Tonight’s entertainment seemed to be over, so all the onlookers dispersed back to their own wagons, leaving Gil chuckling to himself as he sipped his coffee while seated on a boulder in front of his campfire. The hot liquid warmed his insides, just as his recent memories warmed his mind, as the trail guide enjoyed remembering again how he’d just watched an angry young blonde woman screeching with fury and waving a stick whittled to a point as she chased two men a dozen times around their wagon.
That female’s pursuit had ended only when another older woman with the same shade of blonde hair had stormed over from her own wagon, waiting while the chased pair had dashed past her, to then grab her sprinting daughter’s wrist, sending the girl’s stick flying away, and yanking her to a halt. A clearly well-practiced jerk of the mother’s arm had then twisted the daughter’s own arm up behind her back, finishing with Joyce Summers frog-marching her oldest child back to their wagon.
Gratefully coming to a stop, the two men, one with dark hair and the other with lighter blonde hair than the Summers women, had stood there, gasping for breath, until Mrs. Summers sent such a fulminating look over her shoulder at this pair during her walk with her daughter that Gil had felt the heat all the way over at his campfire. Then, the woman had given a summoning jerk of her head, still fiercely scowling at those male nincompoops.
Recoiling from this maternal glare, the men had then glanced at each other, to share a doleful decision, as they then started slinking along after the women. If these two young men had been dogs, their tails would have certainly been drooping in expectation of having their noses rubbed into their mess.
Gil shook his head in amusement about it all, especially since the older woman was still hollering over there, undoubtedly laying down the law to those currently behind the wagon, and conveying to every squirming recipient Joyce Summers’ complete displeasure concerning each and everyone’s behavior.
A flicker of motion was seen out of the corner of the guide’s eye, causing him to glance over there, and recognize someone who also wasn’t having such a good time. A young girl, not yet a teenager, was wandering past his campfire, and this youngster was clearly in a bad mood at this exact moment, scowling into the distance, sullenly walking with her folded arms crossed over her flat chest under her shawl, and giving innocent clumps of grass growing from the ground a good kick every few steps.
A burly form suddenly loomed in front of the girl, causing a startled yelp of alarm from her.
“Miss Summers, isn’t it?” beamed Gil, gallantly tipping his hat, and waving with his other hand towards his campfire. “Would you care to join me in a cup of coffee, ma’am?”
“Uh--” choked out Dawn Summers, her eyes wide at this surprising turn of events.
“No trouble at all!” jovially came from the guide. “Just step right over here….”
A few moments later, a somewhat bewildered Dawn was sitting on a boulder that had been dusted off with a bandanna, watching the man who’d just been fussing over her now making a fresh cup of coffee, and the sparkle was now returning to the face of a young girl who was actually being treated like an adult for the first time in her short life. Keeping her back straight, just like Mama was always telling her, Dawn said in her most grown-up tone, “It’s most kind of you to offer a libation at such short notice, Mr. Favor.”
Since his back was to her right now, Gil allowed a wide grin to appear on his face that didn’t show in his calm statement, “Think nothing of it, ma’am.” His fingers worked busily away at the drink he was making, dropping into the cup a large lump of sugar that he’d broken off from a small paper-wrapped block of this. Putting his sugar block back into his coat pocket, Gil rummaged in there and pulled out a tin can of canned milk, puncturing this with his pocketknife and pouring at least half of the white liquid into the cup. Since this was for a lady, he courteously used the blade of his knife to stir the sugar dissolving in the milk, instead of using his finger.
Once this was all done, Gil picked up the coffeepot and filled up the cup, noting with approval how the black liquid from the pot turned into a milky brown fluid in the drinking container. Putting down the pot and turning around, Gil stepped away from the campfire and offered the cup to a somewhat uneasy Dawn.
That girl really didn’t care for coffee, liking cocoa far better, but she was determined to choke it down anyway rather than spoil the mood of her being regarded as an actual adult. Smiling nervously, Dawn lifted the cup to her lips and cautiously sipped, only to have her eyes open wide over the cup, as she tasted the sweetness that modified the harsh bite of unadulterated coffee. “Oooooo, thank you!” the girl squealed with delight, after finishing her next gulp.
Gil just nodded in acceptance, turning out to pour himself a fresh cup, and once more allowing an even bigger grin on his features hidden from the girl now having a large coffee mustache on her upper lip. His face was calm again, as he stepped away from the campfire and sat down next to the girl on the boulder.
As she had another gulp of coffee, Dawn scooted over closer to Mr. Favor, not even thinking about it, but just enjoying feeling safe and comfortable while being next to the sheer bulk of the man sharing her seat. She hadn’t done this in so long, not since they’d headed out West. No one had ever really explained to her why her daddy had to go away on a business trip and couldn’t come along with them. Whenever Dawn had tried asking, her mother and sister had either shouted at her, or just started crying, or both, and she’d finally learned to keep quiet during their trip, whatever happened on that journey.
The girl’s face changed to a dark scowl at that thought, and she glared towards their wagon, which was now quiet. Out of the corner of his eye, Gil caught that, and casually said, “Looks like things have settled down over there, but you can finish off your coffee before you go back. Uh, is that why you were away in the first place?”
“Yes, sir,” grumped Dawn. “Mama told me to take a walk while she spoke to Buffy, Angel, and Spike--”
Gil’s mouth fell open at those names, which he’d never heard of before. “What, I thought you had a sister named Elizabeth?”
“Oh, sure, but I couldn’t say it right when I was younger, so I called her Buffy, and our family all started calling her that, too. Her friends, also.” Dawn grouchily sniffed the next sentence. “Of course, when she first put up her hair on her fourteenth birthday, she insisted we stop calling her that and use her real name.” A very evil grin was now sent towards the campfire, as the girl went on, “Which is why, once we joined up with the train, I went around and told everyone I had a sister named Buffy, who really liked that name, no matter how much she said she didn‘t.”
Gil managed to turn his snort of laughter into a coughing fit, though the giggles of the girl next to him showed she wasn’t fooled at all. When he got himself under control, Gil inquired further, “What about those other two, what they’re called?”
“Well, first there’s Liam. He’s from Ireland, and he has just the most wonderful accent-- Um. Anyway, Buffy started calling him her Angel, so I used it when he next came around, and I thought he’d swallow his tongue when he heard that. It was worth it, though, even after when Buffy caught me,” shrugged Dawn, having another sip of her drink.
The guide managed to keep from snickering into his own cup, particularly as he now recognized the brunette man, the one who paid more attention to his hair than a passel of barbers, and left behind in the path of the wagon train enough empty bottles of hair potions, concoctions, and tonics that a blind man could have tracked every step of their journey back to Independence. “And, uh, the other guy, the blonde?” a fascinated Gil inquired.
Dawn absently rubbed her upper lip and blinked at the brown stain on her fingers, while answering, “He’s William, but he told us to call him Spike. I think he just wants to have a tougher name.”
A disbelieving Gil noted in his mind, *Well, yep, it’s a tougher name if you’ve got four paws, a tail, and a real bitch for a mother.* Taking a quick gulp of his own coffee, the guide mulled over what would have happened if those two discussed men had strolled into any of the tougher saloons Gil had visited in his life, and informed all the dregs of the West there that they were in the presence of a pair of guys named Angel and Spike. They’d be fortunate to escape with their lives, at least.
Shaking his head over this, Gil looked down at the young girl next to him that was furtively trying to lick out the damp sugar remaining at the bottom of her nearly empty cup. Smiling slightly at this, the guide casually asked, “So, what was the whole uproar about over at your wagon and theirs, tonight?”
Brightening at a chance to convey some good gossip, Dawn put down her cup, smacked the last crumb of sugar from her lower lip, placed both hands on her knees, and wiggled her whole body with delight, as she took a deep breath, and began. “Well, both Angel and Spike are traveling together, even if they don’t like each other very much, and Buffy likes them both, but she saw Angel first and then Spike, who says he’s better than Angel, but he’s much more handsomer--”
As the girl went on and on without the slightest indication of ever going out of breath, Gil, between sips of his own coffee while staring at the campfire, said “Mmm,” and “Uh-huh,” and other indications of attention, but he really wasn’t even bothering to actually listen. It was enough that a young girl who was lonesome and far away from her previous home was being offered kindness and consideration by a man who was a loving father that just managed to visit his own daughters living in Philadelphia maybe once a year, if he was lucky. Dawn might have needed this, but so had Gil.
“--and when Spike then said something about someone named Darla and Angel yelled back to him about another one, who had a name of Drew-something, then Buffy picked up a stick of firewood-- Eeep!” Dawn broke off from her involved story, bouncing to her feet, as she stared over at her family’s wagon. Gil blinked, caught off guard, and also looked there.
A mature woman, whose blonde hair shone from the campfire behind her, was standing next to the end of her wagon, peering worriedly around into the night. “I have to go!” chattered Dawn, who took a quick step away, only to hastily reverse herself in a quicker step back that ended with her flinging her arms around a startled Gil, who’d also arisen to his feet, and giving him a thankful hug that was a bit more forceful than necessary, causing the guide to huff out a surprised breath.
Dawn let go and backed up, a wide smile on her face, that for some reason now changed to a chagrined expression instead, as she stood there in a posture of actual shame, looking down, and digging her toe into the ground, to mumble, “Uh, Mr. Favor, I…picked up something of yours…. Uh, here!” At those words, Dawn slipped a hand into her dress pocket, and pulled out something that gleamed in the light of the campfire.
Still not looking Gil in the eye, Dawn leaned forward and dropped his pocket watch dangling from a gold chain into the astonished man’s hand unthinkingly held out. Now bringing her head up, Dawn tentatively smiled at the bewildered guide, and much more happily said, “Thank you so much for the coffee! And, uh, everything else! Well, bye!” At that, the girl rushed off towards her wagon, lifting up her right hand to wave behind her at the man.
A very stunned Gil, patting his waistcoat, and feeling the emptiness of his watch pocket, now dazedly slipped his father’s watch back into that pouch and re-buttoned it. Shaking his head in disbelief, the guide watched as Dawn ran into her mother’s arms, receiving a firm hug and giving Joyce Summers the same. He could see the girl’s mouth open and close, while another blonde young woman came around the wagon, to be suddenly gathered up by her mother’s free arm and drawn into the others’ embrace. For a few seconds, the lonely man watched the Summers family together, until they all stepped out of their hug, and turned to face towards Gil Favor. As one, they all waved at him.
Standing by his campfire, the guide took off his hat, and waved back.