Christmas Story - Oregon Way part 3a

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Christmas Story - Oregon Way part 3a

Post by Ranger52899 on Fri Dec 21, 2018 12:54 pm

3a 








21st December

 

 

 

            It was about the same by breakfast time, in the even chintzier dining room downstairs. Seated at a blurred brown table with a blur of objects on the table, with calm firmly and virtuously on his mind, Dale ate toast and fruit rather than brave anything involving a knife and fork. They set out on the road by nine, and Flynn turned west out of town. Driving without being able to make sense of images at speed was not a pleasant experience. After a few minutes of trying, Dale returned to the dark glasses and kept his eyes closed. Flynn wasn’t encouraging chat either. Something about resting. With nothing to look at and no possibility of talking, Dale surrendered and dozed some more through the morning. It was about three hours before Flynn put a hand over to his knee and roused him.

“This is Council Bluffs. Isn’t this the official trail jumping on point?”

“It’s one of them. One of the big ones.” Dale straightened up in his seat, stretching. The museum in Jackson held plenty of information on the trail, some of which were in their archive documents he’d spent some time poring over on spare afternoons, and this was a place he’d read about. “This was a big supply town. And the gathering point.”

“For what? Wagon trains collecting?”

“Yes, but mostly they were wintering here or gathering waiting. Until the grass was long enough to feed stock, they couldn’t start out on the trail or the animals starved on the way. What does it look like?”

Flynn made a non committal sound. “I hate to tell you kid; it looks most like any other city around here. And frosty.”

Dale had felt and heard the frost being scraped from the car this morning before they set out; it was a crisp, sharp day although a bright one.

“This is the main street by the look of it,” Flynn was slowing and a moment later Dale felt the car being parked. “The shop fronts here look a lot like Jackson. Big, square, lots of canopies. Want to walk up the street and find something to eat?”

“You’re actually going to let me walk somewhere?”

“I might if you watch that mouth.” Flynn leaned over him, unfastening his seat belt. “Stay there and wait for me; your door opens out onto the road and it’s busy.”

The vague shape and colour of cars passing by was visible as Flynn guided him around their car to the sidewalk. More vague shapes of people were distinguishable in the blur, as was the general outline of shops. Flynn helped him into his coat and put a hand through his arm, walking slower than he usually did, and Dale was aware Flynn had positioned him so that he walked between the shop fronts and walls and Flynn, sheltered from the people passing them by.

A large green canopy and the smell of coffee, a larger red blur and the shine of sun off a shop window- and abruptly Dale saw Sarah through the blur, burst out of the air ahead of him and run up the street. It was a skipping, dancing run, her excitement whirled around her, and the blur and the coffee smell was gone. Dale froze, unable to help it. Flynn’s arm closed around his waist, his voice was calm and even, which didn’t go with the worry Dale could feel pouring off him. “All right. It’s all right. What’s happening?”

But the street was gone. There was mud. Thick, brown, deep mud. Maybe twelve feet wide and stretching all the way through the town to where the open grass land started. Grass covered the far side of the road and the grass was dotted thickly with tents and wagons and carts. Small fires smoked near the wagons, the smell of wood smoke, bacon and coffee hung in the air – a harsher, sharper coffee than from the coffee shops – and a line of wooden fronted shops stood on their right, behind a wooden veranda sheltering people from the muddy road. Children sat on the edge of it, their bare feet swinging. Wagons were outside the stores, a long line of wagons, and people were heaving sacks and barrels into them. More carts and wagons made their heavy way through the mud, pulled by teams of oxen. In one uncanopied wagon, a man sat in a chair on the wagon bed while a barber cut his hair under a painted sign. People splashed through the mud to the stores across the street, weaving in between the wagons.

“Dale.”

“Sorry. It’s just Sarah. Sarah’s here.” Dale found his breath and began to walk again, slowly, feeling Flynn keep pace with him. It was shockingly, wonderfully clear, as if the blur in his physical vision had removed all distraction from – whatever the heck it was happened neurologically when What type images arrived. They were walking through the mud at the side of the road, although Dale couldn’t feel anything but the sidewalk beneath his feet. “….Her group kitted out their wagons here.” He found himself saying aloud as he made sense of it. “There are… Flynn there’s rows of them. She saw more than twenty. They’re lined up by the stores, taking on supplies. Five months of supplies, the average family took on a ton – the mud’s thick. No one’s going out onto the prairie yet, they’re all camping. Wintering here. Hundreds of them. It’s less a town than - a huge camping ground and the store fronts, not much else.”

Flynn guided him sideways, there was an iron framed chair on the sidewalk and a table in front of it. Dale took a seat gratefully, since the images weren’t slowing and it was hard to look away. The noise of the old town was louder than the rattle of traffic in the modern one. Many voices. Singing, somewhere off by the fires and the tents. Children playing. Animals, dogs barking, the lowing of cattle, the rattle of wagons and carts and somewhere the ringing of a hammer on an anvil. The sense of space – the wide open land around the shops – reminded Dale sharply and acutely of home. It was something Sarah and he had in common, something they both loved, and that was why she wanted for him to share it. Not with any distress or need, just please look? She wanted it so much, she was trying with all her might, with all the energy she had. She wanted that attention from him so strongly that like that moment he’d spent crouching on the dock in Wisconsin with her, Dale put everything else aside and focused on her entirely.

I’m here, I’m listening, go ahead. Show me. Tell me. 

Sarah reached one of the wagons and put a hand on it, looking across at him with pride. Her wagon. The seven that belonged to her were all lined up, but this, this one was the one they had slept in every night on the long way from the lakeside hamlet. This was the one she’d ridden in. The wagon was filling up now. Barrels and sacks were taking up every available space, tightly packed in, and the wagon was only long enough for Papa to lay down twice over, and wide enough that if she stretched out she could touch one side with her hands and one side with her toes. The space where their beds had been was rapidly getting crowded and their feather beds and blankets had been tightly rolled up out of the way. Mud was all over her boots, thick and oozing and mama hated it. She’d carried Sarah’s little brother, and she would have carried Sarah too but Sarah jumped down into the mud before mama could say wait, and once she was muddy there was no sense being carried any more.

The mud was glorious.

Someone brought them hot chocolate. Dale held the hot mug between his hands, vaguely aware that somewhere his hands and feet were cold, although it was a sunny spring day on the busy street he was watching with fascination. Sarah walked along the wooden veranda towards him. Small fenced paddocks marked out a few homesteads beyond the stores. Most of them were full with mules, oxen, donkeys and horses. Log cabins were ranged around a few rough streets, holding maybe ninety buildings in all. This was Kanesville. It wasn’t called Council Bluffs yet; now it was Kanesville, Sarah was clear about that, and this was a Mormon town with a post office where mama sent letters back to Grandma.

Boots. Sarah, who was always barefoot whenever Dale had seen her, held out a foot and indicated her little black laced boots to him, thick with mud. The significance of them, Dale wasn’t sure of, but he nodded grave acceptance of the fact of them as something she wanted him to acknowledge. David was walking slowly along the veranda some way behind her.

Dale looked over Sarah’s head to him in surprise. There was something slightly off kilter about the light and the speed of movement of the world around him, as if he was walking through a picture. David was more real than it was, more solid. He met Dale’s eye and Dale saw the flash of a grin, something twinkling in his face as if this was one enormous joke. Sarah grinned back at him, skipping to take his hand. David held it, looking down into her face- and abruptly a little boy ran along the veranda towards them. He was booted too, maybe a little younger than Sarah, although his face lit up at the sight of her, and he hit her arm with enthusiastic if clumsy welcome as he reached her, hopping alongside her. He was missing a front tooth, his grin at Dale was wide and his hands, his knees and his face were as muddy as his feet.  

Used to the sense of tension or jarring around someone ‘stuck’, Dale searched the child’s face with confusion. This kid was perfectly happy. His ease about being here was as lively as Sarah’s, and like her, he was a visitor. Which made David’s presence still more confusing. If nothing needed to be done for this child, what was he doing here? And then David stepped out of the picture, the muddy street vanished, and the blur of a frosty grey sidewalk dotted with people filled Dale’s vision again.

Flynn’s hand was over his. Dale turned his own hand over and gripped it, feeling Flynn’s fingers wrap around and squeeze.

“What was that?”

“Sarah. And David with another child. I have no idea why.”

“Is the child stuck?”

“No.” And everything in Dale’s gut rebelled at the thought of a child being stuck anywhere. “No, he was fine. A little boy, about Sarah’s age.”

“Another pioneer child?”

“I think so. I think Sarah knew him. She was pleased to see him.”

That was something of an understatement. He could still feel her delight.

“Was he from their train?”

The odd automatic sensations that came with thinking about these kind of things were often very swift to come, and Dale shook his head before he’d consciously realised it. There was a sense of – detachment, enough to clue him in.

“No, I don’t think so. Just that he was around here when she was.”

“What do you want to do about it?”

Flynn was familiar with this; they all were. Dale thought about, half of him focused on the need to be calm, to not move around too much, and the other half, if he was honest, straining at the leash with a whole lot of things to think about.

“I want to see if I can find him, please. Or find whatever it is they want to show me.”

Although it’s not as if I’m going to be able to see it.

But Sarah was of the ranch. He had a responsibility, and it wasn’t reserved just for when he was having good days. Apparently Sarah and David didn’t agree that a lack of clear vision rendered him useless.

Although as Jas made clear, you never had a lack of things to do. You were just annoyed that what you needed to do wasn’t the same as you had planned.  

“Finish your hot chocolate.” Flynn put the mug against his hand. It was still hot, hot enough to ward off some of the frost in the air. Dale drained it and got up, feeling Flynn’s arm slip through his.

“Which way?”

Dale waited, consciously letting his shoulders drop, his body relax, his mind empty – and the nudge at his attention was almost immediate, even without being able to see much of anything.

“That way. Over there.”

Flynn guided them across the road, weaving through the traffic. “There’s a clock tower about twenty feet ahead of us to the left. Directly in front is a car lot.”

Yes, well what was here now often made little difference to Whats. Right now he had some insight into what that was like. Dale let Flynn guide them over the dropped kerbs at the mouth of the car lot, keeping his mind clear with an effort. The pull was forward, to the right. Opposite what had been that bank of wooden stores, when this area here was filled with tents and small fires. He knew he was right when Sarah’s images began to flow again.

Papa had bought the oxen here. Six of them for each wagon, the big, slow, lumbering beasts had to take the now heavily laden wagons a long way over hard ground, so from here their horses got to walk while the oxen did the work. And two more oxen were bought for every two wagons in their party, to rotate and rest them and to be there in case any one of the team foundered on the journey. Papa had thought this out for months, talking for hours at night, with her uncles as they looked at maps and wrote lists. Some wagons were supplying up with only two ox and Papa shook his head at them. Overworking their beasts with no back up would mean a wagon and a family stranded when they were on the trail. But the inexperienced wagoners were everywhere, people who’d never driven a team or even a horse and cart. They didn’t know how to yoke their beasts or handle reins, and they drove their wagons into trees and tipped them over, and many of their wagons were cluttered high with furniture and stoves and all the things mama and papa had left behind in the hamlet by the lake. Their oxen had to get their wagon up hills so steep it would take ropes to help them, and roll them over the soft, thick dirt that lay beyond Nebraska. Just the food supplies and the wagon by itself were weight enough.

Children ran wild here. Mama looked with disapproval at the barefoot, wild haired, mud stained ones who ran in between the fires and who sat on the wooden porches with their legs dangling by the stores to watch the wagons loading up. Mama brushed Sarah’s hair twice a day and kept her plaits neatly tied, but she was busy with helping load the wagons and cleaning clothes and helping Aunt May cook dinner for all of them, and there were children everywhere to play with, and it was a wonderful town.

The boy and Sarah were sitting on the fence of one of the big corrals. It was crowded with the stock waiting to pull the wagons. A party of men from the town had ridden out a few days ago out onto the trail and were due back today to confirm whether grass was long enough all the way for wagons to head out. The town was full to bursting with people waiting. Large meetings went on around fires among the wagons where contracts were signed and rules shared out amongst the grown ups. One of those meetings was going on right now, over the road around a big wagon where a man in a black suit was shouting over the bellow of cattle and the chatter of voices to the men and women gathered around him. Most people were listening to him and paying small mind to two children sitting on the fence, scratching the backs and ears of whichever of the stock leaned against them.

One of the mules was chewing on the gate pin.

Snickers being a beggar for that, and the gate pins at Falls Chance being difficult ones to thwart him and others of the horses who had a Machiavellian knack for opening doors and gates, Dale watched the mule lip slowly and strategically, working the pin out of its socket. The boy and Sarah were watching, captivated. Inch by inch by inch, the mule patiently lipped it out, working its long tongue and soft mouth on the iron, until the pin dropped out and with a firm nudge of its head, the mule opened the gate.

None of the grown ups saw. With delight, the little boy stood up on the fence to see better as the mule strolled out of the paddock. It was followed by several other mules. And some of the cattle. Still no one noticed. The animals were straying out into the road now. The little boy on the fence took a cautious look at the grown ups around the wagon and then discreetly flapped his shirt at the cattle nearest them to get them moving. The cattle startled and having looked up from their grazing, trotted through the open gate after their peers until the big pen was empty. By the time the first of the grown ups noticed the wandering animals, they were everywhere. All over the road, stirring up the mud. Strolling up the hill towards the log cabins, several trotting towards the freedom of the open prairie beyond the road, and some straying between the fires and the tents on the grass. The road was suddenly full of grown ups, shooing and whistling and in the case of some of the women, screeching and running away from oxen following them up the street. On a bright April afternoon it was a glorious, noisy muddle, and the children on the fence watched it with deep appreciation.

The little boy on the fence met Dale’s eye with a wide, gap toothed grin. Dale crouched slowly down as he hopped off, bringing their heads to the same height. His familiarity with children – any children – was very low indeed. They were not a species he knew anything about. But the child felt around on the ground for a stone and Dale tipped his head to watch what the child scrawled in the mud beneath the fence rail in wobbly but clear letters. Clay. He beamed at Dale when he was done.

“Clay.” Dale repeated. “That’s your name?”

The beam got wider. Clay. Sarah, still perched up on the fence, gave him a nod of great satisfaction.

 

 

*

 

 

You got used to watching him do this.

It reminded Flynn of watching him listening in the ANZ meeting back at the shipyard. Quiet in body and face, his whole attention focused, taking in every detail. Even if whatever it was he was absorbing wasn’t necessarily in this time or place.

Flynn dug his hands in his pockets, standing to block the wind and the gaze of passers by from him as Dale apparently inspected the Council Bluffs guttering. With that intent expression on his face, the fact that he made a sweater, jacket and jeans look like a crisp and official uniform and the air he carried of knowing exactly what he was doing and why, no one was going to challenge him. He’d spent an entire childhood doing more or less what he wanted by looking like this; without a competent Top in the vicinity he usually got away with it.

He rose slowly, putting a hand out to the wall for balance, and Flynn put a hand through his arm.

“Done?”

“…… it seems so.” He sounded quizzical rather than convinced. Flynn drew him closer as the wind coming down the street was sharp.

“Come on. There’s a restaurant across the street, let’s get a meal and warm up.”

They were seated in the window of the restaurant, looking out at the street, and from watching Dale’s eyes and the slightly chaotic movement of them that suggested they weren’t teaming too well in processing what he saw yet, he wasn’t making out much beyond the glass. Flynn hung both their coats out of the way and put a hand over his, rubbing to get some warmth back into it.

“How hungry are you? This place is mostly Italian American, they’ll do plenty of finger foods.”

“Yes.” That was the patented, Aden, I am paying attention to you along with multiple other things I am processing and will get back to you tone. Flynn gripped his hand firmly.

“Hey.”

“Yes. Sorry.” Dale blinked and more or less looked towards his face. “Italian American. Sounds fine.”

Flynn ordered tea, cheese sticks, onion rings, bread and fries as the easiest hot food for him to handle that couldn’t be spilled or dropped in a way that would upset him in public, much as Paul would have cringed at the selection, thanked the slightly bemused waiter and took a firmer hold on Dale’s hand.

“What happened? Did you find this other child?”

“Yes. Clay. His name is Clay.”

“What did he want you to see?”

Dale still sounded faintly quizzical, the data still processing. “He and Sarah let the stock out of the pen. Not quite intentionally, a mule chewed the gate pin loose the way Snickers does. They didn’t stop him and they didn’t sound the alarm, they were having too much fun watching the animals get all over the road. Clay encouraged a couple that were slow to get moving. There were thirty cattle and nine mules loose in the street before anyone noticed.”

“And?”

“Exactly.” Dale said rather wryly. “There’s no ‘and’. That was it.”

“And you felt done?” That was often the main guidance they had; the same sense of ‘done’ Dale needed to be able to let anything go.

“Yes. I suppose I know - it’s often not anything objectively significant.” Dale sounded quietly compassionate about it. “This seems even less objectively significant than usual, but to a six year old – that was probably important.”

“Which he wanted to show you.”

“Yes. Although mostly it was Sarah who wanted me to see it. I have no idea why.”

“It’s a familiar phrase with small children: look at me.”

“Yes.” From Dale’s tone that wasn’t a mild agreement but a confirmation that he too had witnessed this. He actively studied people, he observed and learned in the same way he read books, a very intentional pursuit of the knowledge he felt he lacked. “But David was here earlier. I usually only see him in situations like this if someone is stuck, but there’s no – no sensation of that.”

It was the same intensity of thought he had had been giving to Argeles and Akhiro forty eight hours ago, the same commitment to understanding something that interested him, and Flynn welcomed it. It was a genuine distraction for him, something to think about other than fear and frustration.

“Was David worried?” It was something Flynn often said to him, quite casually, as a measure of how Dale felt about whatever was happening and to get Dale to reflect on how seriously he felt he needed to take it. Dale answered at once, drily and without needing to think about it.

“Not at all. He appeared to be finding the whole thing quite amusing. But then he would. He was there while the scan was happening at the hospital.” He added a little too lightly in a way that said I’m honestly not crazed. “That was about the worst moment of the whole day, I hated them not letting you in. He held my hand.”

“It was one of the worst moments on my side of the door too.” Touched, Flynn squeezed his hand. These kind of admissions still weren’t easy for Dale, he didn’t make them freely. “I’m glad he could be with you. What did he say?”

“Not to be afraid. That I wasn’t badly hurt, it seemed worse than it was.”

That was a relief to hear. And likely some of why Dale seemed so unconcerned about his sight.

David, I sincerely hope you’re right.

 

 

 

 

            They drove on to Kearney that afternoon. There was, as Flynn knew from the time Dale spent in the museum at Jackson, no one specific path for the Oregon trail. Wagons had followed the same general direction but every group found their own path, looking for any even slightly easier ground, and when the trail was busy there could be wagons travelling steadily several miles abreast. This area had been crowded in its heyday. Most of the settlements they passed hadn’t been here at the time Dale’s little Sarah passed through. This had been open land in her day, nothing but the green grass and flat prairie. The roads were quiet and there still wasn’t much to see on the long, grey, two lane road other than the wide expanse of open land on either side, punctuated by the lone farm houses. The frost was melted off the prairie, and as yet, while the roads were well gritted, they hadn’t yet seen snow. Somewhere to the left of them, the Platte river wound; the river the wagon trails had followed and depended on through this territory. Lakes and then the river itself began to punctuate the endless green visible from the road as they approached Kearney. Caroline had issued them with directions to a bed and breakfast on the very edge of the town, near to the road and easy to find.

The Busch Bed and Breakfast had a large sign outside of a fairly new looking, wood board fronted inn with painted signs of beer tankers and barrels. It was five pm and dusk was drawing in fast as Flynn parked in the surprisingly empty small lot outside, collected their overnight bag and guided Dale with him to the front door. They were greeted at the reception desk by a large, broad, very cheerful man in a pink shirt, with a thick beard and a broad German accent, the Mr Busch himself, who got Flynn to sign in the equally large and ornate visitors register as if he’d been waiting all his life for their signatures. He guided them up a wooden stairway when they were done.

The whole place was wood. The stairs. The floor. The ceiling. Wood panelling was a strong theme, interrupted only at intervals by small paintings of forests as if to affirm where all the panelling came from. A heavily carved wooden door was thrown open on the first floor and Flynn, steadying Dale who was making his way through this fretwork explosion without being able to see much of it, blinked slightly at the room displayed to them.

“…. Thank you.” He said to their host, who gave him a wide smile that reminded Flynn inexorably of Bear.

“You’re welcome. Be comfortable. Have a rest and refresh and I’ll have dinner downstairs ready for you in an hour. Your Miss Caroline made the arrangements.”

He thumped his way downstairs with a bouncing tread, and Flynn gingerly shut the carved door.

“Is there as much wood as I think there is?” Dale said cautiously. Flynn put their night bag down, keeping hold of his arm.

“No, there’s a lot more. You can tell Caroline I do not appreciate her sense of humour.”

“Why?” Dale gingerly made his way across the wooden floorboards towards the largest structure dominating the room. “I can see the shape of this, but…oh.”

His hands found the ladder and the bedding beyond.

“Yes, oh.” Flynn said darkly. “You can find the gadget on that bloody phone and take a picture to prove to Riley what that monstrosity is, and that we have to sleep in it.”

“What is it?” Dale’s hands walked the edges of it and he began to laugh. “It’s a beer barrel? There’s seriously a bed inside a beer barrel.”

“Yes, it’s a giant barrel. On its side. With a ladder. And you wake me tonight if you want to put so much as a foot out of bed so I know you haven’t broken your neck on this ridiculous object.”

“Is there a bathroom?”

“Here.” Flynn opened the door, and leaned back against the doorframe, swearing. “Guess what the bloody bath is?”

“Another barrel?”

“Yes. With beer draft handle taps. No shower, just the barrel. There has to be a holiday inn or a normal motel somewhere around here-”

“This is fine. It’s warm, it’s a bed and a bathroom, we’ll be gone in the morning.” Dale’s hands found him and Dale’s arms wrapped around his waist. “We can survive one night.”

“There are bloody Christmas trees on the towels.”

Dale started to laugh again. “We can even survive that.”

“If he makes his clients bath in beer, we’re leaving.” Flynn said shortly.

There were Christmas trees on the thick green blankets adorning the bed inside the barrel and covering the several large carved wooden chairs, which looked as if they’d escaped from a Santa’s grotto somewhere. Mr Busch obviously enjoyed Christmas. A small but real and heavily decorated Christmas tree also stood in the corner of the room. Dale paused beside that when he found it and Flynn saw him breathing in the pine scent.

Flynn had spent a few minutes in a store on the street at Council Bluffs picking up a few essentials since they had neither planned nor packet to be away from home so long, and they both changed into the fresh underwear, jeans, shirts and fleece sweaters Flynn had picked up as warmest and softest for Dale to travel in. Something achieved without fuss, without complication and without aisles of bloody complicated designs and colours, as was perfectly possible to do in a sensible store, despite the store having had the compulsory baubles, lights and sound track playing carols.

The dining room was predictably wood panelled with wooden benches and tables. Only one table was set by the crackling open fire covered in greenery, and Mr Busch was laying out plates alongside a slender, older man also in a pink shirt who gave Flynn a warm, kindly smile and held out a hand to shake.  

“Hello, I’m Stefan. You are Flynn? And this must be Dale. We were sorry to hear of your troubles, have you driven far today?”

“We set out from Fort Dodge this morning. About five hours on the road all told.” Flynn watched the man gently take Dale’s hand to shake it, with a sensitivity in the gesture he appreciated. “We were surprised you weren’t busier so near the holiday.”

“We’re not officially open.” Stefan draped an arm around Mr Busch’s large hips, and Flynn saw then why they were being made so welcome. “It’s usually quiet around here for the winter and we like the place to ourselves over the holiday, but when we heard your situation we were glad to have you.”

“It’s very kind of you.” From Dale’s tone he’d also clocked that they were being hosted by another gay couple, and that this was a personal gesture from one couple to another. “We were impressed by how unusual our room was.”

“That’s Jorg.” Stefan said with affection, giving his larger partner a warm look. “He does all the interiors and I do the cooking, I’m much better at that. I hope you don’t mind joining us for our evening meal, it seemed friendlier than bringing something up to your room?”

And these two were keen for the company.

“We’d be delighted.” Flynn said frankly. “A home cooked meal and good company is something we’ve been short of and missing ever since we went out to Wisconsin. Can I help at all?”

“If you can carry a few dishes through, yes please.” Stefan patted Jorg’s hip. “Drinks. Dale, what can we get you? Jorg stocks all kinds of beers, there’s wine if you’d rather, or if you’re having to be careful of drinking there’s juice, tea, coffee?”

“Actually I’d love a cup of tea.” Dale said apologetically. “With milk if I may? I’ve been craving one all day.”

That wasn’t a polite response, it was a genuine one the way Dale showed warmth to any friend or neighbour of theirs and Flynn saw Jorg’s smile light up in response. 

“Yes of course! British tea, coming up. Come tell me how you like it.”

Stefan hadn’t been exaggerating when he said he was good at cooking. They loaded the table with dishes, from roasted pork with dumplings to a dish of pickled red cabbage with apple and another of noodles in what looked like a thick cheese sauce and smelled delicious. It was piping hot, it truly was a real family meal. Flynn put a guarding hand over Dale’s as he began to fill Dale’s bowl for him.

“Mind the dishes.”

“Dale, I’m afraid it’s a bit on the drippy side,” Stefan said apologetically, “I did think about doing finger foods but it’s a cold day and we thought you’d need something substantial. I thickened the gravy which should slow it down a bit and there’s plenty of napkins beside you, help yourself and do whatever makes you comfortable.”

That explained why they had large and deep spaghetti bowls instead of plates, and it was a thoughtful gesture. So was the shredding of the roasted pork which avoided the need to cut slices, and the halved dumplings. Paul would like this man.

“Pork here, dumplings here, noodles here, cabbage here.” Flynn guided Dale’s spoon to each part of the bowl. “Can you see enough of it?”

“Outlines and colours. I’ll be fine thanks, it smells wonderful. We have had rather a lot of sandwiches and fast food since this happened.”

“May I ask what happened? Your corporation – ANZ – said there’d been an accident.” Stefan said gently. Dale made a very careful, deliberate attempt to find noodles. To ask a perfectionist to make his first stab at eating a wet meal with a knife and fork with very little vision in front of strangers was asking a great deal. Flynn discreetly put a hand over his, taking his fork and winding noodles around the prongs before he put the fork back into Dale’s hand. Dale took it gratefully, taking a cautious mouthful.

“We were at a meeting in a shipyard in Wisconsin, they had an explosion in their steel mill while we were viewing it and a fragment caught my head. It’s just a concussion but it’s caused us to take a rather…. diverted way home.”

“Do you have far left to go?” Jorg asked with his mouth full.

“Wyoming.” Flynn guided Dale to find and scoop some of the pork. “We’re taking it gently, probably a couple more days on the road. We’re ranchers. Used to more rural surroundings than this.”

“Well if you’re needing some rural comforts there’s a Christmas fair tonight, up at the fort.” Jorg said with enthusiasm. Dale lowered his fork.

The fort?”

“About half of it, what was saved and preserved.” Stefan told him. “You know your pioneer history?”

“I’m… slightly obsessive about it.” Dale admitted lightly. Stefan smiled.

“I suppose that makes this road trip a bit luckier for you? The fort’s usually closed outside of the summer, this is rare, but they’re having a Christmas fair tonight as a fundraiser. Jorg loves any Christmas events, and we’ve been part of the planning committee. We’re headed out there for about seven pm if you want to come along?”

Flynn saw Dale, who respected these boundaries in a different way to Riley who would quite frankly ask and just as good naturedly accept a no if need be, give him the space to make the decision without expression on his face. If you knew Dale, that careful lack of interest said a lot in itself.

“Dale would love that.” Flynn said to Stefan. “Thank you, yes please. We’ll take our car if that’s ok, we’re having to take things very easy at the moment so we may not stay long.”


continued in part 3b
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Re: Christmas Story - Oregon Way part 3a

Post by DeeDee on Fri Dec 21, 2018 4:48 pm

Yes and YAY - there he is!!  

“No, there’s a lot more. You can tell Caroline I do not appreciate her sense of humour.”

“Why?” Dale gingerly made his way across the wooden floorboards towards the largest structure dominating the room. “I can see the shape of this, but…oh.”

His hands found the ladder and the bedding beyond.

“Yes, oh.” Flynn said darkly. “You can find the gadget on that bloody phone and take a picture to prove to Riley what that monstrosity is, and that we have to sleep in it.”

“What is it?” Dale’s hands walked the edges of it and he began to laugh. “It’s a beer barrel? There’s seriously a bed inside a beer barrel.”

“Yes, it’s a giant barrel. On its side. With a ladder. And you wake me tonight if you want to put so much as a foot out of bed so I know you haven’t broken your neck on this ridiculous object.”

“Is there a bathroom?”

“Here.” Flynn opened the door, and leaned back against the doorframe, swearing. “Guess what the bloody bath is?”

“Another barrel?”

“Yes. With beer draft handle taps. No shower, just the barrel. There has to be a holiday inn or a normal motel somewhere around here-”

“This is fine. It’s warm, it’s a bed and a bathroom, we’ll be gone in the morning.” Dale’s hands found him and Dale’s arms wrapped around his waist. “We can survive one night.”

“There are bloody Christmas trees on the towels.”

Dale started to laugh again. “We can even survive that.”

“If he makes his clients bath in beer, we’re leaving.” Flynn said shortly.

There were Christmas trees on the thick green blankets adorning the bed inside the barrel and covering the several large carved wooden chairs, which looked as if they’d escaped from a Santa’s grotto somewhere. 

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Re: Christmas Story - Oregon Way part 3a

Post by Ranger52899 on Fri Dec 21, 2018 4:54 pm

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Re: Christmas Story - Oregon Way part 3a

Post by DeeDee on Fri Dec 21, 2018 4:55 pm

LOL - love it!

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Re: Christmas Story - Oregon Way part 3a

Post by knox0606 on Fri Dec 21, 2018 7:05 pm

I know your research skills are increible, but.....how in the world did you find this?

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Re: Christmas Story - Oregon Way part 3a

Post by knox0606 on Fri Dec 21, 2018 7:11 pm

@Ranger and @Rolf, thanks for the early release. If you hit the POST button much earlier, I am going to have to set my alarm to check!  Every part is such an adventure!

Many thanks!

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Re: Christmas Story - Oregon Way part 3a

Post by Ranger52899 on Fri Dec 21, 2018 7:22 pm

You're welcome Knox! - We had a lovely few days researching <cough> interesting B&Bs. Hang around, it gets better. Flynn's seen nothing yet Smile
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Re: Christmas Story - Oregon Way part 3a

Post by The6ibs on Fri Dec 21, 2018 8:44 pm

Sounds like you let Caroline have a bit of fun booking rest stops!
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Re: Christmas Story - Oregon Way part 3a

Post by Ranger52899 on Fri Dec 21, 2018 8:44 pm

We really did Wink  We have the excuse that she was looking for places that would be very quiet, and open.
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Re: Christmas Story - Oregon Way part 3a

Post by Maaliem on Fri Dec 21, 2018 10:10 pm

That bed is unbelievable. I’m amazed Flynn would agree to sleep in that! Too funny. Nice they found Jorg and Stefen. Nice to see some interaction with other couples outside of the ranch.

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Re: Christmas Story - Oregon Way part 3a

Post by Hayjude on Fri Dec 21, 2018 10:27 pm

Wonderful, but I’m getting a little concerned about the ending of this trip, as we know it doesn’t end well for Sarah. Hope it’s not too much of a tear-jerker towards the end. At least they’ll be home then.
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Re: Christmas Story - Oregon Way part 3a

Post by Wmarian on Fri Dec 21, 2018 10:51 pm

Since the child whats always feel melancholy to me, I am enjoying seeing how rich the experience was for Sarah, and what joy and pride she took in every moment.
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Re: Christmas Story - Oregon Way part 3a

Post by dragonquest1313 on Fri Dec 21, 2018 11:18 pm

Wow I did not realize a bed like that really existed, thank you for the image as I was having trouble picturing the bed.
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Re: Christmas Story - Oregon Way part 3a

Post by ewr on Sat Dec 22, 2018 12:44 am

Funny, I had visualized the bed as cut into the barrel along the side rather than across the top.    This looks great, but  somehow I'd expect heads and feet to go at top and bottom.  

And to whoever suggested that Dale is acquiring little Whats as friends for little Dale, what a lovely idea!  I can't find that post now to give credit to the appropriate person but I hope that turns out to be the case for when little Dale decides to stay out of the water and on the ranch land.

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Re: Christmas Story - Oregon Way part 3a

Post by Nonni on Sat Dec 22, 2018 3:13 am

Yay! I guessed right about Council Bluffs!

Fun to see Flynn kind of freaking out about his surroundings and Dale settling him a bit.

Here's the photos I found of the inside of the bed:




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Re: Christmas Story - Oregon Way part 3a

Post by JL on Sat Dec 22, 2018 3:17 am

I don't think I could sleep in that.  LOL
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Re: Christmas Story - Oregon Way part 3a

Post by Nonni on Sat Dec 22, 2018 3:18 am

@JL wrote:I don't think I could sleep in that.  LOL
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How about with Flynn? (-;

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Re: Christmas Story - Oregon Way part 3a

Post by JL on Sat Dec 22, 2018 3:21 am

Well, I might consider it with Flynn (he can be surprisingly cuddly), but....I'd say a big YES to Jasper!
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Re: Christmas Story - Oregon Way part 3a

Post by Nonni on Sat Dec 22, 2018 3:25 am

Good idea and Jasper probably wouldn't spend the first part of the evening grumbling about the ludicrous decorating choices even though I'm sure he'd be just as appalled! (-;

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Re: Christmas Story - Oregon Way part 3a

Post by Hayjude on Sat Dec 22, 2018 5:08 am

He might whip out his knife and whittle a bit more space for himself!
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Re: Christmas Story - Oregon Way part 3a

Post by Trisha Louise on Sat Dec 22, 2018 9:15 am

You'd want to hope it was chocked up well at the base. A particularly vigorous honeymoon fade to black and the whole thing could roll loose and take out a wall.
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Re: Christmas Story - Oregon Way part 3a

Post by iam on Sat Dec 22, 2018 9:30 am

@ewr wrote:And to whoever suggested that Dale is acquiring little Whats as friends for little Dale, what a lovely idea!  I can't find that post now to give credit to the appropriate person but I hope that turns out to be the case for when little Dale decides to stay out of the water and on the ranch land.
Oh that's such a lovely idea indeed!!!

Jorg and Stefan are wonderful hosts! I'd love to sleep in the barrel, it seems a lot of fun, if a little claustrophobic. Good thing Dale can't see too much.

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Re: Christmas Story - Oregon Way part 3a

Post by loyalpainter88 on Sat Dec 22, 2018 11:38 am

Oooh ... Thank you Ranger ! I had trouble picturing the barrel and like  ewr .. i thought it wud be a cut version ,but this looks so cozy and cuddly ! 

I cant wait for the rest of places they stop in ...
A bit of whimsy is necessary during christmas!  santa santa
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Re: Christmas Story - Oregon Way part 3a

Post by Denicemarcell on Sat Dec 22, 2018 11:54 pm

Any pictures of the barrel bath with the odd handles?
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Re: Christmas Story - Oregon Way part 3a

Post by Zicat on Sun Dec 23, 2018 5:18 am

I am not sleeping in that bed. Nope, uhh uhh, no way, not gonna happen.
I'd be like, "Please Flynn, would you pull the mattress out and put it on the floor? Thanks, Love."
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Re: Christmas Story - Oregon Way part 3a

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