Hat Creek Trouble

By Bryce Blackburn

Adventure / Romance

The One with the Manners

A few minutes later, the men trooped into the cabin and hung their hats on the rack on the wall. I threw a towel to Dish, catching him a bit off guard which made me smile, and asked him to pull the biscuits off the fire.

He did, bringing the Dutch oven to the table as I brought over the pan of beans. We ate in silence mostly, although Pea Eye and Needle tossed comments back and forth.

The rest of the day seemed to pass slowly and when it came close to dinner time, I fried up the venison. A knock on the door about scared the crap out of me. “Yes?” I called.

Newt poked his head inside the cabin. “I didn’t mean to scare you, ma’am.”

“Oh, no. Just startled me.” I said, turning back to the frying meat. “Everything alright?”

“Yes, ma’am. Captain sent me to see if you needed any help.” He said.

“If you don’t mind, you could grab us some fire wood.” I said, glancing at the corner where the supply was depleted.

“Yes ma’am.” He nodded, turning to leave the cabin. He brought in four full arm-fulls and stacked them in the corner that was designated for the wood pile. “Anything else ma’am?”

I thought about it for a moment. “I suppose not. Are you done for the day then?” I asked, looking over at him.

“I believe so, ma’am.” He said.

I smiled. I had no idea why he felt the need to call me ma’am. “Well, if you’d like, you could sit and keep me company.” I told him. “This cabin gets a bit lonely after a while.”

He nodded and pulled out a chair. “Don’t you sing to yourself?” He asked.

I nodded a bit. “Sometimes, yeah. Sometimes, I can’t think of a song to save my life.” I told him.

“Well, sing me the one you hum so much.” He told me.

I smiled at him. “You wanna hear me sing?”

Newt smiled. “Oh yes ma’am. I’d love to.”

I smiled a bit bashfully and looked at the frying meat. “There’s a little moonlight, dancin’ on the sand. There’s a warm breeze blowin’ by the ocean as you’re takin’ my hand. You need to know where I’m standin’ now. That I’m right on the edge of givin’ in to ya. Baby it’s a long way down.” I sang to him, trying to pay attention to the meat at the same time.

“If I fall, can ya let me down easy? If I leave my heart with you tonight, will ya promise me that you’re gonna treat it right? I’m barely hangin’ on. If I fall, can ya let me down easy? The scent of your perfume, floatin' in the air. Lookin' like an angel, lyin' on a blanket with a halo of hair.

“And those lips, look to good to be true. Once I taste that kiss, I know what'll happen; I'll be at the mercy of you.” I finished as I successfully mixed the batch of biscuits and began cutting them up. I glanced at Newt and he had the biggest smile on his face. “What?” I asked, worried he was going to laugh at me.

“That was beautiful.” He said, looking very relaxed.

I shook my head. “If you say so.” I said, pulling the Dutch oven out of the coals.

He stood up suddenly, coming around to help me with the cast iron pot. “I might as well be of some use.” He said, answering my questioning look.

I smiled and shook my head, placing the biscuits in the pan. Newt returned the pan to the coals and I finished frying the venison. “So you don’t listen to much music?” I asked him.

Newt just shook his head. “Miss Allan liked to play music for her husband before he passed. She said it helped him remember who he was.” He told me.

I nodded. “My mom used to call me a juke box. I was always singing this song or that, usually annoying her.” I said, taking the pan off the heat.

“At least you have your ma.” Newt said, a little saddened.

It suddenly struck me that I had no idea how Newt had ended up on a cattle ranch in Montana when he wasn’t related to anyone here. “What happened to her?” I asked, sitting down across from him.

“She died when I was little. Captain Call and Gus raised me up. They always told me they were good friends with my ma.” He told me, looking a little distant.

“Newt.” I said and he looked at me. “How on earth did you end up in Montana? I assume you’re from Texas, like Captain Call and Dish.”

He nodded. “Lonesome Dove. It’s so close to Mexico you could walk there. But Gus and Captain Call and Jake Spoon said Montana was a good place for a cattle ranch. So we gathered up a herd of cattle and drove them up here. And I ain’t got anywhere else to go.” He said with a shrug.

I smiled and took his hand. “Well, that’s a good reason to stay then.”

He smiled at my touch. “I suppose so.” He said, just looking at me for a minute. “Tell me about your friend.”

I smiled. “Gerry?” I asked and he nodded. “Gerry’s a sweet guy.” I said, thinking it over for a minute so I didn’t mention the salmon skinny jeans or the fact he dated frequently. “He’s very kind. He likes clothes. He works at a clothes store.” Fashion design studio, clothes store, same thing right? “He likes to listen to me talk for no reason. I think it’s silly sometimes. But I’ll sit there and talk about my day or how I think people are rude, and he’ll just sit there and nod.” I said with a smile, realizing how much I really missed him.

“He sounds like a good guy.” Newt said.

I nodded. “He’s amazing.” I said and saw the look on Newt’s face darken a fraction. “And I mean you should see his girlfriend. She’s really pretty and nice. He’s lucky to have her.” I said, making it up on the spot.

Newt seemed to perk up just a bit. “Oh.” He said, trying not to look relieved.

I smiled. Dish was right. Newt did like me. I couldn’t help but try to hide my smile as I stood to check the biscuits. “Biscuits are almost done. Would you go get the boys?” I asked him.

“Yes ma’am.” He said, standing up.

“Newt?” I asked and he turned back to me. “Why do you call me ma’am?”

Newt seemed to think about it for a moment. “Captain Call and Gus always told me that a man should always respect a woman. Even if she’s hard to be around, or even if she’s the best thing you even saw. Always respect a woman.” He said, repeating words he’d obviously been told many, many times.

I nodded, thinking it over when he nodded a bit to me and left the cabin. I put the fried deer meat on the table and was about to pull the Dutch oven from the coals when the guys came back into the cabin, looking tried from the day’s work.

The smell of the meat seemed to perk them up a bit though as they sat down and I brought over the pan of biscuits. After they finished dinner, they slowly filtered out to the deck. “Ma’am, how about that dancin’ lesson?” Dish asked as I started picking up the dishes.

I smiled at him. “As soon as I’m done with these plates.” I said, picking up the tub.

“Well,” He started. “I’ll do all those dishes if you’ll dance with me first.”

I smiled and shook my head. “Now, Mr. Boggett, your work for the day is done. You relax. After I do these dishes and stoke the fire, then my work is done too and we can dance til you can’t feel your feet anymore.”

He gave me a little sideways smirk. “You aren’t trying to get out of it, are ya?”

I shook my head at him. “I told you after all the chores are done and my chores are not yet done. I’m sure Newt would teach you if you asked pretty please.” I said with a wink at Newt as I opened the door. “I’m afraid he can only lead though and if he teaches you, he’d be teaching you to follow.”

“I suppose I can wait then.” Dish said, looking a bit embarrassed in front of the other guys.

“I suppose that’d be best.” I said, carrying the tub down the steps.

“Do you need help ma’am?” Newt asked.

“If you’d like.” I said, turning to him a little bit.

He came over and took the tub of dishes from me and we walked down to the lake as the sun was beginning to set. “Was Dish being rude?”

I smiled at him, my arm around his elbow. “Not at all. He asked me to teach him to dance. I told him after the chores were done and he was trying to talk me into it before I was done with dishes. Well the dishes are my chore, which means chores aren’t done yet.”

Newt nodded. “That’s true.” He said, sitting next to me while I rolled up the sleeves and started washing plates. “Do you miss where you came from?”

I looked over at him for just a moment. “Yeah. I do.” I said, feeling the pressure of my loss setting on my shoulders. I missed Gerry and his boyfriends. I missed Danny and my fish and chips on Friday night. I missed having a job that I went to. I missed my jeans and heels and t-shirts.

“Do you wish you could go back?” He asked.

I felt like this question was a double-sided question. Did I want to go back? Of course I did. Did I want to leave him and the ranch? I couldn’t think of any reason why I would want to. “That’s a hard question to answer, Newt.” I told him, focusing on the dishes.

“Whys that?” He asked, picking at the grass.

“I miss being home, but I don’t know that I wouldn’t miss being here. Does that make sense?” I asked, but he looked a bit confused. “Like, I miss being home because I’m here. But I think if I went home, I’d miss being here.”

He nodded, seeming to understand this version of my logic. “I miss Lonesome Dove every once in a while. But I don’t think I’d want to go back. Especially not by myself.” He said.

I smiled a little. “I don’t think I could travel that far, with or without someone.”

He nodded. “It was a hard trip. We lost Jake Spoon and Deets and Paul, this Irish boy we met. And then Gus got shot with an arrow and it got infected and it killed him. Captain Call took him all the way back to Texas to be buried.”

I looked up at him in surprise. “Did he really?”

Newt nodded. “We got here right before the winter came. We just built the cabin when the first snow fell. And when the spring came, Captain Call left and took Gus back to Texas.”

“That’s quite a feat.” I said, turning back to the plates.

He nodded. “Don’t know that I could’ve done that.”

I smiled. “I’m sure if you were compelled by an honor as strong as Captain Call’s, you would. If you knew Dish or Needle your own entire life and they asked you to be laid to rest elsewhere, I’m sure you would.” I said, finishing up the dishes and stacking them in the tub. Newt picked it up before I could get a good grip on it. “You’re pretty handy to have around.” I joked, running my arm through his elbow. “This doesn’t bother you, does it?”

“Not at all, ma’am.” He told me.

I smiled as we started up the hill to the house. The last few rays of sun came from over the mountains. By the time we got back to the house, the sun had gone behind the mountains and there were two lit lanterns hanging on the porch. I let go of Newt’s arm before we got to the house.

“I coulda helped with that.” Dish said as he saw Newt carrying the tub of dishes.

“Yes, you could have.” I tossed out as Newt carried the tub in and set it on the table. I quickly put the dishes away, hoping Dish wasn’t upset at me. I hadn’t meant to be rude, but he was being ornery. “Are you ready for that lesson, Mr. Boggett?” I asked, coming back to the porch.

“Lesson?” Call asked.

I nodded. “I taught Newt and Needle to dance. Dish wanted to know if I’d teach him too.”

“Not doing that instead of chores, are ya?” Call asked, looking at Newt.

“No sir. We only did it after dinner and it was dark.” Newt said.

“Don’t reckon I’ve ever seen Newt or Needle dance much.” Pea Eye said.

I smiled and held my hand out for Newt. He stood up and walked with me to the little patch of dirt in front of the porch. “Do you remember the steps?” I asked him and he modestly nodded. “Still want me to hum?”

“Yes ma’am, if you could.” He said, bashfully.

I figured he felt a little nervous because he was doing this in front of the other guys and didn’t want to be made fun of. I smiled at him. “Whenever you want, ok?” I said quietly as I started humming. It took him only a minute to catch his bearings before he took his first step. I followed him easily as he led me in a circle. This time, he didn’t focus on something behind me, or at my shoulder; this time he watched me as I hummed and he danced me in a circle.

After a pass or two, I smiled at him. “It gets easier the more you do it.” I told him.

He smiled and ducked his head a bit as he slowed us to a stop. “Ain’t hard at all.” He said, clearing his throat and looking up at Dish.

“See. Newt learned just fine.” I said, holding my hand out for him.

Dish came to stand in front of me. I moved to the side of him and showed him the three steps I had showed Needle and Newt. Dish picked up the steps faster than Newt had. “Why’d you hum to Newt?” He asked me.

I looked up at him and smiled a little. “I tried counting, but he kept stumbling. I tried humming and he could keep the rhythm like that. But when I taught Needle, he did fine when I just counted it off.”

Dish nodded, obviously not sure what to say. I could tell he had the same nervousness that Newt had. He lived with these men every day. He didn’t want to be embarrassing himself in front of them. I understood that, but as much as I liked these guys, I didn’t care much of what they thought of me one way or another.

“Ok, so I taught you your steps. That’s how you lead. Now my steps are opposite yours.” I told him and he nodded. I took his hands and arranged them where they ought to be. He looked a bit uncomfortable. “Is this ok?”

He nodded.

“So on three, start dancing and I’ll follow. Ok?” I asked and he nodded again. “One, two, three.” I said and he took his first step fine, then looked down and stumbled the next two.

“You forgot to tell him not to look down.” Newt reminded me.

“Shoot. I did.” I said, giving Dish an apologetic look. “That was my fault.” I said, despite the fact he looked confused. “Ok, you have to focus on something else. Your head knows the steps, but if you look down or focus on them too much, you’ll lose track like we just did. So think about something happy. Your horse, the sunset, a girl you like.”

“But how am I gonna know where to go if I don’t watch my feet?” He asked.

I smiled. “They’ll know exactly what to do if you let them. The hard part is letting them. So just think about anything happy. If that doesn’t work, I’ll hum for you.” I said.

Dish nodded. “You’ll count again?” He asked.

“Of course. Ready?” I asked. He nodded and I counted to three. His first three steps were so fluid, it startled me. I’d never taught anyone who’d learned so quickly. Dancing with Dish was an experience. He led so gracefully, you’d think he’d been dancing his whole life. “Mr. Boggett, you lied right to my face.” I said with a smile.

He looked a bit bashful. “I hope you forgive me for that.” He said. “My mom gave me lessons when I was a kid. Never really had much use for them.”

I shook my head, still smiling a bit. “All you had to do was ask and I’d have said yes.”

He ducked his head a bit. “I wanted to see how you taught. Newt does pretty well.”

“Well, thank you. I about landed in the dirt with him.” I said as Dish still danced me around.

“Yeah, but Needle did land you in the dirt.” Newt said with a bit of a smile.

“Hey now. I hadn’t meant to.” Needle said, even though he smiled.

Dish stopped us and gave a little bow. Trying not to laugh, I gave him a small curtsy. He returned to his place on the porch as Captain Call stood up. “Suppose I’m a bit rusty, but I’ll never turn down a chance to dance with a pretty lady.” He said with the first smile I’d seen from him.

“I wouldn’t have pegged you for a dancing man, Captain.” I said as he took my hand and set his other high on my waist.

He took his first step before he started talking, probably giving me time to get in rhythm with him. “Gus and I were invited in a Governor’s Ball when we were Rangers. Gus, as much as he loved women, couldn’t keep step to save his life.” He said.

“I bet you danced with a few pretty ladies.” I said, trying to imagine a younger Captain Woodrow Call.

He thought about it for a moment. “Two, as I recall; The Governor’s wife, and the wife of a ranch owner from Arkansas.”

I couldn’t help but smile. “I bet you were full of charm and panache.”

Woodrow gave me the smallest smile. “I’ve never been for much of either, ma’am.”

“I doubt that, sir.” I told him as he slowed us to a stop.

Call took a very tiny bow before returning to the rocker on the porch.

I looked up at the waxing crescent moon and the stars surrounding it. Tonight, my mood was the exact opposite was last night. I wasn’t tired; I wanted to stay up and dance and look at the stars all night. Maybe I just felt safer with the other men home.

When I looked back at the porch, Newt stood in front of me again. We took hands and he led me in a circle with ease. I hadn’t even started humming. Normally, I could zone out the other men so I just heard a buzz instead of the chatter and the laughs.

But this time, with Newt, I forgot it all. I couldn’t hear them talking or the buzz of zoning them out. I couldn’t hear the laughs or the cattle grazing. I just saw Newt and how the pale moonlight looked against his skin. He smiled for a reason I couldn’t figure out, but I didn’t care at that moment. I smiled back at him, ducking my head just a bit.

“What’s got you all smiley?” I asked, looking back up at him.

“I think you’re gorgeous.” Newt said quietly.

I ducked my head again. “I think you’re silly.”

He smiled a little bit. “I thought you might say that.”

“How’s that?” I asked.

He just shrugged a little and didn’t say anymore. But he didn’t have to. I felt this spark of electricity dance across my skin as we swayed, like we were connected. I couldn’t help but imagine all the things destiny had in store for us. We were entwined and I wasn’t sure if I’d ever know for what purpose.

But I was ok with that. I just danced until I heard a noise that broke my trance. I stopped and looked over at the porch.

Needle, Pea Eye, Dish, and Jasper sat there, looking at us kind of funny. What? It wasn’t like we’d lifted off the ground. We just danced. “I reckon these boys best be off to bed and you too, ma’am. It’s a few hours ride into town. You’ll need a sound bit of sleep.” Woodrow said to us.

“Right.” I said with a nod as I let go off Newt. But the strangest sensation happened when I let go of him. It was like a cold wind rushing over me. As if Newt had fed a fire inside of me and letting go of him suddenly made it go out. I was left feeling tired and cool all over. “Thank you, Mr. Dobbs.” I said.

“Night ma’am.” He said with a nod as I continued up the steps. I about had a heart attack when Jasper looked at me, but he said nothing and I came to stand next to Captain Call as the boys headed for the barn.

Woodrow looked deep in thought as I set my hand on his shoulder and he looked up at me. “Thank you for a lovely evening. I’m excited to go into town tomorrow.” I told him.

He nodded. “I expect so.” He said briefly.

“I don’t know if it’s odd for me to ask,” I started.

“I’ll be sleeping on the porch here tonight, unless you have any objections.” Call said to me.

I almost sighed with relief. “Not at all. Thank you Captain.” I said, retreating to the cabin. I stoked the fire and curled up on the floor with my blanket and pulling my hoodie close for a pillow.

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