The next morning was a glorious morning but I felt anything but. First thing I got a real good look at as my eyes cleared was a large hand with two little capsules in it and another equally large hand holding a steaming cup of tea.
“I love you. I adore you.” I took the Tylenol and washed them down with the tea, not caring how hot it was. “First chance I get I’ll prove it by ravishing your body.”
Thor’s deep chuckle tickled my ears and my insides. “Hold onto that thought Hon, we’ve got a lot of miles to cover today. I’ve managed to shave a few miles off the route but we are still going to need to do twenty if we are to make it to Sulphur Lick.”
I looked at him and asked, “Sulphur Lick? I know that name. Why do I know that name?”
“It was one of the possible routes we discussed,” he answered.
“No. I know it from something else.” The fog was slowly clearing. “Oh good gravy, I remember now. The van broke down there. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a tire shop open in those parts on Sunday? Everyone wanted to know why we weren’t in church?” I chuckled a little but it wasn’t a nice laugh.
“Humph, something tells me it wasn’t funny even if you are laughing,” Thor said as we started breaking the last of the camp down and stowing it in the wagon.
“Actually the people in the area were really nice but there was some kind of travelling revival group that overheard what I was from some of the other kids and seemed to think that I needed to prove I wasn’t a demon or something similar. They were praying in a group off to the side. I hate to be embarrassed and I didn’t handle it too cool.”
Thor’s raised eyebrow encouraged me to finish the story. Embarrassed I nevertheless complied. “They kept praying for my soul and I finally had enough and told them that my soul was none of their business and that it belonged to God and not to them thank you very much and then walked off in a huff to the lady’s room at the stop-n-shop and slammed the door so hard you could have probably heard it in Tompkinsville.”
“Sounds like you showed some restraint to me,” he said grunting as he tied the last thing in place and I took the biscuits and baked apples off the coals where he’d left them to cook.
“I was fourteen at the time and Dad wasn’t too happy.”
“Why?!” Thor wanted to know.
“Oh, it wasn’t because I’d gotten upset so much as how I’d handled it. You have to understand that sort of thing … well, not that exactly but similarly stupid stuff … happened pretty regularly. I normally handled it much better if I wasn’t able to out and out ignore whoever was making a donkey’s behind of themselves. I also broke some cardinal scouting rules, one of which is you go nowhere without a buddy; and some of the Scout Laws too. As the crew leader he couldn’t show me any favoritism so I got KP that whole week.” I sighed. “I deserved it. It wasn’t what they’d said so much as the fact that I was irritable about a few other things that had happened on that trip and when the adults started talking at me without Dad or one of the other adults from our crew being there I should have gone straight to them instead of trying to handle it myself. Basically I’d never given the adults a chance to step in during a situation that was more appropriate for them to handle. I didn’t do anything but make it worse and I was wearing my Venture uniform at the time too.”
Thor shook his head. “I suppose. If I’d been there …”
I did laugh at that. “If you’d been there my dad would probably have locked me in the house until I turned forty-two. You have rascal written all over you.” The Tylenol had started to work so as I stepped into his arms I didn’t even wince as I tilted my head for a kiss.
“You’re starting to get a little mischievous Ms. Charbonneau. Now behave and stop distracting me or we’ll never get out of here.”
I laughed again but did as he asked and reminded myself not to be a tease no matter how fun it was. It wasn’t fair to hold Thor to his promise if I was going to intentionally make it hard on him. We finished eating and the last of the cooking gear was cool enough to pack away after Thor hitched the horse to the wagon and put the saddle on his. That’s when I got my first inkling of how rough the day was going to be.
I reached up and grabbed the wagon seat to pull myself up without thinking and nearly wound up on the red clay dust of the ground.
“Blast it!” I gasped. “Stupid, stupid, stupid.”
“Hey now,” he said.
I looked at him and said, “Well what would you call it? I completely forgot having to favor my shoulder. Dumb mistake.” As soon as I got my breath I said, “Give me a boost?”
“You sure you’re fit for this?” he asked with some concern.
“Yeah. We may need to stop at lunch and let me fix some more cowslip tea … the extra biscuits you made will at least give me something to have on my stomach for that … and tomorrow might be a little rough but I’ll make it assuming we don’t run into any trouble.”
“If you get feeling bad you let me know. We don’t absolutely have to make it to Sulphur Lick today. We aren’t exactly on a must do schedule.”
“I know,” I said. “But we both know we need to get while the getting is good.”
He nodded his head and after one last look around camp he mounted his trusty steed and we headed towards the park entrance. We said goodbye to Mr. Paris and Tess and Doc hobbled over and in the act of reaching up and shaking my hand goodbye passed me a small packet.”
In a tired voice he told me, “Take them for I have an idea you’ll welcome them tonight and tomorrow. Take one and if it isn’t strong enough take another. If one winds up more than enough then split the next one in half.” When I tried to object he said, “Take them in remembrance of my niece. It’s given me a chance to honor her memory in a way I hadn’t before.” With another sigh he added, “And my arthritis is telling me we’ve got some cooler and damper weather on the way. If it doesn’t slow you down you’ll still be sore enough to make it unpleasant.”
And with that he turned a walked away. We finally got going and headed southeast following 87. After a few miles I finally settled so that I could bounce with the wagon rather than against it.
“You OK?” Thor asked.
“Fine. Just getting the rhythm of things,” I told him.
He nodded and we didn’t talk for a while as we both had to navigate an increasingly busy rode. I asked Thor, “What’s with all the traffic? I thought we’d be able to avoid this.”
“As soon as we get to 678 and turn off it will get better. They said all of the roads south were busy and so they are.”
We did get to 678 and when we turned off the traffic was noticeably less and then gradually faded to nothing. Thor relaxed and before long we were both in better moods though I was grateful to stop for lunch when we did. As soon as the tea started to work I was able to relax even more. Thor surprised me by saying out of the blue, “I wouldn’t have minded having a boy like Caleb along.”
“No. We’d often have a couple of boys trailing the crew willing to help out for a little attention of a few pennies though Caleb was a little older than those boys were.”
“He wouldn’t have wanted to leave his sister I don’t think.”
“No and we might be able to stretch our supplies for one but not for two. Plus I just didn’t want trouble from their parents and you know there would have been some.”
I nodded and sighed. “I hope they find their way. I expect there are a lot of kids like that out there.” My memories of the kids now in Delia’s care were a little sharp. I never regretted that they had taken to her but part of me still managed to be a little jealous when I wasn’t thinking logically.
After lunch we continued on the road that angled northeast and finally, after dark, found an old and abandoned barn to sleep in for the night. The hay that was left had an unpleasant sour smell to it and we tied the horses so they wouldn’t be tempted to test their luck.
The next morning was considerably cooler than any we’d experienced but still within normal range though I could tell that Thor was suffering for lack of a heavier coat. I had an idea how to temporarily address the problem but it required destroying of our blankets.
When I told Thor he laughed, “Actually it isn’t a bad idea at that though I’m not too find of ponchos. When you cut it just make sure I’ve got full movement for a rifle. And don’t even think about putting any fringe on it.”
I promised no fringe and then we headed off into the damp and foggy morning, turning north again towards a town called Beaumont. We didn’t make it that far having misjudged the distance and we had to stay in a little town called Waterview. It was a little town that if you blinked you would have missed it but it seemed to be the gateway towards Burkesville and I could feel the elevation increasing. The road map said it was a scenic byway and I could believe it though I was so sore and tired that night that I couldn’t really admire it.
It was a bad night for both Thor and I. Despite the pills that Doc had given me I hurt so bad I was sick to my stomach and could barely eat the dinner I fixed. Thor offered to cook but pride wouldn’t let me let him do it since he was already doing just about everything else including dealing with the cranky and tired ponies.
At midnight Thor made me take the last two pills just so I would sleep and sleep I most definitely finally did. The next thing I remember was light in my face and a tremendous need to find some privacy so I could take care of the call of nature. The problem was when I tried to roll over my shoulder just about made me have an accident right then and there.
I didn’t mean to but I must have freaked him out a bit because he practically tore the tent down getting to me.
“Oh geez Thor, just help me up and then get out of my way,” I cried in embarrassment.
When I was finished I didn’t want to come out of the bushes. I really wanted to slink away and bury myself. “Hon?” I heard him call.
“Don’t Thor. Please. I … I …”
“Rochelle if you don’t come out right now I’m coming in.”
I reluctantly left the bushes. I expected Thor to make some sarcastic or over the top male type remark. Instead he said, “You all right?”
I mumbled, “Yeah.”
“Rochelle … Hon …”
“Don’t laugh. I think I’ll just about die if you do,” I told him feeling like a complete fool.
He shook his head and slowly and carefully came all the way up to me and rubbed my good shoulder. “Do I look like I’m laughing? Obviously you’ve never woke up after a three day drunk and realized that nature will have its way whether you expect it to or not. Or gotten blown up and been stuck in bed with nothing but a bunch of unsympathetic nurses that don’t speak English and in fact were probably kin to the Marquis de Sade.”
“Huh?” His references were flying way over my head.
He laughed quietly, shook his head and then said, “Never mind. I just mean I’ve been there Hon, that’s all. And please don’t be embarrassed about it. You’ve seen me when I was in pretty bad shape.”
“That was different. You were really injured.”
He snorted, “That’s not the point. The fact is really injured or not you saw me when I wasn’t capable of taking care of all my own … er … needs. We’re supposed to be able to take care of each other and sometimes that is going to be delving into the extremely personal and private side of things.”
I wasn’t sure I even wanted to think about it but I was just about too weak to do much more than teeter. “Whoa!” Thor said as I nearly toppled. “What’s all this?”
Unable to open my eyes without feeling like I was going to puke because things were spinning I said, “Sometimes … sometimes I react to meds funny. Two pills might have been half a pill too much.”
“Maybe … or maybe it’s the pills, not eating, and that tea you’ve been drinking so much of. I’m thinking if you were taking the pills maybe you should have laid off the tea. Come on and lay back down.”
“Gotta get up. We’ve got …”
“Hon, in the condition you’re in right now we ain’t gotta anything. If I fix you a place in the wagon you think you can ride there and finish sleeping this off? There’s no fresh water around here and if you’re gonna be sick I’d rather have some so you could at least clean up with.”
I groaned at the very idea of the swaying of the wagon but knew that Thor wouldn’t have mentioned it if he didn’t think it was important. “Sure. Sure … I’ll …” Only I forgot what I had meant to say.
“Ohhhh Kaaaay, you sit right here. Don’t try and move and let me get things situated.”
I don’t even remember climbing into the wagon. The swaying would wake me up every so often as I began to be able to string two thoughts together successfully and I realized he must have attached the horses as a team. Nobody liked it … not horse nor man … and I listened to all three curse at each other and complain most of the rest of the day.
I was semi conscious by the time we got to this place called Snow that wasn’t too far from one of the fingers of Lake Cumberland but Thor wouldn’t let me do anything but drink some broth and crawl in bed and go back to sleep. I woke up the next morning in just about the same physical condition, scrambling out of the tent and waking Thor in the process but not caring in the least I was in such a hurry.
“Yes,” I told him only slightly less embarrassed that the previous day. “At least my brain doesn’t feel like a plate of fried mush. I missed everything.” I didn’t mean to sound petulant but even I could hear it in my voice.
“Not everything,” Thor assured me. “Think you are up to driving the wagon today? Your shoulder better?”
“Better yes, but don’t ask me to move too fast. I still feel like I’ve got my feet stuck in cold molasses even if my brain is warming up.”
“Good, I don’t think the horses could take another day of their togetherness. So long as they aren’t harnessed together they are best friends but put them in the traces together and they act like a Shiite and Sunni fighting over the Order of Succession.”
I snorted since he knew I understood just how outrageous he was being. “That’s bad all right.” I sighed and the said, “I’m sorry I was so out of it Thor. It hasn’t been fair to you at all.”
“Who cares about fair? I’m just glad you’re better. It was my idea for you to take both of those pills at one time.” And I could see from his face that he really did feel bad about that.
“Don’t Thor. I’m a big girl and could have said no. But from here on out I think I’ll just stick with my teas and my Tylenol if you don’t mind.”
He kissed the top of my head and as dawn finally broke we had a quick breakfast and then packed up yet again to move on. I was putting some on relatively cleaner clothes since I’d been wearing the ones I was in for over twenty-four hours straight and asked, “What was the road like yesterday? I was awake off and on but never long enough for it to make much of an impression on me except for the quiet. Reminded me of some of those roads out west.”
Thor nodded, “And you’d be about right. I saw two riders yesterday and both kept their distance. There may have been some foot traffic in the area but not on 90. Burkesville was a ghost town though you could tell it had been ransacked. Had to backtrack to get around some junk that had been thrown in the road. I saw evidence of a few fires but nothing beyond the usual and mild. Beyond that there is much to tell.”
I asked, “What about today? From Snow where did you want to head?”
“I’d like to try to make Monticello by night if not before. It’s a bigger place than I wanted to stay but we can’t avoid them all. I’d like to have someone look at your shoulder.”
“Thor,” I said not the least bit amused.
“Don’t Thor me woman. A quarter of your back looks like the spreading sunrise.”
“That’s just because … you know how bad bruises do. They just sort of spread as the body tries to reabsorb everything. It hurts a lot less. And so long as I move slow I’ve got full rotation of the shoulder.”
I was demonstrating that very thing when he said, “Button them buttons and stop trying to distract me. If we run across any medico or the like I’m going to have my way and that’s final.”
I very nearly stuck my tongue out at him when he walked away leaving me to finish “buttoning them buttons” but I thought better of it when he gave me the eye like he knew exactly what I was thinking. Climbing into the wagon was a lot easier than it had been for days and I munched a couple of apples through the morning which seemed to make me feel even better. I guess part of my problem had been lack of food on my stomach.
The road was a glorious drive through the Cumberland Mountains and I told Thor he was getting a preview of what he was going to see the closer we got to the farm. That day was as uneventful as the next and it was like God was giving us a reprieve after all the troubled we’d had day in and day out for a while.
There were people in Monticello – we could see bonfires here and there from our vantage point inside one of the old building that lines the turn offs to Lake Cumberland – but we didn’t appear to have anything to worry about. Thor said he even saw a couple getting water from the same stream as him but no one did anything more than nod to each other before heading back to their respective camps.
“That’s … that’s weird.”
“Why?” Thor wanted to know.
“People … I don’t know … usually like to talk.”
He shrugged, “Might be that folks are too tired to talk or they’re just talked out. Now why don’t you come here and let me look at that bruise again.”
Something in his voice had me looking at him closely while I stirred our pot of soup. “Hmmm. I don’t think it’s the bruise you are wanting to get a look at so I’ll stay right here but thank you kindly.”
“Aw now, no need to be like that,” he said in completely false brokenheartedness.
I nearly snorted a laugh into the soup pot. “You’re in a good mood all of a sudden.”
He leaned back obviously having never been too serious about looking to begin with. But his next words were. “Just glad to see you’re feeling better Hon. Didn’t realize how much I would miss your chatter … or even getting you to talk to me at all. Don’t do it again, I nearly went into a decline.”
I shook my head, “You’re too big to go into a decline. Here,” I said handing him a bowl. “It’s hot so blow on it this time and you won’t take the hair off your tongue.”
“Then stop cooking so good and I won’t feel the need to rush a bite to my mouth.”
All I could do was shake my head and hand him a canteen to put the fire in his mouth out when he did it anyway despite my warnings to the contrary. That night I think we both finally fell asleep wishing the miles away until we could reach the farm.