In a Moment of Anger
Summary: My muse decided to
take up a challenge issued by bvfan61 in The Corral. Based on the strength of the bond
between Nick and Heath. During a heated argument Nick uses the phrase
"your kind". Immediately realizing his mistake, can he fix
(This story was posted in The Corral based on ideas from my muse, I'll be fleshing out each chapter before posting here, Behind Closed Doors.)
Timeframe note, this story reference events in Forty Rifles and Boots with My Father's Name, and is set shortly thereafter.
Without any trials on the court docket, Jarrod had offered to help out on the range; even though he knew Nick’s first response would make reference to his ‘lily-white hands’. The brothers had all laughed before they set out for the day. They worked well together, almost as if this brother had always been there. Little needed to be said each knew instinctively what was required, even if one was a little slower in getting it done.
It had been ages since Jarrod put in such long physical hours; who would have thought there would be so much work to be done after the trail drive. He should have known better. The majority of their ranch hands had been away for five weeks and even with Nick’s premature return, only minimal work had been accomplished.
Nick had done well to hide from Mother that he wasn’t really up to working full time. Sure, Doctor Merar had given him a clean bill of health, said the leg was healed, but there were times where it felt as if someone were jabbing a straight pin into the incision the doctor had made to remove the bullet. And late at night, when he’d try to roll over in his bed, the muscle would spasm. Throughout the day, his responsibilities kept him busy enough to ignore his discomfort, but by late afternoons his leg muscles would start cramping. Something he tried desperately to hide from his brothers.
Ciego had ridden out to where the brothers were working with a message for Jarrod. Without explanation, he left his brothers to finish clearing the watering hole as he rode for home.
Victoria shoed him immediately upstairs to bathe before she’d consider talking to him.
A half hour later, Jarrod sat behind his desk in the study with Victoria on the other side, an envelope in her hand.
“You sent for me?” Jarrod’s fingers were interlaced, his forearms resting on the edge of his desk.
“I did. I… I wanted to know how things are progressing.”
“Progressing? Now Mother, though I enjoy the respite from such strenuous work, surely you didn’t ask me back home for something so mundane. We pretty much bring you up-to-date on everything before dinner.”
“No, I guess not.” Victoria looked around the room, before sitting further back into the chair.
Jarrod walked around his desk to sit in the chair next to his mother, and took one of Victoria’s hands.
“How are things going between Nick and Heath?” The paper crumpled in her other hand, indicating her distress.
“Not quite as well as things were right after Heath’s return from the cattle drive to San Diego. You know Nick was on a ‘high’ that the journey was successful. You know how he was over the ranchers boasting that he was a chip off the old block after making more money than they had thought possible.” Looking carefully to Victoria, he continued, “Even so, we should still expect them to butt heads every now and then.” Victoria appeared hesitant to say anything. “Heath has some new ideas on how to handle some of the irrigation problems Nick’s been trying to solve. He’s also proposed a different rotation on which pastures to use in order to better feed the various herds. Of course, some of it is contrary to father’s management style."
“I imagine that’s not going over well with Nick.” Victoria deeply sighed.
“He’s trying mother, but there are times where I see him revert back to how it was before the drive.” Arching his brows, “Why don’t you tell me what has you so concerned.”
Slapping the appaloosa into the stall, “Glad to have that job done,” Nick called out, his limp obvious as he shut the door. Taking a moment, he massaged his leg while his brother wasn’t looking.
Placing his saddle on the rack, “Nick, I’ve been looking over the cattle books you keep and I have some ideas on how to cross breed them….”
Cringing after slapping his gloves against his aching thigh, “Heath, the money from the cattle drive is already earmarked for other projects on this ranch. Just because you feel it would be advantageous doesn’t mean it’s right. There’s a lot that goes into running this ranch that you don’t know.” Taking a deep breath, he walked away as normal as possible.
Tagging along, Heath attempted to offer to take on more responsibility. “Nick, I…”
Turning sharply, Nick jabbed a finger into his brother’s chest, “I said drop it!” Tired from long days in the saddle and pained from his leg, and unable to contain his frustration, his words were perceived as anger by his new brother. Proceeding to the house, “I’m claiming the tub.”
Shaking his head, Heath made his way to the corrals.
“Jarrod, I never expected…” tears welled in Victoria’s eyes. “I told you about the offer I made to Heath’s aunt and uncle…”
“Yes, you told me about the attempted extortion by the Simmons, but what does that have to do with the letter you’re holding.”
“This letter if from Heath’s Aunt Martha, she’s claiming that unless we pay her the five thousand dollars, she’ll go to the law and tell them how Heath murdered the man who ambushed us.”
“What’s this about an ambush?!” Throwing the door the rest of the way open, Nick barged into the room.
Rising rapidly to his feet, “Nick, this is a private conversation between Mother and I.”
“Someone takes a shot at my mother and you call it private?!”
“Nick please, lower your voice,” Victoria beseeched.
Strolling to the tray where he kept his best brandy, Nick poured two-fingers and turned to face his brother, and waited.
Knowing his stubborn brother, “Heath took care of the man who tried to ambush Mother and Heath on their way home from Strawberry, the day of the commemoration ceremony for father.”
Gulping the contents of the glass, “So why am I just now learning about this?”
“Because we thought everything was taken care of,” Victoria answered.
“Taken care of.” Nick slammed his fist against the mantle of the fireplace. “Tell me what else you hid from me.”
Taking a deep breath, Victoria looked to her eldest and at his barely perceptible nod, she conveyed everything that happened while she was in Strawberry, ending with the letter she had received the day before. As the account progressively worsened, Nick clinched his jowl.
“Nick,” Heath stuck his head into the room, “you made it to the tub yet?”
Oblivious to the light-hearted banter from the new arrival, Nick threw the glass into the fireplace, turned, his eyes on his younger brother, “Damn your kind!” Storming from the room, he pushed his brother aside.
Leaving his family behind, Nick never looked back into the room to see the devastation on the faces of those inside.
In stark contrast to his brother, a weary Heath made his way to the kitchen, grabbing a few biscuits from a bowl on the countertop before making his way up the back stairs.
Worriedly, Victoria and Jarrod waited in the parlor, hoping for the rest of the family to join them for a few minutes before Silas would announce that dinner was ready.
Sweeping into the room, Audra inquired, “Where are the boys?”
“Mister Heath said he weren’t hungry. I don’t know about Mister Nick.” Silas answered as he entered the room. “I can hold the meal.”
“Please Silas,” Victoria answered.
Taking his cue from the expression on his mother’s face, Jarrod quietly stated, “I’ll go see about the boys.”
In the upstairs hallway, Jarrod paused outside a door. Knowing he had no explanation, he strolled to the second doorway and knocked.
“What?!” came gruffly.
Turning the knob, Jarrod entered.
Rising from having lain flat on his bed, Nick’s voice warned, “Keep your speech to yourself,” while he leaned down to pull on his boots.
“No speech. How’s your leg?”
Surprised that that was the first question, the edge to his voice subsided, “Hurts.”
“Maybe if you worked part-time out on the range and then came back to the house in the afternoons to keep the books up to date might help.”
“Doc cleared me,” Nick bluntly answered.
Raising both hands in submission, conveying his didn’t want to fight, “It was just a suggestion to keep Mother from finding out you’re not as fit as you pretend to be. I’ve known you your whole life, and I can tell when you’re not one hundred percent.”
With a half-hearted grin, “I’ll take your counsel under advisement.”
“Brother Nick, I am curious about what that was all about downstairs earlier.”
“Besides finding out mother’s life was in jeopardy….after the fact?” Feeling guilty because there was nothing he could do, even if he had known what happened sooner. Hanging his head, “I don’t know.”
Looking on the picture of dejection that was his brother. “Even before downstairs, it seems the two of you are slipping back to how it was before the drive.”
“I know. I just can’t help myself.” Standing, Nick walked to look out the window, taking pride in the ranch he had inherited after his father’s murder. “He’s got some good ideas….”
Jarrod didn’t question or accuse, just responded, “But it’s not how father would have managed the ranch is it.”
“No.” Resting his arm against the window frame, his posture was a mixture of anger and guilt.
Walking to the desk in his brother’s room, Jarrod observed the items and casually turned the pages of the calendar to the day’s date. With a rapid intake of breath and his heart wildly beating in his chest, his fingers pressed to the number on the page.
“I think I can answer my own inquiry.”
Turning, “Come again counselor?”
“Why you’re out of sorts this week. God, how could any of us have forgotten?”
“Forgotten?” For the first time since he’d learned of the events surrounding his mother’s trip to Strawberry, Nick showed interest in something other than his anger when he heard what sounded like grief in Jarrod’s voice.
“Father’s death,” Jarrod breathily answered.
“Now how do you expect me to have forgotten father’s death? I’m reminded every day I ride out and he’s not by my side.”
“Nick,” Jarrod stared, he swallowed hard. “Today is the anniversary of father’s death.”
Relaxing his stance, but appalled at having forgotten, “Damn.”
“But Heath doesn’t know. He doesn’t know how moody you get leading up to this day, how it affects you in such a manner. We all know to give you a wide berth….”
“Oh God,” Nick groaned.
“Heath has no idea why you lashed out at him.”
“I have to talk to him.” Nick pushed past his brother and jogged down the hall. Without knocking, he turned the door knob, calling, “Heath….” and entered the empty room.
Quick hands to his younger brother’s shoulders, Jarrod said, “I’ll check the barn,” and Nick was left alone.
“Nick?” Victoria called from the end of the hallway.
“What I said….” Nick turned to face his mother. “I didn’t mean it.”
Slowly approaching her most volatile child, “Oh, Nick. Don’t say that. You meant it, but maybe not at the one who received the brunt of your anger.” Stopping to stare up into his face, a hand reaching out as if to comfort. “You were angry and upset over past events that we had kept from you.”
“Damn straight I’m mad that you didn’t tell me about your being ambushed.”
“Who were you mad at? Us for keeping this from you or the man who attempted to shoot Heath and myself?”
“Are you sure?”
Ducking his head, “No.”
“And then I informed you of the blackmail letter from Heath’s aunt. And in anger, you turned on your brother.”
“I was mad at his aunt, not at him.” Nick looked into his mother’s eyes. “Okay, I was upset that it was his…his other family. They’re nothing but….”
“Nicholas,” Victoria’s voice rose as she held up a finger to stop her son from finishing his sentence.
“How can I make this right?”
“I can’t answer that for you. That’s something you’ll need to figure out for yourself. But I will tell you this, get any and all anger out of your system before you confront your brother."
“Nick!” Jarrod ran up the back steps.
Looking over his mother’s head, Nick answered, “How long ago did he leave?”
“Ciego said it’s been almost three hours.”
“Nick!” Victoria warned.
“It’ll not apologize for my language. It’s my fault he’s gone.” Strolling past his mother, “I’ll get saddled and trail after him.”
“Nick, it’s dark.” Jarrod reached out for his grieving brother. “Let’s get everything organized tonight so we can head out at first light.”
“Did Ciego say which direction he went?”
“Strawberry?” Victoria inquired.
“Yes. He’s going home.”
“NO! Damn it!” growled Nick. “Strawberry is not his home. Not anymore. If father had been a better man, he would have made sure that Heath was raised here!” Pointing to the floor, “By my side!”
Pushing between his brother and mother, Nick ran down the back stairs and to the barn.
(Author's Note: Okay, so he didn’t immediately realize it, but this is Nick we’re talking about.)
Link to Chapter 2