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Something’s Not Quite Right
As Kate predicted, her family pretty much stayed away when her husband returned home, leaving him to spend time in peace with his wife and son. The people of the village ignored him when he came into town for the most part, though Blue Eagle and George Walking Wolf made it clear that there was no forgiveness for stealing the woman they had both wanted but for two different reasons.
Blue Eagle had loved her with all his heart while George had lusted after her beauty and her position as the favored daughter of Daniel Sun Walker.
Rod shrugged his shoulders indifferently at their snubbing of his presence in town knowing he’d won the prize…They’d just have to get over it.
Kate stayed conspicuously silent about the harassment from her family and the snubbing of her son by the other children who’d been warned by their parents that John was a half breed and not one of them. She knew Rod would pack them up and leave the reservation behind and even though she hated it here and longed to be nearer to him…John was actually responding to the time with her and with the horses at the ranch. He’d finally seemed to settle down and develop the mother/son bond that had been missing at least when her family wasn’t around.
Thankfully he didn’t seem to notice that the others ignored his existence with the exception of his older cousin Thomas, who felt sorry for the little one and took him under his wing...At least when his mother wasn’t around.
Rod was alarmed when Kate told him of John’s first visit with the horses but smiled proudly when he found out that his almost three year old son could already sit a horse and was beginning to have the command of two languages.
Surprisingly to Sun Walker, Rod didn’t begrudge John learning about the other half of his heritage at all but encouraged it. His son had a right to know his Mother’s culture as well as his own and he took the time to pick up where Daniel left off once he realized just how quickly John seemed to learn new things.
The young family spent their time driving into Lame Deer to Church on Sunday morning or to buy John candy at the small general store or sometimes to take in a movie even though John was too little to appreciate it and ended up either falling asleep halfway through or becoming so hyper active Rod would have to take him out and let him run for a few minutes which always made him smile at his son’s enormous energy levels.
Rod frequently spent his early evenings playing on the floor with John or rocking him to sleep. Kate had told him that she had trouble putting him down at night and that the motion seemed to soothe the child.
“He rocks himself to sleep when he’s frustrated or over tired,” she informed her husband, not understanding why John did it…Neither did Rod but it didn’t alarm them either…At least not yet.”He likes it when you sing to him,” she added with a grin not expecting her large husband to know many lullaby’s
Kate was working in the kitchen one evening not long after when Rod began singing to his son as he rocked. She grinned at the tender moment until she caught the words and realized it was an Army ditty that Rod had once sung to her in their bedroom. She smiled even as she yelled indignantly… “Roderick Gage…Don’t you dare finish that song.”
Rod’s chuckle filled the room. “He’s too young to understand,” he called back.
“He’s not too young to repeat it…In two languages,” she replied as she came into the room to share the moment as he laid his now drowsing son in his bed.
It became a routine for them over the next months. They always dreaded the day when Roderick would have to leave to go back to work knowing it would be months before he could get back. He’d worked it out with his company to work without the usual breaks so that he could take extra long ones when he did get off.
He hated having to leave, especially since John seemed to forget him while he was gone and he looked forward to the time when his son would wait anxiously for his return and dreaded the wails of hurt and anxiety whenever he had to leave.
“Dad….dy,” the hiccupping sniffles…The small arms reaching out for him to hold him.
“I’ll be back soon Na’háhketa , (My little one)He’d promise as he cupped the small cheek and kissed his forehead. “I love you.”
Kate smiled through teary eyes as he drove away and prayed that someday they’d have enough so that she could go with him to their new home and leave the bitterness of her family behind. She dreaded the moment when he would leave and her family would resume their attacks on her husband and her son in an attempt to break up her marriage.
Why couldn’t they see how much Roderick loved her and their son? How much she loved him?
Her sister Mase despised her for just that reason. She often watched with jealous envy at the tender displays between the young family and resented her all the more, knowing George would never love her the way the vé’ho’é loved Kate…Knowing that her children had not been conceived in love but in lust.
Lacee simply refused to forgive the white men for their bigotry against the Indians and failed to realize that she was just as bad in her own prejudice as those she despised.
Her mother and father just plain feared that Roderick would one day just swoop in and take Kate away.
Kate could handle it although she spent many an evening in tears at their resentful and selfish attitudes especially when her sisters turned the ugliness on John and the battles continued to take their toll on her young son as well.
John was three and a half when Kate first noticed something that alarmed her. One evening after her family had left she went to check on her son. She found John huddled in his corner but this time it was different.
He had his knees drawn up to his chin and his small arms wrapped tightly around his body. His hands weren’t covering his ears as he usually did when the yelling began but instead his body rocked quickly back and forth. His chocolate brown eyes held a vacant and faraway look as if he wasn’t seeing her. Her heart climbed into her throat.
“John…,” She gasped as she ran to cuddle her son. His small hands pushed at her frantically as she tried to hold him…His slender body arcing over backward with a wordless cry as he tried to get away from the hands that were holding him tightly.
“Na’háhketa…What is it…? John?” She shook him gently, trying to force him to look at her but it didn’t work…He continued to fight her hold. She pulled him into her arms and held him and after several minutes, the child finally seemed to calm down and laid his head against her shoulder.
“N…N…áh…ko’e,(Mommy)” he stuttered out shakily as if just waking from a nightmare.
She stroked the dark hair and rocked him gently until he fell asleep. She picked him up and laid him gently on the bed. She’d make sure to tell Roderick what had happened as soon as he got back and prayed that whatever had happened, wouldn’t happen again.
But it did happen again…Not once but repeatedly and always when John became upset or frightened. Kate didn’t know what to do…She hesitated to tell her family, afraid they’d shun the boy even more than they already did. She knew if they saw this as a weakness that they’d pounce all over it as an excuse to berate her and her marriage to a white man as well as her son.
Her fears were well founded and came to pass a couple of weeks later. John was at the ranch with her family. Her father had been teaching his grandson how to rope…Kate smiled as her three and a half year old twirled a rope and landed with amazing accuracy over a standing stool Sun Walker had set out.
Kate hugged him proudly drawing a grin from the child. His cousin Ben stood watching in irritation. At five, he’d yet to master the art of roping. His mother frequently reminded him that his father would one day be a second chief and elder of the tribe and that as his son he would follow in his father’s footsteps. Ben would never have to work at the ranch, just as his father didn’t so there was no need to learn.
It never occurred to Mase that her own father and Blue Eagle were both well able to ride and work the ranch or that they had more respect for the ones who could over those too lazy or arrogant to help their own people survive by hard work.
Ben and some his older friends moved over to John’s side as his mother turned away with her father to watch several young men bringing in a herd of cattle. “I dare you to catch a real cow,” Ben taunted the younger child as he pointed to the milling cattle a few feet away.
The dark eyes followed the direction of the pointing finger and he looked trustingly back at his cousin. John glanced toward his mother and grandfather a few feet away. Sun Walker never let him near the big animals with the horns even though John could walk freely among the horses.
Ben waved him toward the corral. “Ho’eohé’tá (Come on) John,” He dared him. “Mé’en namêšéme (Show grandfather) naa néškéstoto Náhko’e (and your mother) tónêšetanó páháve mo hó’ko (how good you really are),” he said pushing him toward the fence.
One of Ben's other friends gave him another light shove to move him away from his mother and toward the pen. John hesitated until he was pushed again. He finally followed the others to the rails. Ben handed him the rope with a smirk at his friends. “Méoo’ese (Go ahead) John,” one of the older boys taunted with a grin.
John threw a final glance toward the two adults before slipping under the lowest rail…He gave his cousin a frown of indecision but at his nod, moved further into the milling herd.
He fed the rope out and began to let it swing above his head. The motion, so low around their feet spooked the cattle. They began to move anxiously. John heard a cry and a shout but it was too late. The bulls were kicking at each other…crowding in and around the boy as they tried to get clear of the lariat.
One bull’s shoulder clipped the small boy and he fell under the thrashing feet. John hurt and fear rose in his mind.
John didn’t remember where he went when he slipped away but he knew it was a safe place where nothing hurt, the yelling voices were muffled and the things that frightened him gave way to a peaceful grayness...Resisting contact and unable to respond verbally even though he was aware of the outside world and could tell when he was being touched or felt a need to fulfill a bodily function, he rebelled against being forced back until he felt safe enough to return to the other place where the people scared him.
He didn’t understand why it happened or that this safe place couldn’t keep him from being trampled under the churning feet…In fact, he couldn’t even remember it when he returned from it. He let the gray close in and pulled himself into a small ball and began to rock.
He felt the strong hands that gripped him and fought against them…He was still scared and he didn’t want to come back yet.
Sun Walker and Kate turned as the cattle began to roil about the corral. Kate’s cry of fear was cut short as she began to run toward the pen. Sun Walker was faster. “Hová’âháne (No) JOHN,” he yelled as he watched his grandson fall beneath the seething mass of hooves. He cleared the top rail as others began to arrive to help.
Daniel shoved at the frightened animals until he cleared a path through the beasts. He snatched his grandson up off the ground and frowned as the boy pushed against him frantically. His small body arcing over backward as his feet kicked out. A grunting pant slipped from his lips and the dark eyes seemed vague and lost. Sun Walker was afraid he’d been kicked in the head and quickly made his way to the rails to hand him over to his frightened mother.
She cuddled John to her but he continued to fight her for several minutes. Kate continued speaking softly until the child once again seemed to wake from wherever he slipped away to. “N…N…Náhko’e,” he whimpered softly as he wrapped his small arms around his mother’s neck...His small body shaking in fright.
“What’s wrong with him?” Mase sneered as she watched the boy reawaken. Sun Walkers eyes were also filled with worry.
Kate shrugged. “He does that when he’s frightened…It’s nothing to fear,” she assured them at the wary looks.
“E’máséhánee’e (He’s crazy),” Mase spat as she backed away. Surely her father would see that as well and turn his attention back to his other grandchildren…The strong ones. She got her wish but not the way she’d hoped.
“That’s enough daughter,” he barked at her. “The child is understandably frightened,” he explained though his own eyes watched the boy in concern. “How did he get in there to begin with?”
One of the other children pointed. “Ben dared him to try to rope a bull Sun Walker,” she said bravely.
The older man’s eyes shifted to his grandson. “You know he is too young to try that yet.”
The five year old shrugged indifferently despite the fact that he’d almost got the younger child killed. Sun Walkers temper rose. His hand lashed out to angrily swat the boy on the buttocks. He gripped his arm and shoved him at his mother.
Mase drew herself up indignantly at the rough handling her son was receiving. “There was no need for that father,” she bit out, cuddling her now crying son against her.
“No NEED…?” He bit out. “He almost killed John and he does not even care.”
Mase stared defiantly back…It was obvious to her father that she wouldn’t have grieved for too long either. “It was a childish game,” she said angrily.
“It was no game…It was a deliberate and hateful attempt to hurt John. My grandson has obviously taken after his mother,” Sun Walker snarled. Mase’s mouth tightened resentfully as her father snatched John from Kate. The boy had several scrapes and bruises but otherwise appeared unharmed and hadn’t even cried he noted proudly.
“Come daughter…Let’s get him cleaned up.”
Lacee joined her sister as they walked away. “I wish she’d never come back,” the older sister sneered. “See how father dotes upon that crazy half breed child.”
“He’s weak…He should have died at birth and he will not see it and now he chooses Red Moon’s son over ours,” Mase spat bitterly.
“I will never accept him,” Lacee vowed.
“I wish she’d just take him and leave.”
“If the boy truly is crazy than father will have to admit it sooner or later and then he will turn from him…,” Lacee assured her.
As Kate feared, her sisters began to use the episode as another way to attack their younger sister and her son. The term ‘crazy’ was hurled frequently and they began to tell others in the village about the strange seizure the boy had suffered.
The people of the reservation watched the small boy warily whenever they ventured out as if some evil spirit lurked about to jump out and attack them. Kate sighed in frustration at the attitudes and superstitions of her people. There was nothing to fear from her child despite the odd fits that occasionally gripped the boy.
John seemed oblivious to their attitudes and Kate assumed he was too young to understand their dislike for him. It never occurred to her that he was incapable of sensing it even though he responded to the bitter words and loudly raised voices that accompanied their arrival in the home with anxiety…Hiding in his room and withdrawing into himself until they left and his mother could hold him until he returned.
She became more and more distressed as the days passed and prayed Rod would return soon. John needed to see a doctor…She had to know what was wrong with her son.
Rod finally came home a month later. He was met by his anxious wife and his son who seemed to at least vaguely remember him even though it wasn’t with open arms.
“Kate….What’s wrong?” He questioned his tense wife, after he kissed them both and carried his little boy into the house.
“Na’háhketa…Why don’t you go play in your room for awhile?” she suggested giving John a gentle pat on the butt to send him on his way. John nodded and headed off.
Rod turned to his wife. “Alright Katie…What happened?”
“Roderick…I think something’s wrong with John.”
“Honey…We knew he had some emotional problems. That’s why we brought him here.”
“Yes but…,” she hesitated, afraid Rod would pack them up and move them again before they were really able to afford a place of their own and return to a life of wandering from hotel to hotel.
“But…?” He prompted.
“Roderick…Sometimes my sisters and my parents come over…They argue with me.”
“ABOUT WHAT…?” He growled angrily.
“Our marriage…John… How he should be raised…Things like that.”
“We’ll raise our child the way we see fit,” he said in annoyance.
“I know that Mé’oo’o’ and that’s what I tell them but sometimes…well…It seems to frighten John and…”
Rod’s mouth tightened angrily that her family was upsetting her and his son. “And…?” He questioned.
“Roderick…He’s…He somehow seems to go away.”
“What do you mean?” He questioned in confusion.
She lowered her voice to be sure John couldn’t hear. “He becomes lost somewhere…In his own mind…I don’t know how to explain it,” she said wringing her hands at his worried furrowing of the brow. “His eyes do not see…His ears do not hear…He rocks and…He will not let me hold him…I have to fight him.”
“JOHN…” Rod called.
The slender boy ran into the room to look at them curiously. “Héehe’e Ného’e?” (Yes Father)
Rod’s mouth quirked as he looked to his wife. “What did he say?” He questioned ruefully.
She smiled. “He said yes father…John speak English to your daddy.”
He nodded and looked toward Roderick. The sable hair was long, almost to his shoulders. The dark, chocolate brown eyes a carbon copy of his mothers and Rod couldn’t resist reaching out to sweep the dark hair from his face. “I know you’re under there somewhere,” he teased his son. The little boy giggled in delight and reached up to shove his hair back. “Ahh…There you are,” Rod said playfully.
John giggled again and let his father draw him into his embrace. Rod smiled at Kate. This was the fastest John had ever come around to warming up to his father after he’d been gone but more importantly, the child seemed fine. He scooped the boy into his lap. The dark eyes lifted to meet his. “Yes daddy?”
“Mom says your Aunts scare you sometimes…Is that true.”
John gave a small embarrassed shrug and looked away. “Namêšéme… Grandfather,” he corrected. “Say’s to show no fear,” he whispered, looking ashamed that he sometimes was.
“It’s alright to be afraid little one,” Rod said gently. “And I don’t want you to be afraid to tell me. What happens when your aunts come here?”
He shrugged again. “They yell,” he mumbled.
“And then what?”
John shrugged. “Mommy hodes me tight.”
Rod and Kate both frowned. “Is that all you remember?” John nodded and laid his head on his father’s shoulder, hoping he wouldn’t be too disappointed in him. “Do you remember what they yell about?” There was a negative head shake from the boy. “Do you push her away when she wants to hold you?”
John shook his head. “He does,” Kate insisted. Rod frowned. John didn’t normally tell lies but it was possible he was afraid he’d be in trouble for doing it.
Rod hugged the boy to him again before setting him on the ground and scruffing the dark hair gently. “Go play little one.” John scooted off tossing him a confused glance. Concerned green eyes met Kate’s. Rod knew his wife wasn’t making up her tale and it was obvious that John was either afraid to admit it or honestly couldn’t remember doing it. “Alright Kate…We’ll run him into Lame Deer tomorrow and find a doctor okay?”
She breathed a sigh of relief and nodded. “Alright.”
“In the meantime,” he teased as he took her in his arms. “I want a proper welcome home.”
The next morning Rod drove them into town. There were three physicians in town…Steven Handly, Sean Carlton and Lee Smith. Carlton was currently in Sheridan, Handly was on vacation which narrowed their options…They went to Dr. Smith.
The doctor pushed the door to the examination room open. His hazel eyes wandered over the young boy in distaste. Like most people in the small town …He had little to do with the Indians on the reservation but the ones he had dealt with usually were difficult and hostile toward the town’s people…It never occurred to him that it was a response to the hostility aimed at them as well.
They either couldn’t or wouldn’t speak English unless they had to and often had no money to pay him for his time. He wished that the parents would have taken the boy to the free clinic in Ashford. His eyes flicked toward the tall, green eyed man standing with the woman before returning to John…Half breed then, he sneered to himself and the look was pretty plain that if it hadn’t been for Roderick’s presence he most likely wouldn’t have bothered with the child at all.
He finally moved into the room and picked up the chart showing the complaint that the parents had brought him in for…Rocking…withdrawal from his surroundings…He sighed in annoyance. It sounded to him as if the child needed a psychiatrist not a physician.
“All right let’s take a look at you,” the doctor said rather briskly.
John’s dark eyes widened in fear as the man brusquely pulled his shirt off over his head. He tucked the stethoscope into his ears. The boy tried to edge away as the man placed the cold bell of the instrument against his chest. “Daddy,” he whimpered reaching for the security of his father’s arms.
Rod frowned at the doctor’s bedside manner but threw his son a reassuring wink and a smile. “Just hold on little one,” he urged as Dr. Smith shone a light in John’s eyes and checked his ears. He tapped his knee with a small hammer while the child sat rigid and tense.
“I’ll take some blood and run a few tests Mr. Gage but I don’t see anything wrong with the boy…At least not physically. You know…It’s quite possible your son has some sort of mental illness…”
Rod bristled angrily. “My son is NOT mentally ill,” he snarled. “He’s quite bright. He learns very quickly. He can ride, rope and speaks two languages…Can you do that?” He questioned.
The doctor drew himself up indignantly. “I didn’t intend to offend you Mr. Gage…But the rocking motion she described and the withdrawing can be a symptom of psychosis…Maybe a different kind of doctor is what you need but just to be sure…I’ll send my nurse in to take some blood and I’ll run a few tests,” he assured them.
Rod nodded but his look said he plainly wasn’t happy with the superficial examination and diagnoses. The doctor left and a few minutes later an older nurse pushed her way into the room. She threw them a cold smile and set about drawing a blood sample.
Her bedside manner was as curt as the doctor’s had been and Rod was beginning to understand the way Kate’s people felt about the white’s in this town. She quickly wrapped the tourniquet around the small arm oblivious of the fearful widening of the child’s eyes as he watched her.
The needle pierced the child’s flesh and John let out a terrified keening wail of pain. He tried to pull away but the woman gripped the thin wrist tightly. A slow rock began as the dark eyes grew vague…The small hands waggled back and forth in agitation and Rod’s heart climbed into his throat as Kate clutched at his arm. “See…This is what happens when he is frightened or upset.”
Rod nodded as the nurse looked at the child as if he were crazy and left. The tall man picked his son up and cuddled him close. John’s small hands pushed against him frantically as his body arced backward away from the contact. Small, wordless whimpers slipped from his lips. “John…John…Its daddy. Look at me little one,” he urged.
John thankfully hadn’t slipped too deep. It only took a short time for him to return…His dark eyes flicked warily about him and he relaxed into his father’s arms. The small face crumbled as tears welled and rolled from his eyes. “D…da…da…dy,” he whispered with a stutter.
Rod held his son tightly in his arms and he knew. This wasn’t a physical problem and no blood test would give them the answer but he would never believe his son was mentally ill either. There had to be another explanation but he didn’t have a clue who to ask for help. “What do we do?” Kate asked worriedly.
“Take him home…This man can’t help him. I’m not sure there’s anyone in this town who can.”
“But then…,” she began fearfully.
“I don’t know Kate. It only happens when he’s frightened or upset.” She nodded her agreement. “Then we need to protect him from that.”
Kate stared at him in disbelief. Her whole family upset or frightened him. How could she protect him from that?
John slept most of the way home while his parents talked quietly. “What are we going to do Roderick?” Kate questioned again as she glanced at her sleeping son.
“Apparently there’s not much we can do Katie but he seems to be alright now,” he replied looking in his rearview mirror at dark haired child curled on the back seat…What caused the strange withdrawal from his surroundings and the stutter that had followed it. John had never done that before. “Maybe it’s just a reaction to all the stress he’s been under,” he suggested running his hand through his hair in indecision. “Maybe he’ll just grow out of it.”
Kate bit her lip in dismay. She was under a great deal of stress herself and frequently ended up in tears…How could she expect a four year old to understand the anger and bitterness of her family?
They arrived home and Rod carried his sleeping son into the house. Kate waited as he laid the child in his bed, dropping a kiss on his small forehead. He stood gazing down at him as his wife came to his side. “Are you alright?” She questioned worriedly, a little afraid that Rod would react the same way her own people did to John’s problem and distance himself from his son.
The words of her family came back despite her avowal that Roderick loved her. Would he leave her if John wasn’t normal or worse…If he was Ill? Could he deal with it if it was something serious or would he, like her family consider it a weakness?
Rod looked down at her suddenly frightened looking expression and his heart dropped in painful understanding. He turned her to face him. “Katie…If John outgrows this…great but if he doesn’t…He’s still my son…He’s my baby too and I will always love him and you sweetheart,” he promised dropping a soft kiss on her lips. She smiled in relief.
By the time John woke up, he had recovered completely and the strange seizure didn’t repeat over the next week. The young couple had no one to turn to and no doctor they would absolutely trust.
Rod considered taking him to Billings to try and find a doctor there who might be able to help but John didn’t seem physically ill and other than the small stutter for a short time after it didn’t seem to affect his ability to learn or function normally once he came out of it…In fact he didn’t seem to even remember what happened.
The dark haired man chewed his lip in indecision as the young family made their way to the ranch. He almost had enough…Another year and he could get them back to California where there were plenty of doctors who might be able to help John…Including Dr. Hahn…He’d know what to do.
The ranch was the reservation’s livelihood for the most part so it was often quite a busy place and this day was no exception. Kate wanted Roderick to watch John ride…His cousin Thomas and her father had been working with him daily and she was anxious to see Roderick’s face.
John’s ability with the horses amazed everyone…Even Blue Eagle and his friend Joseph Four Feathers stopped to watch the boy when he was riding. Even the most difficult animal’s didn’t seem to see the child as a threat and ignored his presence under their feet. Kate’s heart still pounded fearfully when she watched him and though her father would never admit it to his Ó’xevé’ho’e grandson, her father beamed and threw the others a smug smile of pride at the child’s ability.
Mase, Lacee and her husband Joseph sneered their jealous disapproval of their ‘crazy’ nephew whenever the old man wasn’t around to protect him from their bullying. George Walking Wolf on the other hand wasn’t of the same mind frame.
Ever since John had lost the babyish roundness from his cheeks and had begun to grow from toddler to a young boy his lust had been sparked. The child was still too young but he was beautiful…Another couple of years and…He licked his lips as he watched the young family approach the fence.
His eyes narrowed dangerously as they swept over Roderick and he knew he’d need to be careful. So far the man hadn’t shown any sign of leaving his wife and troubled son as they’d all predicted and George knew that until he did…It would be suicide to touch the boy…The man had a dangerous look about him and George had already felt his strength. He’d bide his time…
He glanced to where Sun Walker was standing and he knew the old man was just as likely to thrash him within an inch of his life if he touched his grandson just on general principle. The second chief would never tell the boy he cared about him but it was fairly obvious to the others.
His black eyes swept over Kate…He’d sneered his disgust that she’d married a white man over and over again but she was still the most beautiful woman in the village. The dark eyes swept to the boy once more. Soon…He’d be perfect.
John’s Cousin Thomas approached the couple. He’d become used to the white man that had married his aunt and though he’d never dare to say so to his parents, he rather liked the man. He was strong, self assured and he openly showed his love for his wife and son…Something unheard of from his own family who felt that displaying those softer emotions was an open show of weakness.
“Hello náháa’e… Hešeho,” Thomas greeted.
“Thomas…How are you?”
The boy grinned. “I am well Hešeho. Have you come to watch John ride?” He questioned with a touch of pride. He’d helped his grandfather teach the little one and unlike his family was very fond of the boy. He couldn’t understand their attitudes at all.
Red Moon was gentle and kind with a sweet smile for him whenever he came to collect John and the boy, though very shy and quiet was always eager to learn anything they were willing to teach him. He rarely spoke and disliked being touched most of the time but the horses loved him and grandfather was planning to start teaching him to rope from horseback…Even Thomas hadn’t learned to do that that young.
“Yes…Kate said he’s pretty good.”
Thomas nodded…His long black hair swinging across his shoulders. “Grandfather is going to teach us both to track soon as well,” he said eagerly, not the least bit jealous that John would learn years younger than he’d been taught.
“Wow…,” Rod said smoothing John’s sable hair away from his small face. “You’re turning into a regular little Davey Crockett,” he teased. His son grinned up at him while Kate and Thomas both cocked their head to the side.
“Who…?” Thomas asked in confusion.
Rod chuckled good naturedly. “A famous frontiersman…A white one,” Rod explained reaching out to ruffle Thomas hair.
Thomas grinned and nodded. “Come John,” he instructed as he took John’s hand to lead him off and help him mount. Rod pulled his jacket tight against the cold wind and pulled his wife against him while they waited for the two boys. A short time later Roderick proudly watched as both boys rode out.
Thomas stayed carefully at his side as the four year old John urged the horse into a trot. He handed his little cousin a rope and while he hadn’t yet progressed to roping a moving target John made short work of lining up the tree stump from the back of the moving horse.
The rope dropped unerringly over it and the small boy yanked back tightly on the rope while leaning back. The horse immediately reversed at his riders signal and backed up to ‘hold’ the captive stump taut. Rod watched with a grin as his son slid off his horse and moved down the rope as if he held a struggling calf. Kate and Rod applauded wildly with pride.
He had to admit…Kate’s father had trained the child well. Not in half measures but start to finish. He bit his lip…John was old enough now to really need his father’s influence. His child may be half Indian but he was also half white…He resolved to be sure he did some training of his own…Maybe he could ask his friend Rick to look in on him in his absence as well.
He couldn’t teach his child to ride or track or rope a calf but he could teach him baseball…Football…His own faith as well as Kate’s beliefs so the boy would have his own choices as he grew up. He nodded subtly to himself…Yes… John needed to learn from him too.
The clouds above them began to gather and Rod glanced up at an angry gray sky. The temperature had dropped and the wind had picked up as well. They needed to get home. Kate said John suffered from frequent colds and the last thing he needed was to be caught out in a storm.
“JOHN…?” He called to the boy.
The child ran to join them grinning broadly as his father scooped him up and tossed him high in the air. John’s small body soared above his head…The little hands reaching for the clouds. He showed no fear but rather laughed joyfully as he flew.
Kate grinned at their antics, having no fear whatsoever that her husband would fail to catch their son. He dropped into his father’s arms, squealing with giggles as Rod hugged and kissed him. She loved it when Rod was home…It was the only time John appeared to be a normal, well adjusted child but that shouldn’t surprise her considering the animosity that he had to deal with from her family at such a tender age.
Thomas watched from a distance. It was the only time he was truly jealous of John as he watched the tender family scene. His father would never show his feelings so openly…Even if he did have any…Thomas wasn’t sure if he loved anything other than his ever present bottle of whiskey.
Rod threw the older boy a wave as he and his family started back to town. They’d have to move fast to reach home before that storm moved in.
They didn’t make it. The clouds opened up a half a mile from home and a cold, driving rain began to fall. Rod unzipped his jacket and tucked his now shivering son inside it, wrapping it around him tightly as they picked up the pace.
They finally reached home but not before all of them were soaked clean through. He handed John off to his mother. “I’ll put him in a warm bath,” she said as she carried him out…A worried look on her pretty face.
Rod stoked up the fire to warm the room before he headed off to change. He returned in time to help his wife tuck the boy into a warm bed. John smiled drowsily up at him as he stroked the dark hair back and leaned down to kiss his forehead. His fingers lingered to sweep through the soft sable hair until the chocolate brown eyes drifted shut.
“Mom…my,” the softly whimpered cry came from the small bedroom near their own several hours later. It was followed by a ragged cough and the sound of vomiting.
“Oh no,” Kate murmured as she quickly climbed from the bed.
Rod rolled over as she stood up. “What is it?”
Roderick jumped from the bed and quickly followed his wife out of the room. She turned on the light and both adults frowned worriedly. The child was sweat coated…His hair plastered to his forehead. His cheeks were flushed with fever and it was obvious he’d been sick to his stomach.
“Oh Na’háhketa,” she murmured softly as she sat down next to him, her fingers sweeping the wet strings from his forehead before laying her hand on his forehead. John coughed again and the sound as well as the heat radiating from his brow alarmed her. “This isn’t a cold,” she informed her worried looking husband.
“What? What do you mean?”
“He’s burning up…He has never been this bad since he was an infant.”
Rod reached down to feel his son’s forehead, remembering those terrifying days right after John had been born when they’d both thought he wouldn’t make it and then again just a few months later he’d had pneumonia. “I’ll get the car,” he said as he quickly turned and headed back for the bedroom to change.
“Where are we taking him?” She called after him. There wouldn’t be anyone at the clinic at this time of night.
“I’ll take him to the hospital in Sheridan.”
“That is over an hour away,” she warned him.
He shrugged. “Doesn’t matter…He needs a doctor…Right now.”
She nodded as she cleaned John’s face and wrapped him snuggly in his blanket. “I’ll be right back háketa,” she promised, dropping a kiss on his forehead.
John tossed restlessly. “M…mom…my. Doan…doan leave me,” he whimpered with a stutter.
“Just for a minute óvohe (baby),” she promised as she ran for her room to change.
Rod returned a moment later, scooping his blanket wrapped son up and heading for the car. Kate met him at the door.
An hour later they arrived at the hospital. An older nurse was at the desk when they rushed John in. Her gray eyes swept over Kate and a frown settled over her face. Indian and obviously another charity case that wouldn’t be able to pay… She shook her head in disgust. Why couldn’t they have just waited until morning and gone to the doctor in whatever town they came from? The eyes moved to the handsome man with her. Well…That was at least fortunate that her employer was willing to help her, she surmised.
She schooled her unhappy features into lines of professionalism. “Can I help you?” She asked curtly as her eyes took in the coughing, keening child the woman held in her arms.
Rod nodded…Frowning at the tone he’d come to hate from his own people. “Yes…Our son is sick.” Her eyebrow climbed in surprise as he continued. “We need to see a doctor.”
His son…? Half breed then…“I see…Well…” She let the sentence hang awkwardly as she reached under the desk to pull out some papers. “Can you please fill these out for me and you can have a seat over there,” she said pointing to a small room off of the waiting room away from the rest of the seats.
Rod glanced around. There weren’t too many people waiting and there were plenty of seats closer. “What’s wrong with these seats?” He questioned challengingly.
“Well…Th…they’re f…for…,” she stammered to a halt, unused to being called on her bigotry.
Rod’s eyes narrowed. “For white people?” He questioned in annoyance. She remained conspicuously silent under the icy green glare. “Right now I don’t care if he’s purple with pink polka dots…I want a doctor to see him and I mean right NOW,” the last word was all but bellowed.
“There are other people ahead of you,” she began.
A doctor with dark brown hair stepped out of a room up the hall…His hazel eyes glancing around for the source of the raised voices. He spotted the couple with the admissions nurse and came toward them. “Is something wrong?” He demanded, glancing at the nurse.
“I told them to fill out the paperwork and he got angry. Started demanding a doctor but those other…Uh…People were here first.” Rod heard what she didn’t say…‘White people.’ Carlton’s eyes also turned to the waiting area. None of those people appeared in serious trouble but the child looked terrible.
“My son is sick and she wanted us to wait over there,” he explained pointing at the small room off the main waiting room.
The hazel eyes bored into the woman in annoyance. “That’s the storage room,” he growled angrily as his eyes swept over the sick child the woman held. “Can’t you see this boy needs a doctor NOW,” he snapped as he took the child from his mother. “Come with me,” he directed, heading for the nearest treatment room door.
Rod shot a final glare at the red faced nurse and took Katie’s arm, propelling her down the hall behind the doctor. “His name is John…He’s four and a half. We’re his parents…Roderick Gage and my wife Kate,” he told him as they followed along.
“Okay Mr. Gage…Let’s have a look at him while you fill out those papers. I’m Dr. Carlton by the way.”
Rod nodded as the man set the boy on the table and began to unwrap him from his warm cocoon. John was too sick to be afraid of this stranger…The dark eyes fever glazed and his small body shaking with chills. “He’s got a high fever and he’s coughing. He threw up a couple of times on the way here.”
Carlton nodded and slipped his stethoscope into his ears and held the bell for a moment until it warmed enough not give the little guy a shock and laid it on his small, heaving chest. “Okay little one…This won’t hurt a bit,” he promised. A moment later, he frowned at the rales he was hearing in both of the child’s lungs. “Where are you from Mr. Gage?” He asked as he laid his palm on the boy’s forehead.
“Lame Deer…The clinic was closed. We had to come here.”
“It’s a good thing you did too...Your son is very sick.”
Kate shot her husband a frightened look. “What’s he got?” Rod asked worriedly.
“I’m going to run a few more tests to be sure,” he said plucking out a long cotton tipped stick and swabbing the back of John’s throat. “But my guess is pneumonia.”
“He had it right after he was born too. He was premature...And then again when he was nine months old.”
“Well…Then we know he’s a tough little guy anyway,” he said with a smile. “We’ll get him started on fluids and penicillin right away but I’m afraid he’s going to be here for a few days.”
Rod nodded with a sigh knowing that another hospital stay was going to seriously cut into their finances again but he’d worry about that later…John was all that mattered right now…Making him well. “Do whatever you have to.”
Carlton nodded his head and stepped into the hall. He waved over a different nurse. “Get his temperature and pulse and start an IV of dextrose in water,” he instructed.
She nodded and went to the cabinet. She returned a moment later with a syringe and cannula and a bottle of clear fluid. Kate looked at John worriedly remembering his last visit with a doctor. Dr. Smith had terrified him but the small child was too sick to be afraid right now.
The nurse quickly started an IV and strapped the boys arm to a thin board. John whimpered as the needle pierced his skin but it quickly turned into a cough and then he began to vomit once more. The nurse held a pan beneath his cheek until he finished. Tears welled in the dark eyes and trickled down his cheeks as he moaned softly.
She rolled the small boy on his side to get his temperature. The child let out a thin keening cry of misery.
“Oh Roderick…My poor baby,” Kate murmured as her brown eyes watched John.
“He’ll be alright Kate…He’s strong. He’s gonna be fine,” he tried to assure her but he was just as afraid.
The nurse finished up and rolled him on his back. “You can stay with him for a few minutes Mr. and Mrs. Gage,” she said reassuringly. “We’ll get him in a room on the pediatric ward and I’m sure he’ll be fine.”
Rod and Kate both prayed she was right.
The couple spent the night in the waiting room. Dr. Carlton visited with them several times throughout the night, giving them updates on their son’s condition. “Mr. and Mrs. Gage…We’ve got his fever down some but he’s not handling the antibiotics very well.”
“Why? What’s happening?” Rod asked worriedly.
“He seems to have a very low tolerance for drugs…We’ve had to scale back almost everything we’ve had to give him or it makes him vomit. We’re having a tough time beating the virus because of it.”
“Roderick…,” Kate began fearfully.
“Just don’t panic yet. Your son is a tough little fighter and he’s not giving up so don’t you alright?”
They nodded. “Can we see him?” Rod asked.
For a few minutes but he’s still delirious and he might not know you’re there.”
Carlton nodded and led them to the room where John thrashed beneath the sheets. His small body soaked with sweat. “Mommmmy,” he keened pitifully.
Kate ran to his side. “I’m here na’óvohe,” she murmured, brushing the wet hair back…You will be alright háhketa,” she promised the frightened child.
Rod laid his hand on the dark head. ““Daddy’s here too,” he whispered reassuringly. “We won’t leave you little one,” he said as he leaned down to kiss his son’s cheek.
The dark eyes opened briefly but they seemed vague and confused. Kate’s own eyes welled with tears. “Please don’t let him die,” she pleaded with the doctor.
Carlton patted her shoulder sympathetically. “I’ll do my best,” he promised this couple. Sean was one of the few who didn’t care whether or not John was half Indian or all Indian…He’d give it everything he had to save him.
He liked this young couple and said a silent prayer to a greater physician than himself that the child would survive and not rip their heart apart. He could tell how much they loved their son and it warmed his heart that these two people had surpassed the racial differences and flaunt it in the face of those who would look down their nose at their marriage and just loved each other and their child.
Over the next few days, the same tenacity that had pulled the Infant John Gage through helped him survive once again. His parents stood next to his bed smoothing the sable hair from his face and speaking softly to their weak and frightened son.
John’s dark eyes took in the room. His arms were bruised and they hurt from the many needles he’d been given…His chest hurt too. He didn’t like this place…They hurt him and he wanted to go home. He felt very tired but he finally managed to focus on his parents as their softly spoken words soothed the fear.
“We’ll take you home very soon háhketa, I promise,” Kate said with a smile as she watched the frightened look.
“H…home…Now m…mommy,” he stuttered out with a sniffle as he struggled to sit up.
“Not so fast there little one,” his father admonished pressing the small body back on the bed.
The eyes filled with tears…The lower lip stuck out in a trembling pout. “Doan w…wanna stay h…here.”
“I know son but you have to…At least another day okay?”
The door opened before John could reply and Dr. Carlton came in. “My nurse tells me my young patients fever broke this morning,” he said with a smile.
“Yes and he wants to go home.”
Carlton laughed. “Let’s just check you out then and we’ll see what we can do to get you out of here John,” he teased the child as he tucked the earpieces of his stethoscope in place. John drew back fearfully as he reached toward him…Only his father’s strong grip kept him in place. “I won’t hurt you son,” Carlton reassured the child.
John had heard that several times over the last few days and they had all been lies. They had hurt him. They’d stuck him with needles and put tubes in his nose and made him take some nasty tasting medicine and put that horrible mask thing over his face.
“Nooo,” he wailed as his eyes took on the same distant and vague look they’d had the other time. He began a quick rocking motion.
“JOHN,” Roderick said sharply as he gave his son a quick shake before gathering his small body against him. John stiffened and struggled for a brief moment before relaxing into his father’s arms.
Sean drew back and watched the child but his father’s rapid response had stopped the motion and the eyes regained awareness.
“Does he do that often?” Carlton asked softly.
“Only when he’s scared or upset…,” he replied hugging his son to him.
“Have you seen a doctor about it?”
“Yes…Dr. Smith in Lame Deer. He said my son was mentally ill,” Rod said in disgust.
Carlton frowned. “I’m afraid Smith is a bigot like so many of the others. He’s also not too good with children either.”
“What do you think it is?”
The doctor frowned and pursed his lips. “Well…I can’t be sure…I’ve only seen him do it this one time but…”
He shrugged… “Mr. Gage…This isn’t my specialty and I could be very off base here but it’s possible that your son has a condition called autism.”
“What the hell is that?” Rod asked, looking worried that John had something fatal.
“Look…There’s not a lot of research for it right now. I’m sorry…The best I can tell you is that it’s neurological and not fatal,” he assured the man, correctly reading the fearful look.
“What can we do for it?” Kate asked.
He shook his head. “There’s nothing to be done that I know of. Just wait him out when he gets like that. Sometimes holding them and letting them struggle seems to help settle them down. John seems like a pretty normal kid otherwise. If he has it, it’s probably a mild case and he might just outgrow it.”
“So you’re saying he’s not crazy or…or…?” Rod questioned, afraid that the doctor would disagree.
Carlton smiled. “He’s not mentally ill…I promise you.”
Kate and Rod breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you,” Rod said holding out his hand. Carlton shook it.
“Now…Let’s try this again. John…?” He questioned.
The dark eyes peeked warily out from the safety of his father’s arms. “Come on son…Let the doctor look at you and maybe we’ll be able to take you home.”
The sable head shook emphatically. “I promise you John…NO NEEDLES…just the stethoscope. Here…I’ll let you try it on me first okay?”
Curiosity got the better of him. The dark brows furrowed in a frown but he finally pushed away from his father. He let the doctor put the earpieces in his ears, reasoning that it didn’t appear to hurt the tall man when he did it. Kate and Rod exchanged a grin.
The doctor held the stethoscope to his chest. “Can you here that John?” The little boy nodded. “That’s my heart beating.” The chocolate brown eyes widened and a smile finally cracked the serious expression. “Okay…My turn.” John’s eyes narrowed distrustfully and he tensed but he let the doctor take the stethoscope back and place the bell on his chest. He relaxed when there was no pain. “Breath in for me John,” he said demonstrating. John breathed in, copying the doctor. “Good boy…Again,” he directed moving the bell.
After a moment he stepped back and scruffed the dark head. “He’s still a little congested but not too bad. I think you should be able to take him home tomorrow.”
“That’s wonderful…Thanks Dr. Carlton.”
“Please…If you have any further problems…Bring him back to me. I work out of Lame Deer too so just call Dr. Handly’s office and ask for me.”
“Thank you…We will.”
“I will warn you though…” They frowned at the serious tone. “Once he’s had pneumonia, he’ll be more susceptible to getting it again…This is already the third time so you need to watch him, especially in the cold weather. Keep him warm and his chest covered when he’s outside in the cold.” They nodded their agreement.
They took him home the next day. John recovered quickly but his stay in the hospital had seriously cut into their finances once again.
“How much longer will we have to wait?” Kate asked, sounding depressed that she’d have to stay here even longer now.
Rod shrugged. “A few extra months to make it back up,” he told her with a sigh.
“Oh Roderick…I’m so tired of being away from you all the time.”
“I know that honey but John had to come first no matter what.”
“I know that…It’s just…”
“Just what…?” He questioned.
Kate rarely complained and she pretty much glossed over the fights she had with her family over their marriage and John or the insults her family hurled at John, hoping they’d be able to go back to California before he was old enough to truly understand their bitterness and put this part of their life behind him.
She knew her husband wouldn’t tolerate it, especially when he saw what it did to John, even at this age and they just couldn’t afford to have them staying in hotels or even renting an apartment. They needed to wait until Roderick had enough for the down payment on a house and a permanent position as a senior Engineer to pay for it.
“Nothing…It’s just that we miss you.”
“I miss you too.”
He turned on the radio and took his wife in his arms…She smiled up at him as the music began to play. A new song came on the radio a short time later and Rod grinned down at her…It was their song. He began to sing it to her.
“Once I had a secret love
He leaned down to kiss her as the song finished. Neither of them noticed the pair of brown eyes that watched them from the darkened bedroom…John giggled softly as he watched them kiss.
All too soon Roderick once again had to leave. He packed his suitcases in the DeSoto and turned to his wife and son. “Soon…Soon Katie…I’m gonna come back and take you with me. We’ll be together as a family and we won’t have to go through this every time.”
She nodded as she watched Rod swing his son up into his arms. Tears trickled down the small cheeks as he wrapped his arms around his father’s neck. “No d…d…daddy. Doan go…,” he stuttered. Even this young, John seemed to understand that there was good reason to be afraid…That the fighting and the yelling stopped when his father was home but when he wasn’t…? He wanted him to stay.
“Will you remember me when I get back this time little one.”
The dark head nodded against his shoulder. “I’ll be back in time for your fifth birthday okay?”
John frowned. He had no idea what a birthday was…At least not in the sense his father spoke of. Rod looked at Kate questioningly. “We don’t celebrate birthdays the way your people do Ná’méhόt.”
“Oh…Well…Uh…Maybe it’s time he did. I’ll bring him something…Maybe we can do something special. I don’t want your father to be the one to teach my son everything you know?” He said only half joking. He wanted to be THE male influence in his child’s life and it tore at his heart to have to leave him to Kate’s father to raise. “I’m gonna ask Rick to come visit with John once in a while Kate…Kind of teach him some of things we do okay?”
She nodded. She’d never deny her husband anything and she understood. John was being raised Indian and Rod wasn’t one of them. He wanted his son to understand his white heritage as well. She just hoped it didn’t confuse John too badly being pulled in two different directions.
Rod squeezed his son tightly. “I’ll be back in a few months,” he said kissing the child on the forehead. He pried the small arms from around his neck and handed him to his mother, giving her one final kiss as well before he climbed in the car and drove away.
The next morning her father stood on her doorstep. Now that Roderick was gone Kate knew things would return to what had become normal. Sun Walker would take John to the ranch or out into the woods with Thomas to teach him to track or fish or show him the berry’s and plants…To listen for the sound of birds wing or the wind in the leaves…A silent footstep.
She watched with a grateful heart that her father had taken John under his wing but she knew that it bothered Roderick a lot that his son was being raised by her father more often than not and with his values and ideals instead of Roderick’s. Her father was a strong man and a good one but he believed that men shouldn’t show their emotions…at least not the softer ones…Roderick thankfully didn’t hold to that belief and she didn’t want her son unable to express himself or show the emotions her husband freely displayed with her and John…Besides it was confusing for the child as well.
She also knew that it was causing jealousy in her sister’s hearts. First of all Mase thought that George still harbored a desire for Kate…She would have been horrified if she knew the direction his thoughts really turned in and second…Mase felt her son would one day be a tribal elder as his father would one day be and wouldn’t need those things. She didn’t understand that those skills would be respected not spurned by the council.
Sun Walker saw her son as spoiled and lazy…He never invited Ben to join them. Thomas on the other hand was his grandfather’s shadow and trailed him faithfully, eager to learn anything the old man would teach him. He welcomed his little cousin and helped him along.
His mother’s jealousy raged that her son…His eldest grandchild now had to share his grandfather’s attentions. It would have been bad enough if it had been Ben but it was worse that it was the little half breed that was pushing Thomas from Sun Walker’s life.
Kate watched them walk away and knew when they returned the fights would begin again. Her sisters prayed she’d leave…Her mother made the trek daily to remind her of the mistake she’d made in leaving her family behind to marry a vé’ho’é and her father wanted her to tell her white husband they were through. What kind of life was this for John? Having a part time father and for her to have a part time husband. He at least wanted John to stay.
Only the knowledge that one day Roderick would return and take her and John away from this kept her from losing her mind over it but it was exactly what Sun Walker and her mother feared the most and the reason behind the fighting, at least for them…And his attentions to John…? Well that only escalated the hateful and hurtful fights with her sisters.
George was still bitter over her rejection and Blue Eagle…He at least seemed to be moving on with his life. She knew he was seeing Amara…the daughter of Runs with Horses.
She quietly hoped he could find another woman to love and forgive her for hurting him. She truly had never intended for that to happen as she was genuinely fond of the man but he still looked hurt whenever he saw her.
She knew she no longer belonged here either. She sighed as she closed the door. She just wanted to live in peace until Roderick came home again but she knew in her heart that wouldn’t happen. She’d just have to bear it for John’s sake.
John walked beside his grandfather and his cousin. They were going to the ranch as usual. Sun Walker planned to start teaching John to rope a moving target and Thomas wanted to help. The little one was absolutely amazing to watch. His reflexes were quick and he was accurate with his throws for someone so young.
Thomas shook his head in wonder at his little Cousin. He was a complete mystery around the horses and even the most dangerous of them seemed to tolerate his presence when no one else could get near them. Sun Walker beamed proudly that the child had ‘the gift’ of his Grandfather, unfortunately...He never told John that. The older boy frowned a bit and wondered why but he guessed it simply wasn’t in Sun Walkers nature to express his feelings.
Thomas didn’t know what it was that John had that was special but he suspected that the animals just sensed the innocent and gentle heart that his little cousin seemed to ooze despite the fact that John could be brutally honest…His sometimes less than tactful words could really rouse his mother and his Aunt’s ire while the older Cousin had to frequently cover his mouth to keep from laughing outright...John was absolutely tactless and truly had no idea that the things he said were offensive.
They arrived at the ranch interrupting Thomas’ thoughts. Sun Walker made quick work of saddling the horses. John could barely reach the stirrups from the back of the small black and white horse he usually rode but the old man lifted the child into the saddle and handed him the coil of rope.
“Alright John…,” he said pointing toward the flock of milling sheep in a small pen. “Try and see if you can catch one.”
John kicked his horse into motion and the sheep scattered. The lariat twirled over his head but the sheep he was aiming for ducked and spun away. John frowned in annoyance at the miss.
“Lead the animal John,” his grandfather called to him. “Try to figure out where he will be when you release the rope.”
John frowned…He nodded hesitantly but really didn’t understand the concept. Thomas grinned at the slightly confused look on the boys face. He felt a presence and glanced over to see his other cousin Ben climbing the rails to sit beside him.
“What are you doing here?” He questioned warily.
“I want to watch,” he replied with a shrug, grinning as once again John’s noose dropped where the animal had been and not where it was now.
The young boy bit his lip in frustration, gathering the rope once more. “Try again…Watch the sheep John…Where he is running to,” the old man encouraged. “That’s where your rope needs to be.”
Thomas shot a glare at Ben’s smirk but turned back to watch the action. The rope swung over the boys head. The sheep shot forward and the rope dropped neatly over its head. The line jerked nearly unseating the boy for a moment before he wrapped the rope around the saddle horn and sat back.
The horse slid to a stop. Thomas whooped joyfully as John looked to his grandfather to see his reaction. The old man nodded in satisfaction. Ben scowled angrily. “Do it again John,” the old man directed as he walked over to release the struggling animal.
John reeled the line in and once again urged the horse forward. As the animal cantered past Ben…The older boy slipped from the rails falling in front of the animal. The horse spooked to the side and John, unprepared for the abrupt direction change…fell. He hit the ground hard…The air escaped from his lungs with a whoof.
Ben picked himself up and dusted his clothes with a smug grin as John lay stunned. Air returned to his lungs and tears of pain filled the chocolate brown eyes.
Ben was suddenly pitched forward by the angry push from Thomas. “You did that on purpose,” he accused as Sun Walker reached John.
“Did not,” the other boy whined fearfully, knowing Sun Walker would blister his behind if he thought he’d deliberately hurt John again. “I…I fell,” he insisted.
His grandfather shot him an angry look as he checked the four year old boy over. “Névé’e-a’xaame (Do not cry) John…Remember that our people are warriors. We are strong and tears show weakness.”
John nodded, hiccupping back the tears. “Héehe’e namêšéme,(Yes grandfather),” he sniffled.
The old man spun about abruptly, catching the gloating smirk that had spread over Ben’s face. Sun Walker’s hand clamped around Ben’s arm spinning him around as the other lashed out to land stingingly across the boy’s backside.
Ben let out a wail of pain as he was dragged to the fence. “Go home…Do not come here again,” he growled in disgust as tears rolled down his grandson’s face. He didn’t waste his words on the boy but returned to John and helped him up. “Thomas, get the horse.”
“Héehe’e namêšéme ,”The older Cousin replied as he threw a smug glance at Ben for getting his comeuppance before moving to catch the paint horse.
Sun Walker waited until he led him back. He picked John up, setting him on the animal and handed him the rope. “Try again John.”
The small boy nodded and for the next hour continued to practice despite the bruises that decorated his back and buttocks from the hard fall. As Thomas had predicted, it wasn’t long before the rope was landing around the animal’s neck more often than not. He wished his family could see what he did in John and not just the white.
Kate gasped at the sight of the bruises on John. “What happened to him?” She asked anxiously as she knelt beside him, searching the child over frantically for any sign of injury.
“He’s not badly hurt,” Sun Walker informed her indifferently.
“Not badly hurt? Look at him,” she argued, pulling the shirt away from the discolored flesh along John’s ribs.
“He merely fell from his horse. Do not coddle the boy Red Moon, you will make him weak.”
She stared at her father in disbelief. “He is four and half father. He is a child not a man and he should not have to be strong like one,” she shot back with tears in her eyes for her father’s lack of compassion for his own grandchild. Is this what he wanted John to become?
John’s dark eyes glanced nervously between his mother and his grandfather. “Namêšéme says do not cry mommy,” he quoted as his mother hugged him to her. John wasn’t good at reading other people emotions but he knew when his mother cried that she was sad. He patted her back comfortingly.
“It’s okay to cry na’óvohe,” she assured him, shooting her father an angry look.
John frowned in confusion at the contradictory statement. Which one was right? “But grandfather…”
Sun Walker’s angry retort to his daughter cut him off. “He must learn to be a man Red Moon. His people are warriors. Strong and fearless,” he said sternly. “They will not accept a weak child as one of them.”
“He has plenty of time to learn all of that father…If he lives through the teaching.” She saw the angry tightening of Sun Walkers mouth and knew another fight was brewing. “Go to your room háhketa,” she instructed, giving him a gentle push. She knew their fights frequently upset the child.
John cast a wary look between the two before he ran for his room. His grandfather’s voice rising in anger behind him. “This is the teaching of the vé’ho’é but it is NOT the way of our people. He has turned you into one of them Red Moon.”
“I believe in Roderick’s ways father and I want John to be free to express them. To love…To feel…To cry,” she snapped back tearfully.
John backed into the corner of his room as their voices rose…His hands pressed over his ears. “Don’t fight…Don’t cry mommy…Don’t fight,” he whispered. “Stop…Stop…Stop.” It became a litany as a slow rock began…His back slamming into the wall behind him. He didn’t feel it but his voice trailed off as that peaceful place closed around him until he couldn’t hear them anymore.
He woke a long while later in his mother’s arms. He felt exhausted but he didn’t know why. He never remembered what happened when that grayness took over. There was always a sense of what was happening around him but he couldn’t quite reach the surface of that quiet place he retreated to until it felt safe enough to return.
His mother was weeping and rocking her confused son in her arms. “Mommy…?” he questioned anxiously.
Kate closed the door behind her father as he left. She wiped the angry tears away. Why was her father so hard on John? He was the only child she could ever have and she wanted to protect him. He was just a little boy, not a warrior…Her little boy, not his…Not the peoples.
She didn’t want John to grow up cold and hard as her father was or bitter and resentful like her sisters. She wanted him to be like Roderick…Like her.
She opened the door to her son’s room and stopped, sighing in frustrated resignation at the sight of her son huddled in the corner… His back pressed against the wall, rocking steadily…That same lost and empty look in his normally expressive brown eyes.
His small arms were wrapped around his thin body…his fingers rubbing together in an absent gesture of aimless frustration.
“Na’háhketa,” she whispered in distress as she ran to him. She slid down to sit beside him but John moved subtly away. She reached out to hold him but he pushed at her hands.
“UNH UNH UNH,” he groaned out wordlessly, the dark eyes looking past her at nothing.
“Oh na’óvohe,” she muttered, pulling him into her arms…Knowing what was coming. His body arced over backward…The cry grew more adamant as he pushed against her. The feet kicked out but she hung on, speaking softly and letting him fight. She didn’t know how or why but it always seemed bring him around eventually.
After several long minutes John seemed to run out of energy. He collapsed into her embrace. The dark eyes regained their focus and he looked up into her face. “Mmm…om…my,” he stuttered, before the eyes drifted closed.
“I’m here baby,” she whispered against the sable hair. “I’m here and I won’t ever let them hurt you,” she promised.
The days passed slowly for Kate and John and it was a lonely time. Roderick’s friend Rick drove out a few times as Rod had had asked him to check on them. He took John out and presented him with a football. Never having seen one, John stared at it in confusion.
“C’mon buddy…I’ll show you how to throw it,” he urged. John picked it up quickly after a few awkward attempts. It was really too big for his little hands but the gist was there. Rick laughed, thoroughly impressed by the child’s willingness to try and keep trying even as it bounced off the ground well short of its target. “You’re your father’s son that’s for sure little man,” he teased tousling the dark hair.
Other than her family and Rick’s occasional visit’s, Kate rarely left the house…Avoiding the frowns and sneering comments of the people who looked down on her marriage to a vé’ho’é and her son. Her own family was the worst and the episodes with John only increased with their presence.
John was becoming more and more aware of their bitter and resentful attitudes as time passed and while before he’d been too young to understand their feelings toward them, now…He often stood with a look of hurt and confusion on his face at their snide words or when they pushed him away.
So while she didn’t interfere with her father and Thomas spending time with John at the ranch, she did try to keep them from the house when they picked him up or dropped him off.
John returned home one afternoon and excitement lit his eyes. “What is it háhketa?” She asked, squatting in front of him.
“Thomas is having his Right Passage,” he explained excitedly. “And he said I could come.”
She smiled in amusement. “Right of Passage,” she corrected gently.
He nodded his head emphatically…His dark hair flopping into his eyes. “That’s what I said mommy,” his tone inferring that she was hard of hearing.
Kate giggled at her son’s exuberant nature. “Oh…I’m sorry Mé’oo’o’,” she replied repentantly. Her smile faded a bit. “And did he tell you what it was?” John shook his head. “That’s when he will choose his life’s path.” John looked confused so Kate continued. “He will decide what he wants to do with his life.”
John bit his lip. “Will he not stay here and work the ranch with me? Grandfather said it’s what we have to do.”
She frowned. “Your grandfather is wrong John. For Thomas that may be true but you will have many choices on what to be when you grow up.”
“Like what?” He questioned in wide eyed curiosity.
“Oh…You could be an Engineer like your daddy.”
“He’s never here,” he mumbled.
Kate’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “That is because he’s working very hard to make enough money to take us to live with him in California.”
“Grandfather says he should be here with me if he was a good father.”
Kate gasped in shock. “That is it,” she muttered angrily. She drew a deep breath and calmed herself before talking to her son. “You have a very good daddy John and your grandfather should never have told you that.”
Kate was furious…Not only did he attack Roderick to her but to his son as well. She wouldn’t have it…Even if it meant keeping John away from him.
Kate accompanied her father and John to the ranch the next day. She waited patiently and watched as her son was placed on his horse and rode out with Thomas. “Father…,” she began softly. “John tells me that you’ve told him Roderick isn’t a good father.”
The man’s eyebrow rose questioningly. “Where is the man you have married Red Moon? Is he here raising his child?”
“No he isn’t…He’s trying to save enough to buy us a house so that we can be with him. That is why John and I are here and you knew that when we came back. That it was to help John to have the security of a stable home.”
“But it has not helped daughter…He still has the crazed seizures…He needs his father.”
“They have nothing to do with Roderick being here and he is not crazy…The doctor called it au…au…tism.”
Sun Walker shrugged. “It is still something our people fear by whatever name your white doctor calls it.”
“Regardless…The problem isn’t something Roderick caused by his absence,” she argued. “I will not have you speak ill of him in front of John. I appreciate that you teach him so much and spend time with him…But please father…Do not make me keep him from you.”
“KEEP HIM FROM ME,” he roared. “I am the only man he has…,” he began to argue.
“Don’t fight…Don’t fight…Don’t fight.” The soft litany came, silencing both father and daughter. They looked up to see John and Thomas sitting on their horses a few feet away…The younger boy’s hands pressed tightly over his ears and rocking softly…His eyes growing vague and empty. Thomas watched him fearfully.
“Oh baby,” Kate gasped in despair as she pulled him from the horses back. “It is okay háhketa …We are not fighting, just talking,” she said rocking the small boy against her.
“You see what his father’s absence is doing to him?”
“This isn’t because of Roderick father…It’s because of us…This constant fighting. It has to stop,” she said softly as John finally began to relax against her. She glanced around, noticing that several others were gathering to watch the exchange. Their eyes riveted on the small boy.
Mase, George, Blue Eagle, Four Feathers, White Bear, Many Horses and others. Her eyes swept the group. Only Blue Eagle’s Aunt…Little Fox held compassion for them in her eyes.
“E’máséhánee’e,” (Crazy) her sister Lacee spat.
“He isn’t,” Kate argued as tears filled her eyes at their cold looks and hard hearts. “He’s just an ordinary child.”
They shook their heads at her. John finally pulled back and looked around warily at the group around them…Not quite sure how he’d gotten here. He had been on his horse hadn’t he?
“Mmmm….mom…my,” he stuttered out, looking confused.
“Take him home,” her father growled, annoyed that the group was watching the child with such a mixture of fear, disdain and embarrassment.
“Come John,” she said softly, leading the boy away. She stopped briefly to look up at Thomas. “Thank you for inviting him to your momáhtáhévo’eétahe meo’o (Rite of Passage).
Thomas nodded but his mother intervened. “He is not welcome at the ceremony Red Moon.”
“He said I could go,” John whispered with a pout.
“Mother…I told him he could come,” Thomas admitted, looking angrily at his mother.
“No…No half breed is welcome there.”
John’s eyes filled with confusion. She knew she meant him but what was a half breed? He looked to his mother who was looking at her sister in disgust. “If it were not for the pain you cause my son I would almost pity your cold heart my sister,” she growled. “Come John.”
“What is a half breed?” John asked curiously as they walked.
“John…among our people…Well…It’s not a nice thing to call someone.”
He nodded, once again looking baffled. If it wasn’t nice why would his aunt call him that? “But what is it Mommy?”
Kate sighed. John could be so obsessive sometimes. When he got on a subject he could beat it to death. It was usually just easier to answer him then to beat around the bush. “Someone who is only half Indian my son,” she replied. “Your father is white not Indian.”
John looked down at the ground, finally old enough to begin to realize but still not understanding their dislike for him. What had he done wrong?
Rite of Passage
Rod returned as promised just before John’s fifth birthday. Kate saw the dusty red DeSoto pull up and ran to the door. “John…Daddy’s home…,” she called.
John came running. He sailed past his mother and out onto the walkway. A broad grin pulled at the corners of his mouth as Rod dropped his bags and held his arms wide. John catapulted into them. A gleeful laugh erupted as he was tossed high in the air. “Catch them quick…” Rod urged as John’s hands reached for the clouds before dropping back into his father’s arms. “Ahhh…Not fast enough,” Rod teased as he hugged the boy to him tightly, breathing in the scent of his son’s hair.
“Daddy,” he giggled. “Can’t bweathe.”
Rod let up a bit. God he missed him and his wife both. Soon…Soon he’d have enough. They’d offered him the senior engineer’s position as soon as his predecessor retired. Another few months and Rod would have a permanent office and he’d only have to travel a couple of months a year. Then…Then he’d take them both away from here and they could be a family again. He set John away from him, reaching to take the small face between his hands. “I missed you…Did you miss me?”
The dark head nodded, the hair flopping into his eyes. He smoothed the sable hair back, looking into eyes the same color as his mother’s. He looked more and more Indian all the time but Rod didn’t care…He’d fix that when he got them to California. “I love you.”
“Love you too daddy,” John said as his father scooped him up and carried him toward Kate who stood waiting for them with a poignant smile. She loved to watch her husband with their son. He was so different from her own people…He never hesitated to say the words or show his child how he felt and she loved that about him.
He set John down as he drew near…His green eyes growing warm as they swept over his wife. “God you’re beautiful,” he murmured as he pulled her into his arms to kiss her warmly. Holding her close as her body molded itself to his.
John giggled, breaking the pair apart. Rod reached out to tweak his nose. “What are you laughing at little one,” he teased, giving him a poke in the ribs. The child dissolved into laughter and Rod scooped him up as he hooked his arm around his wife and the three disappeared inside.
Kate filled him in on all that had happened since he’d been gone. She left out the fight with her father at the ranch, knowing Roderick would explode in anger if he knew what Sun Walker had said to John and she hoped their son wouldn’t repeat it either.
“Thomas had his Rite of Passage,” she told him with a smile, knowing her husband liked the boy and that Thomas liked Roderick as well.
“What did he choose…No wait…Let me guess? He’s gonna stay and work the ranch,” Roderick said with a sigh.
She nodded. “It’s what is expected,” she agreed. “We don’t leave our people…Our ways.”
“Yes but I fell in love with a vé’ho’é…That’s not usual,” she teased.
“I couldn’t go,” John said with a pout.
Kate tensed as Rod looked at his son. “Why not little one…?”
“Roderick…,” Kate began but John replied cutting off her more tactful response.
“They don’t like me cuz I’m a half breed.”
Roderick shot from his chair, flipping it over backward in a rage. “WHAT…?” He roared.
John covered his ears…His eyes wide with terror at the anger in his father’s voice. “I’m sowwy,” he whispered. “Ddd…doan yell…” he backed away.
Rod brought his temper under control for the sake of his son but his green eyes still spit fire as he looked at Kate. He scooped John into his arms. “I’m sorry John…I didn’t mean to scare you. I’m not mad at you little one,” he assured his frightened child. The small arms circled his father’s neck as he laid his head down on his shoulder. He kissed the top if the boys head and rubbed his back soothingly. “Go play,” he said as he finally set him back on his feet and gave him a light pop on the butt to send him on his way.
John ran to his room, throwing a final glance toward his father. He gave him a reassuring smile and a nod but the moment the door closed he turned on his wife. “Half breed?” He growled angrily.
“My sister Lacee called him that. I had to explain to him what it was. I haven’t let John near her since but…I can’t keep him away forever. They’re my family and I can’t avoid them.”
“I got the senior engineer’s position Kate…At least as soon as Frank Bishop retires.”
She smiled joyfully. “That’s wonderful…How soon can we go?”
“Hold on baby…It’s still another year but at least it’s secure. I’ll start training with him next month and my pay will increase along with it. If John stays healthy this year…I can probably have enough to put a down payment on a house for us.”
“Another year,” she whispered in dismay… But at least now they had a time frame to finally start their lives as a family.
Two days later John and his father took a walk along the road to Lame Deer. “Come daddy…I wanna show you what namêšéme and Thomas showed me while you were in Cal…Cal…fornia,”
“Okay John,” he laughed as his son dragged him along.
Rod was amazed as John showed him how to track, squatting beside the smallest little disturbances and pointing them out to his father. He showed him where the best places to fish the river were and he pointed out plants and trees and pretty well impressed his father with what he’d learned. “I can rope a sheep now too daddy.”
“You can…A real one?” He asked dubiously.
John nodded. “And trow a football…”
Rod chuckled at his son’s diversity of skills. “Throw a football,” he corrected. “And I assume that means Rick came to see you?” John nodded again. “Maybe it’s time I start teaching you a few things too…Like reading and writing Mr. Einstein,” he teased. “You may need them when you grow up.” Rod scruffed his son’s hair. “It’s a sure bet you won’t be here to work the ranch,” he muttered, half under his breath.
John looked up at him curiously...Grandfather had told him that’s what he would do? The wail of sirens in the distance caught their attention. John’s eyes were drawn to the parade of brilliant red trucks that sped along the road toward them…The huge tiller truck led the way.
Rod glanced down worriedly. John hated loud noises…They usually scared him and caused him to clap his hands over his ears to drown them out but not now. His mouth hung open in awe and his eyes were wide in wonder. “Daddy look,” he whispered as they drew closer.
“Yes I see them,” he laughed.
“I wanna do dat.”
“That…I want to do that,” he corrected as the trucks rolled by them. One of the men spotted the wide eyed five year old and hit the horn, giving them a wave. John waved back.
“Did you see dat?” He asked excitedly.
Rod scooped him up as the trucks disappeared into a cloud of dust. “So you want to drive the fire truck huh?”
The head nodded wildly. “Yes…I wanna do dat.”
“Well okay my little fireman,” he teased. “I’ll take you into town and show them to you okay?”
John grinned in excitement. “I wanna see the big fire truck.”
“That was a tiller truck,” he explained to his son. The dark eyes were alight…And I guess that answered my next question.” John looked at him curiously. “What you want to be when you grow up.”
“A fire driver…”
Rod chuckled again, enjoying his son’s childish wonder about everything. “A fire truck driver…An engineer. That’s a different kind of engineer from me but that’s what they call them but if you drive that big one…You’d be a Tillerman.”
“A tiller man…,” he breathed out softly. “Come daddy…I wanna tell mommy bout the trucks,” he said tugging at his father’s hand.
Rod grinned and let him lead him home. “I guess that was your Rite of Passage huh little one?” He questioned as they walked. Rod saw the excitement in his son and guessed correctly that the decision to be a fireman wasn’t just a childish whim and if that’s what he wanted, than Rod would encourage him in every way possible.
John talked about the trucks he’d seen all the way home and well into dinner. It was all Rod could do to get him quiet enough to go to bed later in the evening. “A fireman…?” Kate questioned as Roderick turned the radio on.
“That’s what he said,” he explained as he swung his wife into his arms in the kitchen.” He moved slowly with her to the music as it wafted softly from the speaker, burying his face in her hair and reveling in the feel of her body pressed against him. “And from the way he’s been carrying on all night, I think he was serious.”
“My people do not become Firemen,” she said looking up at him worriedly.
“But my people do and if that’s really what he wants to be when he grows up than I’ll help him every way I can but he’s damn smart Kate…He won’t need much help from me.”
“It would be a first… if they’d let him in that is,” she said ruefully.
“Ah but in California…? They won’t know or care if he’s half Indian.”
“That’s true,” she said with a smile. Neither of them saw the small boy watching them from the shadows as he always did when they danced in the kitchen. A smile curled his lips while he watched his mother. She always smiled and almost never cried when daddy was home…He wished he’d never go away.
The next morning Rod kept his promise. He loaded John and Kate into the car and drove them into Lame Deer. John’s birthday was tomorrow and he wanted to give him a great day. They located the fire station across from a small café and parked in front of it.
John’s reaction was the same as it had been the day before and Kate had to smile at the gleam of excitement that lit John’s eyes when he saw the trucks through the open door. Rod led him inside.
An older man stepped out of his office. “Can I help you?” He asked with a smile at the couple and the little boy.
“Yes…My names Roderick Gage and this is my wife Kate,” He began a bit hesitantly, unsure of their welcome. He saw the gray eyes sweep over Kate in surprise that she was married to a white man but he said nothing and the smile didn’t leave his face so Rod continued. “This our son John. He uh…saw your rigs out on the road yesterday and he’s decided he wants to be a fireman.”
“You’re a little short son,” the man teased him gently.
John frowned but Roderick and Kate both laughed at the jest. “He’d like to take a closer look at them if it’s alright?”
Several other men came from another room. John’s dark eyes swept over the uniforms and the boots and he wiggled in his father’s arms. “Down daddy,” he breathed out in awe. The men grinned at his excitement.
“Wait John…We haven’t been invited.”
“Let him down Mr. Gage,” the Captain said quietly.
John hit the ground running…He stepped up to the tiller truck and suddenly found himself hoisted up into the driver’s seat by one of the men as the Captain turned back to the boy’s parents. “I’m Captain Robert Rigsby,” he introduced himself.
“Thank you for letting him look,” Rod said, shaking the man’s hand.
“Recruit em young eh Mr. Gage,” he said with a laugh.
“I’ll have to watch out that he doesn’t runaway to become a fireman before he’s six.”
They laughed as they watched the men take the boy around. They seemed to get as much pleasure from it as John did. One dropped his helmet on the child almost engulfing his whole head. John squealed in glee, drawing a smile from all of them.
Another let him ring the bell and turn on the lights. Roderick slipped an arm around his wife. “I think he’s serious,” he told her.
“Well if he was not before, he is now,” she retorted with a soft smile.
They let the boy play for almost an hour, patiently answering every ‘what’s dat?’ or ‘what does dis do?’ that the child had. They were almost regretful when Roderick finally reached up and took him in his arms.
“Come on John…We gotta let these men go back to work. Thank you all for being so nice. You gave him a great birthday.”
“When’s that sir?” One young fireman asked.
“Tomorrow…He’ll be five.”
The man grinned and disappeared coming back a moment later with a helmet. He dropped it on John’s head. “It was my first helmet sir…I’d like him to have it.”
“Oh you don’t have to…,” Rod began to protest.
“It’s okay sir. I want him to have it,” he reiterated.
“Say thank you John.”
John grinned, holding the helmet on his head. “Tank you,” he said joyfully.
They left the fire station with a smile. The Captain’s ‘bring the boy by any time,’ was acknowledged with a grateful smile and a wave. They headed over to the small store. Rod wanted to find a birthday gift for his son. This was the first time he’d been home on the actual day to celebrate it and he wanted it to be special.
They browsed through the store, drawing a few disapproving stares from the townspeople but Roderick’s icy, green eyed stare kept them from saying anything.
John’s sudden squeal of discovery brought both of his parents to his side. John held a toy fire truck clutched in his small hands. Rod grinned at his wife… “I guess we found what he wants for his birthday,” he quipped.
They left the store a while later with a happy almost five year old holding the bright red engine and with very little doubt what their son would be when he grew up.
Over the next three weeks Rod worked with John…He played football and taught him to throw and catch a baseball…He explained what firemen do and told him about school and assured him that he’d be going there the following year.
John frowned at that in uncertainty but Rod hugged him. “You’ll learn so much more than I can teach you…You’re so smart John…I promise you, you’ll love it.”
Roderick knew John would need to hold his own in a school where his being half Indian would be a drawback…At least until he could move them to California. He began to teach him at home…John learned his alphabet and to count in both languages.
He handed John his pen. “That’s my lucky green pen John…So don’t lose it okay?” He teased the boy.
John nodded, looking serious as he wrote out the letters and numbers under his father’s watchful eye. Rod beamed proudly over every accomplishment. Let the narrow minded people of this village or the town say what they liked…Despite the problem that John occasionally had with his withdrawal from the world…His son was bright and Rod knew he could do anything he set his mind to.
All too soon the time came once again for Rod to pack up and head back to LA. He dropped the fireman’s helmet on John’s head as his son clung to him. “Ddd…doan go dddd….daddy,” he wept.
His son’s tears ripped at his heart. “I have to little one but it’ll go by really fast and very soon I’m going to take you and mommy with me okay?”
He handed his son to Kate, prying the small arms from around his neck. God he hated this…It tore him up to leave him every time. “Say bye to daddy John…,” Kate said, wiping her own tears away.
“Soon,” he promised her. She nodded but it didn’t hurt any less to watch him drive away.
Sun Walker returned the next morning as if the past three weeks had never occurred…Planning to resume teaching his grandson as he had before. He stepped through the door and his eyes fell on John.
The boy sat at the table staring sadly at his breakfast. On his head…A fireman’s helmet, obviously made for an adult. “What is wrong John?” He questioned.
The small boy shrugged. “Daddy left,” he whispered.
“It is no different from all the other times he has left,” Sun Walker pointed out. “Let us go to the ranch. We have work to do.”
“Father please…John is getting older. He is starting to feel the loss when his daddy goes away.”
Daniel frowned. “He has Thomas and I to teach him. Now… Take that thing from your head and let’s go.”
John clamped his hands over the helmet. “No…It’s a fireman’s helmet. They gived it to me for my birfday,” he explained. “Daddy gived me a fire truck.”
The head bobbed vigorously. “I am five now namêšéme,” he said holding up five fingers.”
The man nodded. “Old enough to help out with the chores at the ranch.”
Kate heaved a sigh of frustration. “Father…John is not just slave labor.”
“I’m not gonna work on the ranch…I’m gonna be a fire man,” John said with absolute certainty.
“Do not be foolish,” the older man snapped as he yanked the helmet off the boy and sent it flying across the room.” John‘s face crumpled in dismay as he was pulled painfully from the chair. “Our people do not become firemen,” he snapped angrily.
Kate stood rooted in shock for a long moment. “Father…That was uncalled for,” she gasped as she went to pick up the helmet and set it on the table. “And as everyone in this village is so fond of reminding us…John is half white and they DO become firemen. His father has already approved John’s choice if that’s what he wants to be.”
“He is five daughter…What does he know of what he wants?”
“He knows enough to know that he has bigger dreams than working that ranch.”
“Don’t fight,” John moaned softly.
Kate sighed in frustration. “I’m sorry little one,” she murmured as she tugged his hand away from his grandfather and pulled him against her…Running her hand over the soft sable hair. “Do you want to go with your grandfather today? You don’t have to.”
He looked up into the angry face of his grandfather and desperately wished his father were still here. He understood that the fights were usually about him or his father though he didn’t understand why but he did know that they always ended with his mother in tears and he didn’t want that. “I…I’ll go mommy,” he whispered, hoping if he would just please his grandfather enough then the fights would stop.
“Come then…We have much to do and you have already missed three weeks.” John looked forlornly at his mother as Sun Walker pulled him along beside him.
“Hurry home Roderick,” Kate mumbled.
Thomas was waiting for them at the barn along with a half a dozen other children, most of whom were friends of Ben’s and his family. Most were there in the hopes of watching the little half breed fall flat on his face after the way Thomas boasted about him. They climbed the fence to watch while Sun Walker worked with the boy.
After three weeks of being at home, John’s timing was a little off. The others laughed at him at every missed try. By the fifth try the small boy was becoming frustrated as the sheep slipped under the noose and trotted away.
“Stupid sheep,” he muttered angrily, throwing the rope on the ground in rage and refusing to meet the eyes of the others sneering grins and gloating looks.
“John,” his grandfather’s voice growled sternly. “You will never learn by quitting,” he admonished, sending a scowling glare at the other children.
“I do not need to learn this namêšéme…I’m gonna be a fireman anyway,” he shouted back.
There was stunned silence for a few seconds before the other children began to laugh derisively.
A hurt look crossed John’s face as the laughter rang around him. Sun Walker gripped John’s arms, giving him a light shake. “You see John…All these children know that you are being foolish to think such a thing.”
John felt the burn of tears behind his eyes…A mixture of disappointment and humiliation. He knew his grandfather would be angry if he cried. He blinked back the tears, shoving the hurt down deep where they couldn’t see it but his mouth still trembled at the mocking laughter of the others.
He yanked his arm free from his grandfather’s grip, catching the older man by surprise. He slid from the horse and ran, slipping under the rails without effort. “JOHN,” his grandfather’s voice bellowed from behind him but he didn’t stop. He hated it here and he’d never go back.
The tears finally broke free despite his attempts to hold them back. He never slowed even as he approached the center of the village.
A man stepped out onto the sidewalk and John almost plowed into him. The boy stumbled back and a strong hand reached out to snatch the boy by the arm, keeping him from falling. “Watch where you are going stupid, clumsy child,” an angry voice snapped.
John looked up into the black eyes of his uncle…George Walking Wolf. The man stared down into the small face of his five year old nephew. Tears streaked his cheeks and the small, delicate mouth trembled.
“N…Ne’ševátamáhtsétanό H…Hešeho,” (I’m sorry Uncle) John sniffled unhappily, his voice hitching through the tears.
The angry look disappeared, replaced by a different one as the eyes shifted carefully around. There was no one else nearby. John didn’t understand the leering gaze but it still gave him a shiver of fear.
The man’s calloused finger’s reached out to wipe the tears from the boys face. “Why are you crying e’hahamóon(Nephew),” he questioned gently.
John shook his head, certain that his uncle’s mocking sneer would return if he told them the truth. Walking wolf smiled as his hand played through the soft, sable hair of the boy.
John looked up at him in confusion. Walking Wolf was never nice to him so why was he being so kind now?
George smiled at the boy…He was incredibly handsome for a child…Almost pretty. Long dark lashes, wet with tears surrounded the chocolate colored eyes, the same shade as his mothers but with his father’s sleepy eyed lids that gave him an innocently seductive look.
The small mouth trembled and George’s desire grew. His fingers brushed the child’s lips. John disliked being touched under normal circumstances by most people and even though he didn’t understand why…He sensed something wasn’t quite right here.
He tried to back away as George leaned down with the intent to kiss the tears away. The older man’s grip on his arm tightened painfully, holding him in place. It hurt a lot. “Ow,” John cried, as he began to struggle to break away.
Walking Wolf’s temper exploded that the child would even dare try to defy him. His fist clenched in rage, prepared to teach the ill mannered little half breed his first lesson in obedience to George’s will but his attention was caught by the sight of Sun Walker rounding the corner and approaching rapidly. He shoved the boy away from him.
John fell…His hands and face scraped the sidewalk. “Clumsy little fool,” he snarled as he backed away.
John’s sore fingers pressed against his face at looked up fearfully at his uncle. Sun Walker shot an annoyed glare at his son in law. “Are you all right John?” He asked, as he pulled the child to his feet.
John blinked back tears of pain. “Héehe’e namêšéme,” he whispered at the threatening look on his uncle’s face.
George smirked at him. The boy didn’t understand but it was obvious that the child was confused and frightened enough to keep his mouth shut. George would teach him slowly and by the time he was through…The boy would never tell anyone what George was doing…Or would be doing to him.
He’d done it before with other boys…Though they’d all been from town…John would be special and nothing would bring him more pleasure than to take the child of the woman who’d rejected him and the man who’d humiliated him.
“There was no need to be so harsh with the boy Walking Wolf,” Daniel barked at George.
“He ran into me,” George shot back. “He needs to learn manners.”
“I’ll teach him Walking Wolf…Not you,” he replied turning back to John. He gripped the child’s arms giving him a rough shake and a quick slap on the behind. John bit his lip but he buried the threatening tears. “Don’t you ever run off like that again…You could have been killed,” he snapped, pointing at the few passing cars that traveled on the road through town.
"NNN…Ne’ševátamáhtsétanό namêšéme,(I’m sorry grandfather)” he stuttered, his frightened eyes on his uncle.
“Come then…I’ll take you home.” Sun Walker shot another irritated look at Walking Wolf before he led the boy away. John cast a final scared look over his shoulder at George before he turned to follow his grandfather.
George eyes narrowed and he moistened his lips in anticipation as he watched them walk away.
“What happened to him?” Kate gasped as Sun Walker opened the door and let the boy precede him into the room. She ran to kneel next to him and examine his face more closely.
“He ran from me,” he explained in annoyance. “He ran into Walking Wolf and was knocked down…He is not badly hurt Red Moon…Stop babying the boy or you will make him weak.”
She shot a dark look at her father but continued to focus her attention on John. “Oh háhketa…Why did you do that?”
“They laugh at me,” he whispered forlornly.
Her eyes shot to her father again. “Why?”
“Cuz I want to be a fire man,” he replied.
“You see what happens? His father comes here and fills his head with foolishness and this is the result.”
“It is not foolishness father. If John wants to be a fireman when he is grown then that is what we will help him to do,” she asserted.
Sun Walker’s mouth tightened in anger. “So you will urge him to leave his people as well?”
“You knew we would leave one day father. Roderick will not stay here and we need to be with him,” she shrugged in a ‘there you are gesture.’
“Well until you do, then you can expect this to continue.”
John’s dark eyes flicked warily between the two adults and he began to back away. His mother saw it and immediately dropped her voice. “We are not fighting John,” she assured him, letting the anger drop away. She took her son’s hand. “I’ll see you tomorrow father,” she said firmly as she led the boy away. The tone warned Sun Walker that the discussion was through, at least for now.
Daniel watched as they disappeared into the kitchen. His daughter cheerfully telling John that they needed ‘to clean him up.’
He didn’t want to lose his daughter or his grandson and he had to make her understand that they belonged here…Both of them. He turned and left.
John let his mother clean the dirt from his hands and examine the scrape marks across his palms. Thankfully, they weren’t too badly damaged from the fall. She tried to see the scrape on his face but the all too recent memory of his uncle’s fingers touching him sent a shudder through him. He pulled away.
“Hová’âháne vé, (No don’t)” he gasped, looking scared.
“What is it John?” She questioned with a frown.
John didn’t understand what his uncle had been doing but it frightened him anyway but he didn’t want to show his fear…Grandfather would call him weak again. John didn’t want to be weak and he didn’t want the others to laugh at him anymore. “Doan baby me mommy,” he mumbled, covering his fear with bravado.
Kate sighed. “John…I know this is confusing for you but you are still only five. You’re still just a little boy and your grandfather shouldn’t be trying to make you act like a grown up just yet. It is alright for you to cry and be afraid sometimes. You will find when you are a man that it is alright for you to feel those things as well just as your daddy does.”
John shook his head and jumped from the chair. “Grandfather says I’m weak and small and…and…soft headed cuz I will not learn to hunt and…and,” John sniffed back humiliated tears.
“You have too gentle a heart to kill anything na’óvohe…Just like your daddy. He will not hunt either.”
John was so confused. He loved his father and he wanted to be like him but his grandfather told him that he was wrong…That he shouldn’t want to be like his daddy. His father was always away…That he was too soft, like all the white’s. That he had to be tough and strong as his grandfather was. John didn’t understand that his father was all those things as well just in a different way from his mother’s people and why did they have to BE different at all?
He didn’t know why the other children laughed at him or why the adults that were around him disliked him so much. Why had his uncle touched him the way he had and then hurt him? He turned and left the room…He needed to think.
His mother let him go, recognizing that he was troubled and needed some time to think about what she’d said. She didn’t stop him.
Later on, Kate pushed the door open to John’s room. She carried an ice pack and hoped he’d settled down enough to let her take care of the ugly scrape. He sat against the wall, his knees tucked up to his chin. When he lifted his head from his knees…the dark eyes looked sad.
She slid down the wall to sit next to him. “Let me see your face óvohe,” she said softly as she reached out to tilt his head up.
The boy flinched back fearfully. “Hová’âháne vé,” he said, pulling back once again.
Kate knew there was something very wrong…John didn’t like to be touched, especially after he’d retreated to that place inside his head but that hadn’t happened and his parents and grandfather and Thomas were usually exceptions. John was afraid and she didn’t know why? She remembered that Sun Walker had said George was involved…Had he hurt John in some way?
“Nothing mommy,” he replied, looking away.
“How did you fall?” She asked casually, hoping if she didn’t seem concerned, John would slip and tell her the whole story.
John bit his lip remembering the threatening glare of his uncle. “Hešeho pushed me,“ he whispered.
“WHAT?” She gasped angrily. “Why?”
John shook his head. “Stupid, clumsy child,” he mumbled.
Her mouth tightened in annoyance but her eyes filled with tears at her five year olds woebegone expression. “Did he call you that?”
John nodded. “Why do they not they like me?”
She reached out to pull him against her. “I do not understand it either my son,” she answered gently. “But it is nothing that you did.”
“Then why?” He asked plaintively.
“It is because I married your father.”
John looked confused. “Why was that wrong?”
“Because your father is not Indian, they did not want us to marry,” she tried again. “So they take their anger at us out on you and I am so sorry Na’háhketa and I know it is not fair but sometimes even grownups can be fools.” John nodded, still not quite understanding but reassured that he wasn’t to blame. “Now why did Hešeho push you?”
“I runned into him,” he admitted. “When I runned away from grandfather.”
“Ran…You ran into him not runned and do not do that again. You could have gotten hurt out there all by yourself,” she warned as she brushed under the scrape on John’s cheek. “Worse than you did,” she finished.
“Grandfather was mad too. He hitted me and shook me,” he mumbled.
“Well I’ll talk to him about that but he was probably worried about you,” she explained, thankful that she finally had him settled enough to gently lay the ice pack on his cheek.
John winced at the cold but shook his head. “He don’t like me either,” he murmured.
“Doesn’t ,” she corrected automatically, “but that is not so. He comes to take you with him to the ranch every day does he not?”
John nodded. “But I do not want to go there anymore,” he whispered.
“Cuz they laughed at me.”
“Let them laugh but you remember that your daddy is going to come and take us to California very soon and no one there will laugh at you for wanting to be a fireman.”
John looked at her uncertainly. “Really?” He questioned.
“Really,” she promised with a smile.
Over the next few days, John endured the taunting and mockery of the other children but it didn’t stop there. After the children had told their parent’s of the younger boy’s desire to be a fireman, they too began to laugh at John, hurling taunting jokes and snide words at the child.
His Aunts became embarrassed by their sneering laughter at their nephew. His Uncle Joseph used it as an excuse to drink even more. John’s cousin’s with the exception of Thomas taunted him or ignored him, whichever seemed most aggravating at the time.
John bit his lip as Sun Walker half dragged him back to the ranch almost a week later. The other’s sat along the fence. They giggled and made snide remarks about the little eno’továhenéhe. (Fireman)
“Where is your fire truck John?”
“Where is your red hat?” Another teased.
“With red feathers on it,” a young girl giggled.
“I wanna go home namêšéme,” he whispered.
The older man glanced down at his grandson. “You brought this embarrassment upon yourself John with your foolishness…Now you must be strong enough to bear it. Next time you will think before you speak.” He glanced down at the red face and trembling mouth of the child. “Névé’e-a’xaame, (Do not cry) he barked at the boy.
John flinched at the tone but nodded his head, shoving the pain down deep but he still refused to look at the others.
Thomas shot the children along the fence a withering glare… “Leave him alone,” he snarled angrily as he jumped down and headed over to join his grandfather and cousin. He laid his hand on the smaller boys shoulder. “Ignore them John…It will be forgotten soon and then everything will return to normal.”
John nodded but it didn’t really matter. Normal life for him here still wasn’t good…He remembered his mother’s words. His daddy would return and take them to California and then he could grow up to be a fireman.
His grandfather returned with his horse. He scooped the child up and set him on the animals back. “This is what you must learn so you can begin to help on the ranch next year. This is where the people make their money to live on and we all must help…Understand?”
John nodded but clung stubbornly to the belief that he wouldn’t be here by then. “Héehe’e namêšéme,” he mumbled.
“Good…We will begin teaching you to rope calves when you are a little older. You are too small and weak for that yet.”
John looked down in humiliation but didn’t argue. Thomas turned away at the crushed look on the child’s face. Why couldn’t they just leave John alone? Why did they all have to be so cruel? Even Sun Walker…Thomas knew his Grandfather felt such pride for the boy’s abilities at such a young age. Why couldn’t he say so to the child?
He turned back as John shook out his rope…The horse began to move.
John climbed from the horse an hour later and Thomas took his hand. “Come John…I will take you home,” he said as he led the younger child away.
The other children glanced at each other with sly grins. “I’ll go get Ben,” one said as he ran the other way. The rest followed at a distance. Thomas ignored them as they approached the center of the village.
Several of the older tribe members shook their heads at John in distaste as he passed with his cousin. “E’máséhánee’e,” (Crazy) one sneered as they went by.
John hung his head in embarrassment but Thomas’ face reddened in anger. He desperately wanted to scream at them all to stop…To leave the child alone but he knew he’d be in for it from his mother if he talked back to an elder. He picked up the pace and hustled his little cousin past them.
The two had just passed the Chief’s home next door to the lodge when the other’s caught up to them. Thomas and John found themselves surrounded by Ben and his friends. “Look,” Ben sneered. “It is the fireman.” The other’s laughed as John looked down…Avoiding their eyes that he knew were mocking him.
“Are you going to tell us some more lies John?” Another taunted.
“Will you be our new story teller?” One boy asked with a smirk.
“You think you are better than we are?” Another growled as he pushed the smaller child. John stumbled backward…His mouth shook as he tried desperately not to let the hurt or fear show.
“Leave him be,” Thomas snarled pushing the other boy away.
“You will never be anything John…No one wants you.”
Ben darted in while Thomas was dealing with the first boy. He shoved John hard, knocking the smaller child down. “Stop it,” John shouted as he climbed to his feet and pushed Ben back. One of the older boys held John until Ben climbed to his feet.
Thomas was advancing on the new attacker and he thrust John toward Ben. Ben threw a clumsy punch that caught John below the eye. John stepped back…His hand flew toward his cheek…Wincing as it touched the sore spot. He closed his fist and swung catching Ben off guard. He clipped the older boy in the chin…His teeth clapped together, breaking one and drawing blood from the boys lip.
Ben squalled in pain and the four other boys moved in to help their friend. Thomas couldn’t handle all of them and he turned in helpless circles trying to watch them all at once. One boy…Running Elk, grabbed John and held him as Ben once again moved in…His angry face dripping blood. He punched the smaller child and the other let him fall to the ground.
They quickly retreated as Thomas came toward them…He pushed Running Elk away. John sat on the ground, shaking in pain and fear…What had he done wrong? Why did they all want to hurt him? His breaths were beginning to hitch and his eyes were taking on the slightly vague look that he got when he was about to retreat.
Ben threw a kick toward his cousin and Thomas whirled to deal with this new attack as John pulled his knees to his chin and began a slow rock but Ben’s yelp of painful surprise stopped the others from continuing their assault on the child. They looked up into the angry brown eyes of their Chief… Spotted Hawk’s Aunt…Little Fox.
Ben also spun around, prepared to give whoever had hit him a dire warning of his father’s retribution but the words died on his lips as he recognized the old woman. She may have looked elderly and frail at seventy three but these boys knew better then to cross her...Not to mention her nephew.
She held a broom in her hand and they knew what weapon had been used on their friend as it swung yet again, striking the son of Coyote Walking. “Leave the child be,” she commanded, shaking the broom at them yet again.
The children didn’t wait to see who it would land on next. They gave one final glance at the boy and ran.
Little Fox set the broom aside and slowly knelt next to the little one on the ground. “Thomas…Go and get Red Moon,” she instructed.
Thomas nodded and ran as John continued to stare vacantly at nothing, rocking slowly. She scooped the boy into her arms and carried him into the house as he began to struggle to get away. Little Fox sat in the chair with the boy in her lap. “Shhh Shhh baby,” she soothed gently as John kicked out wildly. The small body arcing as his hands pressed against her. “Oh poor child…What have these people done to you?” she whispered close to the small ear as he continued to writhe in her arms.
After a long while, John finally tired…His breath’s coming in panting gasps but the dark eyes finally seemed to become aware once more. He looked up at the old woman who held him and rocked him gently in her arms. He didn’t know her but he felt safe as the woman cuddled him against her, speaking softly.
The door burst open and Kate and Thomas ran in. Kate stopped short at the sight of her son wrapped in the old woman’s embrace. “Is he alright?” She asked worriedly.
“He will be fine Red Moon. He’s just scared and upset and rightly so. He was attacked by his Cousin Ben and his friends.”
“Thank you for helping him Little Fox,” she said as she came to take her son from her.
The old woman rested her chin against John’s soft, sable colored hair. “You will grow to be a strong, fine, handsome man John Gage…Hold onto your dream and do not let them win and turn you into one of them,” she whispered, almost as a vision of his future.
The small head nodded against her as Kate smiled and reached down to gather her son into her arms. “Thank you again.” Little Fox nodded, her dark brown eyes crinkled at John as he looked at her over his mother’s shoulder as she carried him out. His small mouth turned up in a smile.
Kate had barely arrived home when her sisters made an appearance. Their angry faces greeted her as if Ben hadn’t been the instigator in an attack on a defenseless, younger child. “What do you want?” Kate asked them as they brushed past her and came inside.
“What do we want? We want an apology for that attack on my son,” Mase shrilled as she shifted her young daughter Elsie in her arms.
“Attack on YOUR SON?” Kate snapped back. “Five boys attacked John and Thomas on the way home. Ben was the one who started the trouble not John.” She looked to Lacee. “Thomas was there…He knows what happened.”
“Thomas was confused. He doesn’t know who hit John but he was certain that John hit Ben,” Lacee said in a blatant lie.
John sat at the table watching them. Their angry eyes turned toward the child. “You are always the problem…The cause of all our troubles.” Mase spat angrily.
“We are the joke of the village because of you,” Lacee growled angrily. “You are an embarrassment.”
John’s dark eyes held a mixture of hurt, pain and confusion at the words. He didn’t do anything wrong…Why were they so angry at him?
The door opened again and Sun Walker stepped inside, having heard from Thomas what had happened. He looked at the angry faces of his daughters. “Is John alright?” He questioned without emotion as his eyes searched the bruised face of his grandson.
“He’s a little banged up father but he will be alright…He’s mostly just scared.”
“Ben is not alright…His tooth is broken and he has a split lip,” Mase put in.
Sun Walker shot her a glare. “Yes I saw him. Thomas told me what happened.”
“And what was that father?” Kate asked stiffly.
“That he and John were attacked by Ben and several other boys on the way home.” Kate’s eyes flicked to her sisters but her father continued. “But none of this would have happened had you not let his father fill his head with the foolish dreams of the white man.”
Kate sighed. “They are not foolish dreams father but I think it best if John stays at home for a while.”
“Why…? He must learn to accept the bad with the good…To be strong and fight back…To show no fear. You will not make him strong by babying him.”
“I will not make him strong by having him beat up and ridiculed by the people of this village,” she hissed back, trying to keep her voice from climbing and upsetting John.
“He must accept his position in life…Working on the ranch may not be as exciting as being a Fireman but it is a part of his heritage and our way of life.”
“But not his father’s way…” She held up her hand to stop any further argument. “We have already been over this and I will not argue it any more but if John is not safe out there with you then he will not be out there.”
“I will be sure he is safe Red Moon,” he agreed, realizing that his daughter was not going to yield. She would protect the boy at all costs. Sun Walker sighed…Why didn’t she understand? She’d been exposed to the same narrow minded bigotry in town as the rest of them…How could she want John to be one of them? She’d been raised here in his home with the same beliefs as her sisters.
Sun Walker knew he wasn’t a demonstrative man but he’d learned young not to let his feelings show. It was different for a woman but didn’t Kate realize that John would have to learn to be strong, just as he was to survive…That it would be even worse for the boy…Half white and half Indian. She couldn’t coddle the boy.
“What about Ben?” Mase asked angrily.
“What of him?”
“John hit him.”
“Just what he deserved for such a cowardly attack on his cousins…Five against two,” he shook his head in disgust.
Mase drew herself up stiffly but knew better than to argue with her father. She turned and stalked from the house. Sun Walker followed.
Lacee stood there still glaring at her sister. Her double chin quivered in anger. Joseph was drinking even more heavily than usual and that was because of Kate’s crazy little half breed son. The whole town was laughing and talking about them and they weren’t even subtle.
She noted that John’s dark eyes were watching her carefully with a frown. “What are you looking at?” She snarled.
John’s eyes widened at her angry tone but he answered honestly. “I think my mommy would fit in your dress twice náháa’e Lacee,” he said innocently.
There was a gurgle of restrained amusement from behind her and she shot an ugly glare at her younger sister as she drew herself up stiffly. Kate had her hand pressed over her mouth but her body shook with the effort to keep it contained,
“Insensitive little brat,” Lacee snarled as she turned and walked out.
Kate scooped up her son, hugging him to her as the peals of laughter finally escaped. John wasn’t sure what was so funny but he reveled in the sound of his mother’s joyful merriment and hugged her back.
Sun Walker was much more careful to keep an eye on John over the next few weeks, accompanying the boy home himself each time instead of letting Thomas do it. The other children stayed away for the most part, unwilling to risk the old man’s wrath, not to mention Little Fox who was the tribes best storyteller and teacher of the old ways but it didn’t stop the glares or the sneers that were aimed at the boy when they weren’t looking. John had stopped looking back.
While John frequently had trouble sensing people’s moods, theirs were made plain enough that even he understood them.
Daniel had begun teaching John to handle the small calves…First on foot…Letting the boy feel the strength of the animal and building the child’s muscle tone as well as he wrestled the much heavier animal to the ground. The boy returned home with rope burns and bruises from panicked animals and thrashing feet on several occasions.
John’s small body hurt terribly sometimes from the strain and the burns and the blisters but he refused to complain, knowing that it would only start another battle over him…One that his mother would lose in the long run. He’d stopped telling her when he hurt for fear she’d baby him and his grandfather would be angry and call him weak but his mother could see it in his eyes anyway.
Kate’s mouth tightened in annoyance that her five year old son had to try and hide his pain, both the physical as well as the emotional but the pleading look in her son’s eyes kept her from fighting with her father over it.
The young boy trudged home beside his grandfather. His head down as he passed the group of children sitting at the feet of the old woman who’d been so nice to him that day he’d been attacked. His dark eyes cast a furtive, longing glance toward them.
John desperately wanted to hear the stories too but knew he wouldn’t be welcome. He was surprised to hear his name called. “John Gage…?”
He looked over to see the woman waving him over. He bit his lip uncertainly and looked up at his grandfather. The older man hesitated. “I will see him home Sun Walker,” she called out.
He nodded his agreement. “Go John,” he directed with a nod of his head in her direction.
The other children groaned as John headed toward them stopping the younger child. His face fell in disappointment and he began to back away. He wasn’t wanted… “Stop that sound,” the woman barked. “There will be no more stories for you if all are not welcome.” They grew silent under her stern gaze. “Come my little one,” she called to him again. John finally moved to join them as the woman patted the coveted spot next to her.
She put her arm around him. John tensed at the touch for a brief moment, looking up into the kind face uncertainly. She smiled down at him. “John is new to our circle so I will explain what we do here.” She turned to look into his face.
"In our past, our ancient ones were the storytellers. This is how things are passed along to the children who follow after us. Because of this, the ancient ones are careful to remember every detail so that we may pass this wisdom along at a later time. We are the words and we give the images that make our history and spiritual beliefs live and remain important. Today our young people often make our ancient ones think they are foolish and unimportant. We laugh at their stories and spurn their wisdom but they must learn that they are the foolish ones to remain in ignorance of all that is to be held dear and to be unappreciative of their age and wisdom. When that happens, a cold heart takes hold and there is no softness of heart, no joy in the soul, no tears for those in pain. Age is wisdom and that wisdom must be shared and not wasted*…Do you understand,” she asked.
John chewed his lip and nodded as he looked up into the wrinkled face that smiled down at him. Little Fox closed her eyes as she hugged the child to her. The other children watched anxiously, knowing she was seeing something. They leaned forward anxiously as they waited for her to share her vision.
The brown eyes opened and she looked into the small face. “You will have many trials and sorrows John Gage but you will overcome them all…” She tapped his chest. “Though the people of this village see you as weak…You have an inner strength that will see you through whatever challenges life throws at you. You will leave us for a time but someday you will return to us in victory…It is your destiny to heal your people and change them for the better. Your future you will find here among us though you will not stay with us.” She caressed the small face. “You will be a healer and you WILL BE special and there will be someone equally as special that will come into your life and HE will heal you.”
John smiled up at her uncertainly… “This is my vision for you my little one,” she said kissing the brow that furrowed in confusion. She knew he didn’t understand but someday…someday he would.
The others looked at each other with differing reactions…Anger, wonder and skepticism warred around the group. She had rarely given a telling for any of them and never such a profound one. Why was the little half breed so special? Why not for one of them? Their looks darkened as they glared at John.
“Now…,” Little Fox continued. “We will tell the story of how Sun teaches Veeho a lesson.” The children put the vision telling from their minds as they edged closer to listen to Little Foxes tale.
“Sun had beautiful, wonder-working leggings which could set the prairie on fire and drive the game toward the hunter's bow. Veeho, the clever trickster, greatly admired them, and one day when he came to visit, he sneaked off with them when Sun was not looking.
Chuckling, Veeho said to himself, "Now I can work many miracles and be the world's greatest hunter.
Toward evening he was tired from running so fast and far. "Sun can't catch up with me now," he decided. Rolling up the magic leggings and placing them under his head for a pillow, he lay down to sleep. He slept well, but in the morning he found himself back inside Sun's tipi. Veeho is so stupid he didn't know that all the world is contained within Sun's lodge. But though he was surprised to wake up there after having run so far and fast, he is hard to embarass.
Sun smiled and said: "What are you doing with my leggings?"
Veeho may be stupid, but he is never at a loss for an answer. He said, "I just put my head on them to sleep softly. I knew you wouldn't mind."
"I don't mind," said Sun. "You can use them as a pillow if you want to." Sun knew very well that Veeho was lying, as usual, and meant to steal the wonder-working leggings again. But he only said, "Well, I must go walk my daily path."
"Don't hurry back," said Veeho. "I'll keep an eye on your lodge."
Once he could no longer see Sun, Veeho ran off with the leggings again, this time twice as fast and twice as far. Again he went to sleep and again woke to find himself back inside Sun's tipi.
Sun laughed and told Veeho, "If you're that fond of my leggings, you can keep them. Let's pretend that I'm holding a giveaway feast and that you got these as a present.
Veeho was overjoyed. "I never meant to steal these beautiful leggings, friend Sun. You know me--I'm always up to some trick; I was only fooling. But now that you've given them to me of your own free will, I gladly accept."
Veeho could hardly wait to get away from Sun's lodge and put on the leggings. Wearing them, he ran over the prairie and ignited the grass to drive the buffalo toward him. But Veeho did not have Sun's power, he couldn't handle such a big fire and it scorched his soles and blistered his feet. "Friend Sun, come and help me!" he cried. "Help your poor friend! Where are you Sun? Come put the fire out!"
But Sun pretended not to hear, and soon Veeho's leggings were on fire. Crying from pain, he plunged into the nearest stream. By then it was too late; the leggings were ruined and Veeho's legs blistered.
When Veeho begged the Sun to make him a new pair of leggings, Sun said, "Even I can't make magic leggings but once. I'm sorry friend. Be more careful in the future."
Sun could easily have made another pair, of course, but then Veeho wouldn't have learned a lesson.**
“That’s all for today…,” she told them. Groans of disappointment greeted her statement but they all climbed to their feet and headed for home shooting final envious glances toward the small, dark haired boy she still held against her.
She stood up and took his hand. “Come my little friend and I will take you home.”
John walked beside her, glancing up at her uncertainly. “What did you mean about veeho?” He asked.
She smiled down at him. “To be honest and to work hard to have what you want. Things gained by dishonest means will never be good for you and you will lose what you seek in the end and once lost will never be recovered.”
John nodded. They walked on a while longer. “Will I really go away?” He questioned.
She smiled down at him. “Yes John…You will leave us. You have a much greater destiny and a bigger dream than this place…Let no one steal your dream my child.”
“I won’t,” he promised shaking his dark head…The long, sable hair flopping into his eyes. John looked toward the house and saw the red DeSoto parked in front.
“DADDY…,” Little Foxes heart smiled at the squeal of joy that slipped from John’s lips. He tore free and raced for home. Roderick must have been watching for him. He stepped out on the porch as he ran toward him. He held his arms wide in welcome, hugging the child to him before he tossed him high in the air as he always did.
John soared above his head. “Catch them quick,’ his father called as John reached for the clouds…“Ahh too slow.” The game the father and son played tore at her heart as she remembered her vision and the sorrow that awaited the small boy laughing in his father’s arms.
Rod was home for a full month. Kate hesitantly told him about the trouble they’d had when John had told them about his dream to be a fireman. “Damn it,” he muttered half under his breath. “I have to get you two out of here. I won’t have your family attacking a five year old to get even with me for falling in love with you,” he asserted as he hugged John to him. “I’m sorry my little one,” he said, pressing a kiss against the sable hair.
John snuggled securely into his father’s arms…It was the only time he ever felt really safe. “They laugh at me daddy,” he whispered forlornly. “And they make mommy cry.”
“Sins of the father,” he sighed.
John leaned back to look up at him in confusion. Kate frowned as well. “Huh?” John asked.
Rod smiled. “Remember when I took you to church?” He asked. John nodded. “We read from the book remember?”
“That’s right…We read about God and Jesus.” John nodded…His grandfather hadn’t liked that much either but Kate had put her foot down.
“Rod has a right to teach him his own beliefs,” she argued. “When he’s old enough, he will choose his path.” Sun Walker had yielded…Both faiths believed in a Great Spirit and many of their people and tribes had come to believe in His Son as well.
“The bible has a place that says ‘The sins of the father are visited upon the sons.’ John frowned in confusion and Rod grinned at the pensive look. “That means they’re taking their anger at me marrying your mother out on you…Probably cuz they know I’ll belt them in the mouth.”
Kate grinned but she shook her finger at him. “Do not tell him that, he’ll be punching the whole village.”
Rod burst out laughing and hugged John to him. The child hugged him back. He loved it when his daddy was home.
Over the next few days Rod walked and talked with John, allowing the boy to show him everything he’d learned. They went to the ranch together and the other children stayed well clear of the cold look of the green eyed vé’ho’é.
It was one thing to taunt John but they had a healthy respect for his father. They passed through town, stopping to talk to Little Fox. “I wanted to thank you for helping him out that day,” Rod said softly to the elderly woman.
“You have a very special child Roderick Gage…He is a unique and precious gift.”
“I know that…Believe me I do.”
She nodded as she reached out to touch his face. “You take special care of yourself Roderick Gage. Your family needs you.”
Rod frowned at her in confusion but nodded his head. What had the old woman meant by that?
They wandered along the street. Rod’s eyes narrowed at the sight of George Walking Wolf, remembering Kate’s telling of his son’s abuse at his hands. George’s black eyes fell on the pair…His gaze swept over John briefly before meeting the warning glare of his father. John pulled back fearfully and George swallowed nervously as Roderick drew closer.
“Walking Wolf,” he greeted coolly.
“Gage,” he returned.
“Kate told me what happened with John…I’m not going to mince any words here so listen closely…Don’t you ever put your hands on my son again,” he growled warningly.
“Your crazy brat ran into me vé’ho’é…I merely pushed him away and he fell,” he replied calmly but the thought flickered through his mind that he’d put more than his hands on the child someday. A smile fluttered about his lips.
John flushed in embarrassment at the term even though he didn’t understand why they all thought so. He never remembered when he went away or what he’d done while he was gone.
Rod scowled. “John is not crazy and I don’t care how it happened…It better not happen again. If you have a problem with my being married to Kate…You take it out on me…Not my son.”
“Of course…But I have no problem with your marriage. She made her choice. She could have married me but chose to whore for a white man,” he shrugged. George never got a chance to finish that thought before he found himself on the ground with a broken nose. John’s mouth dropped open in shock…His dark eye’s shifted to his father. Nobody ever fought with Walking Wolf…Well…Except for his grandfather. John’s estimate of his dad climbed a dozen notches.
“Don’t ever talk about my wife like that again Walking Wolf,” Roderick snarled. “And you leave my son alone.”
George wiped the blood that trickled from his nose away. “You will be sorry for that,” he muttered.
“I doubt it.” Rod scooped his son up and strode away. John watched over his father’s shoulder as his uncle pulled himself to his feet. The look he shot at Roderick’s back brought a shiver of fear from the boy. He wrapped his arms around his father’s neck and hugged him tight.
Rod snuggled with his wife later that night. His hands caressed her slender waist as she swayed against him in the kitchen. “I wish you’d never have to leave,” she breathed against his lips.
“I wish I didn’t have to either,” he sighed. “But I started my training and I’ve already decided where I want us to live. You and John will love it and it’s not far from my sister either. She’s in San Gabriel but there’s this quiet little town not far from there called Duarte.”
“I will love it anywhere if you are there.”
“Well…I’ll still have to travel some but not like now. I’ll be around a lot more to take John hiking and camping and ball games.”
“And fire stations?” A small voice asked.
They turned to see John standing in the doorway in his pajamas and a fireman’s helmet…His face a mask of excitement. “Come here háhketa,” he said with a grin as John ran toward him. He scooped his son into his arms. “And fire stations,” he assured him as he tickled his son’s ribs. John’s gurgle of laughter brought a smile to both of his parents as Rod wrapped his wife in his other arm and the three of them swayed to the music…Looking forward to being a family.
John went with his father the next morning, heading down to the river. Rod held his son’s hand as John skipped along beside him. They stopped to watch the water. John looked up into his father’s green eyes and grinned.
Rod was amazed at his son’s resilience. Kate had told him about the fights and the other children’s taunting and mocking of John’s dreams but John had said nothing more than that they’d laughed at him. He hadn’t whined or complained about the unfairness of it. His biggest concern was that it made his mother unhappy. He remembered Little Foxes words and smiled. He did indeed have a special and unique child and he was so proud of him.
“I’m sorry they’re giving you such a hard time John. It’ll only be a few more months and I’ll be able to take you and your mom to California…Would you like that?”
John nodded…The long, shaggy hair flopping into his eyes. “Yes daddy.”
Rod chuckled as he brushed the mop of hair back from his son’s face. “I know you’re under there somewhere,” he teased.
“Daddy,” John giggled. Rod laughed but John’s grin grew solemn. “Why can we not live with you now?”
Rod sighed. “Because I move around from city to city too much and it’s too hard on you and your mom but very soon I’ll be mostly in one place and then you and mommy can come with me.”
John nodded in understanding, he’d heard it from his mother as well but he didn’t realize that he’d been the major deciding factor for their return to Lame Deer. He sighed in disappointment. “I don’t like it here. They do not like me…They laugh at me,” he mumbled.
“I know little one and I’m so sorry.”
“Will I like Cal…Cal…Fornia?”
“I think so but it’s not at all like here…Will you miss this place at all?”
John shrugged. “I will miss Thomas and the horses.”
Rod smiled but it wasn’t a happy one. “It’s a sad state when all you’ll miss is Thomas and the horses huh John?” He asked, regretting his decision to bring his family here four years ago. He’d do everything in his power to rectify that mistake as quickly as possible so his son could have a normal life.
“Grandfather said I was too softhearted,” the boy mumbled afraid his father would be disappointed in him.
“Why did he say that?”
“Cuz I will not learn to hunt. He said I’m too much like you.”
“Did he? Good…I want you to be like me.” He replied scruffing his son’s head. Rod knew Sun Walker hadn’t intended it as a compliment but he took it as one.
“But why will YOU not hunt?” He asked. John knew why he couldn’t. The soft eyes of the creatures he took aim at tore at his heart.
Rod blew out a breath. “Because John…I’ve had my fill of killing.”
“I fought in a war.” John frowned. “That’s when the people of two country’s fight against each other.”
“I had to kill people…Too many of them and I didn’t like it and I swore I’d never kill anything again.I'd much rather help people instead.”
Rod smiled and squatted down to his son’s level. “That’s why I’m so glad you want to be a fireman…Because that’s what they do.”
“Really…So you promise me that when you’re a fireman…You’ll do your best to do that. You save lives okay?
“Good boy,” Rod praised his son as he pulled the child into his embrace.
Roderick took his family to visit with Rick and Amber the next day, stopping by the fire station. The crew took the boy under their wing for over an hour, regaling him with stories and showing him the station…When they left, the boy came away with a renewed desire to one day be a fireman.
Rod left at the end of the month long visit. He kissed his wife and son goodbye and wiped the boy’s tears away with his thumb. “Not much longer son…I promise. I’ve got almost enough for a down payment on a house. I’ll be back in a couple of months and they’ll pass quickly,” he promised.
John nodded forlornly. They never passed quickly for them and he didn’t want his dad to leave especially since he knew what would happen when he did.
“You keep practicing all the stuff your mom and I have been teaching you and you’ll be all ready to go to school in September.” He hugged John to him. “I’ll miss you and I’m so proud of you,” he said kissing the top of the boys head. “And no more running away from your grandfather okay?”
“Yes daddy,” he mumbled, hugging his father’s neck.
“I love you John.”
“Love you too daddy.”
“Take care of your mom,” he said scruffing the sable hair before wrapping his wife in his arms. “I love you Mrs. Gage.”
She smiled sadly. “Hurry home Mé’oo’o’…Be safe.”
“Take care of our boy.” She nodded as he climbed in and drove away.
John watched with a feeling of dread, knowing all the torment and hurt they put him through when his father was away would start all over again, He wasn’t looking forward to it.
John had been correct…The next day after Roderick left his grandfather appeared on the front steps.
The young boy heaved an unhappy sigh and threw his mother a resigned look. She squatted next to him. “You do not have to go,” she murmured quietly.
He glanced at his stern faced grandfather. “He will get angry if I do not,” he replied sadly.
“I’ll worry about that.”
John knew she meant it but he also knew that it would end in another battle…More tears and resentment and another time when he would wake and be unable to remember what had happened. “He shook his head. “It’s okay…I’ll go mommy.”
She signed at the resigned tone in her child’s voice. “I’m sorry you are so unhappy na’óvohe,” she whispered, kissing his forehead.
“Come John…We have not got all day,” Sun Walker growled at the gentle display. When would his daughter stop coddling the child? He’d never make a man out of him this way.
“Daddy will be back soon…He promised.”
“I know and I know he’ll keep it. “ John smiled and threw another rueful glance at his mother before he followed his grandfather out.
She shook her head sadly. No five year old should have to bear the responsibility John felt to keep the peace within his family. “Hurry Roderick…,” she whispered softly as she closed the door.
The next couple of months passed slowly for John and his mother. John was never invited to participate in any village function and neither he nor his mother, were invited to Blue Eagle’s wedding to Amara in the spring as Kate refused to go where her son was not welcome.
The boy always felt the outsider, only Little Fox went out of the way to make him feel as if he belonged which only increased the jealous wrath of the other children as well as their parents but at least they now limited their attacks to verbal exchanges, knowing Sun Walker and Little Fox wouldn’t tolerate any more physical assaults.
Not to mention Ben’s awareness that his young cousin, though small for his age was quite capable of defending himself when pressed, gaining some wisdom from the pain of his still broken tooth.
George kept his distance but the leering, black eyes followed the child frequently.
John’s grandfather continued to teach the boy and the John soon learned to drop a noose over a racing calf’s neck with reliable accuracy, though throwing and tying them was still a struggle. He rode with ease and by the time his father returned, John could as easily toss a football with his dad’s friend Rick as track a coyote through the fields.
His grandfather beamed with pride and boasted of his skills but unfortunately never in front of John who needed to hear it the most.
Kate waited until her son was in bed for the night before discussing these new concerns with her husband. “He’s so confused sometimes Roderick…He doesn’t know who he is,” she said softly as he held her in his arms.
“What do you mean?”
“One minute he is all my son…totally Indian. He can track as well as Thomas, ride, rope, fish…All of it, but the next…? He is an outcast because he’s playing football with Rick. He doesn’t understand why the others don’t like him because of it. How do I explain that to a five year old?” She whispered forlornly. “Oh he knows it’s because he’s half white and they don’t like that for some reason but he really doesn’t understand WHY…”
“I know baby but how can he…How do we make him understand when we don’t understand it either?”
Rod had only been gone a few days when John once again fell ill. Kate woke to his whimpers of misery. Chills and fever gripped him and a ragged wet cough erupted from his lips. Without any way to get him into town, all Kate could do was cool his fevered with wet cloths as she sang softly and whispered soothing words.
John could barely breathe by morning and fear gripped her heart that he would die before her eyes.
To be continued in Part 5 Return to California
*A paraphrase from Joyce Sequichie Hifler from her book A Cherokee Feast of Days
**Cheyenne Legend Sun Teaches Veeho a lesson.
Posted to Site 09/09/11
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