Disclaimer is stated fully in Part One of Mater amata.

Mater amata - Part Three

A beautiful table. A friendly hearth. Fresh bread and meats. Good drink. And fine friends. Nettie Welles stood behind Vin Tanner, her hands on the trapper's shoulders as Judge Travis offered the blessing. While he thanked the good Lord for the bounty they enjoyed, Nettie silently thanked God for protecting this young man. Her surrogate son. When she opened her eyes, they landed on the boy sitting beside her niece. She knew the burden he was carrying. He'd taken a life, and hadn't even had a week to get through it. But he was bearing up well. Quieter, but he was still sticking close to his friends. That was a good sign. She patted Vin's shoulder then took her place at the table. "Looks great, Miss Nettie," Nathan said, smiling and handing the basket of bread to Josiah. Ezra folded his napkin fastidiously. "It is indeed an extraordinary repast. So unusual in this . . . area." Nettie grinned. "Not bad for a 'wizened old crone'." Laughter erupted at the table. And the gambler flushed with embarrassment. But he recovered easily, standing gallantly, and, with a flourish, he raised his glass. "Touche, Miss Welles. You have the distinction of being one of the few to 'get the upper hand' on me." He swept his graceful arm across the table. "My friends, to our hostess . . ." Everyone lifted a glass. ********************************************************************** Casey was so excited. She could hardly eat, she was talking so fast. Mary smiled at the innocence of the young crush. JD Dunne was absolutely blind to it. Buck was amused, but as Casey started talking about the shooting, he sensed the awkwardness descend over the table. "So, JD just whips out his colts . . ." The young girl mimed the action of a gunslinger making a quick draw. "And before you could blink . . ." Nettie interrupted her niece. "I don't think this is proper Thanksgiving conversation." Her voice was sharp, but her eyes were gentle. "But . . ." Casey was incredulous. "We're all thankful that he saved Vin. And that he was so . . . fast. He outdrew a real gunfighter. A gunfighter that can never take another life." Her voice grew soft. She hadn't noticed that JD was looking down at his plate, his black hair hiding troubled eyes. "I'm thankful that that man is six feet under." "Casey!" Nettie said. "What?!" Casey was confused. JD didn't look up. His voice was husky. "Uh . . . may I be excused, Miss Nettie?" "What?!" Now Casey was angry - embarrassed . . . Josiah stood. "Yes, Ma'am, I need to be excused as well. I have promised our Seminole friends to ride out there tonight. JD - I'd like a companion on the trip." Nettie smiled her dear smile. "Certainly. But I insist that you take some dinner with you." JD worked to collect himself before looking up and meeting Nettie's eyes. "Thanks." He tried to say it, but it didn't quite come out. He stood quickly, nodded to her, and left quickly. Everyone around the table sat in stunned silence. Casey's eyes filled. Nettie slipped out for a moment and returned with a sack of biscuits and some meat. She handed it to Josiah. He nodded and left. "What did I do?" Casey asked, her voice giving way to sobs. She ran off into her room, Mary following her. "Growing up is so hard," Nettie observed. ********************************************************************* Josiah and JD rode in silence - comfortable silence. JD appreciated that. Josiah wouldn't make him talk things out. And he didn't want to. He rode in the chilled air. Everything was intense: the cold, his breath in the air, the feel of every step the horse took. He was sensitive to every nuance of his surroundings. And that included the absence of his mother. He suddenly felt very lonely. Josiah let him be.