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Beginnings

Part 12

An Emergency Story
by Tammy B

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

 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14.

Chapter 45

Those Teenage Years

 

 Rosemary sat at her desk trying to compose herself. Tears of sorrow trickled down her cheeks in grief that her father was so bitter that he couldn’t forgive his son and that today of all days, he couldn’t forgive and be thankful for the wonderful grandson Rod had left behind.

 

How could her own father, who had cuddled his children in his lap, have become so cold and distant? Not to mention her own children, who it seemed, had been born without an ounce of compassion for anyone else but themselves.

 

Had they learned it from her? Edward had told her no but was he merely being polite? She knew she’d taken her own servants for granted for a long time until John had come along and reminded her that they deserved her respect as much as she expected it from them.

 

She smiled at how much she’d learned from her young nephew over the last ten months and how much happiness he’d brought her, even through the tough times and the tears. She at least was thankful for his presence in her life, she mused as she plucked a tissue from the box on her desk to blot the tears from her cheeks and blow her nose.

 

She guessed she needed to join her family, she mused as she rose from her chair. She needed to be on hand when John came down stairs and hoped her father would at least have the courtesy to be polite to John in her home but just in case, she wanted to be there to be sure he wasn’t mistreated in any way.

 

She made her way to the sitting room where her parents and her children were ensconced on the flowered sofa. Her father was explaining the ins and outs of the oil business to Joshua and Tiffany as he believed they would one day take over those interests from him as well as their own fathers.

 

Her mother sat in bored silence as she gazed at the photograph on the table of a young Roderick, which had been taken before he joined the service. Her mother’s green eyes were reddened at the attempt to keep from crying for her lost son.

 

She glanced at Rosemary in unspoken communication between two mothers. As angry as Rose was with her two children and that she was frequently disappointed in their behavior, they were her children, carried in her womb and nurtured through the years by her and she would always love them even when she didn’t like them or what they were doing very much. Rose knew her mother felt the same way. She may not have agreed with Rod’s choice for a wife but she would have accepted it and loved him anyway, but had been forced to be separated from her child by her husband’s bruised pride and stubborn arrogance.

 

Lenora was anxious to see John and hoped she could get him alone somewhere to tell him how she felt. Rosemary went to sit next to her mother. Lenora took her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze as they smiled at each other in silent understanding.

 

Edward came into the room carrying a tray with urns of coffee and tea and delicate china cups. Carrie followed with her own tray of small cakes and pastries. They set them on the coffee table.

 

“Thank you Edward…Carrie,” Rosemary said with a smile.

 

“You’re most welcome madam,” Edward answered for the both of them. Carrie nodded and grinned at her employer.

 

Rosemary’s parents looked surprised. It would never have occurred to either of them to thank the help for doing their job.

 

Rose answered the unspoken question. “Something John reminded me of,” she said softly.

 

“What’s that?” Her father questioned with an arrogantly arched brow.

 

“Common courtesy,” she replied with a smile.

 

Her father scowled as he turned his attention back to Joshua and Tiffany. Her mother simply looked thoughtful.

 

Rose turned her attention back to Edward. “Would you please see what’s keeping John?” She asked politely.

 

“Certainly Miss Rosemary,” he replied as he and Carrie left the room. She headed back to the kitchen while he mounted the stairs.

 

Her mother’s eyes grew a touch apprehensive now that she was actually going to meet her grandson for the first time. Would hate her? She prayed not but she had no idea what the boy had been told about her and her husband. She could only pray that the boy’s mother hadn’t turned him against them. She had no idea that her own husband had taken care of that.

 

Edward stepped into the room a while later. Rosemary took one look at his face and knew something was very wrong.

 

 

Edward blew out a frustrated breath as he climbed the stairs to retrieve the teenager. He hated the idea of subjecting a fifteen year old boy to the bitterness and hatred of his own family, especially one that had already faced it in his last home but he had no option. He was just an employee but still…It broke his heart.

 

He stopped in front of the half open door and gave it a soft knock but there was no response. “Master John?” He called, giving the door a harder knock, but again there was no reply.  He pushed the portal open and peeked inside. The room was empty. “Master John?” He called again as he moved to the bathroom door, giving a cursory glance into the sitting room as he passed. He began to grow concerned as he realized the door was open and the young man was obviously not in there.

 

Edward hung his head. John wasn’t here and he wasn’t with the family. He hadn’t gone through the kitchen or they would have seen him. Miss Rose had been in the study so he knew he wasn’t there and he would never enter his Aunt’s or Cousins rooms without an invitation and he was pretty sure the teen didn’t even know where the backstairs to attic were.

 

Edward went downstairs and looked in the library and Rosemary’s office. The ballroom, den and dining room were empty except for Laura and Carrie. They looked up as he came inside.

 

“Have you seen John?” He questioned the two girls.

 

“No…Not since last night,” Laura replied with a frown.

 

“I brought him breakfast this morning and he was in the shower when I picked up the tray,” Carrie answered, throwing Edward a concerned glance.

 

Edward remembered the noise he’d thought he’d heard at the top of the stairs earlier. Had Master John heard those hateful, spite filled words? He closed his eyes in dismay. If he had, it was a sure bet he’d taken off again rather than spend the day with a group of people who didn’t have the capability of understanding how unique and special the teenager was.

 

“You think he’s run off again?” Laura asked worriedly.

 

He nodded. “I think he heard his grandfather this morning telling Miss Rose that he’d never consider him his grandson. He called him a half breed.”

 

Both girls looked indignant for John’s sake. “Bigoted jerk,” Carrie muttered unhappily.

 

Edward looked out the window at the cold gray sky. Where would the boy go? He sighed heavily. He needed to let Rosemary know the boy was missing, he mused miserably knowing his employer would be very upset.

 

He’d take a ride over to Master Drew’s and the fire station to see if he’d retreated somewhere that he’d be welcome, though the teenager most likely didn’t feel wanted anywhere right now. Edward felt a pang of sorrow in the pit of his stomach at the thought.

 

He walked slowly to the sitting room and stepped into the doorway. Rosemary glanced up at him as soon as he entered...He saw her face pale as she correctly read the look on his own.

 

 “Where’s John?” She asked, coming to her feet.

 

“I’m sorry Miss Rosemary. I can’t find him?”

 

She shot a look of pure venom at her father as she realized that John most likely had heard him this morning and fled rather than be forced into the company of someone who hated him so much. She heard her mother’s soft cry of distress that she would once again be denied the privilege of meeting her grandson.

 

“Did you check the stables?” She asked worriedly, hoping he’d at least stayed close by.

 

“Not yet ma’am…I thought I’d drive by the fire station and Master Drew’s to see if he’d gone there and I’ll check the stables as well.”

 

“Thank you Edward,” she said quietly. She felt the tears begin to build but they were mixed in origin. Anger at her father and her children…Disappointment for her Mother and sorrow…Heart wrenching sorrow that her sweet nephew was subjected time and time again to other people’s narrow mindedness and bigoted hate.

 

She wiped at the moisture in her eyes as she returned to her seat near her mother. Her father gave a smug look toward his two grandchildren who returned the glance with smiles. At least their holiday wouldn’t be marred by the teenager’s presence and they could enjoy their dinner.

 

 

 

John pushed his motorbike half way up the driveway before he kicked started the engine and set his helmet in place. He cast one final glance at his aunts home to be sure no one was watching before he swung his leg over the seat and drove up the driveway.

 

He knew she’d be mad at him but he didn’t care anymore. He didn’t need any of them…He didn’t need anyone. As soon as he was eighteen he’d join the academy here in San Gabriel and he’d find a place of his own and none of them would have to worry about him being an embarrassment or a problem for them anymore.

 

Tears burned behind the dark eyes despite his resolve not to care what they thought of him. He reached up and swiped them angrily away. He wouldn’t let them win...He refused to let them hurt him anymore. He wouldn’t allow himself to get close enough for anyone to matter and then it wouldn’t hurt when they cast him out of their life or if they hated him or thought of him as some unwanted burden.

 

John drove past houses where families were gathering together…Were they like his own? He was told that family’s love each other…Take care of one another but that wasn’t true. He’d seen for himself what they really were. Full of bitterness and anger and selfishness…They left him, wounded his heart and his soul…Screamed at each other… Well if that’s what it was all about he wanted no part of it.

 

He finally slowed to stop and just sat for a minute. The day was cold, the sky overcast and he knew he really shouldn’t be out for too long as he’d just gotten over another cold, and he had nowhere to go, but he didn’t care. He couldn’t go to the station or to Drew’s…It was the first place they’d look, and he had no intention of being dragged back to his Aunt’s to have to sit across the table from his grandfather, who clearly despised his very existence.

 

He shivered as the wind blew a whorl of autumn leaves across his path. He’d head up to his spot and find a place to hunker down and stay warm. He knew he was in for an uncomfortable day but he wouldn’t go back until he was sure his grandparents had left.

 

John turned the bike toward the low foothills and sped off into the gloomy morning mists.

 

 

Edward drove by Drew’s home a short time later. The tall, blonde young man was just coming out of the house with his father as Edward pulled into the driveway. The two looked at him curiously as he stepped from the car. Drew recognized him immediately.

 

“Hey Mr. Devane…What’s up?” He asked curiously.

 

“Good morning Master Drew… Sir,” he greeted Andrew. “I’m sorry to bother you but have either of you seen Master John this morning?”

 

Father and son exchanged a concerned glance but both shook their heads. “No man…He hasn’t been by here.”

 

“How long has he been missing?” Andrew asked worriedly.

 

“Just this morning sir… I’m sure he’s okay but his Aunt would like him to come home. Would you please tell him if you see him?”

 

“Certainly but we’re going to my sisters for the day.”

 

Edward sighed. “Well thank you then…And don’t worry…, Master John disappears into the mountains quite often,” he tried to reassure them.

 

They nodded but the worried look didn’t leave their faces as the servant returned to the car and headed off down the street just as the Station Control Unit began to tone at Station 4.

 

“Station 4, Station 17 Structure Fire. 704 El Monte…7-0-4 El Monte…Time out 10:23”

 

Captain Calhoun and his crew ran for their trucks and pulled out into traffic. The station was empty when Edward arrived. There was no sign of John’s motorbike and he knew that the crew would never have allowed the teenager to accompany them on a run. He sighed…That meant that most likely John had run to the mountains and he’d never find him up there. He turned the car around and headed for home.

 

 

The station crew arrived on the scene to find a two story home fully engulfed. Calhoun stepped down from the engine and began to issue orders to his crew while Ben Darcy and his men began to lower the stabilizers on the snorkel truck. Bailey mounted the ladder holding the hose and was quickly followed by his line mate Lewis, while the two linemen from the engine grabbed another hose and ran for the front door.

 

Flames shot from the second story window and Calhoun could only pray that there was no one left inside. His eyes scanned the crowd of people gathering behind them and wondered if the home owners were among them.

 

He spotted an officer engaged in crowd control and waved him over. “Do you know who owns the house?” He questioned urgently.

 

The officer shook his head and trotted over to the crowd. He didn’t appear to be having any luck in finding the owner but then it became irrelevant as screams came from the other side of the house which hadn’t yet begun to burn.

 

Calhoun spotted the woman and raised the HT to his mouth to redirect his men. They worked their way into the house and Calhoun ran to help them. Station 17’s sirens could be heard a short distance away but his men needed the help now if this woman was to be rescued.

 

He followed behind and then veered off to climb the stairs. The smoke was thick and black, making it hard to see but Calhoun was experienced and ducked low as he made his way through the halls to where he thought the woman would be found.

 

He pushed the door open and found the woman leaning heavily against the wall, choking harshly on the smoke. He moved over quickly and wrapped an arm about her, casting a glance toward the window where the snorkel basket was beginning its ascent upward. He whipped off his air mask and placed it over the woman’s nose and mouth.

 

Smoke began to waft under the closed bedroom door and Ed was afraid of a flashover. He waved at the snorkel urgently, signaling them to hurry. The crackling sound of burning wood grew louder but the basket was now much closer. He breathed a sigh of relief as it bumped against the window casing.

 

Hands reached for the woman, pulling her through the window into the safety of the basket. Calhoun began to lift his leg over the sill as all hell broke loose behind him…An explosion of heated air and flame erupted into the room, blasting him through the open window. Hands grabbed for him but his turnout coat was blazing. He felt his hair catch and pain blossomed in his awareness but he barely had time to even make note of it. The crew made a valiant attempt to catch him but couldn’t hang on as their Captain fell…His scream of agony would echo in their ears for months. It cut off as he hit the ground. Station 17’s crew turned their hoses on the fallen man and all his own crew could do was look on helplessly from above.

 

 

 

It had been a long day for everyone. The tension in the air had been so thick, it was almost palpable.

 

Rosemary was obviously upset and she and her mother had retreated to the other side of the room to talk quietly and avoid an angry confrontation with her father and her children, while the other three people in the room spoke of business and other matters and carefully avoided mentioning John, knowing it would only set Rose off, though it was obvious that he wasn’t included in her father’s plans for his grandchildren’s future.

 

Rose smiled to herself…What he didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him, she mused to herself. Her hackles were raised a couple of times as Jonathan spoke of his business relationships, including Morris and Sons Oil. 

 

He referred to them proudly while she fumed and wondered how he’d feel if he knew the hand they’d played in his own son’s so called accident? Worse…She was afraid he might already know and didn’t care.

 

Agent Chambers had spoken to her at length after the funeral, hoping she’d seen the evidence her brother had hidden away but she’d been unable to help them and by the time she might have been able to look for what they wanted, Katie had packed John up and returned to the reservation and had stopped returning her letters.

 

She often wondered if the same thing had happened to her that her own father had done. Had Katie’s father kept Rosemary’s letters from his daughter so that Rose wouldn’t be able to help her and her nephew? It tore at her heart to think so.

 

Dinner was a quiet affair for Rose and Lenora as well, though her father seemed jovial enough as he chatted with his grandchildren.  She and her mother had cast several dark looks at them as Rosemary’s eyes had returned to the gray and mist enshrouded skies outside the window, as if even the weather felt as somber as she did this day. Neither of them had eaten very much.

 

She’d been disappointed when Edward had returned with John and it had taken all her will power to avoid ordering her Father and her children from her home. She’d so desperately wanted John’s first Thanksgiving to be a day of healing and a chance for him to get to know his grandparents and maybe put the past behind them but her father had destroyed any hope of that with his stubborn pride and driven John from his own home and out into the cold November weather while they sat and enjoyed their day.

 

She and Edward exchanged worried glances as he brought dessert and coffee to the table. He was worried about John being out there in the cold as well. The young master had had a bout with pneumonia as well as several minor lung infections since he’d been here, the last one less than two days ago and Miss Rose had said he’d had pneumonia several times as a child. Worse, He was worried that this might have been the final straw for the troubled teenager and that he wouldn’t return home at all.

 

Rose finally waved him over with a sigh. “Edward…Please call and ask if Officer Drake is working? Ask him to watch for John while he’s patrolling,” she whispered softly, not seeming very hopeful. She was as aware as Edward was that if John didn’t want to be found, he wouldn’t be.

 

“Yes ma’am,” he agreed.

 

 

The sun was beginning it’s decent in the western skies and what had previously been a cool and misty day was rapidly turning into a cold and misty night. Growing up in Montana, John was used to much colder weather than this but he was still becoming increasingly uncomfortable. He’d spent the day in his special place but had expected that the weather would warm up but it hadn’t. He’d only brought a jacket which had quickly become damp in the foggy vapor.

 

John pulled the coat tighter about himself and glanced at his watch in the waning light. It was almost six thirty. He shivered a bit and coughed as a cold wind swept through the clearing. His throat was getting a bit sore too and that was never a good sign for him. Maybe he’d better head down and see if his Grandparent’s had left yet. If they were still there then he’d take a ride over to see if Drew or the station crew had returned. He was cold and not feeling well at all. He needed to at least be off the mountain before dark or it would be too dangerous to try to ride his bike through the woods. He didn’t relish the idea of spending the night here without even a blanket.

 

John coughed again and pushed himself to his feet and headed for the bike. He set his helmet in place and started the motorbike. He shivered as he headed through the darkening forest.

 

 

Drew and his father had left for home earlier than they’d originally planned. Both of them had been concerned about John’s disappearance this morning. Drew and John had become pretty close and the older boy had even become protective of his shy new friend.

 

Drew still didn’t know much about him as John’s communication skills were lacking in the extreme and he always clammed up when asked about his past.

 

Drew’s father also liked the polite young man his son had befriended and even paid the teenager for the work he did on the weekends when he worked for him. He admired the fact that even though John’s aunt was wealthy and would give him anything he asked for, John preferred to work and earn the money he was paid. The boy never shirked when asked to do something as a lot of teenagers might, and he’d earned Andrews respect. 

 

Both of them had agreed to come home early so Drew could find out if John had returned home. Drew slipped past his dad as he unlocked the door and picked up the phone. He dialed and waited impatiently for someone to answer.

 

“Hughes residence,” a slightly anxious sounding British voice answered.

 

“Oh…Uh hi Mr. Devane... This is Drew Burke. I was uh…Just checking to see if ya found John yet?”

 

There was a sigh at the other end of the phone. “No Master Drew…He hasn’t returned and we’re very worried about him.”

 

“Yes sir…Me and my dad are too,” he replied. “Would ya have him call me when he comes home?” He asked as he shook his head negatively at his father.

 

Andrew frowned. What had happened at John’s home that would make the boy take off like that? The teenager was so quiet and withdrawn around people and it had to make anyone who spent any time with him wonder about it. He hated to think of the reasons. He’d previously suspected that it was simply the trauma of losing both parents but that wouldn’t have made him run away today, so what had? It was really none of his business he supposed but still…He liked the boy and so did Drew.

 

His attention was drawn back to his son as he hung up the phone. “Not home?” He verified.

 

“No Dad and I’m kinda worried about him.”

 

“So am I Drew,” he replied with a sigh.

 

Drew knew almost all the places where John liked to go.  “I think I might take a walk…Check some of our favorite hang outs.”

 

“Alright…Not too late though,” he replied, glancing at his watch. “Don’t be out after curfew and if you don't find him…Let me know okay?”

 

“Sure dad,” he answered as his father mounted the stairs.

 

Drew shrugged into his jacket and slipped out the back door to the patio and headed down the street to one of John’s favorite spots to fish. It was the closest to home and the rocky overhangs might provide some shelter from the cold wind that was blowing.

 

 

John had swung past his aunt’s house but his grandparent’s car was still parked out front so he continued on. He pulled up in front of the fire station but they must have gone on another run as the bays were empty. He headed over to Drew’s but once again he was disappointed. The house was dark and the driveway empty.

 

John shivered as a cold breeze blew over him. He supposed he could go home and sneak past Edward and his Aunt and just go up to his room. He coughed harshly and shook his head. He’d never get past Edward and the girls. He knew they’d be waiting for him to come back and then his aunt would drag him in to meet two more people who he was sure, wished he’d never been born.

 

He’d already lived through that and had no desire to go through that humiliation again. He turned the bike around and headed for his and Drew’s favorite fishing spot.

 

 

Drew followed the narrow dirt path that he and John used to get to the San Gabriel River. It was growing steadily darker and while John seemed to have radar when it came to moving through the darkness, Drew didn’t and he was getting a bit nervous. Maybe he should turn back and get a flashlight.

 

He’d just about decided that’s what he should do when he spotted a glint of metal in the moonlight. He moved toward it and suddenly grinned... It was John’s motorbike. He heard a sharp, raspy cough off to his right and frowned.

 

“Johnny…?” He called out.

 

There was a small noise as someone moved in the darkness and than a scratchy sounding voice. “Drew? Is that you?”

 

“Yeah man…Boy… Am I glad I found you,” he said in relief as he moved toward John. He found the younger boy wedged between the rocks that edged the river. John’s slender body trembled with the cold as he huddled into the slight warmth of his jacket. “Everyone’s been lookin for you man,” he added as he sat down on the rocks near him.

 

John looked slightly alarmed by that piece of information. He coughed harshly. “Why?” He rasped.

 

“Man…You sound terrible…You getting your cold back again?” He asked worriedly. John shrugged. “So why’d ya take off like that?” The older boy questioned.

 

John buried his cold nose against his upraised knees. “They didn’t want me there,” he mumbled.

 

Drew had to strain to hear him. “Why do you think so? I know your Aunt Rose did.”

 

John shrugged. It was difficult to tell someone that your own grandparents despised you and why. “Maybe,” he murmured, “But my grandparents didn’t.”

 

Drew frowned. “Why Johnny? Why would you think that?” He pressed for the first time.

 

John unfolded himself from his haven and launched to his feet, pacing angrily. He didn’t want to answer Drew…He was afraid if he did it would all spill out and the other boy would be disgusted and turn away from him as his Uncle had warned him that people would. He couldn’t risk that...Not with anyone…Not ever but he had to tell him something.

 

John’s arms remained folded over his chest as his angry strides took him back and forth along the river’s edge. Drew’s eyes followed worriedly. John finally spun about.  “Because my mother was Indian,” he snapped. “That makes me Ó’xevé’ho’e,” he bit out before he began to cough once again.

 

“What’s that mean?” Drew asked warily, taken aback a bit by John’s anger. The boy so seldom expressed any emotion at all, so this was a little shocking for the older teen.

 

“A half breed,” John barked.

 

Drew blinked. “Well…So what?” He asked in confusion.

 

The answer seemed to set John back a bit. Drew hadn’t reacted at all like most people did. “My grandparents disowned my father for marrying her,” he whispered in humiliation…More for his poor mother’s sake than his own really. She’d been unfairly judged and found lacking in their eyes when she’d actually been a intelligent, beautiful, kind woman, a faithful wife and loving mother.

 

“Oh man…I’m sorry Johnny. I didn’t know that. So they were like… there today huh?”

 

John nodded. “I heard them from the top of the stairs,” John whispered painfully.

 

Drew stood up and moved to his friend’s side. “What did they say?” He questioned softly.

 

John was glad it was dark so Drew couldn’t see the flush of embarrassment that stained his cheeks. “That I was a half breed and,” he hesitated. “That I’d never be his grandson,” he finished, fighting down the hurt and pain that tried once again to resurrect itself in his heart.

 

 “Oh man Johnny...I’m so sorry,” Drew said, looking shocked that the kids own grandfather could feel that way. He had no idea that this was the tiniest tip of an iceberg for John. That his whole family with the exception of Rosemary and his parents had felt that way and had subjected him to the same glacial feelings that his grandfather Gage had expressed.

 

John shrugged. He was used to it but it still tore at his heart and soul. He pushed it away, refusing to let them matter…To allow their words to hurt him…

 

“Hey Johnny…Its cold out here… Why don’t we go back to my house and warm up with some hot chocolate or coffee or something?”

 

John was very cold and didn’t feel well but he was also a Gage and that stubborn spirit welled up within him and he shook his head. “Your dad will call my aunt,” he replied quietly. “She’ll make me come home.” He coughed again.

 

Drew didn’t like the sound of that…It was worse than when Johnny had been sick a few days ago. “You shouldn’t be out in the cold man” he argued.

 

“Better this cold than then the chill in my aunt’s house,” John mumbled stubbornly.

 

“Okay Johnny,” Drew answered as John sat back down on the rocks. The blonde teen joined him. “I’ll wait with ya.”

 

John looked over at the other boy. “You don’t hafta,” he argued. “It’s cold out,” he said pointedly.

 

Drew shrugged. “You’re my friend. You stay…I stay,” he replied as he settled down for the wait.

 

John gave him a small half smile of gratitude.

 

 

Officer Kevin Drake had had a long day. He’d put in almost sixteen hours of patrol today to give a couple of fellow officers a little extra time with their families. His partner, Mark Coleman, was slumped in the seat beside him, looking as tired as he felt.

 

He glanced at his watch…It was almost eleven and he and Mark could go home for a good night’s sleep and a day off tomorrow. Both of them had been cruising the streets between calls looking for the Gage kid.

 

Drake was frustrated that they hadn’t been able to find him and wondered what had sent him running this time. It most likely wasn’t good. The weather was cold and the boy didn’t need to be out in it.

 

They were taking one last run up the road that ran past the river as it was the closest road that ran parallel to the Hughes residence. The streets were dark and empty. The head lights of the patrol car swept over a narrow dirt track that led down to the river. He’d used it often himself as a teenager growing up here.

 

He pulled the car over. “What’s up Kev?” Mark asked, sitting up.

 

“Just wanna take a look up the trail.”

 

“Give it up Kev…We’ve been looking all night.”

 

“One last place huh?” He promised as he climbed out and grabbed his flashlight. Mark sighed and followed. That's what he'd said the last time.

 

They made their way down the narrow path toward the river. They were about half way down when they heard a harsh cough and then quiet voices. Kevin shot a glance at his partner and grinned, hoping they were about to get lucky and not just be interrupting someone’s night time fishing excursion.

 

*~*~*~*~*

 

Drew glanced at his watch, squinting in the dim moonlight to try and read it’s dial. “It’s almost eleven, it’s after curfew Johnny,” he told his friend. “My dad’ll be getting worried about me if I don’t get home soon.”

 

“You don’t hafta to stay with me,” Johnny said softly, following the statement with a deep cough.

 

Drew shook his head at his friends stubbornness. “C’mon man, you’re shivering and coughing. You’re getting sick again man…Let’s go home. They gotta be gone by now.”

 

John lifted fever glazed eyes to his friend. “What if they’re not?” He whispered raggedly.

 

“Then we’ll go back to my house and call Edward and ask him to let us know when they leave.”

 

John was about to reply but another voice interrupted. “Why don’t we take both of you boys home?”

 

Drew jumped and spun around to face the two officers standing at the head of the trail. “Oooh maaan,” Drew moaned. He’d be in for it with his old man for sure, he mused. Not to mention suspended from the football team. “Uh…Evening Officers,” he mumbled softly.

 

Drake glanced at the blonde teenager and he nodded to his partner who moved to Drew’s side as Kevin turned to face John.  The younger boy’s eyes wouldn’t meet his, but there was a stubborn set to the young man’s chin that warned Drake that the kid wasn’t gonna budge without a fight.

 

“This is becoming a habit John,” he said softly as he moved to sit on the edge of the rock that John was using as a wind block. His blue eyes took in the huddled and shivering figure.

 

“I didn’t run away…Well not exactly,” he amended.

 

“Your Aunt is worried about you and obviously with good reason,” he added as John pressed his face against his upraised knees to stifle a cough.

 

Drew watched the cop carefully, hoping he wasn’t going to be hassling him and his friend like a lot of the police around here did to the teenagers. He was surprised to see a smile break over the officer’s stern features as he edged closer on the rock toward Johnny. He shrugged out of his heavy uniform jacket and leaned over to place it around John’s shaking shoulders. “So you wanna tell me what happened today?” He asked gently. John shot him a glance beneath lowered lashes and shook his head negatively. “John…I know you grew up pretty rough…” John shot him another nervous look. How much did this man know? “And I know your Aunt cares about you very much,” he continued, without elaborating further about John’s past. The teen breathed a sigh of relief. “But if there was someone there that hurt you…?” he trailed off questioningly.

 

“No one hurt me,” John whispered, using the standard phrase he always did when questioned about his injuries or his past.

 

“Yes they did,” Drew argued. John’s eyes widened in surprise as his friend continued. “His high and mighty grandfather called him a half breed and said he wasn’t their grandson,” he informed Drake and Coleman angrily.

 

“DREW!” John yelled in shocked horror at what his friend had blurted out.

 

“Sorry man,” the blonde teen mumbled.

 

John’s face flushed in embarrassment and he was grateful for the concealing darkness but Drew’s outburst only reinforced John’s reluctance to trust anyone with his secrets.

 

“I’m sorry John,” Drake said softly. “That’s totally unfair for someone to judge you because of your heritage but it's their loss…Not yours,” he added gently.

 

John’s eyes widened in shock…Did the man mean that or was he just being nice because of who John’s aunt was? He mused silently. He wasn’t sure but he was still grateful for the kind words.

 

Drew was too. His eyes narrowed thoughtfully as he watched the officer reason with John instead of just forcing him to comply. Coleman grinned at his partner’s handling of the boy.

“Thanks,” the teenager murmured softly.

 

“You’re welcome John but we still have a problem here,” he added. John glanced up at him questioningly. “It’s after eleven and you’re both out after curfew and you’re sick,” he pointed out.

 

“I’m alright,” John protested, negating the reassurance with a raspy cough.

 

“That doesn’t sound alright,” he replied. “Look…I know you’re a pretty strong kid and you can probably tough the night out, but I still have a job to do so…Tell you what? Let’s get your friend here home and then I’ll take you home…,” John began to shake his head negatively but Drake held up his hand to stop him. “Hear me out…” John nodded warily. “I heard him offer to let you spend the night at his house,” he pointed out, glancing at Drew. The blonde teen nodded his agreement. “So after I drop him off…We’ll swing by your Aunts house to see if they’re gone. If they are….I’ll drop you off and if not…I’ll just tell your aunt that you’re at your friends place and take you back there for the night….Good deal?” He asked, holding out his hand.

 

John worried his lower lip between his teeth for a long moment before the dark eyes lifted to meet Drake’s searchingly. John finally nodded as he reached out to shake the man’s hand. “Good deal, he agreed softly.

 

“Good…Cuz man its cold out here,” he added, standing up and pulling the teen to his feet.

 

 

The officers escorted the two boys back to their car. “We’ll have someone pick up your bike and bring it home for you,” he assured the teenager as he held the door open for them.

 

John nodded and huddled deeper into the warmth of the jacket wrapped around him. Drew noted the fever bright eyes and shuddering of his friend’s body and figured it would be a few days before Johnny would be well enough to care one way or the other.

 

They pulled up in front of Drew’s house and Coleman stepped out of the car and let the teen out of the back seat. Drew licked his suddenly dry lips, expecting the officer to walk up and knock on his front door but he didn’t. He just smiled and waited for Drew to head up the walk. He did, turning back at the front door to stare in amazement at the cop as he climbed back inside. Drew pushed the door open and went inside but continued to watch as the car pulled away. He closed the door, looking thoughtful.

 

Like a lot of teenagers, Drew had always thought of the police as teenager hating Gestapo, but these two had been different, especially Drake. He seemed to genuinely care about Johnny and Drew had been impressed.

 

He heard a slight sound and peeked into the living room to see his dad sleeping soundly on the couch. He grinned and breathed a sigh of relief. He slipped over and pulled the afghan off the back of the sofa and laid it over his dad. He turned and headed up the stairs still deep in thought. Being a cop was almost as dangerous as being a fire fighter but without the flames, he mused thoughtfully. Danger didn’t worry him any more than it did John but the idea of burning to death did…He didn’t know how John could even think about doing that, but now this was different. Helping other people like John wanted to do…Still exciting but without the risk of frying. Maybe he’d look closer into becoming a policeman.

 

He didn’t see his father’s eyes crack open and the small smile that crossed his lips. If Drew was home…Then most likely John was too or his son would have wakened him.

 

 

*~*~*~*~*

Rosemary closed the door behind her parents as they headed for their car. It was after eleven and she’d been trying for hours to get them to leave, suggesting that it was a long ride back to Santa Barbara and that the traffic could be heavy but neither had taken the subtle hints but for two different reasons. Her father was enjoying the time with his two grandchildren and their quiet mockery of John and his mother which had left Rosemary steaming mad, while her mother had been hoping that John would come home and she could still have a chance to get to know him.  She had barely restrained herself from telling her father to leave for her mother’s sake but it hadn’t been easy. She’d hugged her mother goodbye but refused to even look at her father. He’d at least had the decency to realize that his daughter was angry with him when he’d held out his arms to her and she’d walked away.

 

He shuffled his feet uncomfortably and his face grew red but he’d harumphed grumpily to hide his own hurt feelings and turned to his grandchildren who’d hugged him warmly. Rose stood and waited with her arms folded tightly over her chest…The message had been clear. She wanted nothing to do with him. Jonathan had cast her one last longing look but Rosemary turned her gaze over his shoulder to the cold darkness beyond the door to where her young nephew had fled to take refuge from his own family’s hatefulness.

 

She finally cast a sad look at Edward. “That didn’t turn out at all the way I wanted it to,” she murmured ruefully.

 

“I didn’t think so ma’am,” he replied gently.

 

“Where is he Edward?” She asked worriedly as her gaze shifted to the window. She could see the shadows of trees in the moonlight being blown around by the wind.

 

“I wish I knew madam,” he added quietly. “But I’ll stay by the door for a while longer in case he returns.”

 

Rose smiled poignantly. “Thank you Edward. I appreciate everything you do for me and John,” she said, patting his arm gently.

 

“Yes ma’am…I’ll wake you if he returns.”

 

She nodded and turned to head up the stairs. Headlights cut across the window glass and she hesitated. She was a little afraid it was her parents returning. Maybe it was too late and they wanted to spend the night. She couldn’t very well turn them away if it was but she wasn’t happy about it either.

 

Edward returned to the door and opened it. He gasped in surprise at the sight of Officer Drake and Officer Coleman and an obviously very cold and ill teenager standing between them.

 

Rosemary sucked in her breath in surprise and ran down the stairs. “John…Oh sweetie, where have you been?” She questioned as she reached out yank him into her arms…Holding him tightly despite his rigid posture. She set him away and looked into his face. It was flushed and his eyes were bright with fever. “Oh little one,” she said, taking his face in her hands. If John blushed in embarrassment she couldn’t tell from the previous redness of his skin and the warmth that emanated from him. “Let’s get you upstairs and into bed,” she said urgently as the boy coughed with a harsh, grating, rasp. She turned to the officer’s. “Thank you so much for bringing him home. Thank you both,” she added as she urged John up the stairs.

 

Drake and Coleman looked to Edward. “Are his grandparents gone?” Kevin asked.

 

Edward’s eyebrow rose in surprise and Rose stopped on the stairs to turn and look at them curiously. John stared guiltily at his feet.

 

Coleman smiled, “His friend Drew told us what happened,” he said at the shocked looks.

 

Rose sighed. She should have known that John wouldn’t have confided in anyone…He rarely trusted anyone. She was a bit surprised that he’d even told Drew.

 

“I promised him I’d take him back to his friend’s house if they were still here.” John threw the man a grateful look, a little surprised that he was actually keeping his word.

 

  “They’ve left. Just a few minutes ago and I’m so sorry sweetie,” she added looking at John. “I never meant for them to hurt you like that or I wouldn’t have invited them and I promise you…I won’t do that again.” John shot her a skeptical look. “I won’t force you to socialize with anyone that makes you uncomfortable again okay?”

 

John threw a glance at Drake before looking back at his Aunt. “Good deal,” he croaked with a small smile.

 

Rose laughed and hugged him to her but it was short lived…She felt John shudder in her arms…Another cough erupted from deep in his chest and his legs seemed to melt like butter from beneath him and he staggered at the wave of dizziness that washed over him. She managed to hold him long enough for Edward to spring up the stairs to grab the teen wrapping his arms around him to help support him.

 

John struggled in his grasp for only a moment before he gave up and let his body slump against the older man, caught in the grip of a feverish stupor.

 

“I’ll call James,” she told Edward as he half carried the boy the rest of the way to the top and out of sight. “She ran down the stairs and grabbed the phone, throwing a glance at the policemen. “Thank you again and I’ll take care of him…I promise,” she assured them. Drake didn’t look happy but he nodded his head.

 

“Call us if you need us Mrs. Hughes,” he instructed her quietly. She nodded as she continued to dial the phone. The two officers turned and left…Both of them wishing there was something more they could do for the troubled teenager.

 

*~*~*~*~*~*

 

“Bronchitis,” James Forrester declared simply after his examination. He’s got a couple of rales in his lungs but it seems more in his bronchial tubes right now. His throat is a bit inflamed,” he added as he laid his hand on the teenager’s forehead. “He’s running a low grade fever.”

 

John coughed harshly, stirring restlessly under the covers. He was no longer shivering and that was a relief but now he felt too warm and his chest hurt when he breathed. He’d been afraid he had pneumonia again…His aunt would just be thrilled by that, but then he’d vaguely heard the doctor’s diagnosis and felt a brief sense of relief. He wasn’t sure what Bronchitis was but the doctor didn’t seem to be overly concerned about it. John didn’t want to spend another week in the hospital.

 

“What do we do?” Rose asked worriedly.

 

“Not much we can do…Antibiotics are useless for this so we’ll give him aspirin every six hours for the fever and sore throat and keep him in bed. I’ll write you a prescription for an expectorant to help him loosen up that congestion. The cough will last for a couple of weeks but if his temperature goes any higher or he has any trouble breathing, give me a call or bring him to the ER.”

 

Rose nodded as James packed his equipment into the small black bag. He cast a glance at Joshua and Tiffany standing by the door with their arms folded over their chests as if John being sick was nothing more than an inconvenience. He shook his head in disgust.

 

As if on cue, Joshua stepped forward as his mother and the doctor came toward them. “Honestly mother...He’s such a problem. Why don’t you just send him to some boarding school somewhere?” He suggested helpfully, repeating one of his grandfather’s suggestions.

 

John heard the less than quiet suggestion and sighed. Well…It wouldn’t be a surprise to him if she did. He had caused her a lot of trouble over the last ten months but still…Her reply made his heart sink, though he’d known it would happen eventually.

 

“Boarding school is a wonderful idea,” Rosemary replied, folding her arms over her chest and arching an eyebrow warningly.

 

The two blanched a bit at the silent threat and decided not to push her any further now that their grandfather wasn’t around to protect them.

 

James chuckled at the insinuation and turned back to Rosemary. “I’ll stop by in a couple of days to check on him again but call me if you need me sooner.”

 

“Thank you James. I’m sorry I had to bother you on Thanksgiving.”

 

“Not a problem Rose…We just need to keep this young man from running off and getting sick,” he said with a grin.

 

Rose sighed. “If you figure out how, feel free to let me know,” she replied dryly, bringing another smile from her friend. He patted her hand reassuringly before he turned and followed Edward out of the room. Josh and Tiffany followed leaving Rosemary alone with John. A harsh racking cough brought her attention back to her nephew. She went to the bed and sat on the edge.

 

John was drowsy and wheezing with every breath…His dark eyes drooping with fever and exhaustion but Rose was just relieved to have him home and safe. She brushed the sweat dampened sable hair away from his brow. John’s eyes opened and he gazed at her blearily.

 

Rosemary noticed and smiled softly at him. “I’m so sorry sweetie. I never meant for this to happen. I wanted today to be special and for you to get to know your grandparents and be happy here but I guess that’s not going to happen is it?” She questioned ruefully.

 

John eyed her warily, waiting for the ax to fall. He’d just heard her say boarding school would be a good thing and while he wasn’t entirely sure what it was, it didn’t sound good. He hadn’t intended to get sick again and cause her this much trouble but it did seem to follow him wherever he went and this time he knew he had only himself to blame for running off and now here he was…Being a problem. He sighed in resignation at being shipped off yet again.

 

Rosemary frowned at the suspicious look John gave her but didn’t understand the reason behind it. She supposed he had a good reason to be dubious about her good intentions after the way her children and her father had behaved today…their attitudes driving the teenager out of his home. She sighed as she leaned down to kiss his flushed cheek.

 

“I’m sorry I caused so much trouble…,” John began, his voice rasping from his sore throat. Hoping if he apologized she’d forgive him and let him stay.

 

“Shhh shhh sweetie…you don’t worry about that right now. We’ll talk about you running off when you’re feeling better.”

 

John sighed. That’s what he was afraid of. He closed his eyes and let sleep claim him as her fingers stroked gently through his hair.

 

 

 

Drew came to see him the next day. John was still coughing and his throat was sore but he was feeling better than he had been the evening before.

 

“So was your dad mad?” He croaked out.

 

“Nah…He was asleep and didn’t even notice…He just poked his head into my room and asked if I found you.”

 

“That’s good.”

 

“How about you?”

 

John looked away and worried his lower lip with his teeth. “I think my Aunt is thinking about sending me away,” he finally mumbled.

 

Drew looked shocked. “WHAT! But why?”

John shrugged. “This isn’t the first time I’ve taken off…

I guess…I guess I’ve caused her a lot of trouble,” he finished unhappily.

 

“Oh man…What are you gonna do?”

 

John shrugged. “Try and be good I guess…And hope she changes her mind,” he rasped out.

 

Drew couldn’t believe Mrs. Hughes would really send Johnny away. She practically doted on him. “Are you sure she’d do that?” Drew questioned doubtfully.

 

John nodded. “I heard her last night when she was talking to Joshua and Tiffany,” he mumbled.

 

“Oh wow,” Drew murmured. What could he do for his friend? This just reinforced his decision from last night. He wanted to be able to help people…Being a cop might be the way to help people like Johnny.

 

“Hey I was thinking…”

 

“Bout what?” Johnny asked.

 

“That cop last night.”

 

John grimaced. “He’s becoming my constant companion,” Johnny said drily.

 

Drew snickered at the comment. “Yeah well…I thought he was pretty cool. I was thinkin…Ya know…Maybe I could become a cop.”

 

John raised a dubious eyebrow. “Why?”

 

“I think I’d just like to be able to help people like you want to but without the fire,” Drew teased.

 

John remembered the cops in Montana…They hadn’t helped him at all. They’d handed him back to his abusers and forgotten he existed. Washing their hands of him despite the fact that they knew he’d been beaten near to death and they’d still sent him back. Maybe they’d been hoping they’d finish the job and be done with him for good, he mused sourly but he wouldn’t throw those negative doubts at Drew. His friend had the same spark in his eyes about becoming a cop as he got when he talked about being a fire fighter.

 

“Well,” Johnny began with a small smile. “It’s not as dangerous as being a fire fighter but I guess if it’s what you wanna do,” he finished.

 

“Hey,” Drew protested good naturedly. “I’ll have to chase bank robbers and car thieves and stuff.

 

“Yeah…Once in a while…But I’ll have to run into burning buildings all the time,” Johnny argued as he began to cough.

 

Drew winced. “Okay…We’ll argue about it later buddy…You should get some sleep.”

 

John pressed his hand against his aching chest and nodded, siding down under the covers. Drew tossed him a wave as he left. He threw Rosemary a perplexed frown as he passed her in the hallway. Would she really send John away? Man he hoped not. He’d miss the kid.

 

Rosemary’s perplexed green eyes followed him. Wondering what that look had been for.

 

 

 

A week later, Johnny was finally feeling better and he hoped the doctor would release him from bed rest. Mr. Hadderly had resumed his tutoring sessions so that John wouldn’t fall too far behind in school and he was afraid he was becoming even more of a problem as well as an expense for his aunt.

 

He glanced up as his door opened and his aunt and Dr. Forrester stepped inside. John fought off a threatening cough and pushed himself to a sitting position, hoping the doctor hadn’t noticed but it was not to be. He’d had enough experience with the young man over the last few months to have learned all his little tricks.

 

“Good afternoon John…Still have that cough I see,” he said with a grin as John visibly wilted, knowing he’d been caught.

 

“Afternoon sir,” he mumbled forlornly.

 

James sat on the bed next to him. “Let’s have a look son,” he suggested as he opened his bag and pulled out the thermometer, slipping it under the teenagers tongue. He lifted John’s wrist and took his pulse while he waited. He tugged it free a couple of minutes later and smiled. “Pulse is normal and so is his temperature,” he informed Rosemary.

 

“Good…” she said simply as she stood watching with her arms folded over her chest.

 

“Let’s get your BP,” he said pulling the cuff out, He set about wrapping it around John’s upper arm. “Wanna try?” He asked the boy.

 

A small smile cracked John’s lips and he nodded. He let the doctor put the stethoscope tips in his ears and set the bell in place on the inside of his elbow. John took the ball and began to squeeze and the cuff tightened around his arm. He stopped when he could no longer hear the rush of blood in his veins and nodded at the doctor. “Nod when you hear it.”

 

“Okay,” John agreed as the doctor twisted the valve. John waited a few seconds before he nodded. The doctor grinned and continued to watch the teenager as he concentrated on what he was hearing. He finally nodded again.

 

“Well according to you…Your Blood Pressure is 120/80. Let me do a quick check to see if you’re correct,” he teased as he took back his stethoscope and pumped up the cuff again. He listened carefully and then grinned as he tugged the cuff loose and pulled the instrument from his ears. “Yup…You were pretty close and that’s a good thing Dr. Gage,” he added with a smile.

 

John gave him an actual smile this time and both of the adults froze in wonder. He so rarely showed any hint of his emotions that it caught them both off guard. The smile fled as James reached out to unbutton John’s pajama shirt. He’d forgotten to warn the teen but John’s reaction reminded him very quickly.

 

“NO,” he gasped quickly as he shoved the man’s hands away and tried to hitch his body further back against the headboard.

 

“I’m sorry John,” the doctor said as he quickly drew his hands back. “I should have warned you. I need to listen to your lungs.”

 

John blew out a shuddering breath as his face flushed in embarrassment. “I….I…I’m sorry,” he whispered seeing the distress in both of the faces looking down at him. “I ddd…didn’t mean to be a ppp…Problem,” he stuttered nervously.

 

Rose frowned. John hadn’t stuttered like that in months. She looked at a worried James as they both wondered what had brought that on.

 

“You’re not a problem sweetie,” Rose assured him.

 

“Don’t sss….send me away,” he pleaded.

 

Rosemary’s green eyes grew wide in shock. “Send you away? Háaketa…Why would you even think that?” She gasped as she came to sit near him on the bed.

 

John glanced away but she reached out to grip his chin. He flinched at her touch and she stared at him in shock. She’d thought he was pretty well past this. John’s eyes shot her the same wary look he’d had a week ago. “I heard yyy…you.”

 

“Heard me say what sweetie?” She asked in confusion

 

“That y…you thought sending me to bbb…boarding school would bbb…be a good idea,” he admitted.

 

“WHAT?” She squeaked in shock.

 

James threw her a surprised look. She loved her nephew and he couldn’t believe she’d ever say that and then he remembered. She’d said it to Joshua but John certainly wasn’t in any condition at that time to have understood that.

 

“Rose…,” he began.

 

She nodded. “I remember James,” she assured him as she reached out to brush the sable hair from John’s forehead. She mentally kicked herself for not remembering how good John's hearing was and how insecure he could be. Any negative comment would be taken by the boy to be aimed at him. “I wasn’t talking about you my darling,” she reassured the nervous teenager.

 

John’s eyes lifted to hers doubtfully. “You weren’t?” He questioned hesitantly.

 

“No…I was talking to Joshua. Sweetie…This is your home for as long as you want it to be…I promise you…I’ll never send you away.”

 

John swallowed heavily in relief…He didn’t believe that of course…Everyone sent him away eventually but at least for the moment…

 

“I th…thought…,” he began.

 

“I understand sweetie but that wasn’t aimed at you…I promise. You have to try and let go of the past my darling okay?”

 

How could he do that? There was no way to erase the frightening memories of his past. The pain of past abuse, the hurt and the loss and the terror and the loneliness of being an outcast everywhere he went. His Uncle’s black leering eyes gazing down at him lustfully. John shuddered at the memory and clamped his eyes shut. ‘No one will ever want you,’ echoed in his ears.

 

“John…John…Look at me,” Rose demanded, seeing the clenched eyes and shivering body. Afraid the boy was about to pull into himself.

 

“Can’t forget,” he whispered forlornly.

 

“What sweetie…What can’t you forget,” she urged hopefully. Pulling the teen into her arms and praying John would trust her enough to open up and let the flood of the past pain and fear loose but the teenager shook his head.

 

“Nothing…Nothing…Can’t tell…I’m tired…Wanna sleep,” he whispered as Rose rocked him in her arms.

 

“John…,” she began.

 

“Don’t push him,” James warned her sadly, knowing the boy would pull into himself if she did and disappointed that he still hadn’t learned to trust anyone enough to tell them about the pain he kept bottled up inside.

 

She nodded and let him lay back against the pillows.

 

“Alright John… I need to listen to your lungs okay. I’m gonna unbutton your shirt.”

 

John nodded and lay quietly while James finished his exam. “You sound much better. You still have some congestion in there but not as bad as before,” he explained to the boy. “I think you can let him go back to school, just be sure he stays warm and dry for a while. The cough may linger for another week but knowing John…It won’t slow him down too much,” he added to Rosemary as John’s eyes drifted closed.

 

She nodded as she threw one last look at her nephew. She knew he wasn’t asleep and was trying very hard to avoid further conversation. “Thank you for coming James,” she said, her eyes reflecting her disappointment that John still wouldn’t open up.

 

“Of course Rose. Just call me if you need me.”

 

She nodded.

 

John’s eyes snapped open as the door closed behind them. Lingering images of his not too distant past still lingered in his brain and he wondered again if he’d ever be able to just put it behind him and move on with his life…He just wished there would be someone he could trust enough to tell them the truth…That wouldn’t recoil in disgust at what had been done to him or blame him for it as his grandfather had…Just as George had warned him.

 

It took a long while for John to finally drift into sleep.

 

 

John had tossed restlessly for most of the night. His sleep plagued by nightmares of his Uncles and his parent’s deaths and it took only minutes for John to bolt from the bed when he woke the next morning. He got dressed quickly. He wanted out of the house for a while…Maybe he could ride over to the fire station and visit with his friends. That would get his mind off of his past and on to his future.

 

He grabbed his jacket and ran down the stairs, stopping at the sight of his Aunt and Edward.

 

“Just where do you think you’re going?” She asked.

 

John swallowed hard and shrugged. “Um…He said I could go back to school,” he mumbled. “I thought it would be okay to go over to the fire station for a while,” he said hesitantly.

 

Rose and Edward exchanged an exasperated look. “For a little while,” she agreed as she stepped aver and zipped his jacket. “You keep that on and don’t do too much. You still have a cough,” she reminded him.

 

John nodded gratefully, willing to endure her over protectiveness if it would get him out of the house for a bit. “Thank you,” he muttered as he fled the house.

 

The servant threw her a curious glance at John’s rapid exit. “Come on Edward,” Rose said with a sigh. “I’ll fill you in on the latest misunderstanding while you make breakfast,” she finished, closing the door.

 

John drove over to the fire station and pulled into the back lot where he usually parked. He breathed a sigh of relief as he recognized the vehicles parked there and knew his friends were on duty.

 

The bay doors were open and he could see Lewis and Bailey as they polished the Engine. He pulled off his helmet and headed toward the doors.

 

“Hi guys,” he greeted as he approached the pair.

 

The two men spun around at the sound of his voice and grinned at the sight of the boy but it was fleeting as they remembered that they hadn’t seen the kid since before Thanksgiving…John didn’t know yet.

 

The dark haired boy frowned at their sudden hesitation.

 

“Hey Johnny…How are you?” Lewis asked quietly, while Bailey shuffled his feet uncomfortably.

 

John coughed and cleared his throat. “I got sick again but I’m alright now,” he assured them, watching their nervous shifting curiously.

 

“That’s good… uh Johnny…?” Lewis began but he stopped in relief as Carl Abbott came around the engine with their new Captain Roger Hendry. “Um hey Carl…Look who’s here,” he said brightly though his eyes looked desperate.

 

Carl closed his eyes in dismay. He’d known this moment would come and he hadn’t been looking forward to it. “Hi Johnny…,” he greeted the teenager with a tight smile.

 

“Hi Carl…,” John replied with a small frown of confusion. “What’s going on?” He asked looking around…His dark eyes gaze lingering on the stranger next to his friend. Where was Captain Calhoun?

 

“Who’s the kid?” The stranger asked briskly as his blue eyed gaze traveled over the thin teen disparagingly.

 

“Uh Cap…This is Johnny…I mean John Gage…He’s kind of an unofficial member…,” he began but the man cut him off.

 

“I know who he is now…His Aunts one of those rich snobs over in the foothills.”

 

“She does live over there yes sir…but Johnny comes here a lot…Captain Calhoun let him help us out.”

 

“Well not anymore…,” John was looking between the two men in confusion. What was going on? What did he mean ‘not anymore?’

 

“Where’s Cap?” He asked in a small, worried voice.

 

Carl stepped away from the other man, throwing him a pleading look. “Johnny…Captain Calhoun had an accident at a fire son…,” he hesitated as the boy took in what he was saying. “He fell from the second floor…”

 

John’s eyes widened in horror…Not again…This wasn’t happening….Not again. “Is he dead?” He asked fearfully.

 

Abbott shook his head. “No Johnny but he…he broke his neck.” John gasped and started to cough but he waved off Carl’s attempt to rest his hand on his shoulder. Carl felt tears well in his own eyes but he had to finish. “He’s paralyzed Johnny…From the neck down.”

 

“No,” John whispered in despair. It was his fault…They’d hate him for sure when they figured it out. Everyone around him died or was taken away…Everyone…This was his fault just like Uncle George had always told him…His fault for everything...He was bad luck to have around because he was wicked. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled as his eyes drifted around the group of men that had gathered and were now watching their young friend in dismay as he assimilated the bad news.

 

“I’m sorry Johnny…,”Carl said gently. “But you know…We’re still here for you.”

 

“Now wait a minute Abbott,” Hendry protested angrily.

 

“What?” Carl asked with a frown as the others turned their attention to their new commander.

 

“I know Calhoun let the kid hang out here with you guys but that’s not gonna happen anymore.”

 

“Why sir?” Bailey asked, looking upset.

 

“He’s no problem to have around sir,” Lewis added.

 

“He’s a good kid sir,” Carl assured the man.

 

“A good kid…? He’s a half breed mutt…My kids best friend Jerry told me all about him…Starting trouble at school and his aunt buying his way out it,” the man sneered, drawing a gasp from his crew.

 

John stepped back as if he’d been slapped and his eyes dropped to stare at the floor in shame.

 

“That was uncalled for Captain Hendry…Sir,” Carl added as an afterthought. “He’s a decent kid and he wants to be a fireman. Ed’s been working with him for several months.”

 

“You think he did that out of the goodness of his heart?”

 

Carl’s eyes narrowed. “I know he did,” he growled, sure of his Captain and friends intentions.

 

“Well let me enlighten you…He did it for the very generous donation the kids aunt sent to the fire department to thank them for letting him hang around…Most likely cuz no one else would.”

 

John’s head snapped up to stare at the man in disbelief. Was that true? Had she really paid them to let him come here? Did she think he couldn’t do it on his own…Was he that worthless and stupid in her eyes? John’s faced flushed in shame as the dark eyes drifted from one crew member to the other. John backed away from them in humiliation.

 

“Johnny…,” Carl called to the boy. “That’s not true…Ed thought the world of you…He was really proud of…,” his words trailed off as John shook his head…No one was proud of him…He was nothing…A stupid half breed. He whirled and ran.

 

The crew watched him go and their hearts ached. They turned to glare in anger at the callous man who’d replaced their kind hearted Captain.

 

“That wasn’t necessary Captain Hendry,” Carl said angrily. “And it wasn’t true…None of it.”

 

The man shrugged unconcernedly. He didn’t need some rich woman’s cast off nephew hanging around the station getting in their way. Carl stalked away and the rest of the crew disbursed, grumbling to themselves about their new superior. Hendry frowned…Knowing he’d just lost the respect of his men but they’d just have to get over it.

 

 

 

John peeled out of the parking lot and headed for home…How could she have done that? Did Rosemary really see him as being so incapable of earning the respect of these men, that she’d had to pay them to let him hang out there? He felt like such a fool…He’d believed that they were his friends…that they wanted him to be there…That they'd LIKED him. Tears burned behind his eyes but he blinked them away. He wouldn’t cry…He’d never cry again…Never feel…Never hurt and never trust anyone. He should have known…His family had been right. No one would love him…Want him. He was nothing and worthless.

 

But he’d prove his aunt wrong about one thing…As soon as he was eighteen. He’d move somewhere where no one knew who he or his aunt was. He’d do this on his own. He didn’t need her to pay his way or ride the Hughes coattails to success. He’d made a promise to his parents and he’d keep it…On his own. He didn’t need her….he didn’t need anyone.

 

He pulled into his driveway and parked the motorbike near the stairs. He climbed off and threw his helmet down on the porch as he stalked inside, slamming the door behind him.

 

Rose and Edward both had heard the loud crunch of the door ricocheting against its frame and bouncing open again and came quickly…Rose from her office and Edward from the kitchen.

Rosemary stood with her hands on her hips, staring at her obviously disgruntled nephew who was standing in the foyer displaying an uncharacteristically angry explosion of temper.

 

“John Roderick Gage…What is the meaning of this behavior?” She barked as she came towards him.

 

John’s hands were jammed in his pockets and his face a mask of anger. “THEY TOLD ME AT THE STATION THAT YOU PAID THEM TO LET ME COME THERE,” he yelled accusingly.

 

“Do not use that tone of voice with me young man,” Rosemary snapped back.

 

John was too angry and hurt to heed the warning. “IS IT TRUE?” He barked.

 

“Lower your voice John Roderick and no…It isn’t true.”

 

John swallowed heavily and neither of them noticed the three girls who worked for Rose or Joshua and Tiffany as they gathered in the doorway and at the top of the stairs to listen. John was still angry, his chest heaving more with hurt and confusion than anything else but he at least got his voice under control. “You never sent them money?” He growled suspiciously. Why would that man have told them that if it wasn’t true?

 

Rosemary looked equally angry at this point, part of it was at whoever had told her nephew that she’d sent the money, but it had never been with the intention to pay them to let John hang out there. “I did send them money but…,” she began to explain.

 

John’s face twisted in grief for a brief moment before he caught himself and brought his emotions under control. “WHY?” He barked, interrupting her explanation.

 

“If you’d settle down and let me explain,” she snapped back.

 

“You don’t need to Aunt Rose…He already told me,” he whispered in humiliation. “You think I’m stupid…Because it was the only way…,” he huffed out through the pain in his chest as he gasped for air. “The only way to get them to let your ignorant, HALF BREED nephew to be allowed to go over there,” he finished angrily.

 

Rosemary’s hand lashed out in a fury at the accusation and the horrible slur he’d just used against himself, connecting firmly with her nephew’s cheek. John’s head jerked to the right from the force of it.

 

Everyone in the room seemed frozen in shock at what had just happened…All but John. This was nothing new to him. His hand rose to touch his cheek and the look of betrayal on his face tore at Rosemary’s heart.

 

Grins broke out on Joshua and Tiffany’s faces. Finally…Finally their Mother had opened her eyes to John…Now they were sure she’d send him packing. Edward’s mouth hung open in surprised horror and the girls clapped their hands over their mouths to avoid crying out at what their employer had just done.

 

John stared at his aunt for a few seconds as his fingers touched the stark red handprint on his face. He swallowed heavily and his dark eyes dropped submissively to the floor. His sensitive mouth shook for a moment before he tightened his lips. He’d known it would happen eventually…It always did and this time he’d deserved it. He’d let his temper get the best of him. he knew better than to let his defiance show…What had he been thinking? But still…She’d promised him that she’d never hit him and yet…here they were…

 

John finally noticed the audience of the girls and Edward and the rest of his face flushed as red as the handprint in embarrassment. “I’m sss…sorry,” he stuttered before he turned and ran up the stairs. He slowed at the top as he realized his cousin’s had witnessed the whole humiliating argument and his well deserved comeuppance, at least in his mind it was.

 

Rosemary’s green eyes watched him go. Her hands pressed over her mouth in shock at what had just happened. “Oh dear God, what have I done?” She whispered. Tears filled her eyes and she knew in one split second of anger, she’d undone months of effort to get John to trust her. She looked to Edward who was still rooted in place in disbelief. “JOHN…,” she finally yelled as she took to the stairs to race after the teenager.

 

She stopped at the top as she realized her two children stood there smirking in satisfaction at what they’d witnessed. “It’s about time,” Joshua said smugly.

 

Rosemary’s eyes narrowed. “One more word and you may just get the same. Now get out of my way…I need to find John.”

 

Joshua and Tiffany shared a disgusted glance but neither one wanted to risk her wrath…Neither of them doubted that she’d be too sorry for slapping them if they pushed her. They hastily stepped out of her way.

 

 

Rosemary pushed the door to John’s room open but she didn’t see the teen anywhere. “John?” She called out as she made her way further inside. He wasn’t in sight and the door to the bathroom stood open. She glanced into the sitting room but she didn’t see him there either. She was about to turn away but a small movement caught her eye. She stepped into the sitting room. John sat curled into the corner of the love seat. His knees were drawn up to his chin with his arms wrapped tightly about them. His face rested against them as he rocked slowly.

 

“Oh sweetie,” she said softly. John flinched at the sound of her voice and she knew he was still with her but she also knew he was deeply hurt and very stressed as well. “John…Na’háahketa,” she said quietly as she sat next to him and tried to put her arms about him. John stiffened in her embrace but she didn’t let go.

 

John felt her arms slip around him and tensed, trying to shift his body away from her but she wouldn’t release her hold and he finally grew still in her arms, afraid she’d become angry and he didn’t want to be hit again. He didn’t lift his head as he waited for her to tell him to pack his bags or worse…The next blow to fall.

 

“Look at me sweetie…Please,” she pleaded.

 

John knew he had no choice and he raised his face from his knees to give her a sidelong glance. “I am so, so sorry John. I should never have hit you… I broke my word to you and I’m so sorry. I just got so upset about you using those horrible words about yourself. Can you please forgive me?” She asked as she pulled the teenager against her…Her hand stroked the sable hair gently.

 

Did she mean it? He didn’t matter…He didn’t dare refuse her and besides…He had provoked her. He should never have raised his voice or let his attitude of defiance show. He knew his family in Montana had thought they’d beaten it out of him but John knew the stubborn Gage streak was alive and well…Just carefully hidden from them until he was old enough to leave. He’d learned to be compliant and obedient to avoid being hurt but that didn’t mean he’d given up his dreams, just not to talk about them. He had no choice but to make her happy until he could leave here and go out on his own.

 

She felt the head nod against her shoulder and breathed a sigh of relief. “Sit up sweetie,” she said, easing her hold. John sat up and allowed her to turn his face toward her. She gasped at the darkening bruise on his cheek. Her fingers lightly touched it, drawing a wince from her nephew. “I’m so sorry,” she said again. “But I want you to understand. I sent that money to thank them for being so nice to you….Not to make them let you come there. That was their choice.”

 

The dark eyes flicked toward her uncertainly. Not sure he could believe her. “Captain Hendry said you paid them because I was a half breed mutt,” Rose gasped in outrage.

 

“Who is that…? I would never do that. Where was Captain Calhoun?”

 

John eyes filled with sorrow. “Cap’s gone,” he whispered.

 

“What? Why?”

 

“He fell during a fire…Mr. Abbott said he was paralyzed,” he mumbled.

 

“Oh sweetie…I’m so sorry,” she said again as she flicked her fingers through the sable waves.

 

“The new Captain said I couldn’t come there anymore.”

 

Rose’s eyes filled with anger. “I’m sorry my sweetheart,” she said sincerely. Maybe she shouldn’t interfere but she couldn’t just let this man get away with such a hateful, bigoted remark. She couldn’t change the fact that John couldn’t go to the station anymore but she could be sure this hateful Captain was at least reprimanded for such hateful comments. She knew the rest of the crew had truly seemed to care about John and it broke her heart that he’d been hurt again. How did he stand it? she mused silently. To live with such animosity and for no other reason than that he was different. How could she get him past the insecurities of his past when other people kept throwing those hateful slurs at him?

 

She kissed his forehead gently… “I love you sweetie…I never meant to hurt you,” she assured him.

 

John looked up at her questioningly. Love…? He wasn’t sure he knew what that word meant. Not really. He hadn’t been loved in a very long time and he wasn’t sure he could ever trust anyone enough to believe that without the fear of being rebuffed and rejected again but he saw the sincerity in her eyes. He’d never be able to believe that he was worth being loved, his family had seen to that, but he knew she believed her words…For the moment anyway and he certainly wouldn’t argue with her again, he mused touching his sore cheek once more.

 

“I know you do,” he said quietly, knowing it would please her that he was accepting her words. She smiled and left the room. She had a letter to write.

 

 

Joshua and Tiffany returned to school and the household returned to normal for the next three weeks, though John remained quiet, withdrawn and aloof. He may have forgiven his aunt but he hadn’t forgotten the ringing slap she’d landed either and had no desire for a replay.

 

Rose sighed, knowing she was back to square one with the boy. John appeared to be fine but there was a tell tale watchfulness in the eyes and a wariness in his behavior whenever she moved to quickly or got upset and John stayed away more often than ever. She had no idea that John was making plans of his own.

 

He may have believed her that she hadn’t intended to ‘pay them off’ but what if he stayed here? Would he ever be sure that he what he received was on his own merit and not on her name? He didn’t want that. His Aunt Lacee had assured him that he owed them for everything they’d had to do and he never wanted to be in that kind of debt to anyone again.

 

Drew’s father was paying the boy a small amount of money whenever he helped out and now that he couldn’t go to the station anymore, he spent more of his time with Drew and his dad. John was squirreling the money away. In nine months he’d be sixteen and old enough to drive and while the motorbike was fun, it was limited to fields and back roads.  He wanted to be able to buy a car himself so he’d be more independent.

 

Christmas time rolled around and true to her word, Rosemary planned a trip to Sun Valley. John found himself the recipient of an entire ski ensemble, complete with ski’s, poles, boots and anything else he could possibly need. School let out on Christmas Eve for two weeks. That afternoon John and his Aunt, Joshua, Allison and Tiffany along with their friend Elise were on a plane to Idaho.

 

John sighed as the plane taxied down the runway…He’d rather have stayed home than be stuck with his cousins for the next four days but there was no way out. Rosemary insisted that it be a family trip and while John didn’t consider himself a part of their family…Rose did. John sat back and enjoyed the view as the plane rose into the air. He just hoped his cousins didn’t shove him off a mountain.

 

 

John’s natural sense of balance proved to be a great asset on the ski slopes and under Elise’s doting tutelage, he quickly began to pick it up, much to his cousin’s disgust.

 

She’d started at the same finishing school as Tiffany this year and had plenty of time to wear her down over the first semester. She’d begged Tiffany to invite her along in order to be closer to John and she was enjoying every minute of it. John had obviously gotten over some of his shyness around girls and Elise felt a pang of jealousy for those lucky young females who’d had the privilege to educate him. She’d hoped for a chance to spend some time alone with him but Rosemary seemed to sense her intent and kept John close under the pretense that she wanted this to be a family get together and after three days, hadn’t actually had more than a few minutes alone to share with the teen.

 

She came down the stairs in her bathing suit and bathrobe to head for the hot tub after a long, frustrating day on the slopes. She slid the door open and gasped in disbelief. Finally… John was in the hot tub and he was alone. His head was tipped back and his gorgeous dark eyes were closed as he relaxed in the steaming water.

 

“Hello John…Mind if I join you?” She asked with a coy smile.

 

John jumped and sat upright…Nearly sliding off the small seat and floundering to catch himself before he went under.

 

Elise giggled but didn’t give him a chance to decline as she slipped from her robe and slid into the water next to him.

 

John coughed and sputtered as he regained his seat, pushing the sopping sable hair from his face. “Sorry…You startled me,” he mumbled uncomfortably at the woman’s nearness. John sensed something different in Elise than the other girls he’d dated. They’d been his own age, and as innocent as he was about dating, but Elise…? Elise was a woman and innocent was definitely NOT a word he’d use to describe the way she sometimes touched him…Forcing his teenage body to react embarrassingly at times. John often had to will his wayward body into submission or make a fool of himself.

 

John cast her a shy, sideways glance as she edged closer. “I’m sorry John…I didn’t mean to startle you,” she said laying her hand on John’s bicep. John licked his lips nervously, merely enhancing the girls desire to get closer to him as her eyes watched the innocent gesture intently.

 

The teenager shifted uncomfortably under the scrutiny. “I’m so glad Tiff asked me to come along on this trip,” she said leaning closer.

 

John looked away… “How come?” He asked naively.

 

Elise laughed. “So I could get to know you better silly.”

 

John’s head whipped around in shock at her words and he suddenly found himself almost nose to nose with the girl. She grinned up at him…Her fingers resting on his chest. John felt his body react and his breathing grew a bit more difficult at her nearness. Water beaded on her chest and ran in rivulets between her breasts. His eyes followed the path until he suddenly realized what he was doing and jumped again…His eyes flying up to look her in the face.

 

She giggled. “Relax John…I’m not going to bite you,” she teased him gently. “At least not yet.”

 

John’s eyes widened in absolute terror… What was she doing? Her wet fingers lifted to caress his cheek and he could feel the water dribbling down his face. He started to turn away but her hand held his face securely. Their eyes locked and John almost groaned as his own body betrayed him yet again.

 

She leaned forward and let her mouth catch his. John fought it for a few seconds before he let himself relax with the pleasant feelings she was provoking. He’d certainly learned about this part of the dating scene in the last few months and it was something he enjoyed as well but until now, he’d been merely playing at it. This was different. Her mouth parted his lips and her tongue touched his. John’s eyes flew open and caught with hers once again. She gave him a subtle nod without breaking the kiss. His hands slid around her, pulling her closer as new sensations flooded his body. 

 

She moaned softly as his fingers moved over her bare skin. Damn…This boy learned fast and she was glad of that. He imitated her actions and let his mouth play over hers and hoped he wasn’t making a fool of himself. Elise grinned and she was about to urge him even further but they both heard the voices approaching the room just before the door slid open.

 

John jerked back...His face flushing in embarrassment as his Cousins and Allison came into the room. Elise groaned in disappointment and moved away.

 

“What’s going on here?” Joshua demanded looking between the two very red faced occupants of the tub.

 

“Nothing,” John muttered without even looking at them. He stood up and bolted from the water. He grabbed a towel and wrapped it around his body and without so much as a glance at the others, fled the room, leaving them all frowning in confusion...All but one, who licked her lips and grinned. She wasn’t through with John Gage just yet.

 

Much to her disappointment, he made it a point to steer clear of the girl for the rest of the day, unsure if she’d been taunting him or if she’d been serious but either way…He wasn’t quite ready for that just yet.

 

They returned to San Gabriel the next morning and Joshua announced his engagement to Allison much to his delight and his mother’s disgust. The girl was harmless enough just brainless and she’d hoped Joshua would look beyond the shallowness of the pretty face but then again…He was just as shallow…They’d make a good couple.

 

 

Over the next few months John continued to work hard and had squirreled away a pretty good sum of money. He double dated with Drew and Pam on occasions but stuck to the girls his own age who expected a kiss or two in the backseat or when he said goodnight on the porch. He avoided any relationship that expected too much from him and when some chick got too interested he’d find a reason to move on. He never talked about himself but became very adept at turning the subject away from him and on to something else.

 

Rosemary was away more and more often, handling her business and social affairs and leaving John to his own devices but at least Edward was always around to see to his needs.

 

Drew graduated from high school that June. John was really gonna miss him at school but the older boy continued to hang out with John after school. He and Pam planned to get married when she graduated the following June. In the meantime, he’d submitted his application to the police academy in Los Angeles and was just waiting to hear back from them.

 

  In the meantime, the two boys spent most of the time tearing apart Drew’s car and putting it back together. They went bowling, swimming, hiking, camping, movies and skateboarding and the time seemed to fly past for John. His sixteenth birthday approached and Rosemary asked him if he wanted a party but John shook his head…He was still ashamed of the fact that he had no name among his mother’s people.  True to her word, she didn’t try to force him into a social gathering that would make him uncomfortable. She did however help him get his license and while she would have bought him a car…John refused and proudly returned home one day with a rather well used VW Bus. Joshua and Tiffany of course sneered at his purchase but John didn’t care…It was his own and no one could take it from him.

Rose threw him a confused glance at the beat up vehicle but at the same time she had to feel rather proud that her nephew chose to do things on his own…He’d be a good man one day. Just like his father.

Chapter 46

The Late Sixties

Vietnam 1966

Roy DeSoto trudged along beside the rest of the platoon of men escorting the Medical Unit Self-Contained Transport (MUST) unit to its new location less than two miles from the area they were currently holding in Tay Ninh, Vietnam. The Mobile Army Surgical Hospital they’d been assigned to was set up over twelve miles back. The MUST unit was inflatable and easily torn down and set up and could quickly treat the injured before sending them to the more permanent MASH unit for further treatment.

They’d been steadily advancing over the last few days, following behind a rifle platoon of the 319th and they had seen plenty of casualties. They were all exhausted and ready to make camp but they hadn’t yet found a suitable site.

The men ahead of them had been clearing the way for the unit following. They heard gunfire ahead of them and Roy sighed. They’d be in for another long night of surgeries from the sound of it. His friend, Rudy Ames was walking along next to him…He’d been complaining of being stuck with escort duty for the medical team and had told Roy he wanted into the thick of it.

The blonde man shook his head as he thought of some of the wounds and missing limbs he’d seen over the last two years…He was quite happy to remain back here assisting the doctors and medics. He only had a couple of months to go before he’d be heading home to Joanne. He was looking forward to marrying the beautiful auburn haired woman and patted his pocket where her last letter was safely tucked away for him to read once they’d made camp.

He knew it would be full of stories about her psychology classes and reminiscences of his last leave and the time spent in the back seat of his Chevy. Roy grinned at the thought but it faded at Rudy’s hurrumph of annoyance at being back here with them instead of on the front lines.

“Don’t worry buddy…From the sound of it you may actually make it to the front lines,” he said drily.

“Well it would be about time,” he growled irately.

Roy grimaced at the blood thirsty sounding words. He’d never understand people who seemed to enjoy hurting others. Roy wanted to heal not kill but he had a rifle and he knew how to use it if it was asked of him.

They finally broke through the trees and entered a clearing and the Sergeant leading the group called a halt. “We’ll set up here men,” he directed, turning away to issue more instructions. Roy gratefully dropped his pack and blew out a tired breath. He knew he wasn’t through yet…They still had a lot of work ahead of them.

Sergeant Bradley turned to Rudy Ames. “I need you to take fifteen men and head up to help with the advance.” Despite his tough talk, Roy was sure he saw his friends face pale a little with his words.

“Yes sir,” he barked throwing him a salute as he started pointing at others in the group. “You, you and you...,” he began.

 

Roy’s attention was caught by Bradley once again. “I’m gonna need a corpsman and a medic DeSoto…Take Henley and go along and triage the wounded.”

 

Roy saluted crisply and re-shouldered his pack, he hefted the rifle to his shoulder before he and Henley set out after Rudy and the others as his remaining squad mates and medics began to set up tents.

 

 

Roy trotted along behind the others as they made their way through the jungle around them. It was slow going for the advance team as they had to hack their way through some of the denser brush that covered the ground beneath their feet.

 

Roy, Rudy and the rest of the men could hear he gun fire as they advanced on the position that the 319th was currently holding.

 

Roy shifted his pack as nervous perspiration beaded his face and neck and trickled in rivulets down his back, soaking his shirt. Mosquito’s swarmed about them in the humid jungle, drawn by the men’s sweat.

 

The sergeant finally waved them to a halt. His counterpart with the 319th slipped back through the brush to join him.

 

“They’ve got us pinned down up there. They’ve got a gun emplacement nestled in that stand of Rocks and trees up ahead. I need you and your men to try and circle around them and drive them out. We can take them from there while their distracted by you.”

 

Sergeant Bradley nodded and turned back to his men. “DeSoto, Henley...You hang back here in case of casualties…You seven head out that way,” he indicated to Rudy and six others by waving to the left. “Stay low.” He turned to the remainder of the squad. “You seven go around to the right…You should be able to use those rocks for cover.”

 

The others all nodded and Roy glanced at his friend. Rudy’s face was pale with fear. Roy gave him a pat on the back. “This is the chance you’ve been waiting for buddy,” he encouraged his friend.

 

The other man tried to smile but it fell flat. Roy was almost sure the man was shaking in terror. He understood…He was scared too but he was here to do a job and he’d see to it that it got done…He was sure Rudy would too.

 

The group of men split up and headed in opposite directions. Rudy was lagging behind the others and Roy frowned worriedly as he watched him go.

 

Roy and Henley were setting up in the event of casualties which were almost a certainty. The strawberry blonde, twenty year olds eyes returned repeatedly to where his friend and the others had gone. He could see them stealthily making their way through the overgrown brush. His eyes returned to the emplacement and he knew his friends were most likely invisible to the men inside it…At least for the moment but that would soon change. It did…Almost within seconds of the thought.

 

Machine gun fire erupted from the left and Roy and Henley turned quickly…Their eyes scanning the brush for the men. They could See Lt. Dale Maxwell waving at his men as they dove for cover. He was shouting orders and the men began to return fire.  Roy’s eyes turned to the front and he realized that they weren’t firing…There must be a second emplacement and they’d walked right into it.

 

He saw one man fall and knew he was in trouble. The others continued to fire. Maxwell once again shouted toward Rudy…He shook his head as he looked toward the fallen man. Another fell and Rudy finally took action. He began to run toward the first soldier who had fallen and Roy thought he meant to try and carry him from the action to safety. His blue eyes widened as his friend ran past the downed soldier. Another shout from Maxwell was heard but Roy couldn’t make out the words. Another soldier fell but too far away to get too just yet.

 

Rudy suddenly jerked as the sound of another burst of gun fire echoed in the jungle. He fell and screamed in pain as he grabbed at his side.

 

“Come on Henley,” Roy yelled as he ran toward the fallen men. The Medic looked at him as if he was crazy but he finally followed. Roy stayed low as he ran to the men. The sound of gunfire was deafening as the second group of soldiers opened fire on the emplacement from the other side.

 

The Vietcong returned fire but now they were outnumbered and out flanked. Roy stopped by the first man he came to…His friend. He stared down at him for a long moment, troubled by his friend’s actions but still uncertain if he’d actually been running or trying to gain a better position. Roy leaned over him and checked the wound.

 

“You’ll be okay buddy,” he assured his friend. “Hang on and let me check Steve.”

 

“Bleeding Roy…Nee…need help,” he wept.

 

“Yeah I know…Just hang tight.” Roy moved to the next man and his blue eyes closed in grief. There was nothing he could do for him. He looked to Henley. “What have you got?”

 

“He’s alive…Barely,” he muttered as he struggled to get the fallen man on his shoulder.” Roy ran to help him…Bullets zipped about like deadly mosquito’s zinging past his ears and the blonde man ducked but continued on. He finally got the other two started back to safety and turned to help his friend. He heard the screams of the enemy as their small emplacement was overrun by the remaining men from Rudy’s squad. Roy heaved his friend to a sitting position and hauled him over his shoulder…He staggered briefly before getting his feet under him and began to run.

 

The sounds of screaming, dying men and gunfire filled the air. Explosions followed as the enemy began their last stand in the first emplacement…Lobbing grenades at the advancing Americans. Roy heard a small thud and glanced around…A grenade had landed just a few feet away.

 

He threw Rudy from his shoulder near a stand of trees and dove on top of him as the deafening sound of an explosion filled the air once more. Roy felt pain blossom in his shoulder and back as flying shrapnel rained down around him…He felt the warm trickle of blood through his sweat soaked shirt. He finally struggled to his feet despite the pain and once again managed to get his friend propped against the tree. “We’re gonna die,” Rudy sobbed as he twisted against the trunk of the tree.

 

Roy gasped in pain as he hauled the weeping man to his shoulder. He staggered on. He finally made it back to where Henley had set his own injured man and the brown haired medic helped him get Ames off his shoulder and set him down. “You’re bleeding DeSoto,” Henley said, looking slightly shocked that he’d still managed to get Rudy Ames to safety even though he’d obviously been wounded himself.

 

Roy nodded, feeling a bit dizzy as he tried to stand to grab his pack…The sounds of battle abruptly stopped and he knew his squad and the 319th had finally taken down the nest. He wobbled unsteadily for a moment as he made it to the pack and then returned to his friend. He managed to open a roll of gauze and began to bandage the wound on his friend’s side. He saw the squad returning…Some of them were limping or holding minor wounds but they were on their feet and that’s all Roy cared about. Maxwell looked to where the two medics were working on his two fallen men and made his way toward them. He saw the blood on Roy’s back. “You okay DeSoto?” He asked worriedly.

 

“He got hit with some shrapnel carrying Ames off the field,” Henley advised his commander.

 

Maxwell shot what appeared to Roy as a look of pure venom at Rudy. Roy’s blue eyes looked up at the man…The sun was beating down over his shoulder and once again his head swam…

 

“I’ll uh…I’ll be o…kay,” Roy slurred thickly as darkness started crowding in. He saw Bradley running toward them and Maxwell staring down at Rudy and spitting at the man’s feet but he turned quickly as Roy’s blue eyes began to roll upwards. He managed to grab him before he hit the ground and gently lowered him the rest of the way.

 

 

 

 Roy finally opened his eyes a long while later. He moved stiffly and felt a painful pull at his shoulder and upper back.  He suddenly realized his arm was firmly strapped to his shoulder.

 

“Just lie still son,” a man’s voice said from beside him. He rolled his head and saw a man in a surgeon’s scrubs standing beside him with a chart in hand.

 

“Wha…Happ…ened? He asked in a gravelly voice.

 

“You took a hit from some shrapnel…Umm… DeSoto,” he replied, glancing at the name at the top of his chart.

 

“Shrap…nel?” He muttered in confusion. Would he lose his arm, he mused worriedly?

 

“Yes…But don’t worry…We got it all out and there probably won’t be any permanent damage.”

 

Roy nodded gratefully. “Thank you sir,” he mumbled through the drugs he’d been given. “Wha…What about the…others sir?”

 

The man frowned. “There were several casualties DeSoto but I’m told the man you carried off the battlefield is gonna make it,” he said sourly. “So is the other man the medics brought in.” He patted Roy’s arm…”That was a pretty brave thing to do son,” he said gently, despite the other soldiers actions.  What he’d heard from the Sergeant and the Lieutenant about the incident…Well…That certainly wasn’t DeSoto’s fault and he’d still acted as a hero to run out there to save the wounded.

 

“How many?” Roy asked worriedly, remembering what he’d seen.

 

“Four dead,” he answered honestly. “Three wounded but they’re gonna be fine…Now. You just lie back there and get some sleep…You earned it.” Roy nodded and laid his head back.

 

Four dead, Roy mused miserably. He’d seen his friend run…How could he have left his brothers on the field like that? Roy was too drugged to stay awake enough to dwell on it for very long but he’d never forget.

 

Three days later they were preparing to move him and the other wounded to a MASH unit to continue their recovery. Lt. Maxwell and Sergeant Bradley stopped by to visit him before they loaded him into the ambulance. “Hey Roy…,” Bradley greeted sitting beside him.

 

“Sir,” he replied.

 

“We just wanted to tell you how proud we were of you out there…Took a lot of guts for you to run out there. Henley said he wouldn’t have gone if you hadn’t taken off like that,” he teased the younger man.

 

Roy grinned. “I doubt that sir…He was right on my heels.”

 

Both men chuckled at that. “So you were both brave or nuts…We haven’t figured it out yet. Still you saved Ames’ life by covering him with your body,” he added grudgingly, though the tone said it wouldn’t have been worth the sacrifice in his opinion. Maxwell frowned as well.

 

Roy looked away in embarrassment for his friend. It still left him cold to think that he’d abandoned his position…Had any of the others died because of it? Would he have left him the same way? “Yes sir,” he whispered in distress.

 

The two officers exchanged a glance. “Just get well DeSoto.”

 

The younger man nodded and they left. Awhile later they were loaded on trucks for the ride back to the MASH unit. Roy glanced over and saw Rudy on another stretcher not far away. Thankfully he was spared trying to come up with something to say for the moment. The man was still sedated and was sleeping soundly.

 

Roy turned away and let the rocking of the vehicle lull him into sleep.

 

 

 

Rudy was in the same ward but three beds further down the row from him when Roy finally woke again. He glanced around and realized that he must have been more exhausted then he’d thought as he’d slept through the entire trip as well as being transferred into a bed.

 

He managed to push himself upright on the bed which brought a young army nurse running. “Lay down soldier,” she commanded, snapping up his chart to find out his name. “DeSoto?” She questioned, giving him an up and down glance.

 

He nodded… “I need a latrine,” he muttered.

 

”Shoulder wound?”  She read off the chart. She waved an orderly over with a wheel chair at his affirmative nod. “Take him to the latrine,” she instructed.

 

The man nodded and helped Roy into the chair. He wheeled him down the row and he spotted Rudy. The man was awake this time and threw Roy a brave smile and a small hand wave. Roy nodded his head in acknowledgement before the orderly pushed him on past. The blonde still wasn’t certain what he would say to the man when it came time.

 

They’d talked many times about after the war…When they were home and that maybe Rudy would look into fire fighting the same as Roy… The young, blonde man had been excited at that prospect then, but now…? He didn’t think he’d want the man watching his back. He’d need someone he could trust with his life.

 

 

 

Roy’s arm remained firmly strapped to his chest over the next week. Any movement seemed to bring a painful pull at his shoulder blade and back. His muscles ached and he knew it could take weeks before it completely healed.

 

Rudy was also healing slowly but the surgeons scratched their heads in concern that he still seemed to be in so much pain. The X-Rays showed that the internal damage was healing well and the incision was clean and knitting perfectly.

 

Roy was practically begging to be up and around, while Rudy moaned pathetically with every movement. His blue eyes wandered toward his friend and squinted suspiciously as the man shifted under the covers in his sleep without a hint of discomfort. Roy laid back and closed his eyes… His mind replaying once again the scene from the battle field. It took a long while for him to fall asleep.

 

He slept off and on over the course of the day but his eyes returned repetitively to his buddy whenever he was awake. The man looked like death warmed over, at least from his expression when he was conscious.

 

Roy watched him curiously, he didn’t seem to be in much pain when he slept which was confusing for Roy. He couldn’t stay asleep for more than an hour or so before some small motion would cause a painful pulling that would wake him and he wondered how Rudy slept so soundly through it. He didn’t dwell on it to long though, he was too tired to stay awake himself.

 

Roy was a light sleeper and he was awaked sometime in the middle of the night by a muffled thump, followed by a soft curse. He glanced over and stared in shock as he saw his friend on his feet and carefully making his way to a small cart that held a water pitcher and Styrofoam cups. Rudy had been moaning and groaning and complaining for days that he could even sit up much less walk. Apparently that wasn’t true and Roy shook his head in dismay…How could he have been so wrong about his friend?

 

 

 

It was three days more before they removed the shoulder wrappings. His arm was still pulling when he moved but they’d told him that it would most likely heal fine with some therapy. He’d continued to watch his friend…No…his squad mate over that time. Rudy was still playing his game and Roy had to argue with himself about what he should do.

 

The man had been a good friend over the last two years and Roy had thought they were close. He guessed it just proved you really couldn’t know anyone as well as you thought and you needed to be on guard about showing those feelings of friendship to those who would take advantage of them.

 

He knew he should tell someone that he wasn’t as badly hurt as he was pretending to be but then they’d do one of two things. Court martial him for cowardice and because of their past friendship, Roy didn’t want to do that. He understood fear. Hell they were all afraid…No one wanted to die but to abandon his brothers on the field like that…Roy shook his head. He couldn’t understand it and Rudy hadn’t even once asked about him and his condition nor even thanked him for saving his life.

 

The second option would be when they were well, to send him back with them to the MUST unit closer to the front where the battle was still being fought on a daily basis. Roy didn’t want that either. If Rudy ran from his post again, more soldiers could die. Neither was an acceptable option. He wondered how much Maxwell had seen and what he’d do about it.

 

The surgeon and his Roy’s commanding officer came to visit him later that afternoon. Roy gave the man an awkward salute from his prone position, drawing a grin and return salute from him.

 

“Well DeSoto…It looks as if you lucked out,” Bradley said, smiling smugly.

 

Roy looked confused. “Why’s that sir?” He questioned with a frown.

 

“You got a million dollar wound kid,” he teased.

 

“Huh?”

 

The man chuckled. “The doc’s think your shoulder is gonna require some therapy to get it back in shape.”

 

Roy’s eyes flared in fear. If his shoulder was permanently disabled, he’d never get into the fire department which is what he’d joined the military for to begin with. Being a corpsman would have almost guaranteed his admission to the academy when he returned but not if he was disabled. He was going to argue that he could go back to his unit but the man saw the flare of concern and interrupted his musings.

 

“Don’t worry DeSoto…They think you’ll be fine but you were scheduled to be discharged in a couple of months…They figure there’s no point in rehabbing you to return you to your unit for a week or two, so you’re going home.”

 

Roy sat in silent shock for a long moment. Home…? To Joanne, and getting married, and starting a family of their own…The academy. It was all going to happen. “Th…thank you sir,” he finally managed. The other man smiled. “Uh sir?” He began hesitantly as his eyes shifted to Rudy. “What about Ames sir?”

 

Bradley frowned unhappily. “Hmmmf,” he grunted disgust. “The doctor’s here can’t figure out what’s wrong with him…Personally, I think,” he began and then shook his head as if to negate the thought. “Well it doesn’t matter what I think,” he concluded not wanting to admit that he thought the man was a coward and a fake. That he wasn’t hurt as badly as he was pretending but he wasn’t a doctor and he couldn’t prove it. Maxwell had told him he’d seen Ames run from the battle but the man wasn’t certain that he’d been fleeing or trying to help a fallen brother. Roy was the only one who’d been in position to witness the entire scene and knew for sure that Rudy had no intention of helping anyone but himself but neither of the men knew that either.

 

“They’ll most likely send him to Germany to the military hospital there and then send him home,” His tour would be up around the same time as Roy’s but as far as Maxwell and Bradley were concerned... Roy had earned his discharge and Ames should be court martialed.

 

His tone had told Roy very clearly that he hated the idea of Rudy being sent home but in the long run…It might be better for everyone if he was.

 

Several days later Roy was in a wheelchair, waiting to be taken to the airfield with several others who were being returned to the US…Their tour done with the grateful thanks of their country…Rudy would leave tomorrow for Germany and his long recovery.

 

An orderly grabbed the handles of the chair and began to wheel him toward the exit but Rudy’s weak voice stopped him.

 

“Www…wait Roy...,” said quietly. The orderly stopped and much to Roy’s dismay steered him over to the other man. “I uh…I just wanted to say goodbye,” he said in a bare whisper, sounding as if he were dying but Roy knew better.

 

“Yeah…I’ll uh…I’ll see ya…Hope you get better Rudy,” Roy said softly. Meaning it in more ways than one. He hoped he’d his former friend would be able to live with himself for what he’d done.

 

“I won’t forget what you did for me Roy…Or your friendship. You’re my best friend…,” he mumbled.

 

Roy frowned. “Yeah…Okay…Look the planes waiting…I uh…I gotta go. Get well Rudy,” he said simply as he waved the orderly to turn him around and leave. Rudy frowned at his buddy’s coolness and wondered just how much Roy had seen. If he’d seen it all and wasn’t telling than he owed him even more. DeSoto was the best.

 

An hour later, Roy was on his way home to Joanne and their future together…He hoped he’d be able to just put Rudy in his past and go on with his life.

 

 

 

Chapter 47

 

Coming of Age

 

Time had flown by for John and he found the holiday season was rolling around once again. Johnny could only hope that it would be better than last years, though he had to admit that skiing hadn’t been THAT bad with Elise along, he mused as he remembered the incident in the hot tub.

 

The girl had returned from school with Tiffany on several occasions and always made it a point to spend time with John, though they were never alone. Rosemary had noted the woman’s renewed interest in her handsome nephew and never left them together for too long. John was too young and naive for this girl as far as she was concerned.

 

Johnny managed to avoid the Thanksgiving Day get together even though his grandparents hadn’t been invited this year. Several other people had and he’d been uncomfortable. He’d made it a point to take off and go fishing for the day, only this time he’d been prepared.

 

He returned home as the rest of the guests were finishing their meal and were retreating to the sitting room for after dinner drinks. He slipped into his chair to eat in privacy. Rose gave him a fake scowl, knowing he’d done it on purpose but understanding that he hated being around her pretentious friends…Come to think of it…She didn’t enjoy it as much as she used to either.

 

She did enjoy jumping in to all of the committees and business relationships she’d established from her husband’s ventures and strangely preferred being home and chatting with the help about their own personal lives then talking to the people she’d been friends with for years and yet hardly knew them at all…Not really anyway.

 

Christmas rolled around once more and John was hoping for a quiet day in his room. It was breezy and cold and his Aunt had told him there was no going out for an entire day as he had last Thanksgiving and coming home sick again and John sighed…There was no help for it. He’d just have to deal with it and it was just Rose and his cousins this year. Allison was joining them as she and Joshua were to be married in May after he got out of school for the summer.

 

Edward had set up a Christmas tree last night and John had remembered his teacher setting up one many years ago and his fascination with it. He remembered the fight his mom had had with his grandparents over having one…They’d reminded her that he wasn’t like the other kids in town but they’d also made it clear that he hadn’t been like the ones on the reservation either. Now it was just a reminder that he didn’t really belong anywhere or have a family at all.

 

He shrugged as he got dressed. It was just for one day and it would make Rosemary happy and John liked that. He had to admit that she’d been very good to him really and had finally given up on forcing him into fitting the mold of her snooty friends and just let him be himself and John always tried harder to please her and be on his best behavior when he couldn’t avoid those situations. He hadn’t let down his guard though, he was well aware of how fast things could change. John preferred to stay to himself and not give her a reason to become angry with him and send him away.

 

He blew out a breath and wondered how long he had to stay before he could politely disappear back to his room. He finally headed downstairs.

 

Breakfast was its usual quiet affair whenever Joshua and Tiffany were around. John preferred to simply eat and let the boring conversation of their plans drift past him. Whenever they attempted their subtle taunts or rude questions about his personal life John would simply speak with his mouth full and the two would draw themselves up in annoyance at his lack of table manners while Rose would usually giggle behind her hand as she realized his obvious tactics to make them leave him alone.

 

They finally moved to the sitting room where the Christmas tree had been set up. John gave it a cursory glance. It was far more elegant than the one his teacher had put up in her classroom…the ornaments expensive and sparkling. John sighed and glanced at his watch…nope…Still too early to make an escape.

 

He watched silently as gifts were handed out. He expected nothing from his cousins and was unsurprised that it was exactly what he got but he really didn’t care…His aunt finally picked up a gift from under the tree and handed it to him. He glanced up at her in surprise.

“You didn’t think I’d forget you did you?” She asked smiling before she leaned down and kissed his cheek.

 

John shrugged. This was the first gift he’d ever received ON Christmas day. His father had brought him things when he came home but it usually was weeks after the real holiday so it didn’t feel the same.

 

“Thank you,” he finally said, throwing her a crooked grin. He pulled the paper off and grinned happily at the contents. “Thank you Aunt Rose,” he breathed with more excitement as he pulled the box from the wrappings. He pulled the expensive Camera from the box and began to examine it. He’d seen Aunt Rosemary’s camera last year and had fallen in love with taking pictures. Putting memories on film and being able to go back and look at them over and over again. For a boy who’d lost his parents at a young age, it had been a fascinating feeling and he’d wished he’d had a photograph of his mom and dad to remember them by.

 

There was one of his father from before he’d gone off to war on Rosemary’s table in the sitting room, but he’d been very young and it didn’t really look like the man John had remembered. The gift couldn’t give him his parents back but it would help him to capture the moments now and be able to hold on to them…Treasure a captured sunrise or sunset or an eagle in flight  so he’d never forget. He didn’t know if she understood his passion for it but she’d clearly remembered he’d been enraptured by it.

 

Rosemary smiled at the excitement that lit the teen’s eyes and was rather pleased with herself for finally finding something that made him happy.

 

The doorbell rang interrupting the moment. Rose frowned, wondering who’d be on her doorstep that early in the morning on Christmas day. Her gasp of shocked surprise warned John that he most likely wasn’t going to like it either. He turned slowly and the gift was forgotten as his heart sank. Why were they here?  Edward stood behind them looking shocked himself at their unexpected visit.

 

 

“Mom…Dad,” Rose said, looking surprised.

 

“Grandmother, grandfather,” Joshua and Tiffany greeted simultaneously. They all looked toward John whose face remained frozen with indecision.

 

He turned toward his Aunt. “Did you invite them here?” He asked suspiciously.

 

“No sweetie,” she assured him, seeing the wary look that returned to his eyes. Her heart felt like it was dropping into her stomach at the betrayed look.

 

“No John…We weren’t invited,” Lenora began.

 

“But my wife insisted we come so that we could be with our grandchildren,” he finished as his eyes swept over Joshua and Tiffany and deliberately not looking at his third grandchild. Rose stiffened indignantly at the obvious snubbing of her nephew.

 

Lenora stepped forward to try and head off the order to leave before it came. She could see the fury building in her daughters face and the one of stone on Roderick’s son.

 

“Please…I wanted to see my grandchildren on Christmas…All of them,” she added, looking at John. She gave him a tentative half smile and her green eyes wandered over him. “Oh Jonathan…He looks just like Roderick,” she whispered as her hands rested on her cheeks with the pleased realization that John was as handsome as his dad had been.

 

John said nothing for a long moment, just continued to stare coldly back at the couple who had made it clear they wanted nothing to do with him or his mother. “I also look half like my mother,” he said finally, letting her know that he wasn’t ashamed of his heritage.

 

Lenora flushed a bit. “Of course you do John…She was a beautiful woman.”

 

His grandfather rolled his eyes. “For an ignorant savage,” he growled.  Joshua and Tiffany laughed. Rosemary’s eyes filled with rage.

 

“JONATHAN!” Lenora pleaded desperately.

 

John dropped the camera on the sofa cushion...His face flushed with fury and eyes narrowed angrily as he launched from the sofa. “My mother was a beautiful and kind woman. She was wise and had a loving heart…None of those things could be bought with your money. The only ignorant ones here are you and your grandchildren who are too blinded by arrogance to see what really mattered,” John yelled. “Thankfully my father could.” John stalked past them and ran for the stairs.

 

“JOHN…!” Rosemary called after him, but the teenager kept going.

 

Edwards face was red with barely contained anger. Why had they come here? Why couldn’t they just have stayed away and not spoiled John’s Christmas? He looked to his employer who stood with her hands on her hips glaring at her father.

 

“I can’t believe you just did that,” she growled angrily. “How dare you come into my home…His home and talk to him like that.”

 

“Watch who you’re talking to Rosemary…I’m still your father,” he snapped back.

 

“No…No you’re not. My father was a kind man. He loved his children and he’d have moved heaven and earth for them. I don’t know who you are anymore…,” she snarled.

 

Jonathan drew himself up indignantly. “Rosemary Lenora…,” he began but Rose was having none of it. 

 

“Get out…Leave right now and don’t come back until you can treat John with the respect he deserves. I’m sorry mother…I know you wanted to get to know him but I will not subject him to this abuse. He’s had enough of it.”

 

Her mother looked shocked at that statement but she never had a chance to reply as Rose turned and ran up the stairs after John. Joshua and Tiffany’s mouth dropped open but neither of them dared to interfere or they’d receive the same fate.

 

Edward turned and swept his hand toward the door. Mr. and Mrs. Gage,” he said as politely as possible through his clenched teeth.

 

Lenora burst into tears and shot an angry look at her husband who was still looking surprised that he’d just been thrown out of his own daughter’s home because of that little half Indian teenager his son had whelped. What had Rosemary meant by he’d had enough of it? Abuse? Had someone abused her grandson? She’d call her later..She needed to know but right now she had to leave.

 

Lenora headed for the door without another word. Edward held her coat while she shrugged into it. He almost smirked at what Jonathan Gage would be getting on his two hour ride back to Santa Barbara.

 

The man snatched his hat from Edward as he stalked past the servant. The butler barely managed to keep from hitting him in the butt with the door as he slammed it behind them.

 

 

Rose pushed the door to John’s room open and peeked around the edge. John was nowhere in sight and her heart picked up its pace a bit, fearing he’d fled down the backstairs before she heard a small sound from the sitting room.

 

She crossed the bedroom and stopped. John sat curled on the sofa, his face a mask of cold anger. He glanced up as she came inside.

 

“I won’t go back down there and I won’t apologize,” he said stubbornly as she sat beside him.

 

“I didn’t come up here to make you apologize háaketa,” she reassured him.  “He was wrong, not you.”

 

John shot her a sideways glance and saw the anger reflected in her face but he didn’t care…She could beat him bloody if she wanted to but he wouldn’t take any more insults about his mother. “Why do they hate her?” He whispered forlornly. “She was the sweetest woman I have ever known. She had no unkind thing to say about anyone, even those who deserved it,” he said sadly.

 

Rose put her arms around him and despite the stiffening of her nephew’s body, she pulled him into her arms. “I know that my darling. Your mother was kind and gentle. A beautiful woman both physically and in spirit. I’m so sorry he said those horrible things about her. I loved your mom…I want you to know that. We were friends.”

 

John looked at her and for a brief moment she thought she saw the glisten of unshed tears but John blinked them away. He finally nodded. “She spoke well of you,” he said quietly.

 

Rose smiled and hugged him tighter. “I love you my little one,” she murmured against the sable hair. John’s face flushed crimson and she giggled. “Can you come down stairs now?” John shook his head. “They’re gone…I made them leave,” she promised.

 

“I’d rather just be alone for a while,” he said quietly. She nodded, depressed that her parents had spoiled his Christmas yet again and knowing she’d never win the fight if she pushed him. The Gage stubborn streak was a mile wide in her nephew.

 

“Alright sweetie. Just come down when you’re ready.”

 

John nodded and gave her a rueful smile as she left. He could barely wait the almost two years until he’d be old enough to leave and go out on his own. Rosemary was okay…But he wouldn’t return here if he could help it.

CHAPTER 48

Three Weddings

 

 

John’s new camera proved to be a great new opportunity for him when he returned to school. The high school newspaper editor had asked for photos of the surrounding mountains to put in the next edition. John had shrugged at Pam’s insistence that he share some of those he’d taken with his new camera.

 

The editor had been stunned at raw beauty of John’s photographs…Sunrises and sunsets over the mountains, taken from what appeared to be the very edge of some high summit. There were shots of wildlife and flowers that bloomed in open fields. Of gathering clouds and lightning strikes and he had to wonder where the boy went to get these shots.

 

He’d taken them all and then asked John if he would be willing to work for him and the paper. He’d supply the film and teach him how to use the camera to its best potential and how to develop the photo’s as well. John shrugged and agreed…It would help pass the time.

 

By the time May rolled around, John had become fairly proficient with the camera and was looking forward to the summer when he and Drew could head over to the beach and catch some great shots but Drew burst that bubble shortly after Pam graduated.

 

They were hiking in the hills and John was searching for some new places and things to take pictures of. They finally found a fallen tree and sat on it to take a breather and a drink of water from the canteen John always carried.

 

“Hey Johnny…I wanted to tell you something,” Drew began uneasily. The blonde boy knew that he and Pam were the only close friends that John had and it sort of hurt to tell him this but he had to do it.

 

“Okay,” John agreed, looking at his friend curiously.

 

“You know that Pam and I are gonna get married in a couple of weeks?”

 

“Yeah…The week before my cousin,” John agreed.

 

“Yeah…Well I,” he looked over at the expressive brown eyes that were filled with curiosity at what he had to say.  “I got accepted by the academy John…I start in three weeks.”

 

John grinned. “Wow…That’s so cool Drew,” he said excitedly but the words trailed off at Drew’s miserable look. “What’s wrong?” He asked worriedly.

 

“It’s in LA Johnny.”

 

Here he went again, John mused…Another friend lost. Why did no one stay with him? Why did he always have to be alone? Don’t care, he told himself…No one can hurt you then. John’s face took on the cool, expressionless look that he’d worn when Drew met him. Drew blew out a breath, unable to read his friends expression. John hid his emotions very well and it was sometimes hard to know what he was thinking.

 

“Oh,” he mumbled, looking away unhappily.

 

“I tried the one here but it was full and I didn’t want to wait another six months so I tried the one in Los Angeles…They accepted me.”

 

John shrugged dismissively. “Okay…That’s cool,” he said distantly as he stood and stretched and refused to let the pain show. Drew was the closest friend he’d ever had and even he hadn’t known much about John or his past. He’d let him too close and now he was paying for it…again. “So when do you leave?” John asked, keeping the hurt out of his voice.

 

“Two days after the wedding.”

 

 John nodded. “Congratulations man,” he mumbled, looking out over the expanse of the high ridge they stood on.

 

“I’m sorry Johnny,” he muttered.

 

John made sure the mask was in place. “For what…?” He asked cooley as he turned to his friend.

 

“I wanted us to be able to still hang out ya know,” he said as he searched John’s face. He couldn’t tell what was going through his friends mind at that point…Maybe John wasn’t all that upset that he was leaving after all.

 

“That’s okay man…,” John threw him a crooked grin that fell flat. “You got a whole new life ahead of you with Pam right? I’d just be in the way anyhow,” he added ruefully.

 

Drew gave him a grin at that. “Yeah…I guess. I mean she can’t cook so I guess having you over for dinner for awhile would be out anyway,” he teased. “Not the way you eat.”

 

John tried to smile but the words had hurt. Drew thought he’d be in the way…

 

Drew gave him a playful sock in the arm. “You’re coming to the wedding though right?” He questioned. John nodded. “Hey man…It’s only another year and then you’ll be coming to LA too…We’ll still be friends okay?”

 

John sighed dismally, knowing Drew would be too busy with a new wife, a new career and a new life with friends on the force. “Yeah…Yeah sure.”

 

 

Drew and Pam’s wedding went off without a hitch. John had never been to a wedding before and sat stiffly through the ceremony. Rosemary had accompanied him and watched him carefully as the wedding progressed.

 

Over the last two weeks John had become withdrawn and solitary once again. He rarely went out and only once with Drew. He’d explained that Drew and Pam were already moving their things into a small apartment and with the wedding so close, his friend had little time to spend with John. Rose wondered if it was the truth or if her nephew was once more feeling the loss of someone close to him and was pulling inside himself once again. She sighed in frustration, hoping someday, he’d finally find someone he could trust. Someone that could see inside his soul to lost little boy that still lived inside of the young man’s body…Someone who who’d see John for who he was and stand by him no matter what. It was a rare kind of friendship to find but she knew it’s what he needed the most.

 

She and John joined the line offering their congratulations to the newly married couple. There was only a small reception but John had begged off. Telling Drew that he had no date and he’d only be in the way anyway. Drew had frowned at that, sensing that his friend was deliberately distancing himself from them but he couldn’t force John to come. He’d smiled sadly as John shook his hand, Kissed Pam’s cheek and walked away.

 

 

John spent the following week at his cousin’s wedding. This one was even more tiresome than Drew and Pam’s. While his friends had been small and intimate with only friends and family in attendance, Joshua’s and Allison’s had been huge with most of wealthy of the town of San Gabriel present at the wedding of the year.

 

John sat at the family’s table to the right of the head table. He was slumped in his seat with his arms folded across his chest, gazing glumly at all of the sparkling gemstones and formal gowns and men in their penguin suits. His Aunt had trussed him up in a suit as well and he wasn’t at all happy about it.

 

He’d sat stone faced throughout and felt his aunt’s elbow in his ribs as he’d tried to nod off during the ceremony. He’d cast her an embarrassed glance and sat up but she didn’t seem angry. Her lips were twitching in an effort not to smile.

 

She’d left him at the table as she made her way through the crowd of well wishers gathered in her home for the event.

 

Elise sat across the room with her parents as the festivities progressed but her eyes were on the sixteen year old boy. She saw Rosemary come over to sit beside him and John leaned toward her. Rose smiled and finally nodded. The teenage boy looked decidedly relieved as he stood up and headed for the door. His tie was already being tugged loose as he left the ballroom.

 

Edward smiled at him as he opened the front door. “Have fun master John,” he smirked, wishing he could join the boy instead of being stuck here with all of this.

 

John tossed him a grin. “Going riding,” he said as he tossed his jacket and tie to the servant. Edward caught them and threw the boy a wink as he closed the door behind him.

 

Elise excused herself from her parents. “I’m a little warm mother,” she said quietly. “I think I’ll take a walk outside.” Her mother smiled and nodded as her daughter headed for the door.

 

Edward gave her a small smile as he opened the door for her a moment later. “I’ll be back in while Edward. I just need a breath of fresh air,” she told him. The man nodded and watched her head down the stairs and turn toward the stables, taking the same route master John had.

 

He shrugged and turned back to his duties.

 

 

Most of the stable hands were off for the day…None of them expecting that the family would be out riding during the wedding reception. They’d return later this evening to feed and water the horses.

 

John had already picked his mount and was running a brush over the large gray gelding before he saddled him. The horse stood patiently, enjoying the feel of the brush and the sound of the young man’s quiet voice.

 

John suddenly sensed that he was no longer alone and spun about, afraid his aunt had changed her mind and come out to make him come back inside. He was surprised to find Elise standing there instead.

 

“What are you doing here?” He questioned as his eyes took in the low cut, silver ball gown.

 

“I saw you leave and I thought maybe you’d like some company.”

 

“Why?” He asked warily.

 

She moved toward him and laid her hand on his arm. John’s stomach turned a small flip at her touch as he remembered the night in the hot tub. He worried his lower lip with his teeth as she leaned toward him. Her perfume smelled heavenly even here in the barn.

 

“I wanted to be with you…Your aunt watches over you like a hawk,” she pouted prettily. “This is the first chance I’ve had to be alone with you since that Christmas in Sun Valley,” she teased as she leaned toward him.

 

John stood rigid as she kissed him softly. He pulled back, tugging at his lower lip once more. He knew his aunt didn’t want him around Elise, she’d made that pretty obvious though he wasn’t sure why. What did the girl want?

 

“Something wrong John?” She asked frowning.

 

He eyed her with mixed emotions. His teenage body was definitely having a reaction to the girl’s looks and scent and brazen forwardness but his mind was screaming to beware. Don’t let her get too close...That his aunt would be furious with him if she found out about this. 

 

John’s eyebrows furrowed over his nose in confusion. He wasn’t sure what was expected of him here.  “I don’t…I don’t know,” he whispered, looking lost… “What do you want…?” He asked.

 

She smiled at him. “Come with me…I’ll show you,” she teased as she nodded to the ladder leading up to the loft where the hay was stored.

 

John frowned and eyed her dress dubiously. “You gonna climb up there in that?” He asked incredulously.

 

She nodded and kicked off her shoes…She hiked the bulky dress up to her knees and mounted the ladder but stopped halfway… “Are you coming?” She questioned with a coy lift to her eyebrow.

 

John shrugged but nodded, dropping the brush he was holding and went to join her, marveling at how easily she made the climb in that tight dress but she sure wasn’t gonna be comfortable wearing that in a hay loft. He followed her up and watched as she crawled across the strewn remains of hay bales and plopped down in the middle of the pile. She patted the spot next to her.

 

John moved over to sit beside her. He’d barely gotten situated before she leaned over to catch his mouth with her own. John tensed for a moment but then relaxed as those same sensations he’d experienced in the hot tub swept over him. 

 

His lips parted hers and she gasped as his tongue touched hers. She almost giggled that he’d remembered her doing that over a year ago and then sobered…Had he been practicing it with someone else? She had a moment of jealousy but she pushed it away, not wanting to lose him now that she had his attention.

 

His arms encircled her and she loved the way they felt… Strong and muscled even for all of their leanness.  Not like Alex and the others she knew with their soft hands and pale, almost delicate arms.

 

She pressed against him and heard the soft groan that slipped from his lips. She backed up a bit.

 

“Help me with the zipper?” She said as she turned her back to him.

 

John stared at her in shock. “Wh…what?” He questioned with a nervous stutter.

 

“The zipper…Unzip it,” she directed, throwing him and smile over her shoulder.

 

“Uh…Um…Why?” John asked in confusion.

 

She grinned deliciously. “It’s uncomfortable baby,” she teased with a grin.

 

Well…John had thought that himself hadn’t he? He shrugged again. “Okay,” he murmured, knowing he’d be in big trouble for sure if they got caught but his curiosity was killing him. He unzipped the back of the dress and watched in fascination as she shimmied her way out of it. His mouth dropped open in shocked surprise that she wore very little under it.

 

She saw the panicked look on John’s face and knew she’d lose him if she didn’t do something fast. She quickly hitched herself over to cuddle against him. She took his hand and placed it on the bare skin at her waist.

 

John sucked in his breath at the feel of the warm, soft flesh beneath his fingers. He blinked in surprise as her hands rose to unbutton his shirt. He knew he should back away…Just climb down the ladder and leave but he couldn’t. His body was going crazy…His heart was thumping wildly in his chest and he could hardly breathe. His hands shook as they moved over her tentatively.

 

“That’s it baby,” she teased him as her arms circled his neck. She leaned back and pulled the teenager down with her as his mouth claimed hers once again. She pushed the shirt off his shoulders and let her fingers caress his arms and up his back before they moved around to the button of his trousers.

 

John felt her fingers against his belly and his eyes closed briefly as images of his Uncle Georges face swam before him.  Is breathe hitched fearfully but this wasn’t the same…He knew what she wanted him to do now but could he? His mind was telling him no but his body seemed to have other plans.

 

Elise’s fingers touched him and John was lost. His fingers hooked in her bra straps slipping them down her arms. She smiled up at him briefly before she tugged his head down to hers and let nature take its course.

 

 

Rosemary had been making the rounds of her guests and she was getting tired. She spotted her friends, Jacqueline and David Harrison at the table and realized that she hadn’t yet spoken to them. She decided to go and greet them for a moment before she slipped upstairs to soak her aching feet for a bit before the bouquet toss and the cutting of the cake.

 

She moved to the table and smiled at the couple. Jackie…David, thank you for coming today,” she said sweetly. She glanced around. “Where’s Elise?” She asked looking out to the dance floor.

 

“She took a walk…She said she needed same air,” Jacqueline told her.

 

“Oh? When was that?” Rose asked, growing suddenly suspicious.

 

David glanced at his watch. “About forty minutes ago,” he said, looking a bit concerned.

 

 

“I’m sure she’s fine,” she said, trying not to let her own suspicions show. “She’s probably down looking at the horses…She loves to spend time with them.”

 

“As long as she’s safe from that stallion you use for breeding,” David said with a chuckle.

 

“I’m sure she’ll stay away from him,” she assured the man. That wasn’t the stud Rose was concerned about right now. “Well…You have a wonderful afternoon…I’ll uh…I’ll be right back,” she said as she headed for the front door at a near run.

 

Edward saw her coming and went to open the door. “Have you seen John?” She asked in a whisper.

 

“Yes ma’am…He went out almost an hour ago… Said he was going riding.”

 

“What about Elise Harrison?”

 

Edward frowned. “She went out right after he did,” he informed her.

 

“Oh no,” she murmured, hoping John had already taken off before the girl could find him and that she was at the stable waiting for him. “I’ll be right back,” she said quietly as she headed out the door, leaving Edward standing there watching after her in confusion for a long moment before he suddenly understood. He suddenly started to laugh and closed the door behind her. Despite his upbringing and his very proper training as a gentlemen's gentleman, Edward had been John's age once and remembered sowing a few wild oats of his own. He shook his head...Miss Rosemary had her work cut out for her...Yes indeed…John was definitely a handful. He headed toward the kitchen whistling merrily.

 

 

Rose kicked off her shoes and snatched them up before running barefoot through the grass and down to the stables. She slipped the shoes back on as she went inside. Her gray gelding, Thunder stood tied outside his stall. The other horses poked their heads out hopefully and whickered softly as she walked down the aisle to the tethered animal. The brush lay on the ground and there was no sign of John or Elise.

 

Her green eyes scanned the area and lit on a pair of women’s high heeled shoes at the base of the ladder that led to the hay loft. She closed her eyes. “Oh no,” she sighed softly to herself.

 

She heard a soft whisper of sound and a woman’s giggle and knew she was too late.

 

 

John was panting softly as he rolled to his side next to Elise. She glanced over at the handsome young man beside her and smiled at the look on his face. John’s skin was damp with perspiration and he looked tired but he still managed to muster a crooked grin for the girl. He’d never felt anything like that before and it was wonderful.

 

She rolled over to prop herself up on his bare chest. Her fingers playing lightly over his skin. John shivered under her touch but it was a good feeling. “Did you like that?” She asked with a grin.

 

John nodded, still a bit breathless but feeling elated at the moment. He raised his head to catch her mouth with his own. She kissed him back pressing against his chest. John groaned softly. She grinned and giggled at his reaction. Once he’d relaxed and let instinct take over and with a little help from her…He’d been wonderful even though it was his first time…

 

She was planning on teaching him a few more things over the course of the afternoon but a soft sound intruded from down below. They both froze and looked at each other uneasily. Who was down there? They didn’t have long to wait to find out. The voice was raised in anger and it was like a bucket of ice water thrown over the two young lovers.

 

John’s heart thudded in his chest once more but it wasn’t excitement or lust that drove him this time...It was fear.

 

“JOHN RODERICK GAGE …YOU COME DOWN HERE THIS INSTANT,” she yelled from below. “THIS INSTANT,” she repeated loudly as if she thought he hadn’t heard her the first time.

 

John moaned and dropped his head back in dread…She’d kill him for sure for this. “Oh man,” he whispered worriedly.

 

Elise wasn’t looking to happy either at this point. She sat up quickly and grabbed her dress, tossing John’s clothes toward him. “You better hurry…She sounds really mad,” she muttered.

 

That’s what John was afraid of.

 

Down below, Rosemary heard the soft murmur of voices and the rustling of the hay as the two got dressed. She waited impatiently with her hands on her hips, tapping her toe in annoyance. “I’m waiting,” she called.

 

Elise threw John a worried glance over her shoulder as she he zipped up the back of her dress and then stuffed his shirt tails haphazardly into his pants. He swallowed the lump in his throat and blew out a breath before he finally swung around and started down the ladder. He stopped halfway to wait for Elise and make sure she didn’t fall trying to get on the ladder in that dress.

 

As soon as she was firmly on the rungs he continued down until his feet hit the ground. He turned slowly to face his aunt. His cheeks were red with embarrassment and fear and his dark eyes were on the floor, refusing to meet hers.

 

Elise finally stepped down next to him. She didn’t look nearly as embarrassed as John was though. She could only hope Rosemary didn’t tell her father or she’d be shipped off to boarding school in Switzerland…Not that John had been her first but still…Daddy certainly didn’t know that either.

 

Rosemary’s angry green eyes took in the loose hay in their hair and the shirt tails hanging from John’s waistband and pretty much guessed that they hadn’t been engaged in casual conversation up there. “Just what do you have to say for yourself John Roderick?” She snapped in annoyance.

 

John shot her a quick glance and hoped she didn’t slap him right there in front of Elise. “I…I’m…uh…,” he stuttered nervously. He looked to Elise as he worried his lower lip. “I’m sorry,” he finally got out.

 

“Sorry…I’ll just bet. Is this the first time?” She questioned. John nodded unhappily at the tone of her voice.

 

“Yes ma’am,“ he mumbled.

 

She stared at him for a long moment. He simply didn’t understand what he could be throwing away here. “Go up to your room John…I’ll deal with you later…But I’m very disappointed in your behavior,” she growled between clenched teeth.

 

“Yes ma’am,” he said quickly, as he cast the girl next to him an apprehensive look. She’d toss him out for sure this time …after she’d pounded him for being with the daughter of one of her closest friends. John backed away from his aunt, getting safely out of the reach of her hands before he turned and left the barn.

 

He considered just high tailing it into the woods and not coming back but that would be a cowardly thing to do. Maybe he should just go up and pack and be ready to leave when she finally came upstairs. He wasn’t looking forward to that but he could take whatever she dished out. His Uncles were bigger and meaner than his aunt ever hoped to be. He wasn’t sure where to go but he was sure he could live in the mountains for the summer if he had too. He sighed heavily, knowing when got kicked out this time, that he’d brought it on himself.

 

Rosemary waited for John to slip out the door before she turned to Elise. “Just what were you thinking?” She barked angrily.

 

“I’m sorry Mrs. Hughes,” the younger woman said contritely though Rosemary didn’t think she looked sorry at all. More like smug.

 

“You do realize that John is only sixteen years old and you are a legal adult.”

 

Elise finally looked a bit nervous at that reminder...She really hadn’t thought of that. “Yes ma’am,” she mumbled with a grimace. “Are you going to tell my father?” She asked worriedly.

 

“I should…Is this your first time?” Rose asked, finally starting to calm down. Elise blushed but shook her head. “Who instigated this?” She asked with a raised eyebrow.

 

“I did Mrs. Hughes… it wasn’t John’s fault…,” she added, “I talked him into going up there with me… And the rest just…Happened,” she said flushing scarlet once again.

 

“I’ll just bet,” she said drily. The girl was beautiful and she could understand John’s attraction and she knew Elise had been smitten with him since he was fourteen but still…She’d hoped to keep him innocent of this sort of thing a bit longer, though with his looks, it was a wonder it hadn’t happened sooner. She should tell the girls parents but she didn’t need this to get out and cause a scandal that John would have to deal with either. Elise had made it clear that John wasn’t her first and that she’d started the seduction. Rose sighed. “I want you to understand Elise…I think you’re a beautiful young woman but John has dreams to be a fire fighter…It’s all he’s ever wanted. I don’t want you or anyone else to spoil that for him and I don’t want him hurt thinking you feel something for him…”

 

Elise tugged guiltily at her lip…She wasn’t in love with John, just infatuated with his looks and she’d just been having a little fun. She’d never intended to marry the young man. “I’m really sorry Mrs. Hughes…I’d never hurt him on purpose.”

 

Rose sighed. “I know Elise…Go back to the house,” she said quietly,  picking the hay out of the girl’s hair. “Go up the back stairs and you can straighten yourself out in Tiffany’s room.”

 

“Yes ma’am,” she said in relief.

 

“Elise,” Rose called to the girl as she started to turn away. She looked back at the older woman. “Don’t let this happen again…John’s too young and naïve for this.” 

 

Elise could argue that but she wisely held her tongue. “Yes Mrs. Hughes,” she mumbled as she fled the barn.

 

Rose shook her head. She was really going to have her hands full with her young nephew now. She led the horse back to his stall and closed him in before she too headed for the house.

 

 

John was pacing nervously as he waited for his aunt to come and tell him he’d have to leave.

 

“Dammit,” He cursed himself under his breath for letting things get out of hand. He’d let his body rule his head but he’d never experienced anything like that before. It had been wonderful, at least until his aunt had shown up. John kicked at the thick carpet anxiously and looked at the door. He had his suitcase packed with the few things that he’d bought for himself over the last several months with the money he’d earned from Drew’s father.

 

He finally heard a knock at the door and froze as he waited for his aunt to come in and decide his fate. She pushed the door open and saw that John had changed into more casual clothing. He stood with his hands jammed into his pockets and his head bowed and she knew he was expecting her to be angry and that he was scared. She spotted the suitcase and blew out a breath in frustration. “John…Where do you think you’re going? What’s the suitcase for?” She asked quietly.

 

John shot her a glance, afraid she thought he was stealing the things she’d bought for him. “I…I was only ggg…going to ttt…take… what I bought,” he stuttered nervously.

 

Rose heard the anxiety in his voice as well as the stutter. She sighed as she moved toward him. She reached to cup his cheek but John flinched away and she blew out her breath in frustration. “I’m not angry with you háaketa,” she said softly as she brushed his cheek with her fingers. “I’m disappointed that you didn’t stop to think things through but I understand why it happened… You’re too handsome for it not to have happened at some point…Lord knows your father had the girls swarming all over him like locust,” she said with a small smile. “I was just worried about your future John…”

 

The dark eyes finally lifted to meet hers. “My future?” He questioned. Here it comes. Where was she planning on sending him?

 

“Yes sweetie…Your future. Elise is from a whole different background than you…She’d never settle for being the wife of a fire fighter John. Can you see yourself trying to be some business man in a three piece suit going to her father’s office to work for him?” She asked archly. She knew John would be quite capable of it but she also knew it wasn’t what he wanted.

 

John looked horrified. “Nnnn…no,” he stammered.

 

“Do you love Elise?” She asked softly.

 

John frowned, uncertain that he knew how to love anyone. “No,” he mumbled honestly.

 

“Would you like to spend your life married to someone you don’t love because she got pregnant or worse…Trying to pay child support on a fire man’s salary for the next eighteen years if you don’t?” She asked.

 

This was just getting worse by the moment. Maybe running away was the best option. “No ma’am,” he mumbled in embarrassment that he hadn’t thought of all of this. What if he’d gotten the girl pregnant? He needed to keep better control of himself in the future but he also knew it wouldn’t be the last time he’d try it …He’d just have to learn to be more careful. It had been the only time he’d actually enjoyed being touched in so intimate a fashion and it had been a release of some sort, not only of the body but from deep within his spirit and he wanted to experience it again but he’d never tell his aunt that.

 

“Good…Now you can just unpack that suitcase and come back down to the reception and John...” He looked at her warily. “Please try and wait until you’re older before you experiment again,” she suggested with a smile.

 

John flushed, wondering if she’d somehow read his mind. “Yes ma’am,” he mumbled in embarrassment.

 

When John returned to the party a short time later, Elise was seated with her parents. She gave him a small smile as he passed. John was hard pressed not to giggle. He sat at the table and glanced over to where Edward was directing the girls to begin serving. The man saw John watching and grinned, throwing the teenager a wink. John almost spit his water across the table as he suddenly realized the man knew…He didn’t know how he did, but John was sure of it and he didn’t seem upset with him at all. John’s first real laugh in seven years bubbled up and slipped from his lips.

 

Edward looked very pleased at the sound and turned back to his help.

 

 

 

A week later, another wedding was taking place, but this one was sixty miles away in Los Angeles.

 

New boot fire fighter, Roy Desoto stood at the front of the church waiting for the doors to open. He disregarded the annoyed scowl of the woman dressed in pink in the front row. Her arms folded over her chest in disgust but he did throw a wink and a smile to the woman in blue across the aisle from her.  She grinned proudly back.

 

The doors finally swung back and the first of Joanne Hutchin’s Bridesmaids began a slow walk down the center aisle.  The blonde fire fighter smiled as Joanne’s sister Eileen stepped into the doorway. Her sky blue silk gown swishing softly as she walked toward Roy.

 

She gave him a wink as she drew closer and Roy grinned and looked over her head at the vision in white that had just appeared at the head of the aisle. The man beside her wore the same frown as the woman in the front row.

 

Jo’s mom and dad, Arline and Ron Hutchin’s were not happy about this at all…They liked Roy alright but they felt their beautiful daughter could do better than marrying a lowly fireman but Jo wouldn’t be dissuaded and had grudgingly given in, afraid she’d run off and marry him anyway.

 

Roy sucked in his breath as they started toward him. Joanne was stunning. Her long auburn hair was piled on top of her head with just a few stray curls left to bounce gently on her shoulder. The lace veil framed her delicate face, casting mysterious shadows beneath the chiffon that draped over her face, keeping him from seeing what he was sure were her huge blue eyes and coral tinted lips drawn up in a smile as she made her way down the aisle.

 

Her father stopped before them and blew out a breath of resignation as the minister began to speak.

 

Roy barely heard him as he stared at the woman he’d loved since he was nine years old. It wasn’t until Ron lifted Jo’s veil and kissed her cheek and resentfully set her hand in Roy’s did he finally come back to earth and turn to the minister.

 

The ceremony didn’t take long and the reception after was small and intimate but they didn’t care…All they cared about was the life they were about to start together. Roy would be starting at his new station in a week and Joanne was going to school but they both wanted to start a family as soon as Roy was secure in his position.

 

Roy had already put a down payment on a large home that was sadly in need of repairs but he figured he could fix it up a little at a time. The deal was too good to pass up and the house would be perfect to start a family in. He even liked the area of Carson where it was located.

 

He turned back to his bride as the music began and led her out on the dance floor for the first time as husband and wife. He hoped his career and his new wife would lead to a great life for him and their children and though Roy tended to keep himself aloof from most people, he looked forward to meeting and making new friends within the department. He hadn’t even a glimmer of a thought of the young man who would become such a huge part of his and Jo’s life down the road.

 

 

 

 

Back in San Gabriel, John was beginning his summer. He’d be seventeen in August and come September he’d be a senior…He was almost there. So close to his dream now he could almost touch it.

 

John didn’t know it yet and while the other atwo weddings he’d attended may have impacted his life in a small way…The one taking place in Los Angeles would ultimately restore to him a lost family and change the young man’s heart and soul for the rest of his life.

 

Continued in Part 13

 

 

Posted to Site 12/31/2013

 

HAPPY NEW YEAR

 

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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