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Beginnings

Part 11

An Emergency Story
by Tammy B

LINKS TO PARTS Ls 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8.

 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14.

Part 11

Chapter 44

A Sad Farewell

 

Frank whipped off his hat and threw it at the ground in frustration that he’d been mere seconds too slow to stop the head long flight of the horse and rider…Miss Rosemary would kill him for sure for letting Master Joshua take off on Master John’s Horse…Especially if the darn fool got himself killed.

 

Frank yanked his keys from his pocket and ran for his old pickup truck parked at the corner of the stables.  “Call up to the house and tell Miss Rosemary what’s going on,” he snapped at the young man as he slid behind the wheel and set off after his employers son.

Gravel spurted from beneath his tires and dust flew settling like a shroud over the three young women staring after him. Tiffany, Eleanor and Allison were all pale with fear but for different reasons. Allison was afraid Joshua would be killed by the out of control animal which would totally destroy her chances of marrying the heir to the Hughes fortune. Eleanor was worried the horse and rider would be injured and Tiffany knew her mother would kill Joshua if something happened to John’s horse.

 

 

Wind Song raced across the open fields, desperately trying to rid herself of the horrible creature clinging to her back.

 

Joshua yelled and slapped the panicked animal on her neck with his riding crop in an effort to beat the horse into submission but it only served to frighten her even more. He jerked sharply on the reins trying to stop her but Wind Song was having none of it. Her neck and flanks were lathering with sweat from her headlong flight and her chest heaved with exertion.

 

Joshua was terrified and was barely managing to keep his seat as the mare swerved sharply to avoid obstacles in her path. He barely heard the sound of an engine and turned his head. He almost wept in relief when he saw Frank’s truck rumbling up behind him and hoped he could figure out a way to stop the crazy animal.

 

Wind Song also saw the truck and made a sharp turn to avoid it. Joshua’s face paled as he realized they were coming to the fence that bordered his family’s property. Frank had needed to slow down to make the turn and had fallen back and Josh knew he’d never make it time to cut the animal off.

 

The teenager dropped the reins and hung on as the exhausted mare charged toward the fence, her front feet lifted and she sailed over the top rail but the tired and frightened horse hadn’t quite got enough behind it. Her back leg caught the heavy log and caused the animal to stumble…Her front feet hit the ground but the pull of her trapped leg threw her off balance and her forelegs buckled. Her head dropped and the horse almost somersaulted as weight and momentum took over and her leg was pulled free. Joshua was catapulted off of the animal as her body crashed to the ground where she lay thrashing and trying to regain her feet.

 

Frank slammed on his brakes and the truck skidded to a stop. He threw it in park and jumped out and almost vaulted over the rails. He gave the struggling animal a sorrowful glance and hurried to Joshua’s side. The young man was unconscious but small moans quickly reassured him that the damn fool was still alive, though for how long was questionable when his mother found out about this. He knelt next to the boy and began to check him for broken bones.

 

 

John returned to the house after his ride and peeked in the back door. Laura spotted the teen and grinned at the wary look in the dark eyes. “It’s okay Master John…You can come in now, they’re gone,” she teased.

 

John smiled at the woman, drawing a sigh from her. They all loved those shy, crooked grins and worked hard to earn one from the boy when they could.

 

“Can I have something to eat?” He asked looking a bit worried that he’d missed lunch.

 

“Of course you can Háaketa,” his aunt’s voice came from behind him.

 

John turned and gave her a slightly guilty glance at having snuck off before everyone else got up to avoid having to deal with his grandparents. Rose grinned at the look and shook her head. “I haven’t eaten either sweetie, so you and I can have lunch together now that everyone else is gone.”

 

John smiled in relief and Rose couldn’t resist the urge to reach out and gently touch the young face.  John stiffened but didn’t duck away and Rose grinned that he seemed to be coming around a bit and hoped that one day he’d be able to understand just how much she loved him.

 

“Why don’t you wash up sweetie?”

 

“Why?” John asked curiously.

 

Laura giggled at the look of confusion and turned to the sink while Rosemary rolled her eyes in dismay. “Because your hands are filthy from being out riding and it’s appropriate to wash before you eat,” she explained for the umpteenth time.

 

John sighed. There sure were a lot of ‘appropriate’ things here that he’d never had to deal with on the reservation.

 

He headed for the kitchen sink where Laura threw him a grin and handed him the soap. John’s lips curled up at the corners briefly before he returned his attention to the matter at hand…Literally. He washed his hands before accepting the towel from the woman. He handed it back and followed his aunt into the dining room. They both heard the phone in the hallway ring but ignored it, knowing that Edward would pick it up and come get them if it was important.

 

John was just putting together a sandwich from the platter of meats that Laura had brought to the table behind them when they heard Edwards voice…It was laced with shock. “Oh dear God…I’ll get Miss Rose,” he snapped.

 

Rosemary came to her feet as the servant ran into the room…All his usual British composure forgotten. He halted at the sight of John sitting at the table, looking at him curiously.

 

“What is it Edward?” She asked worriedly.

 

There was no help for it…He’d have to tell her regardless of the boy’s presence. “Its Master Joshua ma’am…They just called from the stable.” Rose’s face paled…For all her irritation with Joshua, he was still her son.

 

“What happened” She asked in concern.

 

Edward threw a glance toward John but had no option. “He took Wind Song….She bolted and ran off with him.” John shot to his feet, looking at his aunt in dismay. “Frank’s gone after him.”

 

Rose looked to John and saw the fear in his face. “Don’t worry sweetie…If the horse doesn’t kill him… I will,” she assured him, only half joking. Despite his brutal attitude…Joshua knew how to ride, so she wasn’t very concerned that he’d be thrown but more worried at this point about the horse being abused. “Get the car Edward…We’ll go out and see if we can find them and John can bring Wind Song back to the stable.”

 

“Yes ma’am,” he agreed readily as he headed for the door. Rose and John followed.

 

 

Joshua stirred as Frank felt over his arms and legs carefully. His green eyes fluttered open and he moaned as pain assailed his senses. His face was scratched and dirt stained and a small lump was already swelling above his left eye.

Frank noticed that he was awake. “Hold on Mr. Hughes…I’ll get you back to the house and to a hospital as soon as I can,” he assured his employers son.

 

“My…Shoul…der hurs,” he slurred as tears of pain filled his eyes and trickled down his temples.

 

Frank felt along the man’s neck and down toward his shoulder. Joshua cried out as his fingers found the broken collar bone and he sighed. He’d have to be very careful moving him and he’d certainly not get any help from Joshua himself as he was in obvious pain.

 

Franks blue eyes turned briefly to the still struggling mare and he shook his head sadly. He had another patient to check out before he could move the boy. He sighed, afraid he already knew what he’d find.

 

“Hang on Mr. Hughes… I’ll be right back,” he assured the young man as he stood and headed for the horse.

 

“Where…Where you going?” Josh moaned pitifully as the man moved away.

 

“I need to take care of Wind Song,” he told him shortly.

 

“Win Song?” He asked incredulously. The older man nodded. “Damn mule…Hope she dies,” he muttered.

 

Frank was afraid his employer’s son would get his wish. He knelt next to the pretty mare and tears welled in his own eyes as he saw the shattered foreleg…There would be no saving her with an injury of this magnitude. Master John would be devastated but there was nothing anyone could do for her. He headed for his truck.

 

 

Edward drove slowly over the grassy fields that stretched on and on toward the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. John was pointing the way from where he sat wedged between him and Miss Rosemary in the front seat. Edward was amazed by the boy’s ability to follow the tracks of Frank’s truck when he himself could barely tell where the grass was still matted from its passing.

 

Edward finally spotted the vehicle in the distance and John sat back as he accelerated toward it. There was a muffled clap of sound and Edward wondered if Frank’s truck had backfired. John made a small sound of distress and Edward glanced toward him. The boys face was pale and he looked sick.

 

“What is it Master John?” He asked worriedly.

 

Rosemary looked at her nephew in concern. “What is it sweetie?” She questioned.

 

John blinked away the burn behind his eyes and shook his head, staring at his hands but saying nothing. John had grown up on the reservation ranch and he knew the sound well and he was afraid he knew why.

 

Edward and Rosemary glanced toward each other but shrugged at the boy’s silence. She patted his arm gently. “It’ll be alright sweetie … We’ll get her back okay?” She assured him with a smile.

 

John remained still and quiet.

 

 

Frank brushed the moisture from his eyes and set the rifle aside as he knelt next to Joshua. “Let me get you into the car sir,” he said quietly as he began to sit the young man up.

 

“What did you do?” Joshua panted painfully as the older man carefully raised his head while supporting his shoulders.

 

“What had to be done sir,” he murmured quietly, wishing he could slap this selfish young man black and blue for what he’d caused. He heard the sound of an approaching vehicle and turned his head. He saw the car and wanted to weep in frustration as he saw who was in it. “Well…Looks like we have some help sir,” he said softly.

 

Joshua’s pain filled eyes followed the older man’s gaze and his face blanched when he saw his mother step out of the vehicle. He glanced up at the stable manager and saw no hope of help in the older man’s face…Only disgust.

 

Rosemary ran to the fence and climbed between the rails to kneel at her son’s side. “Are you alright?” She asked worriedly.

 

“Broken collarbone and a thump on the head ma’am,” Frank interjected as his sorrow filled blue eyes watched the young master slip under the fence rail to stand and stare down at the still form of his beautiful mare.

 

Edward had begun to follow his employer but stopped when he saw John go in the other direction. His gray eyes filled with tears as he realized what the boy was looking at. “Oh God no,” he whispered miserably.

 

“Damn an…mal thr…ew me,” Joshua slurred, casting the blame on the now dead horse.

 

“Where is Wind So…?” She began but stopped as Frank nodded his head toward something behind her.

 

She turned to see John kneel next to the animal while Edward had removed his own glasses and was wiping at his eyes with a handkerchief. The boy was rocking softly and she knew. “Oh no,” she breathed out in distress. She stood and ran to his side. “John…? I’m so sorry Na’háahketa,” she whispered as the teenager’s sensitive mouth trembled with grief.

 

Rosemary thought for a moment that she was about to see John’s first real expression of emotion as the dark eyes welled with tears. She knew it was exactly what he needed…To cry out his grief and pain but the boy clamped down hard on his lower lip with his teeth to still its quivering. Grayness pressed in as grief crashed over him but he couldn’t let it win.  His jaw set tightly and he blinked away the tears before they could fall, shoving the pain and loss down deep. He would never let them see his tears or that he was weak of heart as his grandfather had called him. He shoved the grayness back…He had something he needed to do. He had to release her spirit.

 

Rose watched with tears of her own rolling down her face as he reached out to stroke the still body.

 

“Nėstaévăhósevóomă Háa’háeše Noo’όtse…Ameto mo’tse méohe a’ene’xóvešé na’ mo’onahe no’kahe,” he whispered. (Farewell Wind Song…Now you will run forever free my beautiful one).

 

Rose put her hand on her nephews shoulder but he pulled back and rose to his feet, turning his back on her.


“It’s alright to cry John,” she whispered softly as Edward climbed between the rails and came up beside her. He desperately wanted to comfort the boy but he knew he’d never allow it.

 

He shook his head. “It is pointless and weak,” he whispered, barely audible.

 

“No sweetie,” she tried again.

 

“Will it bring Wind Song back to me?” He asked, throwing a bitter look over his shoulder.

    

“No…But it might make you…,” she began, desperately hoping it would open the flood gates and allow him to finally pour out his heart but John interrupted her reply with a shrug of his shoulders.

 

“Then there is no reason to cry,” he mumbled.

 

Rose’s shoulder’s sagged in defeat. “I’m so sorry John,” she whispered with an anguished heart. The dark head nodded but all John wanted right now was to be alone. “I’ll get you another horse…,” she began, trying anything that might help to take the pain she knew he was feeling away but John spun around and stared at her in shock. How could she even think that that would help?  Besides, they’d only take it from him again.

 

“I do not want another,” he said bitterly, shooting a look at Joshua. “I want nothing from you...None of you…Not ever,” he ground out through teeth gritted against the pain and the loss of the only thing he’d had that had just loved him for him.

 

“I’m sorry little one,” she tried again but John didn’t want to hear anymore. He needed to get away before he disgraced himself. John turned and bolted into the woods. “JOHN,” she shouted as she made to start after him but she felt a hand on her arm. She turned to see Edward shaking his head at her.

 

“Miss Rosemary…I think you should let him go.”

 

“WHAT?” She barked in disbelief, trying to shake her arm free.

 

Edward let her go, slightly shocked that he’d actually put his hands on her in the first place. He backed away. “He needs to mourn Wind Song…Privately. He’ll come back on his own.”

 

“You don’t know that,” she snapped as tears poured down her cheeks at the pain reflected in her nephew’s eyes despite his best efforts to hide it.

 

“He has to come back on his own or he’ll just keep running away… Besides you’ll never catch him ma’am,” he added with a raised eyebrow.

 

Rose knew he was right but she hated that he had to go through this grief alone…Again. She wanted to hold him, comfort him. A moan from her son brought her attention back to another problem. “We need to get Joshua to a doctor,” she mumbled as she turned away from the pitiful site of the beautiful dead mare.

 

“Yes ma’am,” he agreed.

 

“I need to make him better so I can beat him within an inch of his life,” she mumbled half under her breath.

 

Edward stopped in mid step and stared at her back in shock before he began to laugh.

 

They hurried back to her rather indignant son and Edward helped Frank to get him on his feet. Rose picked up the rifle and followed them to the car where the two were settling her son in the back seat for the ride to the hospital. He eyed the weapon in his mother’s hand. “Whas tha for?” He mumbled, sounding a bit confused.

 

“Frank had to use it to put Wind Song down, she broke her leg.”

 

“Good,” he sneered.

 

Rosemary’s temper soared once more and she had to clamp down on the urge to slap her son senseless. “Just be thankful I don’t have to treat your broken arm the same way,” she growled as she slammed the door closed in her son’s shocked face. She handed the gun to Frank. “Thank you for not letting her suffer,” she said softly as she laid her hand on the man’s arm.

 

“Yes ma’am,” he mumbled looking over at the horse. “It’s a real shame and my heart hurts for Master John,” he said quietly.

 

“Mine does too…Frank please see to it that someone comes out here and buries her properly,” she added as she turned and joined Edward in the front seat. They turned the car around and headed for the hospital.

 

 

John ran…Crashing through the brush and ducking under trees limbs as he strained every muscle in his body to put as much distance between himself and the pain he’d left behind him. Why? Why did everything he loved get taken away from him? What had he done to deserve this kind of pain and sorrow? The thoughts pounded away in rhythm with his thudding footfalls.

 

He didn’t know how far he’d gone before exhaustion finally forced him to stop. He rested his hands on his knees while he gasped for air. His legs felt like rubber and he finally sat down hard on the ground and wrapped his arms about himself, rocking slowly.

 

His heart was aching and he felt as if it would break. Why did Joshua do that? Why did he hate him so much that he’d harm Wind Song just to hurt him?  He didn’t know but it seemed to be the story of his life.

Well he wouldn’t give them any more chances to break is heart or his spirit. He was done…He’d learned to push those things down deep back in Montana…He’d just begun to hope that things would get better here…That he could learn to trust someone but he should have known better. He couldn’t trust anyone…Not ever. Trusting led to pain and betrayal and sorrow. It gave people the power to hurt him and he’d never let that happen again.

 

His breathing finally began to even out a bit and he pushed himself to his feet and continued on into the trees. Grief and tears wouldn’t bring Wing Song back but he knew he still needed time to come to grips with her loss…Somewhere alone where no one else could see the weakness of soul that so annoyed his grandfather. John wouldn’t allow himself to cry…Afraid that all the pain he’d bottled up inside would bubble up and overwhelm him and prove to the world that his grandfather and his family had been right about him. That he was useless and fragile. He wondered if his father would be ashamed of him as well.

 

Man he wished there was someone…Someone who would care about him…Just him…As he was…Without trying to judge him by his past… by his heritage whether half Indian or half Gage. He was tired of trying to live up to everyone else’s expectations and just be John Gage. Tired of being disappointed and being stripped of all that he held dear…He remembered back to Little Foxes vision of his future…That someone would come. Someone who would heal him but she was wrong…No one could heal the hurt and he’d never let anyone close enough to be hurt by them.

 

Tears burned behind his eyes but he swiped them angrily away…Never again. He wouldn’t care about anything…Hold nothing to him. He’d let Wind Song become a part of his heart and now she was gone too…Maybe he was bad luck…That’s what Joshua had called him after his father had died. He’d heard him talking to Tiffany outside his door…He was sure they’d meant him too. That John was a ‘jinx’. He hadn’t understood the word and had looked it up in his aunt’s library a while later. Maybe they’d been right…Maybe his Aunts in Montana had been right as well. No one would ever be able to love him...He was worthless. His own grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins…

 

They were right, every time he learned to care for something it was taken from him…Well no more. He’d lost his parents, grandparents, Gil, Mary Lynn and now Wind Song…John shook his head in disgust with himself. Just as well if he did stay away from everyone that mattered...They seemed to drop like flies around him.

 

John trudged on, letting his morbid musings play havoc with his heart and mind. The sun was beginning to set when he finally broke through the trees and his eyes widened in shock. Had he sub consciously remembered this place…A place that had been so special to him and his dad? He looked out over the panorama before him and sighed. This had been their favorite camping ground when they’d lived in Duarte. They’d come here often. John slid down a trunk of a tree and stretched his tired legs out before him. The dark eyes scanned the view of wide open space before him. The tops of towering trees peeking over the top of the steep drop off.

 

Huge boulders sat as silent sentinels near the edge and John knew there was a crystal clear stream a short distance away. He’d go there later…Right now he just needed to rest. He let his eyes drift closed.

 

 

Rosemary had seen Joshua settled in a room and waited for the nurses to leave before she turned to her bruised and slightly battered first born. His head had a large goose egg on the forehead and his face was bruised and scraped. His collarbone was being held by a figure eight splint and his arm was supported by a sling.

 

He was concussed which was the only thing that kept Rosemary from belting him in the mouth. She’d listened to him whine for several hours while they’d waited through X-rays and treatment and he’d cried like a baby then they’d set the bone and splinted his shoulder. She remembered John and the strength of will and toughness of spirit he exhibited even when he was hurt or ill and was rather disgusted with her son in comparison.

 

If John somehow saw a weakness in his own character, he should have been here for this…He would have thought he had the strength of Samson.

 

Tiffany and Allison were both fussing over him and he was eating it up. The nurse would return in a moment with his medication so she had to talk fast before he was to pharmaceutically deranged to understand what she was saying.

 

“Allison? Would you step out of the room for a moment,” Rose began quietly. “I’d like to speak to my son.”

 

Allison gave her a quick, confused glance at the annoyed tone of her voice. Tiffany looked a bit worried. She knew her mother well enough to know the tone and it boded ill for Joshua.

 

“Yes ma’am,” Allison said softly as she turned and headed or the door.

 

“Mother,” Josh began to whine once more.

 

“Shut your mouth and listen to me Joshua,” she interrupted angrily.

 

He looked taken aback. “Mother, he’s concussed,” Tiffany began in her brother’s defense.

 

“And it’s a damn good thing he is,” she shot back, “because if he wasn’t I’d be beating the hell out of him for what he did to John,” she finished as she moved closer to the bed. For the first time in his life, Joshua was actually afraid of his own mother. He swallowed heavily at the rage in her eyes.

 

“Tha horse almos kill me,” he slurred defensively.

 

“Which wouldn’t have happened at all, if you hadn’t been riding her in the first place,” she shot back. “You had no right to take Wind Song.”

 

“Is my home too an the horzez are there to be ridden,” he argued, trying to regain his usual arrogance but coming up short with the drunken sound of his voice.

 

“That horse was John’s and his alone. I gave the animal to him and you were right there when I did it, so do not presume to sit there and tell me you didn’t know that you had no right to touch her, and now she’s dead because of what you did,” she snarled. “And John’s heart is broken.”

 

Joshua couldn’t give a fig about his cousin’ broken heart but he knew better than to say so. “I din’t kill her…Frank did, but if she ha…n’t run off wit me… in the firs place and tried to jump the stupid fence…,” he trailed off at the cold look in his mothers green eyes, knowing he wasn’t getting any sympathy from that argument.

 

“If you hadn’t been on her she wouldn’t have run away would she?” Rose countered so softly that Joshua had to strain to hear her.  “John has already had to bury his parents and his grandfather. He’s been shuffled from place to place,” she snapped as tears of sorrow welled in her eyes for everything that her nephew had had to endure through the years but she kept on.


“He had no family that cared for him,” she hedged, not willing to share the truth that he’d been abused and give them something else to torment him with. “He’s lost everything he’s ever loved and all he had that belonged to him was a horse…Wind Song…And you couldn’t leave her alone…you had to take that… from him too,” she finished as her voice broke and tears trickled down her cheeks.

 

Tiffany worried her lower lip at her mother’s tears and had the good graces to look a little bit ashamed that she’d been so heartless with John. Joshua was only concerned that his mother was so angry over it.

 

“I’m sorry I upset you mother,” Joshua said calmly as the nurse returned with his medication. She injected it into his IV port and left the room, casting a curious glance between the three very tense people.

 

“No…No you’re not, but you will be.”

 

Joshua threw a cautious glance. “What does that mean?”

 

“That means that as soon as you’ve recovered from this, you will be giving John an apology for what you did and then, you’ll be spending the rest of your summer in Santa Barbara with your grandparents.”

 

“You…you’re throwing me outta my own house?” He almost squeaked.

 

“Yes Joshua...I did warn you that I wouldn’t tolerate any more of this and if this is the only way to make sure you believe me,” she replied with a shrug.

 

Tiffany looked shocked as well. “Do I have to go as well?” She asked worriedly.

 

“Not yet,” she said warningly.

 

“Well…Just…Just buy him noth…er stupid horse,” Joshua argued. But his words were now coming slower and a more slurred than before.

 

“I already offered him that…He doesn’t want another one. He’s too hurt and angry and grieving for her loss right now.”

 

Joshua’s eyes were closing. “Well… bring the little bas…,” he managed to catch himself before he said the wrong thing and caused his mother to totally lose it. “Uh…the boy in here…I’ll apologize,” he offered, hoping if he could make it sound sincere enough, she’d let him stay but Rose wasn’t that easily swayed.

 

“I don’t know where he is even if I thought you meant it,” she said bitterly. “I’m going to let you sleep now and I’ll be back to pick you up in the morning,” she said stiffly. “Come along Tiffany, unless you’d like to take a taxi home,” she said as she watched her son nod off. She brushed the tears from her cheeks at what she saw as her failure as a mother. How could she have raised such a hate filled, heartless and arrogant child? She didn’t think she’d ever been that way and while Geoffrey had been arrogant in his wealth and position, he’d had a good heart and he’d loved her and his children, so how had this happened to them? She shook her head and ushered her daughter from the room.

 

Allison waited outside in the hall. “How’s Joshua?” She asked as the two women came out.

 

“He’s asleep Allison and we’re going home. If you need a ride back to the house you’d better come along now.”

 

“Yes ma’am,” she agreed meekly, not wanting to anger her possible future mother in law. She’d heard the raised voices coming from Joshua’s room and had no desire to have that anger aimed at herself. She followed Rose and Tiffany out.

 

 

Rosemary entered the house just as the sun was setting. Allison and Tiffany made a hasty retreat up the stairs, sensing the woman was still furious with the events of the afternoon. Edward trailed in behind and glanced about hopefully, praying that John had returned to the house and Rosemary could relax but it wasn’t to be.

 

Carrie and Laura came from the back to ask Edward about dinner preparations. The green eyes swiveled toward them expectantly.

 

“Has John returned?” She asked hopefully.

 

The two young women exchanged a glance. “No ma’am…We haven’t seen him,” Laura answered softly.

 

“Frank even sent the stable hands out to look for him but they couldn’t find him anywhere,” Carrie added.

 

Edward breathed out a sigh of frustration… it would be a long night for Miss Rosemary and himself if the boy didn’t return before dark. 

 

Her green eyes were filled with worry. “Where is he Edward?” She questioned softly. All she wanted was for him come home so she would know he was alright. She wanted to hold him, comfort him but she knew he’d already retreated behind that wall of apathy and indifference and it would take her months to reach him again if she ever did after this…Who could blame him? Her heart hurt for the grief she knew he was feeling and she was very afraid that he could be out there somewhere in withdrawal…Alone and unable to return home.

 

“I don’t know madam,” Edward replied quietly as she headed for the patio at the back of the house. He followed behind her as she stepped outside to scan the open land, hoping to see John trudging across them on his way home. Would he return on his own as Edward had said she should allow? What if he didn’t? She wrung her hands worriedly and blew out an anxious breath.

 

 “Please come home Háaketa,” she whispered to herself. She glanced toward the darkening sky where gray clouds were rolling in as the sun began to sink behind the mountains. She turned to Edward. “Call Officer Blake and tell him John’s run away again. Tell him just to keep an eye open for him,” she asked softly before she turned and headed toward the front of the house.

 

“Yes Miss Rose…Will you be wanting dinner at the usual time?” He asked.

 

“I’m not hungry Edward but please be sure Tiffany eats and that Allison gets home safely. Carrie…Leave something for John if he should come home,” she said dejectedly as she headed up the stairs.

 

Edward sighed heavily and threw the worried looking girls a rueful glance. They’d already heard the story of what had happened from the young men in the stables who’d heard it from Frank and their hearts had broken over the loss of Wind Song and the pain the young master must be feeling right now. Their anger swelled at Joshua and his heartlessness in taking the only thing the boy had, from him. If John came home, they’d spoil him shamelessly to try and help him through but they knew it wouldn’t replace the animal’s loss.

 

Their eyes also turned to the darkening sky and gathering clouds as Edward picked up the phone to call the police.

 

 

As Edward had feared…It was a very long night. Thunder woke him from his sleep and he sat up in the chair that he’d dragged into the hallway to wait by the door in case John returned home.

 

He heard the soft sound of footsteps on the stairs and turned to see Miss Rosemary coming down them still wrapping her robe about herself. The foyer was lit by a flash of brilliant light and Rose gasped fearfully at the idea that John was out in this somewhere.

 

“I’m sorry the storm woke you Madam,” Edward said softly as he rubbed his eyes tiredly.

 

“Have you been here all night?” She asked in surprise.

 

“Yes ma’am,” he answered.

 

She reached out to lay her hand on the man’s arm and smiled poignantly. “Our boy certainly has a way of charming his way into our hearts doesn’t he?” She questioned.

 

“He’s very special ma’am,” he replied.

 

“I wonder why they couldn’t see it in Montana?” She mused dispiritedly.

“Perhaps they had no heart to charm madam,” he replied, unable to figure that out himself.

“Perhaps they were too blinded by the whiteness of his skin,” she added dryly.

 

Edward nodded as she sighed and headed for the kitchen. She pushed open the French doors and stepped outside as the lightning split the darkness once more. Where was John? Was he alright? Had he found a safe place to hole up for the night? Was he warm and dry? She remembered how sick he’d gotten the last time and she felt the tears well in her eyes and begin to trickle down her cheeks. It hurt her terribly to know that he was off grieving alone. She knew his heart must be breaking and that those people had never allowed him to show his emotions…That he would never allow himself the tears of loss and sorrow that would have cleansed the hurt and pain from his heart but they’d trained him to well…John would never trust anyone enough now to show them his soul or his spirit.

 

She hic-cupped a breath and Edward stepped closer. “Madame…Is there anything I can do?” He asked quietly.

 

He almost jumped backward as the woman whirled and leaned against him for support. He hesitantly put his arms about her to offer some comfort. “I just want him to come home Edward…I just need to know he’s safe,” she wept against his chest. “I wanted him to be happy here and my own children have hurt him so much. How could I have failed so miserably?” She questioned forlornly.

 

Edward could cheerfully have run down to the hospital and kicked Joshua’s soft, spoiled behind at this point.

 

“You didn’t madam,” he said, as his hold tightened. He patted her back gently. “It’s the indulgences that have been handed to him by his father and his grandparents. He never faced a day when he had to work for anything or had to lose what he wanted or that the word no was spoken to him. He simply has no empathy for others who have, but madam I assure you,” he said stepping back to look her in the eyes. “He didn’t get that from you,” he finished with a gentle smile.

 

Rose looked into kind gray eyes and her face flushed in embarrassment at having thrown herself into the servant’s arms, but she’d come to rely on him so much over the last few months. They’d become more than servant and mistress as they’d joined together to try and reach John.

 

She wiped the tears from her cheeks. “I’m sorry Edward…That must have been quite uncomfortable for you,” she murmured, glancing away.

 

Edward chuckled. “On the contrary ma’am…It felt quite nice if you’ll forgive me for saying so.”

 

Rosemary stared at him for a long moment in surprise before a giggle slipped from between her lips.

 

“I’m going to my room,” she finally said as she headed for the stairs. “You’ll wake me if John comes home?”

 

“I’ll be here all night Miss Rosemary. I’ll call you if he shows up.”

 

She bid the man good night and headed up the stairs. She’d never say so to the servant, but it had felt pretty nice to have the man’s strong arms about her to lend her his comfort.

 

Edwards gray eyes watched her go and he sighed. The woman was simply out of his league but it never hurt to dream.

 

 

John woke several hours later. The sun had sunk below the horizon and the stars were winking in the sky, all except for an area to the south…Thick gray clouds were obscuring the brilliant lights and John knew he was in for a soaking.

 

Lightning split the sky in the distance and the boy sighed and glanced around in the darkness. He’d been here many times before with his dad and he knew there was nothing to give him shelter anywhere nearby. He blew out a breath…He’d never be able to find his way in the darkness and it would be dangerous to try. He had no option but to ride it out. He pushed himself to his feet as the first gusts of wind stirred the sable locks and splatters of rain struck his cheeks and dampened his hair. He pushed further into the brush and huddled at the base of a low tree.

 

His mind traveled back to what had brought him here. Wind Song…His beautiful mare was dead…Dead because of Joshua and his hatred for him…He felt the sting of tears burn his eyes but he brushed them away. The Gage stubbornness rose up within him. He didn’t understand why his cousin hated him so badly but it didn’t matter anymore… He wouldn’t yield. He’d never let them break him. 

 

He looked upward as the rain began to fall harder. He wanted to just run and never stop but he was trapped. He had nowhere to go and living on the street would mean that he’d never realize his dream of being a fire fighter. He knew what he had to do, but this time it would be different. This time he wouldn’t let them fool him with gifts and false words. Oh He knew his aunt hadn’t been at fault in Wind Song’s death but it didn’t matter. Whatever she gave to him, Joshua and Tiffany would take it from him just as it had been back home. He would return but with the understanding that he could never trust anyone…He’d go to school…He’d graduate and go to the fire academy but he’d never again let anyone too close…Never hold too tightly so that it’s eventual loss would break his heart.

 

He’d go back as soon as the sun began to rise but with this new resolve firmly in place.

 

 

John curled tightly against the trunk of the tree, involuntarily flinching as the lightning flashed and thunder cracked above his head. Wind whipped his dark hair and rain ran in small rivers down his face. He couldn’t even begin to tell what time it was but this storm had seemed to go on for hours.

 

He shivered as the wind pressed his sopping clothing against his chilled skin.  After what seemed like ages, the driving rain finally began to ease and the winds tapered off to gentle gusts. The teenager finally relaxed against his uncomfortable pillow and let his eyes drift closed.

 

Dark clouds still covered the sky to the west when he next awoke but the first rays of dawn were streaking the eastern sky. He was cold, wet and hungry and he knew he needed to head for Rosemary’s before those clouds rolled in and made the trek even more treacherous.

 

He pushed himself to his feet and took care of some personal business before he pushed the sodden locks from his eyes and began the long walk home.

 

 

Rosemary pushed the curtains aside as the sun began to rise. The dark clouds were trying desperately to move in and cover the first shades of orange and hazy purples. Rain still streaked the windows and the slender woman ran her fingers through her long sable hair and sighed heavily. Where was John? Had he found a safe place to ride out the vicious storm that had blown through the previous evening?

 

She turned away from the depressing view and headed for the door, hoping that John had returned and Edward had simply not wanted to disturb her sleep. She pushed the door open and looked inside John’s room but the bed was empty and undisturbed.

 

She made her way downstairs and stopped at the site of Edward asleep in the chair next to the door. She smiled at the idea that the servant had grown so fond of the teenager that he’d spent the entire night in a very uncomfortable position just to wait for him.

 

She touched his shoulder and shook it gently. Edward snapped awake but almost groaned as stiff muscles complained of the abuse he heaped on them over the long night. “Good morning madam,” he managed as he finally made it to his feet, stretching his back and shoulders.

 

“Good morning Edward,” she replied quietly. “I take it there’s been no sign of him?” She questioned forlornly.

 

“No ma’am,” he replied sounding just as depressed. He told her to let the boy go, certain that he’d return on his own but now he was afraid he’d been wrong. What if something happened to him? What if he’d gotten lost or hurt? “I’m sorry Miss Rose…I guess I should have gone after him,” he said by way of apology.

 

She shook her head. “No Edward…You were right. John has to want to be here or he’ll just keep running away…Maybe he just needed some time to think.”

 

“But that storm last night…”

 

She nodded. “I know…I’m worried too. I’m going to call Officer Blake again and see if he’s heard anything,” she said as she turned and headed to the phone. Edward returned the chair to its proper place and ran his hand over his unshaven face. He flushed crimson in embarrassment that Miss Rosemary had seen him so disheveled. He went to the back of the house where his room was located off the kitchen to clean up.

 

Rosemary made her call but returned to the foyer looking dejected that Blake hadn’t seen any sign of John but he did at least promise to keep looking. Edward returned from the back of the house, freshly shaved but still wearing the clothes from the previous day. Rose threw him a forlorn smile and glanced down at her own improper dress. “I guess we both need to take a few minutes before breakfast don’t we?” She asked with a raised brow.

 

Edward nodded. “No word Madam?” He asked.

 

She shook her head. “He said he’d head out to Winter Creek road and drive along it. It runs the length of the foothills so they should see him if he’s trying to get home.”

 

“Yes ma’am,” he said softly, sounding as worried as she felt.

 

“Let’s get breakfast over with Edward. I still need to go to the hospital to pick up my idiot son,” she sighed drily.

 

Edward chuckled and nodded. “Yes ma’am,” he said agreeably.

 

 

The forest around him was still gloomy with the dark clouds floating overhead. A drizzling rain continued to fall, keeping the ground beneath the teen’s feet slippery and treacherous to walk on but John continued on. He was cold, wet and hungry and he just wanted a hot shower and a warm bed at this point but at least the wind that had howled through last night had quieted to a gentle zephyr.

 

His sable hair was plastered to his head and he was filthy from the branches that had slapped him in the face and the mud kicked up by his tired steps. He’d been walking since he’d first awakened around 5:00 a.m. and judging from the position of the sun that periodically attempted to peep out from behind the clouds, it must be about seven. He’d been walking for almost two hours now and hoped he’d soon come to the road or the fields that bordered his Aunts property.

 

He wrapped his arms about his chilled torso and slogged on through the mud. He’d walked for about another twenty minutes before he saw the break in the trees. He was close to Rosemary’s property but he knew he still had a few miles to cover to get back to the house. He sighed as he finally broke through the trees. The road that led to his aunt’s home was before him. It wasn’t where he’d first run into the forest but at least it was close and smooth to walk on.

 

He started down the final hill that ran parallel to the road. The fallen pine needles were wet and slippery beneath his feet. John took a step and his feet skidded out from under him. His arms wind milled wildly for a few seconds before exhaustion and gravity won the battle over his usual great sense of balance and he fell.

He tumbled down the remaining twenty feet, feeling every bump and rock along the way. The air was driven from his lungs and he had no breath to even cry out as he finally came to an abrupt halt against a light pole. John lay gasping for a long moment. He felt dizzy and his side hurt when he tried to inhale. He’d felt this way after his uncle had beat him near to death and suspected he’d probably broken at least one rib.

 

“Oh man,” he groaned as he tried to push himself upright. A wave of pain washed over him along with the horrible spinning sensation and that made his stomach turn. His head spun sickeningly and then a blanket of grayness fell over him. John fell back to the ground as gray turned to blackness.

 

 

Officer Blake cruised slowly up Winter Creek road. His headlights cutting through the eerie mists and rain as he and his partner Mark Coleman studied the soggy hillside through the early morning murkiness. Mark aimed the searchlight up the rise as they crawled alongside the road and the pair almost missed the sprawled teenager lying at the base of the hill.

 

 “STOP THE CAR!” Mark suddenly shouted. Drake braked the car to a sliding halt… both men jumped out and ran to the boy’s side. “Is it him?” Coleman asked worriedly as Drake very gently rolled the youth onto his back. The boy was definitely bigger and heavier since the last time he’d seen him and he sucked in his breath at the blood and dirt streaked features but he nodded his head. “Yeah it’s him,” he replied as the boy moaned softly. “John?” Kevin began gently. “Can you hear me?”

 

The dark lashes fluttered against the high cheekbones for a moment before he managed to keep them open. Pain blossomed along with his awareness that there were two policemen leaning over him.

 

John gasped and tried to sit up but a cry of pain slipped from his lips as his head and his side set up an angry protest. John’s hands rose to his head as if to hold it forcibly in place or at the very least, still the pounding that had begun with his movements.

 

Drake gripped his shoulders and tried to press him back. “Just lay back son…We’ll call an ambulance,” the officer soothed but John was having none of that.

 

“No,” he protested weakly as he attempted to fend off the man’s hands. Drake remembered that the boy had a serious aversion to being touched and he also remembered why. He let go immediately and waved Coleman off as well as the other officer tried to help him hold the boy to the ground. “Just wanna… go back… to my aunts,” he panted.


“John…You could be badly hurt,” Drake insisted, noticing that despite the gasping breaths, the boy no longer stuttered. Rosemary had obviously made some progress.

 

The boy shook his head stubbornly. “I’ll be fine,” he argued, pushing himself to a sitting position. “I just…Bumped my…head,” he gasped holding his side.

 

His pale features and his arm pressed tightly to his torso did little to reassure the officer. Drake realized that the only way to keep the boy down at this point was by force and he remembered well the fight the teenager had put up the last time. He decided that it might be more damaging then letting him up would be. “Alright John,” he agreed as he took the boy by his free arm. John stiffened immediately but didn’t resist until Officer Coleman reached down to help his partner. John remembered the last time the man had touched him and didn’t want a repeat of the humiliating and terrifying pat down he’d given him the last time.

 

“No don’t,” he wheezed as he recoiled from the man’s hands. He gasped and wrapped his arms around his body protectively as his side pulsated with pain. “Aaarrrgh,” he groaned miserably.

 

“It’s okay Mark…I’ve got him,” Kevin reassured the officer. The other man looked at the boy in concern but he also remembered the teenagers fear from the last time and backed up. “It’s alright John…I’ve got you okay and no one’s upset with you. We just want to get you home. Your aunt is very worried about you.”

 

John threw the other officer a wary look but he finally nodded his head and let Drake help him to his feet. The young man wobbled unsteadily for a moment before he got his legs under him. The dark eyes wouldn’t meet Coleman’s and the officer frowned suspiciously as his blue eyes met his partners questioningly. Drake caught the silent inquiry and nodded his head. Coleman shook his head in disgust, certain now that the boy had come from an abusive background.

 

John was wet, cold and dirty and he shivered slightly in the cool morning air. Kevin led the shaky youth toward the patrol car and opened the back door. John started to slide inside but Drake stopped him. John eyed him uncertainly and the officer smiled gently as he pulled his jacket off and wrapped it snuggly around the boy. John gave the man a small, grateful quirk of his mouth before letting the officer help him into the vehicle.

 

The two patrolmen slid into the front seat and started the car. Drake put it in gear and turned around to head back to Rosemary’s as the sun began to climb and lighten the sky.

 

 

Rosemary was just coming down the stairs with her purse over her shoulder with the intent to go and pick up Joshua. She glanced at her watch. 8:00 a.m. The hospital staff should be serving him breakfast by now, so by the time he was done eating and she’d tracked James down to sign his release, her son should be ready to go home. She didn’t want to be gone too long in case John came home.

 

Edward was returning from the back of the house where he’d had a chance to change his clothes from the previous night spent by the door. He smiled at his employer and headed for the door. He’d almost reached it when he heard the knock on the wooden portal.

 

He threw a questioning look toward Rosemary before pulling it open. Both of them hopeful but doubting it was John. He wouldn’t knock on his own front door and knowing the boys habits, figured he’d be more apt to try and sneak in the back door and up to his room without being seen.

 

Both of them gasped in surprise at the officer standing before them with the wet, dirt stained young man beside him. Blood trickled from several small cuts on John’s face.

 

“Oh háaketa are you alright?” Rosemary questioned, finally regaining her composure. She reached forward to grab John by the shoulders to hug him to her but the boy backed away. “Oh sweetie,” she murmured softly at the obvious refusal to let her touch him.

 

“He took a fall down a hill Mrs. Hughes. He seems alright except or a few scrapes and bruises and he’s definitely favoring his left side and he said he bumped his head. He was unconscious when we found him but he didn’t want us to call for an ambulance.”

 

“That’s alright. I’ll take him to the hospital myself.”

 

John’s head jerked up at that. “Don’t need… a hospital,” he muttered still sounding a bit breathless.

 

“Well you’re going to one anyway. We were just heading over there to pick up Joshua anyway.”

 

Rose saw the mulish set to John’s jaw at the mention of his cousin’s name. He was still very hurt and angry at what the man had done to Wind Song and had no desire to ever see him again. He looked toward the door.

 

“Don’t even think of it,” Drake said softly, seeing the glance and guessing the direction of the boy’s thoughts.

 

 His dark eyes flicked between the two officers and Edward, John sighed. He’d never get past them and had to yield the argument at this point, especially with his side aching as badly as it did right now. “Yes ma’am,” he mumbled unhappily.

 

“Thank you gentlemen…Both of you,” Rosemary clarified, nodding toward Coleman as well.

 

“Call us anytime Mrs. Hughes,” Drake replied. He took the jacket off of John and lightly patted his shoulder. “Hope you’re better soon son,” he said quietly. John sidestepped away from the contact but nodded his head nonetheless.

 

Rose’s keen green eyes swept over the teen and she realized he was even worse than she first feared. The shirt was torn and his hands were scraped and cut and he was moving stiffly. “How badly are you injured?” She asked quietly.

 

John shrugged. “I’ve been…hurt worse,” he admitted softly but his breaths were hitched and Rose could see the glaze of pain in his dark eyes.

 

“That wasn’t what I asked but I guess I’ll have to get the doctor to tell me…Let’s go,” she instructed, knowing John was just going to stubbornly refuse to tell her anything.

 

John heaved a sigh and threw an exasperated glance at the officers, both of whom chuckled at the eye roll of annoyance.

 

They turned to leave but John reached out to touch the officer’s arm hesitantly. Drake turned back. “What is it John?”

 

John worried his lip nervously for a moment and kept his eyes on the floor. “Uh…Thank you for uh…For um…for helping me,” he finally managed.

 

Drake grinned. “You’re welcome son,” he replied gently.

 

The officers left and Rose waved toward the door. “Let’s go sweetie…I want to make sure you’re okay.”

 

John sighed and painfully made his way to the car. Edward walked at his side but refrained from touching him. John slid carefully into the back seat and to his chagrin, Rosemary chose to slip in beside him rather than sit in front. Edward closed the door and son they were on their way to the hospital.

 

 

They’d been on the road for a couple of minutes before Rosemary turned to her silent nephew sitting beside her. “What happened John?” She questioned.

 

“I just slipped on the wet pine needles… and fell down the hill,” he mumbled in embarrassment at his own clumsiness.

 

“So where were you last night Háaketa, I was worried about you?”

 

“I was fine,” he replied without really answering the question. He didn’t want anyone to know about his place…It held special memories of his dad there and he didn’t want anyone or anything to change that.

 

“That’s not an answer,” she said, sounding annoyed at his evasiveness.

 

John gave a small shrug. “I was in the woods…”

 

“In that storm?” She gasped, horrified at the idea that he’d been out in that without shelter.

 

“I can take care of myself,” he mumbled.

 

“Apparently not,” she replied, nodding at his disheveled appearance.

 

John blushed a bit at her pointed glance. “I was alright Aunt Rose…I’ve been wet before,” he answered quietly.  “And I fell this morning…On my way home,” he added with hitched breaths.

 

Rose heaved a sigh, seeing the stubborn tilt to his chin and realizing that he was not going to give her a straight answer and that he was having difficulty catching his breath, she decided not to upset him further. “Alright John,” she replied, yielding the argument. She attempted a new tack. “John…? I’m sorry about Wind Song,” she said gently.

 

John stiffened. “You have…no reason to be sorry,” he said with a hitch to his voice. She wasn’t sure if it was grief or pain. “You did not kill Wind Song,” he whispered.

 

“Still…I know you’re heart is hurting and..,” her voice trailed off as John shook his head.

 

“I am not hurting…,” he murmured, casting her a sideways glance. “My heart no longer feels,” he continued. “It has been dead for a long time.”

 

“Oh sweetheart,” she breathed as tears welled and rolled down her cheeks. She knew John was retreating into cold indifference and wouldn’t allow anyone to see the hurt behind the mask.

 

In the front seat, Edward also had to wipe at the moisture pooling in his eyes.

 

Rosemary reached out to try and comfort him in the hopes that he might break and allow his emotions full reign but John grew rigid and tried to shift away from her. He grimaced and pressed his arm against his ribs. She pulled back at the frozen, apathetic look on her nephew’s face.

 

 “Wind Song will run forever free now. She will never again feel fear or pain,” he finished as his gaze turned out the side window.

 

“I know it’s too soon sweetie…But down the road. If you want another horse…,” she began.

 

John turned his head to face her. “Aunt Rosemary…I am very grateful that you have taken me into your home and for all you have done for me…,” he said softly. “But I want nothing more from you.”  

 

“Oh háaketa,” she said with a sob. “I want you to see your dream come true…”

 

“I will not leave,” John said quietly “Until you ask me too, you would only send them to bring me back.” She nodded in agreement with that observation, uncertain where he was going with this…She didn’t have long to wait as he continued. "But you owe me nothing and I will ask nothing more.”

 

Tears rolled freely down Rose and Edwards face at emotionless tone of John’s voice. They’d just begun to make some headway and now they were back to square one and neither of them knew if they’d ever recover the lost ground. “You’ve never asked me for anything sweetie…I just wanted to give you everything….I…”

 

John interrupted her with a shake of his head. “I want nothing…They will only take it from me…,” he whispered. “Just like…,” his voice trailed off.

 

Rose knew what he meant…Just like they had in Montana. “No they won’t…I’m sending Joshua away to stay with his grandparents.”

 

John shook his head. “Please do not. It will only make him hate me worse. This is his home.”

 

“It’s your home too,” she pressed reassuringly.

 

John shook his head. “I have no…home…,” he said with a hitched breath. “This is your home and I appreciate your letting me stay until I am ready to become a fireman.”

 

Rose brushed at her tears. She knew John was upset and grieving and trying to hide it behind the cold, emotionless mask he’d worn when he first arrived. He would never let them in to his heart where they could hurt him. She decided it was too soon to try and break through to him…He needed time. She finally nodded. “Alright my sweetheart…I’ll give you time okay?”

 

John shrugged. “Time will not change anything but…thank you,” he finished, sounding relieved that she was going to drop the argument…At least for the moment.

 

Edward shook his head sadly as he watched the teenager in the rearview mirror, wishing he could undo what Joshua had done that had finished off what was left of the boys heart. He made the turn into the hospital parking lot, wondering if anyone would ever be able to reach John’s heart or soul again.

 

 

A short time later, John was ensconced in an exam room. Rosemary and James stood next to him as the nurse cleaned the dirt and blood from his face. “We’ll send him up to radiology for an X ray but I’m pretty sure he’s broken at least one rib and has a mild concussion. I’d like to keep him overnight for observation.”

 

“I don’t need…To stay,” John muttered through gritted teeth.

 

“It’s standard with a head injury John.”

 

John opened his mouth to argue but Rosemary cut him off.

 

“If the doctor thinks they need to keep you, you’re staying John Roderick,” she said with a tone John had come to know brooked no argument, not to mention the use of both his first and second name.

 

John’s mouth set stubbornly but he nodded in defeat and looked away. “I’ll wait until they get you settled and then I’ll take Joshua home. I’ll be back later alright?”

 

“You don’t…Need to,” John panted with a catch to his breath. “I’ll be fine,” he finished.

 

Rosemary frowned. “I don’t want to leave you all alone…,” she began.

 

“I’m not a baby…I don’t need you… to watch out for me,” he insisted with painful gasps.

 

Rose looked crushed and tears welled in her eyes once more. “I see…Well…,” she sniffed back her tears. “I guess I’ll pick you up tomorrow then,” she finished. She bent to kiss his forehead but John turned his head away. She stood there for a long moment wishing she could turn back time and stop Joshua from destroying everything they’d accomplished with one selfish, reckless moment. “I’ll see you tomorrow sweetie,” she finally murmured before she turned and left the room, brushing at the tears that rolled slowly down her cheeks.

 

James followed her out. “What happened Rosemary? The last time I saw you, you were making progress with the boy? Was it what happened to Joshua? You didn’t tell me anything other than that he fell from a horse?” He inquired worriedly.

 

She nodded. “He did…John’s horse. She broke her leg in the accident and had to be destroyed,” she explained. “John was devastated and now he’s pulled back into himself…Worse than when he first got here,” she whispered in distress.

 

“That self centered little…,” he began, catching himself as he remembered that the spoiled monster was Rosemary’s son after all. “I’m sorry Rose…It’s just…You’d brought him along so well,” he finished.

 

She nodded. “I know and now…” She shrugged.

 

He shook his head angrily. “He may never trust you or anyone else again after this?”

 

She nodded forlornly. “I know…” She patted her long time friend’s arm. “Look after him James…I need to go get Joshua.”

 

“I will Rose.”

 

 

John spent a quiet afternoon at the hospital. The nurse’s attempts to engage the boy in conversation went unanswered and Dr. Foresters “How do you feel?” was answered with an indifferent shrug and a single…

 

 “Fine.”

 

“You know John…Your aunt is very hurt that you won’t talk to her.”

 

“I have talked to her,” he said quietly.

 

“Not about this…This wasn’t her fault John…You can trust her…She loves you.”

 

“I do not want her to love me,” he replied tiredly. “Those I care for go…,” he began before he caught himself. “She’s better off not caring and so am I,” he finished softly.

 

The doctor’s eyes widened as understanding dawned at the teenagers words. “John…That’s not your fault either…,” he began.

 

“Isn’t it?” John questioned drily. “Everything I have has been taken from me…,” he snapped angrily as he attempted to sit up but he gasped and held his side as his ribs throbbed painfully at the outburst.

 

“Alright John…We’ll talk about this later,” James said as he gripped the boys shoulders and eased him back on the bed.

 

John shrugged him off. “There’s nothing…to talk about,” he panted stubbornly. “Just…Just leave me…alone.”

 

The doctor closed his eyes in frustration. The boy had closed himself off and after so many losses in one young life, who could really blame him but still…He certainly didn’t want to just abandon any chance of helping him and he knew Rose wouldn’t give up so easily either even though John was breaking her heart. He’d have to try and make her understand that John wasn’t intentionally trying to hurt her…He was just protecting his own heart from any more pain than he’d already experienced. She’d have to patient with the boy.

 

“Alright John…I’ll drop it…For now. You get some rest okay?”

 

The boy nodded gratefully and let his dark eyes drift closed. The tightness in his side eased but the painful tearing at his heart didn’t. He didn’t want to hurt Rosemary...She’d been good to him, at least so far but he wouldn’t risk losing anyone else who got too close and he still expected her to send him away eventually, everyone else had. Yes…It was safer for both of them this way.

 

 

The ride home had been silent and Joshua had shifted nervously in the backseat several times, wondering if his mother was still planning on throwing him out of the house when he was well and was uncertain on whether or not he should broach the question. He’d seen the reddened eyes brought on by her tears and he could tell she was upset but wasn’t sure if it was with him or if something else had happened but he didn’t want to test her Gage temper by asking.

 

Edward had also been casting worried glances toward his employer, anxious himself at the tears and despondent demeanor and curious as to what had caused it. She caught his worried frown and shook her head. Edward nodded subtly, catching the hint that she didn’t want to talk about it right now. They finally pulled up in front of the house and Rosemary and Edward assisted Joshua into the house.

 

“Take him to his room Edward and see that he’s settled,” she said shortly without a second glance at her son. Joshua threw the servant a nervous look but Edward didn’t answer the silently voiced question.

 

“Yes ma’am,” he answered quietly as he watched her walk away and close herself into her office. “Come along Master Joshua,” he added as he assisted the still slightly dizzy young man up the stairs and into his room.

 

“Why is she still angry?” Joshua asked the long time valet.

 

“Master John was hurt coming home this morning and he’s in the hospital.”

 

“Oh,” he said with an air of indifference.

 

Edward scowled and resisted the urge to kick the spoiled young man in the seat of his pampered behind. “He’s pulled back into himself because of what happened yesterday,” he finished, hoping there was some small amount of regret in the boy’s heart but he was disappointed.

 

“I suppose that means she’ll be mad enough to ship me off to my grandparents,” he muttered in disgust.

 

Edward could only hope so but he refrained from saying it. “I wouldn’t know that sir,” he answered drily as he helped him into his room where Tiffany and Allison were already waiting. Edward stayed long enough to see his employer’s son into his bed and then he turned and left, leaving the two young women to deal with him on their own.

 

They shot him a look of disbelief that he’d practically dumped the young man in his bed without a word. Ever since John had arrived, Edward had turned his attention to the younger boy and had become almost rude with them, just like their mother and they didn’t understand his sudden irritation with them.

 

Edward retreated to the kitchen and set to work getting lunch ready with the girls.

 

 

  Rosemary was there early the next morning to pick John up. Edward waited outside the door with her while the nurses got him dressed and Dr. Forester signed his release papers and gave Rose a list of do’s and don’ts for John’s recovery.

 

“I had a talk with him last night Rosemary…,” he began softly. Her dark brow arched curiously. “He said he didn’t want you to care about him.”

 

“But why?” She asked plaintively. “I didn’t mean for any of this to happen. I would never hurt him. Why is he angry with me?”

 

“He’s not angry Rose, he’s scared and hurt and he doesn’t want to give anyone another opportunity to hurt him. He said something else as well…”

 

“What was that?”

 

“That everything leaves him.”

 

“Oh God…That poor child.”

 

“So you understand? He’s afraid if he lets you care about him or if he tries to care about you that you’ll go away too.”

 

She nodded sadly. “What do I do?”

 

“He’s just waiting for the other shoe to drop and for you to send him away I think or even that something will happen to you because of him…”

 

“He told me that once before…,” she murmured, remembering. “Why does everyone around me die is what he asked me…Right after Geoff passed away.”

 

The doctor nodded. “He’s afraid and he’s hiding from his emotions behind a wall of indifference. Keep reassuring him…Don’t give up on him Rose.”

 

She nodded. “It’s so hard sometimes,” she said softly, looking over at Edward who listened to the conversation in silence. “I want to love him…Give him everything and he won’t let me.”

 

Edward nodded his agreement as James replied. “Let him be for awhile…Let him guide you with what he wants to do. Leave him alone when he wants solitude, be there to talk to if he needs advice and don’t push him into being a social butterfly.”

 

“What if it doesn’t work either?” She asked forlornly.

 

“Then you’ve still done everything you can for him and you’ve given him a home and love which has been sadly lacking in his life over the last few years but you can't buy him Rose...Hes not Joshua.”

 

She nodded as the door opened and a young volunteer wheeled John out of the room to where Rose was waiting. “Good morning sweetie,” she greeted, reaching to sweep the sable bangs from his forehead as she bent own to kiss him.

 

John ducked his head away from the contact and the dark eyes dropped to the floor, knowing she wouldn’t be happy at his resistance.

 

Rosemary sighed and felt the sting of tears at his rejection. She had to try and talk to him…Maybe, just maybe he’d listen. “Please sweetie…I know you’re hurt and disillusioned by everything that’s happened right now but I love you.”

 

John almost laughed at that. He didn’t believe her. He wasn’t even sure what the word meant. No one loved him anymore…not even his family…Families care for each other…Take care of each other, at least that’s what he’d thought but they’d shown him the truth.  Those who claimed to love him had left him. Hell...Everyone left him, mocked him, told him he was worthless, hurt him. He shook his head.

 

“I’m on your side here…Please Háaketa…Please don’t shut me out,” she pleaded.

 

John glanced toward her and saw the hurt reflected in her green eyes and he knew he was breaking her heart and he felt bad but he couldn’t allow himself to let down his guard again…To open his heart and soul to another hurt…Another rejection down the road…Another loss. This time those walls were firmly in place. He knew she cared about him but that would only make it worse when she finally left too like his mom and dad had. It wouldn’t stop his pain.  The dark eyes returned to the floor and he didn’t see the sorrow filled looks that passed between his aunt and Edward at his obvious refusal to accept her love.

 

“Ahem,” she cleared her throat and got herself under control. “Alright sweetie…We’ll talk later, when you’re up to it.” John gave her a half hearted shrug but didn’t reply. “Let’s go home Edward,” she added softly, with a choked voice.

 

“Yes ma’am,” he agreed as he stepped behind the chair and began to push it toward the doors. His heart was aching for both of them. They were back to square one with the boy and he just wanted to go home and shake Joshua until his head rattled for this.

 

James placed his hand on Rosemary’s arm. “Just take things a day at a time and don’t rush him.”

 

She nodded sadly and followed the pair out.

 

It was a silent trip back to the house and as he had the day before with Joshua, Edward helped John up the stairs and into his room while Rosemary watched them go from below. John was moving slowly and Edward could tell he was in pain from the lower lip held between clenched teeth but the boy never made a sound.

 

“Let me help you sir,” Edward offered, stepping closer. The teenager held up a hand to stop him. “I’m fine. You can go,” he mumbled.

 

The older man sighed, knowing it was useless to argue with the stubborn teen and the last thing he wanted was the boy dropping into withdrawal if he pushed him. “Yes sir,” he replied in defeat. “Call me if you need me Master John,” he instructed, pointing at the intercom near the bed.

 

John nodded and waited for the man to leave before he carefully got himself undressed and slid into his bed. The headache from his concussion was beginning to build once again and John sighed as he settled into the soft pillows and let his dark eyes drift closed.

 

He was awakened a long while later by a gentle tap on his door. He sat up slowly as Rosemary came inside. “I’m sorry sweetie…I didn’t mean to wake you but we have something we need to talk to you about.” John frowned uncertainly but nodded, thinking Edward was with her. His mouth tightened into a thin, unhappy line as Joshua followed his mother into the room.

 

John’s jaw clenched and he looked away, not wanting to see his cousin or listen to anything he had to say but he really had no choice. He was trapped.

 

Joshua stood with his broken arm folded over his chest and the other stuffed deep in the pocket of his bathrobe and it was obvious from the arrogant sneer that he was being forced into saying whatever it was he’d come for. John remained silent and refused to look at the older boy. Joshua rolled his eyes in annoyance but felt his mother prod him in the back. “I uh…I regret what happened to your horse John…I shouldn’t have taken her,” he said simply.

 

The younger boy remained mute for a long moment. Joshua was about to turn away, figuring his young cousin wasn’t about to stand up to him or let this go. It was the perfect way to get him tossed out of his own home by playing the pitiful victim and winning his mothers sympathy.

 

“John?” Rosemary began gently, intending to force a response.

 

The boy turned his head to look at Joshua. “I know that you do not mean those words…They were forced on you by your mother.” John shrugged. “And so they mean nothing,” he said quietly. Joshua glared at what he thought was the younger boys refusal to except his apology even though he was right…he hadn’t meant a word but John wasn’t done. “I could easily hate you but what would be the point? My father was a wise man… he taught me that the easy way is often not the right way. My mother, who you call a savage, taught me to forgive even those who are undeserving of it if I expect to be forgiven by others…The same ideals as the white man’s Christian church. ” His eyes met his aunts and she smiled poignantly and nodded her head…Hoping a fourteen year old boys wisdom might reach her own son. “So I will not hate you Joshua…I will pity you for you are much like me.”  Rose frowned in confusion while Josh’s eyes narrowed suspiciously at where John was going. “You live with no heart or soul for anyone but yourself,” he said softly. “You are already dead in spirit.”

 

Joshua snorted disdainfully. “So does that mean you are too?” He asked snidely.

 

“For a long time now,” John replied sadly. But the difference is that yours was destroyed by your own selfishness. We are both alone and dead,” he finished, looking away.

 

Rosemary’s eyes filled with tears while Joshua puffed up indignantly. “I’m not alone,” he sneered arrogantly, missing the point completely. “I have a lot of friends and my sister and my mother until you came along,” he added, glaring at John.

 

A small, sad smile curled John’s mouth. “Friends bought with your money are not true and are not friends,” he said as he turned his back on the boy, dismissing him.

 

Joshua grunted angrily as he turned to face his mother. “I suppose you’re going to ship me off to Santa Barbara now?” He questioned irritably.

 

“I was,” she answered honestly. “But John asked me not to.” Joshua looked shocked and threw a glance back at the other boy. John still had his back turned and was sliding under the covers.

 

“Why?” He asked suspiciously, afraid his mother was going to make him do some other humiliating act by way of apology.

 

She shrugged. “He said this was your home but I warn you Joshua…,” she said, lowering her voice. “You do anything else to hurt John and I will personally pack your bags do you understand?”

 

He nodded abruptly and stalked past his mother to return to his room where Allison was waiting to offer him succor for this humbling experience. He frowned back at the younger teen. Surely he wasn’t right about the pretty blondes concern being only about his money? She loved him didn’t she? Were his friends really that shallow? He shook himself, refusing to let his cousin’s words make him question his friends. John was wrong, he had to be…He deserved his ‘friends,’ he mused without realizing that he was absolutely correct. They were exactly what he had earned.

 

 

The days passed slowly for John with nothing to do but lie in bed and read for the better part of each day. He chaffed at the inactivity and the loss of his freedom but then what did it matter? Wind Song and Gil and Mary Lynn were gone and there would be little to do anyway.

 

He knew his Aunt would let him take any horse he chose to ride from the stables but it just wasn’t in his heart to do that yet and so he read and stayed to himself.

 

Joshua took his mother at her word and stayed clear of his younger cousin and Tiffany also maintained her distance, afraid she’d meet the same fate if she pushed her mother’s already angry mood to far, besides…John seldom left his room now except to eat.

 

The two had plenty to say about the boy in private and in the company of their friends but they made sure to keep their snide comments about his table manners to themselves and John was left in peace to eat.

 

He replied to Rosemary when he was spoken to but seldom initiated a conversation, keeping the promise he’d made to himself to keep the walls in place this time and to trust no one.

 

Rosemary and Edward despaired of ever reaching the boy again and seeing the more confidant, active, intelligent, stubborn teenager he’d become over the last few months.

 

The household staff moved about the house quietly and their faces reflected their sadness whenever John ventured from his room. The once expressive eyes and sensitive mouth were cool and expressionless now, showing no hint of whatever emotions the teenager was still capable of feeling…If any.

 

Rose wept behind closed doors for the loss but her efforts to reach him were rebuffed at every turn.

 

Finally by early July, James deemed him well enough to begin his usual routines as long as he took care not to bang up his ribs.  John was elated to finally be sprung from the confines of the quiet house and it wasn’t long after the doctor had left before they all heard the roar of John’s motorbike cranking over and roaring off into the warm, sundrenched fields behind the house.

 

John drove for several miles just enjoying the freedom of being outside before he finally slowed and brought the bike to a stop. He sat for a long moment, realizing that he really had nowhere to go. He could drive up into the hills or down to the river but he was afraid all the jarring of driving over the rugged terrain would damage his still healing ribs. He blew out a frustrated breath and decided to simply drive around town for a few minutes before heading for home.

 

He kicked the bike into gear and sped off. He drove up and down several roads, exploring his surroundings. He was about to turn back when his eyes fell on a familiar sight. A fire station stood off on a small side road and seemed like a beacon on a foggy night drawing him toward it.

 

John chewed his lower lip for a moment in indecision before deciding a short look wouldn’t hurt. He turned down the road, pulling up in front of the building a few seconds later. The bay doors were open and two bright red vehicles sat on the driveway in front.

 

John flipped the visor of his helmet up and sat watching the crew inside as they went about their chores, wishing he could go in and take a closer look.

 

Captain Ed Calhoun stood just inside the doorway of his office sipping his coffee, his blue eyes taking in his men as they worked. He heard the growl of a small engine and glanced toward the open doors, noticing a small motor bike pulled up out front. A thin boy, possibly a teenager…It was hard to tell with the helmet in place, sat astride it watching as well.

 

A fire station was always a draw for young boys but Ed knew that once they became a teen, a lot of them gave up the dream of riding the engine and moved on to other things. Only those who felt a serious passion tended to hang around.

 

This boy was older than most that wandered by to take a tour and had that intensity about him…An almost hungry look and it held Calhoun’s attention. His senior engineer Carl Abbott noticed him as well.

 

“Looks like we have an audience,” he said, coming up beside his superior

 

“Yeah I saw him…Looks real interested doesn’t he?” He added with a grin.

 

“We both know the look Cap,” Abbott said with a laugh. “Maybe we should ask him if he wants to come in.”

 

“Here,” he replied handing his cup to the engineer. He started down the drive to go talk to the teen.

 

John spotted the man as he came around the engine and tensed, unsure if the man was upset by his presence or if he’d be like Rigsby and his crew in Montana and welcome him in.

 

Calhoun noticed the boy’s wary posture as he drew closer and frowned. The young man looked like he was poised to flee. “Hello son,” he greeted with a smile, hoping it would relax the kid. He held out his hand in what had become a familiar gesture for John. He hesitated for a moment and then shook it briefly. “I’m Captain Calhoun…What’s your name?” He prodded the boy.

 

“John Gage sir,” he replied quietly, the dark eyes not quite meeting his. Calhoun thought he was just shy.

 

Gage…? The name rang a bell but he wasn’t sure exactly why and shrugged it off. “Nice to meet you John…I uh…I noticed you seemed real interested in our station,” he added.

 

John shrugged a bit. “I’m sorry…I didn’t mean to bother you sir,” the teen replied, shifting uncomfortably and looking like he was getting ready to start the bike and take off.

 

“Whoa…Stop,” he said holding up his hand in halting gesture. “You’re not bothering anyone…I just thought you might like to come inside and look around. Take a look at the engine?” He offered with a smile.

 

John hesitated…That wary look still in the dark eyes and Calhoun wondered what the boy was so nervous about. The chocolate colored eyes returned to the station which seemed to beckon him to come in. His desire to go inside outweighed his nervousness and he nodded. “Yes sir,” he finally agreed, swinging his leg over the bike and pulling the helmet off his head. He set it on the bike’s seat.

 

Calhoun beckoned toward the station, allowing the boy to go first as he followed behind. The crew stopped working as they came inside and turned to look at the teenager curiously.

 

“Gentlemen…This is John Gage and he’d like to take a look around. They all threw the kid a smile and a nod.

 

“You thinking of becoming a fire fighter John?” Abbott asked curiously.

 

The boy nodded. “Yes sir,” he replied with a hopeful look.

 

“Good choice,” Calhoun said before giving a head jerk toward the others. “John this is my crew.”

 

The other men gave him a nod and sketched a wave as he introduced them. “My senior engineer Carl Abbott…He handles the engine.” John gave a small head bob at each in return as he continued. “My Snorkel Tech. Ben Darcy and these are my linemen…Cliff, Charlie, Ernie, and Lewis.”

 

The introductions complete, Calhoun reached out to lay his hand on the boy’s shoulder. John stepped away from the casual contact and looked at the ground nervously. Calhoun frowned in concern but didn’t comment. “Let’s start over here,” he said gently, noting the slight, embarrassed coloring of the boy’s cheeks. “How old are you John?” He questioned trying to break the ice a bit.

 

“Almost fifteen sum…Uh years,” he corrected, using the white method of counting age.

 

When did you first start to think about being a fire fighter John?” Calhoun asked curiously as they walked.

 

“When I was six,” he answered as his dark eyes met Calhoun’s for the first time and the older man saw a spark of excitement.

 

“That’s a long time to want something,” he said gently as he showed the boy around.

 

John nodded, “Yes sir.”

 

He showed the teenager the rec room, kitchen and the dormitory, pointing out the pole they used to descend to the bottom floor from the upstairs dorm. He could see the boy was fascinated and the dark eyes missed nothing. He took him out back where the hoses hung and a hydrant stood for drills. John mouth curved in a half smile as he remembered Captain Rigsby teaching him to haul the lines and hook up the Storz connector and wished he could give it a try but didn’t want to bother the man any more then he already had.

 

Calhoun began to explain how it all worked and John nodded. “I have hooked up the connector before,” he admitted, drawing a smile from the man.

 

“Where did you learn that?”

 

“Where I used to live…,” John offered no more and Calhoun didn’t push the quiet young man.

 

“Wanna show me?” Ed questioned.

 

John grinned, forgetting to keep his guard up for a moment. He started to nod but then remembered that it had been a long time since he’d done it. He bit his lip hesitantly, afraid he’d make a fool out of himself if he failed but he really wanted to prove himself. Well…He’d never know unless he gave it a shot. “Alright,” he finally replied.

 

Ed had seen the thoughts play out on the boys face but didn’t know what had bothered him. Maybe he wasn’t very good at it or he’d put on a show of false bravado to impress him. He didn’t know but he waited patiently for the kid to make a decision.

 

John reached down and picked up the pentagon shaped wrench and deftly managed to get the cap off the hydrant. He set that aside and lifted the heavy hose with the Storz connecter and attempted to hook it up. His ribs twinged warningly that he was overdoing it and he fumbled with it for a moment. His face turned a bit red at the clumsiness of the attempt. “Sorry,” he mumbled as he shifted the hose to get a better grip.

 

“You’re doing just fine John,” Calhoun encouraged the teen, noticing that his crew had come to stand in the doorway to watch. Their faces reflected their surprise that the boy truly did seem to know what he was doing even though it was a bit inelegant.

 

John managed to get the connector hooked up and stood up, dusting his hands on his pants.

 

Calhoun grinned. “That was pretty good John…You just need a little practice to get your speed up.”

 

John looked a little frustrated that he’d seemed to be all thumbs. He’d gotten pretty good at it in Montana. He almost told the man that it had been a long while since he’d done it and that he was still healing from his broken rib but he bit it back. His grandfather had told him there were no excuses for failure except that you weren’t good enough and needed to stop being lazy and work harder. He sighed, besides…If he told him he was injured he might not let him try anything else. John simply shrugged.

 

Calhoun frowned, hoping the boy wouldn’t give up just because he’d had a little trouble…He hadn’t been blowing smoke with his praise. The kid was good and he’d seen trained fire fighters fumble with a hose or two. The young man was a natural. He patted the teens shoulder but once again he side stepped away from the contact. That bothered Calhoun…Why did the kid resist a simple, friendly gesture? There were several possibilities but none of them were good and he didn’t wanna push the kid and scare him off so he let it ride. “Wanna see the rigs?” He asked gently.

 

John nodded and followed as he led him out to the Engine parked in front.

 

 

This is our baby…Isn’t she beautiful?” Calhoun asked proudly. John nodded as he reached out to run his hand over the polished metal but quickly pulled it back, afraid the Captain would get angry over the smudged fingerprints.

 

“It’s okay John…Go ahead,” he said understandingly. The teenager didn’t hesitate any further. His hand touched the polished metal and a look of awe spread over his face. Calhoun smiled and pulled the door open. “Want to sit in her?” He asked. John threw him a grateful look and climbed up behind the wheel. Absolute joy lit the boy’s eyes for a few moments as he held the wheel and looked out the front window and Calhoun knew for sure the kid had it bad. He had no doubt that the young man would one day be a fire fighter. John finally realized that he was grinning from ear to ear and bit his lip, looking a bit embarrassed at his loss of control.

 

Calhoun watched the smile drop away and wondered what had just happened. “Do you want to see the snorkel?” He asked quietly as John ran his hands over the steering wheel.

 

“Yes sir,” he replied, climbing down from the engine and following him over the other rig.

 

John listened carefully as Calhoun explained the dials and switches and how it all worked. Captain Calhoun was enjoying himself as much as the boy seemed to be. John seemed different from most of the young people that came who mostly wanted to sit in the seat and blow the air horn. This boy definitely had the soul for this job.

 

“Well that’s about it John,” he said finally as John stepped down from the truck.

 

“Thank you for letting me see it sir,” John replied politely, though the dark eyes continued to drift around the station, still taking it all in.

 

Calhoun smiled. “Come by anytime,” Calhoun offered on a whim, knowing in his heart that this boy would take him up on it.

 

John almost cracked a full smile at that but caught it, though he couldn’t suppress the sparkle of excitement in his eyes. He threw a final glance at the rigs as he turned and ran down the drive.

 

He climbed on his bike and set his helmet in place. Carl joined his captain as the bike roared off down the street. “We haven’t seen the last of that young man,” he told his Captain with a grin.

 

“I think you’re right,” Ed chuckled as they headed back inside.

 

“You know who the kid is right Cap?” His lineman Lewis Bailey asked with a smirk.

 

“No… who?” Calhoun questioned suspiciously at the gleam of amusement in Bailey’s eyes. Ed and Carl exchanged a wary glance.

 

“He’s Rosemary Hughes’ nephew.”

 

Carl’s jaw dropped in surprise and Calhoun’s brow arched in disbelief.  “Oh wow,” Abbot breathed out.

 

“Gage…?” Calhoun muttered. “I should have guessed. Wow…Roderick Gage’s son,” he said wonderingly.  “I knew he married someone his parents disapproved of.”

 

“Yup…Disowned him for it,” Abbott concurred, remembering the rumors hat had flown about back then.

 

“Someone told me he married an Indian woman,” Ed mused absently, thinking of the young man who’d just left. The crew’s eyes widened at that tidbit, most of them too young to remember the brouhaha that had been stirred back then. They didn’t doubt their captain’s word though. The boy definitely had the dark, good looks of his Native American heritage.

 

“Yeah…Knowing that family…That would have done it,” Carl said drily.

 

Ed smiled and rubbed his hands on his pants. “Well…It doesn’t matter who he’s related to, he’s a nice kid and he’s got the call in his blood…You can see it in his eyes.”

 

The others nodded.

 

 

John returned to the house in time for dinner. Rosemary and Edward noticed something different about him immediately. There was a bounce in his step that had been noticeably missing the last few weeks.

 

“John…?” She called, stopping him before he could retreat up the stairs.

 

He turned to face them. “Yes ma’am?” He questioned.

 

“Is everything okay?” She asked curiously. He nodded briefly. “Where have you been?”

 

John hesitated, afraid she’d forbid him to go back if she knew where he’d gone, for fear of him bothering the firemen but he wouldn’t lie either. “I was at the fire station,” he admitted reluctantly.

 

She arched a delicate brow at him. “They didn’t mind you being there?” She questioned.

 

He shook his head. “No ma’am…They said I could come anytime,” he offered hopefully.

 

She grinned at the sparkle of excitement in her nephews eyes. “Alright sweetie…Just don’t wear out your welcome,” she teased. John frowned at the unfamiliar expression. She saw it and laughed. “That means don’t go so often that you start to bother them,” she clarified.

 

John half smiled in relief that she wasn’t going to keep him from going.

 

Edward shot her a fleeting look, both of them relieved that John had found something to spark his interest in living once again.

 

“Dinner will be ready in a few minutes Master John,” he told the boy.

 

“Go wash up sweetie,” Rose instructed.

 

John nodded and headed up the stairs. The two adults watched him go before sharing a glance. “It’s good to see him looking so animated again Miss. Rosemary,” Edward said softly.

 

She nodded. “I wish I’d thought of that. I’m glad they were so nice to him over there…I should make sure to repay them for that,” she said softly.

 

 

Dinner was a quiet affair until nearly the end of the meal. Rose set her fork down and looked at the three young people at the table.

 

There’s been some problems with your fathers overseas office,” she began, looking at her two children. “I’ll be going over there to deal with all of that in mid August.”

 

John shot a glance toward his cousin’s, sure he’d be their target the moment she was gone. He’d head up to the campsite he and his father used to go to as much as possible.

 

Rosemary was thinking the same thing and she really hated leaving him but she had no option…Running Geoffrey’s interests was going to require more of her time now that she was really getting into it instead of just letting the lawyers handle it as she had for the last few months while she got the teen settled.

 

“How long will you be gone mother?” Tiffany asked.

 

“Maybe a month if all goes well.”

“But we’ll be back at school before you get home,” she pouted.

 

“Yes I know so I’ll plan something special at Christmas. Maybe a ski trip somewhere for ALL of us,” she stressed.

 

John studied the table uncomfortably. “I don’t know how to ski,” he mumbled, barely audible, hoping she’d leave him at home.

 

Tiffany and Joshua smirked at his ignorance of something they’d been doing since they were children. “I’m sure you can find something to do here if you don’t want to go,” Joshua offered hopefully.

 

Rose reached over and patted John’s hand but he pulled back and set them in his lap. She sighed heavily but didn’t push. “We’ll teach you John but we all go or none of us go,” she said shooting a glare at the other two teens.

 

“Fine mother,” Josh said in exasperation. Why did his mother fawn over that little upstart so much? Just because his Uncle had lacked the good sense to marry someone within his own class didn’t mean they should all have to pay for it by having the half Indian embarrassment live with them and be treated as if he were special by their own mother. She even favored him above her own children and that infuriated him.

 

John blew out a breath. He’d rather just stay here. “Can I go camping while you’re gone?”

 

She looked at him warily. “I don’t know sweetie…After the last time you went up there you came back badly hurt.”

 

“I wasn’t prepared that time…I will be careful,” he promised, blushing at the fact that he’d gotten hurt. He’d gone out many times when he was younger without incident.

 

She sighed in understanding. John didn’t want to be here alone with his cousins and she knew she couldn’t really stop him so it was better to agree with conditions. “Alright John, just be sure Edward knows where you are and when to expect you back but…,” she hesitated and looked at her own two. “Edward will also be under orders that if you do anything to upset John while I’m gone…Your bags will be packed and you will spend the remainder of your summer in Santa Barbara until school starts do I make myself clear?” She questioned sternly.

 

John flushed in embarrassment that she felt she needed to protect him but he remained silent. He had no intention of hanging around anyway. He’d be at the fire station or in the mountains or anywhere but here.

 

“Yes mother,” Tiffany said contritely.

 

“I’ll be out with Allison and my friends most of the time anyway,” Joshua said, looking annoyed at the threat.

 

“Good…Then I’ll make plans for Christmas in Aspen before I leave,” she told them. She looked at John and smiled. She had some things to buy for him before she left as well. If the boy was going into the mountains to camp, she’d make sure he had everything he needed to be safe.

 

 

John tossed restlessly in his bed thinking about the station and how much he’d enjoyed being there. Did the Captain mean it when he’d said John could come back or was he just being polite, figuring the kid would never come back anyway, he mused.

 

John frowned, remembering his rather awkward and even embarrassing attempt at hooking up the hose today. It had been almost four years since Captain Rigsby had taught him how but still…Calhoun and his crew must think he was a clumsy idiot. He needed the practice as Calhoun had said but how to get it? After that showing this morning he might think he was just talking big and would never let him try it again.

 

John shifted in his bed again. He finally sat up and tossed the covers aside. He slid from the bed and got dressed quickly before peeking out his bedroom door. The hallway was empty and John crept quietly down the stairs and through the darkened house. He slipped out the back door to the patio before running to the garage. He wheeled the bike out and down the driveway to the street before he climbed on and set his helmet in place. He started the bike and set off down the street, keeping a watch out for any police. San Gabriel had a curfew for anyone under 18 and he didn’t want to get caught…Besides they’d tell his aunt and then he’d really be in trouble.

 

He pulled up just shy of the station and walked the motorbike down along the side of the building. The practice hydrant and hose still lay where he had left it earlier in the day. John glanced at the closed bay doors and bit his lip, afraid of the trouble he’d be in if he got caught…Not only from Captain Calhoun but from his Aunt.

 

 

Captain Calhoun set his pen aside and took a sip of his now cold coffee. His men had been in their beds for some time now and as he glanced at his watch, he decided it was time for him to turn in as well.

 

The teenage boy who’d been here today had been on his mind and kept him awake earlier and he’d given up all pretense of trying to sleep and slipped from his bed. He’d returned to his office to finish up some long overdue paperwork but his mind had drifted to the boy repeatedly as he filled out his log books. The shy, eye averted mannerisms and deliberate avoidance of any kind of physical contact had upset him greatly…It just wasn’t normal, especially for a teenage boy and one who had been so obviously enamored by being at the station.

 

Calhoun ran his hands through his graying hair and then rubbed his eyes. He thought of the spark of excitement in the dark eyes and the way the teens hands had touched the polished engine as if it were the most beautiful thing in the world. He chuckled to himself. The kid had it bad.

 

He stood up and headed for the kitchen to dump his cold coffee before heading to his bunk. He rinsed his cup and gazed through the small window above the sink toward the back parking lot. He caught a brief motion that might have been nothing but shadows. He heard the sound of metal on concrete. What was going on out there…? Was someone maybe trying to steal their equipment? He went to the door and opened it quietly, slipping out into the darkness.

 

The stations back lights were on but didn’t quite illuminate the area over by the practice ground. He moved cautiously toward the figure bending over the hydrant.

 

“Damn it,” a soft mumble, whispered through the quiet night air as whoever it was fumbled with the hose coupling in the dark.

 

Calhoun grinned. It was John…He was sure of it. The teenager wrestled the heavy hose around the hydrant and managed to get the connector hooked up. He stood up and dusted himself off as he studied his handiwork. Still too clumsy and time consuming…He needed to try again.

 

The senses his grandfather had honed into him suddenly began to tingle a warning. John knew he wasn’t alone. He heard the barest scrape of a foot against the concrete. He suddenly spun about, prepared to flee and came face to face with Calhoun.

 

John’s face paled at having been caught and he was afraid he’d be permanently banished for trespassing here without permission. “I…I’m uh…I’m sorry…I just…I want…,” he stuttered helplessly.

 

Calhoun held up his hand. “It’s alright John…you’re not hurting anything and I’m not mad.”

 

“You…You’re not?” The teen questioned warily.

 

He shook his head. “No…As a matter of fact I was kind of hoping you’d come back.”

 

“Why?” He questioned suspiciously.

 

“Because I think you really have what it takes to be a fire fighter. I can see it in your eyes…In your face. It’s in your blood…I want to help you.”

 

John frowned a bit at that. “How?”

 

Calhoun grinned. “Just wait there a second.” John nodded hesitantly. Calhoun disappeared inside and a moment later the bay door rolled up. The glow of lights from inside helped brighten the area where John was standing. Calhoun came back carrying several items.

 

He handed John a pair of gloves. “What are these for?” The boy asked.

 

“It’ll keep your hands from getting pinched or cut and give you a better grip on the hose. It’s a safety precaution and you need to always obey those,” he advised. He handed him a pair of goggles as well. “Wear those…A hose can let go and you don’t want your eyes injured if it does.” John nodded again and put them on as instructed. “Good…Now let me show you a few things.”

 

Calhoun deftly disconnected the heavy hose and replaced the cap. He then proceeded to show the boy how wrap the hose about the hydrant. “So it won’t be dragged off as the Engine pulls away,” he explained.

 

“Okay,” John replied, his dark eyes intent even in the dim light.

 

The man deftly used the wrench to unscrew the cap, setting it aside. He wrapped his arm around the hose and hefted it level with the connecter, his gloved hands having little trouble setting it in place and making the hook up. He snapped up the wrench again and gave the nut on the side a small turn. “Never turn it on all the way at first okay…?” John looked at him questioningly. “You can create a water hammer,” he explained. John looked at him in confusion. “A pressurized surge of water,” he explained.

 

The boy nodded. “Kay,” he agreed.

 

“Now that it’s flowing…The pressure is relieved and we can open it all the way. Make sure it is open all the way or it can cause a backflow into the surrounding area and damage the hydrant okay?”

 

John nodded and waited while he shut the water off and disconnected the hose and replaced the cap.

 

“Your turn,” he said stepping back and letting the young man take his place.

 

John was quick to learn. He mimicked the man’s motions flawlessly even if it was a bit slow. Calhoun grinned as the teenager got the water started and then turned it all the way on. “Good job John,’ the older man congratulated him. “A little more practice will get your speed up.”

 

“Can I do it again?” He asked hopefully.

 

“Go ahead,” Calhoun said with a grin as he stepped back and let the boy try again.

 

After an hour of working together, John was becoming fairly proficient at hooking up the hose…His speed increased by a second or two each time despite the fact that his ribs were aching from the over exertion. Ed knew with a little more effort the kid would give Carl Abbott a run for his money.

 

“Okay John,” he finally said, squinting at his watch in the dim light. “It’s getting late.”

 

“Alright sir,” he said, not wanting to become a burden on the man. “Can I come again?” He asked hopefully, even though the dark eyes wouldn’t quite meet his. “I mean…I…I don’t want to bother you.”

 

Calhoun frowned at the evasive look. What had happened to this young man? “Sure you can…Hey you had a pretty good teacher where you used to live,” he said, hoping the boy would give him some more information about himself.

 

John tensed a bit. Not wanting him to ask any questions or to find out that he’d been raised on a reservation. People tended to look down on him for that, not to mention that more questions would follow… questions he couldn’t answer. “Yes sir.”

 

“Where was that?”

 

“I uh…I have to go now,” he said backing up.

 

“It’s okay John…you don’t have to tell me,” he quickly amended, not wanting to scare him off. He obviously didn’t want to talk about it.

 

John looked away but nodded in relief that the man wasn’t going to push him. “Thank you sir…”

 

“You can call me Cap,” he replied with a grin. “That’s what my crew calls me.”

 

John half smiled and remembered Rigsby and his crew. “You can call me Johnny…That’s what…,”he hesitated briefly. “That’s what they…used to call me. They said every fireman needed a nickname,” he added shyly.

 

“Alright Johnny. We’re usually on every third day…Come anytime.”

 

John nodded and slipped away into the darkness. The roar of his motorbike disappeared into the distance.

 

Calhoun smiled and shook his head as he picked up the gloves and goggles. “I thought you were gonna stay out here all night,” a voice suddenly said from the shadows.

 

Ed jumped and almost dropped the gear. He clutched his chest in mock terror. “Dammit Carl, you nearly scared five years off of me,” he barked.

 

“Sorry Cap, I was just watching you and the kid. He was getting pretty good.”

 

The older man grinned. “He learns quick and he doesn’t mind breaking a sweat…Not like that cousin of his…Give him time and he’ll be faster than you,” he teased good naturedly.

 

“You really like that kid,” Carl said in amazement.

 

“Just something about him….Maybe he reminds me of myself at that age. I had it bad too.”

 

“The dream of being a fireman?”

 

“Yeah…Among other things,” he added quietly, remembering his father and his drunken rages at his mother. He’d never hurt him but he remembered his mothers fear and her reactions to her husband’s presence when he’d been drinking…The way she avoided eye contact and her aversion to having him touch her. He could only wonder about Johnny…

 

 

John made it home without incident, his mind still on his practice session with Captain Calhoun. He’d felt a thrill deep down within himself…A flare of life where he’d thought he was dead to everything. He knew in his heart that being a fire fighter was the only thing he still lived for…It was all that mattered, not just for himself but also to keep his word to his parents not to let anyone kill that dream. He’d thought he was incapable of still feeling anything but tonight had proved him wrong.  The dream was alive and well and strong.

 

He was so engrossed in his thoughts that he forgot to stop the bike until he was halfway up the drive. He gasped and pulled his thoughts back to the moment. He shut off the engine and killed the lights, glancing upward at the windows to see if he’d awakened anyone. The glass panes remained dark and John breathed a sigh of relief as he swung off the vehicle and pushed it the rest of the way up the drive and into the garage, shutting the door quietly behind him.

 

*~*~*~*

 

Edward wasn’t sure what had awakened him but he swung his legs over the side of his bed and threw on his robe, making his way to the kitchen from his room at the back of the house. He poured himself a glass of cold water.

 

He was leaning against the counter sipping the drink when he heard a slight whisper of sound from the patio. He frowned and set the glass aside and started forward as the door cracked open. His gray eyes widened, he’d locked that door earlier this evening. He was about to grab the pot to use as a weapon when he recognized John slipping through the doors.

 

The teen closed the door quietly and turned around. He jumped and almost cried out as he spotted Edward standing there. He sucked in his breath as the man folded his arms over his chest. “Good evening Master John,” he said quietly.

 

John wrapped his arm over his strained ribs and swallowed heavily, blowing out a frightened breath. “Uh…Ggg…Good evening Edward,” he stuttered nervously.

 

“Where have you been sir?” He asked coming closer as he realized John was favoring his side and might be injured.

 

John licked his lips anxiously. “I ah…I went for a ride,” he mumbled, looking away.

 

“A ride…on your bike?” He questioned worriedly. “In the dark?”

 

“It…It has a headlight,” he pointed out

 

“After curfew Master John…You could have been picked up by the police,” he added.

 

“I was careful.”

 

“Where did you go?” he questioned again.

 

John sighed, knowing Edward wouldn’t let it go and worse…He’d most likely tell Rosemary.”

 

“I…I went to the fire station…”

 

“Why?”

 

John looked away. “I wanted to practice with the hose and hydrant,” he whispered. The dark eyes shot a glance toward the servant. “Please don’t tell my Aunt,” he pleaded.

 

Edward tilted his head back in exasperation. What should he do? His first loyalty was to Miss Rose and the boy looked injured. “Did you hurt yourself?” He asked, gesturing at John’s arm held protectively over his ribs.

 

“Just a little too much activity, I’ll be fine,” he assured the man hopefully.

 

“You could have gotten into a lot of trouble if you’d been caught.”

 

“I was,” John admitted quietly. Edward’s eyes widened. “Captain Calhoun caught me.”

 

The servant sighed. “What did he say?”

 

John gave him a small quirk of his mouth. “He helped me practice.”

 

Edward stood speechless for a long moment and then a chuckle burst from his lips. “Why am I not surprised?” He said ruefully. He stopped and sighed with a shake of his head. “Go to bed Master John,” he said with a jerk of his head.

 

John chewed his lip nervously. “Are you going to tell Aunt Rose?” he mumbled worriedly.

 

Edward knew this was the boys dream and he’d lost so much and been disappointed so many times in his life, how could he take it from him? He shook his head. “No sir,” he replied. “It’ll be our secret.”

 

John threw the man a small smile before he turned and ran for the stairs.

 

“Just don’t make me regret it,” he mumbled as he headed back to his own room.

 

 

Over the next couple of weeks, John made a point to drive over to the fire station whenever Captain Calhoun and his crew were on duty. They soon became accustomed to the quiet teens presence while he hovered over their shoulders, watching intently as they ran through rope, hose, hydrant, ladder and other fire fighting drills.

 

They explained each new procedure in detail to the boy and seemed to be having as much fun as the boy was, though they were careful not to allow him to try anything too dangerous.

 

Calhoun wasn’t too worried about headquarters getting upset by his presence either since they’d called to tell him that they had received a generous donation from the boy’s aunt along with a letter, thanking them for their kindness.

 

Calhoun frowned as he thought about that. It hadn’t been necessary for her to do that. They’d enjoyed the teenager’s eagerness to learn and the fact that he seemed so natural at the job, soaking up everything they threw at him like a sponge.

 

He couldn’t refuse the gift though…The injured fire fighters fund could always use the money but they would have taken the boy under their wing even without it.

 

They were going to miss him when school started in the fall, though Ed was sure he’d most likely still come by in the evenings or after school when he could. The boy was a hard worker and seemed to enjoy doing it despite the effort and sweat involved. Ed couldn’t help but compare him to the soft, spoiled teenagers that lived in the same circles John was currently living in that didn’t know what hard work was unless it was bouncing around on a tennis court.

 

 

Chapter 45

Drew

 

John wasn’t looking forward to school starting again now that Gil and Mary Lynn were gone and he was once again alone but at least he was enjoying his time at the station every few days.

 

Rosemary would be leaving for Europe soon and he would be stuck here with Joshua and Tiffany and their obnoxious friends so he planned to spend as much time there as possible and the rest camping or reading in his room as he had when he was injured.

 

He knew Edward be there but he hated feeling as if he needed to hide behind the man’s coattails. He could fight his own battles.

 

The only good thing was that they would both be heading back to school soon but that was almost a month away.

 

 

The time passed quickly and the morning of Rosemary’s departure arrived. John made his way down the stairs early that morning to have breakfast and say goodbye to his aunt. Her bag sat in the foyer in preparation for Edward to load them in the car for her trip.

 

Rose and Edward were at the door to her office talking softly as he reached the bottom of the stairs. Rose smiled at him as he threw them a curious look.

 

“Come here sweetie,” she called waving him over.

 

John approached the pair cautiously, wondering what they were up to. “Yes ma’am?” He questioned warily.

 

“Come inside,” she directed.

 

John stepped into the room and stopped. His eyes widened in surprise at the pile of camping gear on the office floor. The dark eyes narrowed suspiciously, a frown furrowing his brows over his nose. “What is this?” He asked.

 

“I bought this for you to use when you go camping,” she said smiling at her nephew.

 

Edward saw the look on the boys face and grimaced himself.

 

“I told you I wanted no more gifts,” he said coolly.

 

 The smile fell away from Rosemary’s face. “I know that sweetie,” she replied quietly. “But I know you want to go camping while I’m away and I want you to have what you need to be safe.”

 

John had camped many times in Montana, often with nothing more than a blanket to roll up in and sometimes not even that if he had to flee the house to avoid one of his Uncles and their abuse. He didn’t want all of this. It as just more things to be held over his head or to have taken from him by his cousins as his grandfather and Uncle Joseph had taken his truck and helmet and just as Joshua had taken Wind Song.

 

He had no option when it came to his food or clothing but the rest…? It was just better not to accept the offering to begin with.

 

She saw the refusal in his eyes. “Consider it a birthday gift John…,” she said, changing tactics. “Since I won’t be here to celebrate it with you.”

 

John looked away in embarrassment. “My…I…My people do not celebrate my birthday,” he stuttered uneasily.

 

“Well we do,” she insisted.

 

Rosemary saw a look of shame cross her nephews face. “I do not deserve a celebration,” he mumbled.

 

The older woman’s eyes narrowed. “Why not…?” She questioned suspiciously. Sure she wasn’t going to like what he had to say.

 

“I have no name…,” he whispered in humiliation.

 

Rosemary looked confused. “You have a name,” she argued, not understanding.

 

John shook his head. “Not among my people…They refused me a name.”

 

Rosemary cast a bemused expression at Edward. He shrugged in confusion himself. “Why sweetie?” She asked gently, hoping he’d be able to explain it to her.

 

“Because I,” he hesitated. “They refused me my Rite of Passage. They did not accept my life’s choice…I had no life path and so no name would be given,” he explained, just barely audible…His face crimson in humiliation.

 

“Bastards,” Edward whispered in a fury before he caught himself. “I beg your pardon ma’am,” he mumbled, looking embarrassed by the outburst.

 

“No need,” she said as tears filled her eyes. “You do have a name and a direction my sweetheart,” she said firmly. “You are a Gage and you will be a fire fighter.”

 

John threw her a small glance before looking down at his feet once again. “You don’t understand,” he began but she interrupted him, forestalling any further argument.

 

“No I don’t…I don’t understand a culture that would deny you a future or make you feel ashamed of an honorable career but I’m not going to fight with you John Roderick. You either accept the gift or you stay home,” she warned.

 

John tensed with frustration. Another ultimatum…Another ‘deal’…Another situation where someone imposed their will over his own…Would he ever have a right to choose in his life? He had no option now. She wouldn’t allow him to go off alone unless he gave in…Again.

 

“Alright,” he muttered unhappily.

 

Rose relaxed, having won his capitulation. “Thank you Háaketa,” she said with a smile.

 

John shrugged in annoyance. It wasn’t as if she’d given him a choice.

 

"I’ll be leaving for London soon sweetheart so why don’t we go have breakfast?”

 

John nodded and left to go ahead of her into the dining room. Rose and Edward exchanged another glance. Both frustrated with their efforts to reach the teenager and angry that his family had him feel as if  he had no right to be treated with the smallest amount of courtesy or respect or even love.

 

 

The month passed quickly and as much as John hated to admit it, the camping gear had come in very handy, making his hiking and exploring a lot more comfortable than sleeping in the open with nothing but a blanket and the bare ground.

 

He swam naked in the river and had gone fishing with nothing more than a hook and a string and then cooked his catch over the open fire. Every third day he had returned home to spend time with the crew and Captain Calhoun. 

 

August drew to a close and to Edward’s disappointment, John made it a point to be away as his birthday came and went. He spent the day alone and ashamed as always, that he’d never been allowed his Rite of Passage or his naming ceremony but he knew in the end despite it, that he’d show them all. His people hadn’t believed in his dream but his parents had and he’d prove it to them all when he achieved his goal.

 

The beginning of September saw Tiffany and Joshua packing their bags and heading back to school. John and Edward breathed a sigh of relief at their three month reprieve from the two arrogant teens and their obnoxious friends and endless, boring parties.

 

John packed his camping gear away for the fall, no longer having a need to stay away from home as well as knowing that he’d need to concentrate on his schoolwork.

 

Rosemary returned the day before John was to go back to school himself. She was greeted by Edward as he came down the stairs and hurried to help her unload her luggage.

 

“Welcome home Miss Rosemary,” he said smiling as he pulled the suitcases from the trunk.

 

“Thank you Edward…Was everything alright here?” She questioned with an arched brow.

 

The servant chuckled. “Yes ma’am. Tiffany and Joshua took you at your word and left John alone for the most part though he really didn’t give them much opportunity. He was almost never here,” he added ruefully.

 

She sighed unhappily. “He shouldn’t have to hide out from my children just because I’m not at home,” she muttered, sounding annoyed.

 

“Yes ma’am but I actually think he was happier about it in the long run,” he explained as they walked toward the house.

 

“Oh? Why do you think so?”

 

“Miss Rose, from what little he’s told me, John was raised most of his life outdoors. He seems to come alive out there and he tends to brood when he’s trapped inside,” he explained.

 

She nodded her understanding. John was raised on the reservation ranch and even though he’d been a virtual slave to his family, he’d been very active in handling the animals which enabled him to have the freedom to ride and run free. According to Roderick’s and Kate’s letters prior to their death, John had been riding and roping cattle since he could walk and unlike her own children, it wasn’t in his nature to be sedentary.

 

Their conversation was interrupted by the sounds of footsteps on the stairs.  They looked up to see John coming down to join them.

 

“Hi Aunt Rosemary,” he greeted with a small smile.

 

“Hello my sweetheart,” she replied, reaching out to hug him to her. Rose felt him stiffen but she was used to that by now and ignored it for the moment. John allowed her to embrace him for a few seconds. “It’s so good to see you…I missed you,” she added, kissing his cheek.

 

John gave her a tolerant but disbelieving quirk of his mouth. “I missed you too,” he said politely.

 

Rose grinned. “Oh I doubt that,” she teased. “Edward told me you’ve hardly been home.”

 

John shrugged, not wanting to admit that he’d stayed away just to avoid her children, though she probably already knew that.

 

Edward picked up the suitcases and mounted the stairs while Rose turned her attention back to John, “Did the equipment come in handy at least? She questioned, looping her arm through the teen’s as they headed toward the dining room where the girls would be serving lunch soon.

 

“Yes ma’am,” he replied simply.

 

She smiled at him, grateful that he had at least used it even if he couldn’t show any excitement over it.

 

“Did you have a good time at the fire station?” She questioned.

 

“Yes ma’am.”

 

Rosemary sighed that she had to work this hard to pry any conversation from the boy. “Well that’s good at least,” she added, patting his arm as he stopped next to her chair to wait for her to be seated before moving to his own.  “I’m glad to see you haven’t forgotten your manners,” she teased.

 

John gave her a small smile and went to his own chair as Carrie and Ellen came from the kitchen carrying their lunch.  Rosemary watched her nephew surreptitiously as they ate. She smiled wryly. His table manners certainly hadn’t improved much though she knew he could mimic her exactly when he chose too. She was glad that he felt comfortable enough with her to relax and just be himself and so she didn’t correct him.

 

“So are you ready to start school tomorrow?” She asked at the end of the meal. John shrugged, not looking forward to it at all. She reached over to lay her hand over John’s. He tensed a bit but didn’t pull away. “Sweetie, I know you don’t make friends easily but maybe being on the track team might make it easier for you to meet some new friends.”

 

“I’m not sure I want to,” John admitted softly, knowing he wasn’t one to make friends easily and was generally uncomfortable around people.

 

“But why? I thought you enjoyed it and you’re very good,” she questioned. “Why would you want to quit?”

 

John shrugged. He’d only done it for Mary Lynn and Gil and they were gone but he didn’t want to disappoint Rosemary either. “I will if you want me too,” he offered, not wanting her to be angry with him.

 

“You don’t have to if you don’t want to háaketa, I was just curious.”

 

John sighed. “I ran because Gil and Mary Lynn wanted me too,” he admitted.

 

“Oh…I see…Well it’s your choice sweetie and I imagine you probably want to spend more time at the fire station.” John nodded in agreement with that statement. “Well maybe something else will come along that you’ll want to try,” she suggested.

 

John gave her a non committal half smile and Rose blew out a frustrated breath. He still wasn’t ready to let go of the distrust and the pain of his past and just trust her, especially after losing Wind Song and she was very afraid that he never would be. He’d become emotionless and distant and she didn’t know how to reach him. Her own two were easy to understand…Give them something expensive and you were their best friend but John didn’t have a materialistic bone in his whole body. Most likely because he’d never owned anything of value and what little he did have had been stripped away from him after his mother died, she mused sadly, remembering the pitifully small bag of possessions he’d come to her with.

 

“Well sweetie, you have plenty of time to think about it.”

 

“Yes Ma’am.”

 

 

Rosemary dropped John off at school the next morning. John was greeted by a few members of the track team as he made his way up the hallway as well as a couple of girls who’d had a crush on him the year before but for the most part he was left alone.

 

He didn’t notice the three boys watching from the upper stairwell as they jostled each other and pointed toward him. They smirked as he passed below them. The first John knew of their presence was when the water balloon dropped on him from above, landing a glancing blow against his shoulder and exploding down his right side.

 

John gasped as he was drenched in icy water. The other teens in the hall broke into amused laughter at his expense. John’s face colored in embarrassment as he swept his hand over his face to wipe away the water splatter.

 

“You okay man?” A voice questioned from behind him.

 

John’s humiliated dark eyes refused to meet the warm gray of the boy standing next to him. “I’m fine,” he mumbled as he shook the excess water from his shirt sleeve.

Drew looked up. “Take a hike,” he barked at the three teens above them. The group hustled away, unwilling to risk the wrath of the young man standing next to their victim. He looked back to the younger boy. “Sorry man…Those guys are jerks,” he added. John nodded his head in agreement but didn’t reply. The other boy reached out his hand to lay it on John’s shoulder but the younger boy backed away from the contact. “Hey man…I’m sorry,” he said quickly putting his hands up in a placating gesture. “My names Drew...Drew Burke. Do you remember me?”

 

John finally looked at the other teen. “Yes,” he replied simply.

 

“Good,” he answered. He realized that the younger boy was embarrassed and wasn’t going to open up right now, “Well...If you’re alright…,” he let the sentence hang.

 

“I’m fine.”

 

“Cool…Then I’ll see you around.”

 

John nodded and continued on to class. The teacher’s eyes narrowed as she spotted the dripping teenager. “What happened to you?” She questioned looking irritated and already guessing he’d been the victim of someone else’s hateful sense of humor.  John shrugged in reply and Miss Brooks sighed in frustration but she understood, telling on the bullies in the school could sometimes only make it worse.

 

For John, it was simply that he didn’t think anyone would really care anyway. He’d been putting up with this sort of thing for most of young life. He slid into his seat, resigned to the idea that it was going to be another long year of frustration but unlike the past when he’d had no hope left, he was determined not to let his studies suffer. He needed decent grades if he wanted to get into the fire fighting academy.

 

 

The next couple of weeks crept by and John continued to be plagued by his three older tormentors even though he went to great lengths to simply avoid them, they seemed to seek him out to continue their harassment from last year.

 

John wished he knew why they singled him out. He didn’t think he’d done anything to offend them but then he hadn’t intentionally done anything to offend his family or the other kids in Montana either and they had also used him as the outlet for their aggression. Maybe there was some flaw in his character as his aunts and uncles had assured him there was. That must be it…Why else did this keep happening?

 

He resisted the urge to sock them in the mouth. The last thing he needed was to be suspended besides…John hated violence. He’d been the recipient of it too many times to want to hurt anyone else. Something the others took for cowardice. But John knew how to fight and he was getting tired of their constant bullying and childish games at his expense.

 

The end of the week finally rolled around and John was looking forward to spending the next day at the fire station. It was the first Saturday that the crew would be working since school had begun and he could take the time to go and watch them work. Captain Calhoun had promised to let him watch them as they burned an old abandoned warehouse down for practice and he was very excited to see a real fire and the crew in action.

 

He was so intent on that prospect that he failed to notice his three antagonists standing against a wall just a few feet ahead of him until they stepped out in front of him. Jerry moved into his path slamming into the slighter teen, throwing him off balance. 

 

“Hey Gage, watch where you’re going,” he sneered at the younger boy.

 

John recovered his balance quickly and the dark eyes flitted between the three warily. He understood from their posture and their clenched fists that the games were over and they were now looking for a real fight. “What do you want?” He asked with a sigh.

 

The other students saw what appeared to be a battle heating up and stopped to watch, gathering around the four combatants and while John was a hero on the track team and was liked well enough by most, his quiet and cool demeanor had kept most of them from getting to know him well enough to step in and possibly take a beating or suspension for him either.

 

“That’s pretty rude Gage,” Jerry accused, with a sneer.

 

John’s dark eyes locked with the other boys deep blue. “Look, just leave me alone,” he said stubbornly, unwilling to back down. He was angry and he’d had enough. He didn’t want to fight but he wouldn’t slink away again. 

 

Jerry looked a bit surprised at the rather pugnacious stance of the younger boy. John had previously seemed afraid to fight even though he’d held his own against the three of them last year…His withdrawn attitude and shyness that Jerry mistook for fear, usually kept him from being aggressive and made him a perfect target for the three older boys.

 

Nate reached out to give him a shove. “Better watch out Geronimo,” he taunted.

 

“Yeah…We don’t like your attitude,” Harry added threateningly as he circled around the slender teen.

 

John sighed at the racial comment. There it was…His being a half breed was going to haunt him forever, wherever he went. His Uncle had been right. He was being punished for something he’d had no control over. Could no one just accept him for just being John Gage?

 

Nate went around the other way while Jerry stood before him to block his exit. John blew out a nervous breath, knowing he was about to take a pounding but he continued to stand his ground. “I don’t want to fight,” he said softly in a last attempt to peacefully resolve the issue. He figured they’d see it as a weakness but he had to try. His mouth and chin were set tightly but the other three didn’t know him well enough to read the stubborn look that would have warned someone who knew him to beware.

 

“I’ll betcha don’t,” Jerry taunted as he threw a punch. John dodged and the other boy’s fist just barely grazed his chin.

 

Nate knocked the books from John’s hands and shoved him backwards against the lockers. Jerry moved in again, angry at being thwarted in landing a solid blow. He swung again and John ducked. Jerry’s fist landed a hard hit to the metal door. “DAMN IT,” he bellowed as knuckles cracked and pain flared, running clear up his arm. “Hold him down,” he growled at his friends.

 

John’s eyes widened as the other two moved in to try and grab hold of him. Nate grabbed one arm but took a hard blow to his own nose from John’s right fist. He staggered back in surprise that the slender teen was that strong. Harry charged in to help but caught John’s elbow in his sternum. He gagged.

 

Jerry took the opportunity to drive his fist into John’s midsection, doubling the slight teen over for a moment before he shook it off. John had taken far worse from his own family but the other two had now recovered and he felt his arms grabbed and found himself pinned against the lockers as Jerry drew back his fist, prepared to break the younger boys face with the blow.

 

The other students stood about grumbling unhappily at the unfairness of the fight but were too afraid of the three boys to step in.

 

John gritted his teeth, prepared for the brain rattling punch he knew was coming but it never landed.

 

 

 

Drew Burke was walking down the hall with his girl friend Pam. The couple was discussing their weekend plans as they strolled toward their next class. They saw the gathering crowd of teenagers up ahead.

 

“What’s going on?” Pam asked frowning, her freckled nose crinkling worriedly.

 

“I don’t know,” Drew replied trying to see over the crowd of excited teens.

 

He spotted John Gage being pushed backward against the wall of lockers. His anger climbed even as he grinned as Gage dodged a punch thrown by Jerry Whitaker and seeing the blow land hard against the lockers.

 

The grin faded as Nate Murphy and Harry Dooley moved in to help their buddy. John seemed pretty capable of defending himself when he had too one on one but this crew seemed to favor ganging up on the kid. Gage seemed like a really nice guy even if he was a little shy…Who could blame him? Drew mused. He hadn’t exactly been welcomed with open arms but Drew sure wasn’t going to stand by and watch while they beat the hell out of the kid that was for sure.

 

“It’s John and the three stooges,” he informed Pam. “Stay put.”

 

“John who?” She asked in confusion.

 

“Gage…The kid I met a couple of times. I’ll be right back,” he called as he rushed forward.

 

The kids at the back of the group felt themselves pushed out of the way and grinned as Drew Burke shoved his way through the pack. He’d even up the odds a bit. They grinned as word spread and the group of teens parted like the Red Sea to let their football quarterback through.

 

Jerry drew back his fist, prepared to land a stunning blow to the now helpless younger boy pinned against the lockers. He grinned spitefully but the smirk faded as he felt someone grab his arm. He started to turn and belt whoever it was but a voice he knew well stopped him in his tracks. “You creeps…I thought I told you clowns to leave the kid alone?”

 

“Uh…Um…Hey Drew,” Jerry began as his two friends quickly let John go but John had had enough. He slammed his own fist into Nate’s face knocking the boy backwards before turning on Harry and sending him reeling with another. Drew grinned at the slender, spunky kid and tossed one of his own, setting Jerry on the floor on his butt.

 

There was a scattering of applause from the others but it quickly died down as the boys climbed to their feet. The five stood in a frozen tableau…A crimson stream trickled from Jerry’s split lip while Nate and Harry nursed bloodied noses. A darkening bruise blossomed on John’s chin at the corner of his mouth and his stomach ached a bit. They all looked at each other warily, waiting for one or the other to make the first move of aggression or retreat. The authoritative voice coming from behind the onlookers took the steam out of all of them.

 

“What’s going on here?” He demanded as he pushed his way through the group of students.

 

His eyes narrowed as he spotted the trio of troublemakers facing the schools star quarterback and Rosemary Hughes’ nephew John…AGAIN.

 

He’d heard from several of the boy’s teachers that John was being bullied by them but the boy wouldn’t corroborate it when he was questioned and until now it hadn’t been physical as much as stupid pranks being pulled on him. There hadn’t been much he could do without John’s willingness to talk until now…Now there was damage done and they’d been caught in the act.

 

John’s dark eyes dropped to the floor as his teeth tugged worriedly at his lower lip. Man…He was in for it this time. He’d let his temper get the best of him and he always paid the price when that happened. He’d be suspended for sure and Rosemary would kill him. He’d most likely be forbidden to go to the fire station as well. How could he have been so stupid?

 

“He started it,” Jerry accused, knowing Drew hadn’t been around at the start of it to argue the point this time and it would be John’s word against the three of theirs.

 

“Is that true Mr. Gage?” He questioned doubtfully.

 

John sighed. He also knew there was no one to back him up this time but he shook his head anyway. “No sir,” he mumbled.

 

“Mr. Burke?”

 

“I didn’t see who started it sir but they were ganging up him…again,” he added.  “And they’ve been harassing him for weeks.”

 

“Anyone else see who started it?” He asked, looking around at the group of students.

 

Most of the others shook their heads nervously, not wanting to be on the receiving end of Jerry and his friend’s revenge if they told the truth. They began to back away from the fray and hurry off to class. One of Drew’s teammates finally stepped forward. “Jerry hit him first Mr. Lange. Nate knocked the books out of hand,” he said with a grin at Drew and an arched brow at John’s three aggressors.

 

Lange shook his head. He’d already been pretty sure but he’d needed the corroboration. “Thank you Mr. Thomas,” he replied…”That’s all I needed to know.” He almost grinned that the three bullies had seemed to be the recipients of the worst of it. All of you come with me. We need to call your parents of course.

 

John’s heart sank and he swallowed heavily. He was so dead. “Yes sir,” he whispered.

 

“Hey don’t worry about it,” Drew said with a grin as he slapped John off the back. John stepped away from the contact. Drew noticed but said nothing. “Hey man…All you did was defend yourself.”

 

John knew from experience that that wasn’t always enough to keep him from taking the punishment…Though the last time Lange had listened, though John was pretty sure that because of who his aunt was.

 

Drew bent and helped him pick up his scattered books. He handed them to the younger boy before throwing a wink at Pam as he and John were hustled off toward the office along with the other three combatants.

 

 

Drew and John sat just outside the door to Lange’s office. They cast occasional worried glances at the door where the principle was dealing with Nate, Jerry and Harry or at least John was. Drew was kicked back and looking totally relaxed.

 

“So you think your Aunt is gonna be really pissed?” He asked the depressed looking younger boy.

 

John looked at him in confusion for a moment before he finally realized the unfamiliar term meant angry and not it’s literal definition. John didn’t know what reaction she’d have for sure but he she was usually on his side of things and he was at least hoping she’d listen before she grounded him…Or worse. He shrugged half heartedly. “What about your parents?” He asked hesitantly.

 

Drew grinned. “Nah don’t worry. It’s just me and my dad and he never gets uptight…Besides once he finds out why I was fighting he won’t care. He’s always taught me to do the right thing,” he added with a shrug.

 

The outside door opened and Rosemary stepped inside. Her green eyes located the two teens quickly. “Well John Roderick…What happened?” She asked as she reached to grip his chin. John flinched slightly but didn’t duck away. If she intended to hurt him then he’d only make it worse for himself if he did but her gentle fingers gripped his chin and tilted his head up to get a better look at the darkening bruise alongside his mouth.

 

John was about to explain when the door opened again and a rather large blonde man stepped inside. “Hey dad,” Drew greeted as he stood up.

 

“You okay son?” He asked with a grin as his blue eyes drifted over the sandy haired teenager.

 

“Yeah, I’m fine dad.”

 

“Okay so…?” He let the question hang.

 

“Oh…This is John Gage and…,” he hesitated. “I’m sorry…I don’t know your name ma’am,” Drew said, looking at the tall, slender, sable haired woman.

 

“That’s alright Drew…I know who she is,” his father replied extending his calloused hand to Rosemary. “My names Andrew Burke…It’s nice to meet you Mrs. Hughes.”

 

“My pleasure Mr. Burke but I wish it wasn’t under these circumstances,” she added turning a stern look to her sheepish looking nephew.

 

“I…I uh…I’m sorry Aunt Rosemary,” John stuttered nervously.

 

Drew cast the boy a disbelieving glance. Would his aunt really be angry at him for defending himself? He had no idea of the boys real past despite the rumors that had flown about last year. Drew really wasn’t one to listen to gossip but he still had to wonder. “It wasn’t his fault ma’am,” he said quickly. “He got jumped by three other boys,” he explained.

 

She frowned at John. “The same boys as last year?” She questioned, sounding angry.

 

“Yes ma’am,” John mumbled uncomfortably.

 

“I see. And is this the first time this year?” She asked as she folded her arms over her chest. John glanced away… “Look at me John Roderick,” she snapped.

 

The dark eyes turned toward her once more but didn’t quite meet the angry green gaze. “No ma’am,” he admitted quietly.”

 

“Why didn’t you tell me?” John shrugged half heartedly. Rose blew out an annoyed breath. She knew why…John thought he’d be blamed for it. She had to wonder if that was what had happened to him the past but she knew he wasn’t ready to tell her about that either. She turned to Drew. “And how did you get involved in this Mr. Burke?”

 

Andrew grinned as his son grew decidedly uncomfortable at being addressed by the rather regal looking lady. “I uh…I saw them starting the fight and I…I thought John could use a little help to…ya know…Even the odds,” he finished with a shrug.

 

The door opened and Mr.  Lange stepped out with the three roughnecks. “Mrs. Hughes,” he greeted with a nod. “Mr. Burke.”

 

They both nodded back as they shot a rather ugly look at the three boys. Andrew grinned at the swelling noses on two of them and the fat lip on the other. “Looks like you won the fight Drew,” he said proudly.

 

“Well…Just with Jerry dad…John handled the other two.”

 

Rose looked shocked for a moment that the other teen’s father didn’t seem the least bit troubled by this at all but then she smiled at her nephew, remembering Edward’s words from last year. “Well…At least Edward will be pleased to know you held your own…Again,” she teased.

 

John’s eyes lifted to hers hesitantly until he saw her smile. “You aren’t mad?” He asked tentatively.

 

“Not at you sweetie,” she replied. John’s face colored at the endearment in front of the others but he blew out a relieved breath. Drew grinned at his new friends flushed cheeks but he wisely held his tongue.

 

“Mrs. Hughes, Mr. Burke…If you’d step into my office with John and Drew. These three will be waiting here for their parents to come. The three boys shifted nervously. Jerry’s old man would kick the crap out of him for annoying Drew Burke…He worked for his father after all. Nate’s dad would be furious that he’d let that skinny little runt take him down and Harry’s mother wouldn’t let him out of the house for the next six months if he got suspended yet again.

 

They went inside.

 

They came out a bit later and John turned to face his rescuer. “Uh…I wanted…I mean I…,” John shrugged lamely. “Thanks man,” he finished simply as he jammed his hands into his pockets.

 

Drew grinned. “No problem John,” he replied. John started to turn away with his aunt but Drew stopped him. “Hey…My girl and some friends are going bowling tonight…you wanna come?”

 

John looked at his feet, shuffling them uncomfortably. “I uh…I don’t know how to bowl,” he muttered.

 

“I’ll teach you.”

 

John glanced at Rose who smiled and nodded. “This costs money?” He questioned hesitantly.

“Well yeah…You have to rent the shoes and the ball and stuff and food if you want it.”

 

John looked disappointed and shook his head. Rose caught the gesture and the look. “What’s wrong sweetie?”

 

John’s face flushed with color. “I have no money,” he mumbled.

 

“Oh John…I’m sorry…I just never thought,” she said aghast, used to simply providing him anything he needed and John never asked for anything and so she’d never thought to be sure the boy had money available to him. “I’ll take care of that if you want to go.”

 

“C’mon man,” Drew pressed. “My dad will take us and pick us up right dad?”

 

“Sure Drew,” Andy agreed, smiling at the shy teen.

 

John licked his lips a bit nervously, afraid he’d make a fool of himself but Drew seemed really nice and he missed Gil being around so he finally nodded. “Okay.”

 

“Good…I’ll pick you up at six okay John?” The older man offered.

 

John nodded as the door opened and several people came inside. From the paling of Jerry, Nate and Harry’s faces, they assumed it was their parents and things were about to get uncomfortable for the three teens. Drew grinned at John as they ducked out the door.

 

 

 

Over the next couple of months John and Drew became very close. The older boy took the shy teen under his wing and soon he and Pam were fixing him up on dates so they could double together. He taught his quiet young friend to bowl and his father taught him carpentry. John loved the tools and the work and his hands quickly became tough and calloused but that didn’t bother the teen at all.

 

Drew had tried to teach John to play tennis on Rosemary’s backyard court and Rose had even sent him to some hoity toity country club to learn but John had only stayed with it for a couple of lessons. It wasn’t that he couldn’t play, he just didn’t like the atmosphere of the place and besides, he preferred bowling.

 

John in turn took Drew camping, though he kept his special place secret. He never took anyone there…It was the one place where he felt close to his dad and had a chance to think by himself. The two spent hours hiking the trails and rock climbing and John even taught him and Pam to ride horseback.

 

He also took Drew to the fire station and introduced him to the crew.  Drew was fascinated watching his young friend work alongside the older men and that they treated him as if he were one of them. He picked up on the nickname and soon he too was calling his friend Johnny.

 

By mid November, John had sprouted another couple of inches and began to fill out, turning as nature would have it, from a boy to a young man. Fixing him up on dates was becoming easier all the time but hanging on to one girl seemed to be beyond him. He just didn’t know how to carry a conversation and whenever they tried to get too familiar, the young man backed away from the relationship as if he were afraid to talk and say the wrong thing.

 

Drew quickly learned not to press him for details of his past, knowing John would clam up or change the subject, afraid that if anyone knew the truth they’d push him away. Drew didn’t know what he was hiding but he was too young and inexperienced himself to realize that pressing him into talking might be the best thing for him and so John’s past remained safely tucked down deep in his soul.

 

Rosemary and Edward were happy to see him finally making friends again and pretty much let him come and go as he pleased as long as his homework was done and he kept his grades up.

 

Rose had also become more involved in her late husband’s business and now served on the board of several of the charity’s they’d supported and so she was frequently away from home but she knew Edward was there to watch after John and didn’t seem to mind doing it either. And unlike Joshua, he seemed to take great pride in the teenager as he watched him grow and change, though he was still disappointed that John wouldn’t let anyone too close…That he couldn’t trust anyone, not even Drew with his heart or soul but at least he had someone who understood his dream.

 

Drew didn’t know yet what he wanted to do with his life and as much as fire fighting was cool to watch and he was very good at carpentry, neither was what he wanted to do forever. John had shyly teased that he couldn’t take the heat or the danger.

 

Drew had just laughed…The heat part was true. Drew couldn’t see himself running to a burning building but the danger…? That wasn’t an issue but he couldn’t decide where his future lay and wished it was as clear for him as it was for Johnny.

 

 

Rosemary glanced up as John came in the back door. His clothes were disheveled and dirty. “Where have you been sweetie?” She asked smiling at the teenager.

 

“Drew and I were climbing,” he explained as he opened the door to the refrigerator and pulled the lemonade pitcher from inside. He grabbed a glass and poured some in before returning the pitcher to its place. He drank the juice down in several large gulps, causing Rosemary to shake her head ruefully.

 

“I hope you’ll show the manners I taught you at dinner tomorrow,” she said as she reached up to sweep the shaggy hair from his forehead. “And you need a haircut.”

 

John stiffened at her touch but didn’t pull away though he did reach up and shove the sable hair from his brow. “I like it this way,” he added, getting that stubborn look she’d become well able to recognize recently. John was growing up and becoming more independent all the time, relishing the freedom she’d given him.

 

“Alright sweetie…It’s your hair,” she said, giving in. She’d learned to pick her battles and knew John would yield if she forced the issue…He was still too insecure about his place here not to. He’d come a long way but the fear that he’d be sent packing if he became a burden was still simmering just under the surface and any show of annoyance on her part would bring it to a rapid boil and the dark eyes would once again grow wary and distrustful.

 

“What’s tomorrow anyway?” He asked, looking perplexed.

 

“It’s Thanksgiving,” she said. Her tone saying he should know that.

 

“Oh…Yeah,’ he said with a shrug. “We didn’t…Celebrate that,” he said simply as he started to turn away.

 

“Well your grandparents will be here so I want you to be on your best behavior.”

 

John whirled around to look at her in shock. “WHAT?” He gasped.

 

“Yes…I’m hoping if they get a chance to get to know you…they’ll see what I do sweetie.”

 

“I don’t wanna get to know em,” he growled. “They don’t care about me.”

 

“That’s enough John Roderick. They’re your grandparents and you will be respectful.”

 

John bristled indignantly that she was going to force him to be nice to two people who’d abandoned him, his father, his mother…How could she ask that of him?

 

His mouth set stubbornly. “Don’t you dare turn that look on me young man,” she snapped.

 

John looked away…He didn’t have a choice here…Again. He knew he’d made her angry and he chewed his lip nervously. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled.

 

Rose sighed. He hated to force him but this might be the only chance he’d ever have to open his grandparent’s eyes to what they’d missed and she didn’t want him to lose this opportunity to have her family reconciled.

 

“It’s alright sweetie,” she said, having won his capitulation. “Oh by the way…Tiffany and Joshua came home this morning.”

 

He nodded dispiritedly. This was just getting better and better. “I have to shower…I’m going out with Drew and Pam and some chick she knows,” he said as he turned away in defeat.

 

“Alright…John?” She called after him. He turned to look at her. “It won’t be as bad as you think.”

 

He nodded but the look said he didn’t believe it.

 

 

The next morning was a crisp and chilly fall day. The leaves of the mountains had begun to change to rich reds, oranges and golds. John heard the doorbell ring as he was getting dressed and sighed. He heard his cousin’s greeting their grandparents enthusiastically and then Rosemary’s voice through the door. “They’re here háaketa…come down when you’re ready.”

 

John snorted angrily. He’d never be ready. He heard her footsteps move away and finished getting dressed. He couldn’t put this off indefinitely. He sighed again and opened the door. He walked down the hall to the top of the stairs. He was about to head down when he realized they were talking about him…And it wasn’t exactly flattering. He froze and fought the hurt that tried to climb into his throat at their words. He shoved the pain down deep…

 

“Mom…Dad,” Rosemary greeted her parents as she came down the stairs. “I’m so glad you came,” she added as she hugged them both as Edward took their coats.

 

Her mother smiled warmly but her father was looking like a thundercloud. “What’s wrong grandfather?” Joshua asked the surly looking older man.

 

“Your grandmother just informed me that Roderick’s son is going to be here today,” he almost snarled.

 

Rose stiffend at the tone. “Well of course he is…This is his home.”

 

Joshua realized that he had an ally in his grandfather and pounced. “Well…We could let him eat in the barn with the rest of the animals,” he sneered. His grandfather chuckled.

 

“That’s enough Joshua,” Rosemary barked. Edward desperately wanted to hand them their jackets and tell them to leave but he bit his lip. “I’m sorry…I thought mother told you,” she added stiffly.

 

“I was…I was afraid you wouldn’t come Jonathan,” she admitted sheepishly. “I wanted…I wanted to see Rod’s son…I’m sorry.”

 

“You’re right, I wouldn’t have.” His wife looked ready to cry and he softened a bit. “Well it’s done now isn’t it Lenora? So where is the little half breed?”

 

“He’s upstairs getting dressed and I’m sorry father…If you can’t be polite to John while you’re here, then I’ll have to ask you to leave,” Rose said angrily. “I won’t have him insulted in his own home and he’s had enough of it from his mother’s family to last him a lifetime and it won’t happen here…Not from anyone.”

 

Edward had to hold back the urge to applaud and escort the man to the door.

 

Jonathan looked stunned and her mother’s eyes filled with tears. He was tempted to walk out but his wife’s anguish kept him from it. “Fine…Since your mother is determined to meet him…I’ll try to be kind…But he’ll never be a grandson to me.”

 

“I don’t understand you at all,” Rose said, looking at her father in disbelief.

 

“He’s an embarrassment mother,” Tiffany said coolly. “It’s all over town that he works with his hands…That he hangs out at the fire station, getting filthy…That he’s only half white.”

 

“That we’re now stuck with the burden of taking care of him.”

 

Edward thought he heard a noise and glanced up toward the top of the stairs but there was nothing there. He was grateful that John hadn’t been down here to hear this.

 

Rose shook her head in regret that she’d invited them here. She should have just taken John somewhere…Just the two of them for his first thanksgiving. She’d wanted him to feel like he belonged and now he’d be subjected to this.

 

 “I am so proud of what John has become. He’s growing up to be a fine, handsome young man just like his father…He’s nver been a burden and I love him and he’s been a joy to have and I’m so disappointed in all of you,” she growled as she turned and headed for the study…Unable to even look at her family right now.

 

The others went to the sitting room. Edward sighed in disgust and carried the coats to the back closet. 

 

 

John listened as they spewed the same hateful words and attitudes of his mother’s family. Unwanted…Unloved…An embarrassment…A burden. His heart was aching in his chest but he pushed it away. He didn’t care…Not about anything or anyone…They couldn’t hurt him if he didn’t care. He wouldn’t burden them with his presence. He didn’t want to be here anyway so he’d do them all a favor and just disappear.

 

John backed away from the stairs before they saw him and retreated to his room before he could hear his aunts reply. He grabbed his jacket from the hanger and crept to the top of the stairs. The hallway was now empty and John slipped down the steps and out the front door.

 

To Be Continued in Part 12

 

 

Posted to Site 11/12/13

 

 

 

LINKS TO PARTS Ls 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8.

 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14.

 

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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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