Story dedicated to Heathwave who provided the inspiration by sending me a wonderful picture of Nick and Heath as drunken cherubs with wings.
Caution - Most definitely tongue in cheek!!!!!
Jarrod scanned the saloon and spied his brothers at the bar. The suave, sophisticated lawyer let out a wry smile, tinged with a sigh of relief that he had caught up with them at last. Catching Sam, the bar tender's, eye, he indicated he didn't want his presence known to his brothers and Sam nodded back understandingly, fixing a drink for the elder Barkley who proceeded to find a table in a dimly lit corner of the room.
Jarrod eased the back of his chair against the wall and stretched out his legs after his long ride. He lit up a cigar and thought about what his brothers had done tonight. Were they really his brothers? He guessed so. And, as usual, it was up to him to straighten things out once again. He lit a cigar and smiled ruefully. It was funny though. A chuckle escaped his lips at the memory.
Sam approached him with his drink. At the same time, Jassy, one of Jarrod's favorites, sashayed up to him and pillowed the handsome Barkley's head back into her ample bosom and kissed him hard on the lips, claiming him in front of all the others. Jarrod returned the kiss and mouthed back the words, "Later," She caressed the length of his face, "Don't be long sugar ... I'll be waiting for you upstairs." Sam watched on with amusement.
"How long have they been here?" Jarrod asked, returning his attention to his old friend, and his brothers at the bar.
"Been well over an hour. As far as I can see, Nick's drinking his beer, whilst Heath's drowning in his." The amiable bar tender looked over at the two brothers with similar amusement. He knew Nick and Heath well enough to know they were in trouble, and that their big brother was here to rescue them. "What have they done this time?"
"Sam, you wouldn't believe me if I told you." Jarrod said as he dropped his hat to the table and invited Sam to sit down. Closing his eyes for a moment, he began to recount the events of the evening.
Heath stared soulfully at his untouched glass, crossed his arms with a heavy sigh and sunk his chin low, "Where did we go wrong, Nick?"
Nick who was enjoying his beer, stopped drinking for a moment and gave his brother a skewed look. "What do ya mean? Where did WE go wrong? Heath, little brother this is your fault and your fault alone."
Heath turned his head sideways, not lifting it from the pillow of his arms and gave his brother a little boy lost look, his eyes just moistening enough to add to the affect. The appeal of that look could not be underestimated. Heartfelt, or in jest, it always got a reaction from the family and Nick was no exception.
"Oh no you don't," Nick threatened, "Don't you look at me that way?" Nick attempted another sip of his beer, but was interrupted by his brother's plaintive cry.
Damn that beer was so close, Nick could just taste it as the cool glass hit his lips. He looked at Heath, then back to his glass. With a heavy sigh he reluctantly put it down in order to give his brother his undivided attention.
"Ya gotta help me fix it, Nick. Mother 'll tan my hide if she finds out what I've done. I'm your little brother. Your little brother, Nick Ya suppose to protect me."
Nick gave him a look of disbelief. "Oh so now you're my little brother, huh? Now you want my advice!"
Nick stopped mid-sentence. Something was wrong. He looked at Heath with increasingly blurry eyes and shook his head clear. It was not one of his better ideas. In response he felt the contents of his stomach threaten to rise up and return to the point at which they had entered. "Heath?" he questioned, his voice suddenly slurred and was punctuated by a hiccup, and then another.
"Uh huh?" Heath said sleepily. It had been a long day for the blond and he was more than a little drunk himself. Thinking made his brain hurt, and talking was sure getting complicated. "What is it, Nick?" he said eventually, taking a studied drink from his glass. His mouth had to make several attempts to connect with the rim of the glass. As it did so, a satisfied smile graced Heath's handsome face.
Nick's tone became deadly serious as he gripped Heath's upper arm. "Heath, boy! When did you go and sprout wings?"
Nick blinked several times, unsure if he was seeing right. When the vision didn't change, like a happy drunk, he accepted what his eyes told him and reiterated to Heath with a smile, "sticking outta your back, Heath? You've got two of them feathered things..... things... wings... that's it, wings."
"Do not," Heath objected and took another drink.
Nick grinned from ear to ear.... "Have too. And what's more," Nick added, "I have to tell you, Heath, you're not wearing any pants."
Heath's hand went down to his body and then lower still to prove his brother wrong. "Of course, I'm wearing my pants, put my tan ones on this morning." he protested, his voice slowing to a halt as his hand came in contact with bare flesh. A painfully slow realization dawned across his expressive face and then escalated into sheer terror ............. "Nick!!!!"
Nick felt his drinking arm gripped and heard the now unstoppable fear in Heath's voice. "Nick, where the hell are my pants?"
"Beats me Heath," said Nick, attempting cool indifference, hoping it would get a further rise out Heath. "Damned careless of you to lose them though. Mother is not going to be best pleased. Now's not the time to be presenting a bare butt to Mother ~ it makes too easy a target for her wooden spoon."
"I know I had them on when I came in?" Heath insisted, thinking of his favorite tan pants. He thought long and hard and his head protested at the effort by offering only vagueness and confusion. Nick tried to help him.
"Did you go upstairs Heath?" Nick winked at his brother, "You and that new girl seemed to be getting on mighty fine. She sure stuck to you like a second skin."
"Well, what if I did? I didn't forget to put my pants back on afterwards."
"Seems you did, because you ain't wearing them now." Nick for all his intoxicated state was having fun here.
"What do ya think I should do about it?" Heath slurred.
"Suppose we should go look for them." Nick stretched,and as he did so Heath's eyes widened as a set of wings unfurled from behind his brother's back. He ducked as one hit him in the eyes.
Recovering, Heath tugged his brother's arm forcefully. "Nick, we've got another problem."
"Don't worry Heath, we'll find your pants..... and figure what to do with those wings too." Nick reassured him. "I'm your older brother, ain't I? I'll look after things."
"But Nick? Your back? Look..... look at your back!" Heath stammered. "How you going to fix my problem when you've gone a sprouted wings too!"
From his corner in the saloon, Jarrod watched his brothers get up from the bar and make their way self-consciously, and very drunkenly across the room. Watching them, he couldn't help but be amused at their antics. Stepping forward, he decided to make himself known. At the same time, Sam, the bartender, excused himself and watched from a distance with a smile.
As Heath and Nick reached the staircase which led to the second floor they were both well acquainted with, Jarrod stopped them dead in their tracks.
"Going somewhere, brothers of mine?"
Nick and Heath both stared back at their elder brother, struggling to focus on the dapper lawyer, who was both their brother, friend and surrogate father. Jarrod had this look which he executed so well, and to great advantage where his younger brothers were concerned. It was a combination of amused air and superiority, and he used it with deadly effect.
Seeing Heath struggling to negotiate the first step of the stairs, Nick answered for them both. "We're going upstairs to find Heath's pants, Jarrod," he said, as though it was nothing out of the ordinary.
"His pants?" Jarrod questioned, his voice betraying only the slightest note of incredulity.
"They’re his favorite," Nick said, as if the added information was all that was necessary to make Jarrod understand.
"Can't do it," Heath said resignedly, tumbling backwards into the space behind him. Jarrod adroitly stepped in so that he could catch his youngest brother safely under his arms. He had seen Heath attempt the first step four times and knew his sibling would be heading for the floor sometime soon. As with everything he did, the lawyer's action was smooth and efficient, and he quickly had his brother scooped up and carried to a chair.
"Mind his wings," said Nick, following them, adding a hiccup, or two, along the way.
"His what?" Jarrod replied, struggling to keep Heath upright. He eventually settled for putting him in the corner, supported by the walls and the table pushed up against him. Heath obliged by smiling goofily at his elder brother.
"His wings, he just got them today."
"Oh he did, did he?" Jarrod replied. Happy that Heath was fixed in his chair and unlikely to fall, he now allowed himself a moment to reflect on Nick's gibberish. Logic took over, as it always did with the sophisticated lawyer. "So, on the plus side, Heath has acquired wings tonight but at the expense of losing his pants?"
"Damn, but I always said you were smart, Jarrod. You outta be a lawyer with that kind of brain of yours." Nick replied with deadly seriousness.
"Thanks Nick, maybe I'll consider it one day."
Seeing Nick struggle to connect his butt with the seat of the chair, Jarrod stepped into help, and only sat down himself when he knew his brothers were safely secure. He beckoned Sam over. "Sam, I need strong black coffee and lots of it. I need to get these two sobered up fast, if I'm going to fix the mess Heath has got himself into."
"Coming right up Jarrod. If you need a hand with them later, just let me know."
"I will Sam.... and thanks."
"I got me a set of wings too, Jarrod," Nick suddenly said out of the blue and with some pride.
Jarrod pushed his hat to the back of his head and rubbed his brow, wondering what he was going to do with these two. He hoped the coffee would come soon.
"Of course, I haven't tried them out yet," Nick continued.
"Best leave it till morning," Jarrod reasoned. He decided it was easier to go along with what Nick was saying for the moment.
"I could sure do with a set of clothes though, Jarrod."
Jarrod lit up cigar and looked at his brother, dressed in his trademark black and leather vest.
"You lost yours too?" Jarrod queried, drawing on his cigar and then cupping his right cheek in his hand with his cigar next to it.
"Well I thought I was wearing them but Heath tells me I'm not."
"Heath's drunk." Jarrod offered by way of explanation.
"That he is," Nick smiled as he patted Heath on the shoulder. The effect was the same as the cry of timber coming from a woodcutter felling a tree.
"Ouch," Heath slurred, as he rubbed his head upon impact with the table.
"Boys, I think we better discuss what went on today.
Heath raised his head and gripped Jarrod's arm.
"Need my pants first Jarrod, can't think without my pants."
Jarrod began to think Heath had been doing too much thinking without his pants lately, but chose to ignore tackling his brother further at this stage. He knew his recent illness and medication had a lot to do with what had transpired. Nick, on the other hand, was just plain drunk.
"I'll get your pants for you Heath, just drink lots of this coffee and you'll get them back."
"I will," Heath beamed, his trust in Pappy complete.
Jarrod smiled. Both his brothers, for all the headaches they caused, made for appealing drunks.
"There you go Heath," Nick offered, uninvited. "Told ya Jarrod would fix things for you."
The coffee arrived and under protest, Nick and Heath drank it. When they finished one, another one was put under their nose, followed by an order to drink it.
"Tired Jarrod." Heath protested. His body reacted with the combination of medication, drink and bitter coffee inside him. He pushed the coffee away.
"Oh no you don't," said Jarrod pushing the coffee back and up to Heath's lips, determined to succeed in this battle of wills.
Heath glared at him like he was the enemy and shuddered as he took a sip.
An hour later, and after several eventful trips to the outhouse, both brothers were more cognizant. As a degree of lucidity returned, miraculously their wings disappeared and clothes once again returned to their person. Both brothers were suitably impressed and flexed their shoulders in relief.
"Okay Heath," Jarrod eventually said as both his brother's settled. "We need to talk."
Heath looked immediately sheepish as the events of the day came rushing back. He put his head in his hands and sunk his head low. "I didn't mean it Jarrod. Hell! Mother's going to kill me when she finds out."
"At the moment she'll have to stand in the queue, Heath. We received two visits today.”
Heath shifted uncomfortably. "From who?"
"Well let's just put it this way Heath, both of them, a Miss. Suzy Tate and Miss. Josephine Adams, think they are going to become the future Mrs. Heath Barkley, next month."
"Where are they now?"
"I arranged for them to be taken home for the moment. I told them I would try and sort it out. I tried to explain you hadn't been well lately. What the Hell, were you playing at Heath? Proposing to both of them. I thought you had only been dating Suzy."
"So it seems. You surprise me, Heath. I always thought you were a one-woman guy."
"I am, usually." Heath protested. "I don't know what came over me Jarrod. I just found myself proposing to any woman I met today."<
"Any woman Heath? Just how many women have you spoken to today?" Jarrod was worried now.
"Ya got a pencil and paper, Jarrod?"
"Do I need one?"
"You need one," Nick offered helpfully.
Jarrod drew on his cigar and then said resignedly, "Okay, shoot. Let's hear the worst."
At length, Jarrod put down his pencil and looked with amazement at the list. "Is that everyone, Heath?" he inquired, not taking his eyes of the paper or the number of names he had placed there. When he got no response he looked up and saw Heath was no longer there. He panicked thinking Heath had fallen to the floor. As he searched under the table, he received a tap on his shoulder from Nick. Irritated, he looked up and saw Nick drinking coffee from a cup with one hand, and motioning to his lap with the other. There nestled in Nick's lap was Heath, happily asleep and just beginning to snore.
Jarrod stood up and looked at Heath, amused and amazed at the flexibility his brother could demonstrate when drunk over sober. Nick and Heath's chair were not quite adjacent, but somehow Heath had slumped against Nick, fallen into his lap and stayed. He remained seated in his own chair and his upper body and arms bridged the gap in between.
"Come on Romeo, let's get you out of here and back home," Jarrod said wearily, indicating to Sam he would like his assistance. Hauling a very sleepy Heath to his feet and wrapping his arm around his waist, he secured Heath's indifferent left arm around his own neck and hung onto Heath's increasingly dead weight.
"You okay there Jarrod?" Sam asked.
Jarrod nodded, "I can manage Heath, can you get Nick? I have the buggy out front. Their horses can stable at the livery overnight."
Sam bent down to help Nick stand to his feet. Nick pushed him away indignantly. "Can stand on my own two feet," he slurred, attempting to do so and immediately falling back down into his seat. Sam went to help again. "Nope," Nick said forcefully, insisting he could do this.
Jarrod was getting tired holding on to Heath, who by now has relinquished his whole body weight over to Jarrod. "Nick, can you walk?" Jarrod's tone was impatient and strained. "I don't care how you do it, but can you walk to the door?"
Nick stood up, this time successfully, swaying just a little as he tried to focus on Jarrod, the image of Heath and Jarrod merging together just for a moment, and then clearing, "I don't promise it'll look pretty but I can walk. Just point me in the right direction and I'll follow you out," he said gesturing to the back of the saloon. Jarrod sighed. By now Heath had sagged and was bent double over Jarrod's arm. With difficulty Jarrod turned Nick around to face the door with his spare hand.
"I believe the cavalry went thatta way Nick,"
Nick's voice was full of wonder and gratitude. Jarrod just groaned. Heath's weight was pulling on him now and rather than try and keep him upright and walking, he bent down and threw him over his shoulder, hoping the inebriated blond wouldn't be sick down his back.
"Okay Nick," Jarrod continued, "Let's go, but I tell ya, if you fall, you stay where you are, understood?"
"Understood," Nick assured him. Jarrod wasn't convinced.
The sight of two drunken Barkley brothers leaving the saloon, one carried, one zig-zagging behind caused little stir. Ordinarily that might have worried Jarrod but he didn't have time to think about it right now. Miraculously, and with Sam bringing up the rear, he got them both to the buggy outside and rolled Heath on to the back seat. Immediately Heath sank down and curled up in a fetal position on the floor. Jarrod wasn't going to argue. He watched Nick climb unsteadily into the front seat.
"Thanks Sam, I think I can take it from here," the lawyer said with obvious gratitude.
Sam nodded, understandingly. "Tell me Jarrod, just how many names do you have on that list for Heath?"
Jarrod scratched his head, not sure if he should tell him, deciding eventually that he should. "Eight Sam."
"Eight? Your little brother has been busy." Sam couldn't help smiling at the younger Barkley's success with the women. "That's sure going to take some unraveling, I don't envy you. Anything I can do to help Jarrod, you know where I am."`
Jarrod paused for a minute, his brain ticking away. "Well Sam, there is something you can do."
Name it Jarrod.
"You wouldn't mind telling your wife the engagement is off?"
Jarrod waited for the news to sink in. He waited some more. Eventually he saw the penny drop and prepared his ears for the onslaught. "Ya mean that young whipper snapper proposed to my wife? To my wife?" Sam bellowed disbelievingly.
Jarrod rubbed his chin before comforting Sam on the arm. "Worse than that Sam, she said yes."
Heath opened one eye and regretted it instantly. He waited a few moments before he tried it again. It seemed no better the second time but he couldn't walk around with his eyes shut all day, so he persevered. The pain entered his eye and shot right through to the back of his head like a fast moving bullet.
"Urggh!" he groaned in response and closed his eyes immediately, burrowing his head in the sanctuary of his pillow.
After a few moments he raised himself up again and turned over to face the other side of the room, away from the offending window and light. What he saw was no better. Nick was sprawled on the other side of his bed, and had not only taken up half the bed, but half the covers too.
"Geez Nick, couldn't you find your way to your own bed. Did you have to wreck mine?" Heath sighed exasperated.
Nick stirred and rolled over with a contented sigh, his fluid action pinning a surprised Heath back to the bed. Nick was dreaming of Nicolette Dupont, his latest love, and as he visualized her beautiful face in front of him, he leaned into Heath, lips pursed and ready for a kiss.
"You kiss me Nick and so help me I'll break all your teeth," Heath protested, shoving Nick away with force born of fear.
"Huh? What?" Nick woke up wondering why he was face to face with Heath. Where was Nicolette? Sweet Nicolette. And why the hell was he in Heath's bed?
Just at the moment Jarrod walked in, eyebrows raised for a moment. "Morning Nick, Heath. Glad you've both finally decided to join the land of the living."
Nick sat up and Heath moved to sit on the edge of the bed. His head was heavy still, and he let it hang for a moment whilst Jarrod continued to talk. He wished Jarrod could talk quieter, he wished Nick wasn't in his bed, he wished Nick hadn't just tried to kiss him, above all he wished he didn't have eight fiancées right at this moment.
"Well I can see you both slept well," said Jarrod. He could see Nick questioning why he wasn't in his own bed. Jarrod told him straight. "To be perfectly honest Nick, after I'd got you two home and upstairs last night, I'd had about enough for one night. It just seemed easier to leave you here rather than get you to your own room. Believe me, you were both so out of it, you could have slept on a barbed wire fence and not noticed the spikes.
"Well I noticed them this morning," Heath said, shuddering at what had nearly transpired between him and Nick. "It's not every morning I wake up to a near exchange of tongues with brother Nick here.
"We did not." Nick protested, his voice deepening in an effort to reassert his masculinity. It sunk so deep it nearly had to be rescued from the floor. "I was dreaming and you know it. I was thinking of Nicolette."
Heath went to the wash basin and splashed some water on his face. A mischievous smile escaped unchecked from his face. "And just who is Nicolette?"
"Never you mind who she is. I should think a fella with eight fiancees roaming about the streets of Stockton would have far more serious things on his mind."
Just for a moment Jarrod thought of adding an unhelpful comment, but after the surreal events of the previous evening he decided better of it. He had enough to do sorting out Heath's existing problems, he didn't want to add another. Letting the moment pass he turned his attention to Heath who was now towelling himself dry.
"Mother's downstairs, Heath I think you better get dressed and come down now so we can sort things out."
"Mother? What did she say? Did you tell her it wasn't all my fault?"
"She knows Heath. But it isn't Mother you have to worry about. Look, come downstairs and I'll try to explain."
Heath grew worried. "Tell me now Jarrod."
Jarrod gave him a reassuring smile. "Get dressed Heath, we'll talk downstairs."
"But why won't she release me? You explained to her I wasn't well? That I wasn't thinking straight? That it was the medication making me do those things? Hell, I don't even know the woman! Why does she want to marry me?"
Jarrod gently patted his his brother's shoulder in an effort to calm him. "I explained all that Heath, but for reasons of her own, she has decided that despite your unconventional proposal, she wants you as a husband. She was quite clear about that."
"It's ridiculous! She can't make me marry her. Mother? Jarrod? Nick!"
"She has asked for the bans to be published this Sunday and has instructed the ceremony to be conducted the following Saturday. I have to say, she is extremely well organized Heath. She has thought this all through, quite thoroughly, given that you only proposed yesterday afternoon."
"Oh has she now? Well I haven't. I don't see how all the others released me from my promise and this one didn't. Hell Jarrod I can't even recall what she looks like."
"Language Heath," Victoria Barkley admonished.
Heath looked apologetic.
"Mother can't you do something? Can't you put a stop to this? Talk to her. Tell her I'm not quite right in the head. Anything. Just tell me I don't have to marry her."
"Really Heath, I must say you are most ungrateful." Victoria replied. "Jarrod has worked all morning to extricate you from these careless engagements you have got yourself into. Seven out of eight is what I would call a success. I really don't think it's unreasonable that you at least marry one of them. As it is, there are a number of apologies you owe to women in this town. Marrying one of them might a least redress some of that situation."
"This can't be happening," Heath cried out as he sank to his chair in disbelief. "Can you at least tell me who it is I'm supposed to be marrying?"
Jarrod stepped forward. "The lady wishes to remain incognito for the moment Heath and we have decided to respect her wishes."
"Incognito? What in blazes are you talking about? I'm expected to marry a woman whose name I don't know, nor even what she looks like?"
"In a word, yes, Heath." Jarrod replied. "If you don't Heath, she will sue you for breach of promise. Like I say, she is a most organized woman!"