After she had eaten and cleaned up, Marie prepared her bed at the foot of a tree, and then sat on her quilt for a while, her back against the trunk. Rulon strolled over and squatted beside her.
"You all set here?" He picked at his teeth with a flayed willow twig.
"Yes sir. Almost as comfy as my bed at home." She hugged herself. "I reckon I'll sleep after a bit. I can't bring myself to close my eyes yet."
"It's a pretty night," he said, looking at the stars. When he looked at Marie again, he tilted his head to one side. "Are you sore, Sis? You've been in the saddle for a long stretch, and you're not used to the sort of work you've been doin' today."
Marie smiled wryly. "You caught me out, didn't you? I'm also burned and windblown and flybitten. I'll make a handsome prize for Tom Morgan."
"No, Sis," Rulon said, drawing out the initial vowel as he shook his head. "You're a beauty despite a tad bit of sunburn. Tom Morgan's a fool if he won't see that tomorrow."
Marie rolled her eyes. "Big brothers always say such dainty things."
"The truth ain't a dainty thing." Rulon smiled. "Granted I'm your big brother, and I might be a mite partial to you, but there's no denyin' you're a gem of a woman, Marie. You stand the competition on their noses, girl."
Marie couldn't help but laugh.
"There now." He patted her hand. "That's what I like to hear."
"Rulon, who do you reckon is my competition?"
"Just a figure of speech, Sis. There is no competition that stands up to you."
"There is no competition at all. I'm the only girl left single hereabouts." Marie ducked her head so Rulon wouldn't see hopelessness in her eyes.
He put two fingers under her chin, raised her face, and looked at her for a long time. "Marie. That is an unfortunate circumstance. You are worth more than any three girls back home. Don't forget that. Not ever."
Marie hoped the deepening darkness prevented Rulon from seeing the tears that suddenly caused her vision to swim. "That's sweet of you to say," she whispered, catching his hand. "No wonder Mary thinks the sun rises and sets on you."
Now Rulon ducked his head. "Go on!"
"I reckon I think that, too, Big Brother." She pushed him on the shoulder. "I'm sleepy now. You needn't watch over me tonight."
He touched her on the tip of her nose. "That's what big brothers are for." He got to his feet. "Good night, Sis."
"Good night, Rulon."
If you have a big brother or big brother surrogate who has always protected you in a pinch, what have you done to pay back his affection and concern? If you haven't made that overture yet, isn't it time to do so?