“This is my home. I’m happy here,” William said, but he needed a drink to wash down his words. He tried to glare at Buck, but felt unsteady and it hurt his head. William spotted his drawings in Buck’s hand. “I-I’m gonna send some drawings east when they’re finished—start working harder at that—so me and Ginny can live nicer …”
Buck looked at the papers. “Not these, I hope. They’re crap.”
William grabbed them and sifted through them. He scratched his head. “I’m out of practice.” William wiped his nose. “I’d give anything for a smoke.”
“I don’t smoke any longer,” Buck said.
“Yes, I’d forgotten—you’re God’s little friend now.”
“I’d like it if we could be friends.”
“Don’t do me any favors,” William said.
Buck turned to go. He shoved his hands in his pockets and felt a dollar coin he hadn’t realized he had. Maybe he could offer someone at the stable the dollar as a deposit for a ride back to the fort. His father would pay the balance. Buck took a step, then turned to William. “Listen, Willy, I have a dollar. Will you draw me my portrait?” he blundered. “I have no gift for Thankful’s wedding—it’s only a few days away.”
William laughed. “Why would she want a picture of you?”
“I don’t know, but it’s my only idea … will you?”
William rummaged around for a piece of paper and Buck wondered if he should just give him the dollar instead of putting William through any trouble, but Fred was making the most of it with Ginny on the other side of the quilt. Buck detected a small excitement from William though he did his best to hide it.
Without looking up once, William produced a quick, but accurate likeness of Buck—the old Buck—handsome, clean-edged and hard-eyed. He handed it to Buck. “Shit, William. How’d you do that?” The slight smirk, the confident eyes, everything was correct—and full of sneering superiority. “God forgive me. I’m just as bad as you make me out to be, William. I’m even worse. What a piece of shit I am and you’ve every right to hate me for all I’ve done to you. You never deserved any of it! You trusted me and you were kind,” Buck said. “It hurts me to see you here.”
“Don’t flatter yourself, Buck. You’re not responsible for me.”
Buck gave William back the drawing. “I want you to draw me again. Not from memory. I need you to draw me as I am now—ugly and wretched.”
“No.” William said. Old images were easy, well-practiced in his mind, but the present remained unfocused through his bleary eyes.
“You must! And I promise never to bother you again.”
William scratched his jaw and grabbed the paper back. “So you want to see things for real.” He turned the paper over and picked up his pencil.
This time William had to look at Buck—could not rely on anything from before to capture the rough skin and the wrinkled mass above Buck’s eye. Buck insisted that he remove his bandages. His misshapen cheekbone torn by the bullet William deserved and the botched cut at his throat remained scarlet and unhealed. William considered another drink, but met Buck’s gaze and it unnerved him. He dropped his pencil and picked it up again. His hand shook.
The drawing was not very good and it made William angry. He found that he had to study Buck longer than he wanted and that no matter how he tried he could not make Buck monstrous enough. “That’s it. It’s the best I can do. Now give me my money.”
Buck flipped over the coin, but William missed and had to crawl on the floor to find it. Buck studied the portrait. “Land sakes, Willy,” Buck said. “Is this how you really see me?”
“I’m afraid so,” William said scratching his head.
“I mean, God, I’m one hell of a mess, but there’s something … I’m no artist …” The drawing comforted Buck. He didn’t know why. The cuts, the wounds, the disfigurement were there, but so was something else. Something new or maybe just discovered. “William, you see it don’t you? No one else has, but maybe Father …”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” William replied.
“You see what God’s done for me,” Buck whispered.
His scars were ugly and William had to drink not to let his heart go out to Buck.
“Thank you for this, Willy.”
“It’s nothing,” William mumbled, but felt sorry suddenly at how things had turned out between them. If only Buck hadn’t been such a sneaky bastard.