Late November 1879 ~ Nick waits for Heath to join him in Aspen, Colorado for a business trip
Nick patted his arms to try and warm himself up in the freezing cold and snow that was Aspen, Colarado. The train carrying his brother was late. Nick desperately needed something to warm him up on both the inside and out. He had just such an idea in mind if only his brother would hurry. Good job his brother was on his own. He was sure Heath wouldn't mind. Business could be conducted tomorrow, providing the weather didn't get any worse. A blizzard threatened. Just as he had decided, he heard the whistle sound the arrival of the snow covered train. It was clear that the journey had met its own fair share of bad weather. Heath was probably just as cold from sitting on the unheated train as Nick was standing waiting for it. Nick felt a momentary twang of guilt, but let it slip quickly, his mind now set on his evening plan.
The passengers started to alight and Nick looked out for his kid brother, looking for the blond hair that was so unlike his own. Didn't matter that they didn't look alike, they were brothers in the truest and best sense of the word. He smiled broadly, warm breath escaping from his red lipped mouth into the cold air, when he saw his brother alight in his favourite green jacket and hat, his outfit topped by a thick old woollen scarf he recognised as one their mother had knitted Heath when he first came to them and the gloves Nick gave him four Christmasses ago. His brother was frugal from his upbringing and made use of everything he had, reluctant to throw anything away despite his relative new wealth.
Heath spotted Nick bounding up the platform to greet him and prepared for the huge bear hug which he knew he would get. Nick loved outwardly and affectionately and didn't care who saw it. Heath felt himself lifted up with ease and swung around like a new bride. "Heath boy! It's good to see you. How's the family, how's Mother, how's Meg, how's those damned cute nephews and nieces of mine?"
"Good, good, good and good." Heath answered like a man of few words. Truth was he was freezing despite the warmth of his brother's greeting and needed something to generate some inner warmth. In so far as that his mind was thinking the same as Nick's.
"Let's get outta here and get to somewhere I know where we can get a drink and out of this cold." Nick suggested. "Later we can go to the hotel. You're bunking with me."
The sound of the saloon sounded just fine to Heath. His throat warmly anticipated the warm amber nectar of a shot of whisky trickling slowly down his throat, warming him from the inside. He started a cough on the journey here, a sure sign that he was starting a cold. Picking up his bag, which Nick promptly took from him the cowboy brothers sauntered down the platform and the main street, Nick guiding the way. They'd walked for about ten minutes when Nick took a detour off the main street. Heath followed, trusting his brother's navigation of the unfamiliar and snow covered streets. They stopped outside a bordello.
"Niiicckk!" Heath exclaimed. He was newly married to Meg. Just standing outside the fancy bordello made him feel guilt by association.
"Oh come on," Nick said with some frustration. "This is for me, not for you. But you know what, you can get a drink and a game of poker here just as sure as you can do at the saloon. It's just more nicely furnished if you know what I mean."
"I can see that," said Heath glancing into the foyer and the girls furnishing the mens' laps. "It ain't the kind of furnishing I was expectin'."
"Oh don't get all pure as the driven snow on me! I'm not asking you to partake of what's on offer. Just leave that to your older brother. Look I don't have a cute wife at home and I'm cold and hungry and in need of a little ....."
"I'm not telling you to be a saint, Nick. Just promise me one thing. Don't let Meg hear about me being here, ya hear!"
"You have my solemn word, Heath. Now let's go inside. It's freezing out here. We stand here any longer and....well let's just say I'm frozen right down to my longjohns."
"Your longjohns, huh?" Heath smirked.
"Get in there!" Nick snorted, not letting Heath's joke go any further.
The two brothers climbed the steps and made their way inside. A young woman stepped forward and immediately took their jackets and hats. Nick grinned broadly, Heath gave a shy smile of thanks. It wasn't that he hadn't been inside one of these places before, it was just that he was married now, and happily so. That changed things. Changed things permanently in his eyes. He resolved to just sit down, get a bite to eat, something to drink and perhaps a game of poker as his brother had suggested whilst Nick.. hmm... took care of his business.
Unaware that he seemed hesitant, Nick patted him on the back and almost threw him into the room. Heath stumbled foward and into the lush bosom of one of the girls. "Excuse me Miss," Heath spluttered in his soft, attractive drawl. Immediately, the girl wanted to know him more about him and she didn't mean his mind. The boy wore pants so tight she didn't have to think hard about what was inside.
"That's alright handsome. If it was me, I'd do you for free, but business is business. If you want me, you got to pay." Heath flushed with embarrassment and heard Nick laugh raucuously from behind. He felt the top of his vest grabbed back by Nick pulling him free from the exchange and the valley that dwelled between those breasts!
"My little brother isn't looking. He's got a pretty wife at home and just wants to get some food and a drink."
"Food! Drink! We ain't a hotel!" The woman sqawked.
"No ma'am. I know. But ya see, my brother here has just got into town. Look at him. He's cold, he's hungry. Surely you could rustle up something for him to eat. That is whilst I take care of business."
"Business you say," the woman was interested again. "You're looking for some company, cowboy?"
"Yes ma'am, I sure am."
"Well, I suppose I could arrange for some food, though it seems a shame. You're brother sure is a handsome one."
"As is his older brother," Nick grinned, flashing her a seductive smile.
"Mmmm," the woman liked what she saw. "And not shy in coming forward either."
"Be in the wrong place, ma'am, if I was." Nick replied equally seductively.
That decided the woman. "You wait here cowboy. I'll just show your brother where he can eat. You and I can talk business upstairs."
"Sure can. I don't reckon you'll be disappointed."
Heath sighed at the exchange. He didn't reckon he could listen to anymore smooth talking, big brother style. He allowed him to be escorted to the kitchen where the woman sat him down at large table, and grabbed a plate of stew from a large pan on the stove."
"Thank you, Miss. I reckon I coulda eaten in the dining area though."
"Not with your looks, you couldn't. My girls wouldn't have left you alone."
Heath spluttered on his stew. "You.. you own this place?"
"Sure do, handsome."
"Then you don't?"
"Oh I'm fussy. That's why I was interested in you. Now I'm interested in your brother. Tell me. How does your brother like ..." the rest of the suggestion she whispered into his ear.
Heath spluttered again, choking this time on a piece of meat. The woman patted him on the back and gave him a glass of water.
"Not his style, huh?" The woman ventured, tracing a line down the valley of her breasts which Heath's eyes easily followed. He tried to blank out the image and think only of Meg. His love soon returned to his thoughts, never really having gone away.
"Boy Howdy, my brother wouldn't want it any other way." He whispered something into her ear and the woman broke into a laugh.
"He does, does he? Adventuresome, ain't he. Well I better not disappoint him then. Enjoy your food, handsome. You should be left in peace here. I'll have Frank send you in a bottle of whisky on the house. You're just too handsome to charge. Meanwhile, I got business to discuss with your brother. Don't worry I'll return him in the morning after I've done with him. There's a cot out back you can use. I'd doubt you'll make it across to the hotel in this blizzard."
Heath thanked her, helping himself to a slice of bread from the loaf she had left him.
"Yes ma'am." Heath responded with a half-smile.
"She's a lucky woman."
"No ma'am. I'm a lucky man."
"Like I said, she's a lucky woman."
"Sean and Thomas Barkley Turn Eight"
1882 Heath's eldest twins celebrate their eighth birthday and Thomas receives an unexpected surprise
After an enthusiastic rendition of "Happy Birthday" from the children and adults, the twins each took in a huge breath which filled their cheeks to bursting and together they put all their effort into blowing their shared candles out. Without any help they managed to extinguish them all. Their faces were beaming with their achievement. In the past their father had to help blow them out, this year they had managed it all on their own. Still beaming, Thomas was about to turn around in his chair to where his father was standing when he felt his left cheek attacked by Polly Jamieson who had gotten off her chair to plant a big wet kiss on the boy's face.
Both Heath, whose thirtieth birthday it was too, and Nick, who was standing next to his brother, tried to stifle a spontaneous laugh as they watched Thomas' stunned face break out into a blush sweet with embarrassment. Thomas, the quieter of the twins and sharing so many characteristics and facial expressions as his father, didn't know what to say. With his hand clasping his cheek he got off his chair, leaving Sean to finish taking the candles off the cake, and walked over to his father who was desperate to keep a straight face for his rather serious and offended young boy.
Thomas tugged desperately at his his father's tight pant leg and beckoned with his hand for his father to bend down. Heath did as he was instructed. "Papa! Polly Jamieson just kissed me!" The sound of shock and indignation was accute. "Why did she do that, Papa?"
Nick eavesdropped on the conversation as Heath explained to his son. "Well son, I reckon she did it because she likes you."
"Does that mean I have to kiss her back?"
This time the curve of a smile could not be deflected from Heath's lips. "Well, not if you don't want to. I reckon you can just accept it as a gift."
"But she already brought me a present. Do I need to give that one back?"
Nick coughed to disguise his desperate need to laugh.
"Well no, that was her gift to you, too." Heath explained, kicking Nick in the shin, causing Nick to hobble away. "Did you thank her for it?"
Thomas nodded, confirming he had. His face was still flushed by what had happened. "Does that mean I have to thank her for the kiss?"
Nick who had returned was forced to walk away again. This was too good.
"No son," Heath coughed, trying to keep serious. "I think it's best left," his voice suddenly growing deeper with the effort to keep solemn and sympathetic. "Tell me, has Polly tried to kiss you before?"
Thomas shook his head vigourously sending his mop of soft blond hair flying through the air before settling again. Father and son looked and sounded so much like each other.
Heath gave a sigh of relief. "Well then, let's go back to the table so you can enjoy your birthday cake before Sean eats it all. Remember to give your guests a slice first." Thomas wasn't too sure he wanted to return to the table at all. He felt safer standing with his father.
"But what if I give a piece of cake to Polly and she kisses me again?"
"Well, son. Then we need to have a further talk."
Nick watched his brother and nephew return to the table and Heath pick Thomas up so he could get back up on his chair. Then Heath stood protectively with his hands on Thomas' shoulders whilst Meg cut the cake and Sean began distributing half of it to his side of the table.
Next it came to Thomas' turn to pass the cake to the guests on his side. He watched the cake pass down one by one until it came to the moment he had to hand one to Polly. By this time his father was standing with his arms crossed and a hand partially covering his worried mouth. Thomas looked back to his father and received the unspoken encouragement he sought to pass Polly a slice of cake. Polly took it greedily.
Thomas breathed a sigh of relief. He was safe. Polly was more interested in the cake than him. He settled down to eat his own slice of cake, a big piece that was really far too big for his tummy. He was about to bite into it when all of a sudden Polly got down off her chair quickly and planted another kiss on his cheek, this time with her arms around his neck giving no hint of letting go. The act caused the cake to squash between their two faces and worse, not a bite entered Thomas' mouth.
"Papa!" He panicked.
To a chorus of laughing from both his brothers now, Heath stepped forward to extricate his son from the amorous little lady's clutches. Thomas, cake plastered to the side of his face and down his clothes scrambled up into his arms like a boy of five, no longer the little man who had just turned eight. Oblivious to his brothers problems, Sean continued to feed his face with another slice of cake.
"Son," Heath soothed, rubbing his son's back to calm him down. "I think we need to get you cleaned up and then later you and I need to talk."
It was a touching father and son moment until Nick creamed a bit of cake off his nephew's face. "What?" he defended when Heath threw him an appalled look. "You know I like birthday cake! Seems a shame to waste it."