Saturday, August 27, 2022

Moon Feather: Part 54: Unreasonable Expectations


Though he was loath to admit it, he had to hand it to her. Joey was vexingly adept at hiding her trail. Or maybe she was adept at not making one in the first place. She weighed about as much as the feathers he’d named her for, and those soft-soled moccasins she favored wouldn’t make much of an impression in the dirt. If he was right about the trees around her camp, she was also capable of masking her passage as the work of animals. He spent the better part of two hours searching for her until the light of day started waning into dusk. He doubled back to the house to get a lantern and headed out again.

Surprisingly, it was snoring that gave her away. He eventually found a wooded area a couple of miles from the house, determining it was probably the most likely place for her to hide. He hadn’t bothered calling her name, knowing all it would do would alert her to his location. He had been wandering around silently for about half an hour when the soft purr of her snores hit his ears. Following the sound, he held up the lantern until he found an especially thick branch just above his head, that turned out to be a slumbering Joey, propped up against the trunk of the tree, legs stretched out over the limb. 

The urge to yank her out of the tree and throw her over Hippolyta’s withers was certainly tempting, but he didn’t want to hurt her unduly. She wasn’t quite out of reach, but so many things could go wrong, especially if she fought him. Instead, he pulled Hippolyta up just under the branch, ready to catch her if she fell.

“Would ya please come down from there?” he said wearily, watching her.

The snoring stopped and Joey’s eyes popped open, her gaze traveling to his face. There was irritation there. He could see it even in the dim light of the lantern. There was something else, too, something he couldn’t quite place.

“Why?” she said petulantly, lip slightly curled.

Everett huffed with annoyance. “Because, as satisfyin’ as yankin’ ya outta that damned tree’d be, I don’t actually wanna hurt you.”

She glared. “Don’t you, though?”

He gave her a dry look. “Gal, don’t you try and hornswoggle me into believin’ ya don’t know the difference atween a whoopin’ and real harm. That dog won’t hunt. Ya ain’t put up this much fuss about it afore,” he said, resting his arm on the saddle horn.

“Before you weren’t tryin’ to beat me for stupid bullshit that wasn’t even my fault!” she snapped. 

“It ain’t even about that no more. It’s about a whole heap’a things now!” he snapped back. 

“What do you want from me, Everett?” she yelled. 

Everett blinked, taken aback. “What d’ya mean?”

She swung down from the tree branch, hanging briefly from her right arm before hitting the ground with a soft thump. “What. Do you. Want. From me?”

He backed Hippolyta up a bit and dismounted. “I want you ta listen ta me.”

“I’m trying!” she said, the despair in her voice cutting him to the quick.

He took a step toward her. “I can’t protect you if ya don’t heed me.”

“I didn’t ask you to!” she shrieked, slamming her fists into his chest. He backed up in surprise. “I didn’t ask for any of this!” Tears filled her eyes glistening in the lantern’s glow. “I didn’t choose to come here! I didn’t even have a choice in marrying you!” She slapped his chest and stuck her finger accusingly in his face. “I certainly didn’t ask to be harassed and physically assaulted by a bunch of assholes I don’t even know over something I had nothing to do with!”

Joey was very much crying now, but it didn’t detract from her fury. It only added to his own heartache. He reached out to embrace her but she stepped back. 

“I’m not from here, Everett! Since I woke up here, I’ve been chased, shot, whipped, held hostage!” She threw up her hands. “I’ve killed! Again!” she sobbed, covering her face with her hands. “I don’t know anyone, Everett. Anyone. I don’t even really know what you’re saying half the time. Everything I knew is gone. For fuck’s sake, I’m a ranch hand masquerading as an experimental archaeologist trapped a hundred and fifty years in the past! We’re lucky I haven’t lost my goddamned mind, but you expect me to just discard twenty five years of my existence and experiences to fit into your social mores when I don’t even know what they are!” she cried, dropping to her knees. “Do you know what I studied in school? Neolithic man. The fucking stone age. Not the small town politics of the fucking wild west, so forgive me, if, after two weeks, I’m not the shining example of a Victorian housewife.” She let out a few shuddering breaths. “So, tell me, Everett. What do you want from me?” 

She fell back onto her bottom then, tucking her knees into her chest as she sobbed more violently than he’d ever seen her do. Everett took a deep breath and went to scoop her up into his arms. He sat back against the trunk of the tree where no roots protruded from the ground and settled Joey sideways in his lap, pushing her head to his shoulder as she cried. He held her gently, stroking her hair and back while his other hand held her at the hip.

He supposed he hadn’t really given much thought to what it would mean if her story were true. It had been a passing notion in the midst of his selfish desires, but he had never really considered what it was to be stolen away from everything you once knew and dropped into something wholly unfamiliar. Even when he came west, the trappings of his world were still there. And he was certainly no stranger to the wilderness or the evils of men. The hearts of women were perhaps a mystery to him, one he’d avoided investigating until this little firebrand crossed his path. 

He had accepted her story, or he thought he had, but he had never properly considered the ramifications beyond his own fears. He never once thought about her fears. Perhaps he had been jaded by the war, or perhaps it was because, up to now, she had seemed so utterly fearless. Nothing frightened her. Not him. Not the Harmons. Not the bandits. Not the prospect of her own death. She met everything with the fierce confidence of a mountain lion, queen of her domain. And while he often found it infinitely frustrating, he also admired her for it.

“Maybe,” he said when her bawling had subsided into watery sniffles, “I been a tetch more demandin’ than I got right ta be.”

The soft snort she made in response gave him some hope. 


If you would like a glossary of western slang used in this story, here is the reference I'm using: Western Slang, Lingo, and Phrases – A Writer’s Guide to the Old West     

Wicked Wednesday

1 comment:

  1. Tears stung my eyes reading Joey's breakdown here! Great writing :)
    ~ Marie xox