What made us go the way we went?
Life’s Big Questions
Two wooden chairs graced the shore near the fishing hole. Hannibal Heyes sat in one of them, caressing its smooth wood surface. Memories warmed his thoughts as his fingers traced the initials carved on the underside of the armrest. ‘J.C.’ A housewarming gift, made by Curry and presented to him and Christina long ago. Weathered by the changing seasons, the chairs had become a symbol to Heyes of the friendship the two men shared — worn and greying, with a few nicks from hard use over the years, but sturdy, dependable, comfortable.
He folded both hands behind his head, crossing an ankle over one knee. How long had he and Kid been using these chairs now? At least every Sunday for what, let’s see, Lillian was twelve now and he’d been married to Christina for a couple years already by the time she was born. Must be about fourteen years these chairs had served the friendship. Fifteen since the amnesty.
A dragonfly, appearing to be suspended in mid-air, clutched an almost invisible fishing line. To the casual observer, it would have seemed the man was studying the insect but Kid Curry’s practiced eye knew his friend’s mind was far away.
“Glad you’re here, Kid.” Even deep in thought, Heyes had heard the soft, familiar stride coming down the path toward their weekly meeting spot.
Two fishing poles were abandoned while “Uncle Jed” was nearly tackled by two happy children. He wrestled them for a while then, noticed the boy’s fishing pole bending toward the water. “Hey, Sam! Looks like somethin’s about to steal your bait!”
Jumping to the water’s edge with a net, Heyes assisted his son in landing a fair-sized bass. Much congratulating and back-patting later, eight year old Sam asked his little sister, voice still filled with excitement, “Ya wanna help me put him in the bucket with the rest, Rosalyn?”
“Nah, I’m done fishin’. Gonna sit with Unc’a Jed fer now.”
She took the Kid’s hand, leading him toward the unoccupied chair and climbed onto his lap, snuggling in for a good long stay. The Sunday afternoon ‘sit’ with her favorite uncle was somewhat of a tradition at the Heyes homestead, generally turning into a Sunday afternoon nap for both.
Curry watched as she pulled one petal, then another off the daisy held in her small hand. “Loves me…loves m’NOT!” she finished, tossing the plucked-bare stem to the wind with a grin.
“You sure seem happy ’bout somebody not lovin’ ya, Rosie,” the Kid laughed.
The three year old turned two sleepy, brown eyes on her uncle, taking his face in both tiny hands, which smelled a peculiar mix of daisies, worms, and fish. Through her yawn, she spoke. “I know you love me, Unc’a Jed. You and Pa. That’s‘nuff.”
He kissed the child’s forehead and gently stroked her hair with his fingers. Rosalyn’s eyelids grew heavier and heavier as her men talked. With an ear pressed against his soft, cotton shirt, the low rumble of Uncle Jed’s voice soon had her lulled to sleep.
“Ya leave Nora up at the house?”
The Kid nodded. “She and Christina are visitin’ while they fix dinner.”
Heyes’ oldest daughter Lillian arrived, pitcher of lemonade in hand, and greeted her pa and uncle with kisses on the cheek. She poured two glasses of the cool drink. “Ma said it’s gonna be a while till dinner and I should come and take the little ones so you two can visit.”
Listening to the softly snoring Rosalyn, Heyes chuckled. “I think you can leave that one right where she is for now.” Turning to his son he suggested, “Sam, would you like to go with your sister and start cleaning the fish?”
The boy nodded and began to gather the fishing poles.
“Just take the fish son, Uncle Jed might want to try his hand at fishing. We’ll bring the poles when we go back for dinner.”
“Whoa there now, missie!” The Kid reached out and stopped Lillian as she turned to leave. “You’re not gettin’ off so easy. What’s this I hear about you winnin’ that summer essay contest?”
Pride was evident on Heyes’ face as well as the girl’s. She blushed and shyly bit one lip. “It’s about you and Pa. About how you both worked so hard to earn your amnesty and turn your lives around.”
“When do I get to read it?”
“Right after dinner if you want to!” Lillian gave her father and Uncle Jed a wide, dimpled smile before walking back toward the house with her brother.
“It’s a big responsibility, ain’t it, Heyes? Raisin’ kids and all?”
Heyes nodded to his partner of so many years. “Sure is, Kid, but it’s mighty rewarding too.” He looked at his sleeping daughter in Kid’s arms. “You and Nora planning on having a few of your own?”
“We just got married last spring, Heyes. Ya wanna give us a little time to work on that?”
“Well, ya better hurry up. Nora, now she’s got plenty of time left, but you? You’re not getting any younger, Kid!”
It was true; Kid Curry had waited a long time for a woman like Nora to come along. Who would have guessed, when she finally did, she’d be half his age?
He gave his friend a sideways glance. “Like I said, we’re workin’ on it.” His voice took on a more serious note. “It kinda scares me sometimes. What if I make a mistake? You ever worry about stuff like that? Doin’ somethin’ wrong and makin’ your kid turn out bad? I mean, what made us go the way we went?”
“Money!” Heyes laughed. His attempt at humor slipped right by the Kid, whose thoughts stayed their course.
“We never ended up with enough money for it to be about the money.”
“The glory?” Heyes tried again.
Curry shot a look at his partner. “Glory? Ya mean like gettin’ shot at, chased, and locked up?”
“Must’ve been the women then.” Both men shared a hearty laugh then, grew quiet.
“I was one angry kid, Heyes. When we ran away from the home, I wanted to make somebody pay for what happened to us, to our families. Didn’t much matter who paid, long as somebody did. I told myself we were just doing what we had to do to survive, but that wasn’t it. By the time I realized that, it was too late. We’d made our choices. We were wanted. Didn’t seem to be any turnin’ back then.”
Rosalyn shifted position and the Kid passed the sleeping child to her father’s waiting arms. They sat for a long time, only the sounds of a summer afternoon and Rosalyn’s slumber breaking the silence until Heyes spoke.
“I loved the challenge, Kid. The idea that I could outsmart the railroad or a bank. The feel of those tumblers falling into place at the touch of my fingers.” Heyes shook his head. “That thrill is tough to equal.”
His partner nodded in understanding. “So how do we make sure our kids make the right choices?”
Two pairs of eyes met, then turned adoringly on the child Heyes held. The voices of two loving wives could be heard drawing closer to the chairs occupied by two lifelong friends.
“So ya wanna figure out the answer to that one another time?”
“Right, Kid. We’ll figure it out together – over the next fifteen years.”
With this challenge, a seed was planted. That seed has grown into the series of stories known as: The Sheridan Collection
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.