Marian and her husband helped little Leon and his grandmother back to their tent without comment, and then gave the old woman a generous spray from their dwindling supply of mosquito repellant.
“Don’t get it in my face,” she demanded, flapping her hands to disperse the stuff. “I can’t breathe.”
Little Leon took advantage of her discomfort and ran to the big boys’ tents where Peter and Leon welcomed him with identical grimaces. “Did you poop in the woods?” he asked them, wide-eyed. “My grandmother had to go back to the house.”
“No, we didn’t poop in the woods,” Peter said. “Now, be quiet if you want to stay with us.”
“Will you be all right here on your own?” Marian asked little Leon’s grandmother after the old woman crawled shakily into the tent, and after seeing her struggle to get into the sleeping bag.
The old lady muttered something and turned on her side, facing away from her. It sounded like “…to suck eggs” to Marian as she worked her way back out the tent opening. When she told her husband he laughed. “She said she’s fine,” he said. “Let’s get back to our own tent. I want to show you something.”
But on returning he fell over Ellison who was still outside his tent on his sleeping bag. Bishop caught himself on his hands and was able to keep most of his weight off the young idiot who thought sleeping in the open was such a great idea, but he still fell onto him.
Then, “Get off me!”
“I’m trying. Keep still and give me a chance.”
Ellison forced himself to lie still. True to his word, Mr. Bishop extricated himself pretty quickly without doing any harm. Why couldn’t it have been Marcia falling into his arms like that, he groused as Bishop grunted and scooted and quickly stood up.
The couple apologized and moved back to their own tent, Mr. Bishop taking advantage of his bruises to lean heavily on his wife who clearly enjoyed the contact. Ellison sat up and looked toward Marcia’s tent. He couldn’t see anything. He wasn’t sure Marcia was even in her tent anymore. And he was supposed to keep her safe.
Ellison stood up. Getting his feet tangled in the sleeping bag almost proved his undoing, but he was able to maintain his balance; he looked like a human windmill for a minute, but he stayed upright.
He made his way carefully to Marcia’s tent. And he was right. She wasn’t there.
END OF EXCERPT. THE COWBOY’S BABY COPYRIGHTED 2010 BY GRETCHEN RIX. Photos by Roxanne Rix.
WHAT I READ THIS WEEK: Died On A Rainy Sunday by Joan Aiken.