Jeremiah has special plans for his lover for Christmas. His Charles has been laid up with a bad leg, so a trip into town together is impossible. Jeremiah is determined to meet the train to bring Charles the happiest holiday possible, but he has to brave weather no Texan should have to face.
Charles thinks Jeremiah should have stayed at home, and when his man isn't back where he belongs in good time, Charles fights the storm to bring him back. Can oranges and peppermints make the season bright for this frozen pair?
"You ain't thinking on riding out, is you?" Catter McCloud stared at him from the depot office, odd light eyes enough to give a man the jitters.
Jeremiah Bridey didn't bother answering; of course he was gonna ride out. The supply train'd come, finally, trundling through the snow with the most horrible burps and squeaks, smelling like Lucifer’s ass itself. Jeremiah'd stood in the bitter, bitter cold with all the rest of them, buying what he could afore the others stripped the ironclad dry.
He'd told Charles that it was gonna be a bad 'un, dammit. Early and cold. Them steers in pasture was as wooly as big ole red sheep and the critters went into hiding right early – they'd had fine luck and had meat for the winter, what with them wild pigs and that bear the size of an Abilene’s madam’s backside, but still. When the bear were heading to ground afore the leaves came off the trees, it weren't good. Charles, though, that man weren't scairt of nothing – weather nor Injuns nor strangers coming to make trouble and the man'd just swatted him on the backside real hard, laughed at him like he was a dadburned fool.
"You worry like an old woman," Charles had said, before hauling him out to the woods to get to chopping and stacking them some wood. There'd been bacon to smoke and hunting to do and that little bed to make groan and creak with their business.
Him and Charles had themselves a lot of business.
Course that was afore the ground froze solid and Charles had wandered down next to the creek and had hisself a bad fall. Lord, lord. Two day ride outside of any good doctoring help and Charles just screaming with it, one of them big old tree trunk legs all twisted up and bent wrong and what if Charles had fallen into the creek and drowned and shit…
Lord, save 'em, and thank Jesus the train stopped at their depot.
"That storm ain't gonna let up, you know? That ole Injun woman had visions on it, was all growling and foaming and stuff." Catter made the sign of the evil eye and they all did it, six full grown men washed in the blood, acting like gypsies and blushing as they did. Preacher Johnson would’ve took a switch to him, back in the day.
"That crazy old woman ain't said nothin' sensible in thirty year. She's tetched. Ain't no harm in her though. You men best get on home to your women." Old Franc stomped in, growled and spit. The depot seemed smaller then, Franc filling up every space that didn't have something there already. Jeremiah laughed under his breath as the boys all took to scattering, making excuses and saddling up, leaving him and Franc and Catter alone. That big old black beard and web of scars that had taken one eye completely away made the man look plumb scary, even though everyone in fifty miles knew there weren't a kinder man on Earth. Hell, Franc even went over to see them damned heathens with food.
'Course, rumor was that Franc had himself a little squaw and a bunch of little brown babies, but that was neither here nor there. Live and let live, that was his motto.
"I heard tell Charles took hisself one hell of a tumble, eh?" That one black eye was like a coal just burning away, staring into him and Jeremiah forced himself not to look away, not to shudder.
"Yessir. Busted his leg but good. 's why I cain't stay." Charles was needing him.
"You tell him we're thinking on him and I need him all whole when spring comes." They'd made a nice bargain, between their Morgans and Franc's oxen, they worked the land right easy.
"We'll be there for you." Lord. He needed to get his ass on Buck and get a move on.
A little fullcloth bag was pressed into his hand, something rattling in there. "Peppermints. I got them when I drove the Parker boys in."
"That's mighty kind of you, sir." Charles would hoot and pull out one of the little jugs that he'd brought over from Kentucky when he'd left the east behind. Then they'd warm that whiskey up and let a candy melt away in it.
"Happy Christmas, eh? Think of old Franc when the thaw comes. We'll have ourselves a dance."