After his initial concern, Heath found it difficult to suppress the crooked smile from appearing on his face.
Nick who couldn't see his brother's face suspected something was up all the same because his brother was far too quiet. "You wouldn't be laughing, would you, Heath? Because so help me, if you are....."
"I'm not laughing Nick," Heath promised him. "Look do you think you can stand up?"
"If.. if... I... I... could stand up do you think I would be bent over this way!" Nick spluttered in exasperation.
Heath circumnavigated his brother, deep in thought.
"Not even a little bit?"
"Not even a little bit!"
"Okay, okay big brother. Let me just think for a minute."
"Think? Look Heath, I can't wait that long. Get me over to the house, will you? I am getting tired of the view down here!"
"Okay, come on," said Heath wryly, setting off for the house and leading Nick by the hand.
"Is anyone looking?" Nick whispered, suddenly embarrassed at being led to the house by his brother. With his hand outstretched to meet Heath's, he resembled an elephant in both shape and form.
"No, the men are all out working. Don't worry we'll be inside in a minute."
"Thank God. This feels like torture. I don't remember doing anything. Just bent down and that was it."
"That'll do it," Heath said in a knowing tone that came from nowhere since of all his ailments, he had never suffered from a bad back.
They were just nearing the porch and the challenge of the three steps up ahead, when Little Nicholas and Little Heath stopped drinking their cool lemonade and ran to greet their fathers. "Piggy back! Piggy back!" Little Heath demanded wrapping his little hands around his father's neck and lifting himself up off the ground, earning an immediate groan from Nick. "Not right now, son. Papa's not feeling too good at the moment," said Nick through gritted teeth as he rode out the pain.
Heath rested Nick's hand on the hitching post and swept in under him to scoop up his namesake and save his brother from further assault. The fact that he was 'tied' to the hitching post did not make Nick happy, but he had little time to react as instantly, he found his son's non-comprehending and disappointed face replaced by Little Nicholas' concerned one staring back up at him. "Ooh Uncle Nick, you don't look too good... You feeling poorly, or something?"
"Or something," Nick replied, wanting desperately to have this conversation sitting comfortably inside and not outside. "I've hurt my back and I can't stand up," he explained.
"Are you going to have to stay like that for ever?" Nicholas asked with genuine innocence and concern in his question.
"Well I certainly hope not," Nick reassured him. "Say Little Nicholas,"
"Think you can get me up these stairs and into the house. Your daddy was supposed to be helping me, but I reckon he's forgotten about me down here."
"That's because my daddy's tall and you're little like us now." Nicholas informed with his child's logic.
"You figure?" replied Nick, contemplating the world of a child from his new perspective with a completely fresh set of eyes.
"Certain about it," Nicholas said with the knowledge possessed of his six years. "Because he's up there and I'm down here I sometimes have to tug on his pants to get his attention. You want his attention too, Uncle Nick? You want me to tug on his pants for you?"
Nicholas thought for a minute. "What's he doing right now, Little Nicholas?"
"Tickling Little Heath on his tummy." Little Heath's ensuing childish giggles and kicking of legs soon confirmed the truth of the statement.
"Well, how about we leave the Heath's together and we two Nicks work on getting me up these stairs? Think you can help me?"
Nicholas considered the task ahead. He loved being given re......spon.....si...bil.....ity (slowly, because it was not only a new word but a long one too and they always took a might longer to say, he mentally enunciated the word his father had taught him.) Sure enough, Uncle Nick had become a re.....spon.....si.....bil......ity, alright. Now that he couldn't stand up straight an' all. Seemed funny seeing his uncle Nick bent over like he was - he always seemed as tall as a mountain to him and Little Heath. And then there was just no tellin' how long he would have to stay like that. Weren't fair to keep him outside in his pre....dic.....a....ment, Nicholas thought, using another long word he had learned. And if anyone was in a pre... dic...a....ment right now, it was his Uncle Nick.
All the time Nick watched his nephew's face twist and turn as he considered his thoughts. What was it with Heath and his boys? They all took their time a thinking things through. Got to be downright irritable when you were in a fix, like this. Eventually, he heard Little Nicholas respond.
"I reckon," he said confidently. "Want me to pull you or push?"
Nick paled at the thought of either. "How about you leading me just gently up the steps?" Nick said trying to hide the alarm in his voice. "Your Uncle Nick is feeling just a might tender, right now."