth waiting for.
Coy was the reason “Red Apple Farm” was more than just a place to live. It was a real home, one Boone never thought he’d be lucky enough to find. Coy made sure he had that, and he intended to never take it or his partner in life for granted. It made him happy the man had made his peace with Will, and it was easy for him to do the same. There was no sense to looking back when so much lay in front of them.
“Well, look at that… she’s standing already.”
“If you can call that standing,” Boone said with amusement. They both watched the wobbly, gangly calf topple back to the ground with a soft grunt, but she weren’t long in trying again. “She ain’t going to quit. You need to be thinking of a name for her.”
“Already have one in mind. Going to call her Lulu if that’s all right with you?”
Boone’s mouth opened but no words came out.
Coy’s next words were spoken softly as he drew Boone’s front to his and peered into his eyes. “I reckon since I named Maysie after my ma, we should name her after yourn. We’re keeping this one no matter what. We’ll sell her butter and milk and cheese to Bright’s and the hotel when the time comes, and we’ll sell some of her calves, but she’ll always be here as part of the family. That all right with you?”
Boone swallowed down a mouthful of saliva in an attempt not to get emotional. “Lulu,” he called over to the little heifer. “Yep… it’s a right perfect name.” Wrapping his arms around Coy, he squeezed him tight. “I hope my ma can see us wherever she be… and know just how happy her boy is. How happy you’ve made me.”
“I believe she can. I believe both our mas can see us and love us. Look around, Boone, at what we have—I’m pretty sure the Lord loves us too.”
“Yep, got no doubts he does, Coy, not a one.”
Boone and Coy's journey has come to an end, and it's a bittersweet day for me. I hope you found this story worthwhile enough that you leave it a review and a recommendation. As always, I appreciate the support, and enjoy hearing your thoughts whether good or bad. Thanks to my editor, Timothy, for his assistance. Cheers! Remember to follow me on my author's page.