West made the homestead outside Temperance just as the sun began to rise over the horizon. He kept to the woods on the north side of the log house and watched the place come alive. One by one three windows lit up with candles; Pepina and Tio would be awake first and getting the day underway. Dora would be checking on Lucy, if she was still feeling poorly.
In the farm yard over in the doorway of the chicken coop the rooster began announcing the dawn, the chickens stretched their wings, the cow in her stall bellowed her need for milking.
Behind West, the horse shoved its nose against his shoulder, snorting in impatience.
“Hold up, just hold up. Yeah, you’ll get yourself a good meal out there in the barn. I know that. I just – just let me watch for a minute.”
The horse snorted again and shook its head, jangling its harness.
“You did that on purpose, didn’t you?” West asked. “Y’know what – they can’t hear you this far away.” He shook his head and kept watching the house.
As the rooster started crowing again, the front door of the house opened and Tio walked into the yard to start his chores. West quietly led his horse out the woods and towards him.
Tio stopped and squinted his way. His seeing had always been so sharp, but the last year or so, it seemed to be dulling off. In one smooth motion, Tio pulled a rifle into place and aimed it at West.
“I don’t mind y’shooting me,” West called out. “But try not to shoot the horse, will you?”
Tio laughed and lowered the rifle and held an arm out, walking up to West to wrap him in a one armed hug.
“You shouldn’t sneak up on an old man like that, Chiquito.” He said, then added, “It’s good to see you.”
“Might not be when you hear what I got to say.” West said as he stood back from Tio. The old man didn’t look much different than each time West saw him, a little less tall, a little less straight, a little more gray hair than black.
“I heard tell Maldad was making himself a trek here.” West nodded to the rifle. “Could be old news, though, hunh?”
Tio gripped the rifle tighter and started walking toward the barn. West followed beside him, leading his horse.
“Haven’t seen anything, thought maybe I smelled him the last time in town.” Tio said. “You see him?”
West swallowed hard.
“His knife turned up in Madison. Some fella sneaking around the preacher’s house. That fella got away but I figured that knife don’t fall far from his hand.”
Tio looked him up and down.
“You still dream about that knife.”
“Can’t dream if y’don’t sleep.” He said. “How’s Lucy? She still poorly?”
“The weakness has left her. She’s back on her feet enough to walk in the house. The chickens miss her.”
Tio reached for the horse’s reins.
“Go in and have Pepina feed you. I’ll stable your horse.”
“I can take care a’my horse.” West said even as he let the reins slip out of his hand. “I’ll be back out to help you with the chores.”
Tio only shook his head and smiled as he walked on toward the barn, the horse trotting faster trying to get to its meal as soon as possible. West kicked up some heavy dust as he dragged his feet to the house.
The front door opened onto a darkened front room. Farther on the kitchen was bright with yellow lamplight and familiar voices.
He remembered the first day he’d met them, the old folks. He’d been riding the horse just around the close countryside to Padre’s house, slowly, more (therapy) for the horse that was still recovering than anything else, and he came upon a small , round woman sitting on a rock staring into the sky.
She smiled and didn’t act surprised to see him, though he’d never seen her before. Pretty soon Dora and Pepina were running in, looking for her, and Tio wasn’t too far behind. The rancher they’d worked for had died and the son didn’t like Mexicans and fired them. They were making their way to Hidalgo in Mexico where Tio had a sister.
West brought them to Padre for supper and rest and they ended up staying. Right until the end.
And here they still were. Pepina at the stove, cooking breakfast, Dora at the table, kneading dough, Lucy in a chair at the window with her sewing.
“Hey.” West said, softly, tugging his hat off.
Dora got to him first, hugging him in her arms and keeping her doughy hands clear. Lucy was next. She stayed in her chair and held up her arms to be hugged. She hugged West like she always did, gently like she was afraid of hurting him even though it was impossible for her to do. Pepina stood at the stove, hands on her hips, inspecting West top to toe.
“Come with me to the corn crib.” She said. “I need more cobs for the stove.”
West followed her out the backdoor. They didn’t go to the corncrib though. As soon as they were clear of the kitchen window, Pepina stopped and crossed her arms.
“Tio’s carrying his rifle. You’re visiting with no notice. What’s going on?”
West put his hat on, then tugged it off again. He hated having to tell her.
He didn’t have to.
“I see.” She said. “He’s here.”
“I don’t know if he knows you’re here, or if he was just coming here. Or if he even really is here at all”
“A few days ago. Sheriff from Rigby said he heard him say he was headed here a few days ago. I been riding all night to get here. Soon’s my horse is rested I’ll head into town, see what I can find out.”
She shook her head.
“You eat first and you rest. If he hasn’t found us yet, probably he won’t find us this morning. Come back to the house. Breakfast is cooking.”
She went to the corn crib then, gathered up a basket of corn cobs, gave West the basket and they went to the house.
“I’ll help Tio with the chores.” West said.
“You’ll eat. You’ll rest.” Pepina told him.
She served him breakfast, eggs and ham and grits and strong coffee. When he was done, she pushed him off to his bed, in a narrow room just off the kitchen. West didn’t argue. It never paid to argue with Pepina.
He set his hat and holster and gun aside, but didn’t bother kicking his boots off. He just collapsed onto the straw tick mattress and lumpy pillow and relaxed. In the first time in he didn’t know how long, West relaxed. Soon he was drifting off to sleep.