Note: This is the fourth part of a series of fan fiction. Please keep in mind that outside of the primary character, Tom Tyler, all others are fictional, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. Screencaps are from Tom's movies and are used simply as visuals. With the usual disclaimer aside, if you would like to link back to this story and need help doing so, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you and enjoy the story!
“You're just like a sister to me.”
Julie heard his words echo in her mind, innocent as they were, innocent as only Tom could be. Confusion muddled her thoughts, maybe in a subconscious way to protect herself. In one way, she wanted to be able to survive on her own should Tom die, but could not bear the thought of losing him, either. But could she ever really lose him? Julie relished his physical presence in her life, but could he also exist as part of her mind and heart? It seemed like the rain was slowing down and finally stopped. The St. John's wort blossom dangled from between her index and ring fingers of her right hand. Thinking of Tom was a comfort though, and helped get her through a rough period of her life. Being an only child, both her parents were killed due to Indian attacks during their second sojourn out west, while she was back home attending a girls' boarding school in Troy, New York. When she received news of what happened, she went into shock. Wasn't her family more than comfortable, advocates of girls getting a good education and become strong women? Tom needed a strong woman, Julie thought to herself, especially with his illness.
Julie had difficulty falling asleep again, and closing her eyes, imagined she was walking back to the covered wagon where Tom and the other men slept for the night. The camp site was silent except for the singing of the toads, who were clearly delighted with the falling rain. Delight. Julie took delight in Tom, and as she imagined crawling into the covered wagon next to Tom, enjoyed his presence, his rock-hard solid muscles, his dewy skin, dark ringlets and chiseled features, found it impossible to worry about his illness. She had no time to think about his pain, but at the same time, wanting to removing his pain, and make him as comfortable as possible.
Tom stirred in his sleep and turned on his side in the direction that Julie usually slept. His eyes fluttered open and he was surprised to see her missing, yet had the feeling her presence was still there. “Tom. Tom darling.” Tom heard her voice and leaned his head back, thinking she got up and was sitting behind him, like she sometimes did. Julie was not there though.
“Julie?” Tom softly called out. “Julie? Where are you?” He leaned back on his elbows to prop himself up. “Julie?” He felt something warm pass in front of him, followed by the scent of white phlox, Julie's perfume. Fatigued, Tom snuggled down in his bed once again and thinking Julie was outside sleeping, did not worry about her. The only thing Tom really worried about was her drinking problem, but so did the other three men, especially Joe. They chalked Julie's alcoholism due to her having lost her parents and being pretty much on her own, as she had no siblings. Even though Tom thought Jule was still in the covered wagon, she remained under the outcropping of rocks, sound asleep.
“'Morning Tom. Coffee will be ready in about ten minutes. How are you feeling?” Joe noticed Tom sweated slightly more than usual from last night. “Need clean blankets or anything?” Julie suggested that they bring extra blankets on the trip for Tom to use. Tom looked at Joe, made a face, then looked at his surroundings. His body was moist from perspiration, as if he just finished a hard workout. Tom would also need some clean clothes, but what he really wanted was a bath in a pond or river. Joe raised his eyebrows at Tom's sweat. “Hey Bob! Bob!” Bob came running up to the wagon, his slight figure and shock of blond hair streaked with the dirt of the trail, peered inside the wagon.
“What's up?” he asked, blue eyes looking at Tom's present state, then at Joe. “Hey, where's Julie?” Bob asked.
“That's what we're trying to figure out. But Tom's asking to bathe.” Joe turned his face to cough, knowing full well that Tom was not supposed to move around too much if possible. “If Julie was here she could give Tom a sponge bath.” Tom smiled, remembering the first time Julie gave him a sponge bath on the trip. If there was a lake or river nearby, the water would make it possible, but since there wasn't... “Bob, how far is it to North Fork Finney Creek from here? I can use some freshening up too.”
“Obviously we need to find that girl before we start traveling again. Anyone have any ideas where she could have taken off to?” Joe was feeling annoyed that Julie was holding up the trip, since time was working against them when it came to Tom's failing health. “Tom?” Joe's green eyes stared at Tom's face, thinking he knew where she was. Tom sipped the coffee, savoring the delicious brew.
“What, Joe?” Tom felt much better after the damp towel, and still bare chested, leaned back against his pillow, resembling a Greek god.
“Where is she?”
“You're kidding me. How would I know where Julie is?” Tom took another sip of coffee.
“I thought maybe you did.” Joe's serious expression suddenly softened with a smile and a laugh. “Well, it's just that I know the kind of connection you two have together, and – well, now that you told me about your somewhat strange experience last night while we were all asleep – or at least we were, outside.”
Tom squinted his eyes. “Exactly what are you accusing me of, Joe.” Bob and Tim overheard the two men arguing and looked in their direction while they finished their coffee.
Joe backed off a bit before continuing. “I'm not accusing you of anything, Tom. Finish your coffee partner, and we'll start looking for her. I can stay with you, and Bob and Tim will search in the area. She could not have gone far.” Joe glanced up at the sky. Dawn arrived and the light meant it would be easier to find Julie. “I'm sorry, Tom. It's just that I miss Julie and I know you do too. I'll get you another cup of coffee.” Tom thanked the man for his apology and kindness. Tom thought he should worry about Julie but something told him she was in a safe place. Besides, Tom could not go out looking for Julie – he had to remain in the wagon, but did not want to be alone. Bob and Tim finished their coffee and joined Joe with Tom. The men standing by the wagon started talking about which direction to go, while Tom fished around in Julie's personal belongings, hoping to find a clue of where she went to.
“You don't suppose she went rock hunting do you?” Bob asked, frowning.
“At night?” Joe replied. Bob and Tim agreed that nighttime was an odd time to look for rocks. Then Tom saw her rifle. He picked it up in his strong hands. Julie's rifle had mother-of-pearl set in the handles.
“Julie left without taking her rifle for protection? I'm sure she did not forget to take her flask with her though.” Joe shook his head. “I worry about that girl. Okay, Tim, Bob, you head east looking for her, while Tom and I stay here in case she gets back. Maybe...I don't know. Look out for...”
“An outcropping of rocks”, Tom finished. The three men glanced at him in amazement. Tom finished his second cup of coffee. “Is there anything to eat?”
To be continued...