"Stand just there Little Heath," Nicholas cautioned his young cousin. Being four years older he was very protective of his little friend. "Now here," he continued as he opened a sack of bright orange carrots for his Pa's horse. Red came closer eying the feast. Nicholas gently opened Little Heath's hand so that his small palm and chubby fingers faced upwards, then he placed a bright orange carrot on it. "Now stand still and let him just come and take it off your hand."
Little Heath looked worried and rubbed a bit of sleep from his eye with his other hand, it had not been long since his nap.
"It'll be alright." Nicholas reassured him. "It'll tickle a bit, kind of funny like," he chuckled in his childish way, "and it will feel a bit wet," he added from experience.
Comforted by his cousin's laugh, Little Heath giggled too, no longer nervous.
"There you go," Nicholas said proudly as Little Heath stood very still and let Uncle Heath's horse take the carrot from his hand. His other little hand went out to stroke the gentle horse, who seemed to sense he was around young children and modified his behavior accordingly. One by one he munched his way through carrot after carrot until he had his fill.
Nicholas looked at the near empty sack and gulped. "Didn't expect Red to eat that many, sure hope he won't be sick. Pa, won't be too pleased as he wants to ride him today. Oh well, he looks okay I guess, "You okay Red?"" he asked the horse.
"You okay Red?" Little Heath echoed, mirroring Nicholas's look of concern, adding an appealing pout from his lower lip.
"Guess he must be," Nicholas' six year old mind reasoned. "C'mon Little Heath. Best get back to the house before both our Ma's know we are missing."
They scurried along, Little Heath taking two steps to Nicholas' one.
"Hey you too!" Nick beamed as he saw the children coming in through the open door. "What ya up to? Trouble I bet."
"No, Uncle Nick. We've just been feeding Pa's horse with some carrots."
"Carrots huh? Now haven't your Pa and I told you about being careful around the horses? You and Little Heath are too young to be feeding them on your own." Nick bent low, knowing these two little best friends had meant no mischief. He pulled Little Heath close into him and the boy giggled, still too young to understand and addressed his nephew in a gentle tone. "Nicholas, both you boys are very precious to your Pa and me. We don't want you to get hurt. So when you want to go see the horses, make sure it is with one of us, so we know you are alright. When you are older you will be able to look after a horse of your own. Okay?"
Nicholas studied his Uncle's words and Little Heath who worshiped his older cousin, studied Nicholas' face in turn.
Even at six, Nicholas showed his father's penchant for thinking things through. "Okay, Uncle Nick. I promise," he said eventually and like his father, having made a promise, he would keep it.
"Thatta boy," Nick responded, ruffling his nephew's blond hair. "Now what say we look to see if your Ma has made some cookies this morning. Milk and cookies, sound okay to you boys?"
Nicholas grinned and Little Heath, who had been growing sleepy in his father's arms, came awake at the sound of cookies. Without waiting for Nick, both boys raced ahead to the kitchen where Nicholas' mother, Meg, was just checking a batch which had beein cooling on a tray.
Just at that moment, Heath came in through the door. "Do I smell freshly baked cookies? Boy Howdy, they smell good. I'm away to the kitchen to steal a kiss and some of my wife's delicious baking."
"You do," Nick confirmed, "but since your son and my son are already in there, don't count on getting fed this sitting. I reckon we'll have to wait for the second batch."
"Little Nicholas and Little Heath?" Heath speculated.
"Yeah." Nick replied, something obviously on his mind. "Say Heath, have you noticed how those two have become best friends this year? They're four years apart, the same age difference as you and me. Makes you think doesn't it?"
"Lots of things make me think, Nick," Heath teased and then relented. "You mean that they could have been us? Had we known each other at that age?"
"Yeah," sighed Nick, his good humor growing sad for a moment as he realized, not for the first time, that he and Heath had missed out on knowing each other when they were young. "I can't help seeing what might have been when I watch those two together. Gives me a feeling, you know?"
ďA nice feeling brother?"
"The best." Nick said proudly.
Heath smiled, touched by the remark. "C'mon Nick, I'll race you for the cookies,"
"Race me, huh? You haven't got a chance, I've heard those bones of yours creaking lately."
"Creaking? Must have been your own you were hearing Nick." Heath patted his butt, "Just keep an eye on this. Okay, one, two three go!"
"Now that just ain't fair," bemoaned Nick as he saw Heath take off on the count of two.