Trailing Home Ch. 10byharemgirl©
The next morning, Selena was busy packing things into the wagon when she heard Liam's voice from inside the tent. She rushed in and stopped in her tracks. Liam was struggling to rise up on one elbow, but he was wobbly and weak, and he wasn't having much success.
"Oh Liam, just lie down, sweetheart. You have to take it slowly," she soothed, as she gently pressed him down on the pallet. "You're looking much better today."
Liam's face had a slight frown, which she took as a good sign. At least he was regaining some control over his facial muscles. Selena smoothed his hair back and kissed his brow.
"Are you hungry? Could you eat something if I bring it for you?"
"Um hmm," he mumbled and managed to slightly nod his head.
Selena's eyes filled with happy tears. "I'll be right back."
She had cooked a pot of vegetable stew with bits of venison in it, and she brought back a bowl. Sitting beside the pallet, she mashed up the vegetables and meat until the soup was nice and smooth. Holding Liam's head in her lap, she managed to get a few spoonfuls of the soup down his throat, and she counted that as a victory. Realizing that the others were nearly ready to leave, Selena gave him a kiss on the brow.
"I have to finish packing up, Liam. Everyone will be waiting for us, but I'll be back very soon." Her eyes were shining and her smile was radiant as she looked down at him. "I love you, Liam."
She quickly packed up their gear, and once again the men lifted Liam onto a pallet in the wagon. Selena took heart that day, for although Liam was still twitching and couldn't talk, his fever was gone, and his eyes seemed lucid.
That evening, Selena coaxed more soup down his throat. After he had consumed nearly an entire bowl, he turned away from the spoon.
"No more," he managed to mutter.
Selena was ecstatic. She set the bowl aside and stretched out beside him on the pallet, gently combing his hair back off his brow. They lay like that for a long time, their eyes locked in unspoken communication, and it was the first time in over a week that Selena felt Liam was really with her.
September rolled around, and they passed the place where Fort Boise had previously been. The fort had been plagued by floods for several years, and had finally been deserted. However, it stood as a milestone to let them know that they still had another four hundred miles to travel.
The last leg of their journey would be the most treacherous. They had to pass over the dreaded Blue Mountains, with their steep grades and rough terrain. These were the highest mountains they would have to cross, and the threat of early snow was heavy in everyone's mind. Stories abounded about the fate of the Donner party, bound for California, who had been trapped in the Sierra Mountains by heavy snows in 1846. Stranded in the mountains without adequate shelter or food, they had been forced to resort to cannibalism to survive. Thirty eight of them had perished from starvation, illness, and hypothermia. Selena and the others knew they had to keep pressing on to avoid a similar fate.
Liam made small improvements each day, but progress was slow. He was able to talk again since the rigidity in his jaw was gone, but most of the time, he didn't feel inclined to do so. He sat for long periods, morosely silent and brooding. The twitching spasms gradually subsided, and over a period of three weeks, they stopped entirely. However, Liam was left weak and weary. He needed help to stand, and he could walk only a few steps before collapsing again. He didn't have the strength to sit on the wagon bench, and he had to be lifted onto his pallet each morning.
As Liam lay watching Selena drive the wagon, he lost a little more of his self esteem each day. She was managing quite well without any help from him. He wasn't even a real man anymore, having to be coddled like a baby. He wasn't strong enough to go to the river each night to bathe, and he refused to let Selena shave him. Every day, his appearance became more unkempt, but he showed no signs of caring.
There was an even deeper issue that gnawed at the very foundation of Liam's soul. It had been weeks since the onset of his illness. He was well acquainted with the disease lockjaw. Indeed, he had had a friend named Sam back in Kentucky, who had also suffered from a bout with the dreaded disease following an accident on his farm. Sam had been one of their neighbors, and he had been fifteen years older than Liam. Sam had taken Liam under his wing when he was just a small boy, and he had been like a second father to him.
Through his friend's illness, Liam had learned that lockjaw attacked the body in a way that destroyed one's ability to control the muscles and nerves. Many times, the victim never completely regained their functionality. Sam had recovered from lockjaw, but it had taken him several months to get his physical strength and coordination back. However, Sam had been forever changed, becoming moody and sullen, withdrawn from his wife and family. Sam had begun to drink heavily, where before he had hardly touched liquor except to have an occasional friendly drink. One night, when Sam was well into his cups, Liam had pressed him to find out what was wrong. Sam had bitterly confided that the disease had left him impotent. That memory haunted Liam, for he was convinced that he was destined to suffer the same fate.
As the weeks of his illness stretched out, Liam watched Selena moving around as she tended to both her own chores and his. As always, the sight of her stirred him. However, his body didn't respond. It was as if his manhood had been stripped from him, and he was left as an empty shell. Before, the merest brush of a breast against his arm or a glimpse of her well turned ankles would be enough to send hot blood pounding through his loins. Now, those same experiences left him cold, not emotionally but physically.
And what was worse, Selena seemed to sense the change in him. She no longer sent him those sultry smiles, and when he searched her eyes, he found no deep pools of promise. The entire flavor of their relationship had shifted, and because he was losing his identity not only as Selena's protector and provider but ultimately as her lover, Liam couldn't seem to muster any interest in increasing his strength. Each day, he sank a little deeper into his own personal well of misery.
Selena had no inkling about his depressive turn of mind. She and the others were so thankful Liam had survived that all their energies were devoted to encouraging him in his physical recovery. It simply never occurred to her that his emotions needed healing as well. She took it for granted that once he was healed physically, he would become his old self again, cheerful, confident and warm.
Of course, she missed his passion. Before his illness, they had reached heights of intimacy and physical fulfillment that she had never imagined could be possible between a woman and a man. Every barrier between them had been destroyed, and when they made love, Selena felt that Liam could see into her very soul. Without his lovemaking, she didn't feel entirely whole, but she was serenely confident that Liam would soon recover and they would resume that part of their relationship. She was waiting, as patiently as possible, for that day to arrive, and she never doubted that it would. The thought that Liam might be permanently impaired never entered her mind, so there was no way she could guess that he was tortured by such thoughts.
Every day, Selena talked with him as they rode along, chatting brightly about the passing scenery. It was difficult to remain cheerful when Liam didn't appear interested in the conversation, but Selena was nothing if not persistent. With determination and patience, she continued to try to draw him out of his shell.
"Oh Liam, just look at these trees! They must be hundreds of feet tall," Selena gasped.
"Mmmm," came his noncommittal response.
"Can you believe it? Isn't it amazing, darling?" She glanced back to see his reaction.
"Mmmm." Liam never lifted his eyes from the pallet.
"Liam, please look. They're beautiful! Don't you want to see?" Selena cajoled.
Liam rolled his eyes and gave a long suffering sigh, refusing to answer her.
"I just thought you might like to see, Liam." Selena bit her lip to stop it from trembling. She was doing her best to keep the conversation going, but it was taking a toll on her emotions.
"I've seen it all before, Selena. Twice in fact. You can spare me the running commentary." Liam hoped his icy tone would make her leave him in peace.
"You know," Selena said, ignoring his coldness and trying to focus on the positive, "you just said more words than you've had to say in weeks."
Liam mumbled a response that she couldn't quite hear.
"What was that, darling?" she asked brightly.
"I said, now if I could just get you to say fewer words we'd both be happy," Liam snapped impatiently.
Selena faced forward, blinking back tears. She drove for a while, not speaking to him. Her mood continued to plummet as she tried to think of some way to reach him. She missed him desperately, even though he was right behind her in the wagon. For all these months, the two of them had kept each other occupied while they plodded along, and now she felt very alone and lonely.
"Liam, tell me about your farm in Oregon. What's it like?" she coaxed.
"You'll see it soon enough," he said curtly.
"Yes, but I love to hear you talk about it. What are your brothers like?" she asked, smiling at him over her shoulder.
Liam pinned her with a glare and then looked away, sulking. Why couldn't she just leave him alone? Her continued cheerfulness only reinforced his opinion that she really didn't need him. She obviously didn't care that he was a useless invalid now, and it surely wouldn't be long before she lost interest in him entirely. Another mile went by in strained silence.
"Liam, please. Won't you just talk to me?" she pleaded.
"You don't need me to talk to you. You don't need me for anything anymore," he said flatly.
"What do you mean? Of course I need you." Selena looked at him in amazement that he would even think such a thing. "Liam, I love you."
"Mmmm," he grunted.
"Liam, darling . . ."
Liam gave a low growl of annoyance and shot her a venomous glare. "Will you just leave me alone?" he roared. "I don't want to talk. I don't want to look at trees. I don't want to tell you about Oregon. I just want to be left alone!"
Selena's mouth had dropped open from the viciousness of his outburst, but she snapped it closed and faced forward once again. Her whole body was trembling from hurt, embarrassment and roiling frustration. She couldn't bring herself to try again. It would be too humiliating to be rejected again, so she kept quiet.
Liam thought he saw a glimpse of hurt in her eyes before she had turned away, and his conscience pricked him. Surely he hadn't hurt her feelings? No, it was more likely annoyance he had seen flashing in those blue eyes. She was only trying to be polite to him, and she was angry that he had rejected her attempts at conversation. Well fine, let her be angry, so long as she left him alone.
That night, they ate dinner in silence. Liam was able to chew and swallow, but his appetite hadn't improved much, and he was still losing weight. Selena watched as he pushed his food around on his plate, barely touching the beans and cornbread, and she grew increasingly worried.
"I know you're sick of beans," she said softly. "Maybe tomorrow we'll see a rabbit, and I could make us a nice stew for dinner."
"Mmmm." Liam gave no other reaction.
Selena put her own plate of food down, her dinner only half eaten. She sidled closer to him and bent her head down trying to meet his eye. "Liam, please tell me what's wrong. You're getting better, sweetheart. If only you would talk with me. I don't know what you're thinking."
Liam maintained a stony silence. He was thinking that he didn't like being talked to like a child. He didn't like to have someone wait on him hand and foot. He didn't like feeling so goddamned helpless and useless, but he didn't say any of that. Instead, he gave her a cold stare and started to get to his feet.
"I'm going to bed."
Selena rose and reached to help steady him. "I'll help you, sweetheart."
Liam yanked his arm away from her grasp, nearly toppling over in the process. When he faced her, his face was contorted into an ugly sneer. "Dammit, don't touch me," he snarled. "I can stand up by myself, and get in bed by myself. Just leave me the hell alone, woman!"
Liam turned away, never seeing the tears spill over Selena's cheeks as he made his way into the tent. She sat frozen, not daring to move as she heard him getting into bed. For a long time, she sat staring into the flickering fire. When she finally rose, she moved about mechanically, washing the dishes and getting ready for bed, but her mind was busily churning. She went to the wagon and got two extra blankets and made a pallet underneath the wagon. It was the first time in months that she had slept without Liam by her side.
For a long time, Selena lay awake. She racked her brain for a way to get Liam to snap out of his gloomy attitude, and she finally reached a conclusion. She had tried being patient, nice and tolerant, and it hadn't worked. The fact was that Liam was acting like a naughty child, so she would treat him the same way his mother had treated him. Selena might not be able to make Liam cut his own switch, but if he didn't straighten up, she was going to give him a tongue lashing he might never forget!
She plotted and planned, thinking of how things were going to change the following day. She would have to take drastic action, and she didn't know if it would work or not, but she was willing to try just about anything. Having come up with a plan, she fell into an untroubled sleep.
Selena set her strategy in motion the next morning. Instead of checking on Liam first thing and inquiring whether she could get anything for him, she started making coffee. She fed the animals, milked the cow and collected the eggs, same as always. She made no effort to be especially quiet. All their neighbors were already up and bustling around, so there was no one to disturb but Liam. She clanged the pots as she cooked breakfast, and in a short time, she was sitting down to eat.
She was halfway through her meal when Liam shuffled out of the tent. He gave her a black scowl and sat down nearby. Selena ignored him completely, slurping her coffee to keep from burning her tongue. She knew he had to have his coffee in the morning, but she made no move to offer him any.
"Well? Can I have some coffee?" he asked testily.
"Mmmm," she said, still chewing her eggs.
After a few moments, his frown deepened. "Well?" he growled.
Selena motioned to the coffee pot with her plate and kept eating. When she was finished, she rose and set her plate aside to be washed. Without a glance at Liam, she went to start taking the tent down.
Liam glared at her and frowned. He struggled to his feet to get a cup and some coffee. He had already sat back down when he remembered that he hadn't added any sugar. Damn! It seemed like too much of an effort to get up again, so he took a few tentative sips of the black coffee and grimaced. He couldn't drink this stuff without sugar. A quick glance at Selena was enough to convince him that she was busy with other things and wouldn't help him. He got to his feet once more, realizing with some surprise that his legs didn't feel quite as shaky and weak as they had on previous days, and he retrieved the sugar. He tossed a pinch in his coffee and swirled it in his cup before drinking it.
Selena finished rolling up the tent and went to stow it in the wagon. She crawled under the wagon and folded up her own blankets. When those were neatly stowed, she started to wash up her breakfast dishes.
"Didn't you make me any breakfast?" Liam asked.
She didn't pause in her labor, nor did she look at him as she answered. "There's more in the pot there. Help yourself, not that you'll eat it anyway. Seems like a waste of good food." She went to put away some of the dishes in the wagon.
Liam glowered at her back, but he got up and helped himself to scrambled eggs, fried venison, cream gravy and biscuits. He ate as he sulked, and he was so busy glaring at Selena that he wasn't even paying much attention to the fact that he cleaned his plate for the first time in weeks.
Selena continued to ignore him. She wasn't hateful or cold, she just went about her business, as if nothing was wrong. Liam's frown deepened as he watched her hitching the team of oxen. Her hands moved with calm assurance, and she didn't have to fumble with any of the leads. In a jiffy, she had the team ready.
Without looking at Liam, Selena came to wash the last few dishes. "You'd better get your blankets and spread out your pallet in the wagon. We'll be ready to go soon."
Liam swiveled around and noticed that she had taken down the tent but left his blankets lying on the ground. Little minx! What had come over her this morning? With some effort, he shuffled over and retrieved his blankets and carried them to the wagon. It had been weeks since he had climbed up in the wagon by himself, and he eyed the seat warily. He wasn't at all sure that he was strong enough to climb up on his own, but he would be damned if he would ask her for any help! She obviously didn't care whether he needed her assistance or not, and despite the fact that he was a useless cripple, he still had enough pride to keep him from begging for help.
Selena watched surreptitiously as she finished the dishes, thrilled that Liam had eaten all his food. She carried the last few dishes and pots to the wagon and stowed them in the back. Meanwhile, she noticed that Liam had managed to haul himself up to the bench and was reaching over the back of it to spread out the pallet. He was panting with the effort, and his face looked slightly drawn, but he was managing. Selena hid her smile and finished getting the last few items packed away.
Gerald and Peter came over, as usual, to lift Liam up into the wagon, and they stopped in their tracks. Liam's back was turned to them, so he didn't see their approach. Selena shook her head at them and motioned with a finger across her lips for them to keep quiet. Gerald raised his eyebrows, but he slowly smiled as understanding began to dawn.
"Are you all ready?" Selena asked, looking at Gerald.
"Yep. We're ready to go when you are," he replied.
"As soon as Liam finishes making his pallet, we'll be ready to go. Say, I was going to ask if Susan would like to ride with me this morning," Selena asked, walking with Gerald and Peter back toward their wagons.
Liam turned around and sat on the bench, watching the three of them walk away. His expression turned even blacker, but he hauled himself over the bench and collapsed onto the pallet. He felt tired from his exertions, and he released a deep sigh of relief.
As soon as they were out of earshot from Liam, Selena stopped the two men and leaned close to whisper. "Listen, no matter what happens today, I need the two of you to leave Liam to make his own way. Don't offer to help him."
Gerald nodded but looked a little worried. "Are you sure he's up to it? He still looks weak to me."
"I'm not at all sure he's up to it, but there's only one way to find out," Selena said firmly. "As long as we all keep doing everything for him, he'll never start doing for himself again. I don't even think he's noticed how much he's actually improved, but I intend to show him. He's not helpless."
The two men exchanged glances and then looked back at her with matching grins. Gerald was the one who answered. "Alright, whatever you say. But if he does need help, just let us know."