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Edward carried the sleeping teenager to his room when they arrived home. Between the two of them they managed to get him undressed and settled into his bed. Rosemary pulled a chair close and sat down to wait.
It was several hours later when John finally began to rouse from his drugged slumber. Rose breathed a sigh of relief but it was short lived. While John’s eyes had drifted open it quickly became apparent that her nephew was still not aware of his surroundings. The dark eyes remained unfocused.
She reached out to gently smooth the sable hair from his face. “Sweetie…Its Aunt Rose,” she said softly but John’s reaction was instant and frightened. He pushed at her hands and quickly curled in on himself. His breaths came in rapid pants…
“Oh Háahketa,” she whispered worriedly, unsure whether or not to force the issue as she usually did or allow him to come back in his own timing. She wasn’t even sure whether or not he would come back on his own. She just wished she knew for certain what was wrong with him so she’d know how to help him. She hated the idea of scaring him this badly but she had no other way of finding out the problem without the help of trained professionals. She just had to find the right one. A knock on the door interrupted her musings. “Come in,” she called softly.
Edward came in carrying a tray with tea and cookies and a glass of milk he’d brought along in case John was awake. He was well aware of the boy’s fondness for it.He frowned in disappointment as he entered. “Still sleeping Madame?” He inquired softly.
Rosemary sighed. “No Edward…He’s awake…He’s just not here,” she replied quietly.
“I see,” he answered, understanding her meaning. The boy was pulled into himself, still caught up in one his moments. “Would you like me to call Dr. Forrester?”
“Why? He can’t help him either,” she sighed in frustration.
“Yes ma’am but…There must be someone who can tell you what’s wrong with Master John,” he said encouragingly.
She nodded. “I’m sure there is and I’ll keep trying until I find someone who can tell me what it is but until then…” she glanced back at her nephew. The dark eyes were open but still lost and empty.
“What do we do about this?” He asked, nodding toward the teenager.
Rosemary sighed and stood up. “I’m going to leave him alone for a while and see if he wakes up on his own. I hate putting him through that fight every time,” she whispered tiredly. She was out of her league here and she didn’t know how to help her beloved brother’s only child.
John’s brown eyes fluttered open and he blinked at the bright light from the sun streaming through his window. He glanced around and breathed a sigh of relief that he was alone. He threw back the covers and swung his legs over the side of the bed, sitting up and rubbing his eyes tiredly.
How long? He wondered idly. How long had he been asleep? There was a light knock on the door and John turned quickly as his aunt pushed the door open and peeked in. She breathed a sigh of relief that John was sitting up and looked aware of his surroundings.
“Oh thank Heavens…You’re awake,” she said, smiling at him brightly.
John watched her warily as she came further into the room. The trust in her that he’d just begun to allow to grow was gone. Why had she taken him to that doctor? Why did she want to force him to talk about what his uncle had done to him? Did she know?
She saw the distrustful look in the chocolate brown eyes and her heart sank a bit. “I was worried about you sweetie. I was afraid you weren’t going to wake up,” she said gently as she reached for John’s face to sweep the dark, sleep tousled hair from his forehead. He ducked away from her hand and moved out of her reach. “John?” She questioned at the evasive action.
Why would she be worried about that? She was the one who’d let that man drug him in the first place unless...John tugged at his lower lip with his teeth…Had he gone away? “Hhhow long?” He whispered.
Rose frowned at the question until it suddenly clicked. “Its Wednesday afternoon Háahketa,” she replied.
John looked dismayed by that. It had happened again and he’d zoned out for two full days this time. His aunt must think he was truly insane…Maybe she was right. Why did this keep happening? What was wrong with him? John looked away from her in uncertainty…Afraid that if she thought he was crazy, she’d send him away. He really had no where left to go so what would he do if she told him to leave? What had that doctor told her about him?
Rose saw the look but she’d already seen that he wasn’t ready to let her close to him yet. She backed carefully away to give him some space and decided not to bring up the incident with the doctor. “Are you hungry sweetie?” She questioned gently.
He was…His stomach growled loudly. “Yes,” he mumbled, seeming a little reassured that she wasn’t planning on throwing him out…At least not before she let him eat.
“Let’s go downstairs then…They’ve all been very worried about you,” she informed him, without any further comment about the incident.
John cast her a doubtful look but didn’t argue…Just followed her from the room and down the stairs.
There were a lot of relieved smiles from Carrie, Ellen and Laura as he trailed her into the kitchen. They exchanged grins, happy that John appeared to be okay now.
“Master John…It’s good to see you up,” Edward said with a pleased smile as he shooed the three girls from the room with a shake of his head. John had no idea how much these three young women had come to care for him in such a short time when they barely had a kind word for Joshua and Tiffany, though he doubted John would believe that.
The boy shot Edward a shy glance and a short nod of his head but he didn’t reply as he slid into his chair. How much did Edward know of what had happened? What about the girls that worked in the house? Would they despise him the way his family had if they knew about his crazy fits?
John felt tears burn behind his eyes but he blinked them quickly away and shoved the hurt and fear down deep. He’d never let them see him cry…It was weak and he couldn’t let them have that power over him if they thought they could hurt him...Break him down as his Aunts and Uncles had.
Edward shot Rosemary a concerned look at John’s lack of response and the subtle tightening of the boys jaw.
She shook her head in warning not to bring up his black outs. “May I get you something to eat sir?” He finally asked.
John nodded without looking up. Rose sighed. “It’s still a bit early for dinner yet but I’m sure a sandwich would be appreciated,” she replied for him.
The servant nodded and left as Rose turned back to John. “I’m sorry Dr. Steinman couldn’t help you sweetie,” she apologized quietly.
John’s eyes remained fixed on the table but he didn’t respond until she continued. “Do you remember what happened?”
John thought back…He remembered nothing after the doctor began to ask about his past…He shook his head negatively.
Rose sighed. “Alright sweetie…Maybe it’s just as well but…We’ll keep trying until I find someone who can help.” John’s head snapped up and he looked at her fearfully. “Nnno,” he gasped.
“John...We have to fix this if we can…I can’t do that till I know why this keeps happening.”
The boy shook his head again. “I do not want to,” he whispered.
“It’ll be okay sweetie…Next time I’ll try to find someone a little more patient than he was.”
No…Why couldn’t she just leave it alone and let him forget?
She saw the look and decided not to press him any further at this point. “Alright sweetie…We’ll let this go for now okay? Just eat your lunch,” she said with a sigh of resignation as Edward returned from the kitchen and set a plate in front of the teenager.
The boy breathed a sigh of relief as he picked up the sandwich and began to eat.
Rosemary drove him to school the next day. He scanned the note she’d written for him and seemed relieved that it didn’t say what was really wrong with him.
Rose pulled up in front of the school. John began to climb from the car and Rosemary sighed at her nephew’s refusal to look at her or allow her to touch him and knew she was back to square one with the teen. She threw him a concerned glance at the silent young man.
“You will be here at two thirty?" She questioned…Worrying that he’d bolt again if she’d pushed him too far.
John cast her a glance from beneath lowered lashes. He understood what she was asking. He’d considered making a run for it before she could haul him off to another doctor or press him for more details of his past but he also knew that his lessons with Mr. Pierce and his sessions with Mr. Hadderly were helping him and were his best chance at being able to achieve his dream of becoming a fire fighter.
If he ran…He might still get there but it would take far longer. He’d have no home, no education and no one would hire a fourteen year old. He had to try to hang on for a couple of more years if possible. He just prayed that she wouldn’t take him to any other doctors after that last embarrassing episode or throw him out because of them either. He finally nodded in response to her question.
“Good…I’ll see you then. I have a surprise for you.”
John froze, throwing her a wary glance.
Rose smiled sadly at the obvious suspicion in the boy’s eyes and wished she could find some other way to help her nephew.
“Don’t worry háahketa, it’s not a doctor,” she said softly.
He nodded again and turned away, wondering what exactly she had planned. John didn’t like surprises. He’d found over the course of the last few years that ‘surprises’ meant being shoveled off to another family member to be abused by or a new chore for him to be responsible for.
The latter didn’t bother him but the first…John shuddered at the memory.
Gil was waiting for him when he came inside. “Hey…Where ya been man?” He questioned.
John shot him a hesitant look. “Sss…sick,” he mumbled as he brushed past the blonde boy and headed down the hall.
Gil frowned at the evasive action but followed after his new friend. “Yeah… What did ya have?” He asked as he caught up with the other teen.
John froze …He hated lying and he was terrible at it. Only the fact that his grandfather and the other residents of Lame Deer chose to stay blind to what was taking place right under their noses had enabled him to get away with it all those years.
“Sss…Stomach,” he mumbled, blurting out the first thing he could think of.
“Oh well…Glad you’re better. Mary Lynn was afraid you’d changed your mind and didn’t wanna see her,” Gil teased.
John shrugged indifferently, wondering why a girl he barely knew would care whether or not he wanted to see her.
The blonde boy grinned at John’s ‘whatever’ attitude…John was obviously a bit slow on his social skills…Most likely from having been raised on a reservation as his father had told him.
“So we still on for Saturday?” Gil asked as they walked.
John nodded. “Mmm…My aunt said it www…was okay,” he replied.
“Good…I gotta get to class…See ya at lunch,” he said, tossing John a wave as he headed off down the hall, leaving John at the door to his own classroom.
“O…Kay,” he replied as he disappeared inside. John slid into his seat, ignoring the looks from the other students. Some were giggling, some just curious about the boy that rarely spoke and never made eye contact with any of them. Several girls were dismayed as they’d had to listen to Mary Lynn’s detailed description of the deeps pools of chocolate brown that she’d found herself drowning in.
The Trouble With Girls
John was once again joined at lunch time by his three new friends but this time Mary Lynn made it a point to sit next to him. She scooted her chair closer to the dark haired boy.
John shifted uneasily but refrained from actually sliding his seat away from her for fear they’d laugh at him. He tossed the girl a cautious glance from beneath lowered lashes and a small uncertain, crooked smile curled his lips for a small moment.
The girl sighed in infatuation with the look and Gil suddenly found a tile on the floor very interesting while Cathy giggled at his reaction to her friend’s forward behavior but she knew Mary Lynn was ‘staking her claim’ as it were as she took in several annoyed stares from some of the other girls around them.
Mary Lynn threw her a triumphant grin but decided not to push her luck with the nervous looking boy next to her, after all…Gil had confided in them what his father had told him about his background and she didn’t want to frighten him off but that didn’t mean she was willing to give up either…Just to move a little slower and as far as the other girls went…They’d had their opportunity to try their luck with John and let it slip away…It was their problem that she’d got to him first.
She began to eat her lunch and after a few minutes, John seemed to relax and though he still didn’t talk or smile much, he seemed content to let the conversation flow around him. He was even a bit disappointed when the bell rang.
He flushed to his roots when Mary Lynn reached over and kissed his cheek before hurrying down the hall with Cathy.
Gil grinned and tossed a wink at the blushing teen. John gave him a small smile in return before they parted company and headed off to class.
Rosemary was waiting when John left school that afternoon. She was looking forward to surprising John with the motorbike and couldn’t wait to see his face when he saw it.
The boy slid into the seat next to her but didn’t look in her direction. Rose sighed a bit, knowing John was still uncomfortable after this latest bout with the odd spasms he seemed to have and knew she was the cause of it by taking him to Dr. Steinman but she really had no other alternative if she wanted answers to her questions. John was simply going to have to learn to trust her about this.
“Are you ready for the surprise I told you about?” She questioned, hoping he’d perk up at the reminder.
The teen shrugged indifferently. Rose had no way of knowing that surprises for John in his past were anything but something to get excited about. A new chore or a set of hand me down shirts or someone else’s cast off Jacket or boots…He rarely had something new until his aunt had come along and bought him all new clothes. He really didn’t need any more clothing so he wondered what she had planned.
Rose sighed again and put the car in drive…She knew she still had a long way to go to win her nephew over…She just wished he’d be a bit more interested in helping her out but she understood. The teenager had been traumatized and abused.
James had warned her that he might never fully learn to trust anyone again and that she needed to be patient but it wasn’t easy when she wanted so much to hold him and coddle him and spoil him rotten but he wouldn’t let her… At least not yet.
John cast her a worried glance as he heard her sigh and wondered if he’d once again made her angry. He was just so uncertain here and never knew exactly where he stood with anyone or when they’d turn on him or dump him as the other members of his family had. He was just so confused at exactly what was expected of him.
He knew she wanted to help but he didn’t trust her enough to let his guard down and she’d already betrayed the little he’d given…He knew he had to keep his walls in place or he’d just be hurt again.
Rose pulled into the driveway and parked. “Alright Háahketa, I’ve asked Mr. Pierce and Mr. Hadderly to come a bit later today so you’d have time to look this over,” she hinted as she climbed from the car.
John got out as well and followed her obediently toward the back of the house. He glanced around with an even mixture of curiosity and trepidation. His eyes widened a bit as he spotted Edward waiting there with a blanket covered object.
The dark eyes narrowed suspiciously as he wondered what was hidden beneath. He stopped beside his aunt and waited for her to reveal whatever she had planned for him.
“I noticed that you seemed really interested in Gil’s bike the other day,” she began with a smile. John nodded and shifted uncomfortably as he waited for the laughter to begin that he’d even dream of having such a thing but he said nothing, just waited patiently. “So I thought that maybe you’d like this,” Rose nodded and Edward pulled the blanket away.
John stared at the bike for a long moment. His heart pounded with excitement…Was this really for him but then a new thought crossed his mind and the excitement faded. No one gave him anything for nothing. Wind Song had come with the price of Speech Therapy…Her promise to help him become a fire fighter came with his agreement to study with Mr. Pierce. What price would he have to pay for this? He was afraid he knew and he’d never do that.
He wouldn’t ever tell anyone what his Uncle had done to him. He couldn’t...It was far to humiliating and shameful and no one would understand. He’d be turned away and he had nowhere to go.
Rose watched John’s face as his eyes lit up and she grinned that she’d managed to please him with her gift but it was short lived. John’s eyes slowly lost the excited glow and he looked away.
“What is it John?” She asked as her eyes met Edwards for a moment. He was looking equally bemused by the conflicting reactions.
John stopped. “What do I hhh…have to do for it?” He almost whispered.
“John…I just want you to be happy…To trust me to take care of you.”
“I can nnn…not take something I have not earned,” he mumbled as he turned away.
“John…Sweetie it’s a gift.”
“Nothing is fff…free,” he argued despondently, remembering well the lessons he’d been taught by his family.
Rose suddenly understood…She’d given him the horse at a price…He thought she wanted to bargain for the bike as well.
“Oh háahketa…You don’t have to do anything for this… It’s yours. I promise…I just wanted you to have it.” John chewed his lip uncertainly…He’d never received a gift without some form of repayment. “You’ve been working so hard at your study’s and therapy and with Wind Song and I saw how much you seemed to like the one Gil had so I wanted to give this to you.”
“I do not have to sss…see another ddd…doctor?” John asked hesitantly.
Rose sighed. She couldn’t lie to him but the gift wasn’t contingent upon his seeing another doctor.
“Yes…There will be another sweetie…I have to find out why you seem to black out occasionally and why you don’t remember what happened afterward.” John shook his head and backed away from the bike.
Edward looked as dismayed by the boy’s reaction as Rosemary did.
“I do not www...want it.”
“Oh John,” Rose sighed. “That has nothing to do with the bike okay? It’s yours whether you go to a doctor or not.”
John eyed the motorbike longingly. Would she take it from him the moment he displeased her? Was it really for him without a catch or price or would she take it from him as a punishment the first time he refused to see another doctor? Would that be the price he was asked to pay? He guessed only time would tell. He finally nodded hesitantly and Rose blew out a relieved breath as he joined Edward to check out the vehicle.
John woke on Saturday morning with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. He hadn’t told Gil that his aunt had bought him the bike and he certainly didn’t want to try it the first time with the two girls watching in case he made a fool of himself but he was anxious to try it.
He got dressed quickly and crept quietly down the stairs. He figured he could just grab some fruit from the kitchen and head out to the barn.
The three girls who worked for his aunt were already in the kitchen preparing breakfast for him and Rosemary. They smiled at him as he came into the kitchen. “Good morning Master John,” Carrie greeted the teenager.
“Morning,” he replied shooting the girls a shy smile in return. They were always nice to him and John almost never stuttered around them anymore. “Can I have an aaa…apple for Wind Song?” He asked.
“Certainly sir,” she replied as she went to a hanging basket to retrieve the requested item.
“What can we get you for breakfast Master John?” Laura asked.
“Just some fffruit is good.”
“Are you sure sir?” Ellen questioned, knowing the boys appetite.
John’s lips quirked up…He knew the girls were often in awe of how much food he could put away in such a slender body but they didn’t know how many times in his life he’d gone without eating much or at all.
The women all grinned…They loved to see the rare smiles that he so shyly threw them. “So where are you off to sir?” Carrie asked as she plucked a few pieces of fruit from the basket to place with the apple on the table.
“Going riding,” he replied simply.
“Why don’t we pack you something for lunch then?” Laura offered, knowing the boy would disappear for hours when he rode.
“O…okay,” he agreed, as Edward came into the kitchen.
“Going riding Master John?” The older man questioned with a smile, noticing the jeans and boots.
John nodded. “Gil and his fffriends are coming wwwith me,” he replied.
“That’s very good sir,” Edward agreed, relieved that the boy finally seemed to be making some friends. He knew Miss Rosemary had made the right choice by putting him in public school. The arrogant snobs at the private school Joshua and Tiffany had attended would have eaten the poor boy alive.
A few minutes later, John grabbed the sack of sandwiches and fruit the girls had put together and ran out the back door toward the stables.
Frank came out to meet him as he jogged into the stable yard. “Good morning sir,” he greeted the teenager.
John grimaced at the formal terminology. No one had ever called him sir or Mister or Master John, just half breed, boy or something less kind that he hated to think of. His aunts and uncles would laugh in his face if they heard the way these people spoke to him. He gave a slight nod to the man. “Mmmorning,” he stuttered.
“Would you like Wind Song saddled sir?” He asked.
John nodded. “My aunt said it wwwas okay for my friends to rrride too.”
“No problem sir.”
The two of them heard the growl of an engine and turned to see an older model Chevy pull up to the stable. The doors opened and Gil and the two girls climbed out. They tossed a wave at Gil’s mom before they turned and headed over to where John stood waiting.
“Hey man,” the blonde teen greeted as the girls gathered behind him and began to look around. This wasn’t exactly the type of home they’d hung out in most of the time.
“Hello,” John replied, using the more formal response.
Gil grinned. “No man…The cool thing to say is ‘hey Gil.’
John frowned in confusion. “Hay? Is that nnnot what you feed your hhhorses?”
The three others laughed and John’s face flushed and he glanced away in embarrassment. He was used to being laughed at but still…He’d thought Gil had wanted to be friends. Maybe he’d been wrong after all…No one usually wanted him around for very long unless they had a chore that needed to be done.
Gil caught the quickly averted gaze and mentally kicked himself as he remembered his father’s words about teasing the kid about the way he talked. The girls also recognized the young man’s discomfort and sobered quickly.
“I’m sorry man…We’re not laughing at you John…It’s just hey can mean what you feed to your horse but it also means hello. It’s just spelled different.”
“Oh,” John mumbled quietly. How was he supposed to know what these people meant with the strange way they talked?
“We’re just not used to someone who takes everything so literal ya know?”
John frowned…How else should he take it? He mused in confusion.
One of the stable hands came out leading Wind Song. “Oh she’s beautiful,” Mary Lynn said coming to stand next to John. He smiled at her excitement.
“How many horses will you need saddled sir?” The man questioned.
John turned to the others. Mary Lynn took his hand. “Well I’ve never been on one before so maybe I should ride with you?” She hinted.
John shrugged, not really comfortable with being so close to someone else, even such a pretty girl but also remembering Elise’s wild ride and not wanting a repeat. He guessed he’d just have to deal with it besides, her hand felt pretty nice tucked within his own.
“I guess yyyou can ride double wwwith me,” he agreed looking to the others.
Gil and Cathy had to fight to keep from laughing at her less than subtle ploy, knowing John was too naïve to see through it and knowing Mary Lynn had been riding for years.
“Well I have ridden before and so has Cathy,” Gil replied.
John nodded and turned to the groom. “Two more…,” he told him. The man nodded and headed back inside.
He returned a few minutes later with two more horses and waited while Gil and Cathy mounted before turning back to John. He watched as the boy disdained the use of the stirrups and simply made a single bounce on his toes and jumped, flinging his leg over the horse and righting himself in an almost single motion.
Frank stood watching from the doorway and shook his head in amazement. The boy had been taught well and sat the horse as if he was a part of it. The stable hand Bobby, gave the pretty blonde girl a boost up behind the young man.
John tensed a bit as she wrapped her arms around his waist and cuddled close to his back. John disliked being touched so intimately by anyone even before his Uncle George had hurt him and it was even worse now but he had to admit that it didn’t feel all that bad to have the pretty girl snuggled against him and he remembered feeling the same way with the very pretty Elise in his arms.
His face flamed crimson at the memory and he shifted uncomfortably as his teenage body reacted to the girl’s breasts pressed against his back and her hands against his belly. He blew out a breath and gritted his teeth, willing his wayward body into submission.
He wheeled Wind Song around and kicked her into motion. Gil and Cathy followed.
They rode for a while in silence until John regained control and the young man decided conversation might take his mind off Mary Lynn. John hated asking for help with anything, his grandfather had always told him a man made his own way to ask for help was weakness but he didn’t know any other way to learn to ride the motorbike his aunt had bought him and besides…His aunt had already requested his assistance a few days go so maybe the other boy wouldn’t mind to much. He finally turned to Gil.
The blonde noticed the hesitant look on his new friends face. “Something up man?” He questioned curiously.
“Yyy…yeah…Um… my aunt bbbought a bike lllike yours…,” he began uncertainly.
“She’s a little old for that kinda stuff isn’t she?” He asked with a snicker. The girls giggled at the joke.
His new friend frowned in confusion and Gil rolled his eyes and laughed. John looked away, unsure of what he’d said wrong but understanding that they were laughing at him again.
Gil suddenly remembered his father’s warning about how the boy was probably raised and sobered quickly at the embarrassed look on John’s face. He’d forgotten again that the kid seemed to take everything very literally and didn’t seem to know what joking was.
The girls caught Gil’s suddenly serious demeanor and realized that they’d hurt the sensitive, dark haired boys feelings. They winced in regret.
“Hey man…I was just kidding…Like ya know…She bought the bike for her…” He let the sentence hang. John threw him a sideways glance but didn’t reply. Gil felt terrible that he’d embarrassed the other boy. He tried again. “But that’s pretty cool that she bought it for ya…Why didn’t you tell me at school?” John shrugged indifferently, he knew better than to get excited over anything since he knew it could and most likely would be taken from him at some point. Gil stared at him incredulously. “Well I would have been excited about it,” he added. “But anyway…Since ya got a bike…You want me to teach ya how to ride it?” He offered, hoping John would get over being upset.
“Could you?” He asked hesitantly.
“Sure man,” he replied, relieved that John was still willing to give him another shot.
They rode on and the girls began to talk of other things. John breathed a sigh of relief as Mary Lynn sat up a bit to chat with her friend…Clothes, music and cheerleading which seemed to be the preferred topic and that suited John just fine. He knew nothing about any of them and could simply listen to them talk.
Gil however didn’t intend to listen to their chatter and tried to engage his friend in their own conversation. “So who’s your favorite band?”
“Band?” John questioned.
“You know…Music? Pink Floyd…Zepplin…Styx?”
John frowned. “Who?” He asked in confusion.
“They’re pretty cool,” Gil agreed misunderstanding his reply.
John looked thoroughly bemused now. “I do not know th…these people,” he finally clarified.
It was Gil’s turn to frown. Where had this kid grown up to be so sheltered from popular culture? Maybe being on a reservation wasn’t such a cool thing after all.
“Don’t…,” he corrected the too proper English before he continued. “They’re musicians John…They play in music bands.”
“Oh…,” he murmured.
“Didn’t you listen to music?”
“When there was a celebration my pppeople play music and my mmmom had a radio but…,” John halted not wanting to tell them that his aunt had thrown it away after Kate had died. He finally shrugged.
“I’ll take you my house and I’ll let you listen to some okay?”
John hesitated for a moment but finally nodded, finally starting to feel a little more at ease with his friends but he mentally shook himself…Don’t trust anyone, flitted through his mind. He knew how quickly they could turn on him and he knew that those he cared about left him eventually…They always did. Besides he couldn’t risk getting to close to anyone…He might slip and reveal his secret shame and then no one would want him around.
“So what sports are you into?” Gil tried again as they trotted along a riverbank.
Gil looked at him incredulously. He had to know what those were. “Yeah man…Football…Baseball. I pole vault and run track.”
John frowned. The kids at school had played these games but he’d never been invited to join in and he’d had no time on the reservation to learn. He’d played a bit of catch when he’d lived in Duarte but not seriously. He remembered his father’s friend Rick and his dad playing catch and throwing a football around. “I have thrown a fffootball and ppplayed catch.”
“Didn’t ya play at school with your friends and stuff?”
John shifted uncomfortably. The conversation was getting personal.
“I did not have ttime to play,” he said simply, hoping Gil would drop the subject and not wanting to admit that he had no friends.
No such luck. “Why not?” Gil pressed, looking surprised.
“I worked on the rrranch,” he explained simply, wincing a bit as he noticed that the girls had stopped talking and were now listening intently.
He looked away, hoping Gil would take the hint but he didn’t.
“A ranch? My dad said you lived on a reservation right?” John gave a tight nod but didn’t reply. “That’s cool,” he finished looking impressed.
John threw him a sideways glance. This boy had no idea of the dozens of reasons why it wasn’t ‘cool’ if he understood the meaning correctly.
“So what did you do on this ranch?” Mary Lynn asked from behind him as she rested her chin on his shoulder.
John blushed as her warm breath tickled his ear. Cathy giggled at her forward behavior with their very shy new friend.
John hesitated. He hated talking about himself and his life in Montana, afraid it would lead to questions he couldn’t or wouldn’t answer.
“I trained horses and rrroped cattle,” he stuttered nervously.
Mary Lynn cuddled against his back. “That’s so neat,” she cooed near his ear.
John shifted again at the feel of her warm breath on his skin and her body pressed against his own and resolved to never again ride double with a female. It was causing some rather pleasant sensations but awkward reactions in his teenage body. He shrugged uncomfortably. “I wwwas good wwwith horses.”
“So you didn’t play games or sports or anything? Ya just had to work?” Gil said looking incredulous. John nodded. “Wow…That really sucks,” he muttered. What a rotten way to grow up, the blonde mused.
“I played sssometimes before my dad…” The words trailed off and Gil recognized the sorrow in the dark eyes before the other boy looked away and decided to change the subject.
“Well why doncha come to practice with me Monday afternoon and you can watch me pole vault.”
John chewed his lip…He had his tutor and his speech therapist after school but maybe his aunt could push it back a bit…He could ask. “I have to aaask my Aunt,” he mumbled.
“Okay…So what about after school?”
“I just told you…”
“No…I mean after you graduate…What are ya gonna do? Bet your Aunt wants to send you to some hoity toity college or something.”
The girls groaned at that idea and John frowned. “No I…,” he hesitated, afraid of sharing his dream for fear they’d laugh at him as they had back in Montana.
“You what?” Gil pressed curiously.
“I want to be a fireman,” he almost whispered before turning away, his face turned red as he waited for the laughter and taunting he’d received back home.
“Wow…That sounds pretty cool,” Gil said thoughtfully. “Maybe I should look into that.”
John looked at him in surprise and breathed a sigh of relief. They hadn’t laughed. “I love a man in uniform,” Mary Lynn said softly near his ear. John’s face turned scarlet as his stomach turned a small nervous flip and his body tensed in reaction to the girl’s lips brushing his neck. He clenched his teeth and tried to ‘will’ himself not to react...It didn’t help.
Cathy laughed and nodded. “I’ll second that,” she teased as she leaned over to kiss Gil on the cheek.
The blonde boy took pity at the look of dismay on his new friends face. “Hey…Why don’t we take a swim before lunch?” He suggested nodding at the river they were paralleling. “There’s a place about a half a mile up that we all go to swim.”
“That’s a great idea,” Cathy agreed. “It’s a nice warm day for February.”
“Yeah…I’m feeling pretty warm myself,” Mary Lynn added in his ear.
John swallowed uncomfortably and Gil almost bit his tongue, afraid that he may have just thrown his shy friend to the wolf by the look on his face but John nodded his acquiescence…He just wanted to get off the horse and away from the girl to try and get his wayward body under control.
He didn’t know what to make of Mary Lynn, Elise and the others. The girls on the reservation would never have been this forward even if they had liked him besides…, their fathers would have locked them in their rooms and thrashed him near to death for even looking at them.
They made it to the place where the river widened and deepened enough to allow swimming and John gratefully threw his leg over Wind Song’s neck and slid off. He turned and reached up to help Mary Lynn down.
She grinned wickedly as she slid into his arms. The pretty blonde looped her arms around his neck and gazed into his dark, soulful eyes, giving him the opportunity to kiss her.
John glanced away nervously, unsure of what the girl was waiting for. Other than his mom and Elise he’d never kissed a woman and Elise had in fact kissed him.
Mary Lynn sighed…It was very obvious that the young man had never kissed a girl before. A smile and a giggle slipped free at thought of ‘educating’ the handsome, young man.
“You can kiss me if you want John,” she offered softly.
John’s eyes widened in alarm. “I…I…Uh…I…Um,” he stuttered helplessly as he tried to retreat.
Mary Lynn almost groaned in frustration but she let him go for fear of scaring him off completely but she wasn’t through yet…She just had to take the initiative. She thought his shyness was adorable and she just needed to take control of the situation.
Gil on the other hand snorted with laughter, feeling almost envious at John’s innocent ability to attract the girl’s undivided attentions and Cathy grabbed her friend’s hand. “C’mon, let’s swim,” she invited, hoping to give the boy a moment to regroup.
John blew out a relieved breath. What was with this girl anyway? He mused with a frown.
Gil smacked him playfully on the shoulder with a snicker of amusement. John immediately stepped away from the contact. The blonde looked a bit taken aback by the reaction and remembered that he’d done the same thing the last time he’d touched him as well.
Why would he be so hinky about being touched, he wondered to himself? “Sorry man,” he mumbled.
John shrugged in embarrassment and headed for the water…He stopped short and the dark eyes widened as the girls peeled off their clothing to reveal two rather small bikini bathing suits underneath.
“What’s wrong?” Gil asked in concern as John turned away uncertainly.
As a child, John had gone swimming in the Tongue River many times but not together with the girls. The boys swam separately from the girls and usually in the nude since most of them couldn’t afford swim suits even if they’d wanted to bother with them but still…He wasn’t used to being around young women that scantily dressed.
His body tensed and he almost swore under his breath at the unbidden and uncomfortable reactions this girl seemed to evoke in his body. What the hell was wrong with him anyway? He’d never had this happen before he’d come here but then he hadn’t been that close to any of the young women on the reservation or at school either.
John had certainly been sheltered from most of this but he wasn’t ignorant. He’d been raised on a ranch and had seen the cattle, sheep and horses breed but his own body had never reacted like this and he didn’t know how to stop it.
“Nothing,” he mumbled, trying to will his lower body to behave. He broke a sweat and gritted his teeth miserably. After several long minutes he blew out a breath and threw Gil and embarrassed glance. “I uh…We did not…Um…Swim with the girls wwhere I grew up,” he stuttered.
“Why not?” Mary Lynn asked, from where she and Cathy were now treading water.
“Yeah…Why not?” Gil parroted.
John flushed crimson…This whole situation was just getting worse and worse all the time. “We didn’t sswim with…,” he hesitated…”Those,” he finished nodding at the girls.
They all looked a bit confused for a moment before it sank in. “Far out,” Mary Lynn crowed with a grin.
Gil’s eyes widened as well. “Oh wow…Awesome,” he laughed.
“I’m willing to give it a try,” Mary Lynn offered.
“Me too,” Cathy agreed.
As much as Gil would have loved to see that he caught John’s ‘deer I the headlights’ look and shook his head with a snicker. “I don’t think John’s quite ready for that yet,” he teased as he stripped his own jeans off to reveal swim trunks underneath. “C’mon John,” he said, nodding toward the water.
“I did nnnot know we wwwould swim today…I do not…”
“Don’t…,” Gil corrected with a grin.
“Don’t have th…those,” he finished.
“So just go in your underwear…We won’t care,” Gil offered.
John’s face turned scarlet and he shook his head, bringing another round of giggles from the girls. “I…I think I will just wwwait out here,” he said sitting down on the ground.
Gil sighed at the other boy’s shyness and regretted not having warned him about what to wear for a warm day in Southern California. He’d never met anyone like John and he wondered about how he’d been raised, He was so different from anyone else he’d ever met. He jumped in to join the girls
“C’mon John,” Mary Lynn urged but John shook his head negatively. “Don’t you know how to swim?” She asked.
“Yes,” he replied looking away.
“Afraid of getting wet,” she teased as she splashed water at him.
John gasped as he was suddenly soaked in chilly water. He stood up abruptly and backed away uncertainly. Were they playing with him as Gil had assured him or taunting him as they had back home?
Mary Lynn saw the wounded look in the dark eyes and stood up quickly. “John…I was only playing,” she assured him.
“Oh,” he mumbled I embarrassment. “I…I am sorry.”
The three exchanged a confused glance at his behavior. What was wrong with this kid? Why was this boy so afraid to open up and just relax with them? What had happened to him on that reservation? Curiosity outweighed his father’s warning about being careful.
“It’s cool man but…Did people pick on you where you used to live or something?” Gil asked remembering how mean the kids in school had been to him here.
John’s eyes widened in dismay. He didn’t want to talk about his past. It always led to more questions and remembering the pain and humiliation his aunts and uncles had hurled at him, not to mention the spells of grayness when he couldn’t remember things. It led to ridicule and shame.
“I...I…we…I sh...should go back now…,” he stuttered uneasily, looking anywhere but at them.
They all cast worried glances at each other at the obvious distress of their friend.
“John…I’m sorry man…It’s none of my business and I shouldn’t have asked okay,” Gil said quickly, trying to calm him down.
“And we shouldn’t have laughed at you,” Mary Lynn added as she waded from the water. John’s eyes were caught by the view despite his best efforts not to look at her. She was beautiful as crystal drops of water beaded on her skin. She held her hand out to him. “We didn’t know you’d take us seriously,” she added contritely. “We just tease each other all the time and we just wanted to include you.”
John finally glanced at the other three teens. They all seemed genuinely sorry. He finally nodded and allowed her to take is hand, letting her draw him back to the others. She brushed the excess water from her tanned skin and sat down, pulling him down beside her. John cast a nervous sideways glance toward her.
She grinned. “So John…Did you have a girl friend back in Montana?” She asked curiously. John shook his head. “Good…Then I don’t have to steal you away from anyone,” she teased. John’s face flushed scarlet and the chocolate brown eyes lifted to meet hers.
The smile faded as those soulful, dark eyes caught and held her own. He was so handsome and Mary Lynn couldn’t believe the girls in Montana were so blind to John’s good looks and sweet nature but then he was SO shy that he might have put off someone less persistent than she was, she admitted to herself wryly.
But her mom had always told her ‘if you want something in life, you better be prepared to work for it’ and John Gage was definitely worth the effort. Half the girls in school wanted the chance to go out with the handsome boy and she was just lucky that Gil had met him and introduced his girlfriends best friend to him first.
She shook herself back to the moment as she gazed into those bottomless brown eyes. John’s face turned crimson as her lips turned up in a smile. He started to turn away but Mary Lynn was determined not to lose him this time. She reached out to touch his face. John’s head tipped back a bit, looking at her nervously and not understanding her intent until she leaned forward and caught his mouth with her own.
John’s eyes widened in surprise for only a moment before nature and instinct took over. That odd feeling he’d had earlier swept over him once again and he allowed the girl to hold the kiss and simply enjoyed the sensation of her lips playing over his.
Gil and Cathy shared a grin and swam a bit further away to give them a bit of privacy. Mary Lynn finally sat back and gazed into the slightly dazed eyes of the young man next to her. A slow, crooked smile of wonder quirked the corner of John’s mouth upward. The young woman giggled…He was so adorable when he did that.
“Did you like that?” She asked with a gurgle of laughter. John nodded and leaned toward her again. Mary Lynn didn’t hesitate. John’s fingers came up to rest against her cheek and she took that as an invitation. She slid her arms around his neck and pulled him closer.
John didn’t resist, letting the new and pleasant sensations flood through him as his mouth moved over hers as she’d done to him earlier. Mary Lynn finally sat back and it was her turn to look a bit dazed at how fast John had managed to master a kiss but she wasn’t complaining. She had no idea that the same condition that caused many of John’s relationship issues also allowed the teen to fully concentrate his attention on whatever he set his mind too.
“Wow,” she gasped breathlessly.
Gil and Cathy waded up the bank interrupting the moment between the two and John’s face flushed crimson at the knowing grins they tossed his way. Gil refrained from any teasing comments however, afraid John would be even more embarrassed and Mary Lynn would kill them both if John retreated into that touch me not attitude because of it.
“Hey man…I’m starting to get hungry,” Gil complained, looking away and giving his friend a chance to collect himself.
“There is food in the sssaddlebags,” John told the others.
“Far out,” the blonde responded as he shook the water from his arms and headed over to where the horses were tied.
Mary Lynn grinned and leaned over to plant a quick kiss on the startled young man before she grabbed his hand and tugged him to his feet. John shrugged and let her tow him along behind.
The group ate lunch together and chatted though John mostly listened as the others laughed and joked but he was at least starting to feel more at ease as the afternoon wore on.
Gil finally glanced at his watch and moaned. “Ah man…We gotta go. My mom will be at your place to pick us up soon and I still wanna show you how to ride the bike.”
John winced a bit at the suggestion, afraid he’d make a total fool of himself in front of Mary Lynn. “I uh…I…Maybe it wwwould be better alone?” He questioned hesitantly.
“No,” Mary Lynn protested, squeezing his hand. “I want to watch.”
John almost groaned in misery and his face flushed as Gil laughed. “I think that’s what he’s afraid of,” the blonde teen teased.
John bristled at the words, hearing his grandfather’s voice rebuking him. ‘Do not show fear or they will think you are weak.’
“I am not afraid,” he mumbled defensively.
“I was just kidding man,” Gill said sobering instantly. He blew out a breath of frustration. John could be so hard to talk to…You just never knew how he’d take anything they said. “I only meant you didn’t wanna fall on your butt in front of the girls.”
“Oh,” the other boy mumbled.
Mary and Cathy giggled. “Don’t worry about it John…I’ll just kiss your bruises and make them better,” she offered.
John turned scarlet but a sheepish grin quirked the corner of his and he didn’t protest.
They remounted the horses but this time John boosted Mary Lynn into the saddle first before mounting behind her. She grinned happily and leaned back against him as he put his arms around her and picked up the reins and just let himself enjoy the feeling of the girl pressed against him.
They arrived back at the stables a short time later and turned the horses over to one of the stable hands. John led the way to the free standing garage at the rear of the house. The girls and Gil taking in every inch of the beautiful house and grounds…The pool and tennis courts.
This was certainly not a place they’d ever hoped to be invited to and they were a little surprised that John seemed unimpressed by it all considering where he’d been raised. They didn’t realize that their friend had grown up owning nothing and knowing the little he did have could and would be taken from him the moment he crossed the wrong person.
As far as John was concerned, this was all Rosemary’s and all he owned in this world were a blanket, a helmet, his mother’s jewelry and a single green pen.
John turned on the lights and Gil’s mouth dropped open in surprise. The bike was new and top of the line. The blonde grinned in glee as he ran his hand over the gleaming paint, thrilled that he was going to be able to ride it while he taught John.
“This is far out,” he breathed excitedly. John gave a small half smile at the other boy enthusiasm before he moved over to help him wheel it to the large garage door. “Can I try it out?” He asked.
John nodded and watched carefully as Gil climbed on and turned the key before he kick started the bike to life. The engine roared as he twisted the throttle before settling down to a purr.
“Wow,” he murmured almost enviously at John’s good fortune at owning this machine.
The dark haired boy lifted the garage door and nodded his friend toward it. Gil grinned gleefully and set the bike in motion. John and the girls followed, watching the blonde teen put the motorbike through a series of maneuvers. He finally pulled up next to John. “This is way cool,” Gil breathed out as he climbed from the vehicle. “Let me show you how to ride it.”
John nodded, still a bit nervous about having the girls watch his first attempts with it but feeling a twinge of excitement ripple through him for the first time in many years.
He straddled the machine and listened carefully as Gil explained the clutch, throttle and braking systems but even so he was unprepared for the power of the bike as he twisted the throttle.
The bike shot forward and John lost control of it. In a panic, he hit the brakes and the back tire locked, turning the machine sideways and falling over. The engine cut off as pain rippled through John’s left leg and shoulder.
The others ran toward him as he pulled himself from beneath the vehicle and reached down to rub his sore knee. His fingers felt the tear in his jeans and he winced at the trouble he’d be in for ruining his new clothes. He felt the warm wetness on his knee and noted the blood on his fingers.
He threw a glance at the others as they joined him and his face turned a bit red in embarrassment that he’d totally lost control of the bike in front of them but they weren’t laughing, they looked genuinely concerned, especially after they saw the blood and the torn clothes.
John rolled his shoulder and for the first time realized that the shirt hadn’t fared much better than his pants had.
“Are you okay?” Gil asked worriedly as the three gathered around him.
“Yeah,” he murmured as he pulled the bike up and climbed back on…Determined not to give up. He noted the cowling was scratched and slightly dented and he winced as he contemplated telling his aunt that he’d damaged the brand new bike. He sighed and kicked it back to life but instead of the steady rumble, the engine sputtered and threatened to die.
Gil frowned. “Oops…Sounds like you did some damage to more than your knee,” he said looking concerned.
John’s face paled. His aunt would kill him for sure for this…Maybe even take the bike away. He couldn’t hide the damage…What was he gonna do now?
“Oh man,” he mumbled. “She is gggoing to kkkill me.”
Gil almost laughed at the ‘oh man’ comment but then realized that John actually looked scared that he was going to be in trouble.
“John…Relax man…It’s not that bad okay? As soon as my mom gets here, I’ll have her take the girls home and then we’ll ride it over to my dad’s shop and have him fix it.”
“I have no money…,” John began.
“Don’t worry about it,” Gil soothed. “He helps my friends out all the time.”
“Okay,” the other boy muttered in relief.
“Cool…In the meantime you can try again.” John nodded and revved the spluttering machine up a bit more. “Okay…It’s just like riding a bicycle alright?”
John frowned. “I have never ridden a bicycle,” he admitted.
The three teens looked stunned. “NEVER?” Gil questioned in disbelief. John shook his head. “Wow,” the blonde murmured.
Gil, Cathy and Mary Lynn had never thought of themselves as well off in comparison to all they were surrounded with at the Hughes Estate but they were certainly learning to appreciate what they’d been able to grow up with and had taken for granted until now.
“Okay…Well then the first thing you have to learn is how to balance it. It’s just like riding a horse…There has to be balance. Too fast, too quick and you lose control like you just did. Too slow and it’ll wobble and be harder to keep upright.
John nodded. He’d already experienced too fast too quick problem. He turned the throttle and released the clutch only more slowly this time. The bike began to roll unsteadily and the motor gurgled in protest.
John accelerated a bit and the uneven sputtering of the engine smoothed out. John’s natural sense of balance kicked in and the wobbling ceased as well.
Gil and the girls applauded but it was short lived. John tried a turn and the bike tried to go over again but this time he managed to get his foot down in time.
He blew out a frustrated breath as Gil trotted over to join him. “Don’t worry about it John,” he soothed. “You need to slow it down a bit and lean into the turn,” he instructed. “Just not too far.”
“Okay,” he breathed out. John started again and the next turn was unsteady but much better.
“You’re gettin it,” Gil called. John made several turns, each one better than the last before he finally drove it over to where the others waited, the engine began to splutter once again as he throttled down. “You did great,” the blonde boy said encouragingly. John almost cracked a smile.
The honking of a horn pulled their attention to the front of the house where Gil’s mother had just arrived to pick them up. “C’mon John…I’ll introduce you to my mom. I’ll ask her to take Cathy and Mary Lynn home and then we can ride the bike over to the shop.
John looked a bit uncomfortable at the idea of meeting the order woman but he didn’t want to offend Gil either. He nodded and let Mary Lynn take his hand as they headed toward the car.
Gil’s mom Christy watched as they approached, getting her first look at this boy who’d caused so much gossip all along the small town’s rumor mill. She’d never met Roderick Gage so she had no comparison though she could see the resemblance to Rosemary Hughes but the chocolate brown eyes, straight, narrow nose and high cheekbones gave evidence of his half Native American heritage as well.
He was decidedly handsome and she grinned as she remembered the other mothers at the PTA talking about their daughter’s infatuation with the young man, though by the look of it, Mary Lynn had already staked her claim to the teen.
Gil stopped next to the car. “Mom this is John…John this is my mom Christy.”
She smiled at the young man but noted that he didn’t make eye contact with her at all or return the gesture. “Good afternoon mmma’am, he stuttered quietly.
“Good afternoon John,” she replied, hearing the stammer that Gil had mentioned. She smiled again and held out her hand. John hesitated briefly but finally offered his own to the woman. “It’s nice to meet you…Gil told me all about you.”
John bit his lip nervously but nodded politely.
‘Poor thing,’ flitted her through her mind. She could only imagine what this child had been through to make him like this. Protectiveness rose up in her as it would in any good mother.
“Mom…Would you mind taking Cathy and Mary Lynn home? John banged up his bike a little. I wanna take him over to dad’s shop.”
Her eyes swept over the boy, noting the ripped jeans and shirt. “It looks like he banged himself up as well,” she replied.
John flushed at the worried tone in the woman’s voice. “I am fffine,” he assured the woman, even though his knee burned painfully…John ignored it.
She nodded dubiously but figured the boy knew if he was injured or not. “Well…C’mon girls,” she said cheerfully.
Gil gave Cathy a quick kiss and Mary Lynn turned toward John. He flushed a bit at the older woman’s presence but he didn’t pull back as the pretty blonde placed a lingering kiss on his lips. “I’ll see you Monday John,” she promised as she stepped back and climbed inside the car.
Gils’ mom smiled and looked away to avoid embarrassing the poor boy any more than he already was. “I’ll see you for dinner honey,” she called as she put the car in reverse. “It was nice meeting you John,” she added as she backed down the driveway.
Gil turned to John. “C’mon,” he said, nodding toward the bike.
John hesitated. “Maybe you sh…should drive,” he suggested.
“I trust ya man, sides…You’ll never get any better unless ya practice.”
John remembered his father telling him that many times. “I guess,” he agreed uncertainly as he threw his leg over the bike.
Gil climbed on behind him. “Let’s go.”
John licked his suddenly dry lips, afraid he was about to kill both of them. He kick started the bike and following the direction of his passengers pointing finger…Pulled slowly away.
The trip was a bit long and a little wobbly at first but they finally pulled to a stop in front of the open bays of a mechanics shop. The sign above it read… Robinson’s Repair Shop.
Paul heard the sputtering engine as they came to a stop and turned to see his son and a dark haired teen climb off the bike.
“Hi son,” he called as he wiped his grease covered hands on a rag and coming out to meet them.
“Hey dad,” he replied. “This is John Gage,” he added, turning to the other teen.
“Hi John…It’s nice to meet you,” he said holding out his hand.
John sighed. He hated this particular custom but he was finally becoming a little more at ease with it and his aunt expected him to be polite. He shook the man’s hand briefly before pulling away.
“What’s up?” He questioned as his eyes roamed over the boy. He noted the torn clothes, the rapid hand shake and withdrawal, the downcast and averted eyes and the quiet demeanor.
“John busted up his new bike a little. He’s worried that his aunt’s gonna be uptight over it. Can you look at it?”
Paul didn’t know Rosemary well enough to dispute the boy’s concern but he’d heard enough to doubt it even though his few encounters with her children left a sour taste in his mouth.
“Sure…No problem,” he said, kneeling next to it. “Start it up,” he directed. Gil cranked the machine to life as Paul listened. John watched anxiously, afraid he’d done something really bad to it but Gil’s father smiled. “This will be an easy fix,” he assured the pair as he stood up and headed inside to get his tools.
“See…Told ya,” Gil teased. John breathed a sigh of relief.
Paul returned a moment later with his tool box and John moved closer to watch as the man knelt once more. “John…Would you like me to show you how to fix it?" The older man asked, noticing the interest in the dark eyes and the curious craning of his neck while he tried to see what he was doing.
John hesitated but being that he was above average in intelligence and curious about everything, it got the better of him. He nodded. “Yes sssir.”
Paul smiled. “C’mon down here then,” he invited.
John squatted next to him and Paul noted the torn jeans for the first time. “Did you hurt yourself John?” He asked noting the blood stains around the edges.
“Jjjust a scrape,” he said looking away.
The man nodded…The boy was obviously no sissy like his cousin…He turned his attention back to the bike. He took the time to show him how to take the protective engine cover from around the engine. “Watch where I take everything from now,” he advised as he pointed out the crank shaft and Cylinder head, pistons and oil filter and how to remove the pieces to get to the spark plugs.
“Yes sir,” John replied as the man named each piece and each tool he used to remove it, noting that unlike most teenagers, including his own that were often distracted by other things, this boy paid rapt attention to each detail. The dark eyes were keen and attentive.
“And this is the problem,” he finished showing the young man where one of the plugs had been unseated. John watched him as he pulled it and checked it over for damage before he returned it to its proper place. He picked up another tool. “This is a gap tool John. You want to be sure there isn’t more than a quarter inch space when it’s in place alright?” John bobbed his head in agreement as he watched him measure the small opening between the socket and the plug.
“You want to try to put it back together?” Paul asked, noting that Gil had lost interest and disappeared inside the garage.
John nodded eagerly and Paul smiled before handing him the tool kit. John began replacing the parts, reversing the order of what he’d seen the older man do. He snapped the engine cover in place and twisted the screws in and looked to the man to see if he’d done it right.
Paul was very impressed and knew he could easily teach this boy to rebuild engines. “That was very good John…Why don’t you go ahead and start it up,” he suggested as Gil returned from where he’d wandered off to talk to some of the men who worked for his dad.
John nodded and straddled the bike. He turned the key and kicked it to life. The engine purred softly. John almost grinned that he’d actually had a hand in fixing it but caught himself before the man could get upset with him for being arrogant.
Paul saw the proud smile and then watched it fall away just as quickly as the boy seemed to mentally jerk himself back from the fleeting moment of pride in his accomplishment. The older man frowned but decided to offer him a bit more. “Would you like me to show you some of the car engines and how to fix them?”
John glanced away. “I do not wwwish to bbbother you,” he replied quietly.
“No bother son,” he assured the teen.
John frowned a bit at the appellation but he was really interested in seeing the cars and didn’t want to lose the opportunity to learn either. He finally nodded. “Okay.”
“Alright good…C.mon. Gil…You want to join us?”
The blonde shrugged disinterestedly. He’d already learned some of this stuff a while ago. “I guess,” he replied following his dad and his friend into the bay.
Paul spent the next two hours showing John the engines of several cars that they were working on while Gil looked on. He explained what was wrong and what they were doing to fix it. Several times he handed the teen the tools and actually allowed him to perform the job, marveling that not only how quickly the young man learned but how focused he was on the task at hand.
Not only that…He seemed to be enjoying it. The boy’s hands were smeared with grease but they were agile and quick and the dark eyes missed nothing.
Paul found he was enjoying teaching the teen as much as John seemed to be in learning and even Gil had hung around this time, watching John in amazement.
Paul finally slammed the hood of the car they’d been working on and handed the boy a rag to wipe his hands.
“Well John…You might just have a career as an auto mechanic,” he teased the sable haired boy.
The fleeting smile made another appearance but he shook his head negatively. “I am going to be a fire fffighter,” he explained quietly.
“Oh I see,” he answered seriously.
“Pretty cool huh dad?” Gil said with a sparkle in his own eyes.
“Yes it is and knowing how to work on an engine will still come in handy,” he said as reached out to pat the boys back. “You did good to…”
His words cut off as his hand made contact with John’s back. “No don’t,” the boy almost whispered as his body stiffened and he ducked away. The dark eyes grew wary and frightened.
Paul stared at him first with surprise and then his eyes narrowed suspiciously. John was rigid and shaking and his eyes were downcast but threw nervous glances at the man who stood watching him.
Paul felt anger rise in him. Someone had hurt this young man badly for him to be that fearful of a casual touch. “I’m sorry John…I didn’t mean to frighten you,” he soothed gently.
John’s breaths were uneven, “I…I sh…should go hhome,” he stuttered, sounding worse than he had all afternoon.
“It’s okay John…I won’t touch you again.”
John stood tense and unsure…Like a wild animal poised to flee at the first sign of danger. Gil looked between them in confusion. John worried his lip for a long moment in indecision before he finally nodded and allowed himself to relax a bit, though the dark eyes remained alert and wary.
His face flushed a bit knowing that the whole crew had come to a standstill and were watching the boy in confusion at his frightened reaction.
“Gil…Why don’t you take John up to the house for a while…? Maybe he’d like to wash up and get a drink.”
“Sure dad,” the boy replied, understanding that his father wanted to give the boy a chance to settle down and regroup.
The dark haired teenager shook his head. “I nneed to ggo,” he said, feeling like a fool. He chanced a glance at the older man but there was only compassion in his gray eyes.
“Alright John…But you’re welcome to come back anytime and work on the cars.”
John looked surprised, expecting that they’d be happy to see him go after he’d acted so stupid. His grandfather would be disgusted at his open show of fear but he couldn’t help it. “Th…thank you,” he mumbled before looking at Gil to see if he was as annoyed with his friends behavior as John himself was.
“I’ll see you at school on Monday,” Gil said simply but his eyes were concerned and confused by his friend’s reaction to his father’s casual touch.
John nodded and fled. Gil and his father walked to the door and watched as John kick started the bike and roared off down the road to the open field that bordered his Aunts property.
Gil looked to his dad. “What’s wrong with him?” He asked uncertainly. The kid was just too weird.
Paul looked at his son and saw the troubled look. He laid his hand on his shoulder. “Nothing’s WRONG with him Gil,” he corrected. “But I’d guess someone’s hurt him or scared him pretty bad at some point,” he added patting his son’s shoulder. “But I don’t think you need to talk about that with anyone else though,” he warned.
Gil’s eyes widened in shock as his father’s words sunk in. He’d suspected that maybe the kids where he’d come from might have been pretty mean to him and that he probably hadn’t had many friends though he didn’t know why…He was a nice kid. Maybe the stutter made the other kids cruel but still…it hadn’t occurred to him that anyone would have physically harmed him until now.
“Oh wow,” he whispered, looking up at his dad in dismay.
John sped away from the garage but slowed as he felt the burn of humiliated tears behind his eyes. They clouded his vision and he reached up to brush them away. Spirit…He felt like such an idiot…How could he have done that in front of Gil’s father? They probably both thought he was crazy at this point and they’d never want him around. Gil’s father was most likely only being nice when he’d offered to let him come back.
Why did he always have to ruin everything with his own weaknesses? It was no wonder his grandfather had been so ashamed of him. When would he ever be able to just put what his family and Uncle George had done to him behind him and move on and what if he couldn’t?
The fire department would never hire him if he couldn’t handle touching other people. He had to somehow get past the memories but how? He couldn’t stop the flood of terror and the memories of his Uncle’s hands pawing his body…His mouth on his and the stench of whiskey mixed with sweat that clogged his nostrils as he’d straddled John’s thin frame…the black eyes raking over him lustfully…The painful beating that had followed.
John shuddered and bile rose in his throat as the nightmare images replayed in his head. It had been his own fault…If he hadn’t been such a weakling maybe he could have fought him off, he mused in self disgust…selectively forgetting that his Uncle had been easily twice his size and three times the slender teens weight.
He wished he could forget as he did so many other things but he didn’t know why he forgot…He didn’t understand what happened to him in those moments or hours or days that passed without his being aware and he wished he could forget this one as well but it resurfaced every time someone touched him…
What was he going to do? He’d worked around the station with the men at 28’s enough to know that he’d have to be in close contact with his fellow crew members. He’d heard the stories they’d told about carrying people from the burning buildings…Holding the hands of the injured until the ambulances arrived to take them to the hospital.
John blew out a frustrated breath…He’d have to find a way to get stronger…Find the strength that his father had instilled in him and that his family had tried to beat out of him or his dream of being a fireman would be crushed. John remembered how he’d first erected the walls around his heart and soul…Pushed the hurt and fear down deep to hide the agony of physical and emotional pain from his mother and grandfather…He could do it again.
With that resolve in place…He slammed the walls down around him once again, determined not to allow himself to feel anything or at the very least not to let anyone see it. He could do this, he assured himself.
John kicked the bikes speed up once again and headed toward home.
John parked the bike and trotted toward the house. His knee was still a bit sore and stiff and blood was still caked around the scrapes but John had sustained worse injuries than this and he wasn’t concerned. What did concern him was his aunt if she found out he’d ripped the new clothes and then she’d want to know how which would lead to him having to tell her he’d damaged the bike.
He slipped onto the back patio, hoping Edward wasn’t in the kitchen or at his usual post near the front door and that his aunt would be in the study conducting business as she usually did at this time of day. He hoped to slip past them and up the stairs so they wouldn’t see the ripped pants. They were, after all only a couple of months old and back home he’d have been in big trouble over it.
He could hear his aunt’s voices raised in anger. ‘Do you think we have the money to keep replacing your clothes you little fool.’ John almost cringed at the memory of the slap that would have followed from his Aunt Lacee even though the clothes weren’t new to begin with. He was still expected to keep them clean and in good repair until he outgrew them or became so threadbare that he couldn’t wear them anymore. And even though his Aunt Mase didn’t often hit, she would have rolled her eyes in disgust. ‘Clumsy boy,” she would have chided.
John pushed the French doors open and peeked inside. None of the girls were in sight and neither was Edward. John was relieved. The girls would have made a fuss and alerted his Aunt and the servant for sure.
He snuck into the room and closed the door softly behind him. He hobbled through the room but pulled up short as Edward came through the door.
John’s face paled as the gray eyes of the servant swept over him appraisingly, taking in the torn shirt and ripped and bloodied jeans.
“Are you alright Sir?” He questioned worriedly as he bent over to inspect the scraped knee.
“I’m fine,” he mumbled, backing away as Edward reached out to tug at the gaping hole in the material to get a better look.
Edward stood up and folded his arms across his chest. “It’s bleeding,” he informed the nervous young man. “What happened Master John?” He asked the nervous teenager,
Though the question was politely phrased, John knew Edward wouldn’t put up with being brushed off. John glanced away… “I uh…I ffell off the motorbike,” he admitted.
Edward’s eyes widened in alarm. “Is this all that got damaged?” He asked, peering at the torn jeans once more.
John blew out a breath. “I…I uh...I broke the bbike bbut…Please dddon’t tell my aunt,” he whispered in obvious distress. The stammer always got worse when John was afraid or frustrated.
“Don’t tell me what?” Rosemary’s voice questioned from behind Edward.
John paled at the sound of her voice and he shot a desperate look at the servant but saw no help there. “I uh…um…I,” he stuttered.
His Aunt’s green eyes fell on the boy’s pants and torn shirt. “What happened to you?” She snapped out, worry making her tone more sharp than she’d intended.
John chewed his lip nervously. Man…he mused, using Gil’s favorite expression. He was in for it this time. “I fell off the bbbike,” he murmured with downcast eyes but he continued on in the hopes that she wouldn’t be to upset if he assured her that the expensive machine had already been repaired. “Bbbut Gil’s fffather already fixed it,” he assured her.
Rose huffed a breath. “Well I appreciate that but maybe this bike was a mistake,” she sighed, looking toward Edward.
John’s face fell in dismay. He’d already known this would happen but he’d hoped she’d be different. She was going to take it away. “I…I’m ssorry,” he whispered as he tried to edge around her. She reached out to lay her hand on his shoulder. The boy flinched but stood rooted in place, prepared to take whatever punishment she planned for him for this offense.
“For what sweetie?” She asked looking back at her nephew and seeing the disappointment in the young face.
Edward understood…Over the last few weeks he’d become Rosemary’s confidant when it came to the young master and though it wasn’t his place, he felt he needed to point out a few things to his mistress.
“Forgive me for saying so madam but Master John isn’t like Master Joshua,” he said knowingly.
“What does that mean?” She asked with a frown.
“Master Joshua would give up the bike after one fall for fear of getting hurt,” he replied honestly.
She nodded in disgusted agreement. Well aware of her sons less than rough and tumble nature. Golf and Tennis were the only physical sports he was involved with and neither were contact sports. She shook her head as she remembered his annoyance at a blister that had formed after his first tennis lesson and had thereafter worn a glove on his right hand.
“Yes,” she admitted after a moment.
“Master John on the other hand is ALL boy and stubborn enough to dust himself off and climb back on and try again,” he said with proud certainty.
John glanced over at him hesitantly. Edward was defending him…The servant threw him a wink. The boy almost cracked a grin but caught himself in time and looked away.
“It’s dangerous,” she argued, pointing at John’s knee.
“But the bbike is ffine now,” he promised softly, hoping that the only thing he’d still be in trouble over was the torn clothing.
Rose’s eyes widened in surprise. “Háketa…I don’t care about the bike…I’m worried about you getting hurt.”
It was John’s turn to look shocked. It wouldn’t have been his family’s concern in Montana unless he’d been hurt badly enough to not be able to work the ranch or cost them money for a doctor.
“Pardon me Miss Rose, but you can’t wrap him in cotton…He’s too much like his father.”
She smiled ruefully. “Yes he is…He’s just like Ricky.” John chewed his lip uncertainly. Was that a good thing or a bad thing? His grandfather had made it clear that any sign of showing the stubbornness or strength of his father in any way was followed by immediate punishment.
His aunts would have called it arrogance and pride, his grandfather called him mulish and willful...A least until they’d beaten it out of him.
A smile almost played around the corners of his mouth. Well almost…His stubborn and willful nature hadn’t been killed…Just knocked unconsciousness… it still woke on occasion.
His musings were cut short as Rosemary squeezed his shoulder. “Alright my sweetheart…Let’s clean up that knee and make sure you didn’t break any other pieces of you,” she teased her dark haired nephew.
John blew out a relieved breath and threw a grateful look toward Edward. The older man grinned at him and John almost smiled back but reminded himself at the last minute not to let his guard down…He’d learned the hard way not to trust anyone.
Edward shook his head as he watched them go and smiled, admiring the boy’s tenacity and stubbornness. Miss Rosemary would have to face the fact that Master John was just as hard headed as her brother had been and Edward was proud of him. He just hoped they could keep up with him.
The rest of the weekend passed uneventfully and John returned to school on Monday. Gil, Cathy and Mary Lynn were waiting for him when Rose dropped him off. John had to admit that he liked the feeling of having people around him and not feeling so exposed and Rose was relieved that he finally seemed to be making friends and she grinned as Mary Lynn greeted the young man with a kiss.
Hmmm…She might have to keep an eye on that. John had been raised on a reservation and while she only knew what Rod and Kate had told her about it, she knew John had been sheltered from a lot of the usual things kids grew up with here and he was still a bit more naïve than most fourteen year olds.
Still, she wasn’t ready to just let things stand. Most teenage boys would be joyously happy to have a pretty girl like Mary Lynn hanging on his arm, yet John showed nothing…Not even a smile and she knew that her troubled nephew was still burying his emotions down deep. James had warned her that he might never feel like he belonged anywhere.
Rose would do whatever it took to help him…She’d even pushed back his speech therapy and tutoring schedule so he could spend more time with kids his own age in the hopes that they could reach John.
She sighed and threw the car in gear and drove away as the group disappeared inside.
John met Gil and the girls at the back door after school and followed them out to field behind the building. Mary Lynn tugged him along by the hand and grinned smugly at the other girls who watched the pretty blonde sourly.
A dozen other boys wearing shorts and sleeveless shirts were stretching and running slowly around a paved track.
John watched curiously as some of them jumped over wooden obstacles while others hurled a long pole with a sharp point, reminding him if the lances he’d been taught to throw along with practicing with the ancestral weapon of bow and arrow. John had grown proficient at both and it was one of the few times his grandfather had smiled and patted his head in pride when he’d hit the target consistently.
Gil finished tying his shoes and gave John a nod of his head toward another section of the field, avoiding touching his shy friend. He smiled to himself as he noticed John’s hand still clasped with Mary Lynn’s. He certainly didn’t seem to mind her touch.
“C’mon John, I gotta go warm up.”
The dark haired boy frowned a bit but suspected it was yet another one of those odd terms that Gil and the others used and that Gil wasn’t really ‘cold’.
John let go of Mary Lynn’s hand and followed him down the stairs and out onto the track. “Let’s go,” Gil suggested as he began a slow jog around the track to loosen up his muscles.
John shrugged and began to trot after him, catching up quickly and easily keeping the pace with the blonde. Once Gil felt loose he picked up speed. John accelerated to stay with him. His friend slowed and grinned at him.
“Wanna race?” He challenged.
“Why?” John questioned uncertainly.
“To see who’s faster,” Gil replied, looking a bit exasperated.
“Why does it matter?” John asked.
“We race for medals and stuff,” Gil explained.
John had competed in rodeos in the calf roping at his grandfather’s insistence since he was tene…Winning many of the competitions as well as the animosity of the other boys and younger men on the reservation. He’d never received the prize money as his grandfather had taken it for the ranch funds. John sighed…He really didn’t see the need to race but he understood his friend’s challenge. Gil ‘wanted’ a race but would he be mad if John won? It wasn’t in John’s nature not to try his best so all he could do was hope the other boy wouldn’t be mad if he in fact beat him.
“Okay,” John finally agreed.
“Cool,” he replied with a grin. “On three…Ready?” John nodded. “One…Two…Three!” He yelled as he broke into a sprint.
John took off after him. Gil had no idea that John had spent most of his early years learning to run…Not for fun but for his life. It didn’t take John long to catch up with his blonde friend and only a second or two more to pass him…Running easily and without even breathing hard.
He didn’t notice that the rest of the young men on the field had stopped to watch the race as well as an older man who stood in the middle of the track looking at an object in his hand. The boys began to cheer him on.
The two finally sprinted past a white line and Gil began to slow. “Okay man…You win,” he panted leaning over to rest his hands on his knees and catch his breath. John stopped running and turned back to face him.
Gil glanced up at the other boy and noticed that John was breathing easily and showed no signs of distress at all. How could someone so skinny looking, be so fit?
“You okay?” The dark haired youth questioned as several other boys began to gather around them. Mary Lynn and Cathy trotted out to join them as well, clapping their hands in appreciation at the win.
The rest of the team looked at him in shock that this thin and quiet boy that they’d been laughing at for the last several weeks had put on quite a performance.
The gray haired man lifted his ball cap and scratched his head in amazement before he began to head over himself.
“I’ll be fine man but wow…where’d you learn to run like that?”
John’s eyes darted away and widened as he noticed that he was surrounded by the other members of the team. He shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot growing wary that he was about to get another trouncing from another group of angry boys that didn’t like the ‘half breed’ beating them at something.
He finally shrugged. “I’m sorry…I…I…Thought you wwwanted me to race,” he stuttered nervously.
Gil recognized the warning signs that John was getting very uncomfortable with the conversation and that he’d leave if he didn’t calm him down. “I did…I just can’t believe how fast you are man. Wow,” he said with a grin. The others were smiling as well.
John realized that Gil and the rest weren’t angry, just amazed. A small smile quirked the corners of his mouth but it faded as the older man approached him holding an odd looking watch.
“Hello young man…I’m Coach Glendye,” he said holding out his hand.
John managed to catch himself before he backed away and remembered his resolve to show no fear. He hesitated but finally held out his hand to shake the man’s quickly before letting go and stepping back a little.
“John Gage Sssir,” he stammered quietly.
There were several snickers among the boys at the stutter and John bit his lip in embarrassment.
The coach silenced the group with a glare… “Maybe you’d all like to run a few laps,” he suggested. They grew silent. He turned back to the smaller boy.
“You’re pretty fast on your feet for someone as small as you are,” he stated, looking the boy up and down.
John blushed and looked away at the comment wishing he could be as tall as his dad had been. The man continued. “I don’t suppose you’d like to join the track team?” He questioned.
“Far out,” Gil exclaimed in excitement but John shook his head.
“No sir,” he mumbled uncomfortably.
“I uh….I have…A tttutor aaafter school and…”
“How about if I call your mom and dad and see what we can work out?”
John looked away and bit his lip against the hurt the comment brought and Gil stepped in. “He lives with his Aunt coach,” he explained.
“Oh I’m sorry…But what if I talk to her and she approves it? I could really use someone with your speed and endurance on the team.”
John’s dark eyes shot toward the group of boys standing nearby in indecision. What if this was just a cruel joke? Mary Lynn threw her arms about his neck and kissed his cheek
“I really dig athletes,” she murmured in his ear.
John looked at Gil who smiled and nodded encouragingly. “I’ll have ttto ask mmy Aunt,” he murmured, figuring she’d most likely say no since it would interrupt his speech and tutoring sessions.
“I’ll give her a call as well. Who’s your aunt Gage?” He questioned with a smile.
“Rosemary Hughes,” John replied.
There were a few gasps from some of the boys who hadn’t already heard the rumors and the coach paled a bit. He blew out a breath but nodded. He really would like to have this boy on the team and he was already planning on what to train him for…Their one weak area…The 440 and this kid ran like a Greyhound. He cleared his throat nervously and nodded.
“I’ll give her a call and see if we can’t work this out.” John shrugged and looked at the group of boys and Mary Lynn uncertainly. “Don’t you worry about them John…You’ll wipe the smirks off their faces soon enough,” he assured him reaching out to clap the teenager on the shoulder.
John tensed and stepped away but at least managed to refrain from crying out in fear. The coach frowned a bit but didn’t push the issue.
“I’ll get her number from our files son,” he said gently.
John’s eyes remained carefully averted but he finally nodded.
Gil jerked his head toward the field. “C’mon John…Let me show you what I do,” the blonde offered, trying to relieve the tension.
John shrugged and followed the blonde to where the pole vault was set up.
The coach’s eyes narrowed as he watched the boys walk away and wondered what had frightened this kid…Wasn’t any of his business he supposed but he’d call the aunt tonight right after practice and try to get the boy on the team.
John sat quietly in the back of Gil’s mother’s car and listened to the blonde teen regale his mom with the day’s events, including their race and the coach’s interest in John.
Her hazel eyes glanced at the quiet teenager in the back seat and wondered why there was no excitement in the dark eyes. Anyone else would have been bubbling over with pride or laughing at how easily they’d made the team but not this boy. His face was stoic and he hadn’t interjected a single comment but sat silently while Gil went on and on.
“Why that’s wonderful...Congratulations John,” she said as Gil finally ran out of steam.
“Th…thank you ma’am,” he mumbled, glancing out the window in embarrassment at her praise as well as the nervous stutter.
Her heart went out to this young man. Paul had told her what had happened Saturday and they’d both wondered about the boy’s past and what he had been put through.
The rumor mill had been widely circulating the story that his father had been disowned for marrying a penniless Indian woman. The former housekeeper Diana, had been fired by Rosemary Hughes herself for putting the little upstart in his place and had spitefully told anyone who would listen about how the boy had been raised in poverty on some Indian reservation in the middle of nowhere and that he was a meek and frightened mouse of a boy. She’d told them all that the boy suffered from some kind of crazy seizures as well.
Christy tried not to listen to rumors but seeing his quiet demeanor and the averted eyes, she had to wonder if the spiteful old biddy had been telling the truth. Regardless of it, she was proud of her son and the girls looking beyond that and befriending the boy…He really seemed to need a friend.
Gil had told her that he barely spoke and if he did, he wouldn’t discuss much of his past other than that he worked on some ranch somewhere.
Curiosity was killing her but she refrained from asking questions that might embarrass the boy.
They drove the rest of the home in silence and dropped John off at his front door. John stepped inside to find his aunt and Edward standing in the foyer and she seemed to be talking about something excitedly but stopped as he came inside.
“There you are,” she said with a grin as she came toward him.
The dark eyes glanced between the pair curiously before lowering once more. “I was with Gil,” he reminded her subtly.
“I know sweetie,” she replied as she reached out to catch his hands with her own. John tensed and bit his lip but managed to refrain from backing away from her, the reflex action to avoid being touched was ingrained in his soul but he was learning to handle it for the most part at least with her.
“I just got off the phone with Mr. Glendye. He said he saw you n the field today and he’d really like to have you on the team,” she said proudly.
John nodded his head reluctantly, still unsure if this was a good idea. “I told him I hhhad to ask you,” he replied, expecting her to say no.
“Well…Is it something you’d like to do?”
John shrugged indifferently…Not sure if she was happy about it or not and not wanting to give the wrong answer.
Rosemary sighed in frustration. John simply wouldn’t allow himself to dream or hope for anything better for himself. She wish she could break through and make him understand that she’d back him up in anything he wanted to do but he’d lost to much in his short life…had everything stripped away and he was resistant to every effort to reach him out of fear that it would happen again.
She’d have to keep trying to make him understand how special he was to her and that she’d give him the moon if he asked for it. She refused to give up without a fight, she was a Gage after all and stubbornness ran all the way to the bone.
Rose thought it would be good for him to get involved in something where he wouldn’t be alone so often. “Well…I spoke to him at length and I understand that it will conflict with your therapy and tutoring sessions...”
John glanced away…He’d been waiting for the refusal and hadn’t really allowed the idea to take hold but her next words surprised him.
“But I don’t think it would be a problem for Mr. Hadderly and Mr. Pierce to adjust their schedules around your practices if you’d like to try this.”
The dark eyes rose to meet hers for a second searchingly. Did she mean it? What would she ask of him to repay the privilege? The only way he’d know was to accept and see what happened. John blew out an uncertain breath…He really didn’t care other than that Mary Lynn wanted him to and that Gil was on the team. He finally nodded.
Rose smiled. “Good. Then I’ll go call him and tell him I’ll sign the permission slip.”
Changes for the Better
John spent the next few weeks on the go. His weekdays were filled with school and practice with the team...His evenings with speech therapy and tutoring.
Weekends were spent riding Wind Song or motoring about in the hills on the bike with Gil or Mary Lynn.
His new friends introduced him to skateboards and Rock and Roll, fast food and movies and despite his embarrassed reaction during his first visit, Gil’s father invited him to return and work on the cars at the garage. John shyly agreed and found himself there whenever he had time, never hesitating to crawl under the vehicle or into the engine and get filthy if necessary. Mary Lynn’s father Steve worked with him if Paul was unavailable and as the days passed, John soon became proficient with tearing apart and rebuilding an engine.
He frequently fell into bed with a book in his hand only to fall asleep in exhaustion with only a single page read.
Coach Glendye was overjoyed with John’s speed and stamina and the rest of the team began to accept the quiet teenager and even tried to engage him some of their conversations, though he rarely spoke about anything to do with himself or anything else for that matter but he would at least listen.
After the first few track meets, the boy, though slight of stature had begun to win quite often and the school newspaper had given him a rather embarrassing nickname…The Galloping Greyhound. John flushed every time it was announced but he secretly was rather proud of it. He never let it show though…Afraid of being slapped down for pride or arrogance.
Rose was also pleased with his progress in therapy and his school work. Mr. Pierce assured her that John would have no trouble passing his finals at the ninth grade levels and his stutter was almost nonexistent.
Mr. Hadderly had been correct that the more comfortable John had become in his surroundings the less he would stutter and it only became readily noticeable when he grew stressed, frustrated or excited.
Rose noted that he’d made some strides in his social skills as well though he continued to resist being touched and ducked away from most people. He would at least refrain from crying out in fear or throwing his hands up to ward off a blow unless they caught him by surprise and he now freely offered his hand in greeting, however brief.
She’d even seen a flicker of a smile on rare occasions after he’d won a meet or when Mary Lynn had been by to visit. She often grinned as she watched the pair ride off together on the bike or Wind Song.
She despaired however of ever teaching him table manners. His elbows were frequent visitors on the table and his shirt sleeve would serve as a napkin if one wasn’t readily available and even though he spoke little, it seldom occurred to him to swallow before speaking.
She shook her head in amusement and often didn’t correct the bad habit, preferring to simply relish in his willingness to share whatever had gotten him excited enough to talk rather than being sure he used perfect etiquette.
The only serious problem she still had was with what caused the odd seizures and withdrawals from time to time when John was overstressed emotionally.
She’d taken him to six doctors over the last eight weeks and now sat on seven different diagnoses from Schizophrenia to adjustment disorder to schizo affective disorder to manic depressive disorder to psychosis and all of them had felt he should be on some drug therapy program. She felt none of them were correct and had refused.
John had fought them every step of the way, remaining silent under the onslaught of questions and refusing to make eye contact…Slipping into withdrawal the moment they’d tried to force him to talk about his past.
John had had blood test after blood test and even a brain X-ray to determine if there had been some kind of damage and they’d found nothing unusual. The poor boy had more holes than a pin cushion and had pronounced them all as Vampires…A character that Gil had introduced him to in the movie theaters.
Rose had laughed but John wasn’t amused by the visits growing wary and distrustful for days after each visit, his stutter returning for a short time after every withdrawal. Rose wasn’t prepared to give up though.
James had spoken to a young psychologist that had given a lecture on a condition called Autism. It was something relatively undiagnosed by older therapists and was now being studied more intensely by the neurological community and well as Psychologists. There were several studies in other countries as well. Research was being done in Austria and Germany and this young doctor had been following those studies closely. James said the symptoms he’d described sounded very familiar.
She had made an appointment with Dr. Blackwell in late May. Right after John got out of school and she hoped he could finally give her the answers she was looking for.
She wasn’t looking forward to the fight that would ensue or the fact that John’s nicely regulated world would once again be turned upside down by the arrival of Joshua and Tiffany as well. She was concerned that their attitudes would drive John back into his shell of silence and withdrawal.
By the end of April, Roy DeSoto had finished his basic training and special training as a Medical Corpsmen in Texas and had returned to California for two weeks before he would be shipped to a medivac unit in Vietnam. He was supposed to meet up at the airport with a guy he’d met at boot camp. He and Rudy Ames had become friends and found they both lived in California…Roy in Norwalk and Rudy in Bakersfield.
They’d found out that they’d both be stationed at the same base though Rudy would be regular Army while Roy would be with the Medical Evacuation team.
Today however he put from his mind. Today he and Joanne had been invited by Jo’s best friend to a track meet in San Gabriel against Norwalk, where her younger brother was participating in one of the field events.
Roy had been on the swim team for Norwalk High just last year but had never had an opportunity to watch a track meet. He and Joanne planned to go apartment hunting together afterward.
While he’d been away, his father had finally left his mom after a troubled twenty year marriage full of fights and infidelity’s…At least on his father’s part…A fact that Roy had yet to forgive him for. They’d only stayed together this long for Roy’s sake but he often wondered if he wouldn’t have been better off if his dad had just left years ago.
He sighed softly. He guessed it didn’t matter too much as it had now worked out in the long run. His mom wanted to move to LA and would stay with Joanne while she sold the house and would then find a place of her own.
Joanne had enrolled at California State and was planning to get her degree in child psychology. Roy didn’t care what she studied just as long as he got her away from her parents who had begun berating her for her choice of husbands since they’d found out they were engaged and he’d chosen to go into the army instead of medical school.
Jo had been reduced to tears on more than one occasion and wanted to run away and elope, but Roy wanted to wait until he got out of the service and felt that he could support her. They’d compromised on moving her and Harriet to LA.
He glanced over at the beautiful auburn haired girl who walked at his side and smiled. He’d been in love with this woman for nine years now and could wait two more.
Jo felt his eyes on her and smiled as she looked over to catch his blue gaze on her. “I love you,” he said quietly.
“I love you too,” she giggled as she squeezed his hand. They climbed the bleachers to meet her friend Susan Aldrich and her boyfriend Deke Rogers.
Deke was in the Fire Fighters Academy which was something Roy planned to look into as soon as his tour in Nam was over.
They greeted each other and settled down to watch the meet.
They’d been there for over an hour watching the field events like the standing broad jump, javelin and pole vaulting as well as several of the track events such as hurdles, the hundred meter and a couple of relay events.
There were a few more track events to go before Susan’s brother’s event and the group was watching the runners on the field warming up for their own races.
Deke suddenly pointed to a group of boys for the San Gabriel team.
“What?” Roy asked, craning his neck to see what the other man was looking at.
Deke let out a small snort of laughter. “Check out number twenty three over there,” he chuckled. “Must be the team mascot.”
Susan slapped his arm with a giggle. “Be nice,” she admonished, grinning.
Roy and Jo’s blue eyes sought out the runner wearing number twenty three and smiled in understanding.
The dark haired boy was a good two or three inches shorter than the other boys around him, standing all of five foot six or seven tops. He was excessively thin and gangly. How could he possibly compete against the taller, more muscular looking boys with their long legged strides?
Joanne frowned at Deke. “Good things come in small packages,” she reminded him tartly, annoyed at his taunting of the young boy.
“He could surprise you,” Roy added with a chuckle.
“Bet…?” Deke challenged.
Roy frowned. “I don’t even know what he’s running in yet,” Roy hedged.
“Not willing to put your money where your mouth is DeSoto,” the older man taunted.
Roy pursed his lips in indecision for a long moment and then sighed. “Alright…you’re on. Five bucks says he’s faster than he looks,” he replied with an arch to his blonde eyebrow and reaching out a hand to seal the deal.
“Done,” Deke replied shaking Roy’s hand. He grinned smugly, already trying to figure out how to spend his extra five dollars.
The foursome watched several other races but the dark haired boy was still pacing the sidelines, trying to keep loose. They were coming up to the last race in which Susan’s brother would be competing. Deke chuckled… “I was right…He is the mascot,” he chortled, thinking there was no way this kid could be competing in something as grueling as the four forty, which was the only race left.
Roy shrugged. “Maybe he’s injured or something and got scratched from a race,” he replied, sounding a bit disappointed that he wouldn’t get to see this kid put Deke in his place.
“Well then…I guess that lets you off the hook for…,”
The blast of the public address system muted the rest of his words as it began to announce the participants of the next race.
“Ladies and gentlemen…For Norwalk…Number forty eight, Marcus Reese.” The boy lifted his hand and stepped out on the field. There was a scattering of applause from the Norwalk fans that had made the trip, including Roy and Jo and their friends.
“Number twelve…Brandon Aldrich.” Susan cheered loudly while the others applauded and there was a smattering of boos of disapproval from the San Gabriel fans. “And number thirty three, Michael Goldman.”
There seemed to be a slight hush over the stands as they waited for the announcer to finish. “Running for San Gabriel, number four, Bobby Travis.” The cheers and applause got a bit louder for the home team. Number sixteen, Eric Jacobson and number twenty three…”
All four from the group from Norwalk had the same reaction to loud screams and cheers that suddenly erupted from the San Gabriel fans. Their mouths dropped open in shock as he continued. “Our own Gaaaalloping Greyhound… Joooohn Gaaage,” the announcer bellowed, dragging the name out. The dark haired boy stepped out on the track and raised his arm to signal that he was present and ready to run.
The group looked around at the students who were now looking pretty smug at this point. Deke began to laugh and shake his head in disbelief. “Galloping greyhound,” he muttered. “More like a pint sized poodle,” he snorted.
Roy leaned forward in anticipation and began to smile, sensing that this diminutive kid was about to wipe the smirk off of Deke Roger’s face.
The boy lined up with the rest and the gun was fired. The group set off at a good clip but stayed fairly well together in a pack for the first thirty seconds or so, periodically jockeying for position all except for number twenty three…He stayed consistently near the middle of the group, not losing but not gaining any ground either...They rounded the track into the final turn…
Deke gave Roy a teasing shove. “Better get out your wallet DeSoto.”
Roy sighed and reached for his back pocket but Joanne suddenly grabbed his arm. “Wait a minute,” she added, pointing to the track where the dark haired boy had suddenly seemed to turn it on.
The crowd of students began cheering as he poured on the speed, passing the three boys ahead of him.
Chants of ‘Johnny…Johnny’ began to erupt as he crossed the finish line several strides and a couple of seconds ahead of the others.
Roy, Joanne and Susan were all applauding the performance even though the kid had just beaten Sue’s brother into second place. They threw smug looks at Deke as he reached resignedly for his wallet to give Roy his winnings.
He scowled sourly as Roy plucked the bill from his fingers. “I don’t believe that,” he muttered as they watched the boy’s teammates gather about him. They applauded him wildly but oddly there was none of the usual back slaps and hair tousles that usually accompanied such an impressive victory…It was a bit odd.
Roy shrugged. “Believe it,” he chuckled, sounding impressed. “The kids got spunk.”
They settled down to watch the last few events but Roy’s eyes were continually drawn to the boy on the sidelines and he couldn’t explain why.
The end of May finally rolled around and John was looking forward to a summer of horseback and motorbike, skate boards and swimming and wanting to spend time with Wind Song, Gil and Mary Lynn.
He came into the cafeteria and headed over to join his friends. He frowned as he approached the others and noted that both Cathy and Mary Lynn were crying and Gill was looking unhappy as well as he tried to console his girl friend.
“What’s wrong?” He asked worriedly.
The blonde teen looked over at him. “My dad talked to me last night. He told me he sold the shop.”
John looked surprised and then dismayed. He’d been helping out there for weeks and had even taken a semester of automotive shop classes to learn even more. He’d become fairly proficient at tearing apart and putting an engine back together. He’d no longer have anything to work on and that was a disappointment but it was about to get worse.
“Where will he work?” He asked, assuming he’d be opening a new one close by.
“He bought a new shop,” Gil said unhappily.
John frowned, wondering what the problem was.
“In Los Angeles,” Mary Lynn sniffed. “My father told me we were leaving too,” she wailed, throwing herself toward him.
John froze uncertainly but didn’t return Mary Lynn’s embrace. His stomach tightened a bit at the idea of losing the only companions he had…Again. His mouth tightened and his jaw clenched as he he slammed the walls around his heart in place and pushed the hollow feeling down deep.
He should have known better than to let his guard down and let someone get too close. Everyone left him eventually and this was just another example.
He looked away. “When will you leave?” He asked flatly.
Mary Lynn sat back and stared at him in disbelief at the cool tone of his voice. His dark eyes were averted and empty of feeling. She was well used to John’s lack of excitement about most things by now and she knew he rarely displayed much emotion but this was different. His face seemed to be a frozen mask without expression.
“Don’t you even care that I have to leave?” She asked, looking hurt that John hadn’t even attempted to console her.
John looked away. “Will caring change the fact that you are leaving?” He questioned in resignation.
Gil nodded in agreement but the pretty blonde grew agitated at his lack of response.
“Maybe not but it sure woulda made me feel better if you gave a damn,” she snapped as she stood up abruptly and stalked angrily away. Cathy shot him a glare as she turned and ran after her friend.
John stared miserably at the floor. “I’m sorry I made them angry,” he mumbled to Gil. “I do give…a damn but I can not change it,” he said quietly.
“It’s okay…They’re girls, they get that way,” Gil replied, knowing John had a tough time expressing himself. Gil was used to it now but he also knew that Mary Lynn, being a female had expected a greater show of emotion than John seemed capable of showing.
“Yeah…Well…Good luck in Los Angeles,” he murmured as he turned away.
“Thanks man,” Gil answered as he watched his friend walk away. “Hey John…?” The sable haired boy turned to look at him questioningly. “Good luck on the track team next year.”
John shrugged and nodded. He’d only gone out for it for Mary Lynn and Gil in the first place. “See ya,” he said as he walked away.
Gil felt terrible. John had only really had the three of them and now he’d be alone but there was nothing he could do.
John returned home later that afternoon. His face once again wore that emotionless mask he’d had for the last few years.
Edward frowned at the expression as he came from the study at the sound of the door opening. “Is something wrong Master John?” He questioned the boy.
John shook his head. There was no point in whining or complaining about his loss. He’d learned a long time ago that nothing and no one was permanent in his life and this was just another example of it. It was why John never allowed himself to become attached to anyone, so their leaving wasn’t as much a sense of loss as resignation that what he’d expected had come to pass.
“Gil and Mary Lynn are moving to Los Angeles,” he informed him simply.
Edward blew out a sympathetic breath. “I’m sorry Master John,” he commiserated, knowing they were the only friends the boy had.
The dark eyes lifted to meet his briefly and he shrugged indifferently. John had sprouted over the last couple of months and now stood almost as tall as the servant at five foot nine though Edward and Rosemary suspected he wasn’t through just yet. Miss Rose had already had to replace most of the young master clothes and shoes.
They were both amazed at how handsome the boy was becoming…Almost a carbon copy of his father except for the dark eyes and a slightly more sensitive mouth.
“Guess Wind Song and I will spend more time together,” he said throwing the servant a rueful smile.
Edward grinned and nodded, knowing the boy would never let his real feelings show and would shrug off any attempt of sympathy. “Yes sir,” he replied simply.
“Probably just as well, you share the same intelligence levels,” a snide voice sneered from behind them.
John spun around and came face to face with a smirking Joshua and Tiffany.
Edward bristled and had to clamp his mouth shut to avoid snapping and coming to the younger boys defense.
John’s eyes lowered but he’d had enough of being treated like this by these two. “Thankfully she’s several levels above yours and she has better manners too,” he shot back without a hint of a stutter.
Edward had to cover his mouth and turn rapidly away to hide the laughter that threatened to pour out behind a choking cough.
Tiffany’s mouth dropped open in shock while Joshua’s face turned scarlet in anger. He considered taking a swing at his cousin but noted that the boy was now as tall as he was and though still thin, running track and a healthy diet had definitely improved his muscle tone. He wasn’t at all sure that his young cousin couldn’t beat him senseless.
“And from what I just heard…I’d have to agree,” Rosemary’s voice came from the office doorway.
John bit his lip and shot her a nervous glance, sure he’d be in trouble now that she’d caught him being rude to her children…This was their home after all.
“I’m sor…” he began.
“Do not apologize John, you didn’t do anything wrong,” she interrupted sternly as she joined the group and slipped her arm around her nephews slender waist.
John stiffened but refrained from stepping away from her, knowing how irritated she usually got when he did that.
She turned frosty green eyes on her own two offspring. “Joshua, Tiffany…It’s…nice to have you home,” she said politely, though the tone belied the words.
“Hello mother,” Joshua replied leaning forward to kiss his mother coolly on the cheek.
Tiffany followed suit but with a touch more warmth and followed it with a hug.
Rose smiled tolerantly at their very proper greeting but didn’t release her hold on John. “I guess now is as good a time as any to set the ground rules now that you’re home for the summer. John lives here now and this is his home as much as it is yours and I won’t tolerate the rudeness and insults in my home, are we clear?”
John shuffled his feet a bit nervously. “Yes ma’am,” he murmured contritely, remembering the snide barb he’d tossed at Joshua.
“I wasn’t talking to you háketa, I was talking to Joshua and Tiffany."
Her son drew himself up indignantly and her daughter’s mouth dropped open in surprise that their mother would take them to task in their own home. His own green eyes grew cold and narrowed angrily as he shot a glare at his cousin. “Of course mother…We were merely playing with him,” he said frostily.
“Of course you were,” she said but it was obvious from her tone that she wasn’t buying it. “But we all know how sensitive John is and he doesn’t always understand your ah…sense of humor.”
“Of course…I’m sorry mother. We forgot,” Tiffany replied, shooting a glare at John from beneath lowered lashes.
“Good…Now that that’s settled why don’t you two go upstairs and get settled and I’ll see you at dinner.” The tone was soft but they both understood the command behind it. She wasn’t going to have them continue to harass the little upstart.
She turned to John. “Did you have a good day at school sweetie?” She asked.
John shrugged, not wanting to discuss the coming departure of his friends in front of Joshua and Tiffany.
“Master John told me that Gil and Miss Mary Lynn are moving away to L A Madam,” Edward informed her.
“Oh sweetie, I’m sorry.” John nodded but didn’t reply which only confirmed Rose’s concern that he would withdraw into silence now that her children were home.
“Who are they?” Tiffany questioned curiously.
“Friends of John’s,” Rose replied. “Gil was on the track team with him and his father owns the garage on Serona,” she explained.
Joshua snorted with laughter. “You’re friends with the help,” he sneered in disbelief. John’s face grew red, knowing they were once again laughing at him and not really understanding why. What was wrong with being friends with people who worked for a living? Not everyone got to grow up feeling as if the world owed them something. His Aunt had accused him on many occasions of being arrogant, though he’d never understood why and even more so now. He’d never acted like this toward others. He wondered what she’d make of these two.
Carrie had just come in through the dining room in time to hear that last crack. She shot a glare at the pair of spoiled teens, standing there laughing as if they were somehow better than those who had to work…She’d take John and his friends any day over these two and the crowd they hung around with. She wanted to kick them both in the behind for their hatefulness to their young cousin.
“Gil’s a very nice young man and he’s been very helpful this year. He taught John to ride a motorcycle and to skateboard and his father has helped him learn to fix cars and they ran on the track team together,” Rose defended the boy.
“Track team?” Joshua snorted disbelievingly.
“Repairing cars?” Tiffany asked, looking aghast that John had actually gotten his hands dirty but then again, then boy was most likely used to that.
Rosemary grinned proudly. “Yes…John has won quite a few meets this year and he’s very popular on the team,” she boasted, giving her nephew’s waist a squeeze. She knew John would never toot his horn as it were. “And he’s helped Edward repair the car a couple of times as well.”
“Well I’m sure he was quite good at it. Being dirty and running away seems to be something he’s well versed in,” Tiffany said with a smirk. Joshua nodded in agreement.
John’s face flushed with color and he bit his lip in embarrassment. Rosemary’s face turned scarlet as well but or a whole different reason.
Rosemary finally dropped her arm away from John and crossed them tightly over her chest. “Perhaps you two would be happier spending the summer with your grandparents in Santa Barbara,” she said warningly.
Joshua bristled while Tiffany looked shocked. “Are you seriously asking us to leave our own home because of him?” Joshua asked in disbelief.
“I’m telling you if you can’t abide by the rules of my house, you can leave it…YES,” she growled.
John’s dark eyes flitted between them warily as the tempers flared. His breathing grew a bit labored and he backed up a step…They were only here a few minutes and it was already starting… His hands rose to cover his ears. “Stop…Please stop,” he whispered as a slow rock began. “Please…please don’t fight.”
Tiffany and Joshua frowned at the reaction. “He may have stopped that dreadful stuttering but I see he’s still crazy,” she sneered.
Rose recognized the warning signs. “That’s enough,” she snarled at her daughter before turning to John. “I’m sorry Háketa,” she said quickly. “We aren’t fighting about you…It’s about who is in control here,” she said casting a warning glance at her children.
“Well, I guess you’ve had all spring to turn our mother against us,” Joshua sneered.
John shifted uncomfortably but Rose stepped between them. “John’s done nothing but you both are certainly managing all on your own.”
Joshua finally realized that he wasn’t going to win this battle and he needed to retreat for the moment. There would be plenty of time to make his young cousin miserable and send the little gold digger running back to Montana for good.
“Forgive me mother…I guess we’ll just go up and unpack and let you calm down.” He turned to the two servants who had remained standing in the back ground. “Our bags are still in the car…See to it that they’re brought up to our rooms,” he demanded.
“Yes sir,” Edward replied, wishing the pair had simply stayed at school.
Tiffany shot her mother a betrayed glance before she turned to Carrie. “I plan on having Eleanor over to play tennis this afternoon, see to it my things are unpacked before she gets here,” she snapped, taking her temper out on the servant.
“Yes Miss Tiffany,” she said stiffly.
The two turned toward the stairs as Carrie and Edward headed outside but Rose cleared her throat stopping them all. “Ahem…There is one more thing,” she began after regaining their attention. “I believe that I taught my children manners though you couldn’t tell by your behavior. John has brought it to my attention that the words please and thank you are sadly lacking in our vocabulary so as of now you will begin using those words when addressing those who work here,” she instructed.
Joshua and Tiffany’s face grew red with an even mixture of embarrassment and rage but they had already pushed their mother too far and didn’t dare cross her any further or they were apt to spending their summer in Santa Barbara with their grandparent’s. They both needed to find a way back into her good graces at this point.
Joshua nodded his head. “Of course mother,” he replied stiffly before he turned and stalked up the stairs.
Tiffany shot a final, hate filled glare at her cousin and followed her brother.
“Thank you madam,” Edward said as he headed out the door to get their suitcases. Carrie hid a smug smirk behind her hand. Things had definitely changed since the young master had arrived and she couldn’t wait to tell Laura and Ellen about all of this. She hurried after Edward.
Rose turned to John. “I’m sorry it got so ugly sweetie…I had hoped that they’d grow up a bit while they were away…Do a little soul searching but I’m afraid it might take a little longer to work the Hughes arrogance out of them. I’m hoping there is a bit of Gage in there some where.”
John bit his lip still not used to anyone actually defending him but still appreciative when it happened. He gave her a small half smile as he headed up the stairs.
Joshua and Tiffany were still in a snit over their mother’s edict to be ‘polite’ not only to their aggravating cousin but also to the help and much to Rosemary’s amusement, made it a point to refrain from speaking to them at all. She wondered how long they could keep this up. Carrie, Laura and Ellen wondered the same thing as they served dinner, receiving the usual thanks from John and Rosemary but only a curt head nod from the other two at the table.
John for the most part picked at his dinner. Not only out of fear that they’d torment him over his table manners but he was also still in a funk over the loss of the only ‘friends’ he had. While John had never thought of them as close, they had been good companions to hang out with and he’d actually had some fun over the last few months but now he was once again alone.
Tiffany finally broke the silence. “I was thinking mother…,” she began.
Rose arched a questioning brow at her daughter and avoided a sarcastic reply. “About what?”
“Your birthday is coming up.” Rose nodded. “Joshua and I thought it would be fun if we took you somewhere special.”
“You mean to dinner somewhere?”
“Oh no…We were thinking of somewhere fun like the Caribbean,” she suggested in the hopes that they could get her away from John for a while. “I mean you’ve been working so hard since daddy died with running his business and all your boring committees and things.”
Rose eyed her daughter speculatively as she sipped her coffee before glancing toward where John sat silently pushing his food around.
“And are we ALL going on this little vacation?” She questioned casually, nodding her head toward her nephew.
“Well…No mother,” she replied sounding irritated. “This is for OUR family.”
John felt the words like a slap to the face but kept his expression carefully neutral. Just like his family in Montana, he would never give them a chance to get down deep inside where he’d buried his emotions. He never even glanced up and Rose despaired of ever finding the boys heart or soul.
Her green eyes grew frosty… “John is a part of this family.”
“But mother…I doubt he’d like it there…They’re not his…Class of people…Besides,” she began wrinkling her delicate nose. “He seems to prefer to spend his time with that smelly horse of his.”
“Yes…Well he’s definitely more comfortable being with something that doesn’t insult him constantly,” she said sarcastically. “But I’ll have to pass. I don’t much care for that um…Class of people either and I’m very busy right now,” she said as she returned to her coffee.
Tiffany pouted and glared at John, knowing he was the real reason behind her refusal to go with them and unable to grasp that it was their own selfishness and arrogance that was behind her mother’s anger and frustration with her offspring.
John threw his aunt a surprised glance before returning his attention to his rapidly cooling food. “It’s alright if you want to go Aunt Rosemary…I don’t want to go anyway,” he said quietly.
Rose patted his hand gently. “Thank you Háketa but what I said is true…I am very busy right now.”
John shrugged and nodded.
Tiffany tried again. “Well alright mother, then how about having a party right here with all of our friends and grandmother and grandfather? We haven’t had a real party since before daddy…,” she trailed off.
Rosemary hesitated. She hadn’t spoken to her parents since Geoffrey’s funeral and had little to say to them after she’d found out what they’d done with Kate’s letters and she really didn’t want a party but it might just get her parents here and give them an opportunity to meet John. She hoped if they could just get to know him, they’d love him as much as she did…Maybe give them a chance to pull the family back together. It would also be an opportunity to introduce him to her other friends…She loved her nephew and she wouldn’t hide him from her circle of friends.
“Your grandparents don’t seem inclined to visit lately,” she began. John looked away, knowing he was the reason they wouldn’t come. “But go ahead and try if you want too,” she finally agreed.
John shifted uncomfortably in his seat, uncertain whether he wanted his grandparents here or not. They’d made it very clear that they wanted nothing to do with him and if that’s the way they felt, it was fine with him. But it wasn’t as if he really had a choice, he never did and besides…He most likely wouldn’t be invited to attend the party anyway.
Tiffany clapped her hands together excitedly as she jumped from her chair. “Oh thank you Mother…This will be so much fun,” she trilled as she threw her arms around her mom and hugged her.
She shot a glare at John as she pulled back…At least her mother would have to acknowledge that it was her own children that cared about her now. John certainly wouldn’t have thought of a party, she mused spitefully, having no idea that birthdays were not something John had ever celebrated most of his life and Rose wouldn’t have cared about it if they’d forgotten it completely.
Rose doubted that it would be much fun but if it would give John and his grandparents a chance to finally meet, then it would be worth it.
Joshua and Tiffany headed upstairs to begin planning what she was sure would be a party more aimed toward their enjoyment than her own but she hoped if they were busy with it they might leave John alone for a while.
John finally felt free to eat his dinner. He wolfed it down even though it was no longer hot. It didn’t bother him though since he’d grown up eating his dinner only after his chores on the ranch and at home had been done which often left him with a cold dinner.
“Slow down sweetie,” Rose admonished gently. “Do you want me to have Carrie warm that up?”
John shrugged. “No ma’am.” He mumbled quietly.
“You can’t go all summer without eating Háketa,” she said softly.
John looked down at the table and sighed. “I know,” he mumbled. He threw her a contrite glance that his manners were still lacking so abysmally in comparison with her own children. “I’ll try to do better,” he added forlornly.
“Don’t you worry about that, you just eat.”
John nodded, knowing the taunting he’d receive from his cousins but also knowing she was right. He couldn’t starve all summer or expect the girls to do extra work to wait on him in his room either. He’d just have to learn to ignore their rude comments and try harder to remember what his Aunt had taught him.
“May I be excused?” He asked politely.
“Certainly.” John rose from his chair but Rosemary stopped him before he left the room. “John?”
“Yes ma’am?” He questioned, turning back.
“Don’t go out tomorrow morning alright. I want you down here for breakfast with me at nine.” John frowned, wondering why but didn’t argue. Rose hadn’t made it a request. He recognized the command in her tone.
“Yes ma’am,” he agreed before he left the room. Rosemary watched him go and sighed heavily. She should have warned him but she was concerned that after that past appointment that had left him shaken and frightened that he might flee if she gave him warning of where they were going. She waited until he was gone to turn to Edward who stood patiently near the kitchen door to signal the girls when the family was done. “I’ll need you to drive us Edward,” she directed quietly. “Just in case there’s any more um…Trouble,” she finished worriedly.
Edward nodded unhappily. He’d grown increasingly fond of the teenager over the last few months and hated to see the boy put through this trauma time and time again but he also understood her need to find out what was wrong with the boy and if there was a way to fix it. He could only pray this doctor would have the answers.
John sat at the table with his Aunt at eight fifteen the next morning, grateful that his cousins were late risers and most likely wouldn’t make an appearance until long after he’d finished his talk with his aunt and had ridden out on Wind Song. He’d thought maybe now that school was over and his deal to study in order to keep Wind Song was no longer in place that she’d have some other chores for him to help earn his keep. He’d worked his whole life for as long as he could remember and while the last five months had been an enjoyable and welcomed respite of having nothing to do but schoolwork, he expected her to come with some other form of repayment.
He finished eating and avoided wiping his mouth with his shirt sleeve, much to Rosemary’s amusement. He cleaned his hands and face with a napkin before setting it aside and folding his hands in his lap as he waited for his aunt to finish and tell him whatever it was she’d wanted to talk about. Rosemary sighed and wiped her own mouth, knowing she’d be in for a fight the moment he found out where they were going but still determined to do all she could to help John and to do that, she needed to know what was happening to him.
She finally set her napkin aside. “If you’re done sweetie, we can go know,” she said as she stood up and headed for the door. John rose to his feet and looked at her questioningly before he followed her into the hall. Edward stood waiting by the door with keys in hand and John shot him a wary glance before looking back to his aunt.
“Where are we going?” He finally asked, afraid he already knew. Rose always had Edward drive when she was taking him to another doctor. A moment later his worst fear were confirmed.
“We have an appointment with a doctor that I think can help you.” John backed up a step.
“I don’t need help,” he whispered.
“Yes sweetie, you do.” John shook his head. Why did she keep doing this to him? Why couldn’t they just leave him alone? This was a waste of her time. He’d never tell anyone what they’d done to him…Not ever…He couldn’t. He was too ashamed and they’d turn him away…Blame him as George had said they would. “I don’t want to,” he mumbled backing further away. His dark eyes were on his aunt and he didn’t see Edward leave the door to move over behind him.
“This is not open for debate John Roderick,” she said sternly. “We have to be there at nine thirty so we need to go.”
John didn’t want to go through this again…Another doctor trying to pry into his past…more needles and another blackout and days of stuttering and nightmares. He licked his suddenly dry lips. “Please Aunt Rosemary,” he pleaded desperately. “I’ll be good…I promise,” he vowed.
Rose looked ready to weep. “Oh Háketa, this isn’t a punishment…I promise you. I only want to help you.”
“You can’t help me,” he whispered miserably. No one could take the horrors or the loneliness or the suffering he’d endured go away. Why couldn’t they just leave him alone? Edward sensed the boy was about to bolt and stepped closer. It was only seconds before John whirled, prepared to run and slammed into the man’s chest. He gasped in shock for a moment before his arms closed around him. He began to struggle to get loose. “It’ alright Master John I won’t hurt you,” he assured the teen. “LET GO OF ME!” He shrieked as his feet lashed out desperately.
Rose ran to join them. “JOHN…THAT’S ENOUGH,” she demanded.
John heard the command but he couldn’t bear the man’s arms about him either. “No…Don’t touch me,” he muttered half under his breath.
She grabbed hold of his hand. “Alright Edward, let him go,” she said softly.
Edward loosened his hold on the boy but stayed close enough to grab him if he tried to run again. John stood shaking in fear but didn’t attempt to run again. He knew it would only make it worse for himself if he did.
Rose cupped his cheek in her hand. “Come on John…One more,” she assured him and she meant it. She wouldn’t put him through this again. If this one couldn’t give her the answers she sought then she’d have to just leave him alone and hope he’d grow out of it in time. After all they’d become less frequent as time had gone on.
John nodded his head in defeat and followed forlornly behind his Aunt. None of them saw Joshua and Tiffany watching from the top of the stairs with smirks of ridicule on their faces.
Dr. Blackwell’s office was different from the more austere settings of the other therapists they’d been to see. A much cozier and warmer atmosphere greeted them. The doctor himself and his nurse were dressed casually in street clothes rather than a suit or uniform which gave them a more normal, less intimidating presence for John.
He shuffled in behind his aunt, with Edward following. He sat down in the waiting room just outside the door to be sure he was available if he was needed.
Dr. Blackwell extended his hand first to John and then his aunt. John shook the offered hand but refused to make eye contact. His dark orbs fixed on the man’s chest. Blackwell’s eyes met Rosemary’s and she shook her head. He understood that John was here under duress and would be uncooperative.
“Why don’t we have a seat John...Mrs. Hughes?” He suggested, sweeping his hand toward the sofa. John remained stubbornly in place until his aunt gave him a light push from behind. He shuffled to the chair and sat stiffly in it. Rose settled on the sofa across from him.
“John…Your aunt told me that you sometimes have some odd seizures?” John shrugged but at least acknowledged that it was true with a nod of his head. “Do you remember anything afterward?” John shrugged again. The doctor glanced at Rose…The boy wasn’t going to make it easy on him, that was obvious. “John…Do you remember hearing voices sometimes when you’re having one?” There was another vague nod. “Do you remember feeling anyone touch you?” Another shrug was the only reply.
He looked to Rosemary. “Can you describe what he does when he’s having a ‘seizure’?” He asked her.
“He rocks…He crosses his arms over his chest and seems to huddle into himself. His fingers sometimes rub together and his eyes get very vague…As if he’s seeing something I can’t…Something inside himself,” she explained as best she could. “He throws himself over backward or slaps your hands away if you touch him and he protects his face...He hates it when you touch his face.”
John’s cheeks were scarlet with embarrassment as she went on but he shot her a bewildered glance from beneath lowered brows. He never remembered much of what she described but the doctor had hit it dead on. He often heard the voices around him, however distant they might be. He seldom remembered what they were saying afterward, though sometimes he could respond with actions rather than words. He could also vaguely remember being touched and the terror that it often invoked when they did and depending on whom it was, whether it would bring him back or send him deeper into his own head, becoming frustrated and angry when they wouldn’t leave him alone…pushing away from the contact.
He turned back to the boy. “Do you know what brings it on John?” The teenager knew it happened when he felt afraid, frustrated or stressed but still didn’t understand what happened or where he went when it did. John shrugged and gave him a half nod. The doctor smiled…”Does it happen when you’re scared?” John shot him a glance and another small nod. “How about when you’re really uptight about something?” John bit his lip and nodded ruefully. Rosemary cast the doctor a hopeful look. He seemed to be describing exactly what drove the teenager into these fits. “Your Aunt Rosemary also says you don’t like to be touched?” Here it comes, John mused worriedly. John shook his head. “Can you tell us why?” John began to rock slowly.
The doctor’s eyes watched him carefully. The boy shook his head in the negative. “Has someone hurt you?” John’s breaths began to come in short gasps and the rocking picked up speed…His dark eyes grew vague as he began to huddle in on himself. “Please don’t upset him,” Rose began but the doctor waved her silent.
“John…Do you get angry when someone touches you?” He asked, even as he slid to his knees in front of the boy. His hands reached out to grip the boys face between them. “Look at me John,” he directed forcing the teenagers head up.
John pushed frantically at his hands and the man nodded his head and gripped the boy’s wrists in a firm but gentle hold pulling him from the chair and almost into his lap. John arched over backward.
“See what I mean?” Rose said worriedly as he watched the young doctor work with her nephew.
“This is what I wanted to see,” he acknowledged breathlessly as he held on to the struggling, writhing teen. John’s feet lashed out and his breaths came in angry pants and wordless groans of frustration at his inability to break the man’s hold on him. After what seemed like hours to Rosemary, though actually only thirty minutes had passed, John seemed to be running out of steam. Both he and the doctor were wet with sweat but his struggles finally seemed to grow weaker.
Blackwell risked letting go of one hand and cupped the boys chin once again. “Look at me John,” he directed the gasping boy. The teen pushed at his hands fitfully and he waved to Rosemary. She quickly set her purse aside and slid onto the floor next to them. “Make him look at you…Focus on you alright?”
“Look at me háaketa,” she urged holding his face. The thrashing continued but on a lesser scale since the boy was now exhausted. “Look at me, my sweetheart,” she urged gently as she rocked him in her arms. After a few minutes of coaxing, the dark eyes seemed to regain some sense of awareness now that he recognized the person who held him. They lifted tiredly to meet hers. “There’s my sweetheart,” she said gently. John glanced about fearfully… his chocolate brown gaze came to rest on the doctor who sat nearby but Rosemary quickly turned his face back toward her. “I have you háaketa…you’re okay now,” she soothed, running her fingers through the sweat dampened, sable hair. The dark eyes closed as fatigue settled in.
Blackwell stood as soon as he was sure the boy was asleep and bent to lift him in his arms and lay him gently on the sofa. He turned back to help Rosemary to her feet. “I’m going to ask you a few more questions if you don’t mind,” he said as Rosemary resettled in her chair.
“Alright, she replied hopefully. This young man seemed to know exactly how to handle John and his seizures. He’d even brought him out of it on his own. Maybe this time she’d get some answers.
“Mrs. Hughes…Is John very blunt?”
She nodded. “He can be yes…If he lets his guard down and talks at all than absolutely…He’ll say what he thinks.”
“Is he very neat…Even obsessively so? Everything in its place...Does he have a one track mind?”
She nodded again. “Yes…He’s very organized and focused when he does anything.”
“Does he have a lot of nightmares?”
“Yes…He’s wakened me a couple of times screaming but he won’t tell me what they are.” He nodded thoughtfully.
“Mrs. Hughes…Was he an abused child?” He asked gently.
She glanced away. “We’re pretty sure he was. His doctor thinks so but John won’t confirm that and that’s what he does whenever you ask him. He gets very upset at raised voices or fighting of any kind and pulls into himself and he’s very afraid of men in particular...Touching him I mean.”
“Mrs. Hughes…Being an abused child and an orphan which you already explained to me on the phone…I’m going to tell you he shows all the signs of battered child syndrome…The lack of eye contact…the way he sits as if he’s poised to flee at a moment’s notice. The way you described him protecting his face…Most likely from being hit.”
Rose felt tears spring to her eyes at what her precious nephew had been forced to endure but she’d already been pretty sure of the abuse. She nodded her head. “I’ve been told that before.”
“I’m going to couple that with Childhood Traumatic Stress Disorder. “It’s hard enough to lose one parent tragically at such a young age but to lose both and then be cast into a life of abuse on top of it by the ones that should be protecting you?” He shrugged. “It would damage any child.”
“Of course,” she agreed. “Is that it though? Is that what causes these seizures of his?”
“These are not seizures,” he informed her. She frowned at that statement.
“Then what are they?” He sat forward and clasped his hands in front of him.
“Withdrawal?” She questioned in confusion.
“Yes…withdrawal. That’s what you were witnessing and I pushed him to it deliberately so I could see what he does.”
“I see…Do you know what’s wrong with him then?” She asked almost hopefully. “Yes Mrs. Hughes…I’m pretty sure I do.” She nodded hopefully but there was also fear in her eyes. “I think what John has is something we call Autism…”
“Autism…? What is that?” “It’s hard to explain because…Well to be honest there’s not as much research being done on it here as there is in other countries such as Germany and Austria.”
“Too often it was diagnosed as something else. Psychosis and schizophrenia and a lot of other things that are totally unrelated. We’re really just beginning to understand it but in Austria there is a doctor…A Hans Asperger…He’s making great strides into this problem and I have been following his research. See he believes it’s a neurological condition. Some doctors think it’s brought on by abuse and rejection but Dr. Asperger doesn’t agree and I think he’s right. It’s something in the neural wiring of the brain. It ranges from severe to where a child is almost non functional and in this withdrawal state most of the time to mild…Like John’s appears to be. He’s in control of it most of the time until fear, anger, anxiety, stress and frustration, those emotions that he doesn’t usually show overwhelm him and he can’t cope with those negative feelings so it snaps that control. He pulls into a place inside of his own mind where he feels safe and he can block out those feelings of anger and fear and frustration, understand?”
She gave an uncertain nod. “But what about that pushing you away and…?” She began.
“He’s in a safe place for him and he doesn’t want to come back to that place where he’s afraid so he resists your attempt to bring him back to a world he doesn’t want to be in.”
“I’ve had other doctors tell me he’s crazy?” She said matter of fact.
He shook his head. “Not at all Mrs. Hughes. As a matter of fact…Some people we’ve found with this condition are quite brilliant really. John’s just learned to use his mind to protect himself from his past…to retreat from what scares him.”
“What do I do for him then?”
He shook his head. “Just what you have been. Hold him when he withdraws. Tell him you love him and want him back. Make him look at you if you can and refocus his mind on you. There really isn’t much else unless you want to put him on medication but I don’t recommend it.”
“No,” she agreed. “No I don’t want to do that.”
“Good,” he said standing up. “Don’t worry Mrs. Hughes…He’s quite apt to grow out of the worst of the symptoms since the reasons behind the withdrawals have been greatly reduced by living with you. As for the other…Well…You can take him to a psychiatrist to try and force him to talk about his past but I seriously doubt they’ll make him open up. He needs to but…he shook his head. “Until he’s willing to help himself and trust someone enough to tell them what happened he’s not going to talk…He’s buried his emotions very deep…And he’ll just pull into himself to avoid confronting them.
She nodded. Well…It wasn’t a cure but at least she now had an answer. She could live with this as long as John wasn’t in any serious danger. She looked at her sleeping nephew. “Should I tell him?” She asked softly as she reached out to smooth the dam, sable hair from his forehead.
“That’s up to you. There’s no reason too but if you think you should…go ahead.”
Rose thought about it. Should she? Should she dump yet another burden on this poor child who’d already endured too much? She shook her head. “I think I’ll keep it to myself for a while at least. Thank you Dr. Blackwell,” she said as she rose to her feet.
He nodded his head and stood up to shake her hand. “Do you need some help with him?” He asked nodding toward John.
“No thank you…My driver is just outside the door,” she explained as she pulled the door open and waved Edward into the room.
He sighed as he came inside and saw the teenager sleeping restlessly on the couch. “Not again Miss Rose,” he mumbled unhappily.
“Last time Edward…I finally have some answers.” The man looked relieved as he scooped John into his arms. “I’ll tell you about it on the way home but he’s fine…”
“Thank Heavens,” he said as he carried the boy out.
John woke several hours later. His wary, dark eyes traveled about the room and he breathed a sigh of relief at discovering he was home and in his own bed. He hitched himself up against the headboard but froze as the door opened and Rosemary came inside.
“How are you feeling Háaketa?” She questioned softly as she came to sit on the edge of the bed.
The chocolate brown eyes were once again filled with suspicion and fear. “I am fffine,” he stuttered as he always did after he’d…Withdrawn, she mused knowing the proper term for it now.
“Good…Your lunch will be ready shortly if you’re hungry.”
John nodded but continued to regard her uncertainly. “What hap…happened?” He questioned, already suspecting that he’d once again had one of those frightening blackouts.
“You…Withdrew,” she said gently as she reached out to stroke the dark waves back. He ducked away and Rose sighed. “But at least we’re all done with doctors,” she said brightly. “At least that kind,” she qualified, knowing her nephews penchant for getting injured. He just didn’t have a timid bone in his body when it came to horses, motorcycles, skateboards and rock climbing and he wasn’t always careful while doing them, she mused in resignation.
John frowned at the unfamiliar term. “Wwwithdrew?”
“That’s what the doctor called your seizures sweetie but he said you’ll most likely outgrow them on our own and to leave you alone,” she added evasively, hoping he wouldn’t push for more information.
He didn’t, Instead John almost wept in relief at that news. They were going to leave him alone…That meant no more humiliating questions about his past. A past he just wanted to lock away deep inside and try to forget, though he knew he never could. It would always be there but he’d learned how to push those feelings down into his soul and hide them from the rest of the world if they’d just stop trying to dredge them all back up.
He gave her a small smile of relief and gratitude.
She grinned back. “I see you think that’s good news little one,” she teased, drawing a blush from the boy at the nickname. She laughed. “Come on then John…Lunch is ready.”
Two weeks later John stood in the foyer next to his aunt and cousins to greet the arriving guests at her birthday party. He tugged uncomfortably at the collar of his new, starched white shirt and the strangling feel of the neck tie around his throat but his aunt had been insistent that he wear the cumbersome outfit.
He glanced at the dining room where Tiffany and her friends had spent the whole morning supervising the set up for this party. The room was loaded with balloons and the table set with the fanciest plates and silver and glasses that John had ever seen and he had a sinking feeling that he was about to make the biggest fool of himself ever among all these well dressed and high class people that were gathering in the ballroom. He knew he didn’t belong here and apparently so did Tiffany and Joshua. The pair had been throwing him hate filled looks since he’d made his way downstairs an hour ago but couldn’t actually tell him to leave since their mother was right there straightening his jacket and adjusting his necktie and generally fussing over him to the point where one might have thought it was his party.
In a way it was. Rosemary made sure to introduce him to everyone and let them know just how proud she was of her young nephew. Person after person paraded by giving his aunt a fake kiss on her cheek without ever making contact…John frowned at the cold and useless gesture. He shook hands and endured the curious and sometimes condescending sneers of those to whom he was introduced and praying it would end soon so he could escape.
Rose kept them moving, preventing them from engaging John in conversations that might upset him. She knew there would be some questions by the haughty and downright nosey acquaintances that were currently milling about her home and spilling in her doorway.
After the mob at the door had dwindled a bit, she gave John a nod. “Why don’t you go raid the snack table háaketa,” she suggested with a grin knowing John’s voracious appetite. She’d already heard his stomach groaning in protest.
“Thank you Aunt Rose,” he said in relief as he fled from the doorway and into the dining room where the food was laid out.
Laura smiled and handed him a plate. “There you go Master John,” she said directing him toward the food.
He took the offered plate and started around the table. He felt more than saw the woman who came up behind him but ignored her presence as he began to fill his plate.
Rosemary was getting ready to leave the entrance but was halted as Edward once again opened the door to an arriving guest. Her eyes widened in surprise as her parents entered the room. Edward shut the door behind them and made his way toward the dining room to be sure the girls were alright in the kitchen and had everything prepared.
“Mother…Father. I’m glad you could make it,” she greeted them with a smile. She kissed their cheeks and glanced about hoping to spot John and wave him over to meet them but he was at the table with the hor d’oeurves and was talking to a blonde woman. Rosemary started to look away but then suddenly realized who John was talking too.
“Happy Birthday darling…,” her mother began but stopped as Rosemary gasped and without excusing herself, left the foyer almost at a run.
“What in the world…?” Her father questioned indignantly as they watched her go.
It only took a moment to realize that the boy she was heading for had to be their grandson and the woman…Roderick’s betrayed fiancée Deb.
Jonathan frowned. He’d been assured by Tiffany and Joshua that the boy wouldn’t be in attendance but there was no help for it now. They wouldn’t air their dirty laundry with the boy in front of the elite of San Gabriel and Los Angeles.
“Well…If it isn’t the little savage,” a cold sneer came from behind John as he moved around the table.
He recognized the same hate filled tone that had been thrown at him from most people his whole life. He stiffened uncomfortably at the slur but slowly turned to face the older woman who was staring at him in disgust.
“Do you know who I am?” She demanded as her hands came to rest on her ample hips.
“No ma’am,” John mumbled hesitantly.
“My name is Deb…Deb Lawford nee Worthington,” she said arrogantly.
John’s dark eyebrow arched in a carbon copy of his fathers and it was obvious from the gesture that he had no idea who she was but she definitely had an odd name, in his opinion anyway.
“I was engaged to marry your father before that whore of a squaw stole him from me,” she sneered into the boys face.
John’s face turned pale at the hateful insult to his mother and then scarlet with anger. “My mother was a good and kind woman,” he said with a darkening scowl. “She would never have stolen someone from another. Perhaps it was your own shortcomings that led him to leave you for her,” he said quietly.
“Why you little bas…,” she began as her hand drew back. John flinched at the gesture but didn’t retreat. He wouldn’t let anyone talk about his mom like that anymore. Deb started to swing but felt her hand caught by someone from behind. She glanced up into the angry gray eyes of Rosemary’s butler Edward.
She was about to take him to task for daring to touch her but suddenly found her best friend Rosemary before her. “Edward…Take John in the other room please and thank you for stepping in,” she added quietly as a reassurance to the man that he was in no trouble for defending the boy. She turned back to Deb as Edward led John to the kitchen. “How dare you attack my nephew in his own home,” she snarled angrily.
“He insulted me,” she bit back as she glared at Edward and John's backs as they walked away. “I only wanted to tell him who I was to his father,” she added primly.
“I heard enough to know who started the insults Deb. If you can’t show John the respect you would show to any other member of my family, then you can leave my house,” she growled warningly.
The woman looked floored that her best friend of twenty five years was prepared to throw her out of her home because of that little heathen savage. She drew herself up indignantly. “I see…Well... I’m sorry, but I can’t be kind to the son of the woman who stole Rod from me.”
“She didn’t steal him Deb…She never even knew you existed until after they were married. They were in love…Something he never was with you. I’m sorry you got hurt but my brother’s happiness was more important than anything else to me and Katie made him very happy and John was the proof of their love. Now I’m sorry for this as well…We’ve been good friends for a long time but John is very special to me and I love him very much,” she said loudly, looking around at the gathering crowd and hoping they’d all get the message that these kinds of attacks on her nephew wouldn’t be tolerated.
Deb’s face grew red with embarrassment at having been placed second in importance to that miserable little half breed. She snatched up her purse and stormed toward the door.
Edward had left John in the care of Laura, Ellen and Carrie in the kitchen and was back at his post as Deb stalked toward him. He opened the door with a grin and a touch of his fingers to his forehead. “Good night Miss Lawford,” he said politely as she stormed past him. “And good riddance,” he mumbled under his breath as he closed the door.
Tiffany faced her mother with arms akimbo, while Joshua tried to herd the rest of the guests back to the ballroom, away from the two. “I can’t believe you ordered your best friend from the house mother,” she trilled indignantly.
“It’s my house and I’ll entertain whom I please. Now drop it and let’s go on with the party before I throw all of them out,” she snapped angrily.
Her daughter's face blanched at that threat. She feared being the laughingstock of the community if that happened and gave her mother a nod before putting on a smile and going to soothe the confused guests.
Rosemary retreated to the kitchen where John was sitting at the table staring at his filled plate and waiting for whatever punishment he would receive for that outburst. He glanced up and tugged nervously at his lower lip with his teeth as she came inside.
“I…I’m sorry,” he mumbled, looking down at his hands that he was twisting nervously in his lap. “I dddidn’t mean to spoil your party,” he stuttered nervously.
“Oh sweetie,” she said softly a she reached out to caress his cheek. John flinched, ducking his head away and Rose sighed. “I’m not angry with you John,” she reassured the teenager. “She had no right to insult your mother like that.”
“Is what she said true?” He asked plaintively, as he glanced at his aunt. The hurt in the dark eyes tore at her heart.
“Your father was engaged to her a long time ago sweetie.” John looked away unhappily but her next words brought his head back around. “But he was never in love with her. He was only marrying her to make your grandparents happy, but then he met your mother and fell madly in love,” she told him as she ruffled the dark hair. John half smiled at that. “Does that make it better?” She asked with a grin. John nodded. “Good, then let’s get back to the party. There are people here that I’d like you to meet." John scowled at that and Rose laughed. “You don’t have to stay down here all night háaketa,” she teased. “Just until after dinner alright?”
He nodded and they went to rejoin the group. Rosemary’s green eyes searched the crowd for her parents with the intent of introducing John to them but she gasped as her eyes fell on several men standing close together. Her face darkened angrily as recognition set in.
What were they doing here? She found her daughter standing with Elise and Eleanor while Joshua entertained Allison and a nervous looking Kyle Blake. It was obvious he hadn’t forgotten his last visit here and the vicious slap Mrs. Hughes had landed. He moved out of her path as she came toward them. “What is Wyvern Morris and his son and that bastard Briggs doing in my home,” she snarled angrily.
Tiffany looked shocked. “I…They’re friends of daddy’s and grandmother and grandfather and I thought they were friends of yours,” she added in confusion.
This whole party was getting worse and worse and she wished she’d never allowed it. Her eyes searched for John…She needed to get him out of here and up to his room. Her eyes widened in horror as the three men moved together and approached the teenager as he stood leaning against the wall watching the crowd.
Old man Morris stood with his son Chad and Fred Briggs, their eyes scanned the gathering of people in the hopes of spotting Rosemary. They’d been trying to talk to her since her brother had died but she always made excuses and kept her distance, letting Geoff and then her attorney handle any matter that came up from Geoffrey’s business dealings with them. They worried a great deal about why she’d become so standoffish with them, sure that she knew something more about them and her brother’s death than she was willing to share.
They suspected that Roderick must have had some kind of evidence if he’d been talking to the feds about them, but it had never surfaced and that made them very nervous. One of those dangerous rigs had burned and another had exploded and if they had evidence that Morris and Company had known of the danger beforehand and had done nothing to prevent it, that they could be held accountable not only for the deaths of fifty two workers but for their murders.
Gage had to have hidden that evidence somewhere. Briggs took a sip of his drink and almost choked on it as his eyes fell on the handsome teenager leaning against the wall a short distance from them.
“What is it?” Chad sneered at the older man.
“The boy,” he said pointing at John.
Chad glanced toward him. “What of him?” He asked indifferently.
“That’s got to be Gage’s son…He’s the spitting image of Rod.”
“I thought the boy and his mother disappeared after Gage died,” Wyvern muttered.
Briggs shrugged. “Maybe they came back…But that’s got to be him.”
Chad gave them an evil looking smile. “Well, why don’t we see if his dear old daddy left him anything?” He suggested as he headed for John.
The boy glanced up as they came toward him. He frowned a bit and thought a couple of them looked a bit familiar. “Hello…,” the youngest of the three men greeted him politely.
“Hello,” John replied, giving them a curious glance before he looked away.
“I’m Chad Morris,” he said holding out his hand to the shy young man.
John sighed and shook it. “I’m John…John Gage.”
Briggs nodded his head. “I thought you might be Rod’s boy,” he said jovially as he shook John’s hand.
“You knew my dad?” John questioned curiously.
“Yes my boy…You may not remember, but your dad worked for us. We came to your house after he died…” He trailed off at the sudden sad look that crossed the boys face. He vaguely remembered two men sitting with his mother before he’d gone away to that quiet place.
“Yes…I remember you,” he said softly.
Chad glanced about. “Where is your lovely mother John?” He asked hopefully. He remembered the beautiful Indian woman and had been disappointed that she’d disappeared not long after her husband’s death.
“She’s dead,” Rosemary’s voice interrupted from behind them. There was no mistaking the cold tone of her voice. They turned about and she slipped between them to stand at John’s side. “Is there something you wanted with my nephew?” She asked, taking John’s arm in her hand. He frowned curiously at her rude behavior. What was wrong with her?
“We were just talking to the boy Rose,” Wyvern said placatingly. “What’s the problem?”
“No problem,” she said coolly. “I just have other people for him to meet,” she informed them as she started to forcibly pull John away.
“Well we just wanted to ask him if he or his mother had ever found a package of papers full of boring geological information?” Briggs began hesitantly.
John frowned and shook his head in confusion. “If they had then I’m sure Katie would have thrown them away,” Rose answered. “Come along John,” she said as she pulled him away from the group.
Their eyes narrowed as they watched them go. “She sure seemed anxious to get the boy away from us,” Chad sneered.
“She knows something,” Wyvern muttered.
“She suspects maybe but she obviously doesn’t have proof of anything or we’d be in jail right now.”
Rose turned to John as soon as they were clear. “I don’t want you talking to those men again John, do I make myself clear?” She snapped, running her hand through her dark hair worriedly. She didn’t want them anywhere near her nephew.
John bit his lip, trying to think of what he’d done to make her angry. “Yes ma’am,” he whispered in confusion.
“They shouldn’t be here…I don’t ever want them in this house,” she finished shooting a glare toward them. She gave him a tight half smile as he watched them join her parents. “Birds of a feather,” she muttered angrily. She sighed conceding that her parents had no idea of what these people were capable of. She needed to talk to someone....right now. “Stay put...I need to make a phone call.” John nodded obediently. Rose ducked into her study and picked up the phone.
“Hello…Agent Chambers…I need to talk to you.”
John stared at the closed door with a frown. What was going on with his aunt tonight? He’d obviously done something to annoy her but he couldn’t think of what. She hadn’t seemed to be upset with him about that Lawford woman, so why would she be angry at him for just talking to those men? He worried his lower lip with his teeth. He knew she didn’t like it when he ‘eavesdropped’ but his curiosity was killing him, especially if she was as angry with him as she seemed. He carefully turned the knob and pushed the door open a fraction to listen.
“They were questioning him about those papers he copied…No I don’t think so…He didn’t come here with anything from home except a helmet and a blanket his mother made him.” John frowned. Who was she talking to? "He doesn't know anything, I'm sure of it... I don’t want them near him...Not ever,” she trilled. There was a long pause as someone on the other end spoke. “No…I won’t do that. I won’t give him up.” Another long pause ensued before she spoke again but this time it must have been someone else because her tone changed.
“Hello…How are you? Good…I can’t relax with them here. I know but…I just…I guess it just made me nervous to have them that close to John. No…I told Chambers that already…He’s doing well in school and he’s finally on the right track to becoming a fireman. It’s his dream and I won’t let anyone take that from him… I know that,” she replied to some other question. John leaned a bit closer and the door creaked. Rose looked up sharply. “I have to go,” she whispered urgently. She set the phone down and crossed her arms over her chest angrily. “John Roderick Gage…Come in here this instant.”
Knowing he’d been caught, John sheepishly shuffled into the room. “I…I’m sorry,” he mumbled.
“How much did you hear?” She demanded.
“Someone wishes to take me away….” he murmured fearfully.
Rose sighed in relief…That’s all he’d gotten out of the conversation and she was thankful. “That’s right, but you also heard me tell them that I won’t let that happen didn’t you?”
“Yes,” he nodded.
“Good. Then you have nothing to worry about. Look sweetheart. I know you’re very uncomfortable with all these people here so I thought maybe you’d like to eat in your room tonight,” she hinted.
The dark eyes regarded her suspiciously for a long moment. She'd insisted that he be here and now she was practically throwing him out. Was she ashamed of him? He didn't think so, but it was obvious she wanted him away from those men, though he couldn’t understand why. He had to admit…They’d made him nervous, not to mention that his grandparents had arrived. He really had no desire to have them snub him in front of all these people. “Alright Aunt Rosemary,” he finally agreed. As long as she wasn’t planning on sending him away, he could relax and besides, he really didn’t want to spend any more time in this torturous suit than he had to anyway.
“I’ll come up and say goodnight when they’ve all gone home okay?”
John nodded and headed up the stairs.
Many eyes watched him go. Lenora Gage felt tears well in her eyes as he left and regretted that she hadn’t had the chance to meet Rod’s son. Jonathan smiled in relief that he didn’t have to deal with the boy. The three men who’d worked with his father sighed in frustration that they wouldn’t have the chance to talk to the teenager about what he might know, even inadvertently and Elise watched with longing. She’d had her eye on the boy from the moment she’d arrived. He’d grown taller and filled out quite a bit since the last time he’d seen him but then again…She had all summer.
Joshua and Tiffany were quite happy that he was leaving since he’d already spoiled the party by being rude to their mother's best friend, forcing her to ask the woman to leave. It had been embarrassing, not to mention her obvious annoyance at whatever he’d said to daddy’s business partners and besides, they’d promised grandfather that the little upstart wouldn’t be there for the celebration so they threw each other a grin of relief as he left.
Tiffany turned to her grandparents. “Well…That's a relief,” she said as the boy disappeared into his room. “I was afraid if he got too upset he’d embarrass us all with one of those crazy fits he throws now and again,” she said in disgust.
“What’s that dear?” Her grandmother asked curiously.
“Oh…It’s something he does when he gets stressed out. He shakes and rocks and gets all vacant eyed,” she explained smugly, hoping they’d be as disturbed by it as she was.
Jonathan’s mouth had dropped open in shock at the description of his grandson’s odd behavior. Lenora looked at her husband with a raised brow. “Didn’t you used to do that when you were younger dear?” She asked tartly.
Jonathan scowled and led her away from her shocked looking granddaughter.
John had listened to the sounds of the party until it wound down in the wee hours of the morning. Most of the older people had either left or been shown to guest rooms for the night. He’d vaguely heard the annoyed sound of a man’s voice as he was informed by Edward that the blue suite now belonged to the young master and that they’d be quite comfortable in the yellow room for the night. He shrugged, not realizing that it was his grandparents who’d been displaced from their usual room.
Rose had peeked inside and bid him goodnight just a short time ago and John finally drifted off to sleep.
He woke the next morning and dressed quickly. He planned to head out on Wind Song before anyone else had a chance to rise and interrupt his plans. He hoped the visitors would all be gone by the time he arrived home.
Everything was quiet when he arrived at the stables and he quickly saddled the mare and headed off. He enjoyed a peaceful ride to the stream where he and Gil and the girls had picnicked that day and had several times after as well.
John glanced around cautiously to be sure he alone before skimming off his clothing and wading naked into the water. He swam for a while and then floated under the warmth of the sun before he climbed from the river and swiped the excess water from his body. He pulled out several pieces of fruit which he shared with Wind Song as he stood near the animal and dripped dry.
He finally noted that the sun was nearing the noon hour and felt that he’d been gone long enough for most of the guests to have eaten breakfast and left. He finally dressed and remounted the mare. He wheeled her about and headed for home.
Joshua and Allison were at the stables with Tiffany and Eleanor when John rode in. The mare danced skittishly around Joshua drawing a giggle from Allison. “She sure remembers you Joshua,” she teased, remembering his treatment of the mare the last time and how she’d struck out at him with her hooves.
“Damn nag,” he growled as John dismounted and led her inside the barn without even acknowledging their presence. He handed the reins to one of the stable hands.
“He’s so rude,” Tiffany sneered.
“But he’s adorable,” Eleanor teased.
“And he sure looks good on that horse,” Allison said with a grin.
“Oh really…?” Joshua questioned snidely.
“Oh don’t be jealous Josh…Just because you can’t handle her,” Eleanor taunted.
Joshua slapped his riding crop angrily against his leg as John passed them and headed for the house with barely a nod of greeting in their direction. He was hungry and had no desire to be held up while Joshua and Tiffany insulted him for their own amusement.
“Well…Maybe we’ll just see about that,” he sneered as two more hands led four horses from the barn.
“What do you mean?” Allison questioned as Joshua took the horse and led it back inside the stables. He handed the reins to the young man that was getting ready to unsaddle Wind Song and rub her down.
“Don’t take that off,” he directed sharply as he snatched the reins. The mare threw her head and backed away from him fearfully.
“Um sir…That’s Master John’s horse…,” he began. “No one rides her but him.”
“This is my home and my stable and don’t you forget that,” he growled. “Master John will have to get over it,” he snapped as he pulled the horse toward the doors. She dug her feet in stubbornly and Joshua lifted his riding crop, striking her shoulder. She bolted forward and danced about him nervously.
Tiffany gasped in surprise as her brother half dragged the pretty mare from the barn. “Go get Frank..Hurry,” the stable hand said to one of the others.
“What are you doing?” Allison squeaked in dismay as the crop slapped across the mares neck once again.
“Proving to you all that I can ride as well as my ‘wonderful’ cousin,” he sneered arrogantly.
“No Josh…I’m sorry…You don’t have to prove anything,” Eleanor began, realizing what they’d instigated with their teasing.
“It was a joke…Please don’t hurt John’s horse,” Allison pleaded.
“I won’t hurt her as long as she obeys me,” he growled as he climbed into the saddle and yanked on the reins.
The horse reared at the painful tug on her delicate mouth and the crop slashed downward viciously between her ears. She ducked her head and bucked but the boy hung on, slapping her again and again. Wind Song had been badly abused before Rosemary had bought her and she remembered the pain inflicted on her by someone like this before. She reared and threw her head, snatching the bit between her teeth before landing with a jarring jolt.
The stable manager Frank came running, prepared to snatch his employers son off the animal even if he got fired for it. He wouldn’t let him abuse Master John’s horse like this. He arrived too late. Wind Song now had control of the hateful metal thing between her teeth and she bolted, almost throwing her rider. Joshua managed to grab the saddle horn and hang on as the horse fled in pain and terror across the pasture.
To be continued in part 11
Posted to Site 08/12/13
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The Characters of Emergency do not belong to me. They are the property of Universal Studios and Mark VII Limited. No copyright infringement is intended or monetary gain made. I merely like to toy with them and return them to their proper owner in good working order. The characters of Emergency belong to Universal and Mark VII but this story itself however, is the property of the author.
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