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Rosemary glanced over at the fourteen year old boy sitting silently in the seat next to her. His eyes were fixed on his hands. She could tell he was frightened by the whirlwind that had just tipped his whole life upside down.
His dark eyes slanted toward her periodically from beneath black lashes that her daughter would have killed for. She smiled, knowing he was trying hard to decide whether she was the enemy or not and hoped he’d come to a positive decision that she was here to help him.
She knew there would be no overnight breakthrough. It was pretty obvious that he’d been mistreated but she had no idea to what extent.
“Would you like to switch seats so you can look out the window?” She asked.
John jumped at her first words and he shot a quick look toward the window before returning his gaze to the floor. There was the barest hint of a nod. Rosemary stood up and let John move to the window.
His eyes widened for a brief moment as he glanced out the window before his usual curiosity kicked in. His nose was practically pressed against the glass as he looked down. Fear fled and a smile of wonder at this new vantage point crept across his features but it was fleeting.
He sat back in his seat and let his eyes drop to his hands once more.
The stewardess was making her way up the aisle with a cart of beverages. Rose reached out to touch his arm. John edged away, breaking the contact immediately.
Rose looked at him sadly. “Would you like something to drink John?” She questioned
The dark eyes flicked toward her but there was no reply. Rose sighed. “John…I asked you a question,” she said, reaching out to gently turn his face.
John recoiled violently, afraid of the blow he thought was coming. “Hová’âháne… tό’háomό’seh’ve,” he cried as his hands flew up to protect his face.
“Is there a problem ma’am?” A chilly voice questioned.
She looked up at the stewardess who’d just stopped beside her with her cart. The woman’s blue eyes noted the huddled figure and the bruise that decorated the boy’s cheek. Rose realized that there were a dozen pairs of curious eyes watching her and John.
“No…There’s no problem. I just picked my nephew up from Lame Deer to come live with me. He’s just a little nervous,” she explained.
The woman nodded. She handed Rosemary a cup of Coca Cola. “Maybe he’d like a drink.”
“Thank you…Just leave it please.”
The Stewardess set it on the tray table and moved on. Despite the eyes she felt still boring into her she turned back to John. “Sweetheart,” she began gently as she carefully cupped his cheek and turned his face toward her. “I will never raise my hand to you in anger. I promise you Na’háahketa…I think you’ve had enough of that to last you a lifetime.” The dark eyes shifted toward her warily before dropping again.
“But we do need some ground rules here alright? When I talk to you I expect an answer. I can’t read your mind…I need you to tell me when you want something or I won’t know that you want it okay?” John nodded slowly. “Do you want some Coca Cola?”
The brown eyes checked the contents of the cup she held out to him suspiciously before taking it from her. He lifted it to his lips and sipped cautiously. The bubbles tickled his nose and the slight bite of the drink fizzed on his tongue. A small grin curled his lips before dropping away. He took a longer drink.
“Are you hungry?”
John shot a glance at her. If he started asking for things, she’d get irritated quickly. What if she sent him away? Where could he go? He could probably manage on the streets if he had too, especially once he was in California. It was loaded with wilderness areas where he could live undetected but then he’d likely never achieve his goal to become a fireman either. He just had to be sure he didn’t become a burden to her too. He shook his head at her question.
His stomach growled loudly, negating the negative gesture. “I think your stomach disagrees with you,” she teased gently. John blushed but didn’t reply. “I’ll get you a sandwich if you’re hungry.”
John blew out a frustrated breath. He was hungry… “Héehe’e Hé-háeh’e.”(Yes aunt /Paternal is implied)
Rose smiled. “Okay…Ground rule number two…I don’t speak Cheyenne…You can speak English. Someday I hope you’ll teach me some of your language but until then…You need to speak English okay?”
“Yyy…yes my father’s sss…sister,” he replied softly after a long pause.
“That’s much better sweetheart. And we say Aunt…You can call me Aunt Rosemary or Aunt Rose okay?” She said not commenting on the stutter.
“Yes,” he almost whispered.
Rose sighed again. She had her work cut out for her that was certain. The boy had obviously been terrorized and abused. She hoped someday he’d be able to tell her about it.
John ate his sandwich, remembering to go slowly so she wouldn’t be upset with him. He’d learned to eat what was set before him quickly and without complaint lest it be snatched away before he could finish it. “Useless boy,” Mase would grumble. “Do you think the chores will do themselves while you waste time eating?”
He finished and handed the plate back to the stewardess. He eyed the empty glass for a moment trying to decide if he should ask for more or just hope they got where they were going soon so he could find a water fountain.
Rose caught the glance. “Are you thirsty?” She questioned.
The teenager tugged at his lip nervously before he nodded. “Mmm…may I have www…water my Aunt?” He asked just barely above a whisper.
Her heart broke at the murmured plea. “You may have anything you want John…Would you rather have milk?”
The dark eyes shifted toward her briefly. “What is the ccc…cost?” He questioned nervously.
“Don’t you worry about what it costs my sweetheart alright?” She said gently as she turned and signaled the stewardess. “My nephew would like a glass of milk,” she told the woman when she came near.
John threw her the briefest of glances. “Th…thank you,” he mumbled.
Rose shook her head…This was going to take some time…Thankfully it was something she had plenty of.
John finished the milk and returned his gaze out the window. The sun had set and the lights below twinkled like a million candles. He loved the view and He loved this feeling of flying…John had no fear of heights and this was a wonderful sensation…Soaring through the air and watching the world slide past below him. His eyes slid closed after a long while and he drifted off to sleep.
His eyes snapped open an hour later as the plane began its decent into Los Angeles. He looked around nervously but no one else appeared to be afraid and he relaxed back into his seat. His dark eyes shifted to his aunt as she scanned a magazine.
He felt the bump as the aircraft’s wheels touched the runway and clutched the armrests. Her green eyes caught the white knuckled grip and she looked at his pale face.
“It’s alright sweetheart, we’re just landing.” She smiled as the young man quickly nodded but he didn’t let go of the armrests until the plane slowed to taxiing speed.
They retrieved John’s luggage and Rosemary led her nephew to her car. It was late and Rose noted the tired look in the wary chocolate brown eyes…She knew he must be exhausted…After all he’d just had his whole world turned upside down.
This morning he was living in poverty on a reservation in Montana with not much hope for a future. With a family who were cruel and vindictive but at least familiar and now suddenly he was thrust into a whole new life with a virtual stranger. The boy had to be terrified and confused by it all but he made no complaint...Just shuffled along behind her like a ‘proper little servant,’ she thought bitterly.
Well she’d be sure to change all that. John would never want for anything again…She’d see to that. She’d make sure Rick and Kate’s son would achieve whatever he set his heart on no matter what it took but she needn’t have worried about that. She’d soon learn that John Roderick Gage might be pretty scared right now but he was stubborn and determined enough to achieve his dream with or without her.
They drove from the airport in silence, each one turning over their own thoughts. Rose contemplated her family and their reaction to the silent, withdrawn and frightened boy she was bringing home while John wondered just how long it would take for the abuse to begin.
What he would say or do that would have him cringing in terror or packing his bags for the next place that wouldn’t want him for long either? He fully expected the rejection as well as the abuse. He couldn’t seem to escape it.
He cast surreptitious glances at the pretty woman sitting next to him. His father’s sister…Why had she come? His grandparents had made it clear that they had no use for him so why would she? There had to be a reason.
He thought his grandfather only kept him around because of his ability with the horses but that surely wouldn’t be the case for this woman so then why?
He’d just have to wait…Keep up his guard and not trust anyone. Then no one could ever hurt him. That was a lesson he’d learned very well over the last three years.
The car finally turned up a long drive and John’s mouth dropped open at the size of the house sitting at the end of it. Surely this wasn’t where they would be living or at least not him. Maybe she worked for these people?
She pulled up in front of the house and stopped. “This is it háahketa. We’ll get you into a nice soft bed very soon and then tomorrow we’ll have some time to talk and get acquainted with each other. I need to introduce you to your cousins and your Uncle Geoffrey,” she said a bit worriedly, knowing that her husband and children could be quite pretentious when they wanted to be. She hoped they’d at least give the boy a chance before they frightened him with their attitudes.
He glanced at her nervously at that piece of information. Most of the cousins he knew didn’t like him very much but maybe…Maybe these would be different. Maybe…John caught himself, giving himself a mental rebuking for letting his mind dream such foolishness.
His Aunts would both slap him down for daring to believe anyone would want to be around him and his grandfather would cuff him on the side of his head for entertaining such ridiculous fantasy’s. John was most likely here to work…Just as he’d been in Lame Deer.
He sagged back in his seat at that thought. She climbed from the car and John had no choice but to follow. He went around the back and waited as she opened the trunk before he grabbed hold of his suitcases.
“Just leave them sweetie,” she directed noting that the front porch light had just come on. That meant Edward was still up and on duty and she’d have him bring them in. The boy was tired enough without having to lug those heavy suitcases too.
John cast her a curious glance but left them as she’d instructed. He sighed with disappointment and a hint of worry. She’d thrown all of his own clothes away. What was he going to wear? He picked up his mother’s blanket and the helmet and cast a nervous look at the suitcase that held the box with his mother’s jewelry. What was she planning to do with those?
He chewed his lip uncertainly as the front door opened and a tall man stepped outside. “Good evening Mrs. Hughes,” he greeted with a smile. “Master Geoffrey was getting worried about you. He’ll be glad you’re home,” he said as his gray eyes swept over the teenage boy who stood slightly behind her.
Rose smiled back. “Is he still awake then?”
“He was tired ma’am…He finally nodded off a short time ago.”
She nodded. Geoffrey wasn’t well and she worried about him. He’d suffered a series of heart attacks over the last couple of years and they’d weakened him considerably. She was glad he wasn’t sitting up waiting for her. She noted his curious look at John. “Would you take these suitcases to the blue room Edward…?”
The man’s eyebrows had been climbing with each word. The blue room was actually a small suite and usually reserved for special guests of the family. It was the largest guest room and the one closest to the family’s rooms. It was usually for the parents of Mr. and Mrs. Hughes when they visited.
“Yes ma’am,” he said suspiciously. Who was this boy anyway? The gray eyes noted the discolored cheek and downcast eyes and withdrawn, hunched demeanor… ‘Trouble,’ flitted through his mind. This boy would be trouble.
“Edward…This is my nephew John,” she said, answering the man’s unspoken question. The butler’s eyes opened wide.
“Nephew ma’am?” He knew there were no living siblings and he’d never heard of any offspring and Mr. Hughes had no brothers and sisters either.
“My brother Roderick’s son,” she explained. So this was the last Gage…He’d thought the family name was dead but apparently he’d been mistaken. He’d heard the whispers whenever her brother’s name came up and he could see the rumors were true. This boy had the definite dark look of being half Indian. “John…This is Edward. He works for me.”
John nodded but his dark eyes only cast him a nervous glance before dropping once again, assuming that this man would be telling him what to do soon enough.
“Come along sweetheart,” she said urging John forward as Edward went to retrieve the cases from the trunk. John cast a wary glance back at the man, wondering if he’d ever see his mother’s jewelry again.
They stepped inside the house and John’s eyes widened at the sight of it. The entryway alone seemed to go on forever and the room echoed with its massive proportions. The rooms off of it had wide doors that were mostly thrown open.
A winding staircase led to the upstairs and John stood stunned. He’d never seen a house this size.
Just the downstairs was as big as the Sun Dance Lodge. What would his job be here? He doubted she had cattle or sheep or even a garden that would need tending.
He licked his lips nervously as she mounted the stairs. “It’s late háahketa,” John flushed a little at the term of endearment. He wasn’t a baby anymore and certainly not a little one though he was still small for an average fourteen year old and quite slender of build but still…He half shrugged to himself…He’d have to deal with it, at least until she got past being so nice and started rejecting him too.
“I had wanted to introduce you to your Uncle Geoffrey and your cousins but they’re more than likely in bed by now as well. Tomorrow will be soon enough,” she said briskly as she continued to climb. John glanced down as the man…Edward came through the door with the two heavy cases and headed for the stairs.
He hoped he’d see where he was taking the suitcases in the hopes that he could somehow retrieve his mother’s things but Rosemary kept climbing and he had no choice but to follow.
Rose pushed the door open to a large bedroom. John glanced around as he followed her inside. His dark eyes took in the huge bed…The armoire and matching dresser and beyond that another room but it was too dark to see much. A door opened to yet another room and John had no idea what lay beyond it either but apparently he was about to find out as Rose moved in that direction.
John heard a sound and turned around to see Edward carry the suitcases inside and set them on the bed before his attention was caught by his Aunt once more.
“I thought you might like a hot shower before bed…That will give them time to get your things unpacked and I can go check on my husband alright?”She questioned pushing the door open to a huge bathroom. John swallowed heavily, sure she’d made a mistake. The bedroom and bathroom was bigger than his Aunt Lacee’s whole house…She couldn’t mean for him to stay here.
Edward asked the question he’d been thinking himself. “And how long is Mr. Gage going to be with us Ma’am?” He questioned politely.
Rosemary smiled at her nephew as he looked at her with equal curiosity. He was wondering that himself. “John will be living here from now on. I will be raising him as my own until he’s ready to go out on his own.”
The man’s eyebrow’s practically climbed into his hairline. “Yes Ma’am,” he almost squeaked.
“This will be John’s room from now on and please ask Diana to unpack his things and put them away while he’s in the shower…”
The man nodded and quietly made his exit. He shook his head in disbelief. Wait’ll that sour old bird Diana heard about this…He picked up the pace, looking forward to telling the old girl himself.
Rosemary turned back to John… “Okay sweetie,” there are fresh towels in that closet and everything you’ll need to hold you until tomorrow at least is under the sink,” she directed, pointing to the cabinet. John nodded hesitantly. “Let’s find you a pair of those new pajamas,” she said with a smile.
John frowned. He never wore pajamas unless it was cold. His family couldn’t afford to keep replacing them so he usually just slept in his underwear.
Rose didn’t notice as she sorted through the suit case, finally coming up with a pair of pale blue cotton pajamas. “Here we go sweetie,” she said handing them to him. “You take your shower…Diana will be here to get this all put away for you while you’re in there and I’m going to go and let my husband know I’m home so he can relax okay?”
John nodded as his eyes fell on the small box and the green pen inside the suitcase. He laid the blanket he’d been carrying on the foot of the bed and his fireman’s helmet on the top of the dresser before he headed for the bathroom.
He heard the door close behind his aunt and he quickly reversed course and snatched up the box and the pen…His dark eyes swept the room briefly, searching for a safe hiding place. There really wasn’t anywhere right off the bat so he decided to take it with him into the bathroom…At least he could keep an eye on it there.
John set his things down and slowly undressed. He turned the water on and smiled at the warmth. He was usually the last one to get a shower back home and by then the hot water was most often gone…The old water heater unable to keep up with the demand so this was a luxury.
John stepped into the spray and let the steaming water cascade over him. He picked up the fresh bar of soap and lathered it up, smiling at the feel of it rather than the harsh homemade soap he was used to. The smile faded…He couldn’t let his guard down. He knew this was temporary. It would only be a matter of time before he once again caused a problem that would get him sent packing.
How long would it take for him to become a burden that she couldn’t wait to be rid of? He wondered what inducement his grandfather had used to convince her to come and take him to begin with. How long before whatever it was…Wasn’t enough. He heaved a sigh…Might as well enjoy it while it lasted.
John washed himself clean…Taking longer than usual as he enjoyed the fresh smell of soap and shampoo…Real shampoo…Not just using the same bar soap he used on the rest of him. He basked in the hot water and he felt his eyes grow heavy with the warmth.
He finally cut the water off and stepped from the shower. He toweled himself dry with a soft fluffy towel before putting on the pajamas. He neatly folded the towel, unsure of where to put it…He finally laid it on the counter beside the sink,
He stepped out of the steamy room and gasped. There was a woman…Perhaps in her early fifties and her hands held his helmet and his mother’s blanket.
The woman turned to face the teenager as he stepped from the bathroom. His dark eyes fell on the two items she held disapprovingly in her hands. “Th…Those are mmm…mine,” he stuttered in almost a whisper, afraid she would slap him down for daring to claim anything as his property.
The woman’s eyes swept arrogantly over the young man as she held the helmet gingerly between her fingers. She noted the hunched posture and downcast eyes. She could handle this young upstart.
“This is filthy…It doesn’t belong in Mrs. Hughes nice home and certainly NOT scratching up the furniture.” She held the blanket out with equal distaste. “THIS is heading for the laundry and then I’ll send it to the shelter…They’re always looking for blankets for the homeless,” she said authoritatively as if talking to one of her maids.
John bit his lip in despair with a flash of déjà vu…They’d take his things from him as Lacee and Joseph had. The blanket had been handmade for him by his mother…Even his grandfather and Lacee had left him that. “Bbb…but it’s mmm…mine,” he argued hesitantly. “It bbb…belonged to my mmm…mom and…”
The woman frowned in annoyance. “We have decent blankets,” she sniffed disdainfully as she turned.
John heart sank miserably but the woman kept going. She was stopped at the door by Rosemary’s return. She glanced at the items in the woman’s hand and John’s distraught face and understood.
This woman had been with Geoffrey since he’d been a young man and she thought very highly of her station and even Rosemary had had a few run ins with her right after she’d married her husband, until the woman had figured out that the young woman was a force to be reckoned with and wouldn’t be pushed around…Now she was trying to intimidate John as well and Rose wouldn’t have it. The boy had been hurt enough and dammit…It was time it stopped.
“Where are you going with those?” She questioned with obvious irritation.
The woman stiffened haughtily at the tone. She lifted the helmet between two fingers… “I’m throwing that away,” she replied, “and sending this to the homeless shelter,” she added raising the blanket.
Rose’s eyes turned frosty as she saw the fear and pain reflected in John’s dark eyes. She reached out and took the items from the woman. “I believe those belong to my nephew and if he’s ready to give them up that’s fine.” She turned to John. “Do you want to keep these?”
John nodded frantically, almost snatching them from his aunt’s hands as she held them out. He clutched them to his chest. “Th…Thank you,” he said just above a whisper.
Rosemary almost wept at the tiny, stammering sound of his voice. She’d bet money that the boy hadn’t been allowed to voice a desire or an opinion for a very long time from the timid way he spoke and that he’d be punished for it if he did by the way he kept his eyes lowered. She needed to think about how best to help him but that would be later…Right now the boy just needed to eat and sleep and feel safe.
“It’s alright my sweetheart,” she replied as she turned back to the older woman. “From now on I expect John to be treated with the same respect you’d give to Joshua and Tiffany. His property is just that…HIS…You don’t touch it unless he asks you to or to put it in its proper place which is wherever he chooses for it to be…Are you hungry John?” She questioned turning away from the woman dismissively, ignoring the woman’s huffy expression. Every once in a while, Diana needed to be reminded of which one of them worked for the other.
John bit his lip, afraid to leave his things alone with this woman but his stomach growled loudly despite the fact that already eaten several times today. Rose would learn that the boy had a hyper metabolism but that was okay…She could afford to feed it.
Rose took the helmet and blanket from his hands, tossing the blanket over the foot of the bed and setting the helmet on top of the dresser. “I promise you háahketa…It will all be here when you come back. Diana…John’s tired so please have his things put away by the time he’s done. Come along sweetheart.”
She led the way out the door…Leaving the housekeeper staring after them indignantly. John reluctantly followed. She took him to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator… “What would you like sweetheart? We have fruit…chicken…I can make you a sandwich…” John shrugged indifferently. “How about some of this chicken?” She suggested pulling the plate from the ice box.
She set it on the table and swept her hand toward the chair. John slid into it while she went to retrieve two plates and glasses and a bottle of milk.
She smiled, longing to reach out and sweep the dark bangs from the boys face but she knew he’d recoil and sighed in frustration. She needed to be patient until he learned to trust her. She had no idea that John’s ability to trust anyone had been destroyed.
“Go ahead and eat sweetheart,” she invited. John did and Rose grinned at the horrible table manners her nephew displayed but she didn’t reprimand him for them. She had plenty of time to teach him those things later.
When he’d finished and gulped down the milk she cleared the table and waved him toward the stairs. “We eat breakfast at 8:00 sweetheart…So I’ll see you then. I’ll send Edward to wake you around 7:00…That should give you time to shower and change alright?”
He nodded obediently. ‘7:00…?’ John was used to being up at 4:00 A.M. Seven was a luxury he seldom got away with unless he was sick.
Diana was gone from his room when he returned but his suitcases were empty. His clothes were hung neatly or tucked into drawers. His helmet lay where it had been placed by Rose and the blanket was folded carefully across the foot of the bed.
John’s eyes widened fearfully. He’d left his dad’s pen and the box with his mother’s jewelry in the bathroom. He ran toward it and heaved a sigh of relief when he saw them right where he’d left them. He carried it back and tucked it under the clothes in the top drawer.
John eyed the bed…It looked soft and inviting. He glanced at the door, biting his lower lip nervously. She’d told him this was his room. He moved to stand near it. The bed would easily have held him, Ben and Amy in its spacious confines. Was it really for him alone?
He didn’t have anywhere else to sleep…He pulled the covers back and climbed inside. The sheets were snowy white and fresh and soft and he pulled the heavy cover over him…Despite his trepidations he was exhausted and sleep quickly claimed him
The previous day had been exhausting for John and he woke later than usual but still before the sun rose. He climbed from the bed, taking care to make it back up so no one would have a reason to be angry with him for leaving it a mess.
He searched through the drawers until he found a pair of blue denim pants and a light tan button down shirt. He was uncertain about how she wanted him to dress but decided that she could always send him to change if it wasn’t right.
He headed into the bathroom looking forward to taking another shower and having hot water to use. He spent longer than he normally would have at home but he couldn’t resist the pull of the steaming water pouring over his body.
He finally shut it off and stepped out…Toweling dry and getting dressed. He padded barefoot into the large room that he’d seen the night before, letting his toes curl in the heavy, soft carpeting. There were couches with pillows propped up on them and a large paddled fan hung from the ceiling turning slowly above him.
Aunt Rosemary had told him that the man…Edward would come to wake him at seven but breakfast wouldn’t be till eight…John glanced at the clock on the wall…It was 6:30. His stomach rumbled unhappily at the thought that breakfast was still an hour and a half away.
He’d be happy with a piece of bread if he could figure out where the kitchen was again. He chewed his lip worriedly. Would he be in trouble if he took it without asking? Would they accuse him of stealing it? Maybe there would be someone to ask if he just went downstairs.
He glanced out the window and noted the gray and stormy looking sky…He could feel the chill through the glass. He’d forgotten that January could be cold even in California but he couldn’t tell in this room...It was delightfully warm.
John opened the door. The rising sun was lightening the house and John found his way to the winding staircase. He headed down…Moving cautiously through the unfamiliar home.
The sound of voices came from the back of the house and John made his way toward them. He hesitantly pushed open the door. Three young women worked in the kitchen…Obviously just getting started with the family’s breakfast.
They glanced up as he opened the door. “Can I help you?” One asked curiously. Who was the young, dark haired boy? None of them had ever seen him before.
“I um…I…I was hungry and I…was jjj…just lookin for a ppp…piece of bbb…bread or somethin?” He stammered awkwardly.
“Who are you?” A different one questioned.
“Jjj…John Gage…I’m Mmm…Mrs. Hughes nephew.”
They all exchanged a glance. They’d been unaware that Mrs. Hughes had a nephew…Let alone such a cute one. He had the prettiest eyes and the longest dark lashes they’d ever seen on a boy.
One of them retrieved a slice of bread and handed it to him. “There you are Mr. Gage,” she said.
If this really was Rosemary’s nephew she certainly didn’t want the woman upset with her for refusing him and if he wasn’t, but just a guest of the family than Miss Rose would certainly not begrudge him a slice of bread either.
John smiled timidly at the three women and decided to retreat with his prize back to his room…After all, his aunt might object to his wandering around her home and keeping her help from their chores. John wondered once again what she would want him to do to earn his keep.
He made his way back up the stairs though his dark eyes swept around the large house as he went. He’d never seen any house this big before.
John heard the sound of footsteps and glanced up quickly to see his Aunt Rosemary standing at the top of the stairs. She came toward him and John’s eyes dropped quickly to the bread he was still holding.
He looked up at her and noticed that she’d seen it too. He worried his lower lip between his teeth. “I…I ddd…Did not steal it,” he stammered fearfully. “I…I asked,” he realized that that might get him into trouble as well. “I…I’m sss…sorry.” He tried to offer the slice back to her but she shook her head.
She reached out to pat his arm reassuringly but John misunderstood the gesture. He recoiled in fear almost falling on the stairs. He managed to grasp the railing, dropping the bread in the process.
Rosemary’s eyes filled with tears. “Oh dear God in Heaven…What did they do to you?” She whispered in despair at the terror in her nephew’s eyes. Would they have hurt him over taking a slice of bread? Had they seriously begrudged this child food to eat?
She reached out and took his hand. John stiffened immediately and tried to pull back but she hung on. “Come with me,” she directed as she moved past him to continue down the stairs. John followed, pushing the fear of what was about to happen to him down deep…He wouldn’t let her see him afraid…She’d only despise his weakness.
She led him into a room that contained couches and chairs all in shades of deep yellows and golds. “Sit…,” she ordered pointing at the sofa. John sank obediently onto the cushions. She sat next to him. “You and I need to talk here alright?” She reached out slowly to touch his face but he put his hands up to protect himself. “John stop it…I told you yesterday that I would never raise my hand to you and I meant it.” She waited patiently for him to drop his hands. He looked at her distrustfully for a long moment before he finally lowered them cautiously to his lap as Rosemary reached out to gently cup his cheek.
John was rigid and wary, reminding Rosemary of a horse she owned. The animal was beautiful but she’d been badly abused. Rose had felt sorry for her and had bought her anyway, hoping she could be brought around but so far it hadn’t happened yet… The animal’s body grew tense and trembled with fear and the whites showed about the eyes when anyone got too close. Rose wouldn’t give up on the mare…She wouldn’t give up on John either.
“Ground rule number three. This is now your home…If you’re hungry…The food is there for you to eat…Understand?”
John nodded hesitantly, still uncertain and waiting for the axe to fall. “You don’t need to ask…Just go help yourself but if you’re not sure where something is get Carrie or Ellen or Laura to help you just like you did this morning alright?”
Again the dark head nodded. “Look at me my sweetheart,” she tried to tilt his chin up but John had learned long ago that people felt less challenged when he didn’t look at them. They were less apt to hurt him if they didn’t feel that he was being defiant.
John shot her a glance from under those incredible lashes. “Oh háahketa…I’m so sorry for what they did to you but you’re safe now…No one will ever hurt you again.”
John looked down at his folded hands. How many times had he heard that promise before? Rigsby…His grandfather…Even his mom and dad and they’d both broken his heart. He knew they hadn’t meant to but it didn’t stop the ache in his chest or the feeling of abandonment when he thought of them.
Rosemary sighed heavily, wondering just how much damage they’d inflicted on this poor child. She was still very angry at her parents for not giving her the letter Katie had sent. How much pain could she have saved this young man if she’d only gone for him three years sooner?
“Come with me John…We’ll get you a proper breakfast before I introduce you to my family and show you around alright?” She said as she rose to her feet.
John slowly stood. The door was suddenly pushed wide and John flinched visibly as it hit the wall. A young man burst into the room. He was young…Perhaps a few years older than John. He had the same sable hair as Rosemary and John and his green eyes seemed ablaze with anger.
“Mother…Diana just informed me that you have someone living in the blue…,” his voice trailed off as his green eyes swept disdainfully over his cousin.
Rosemary’s eyebrow rose questioningly. “In the blue room?” She finished for him.
“Yes,” he agreed, coming the rest of the way into the room to approach the younger boy. John cast the man a glance from beneath lowered eyes. “She said it was your nephew.”
Rosemary’s eyes grew a bit frosty. “Yes…HE is my nephew. John is a he…Not an ‘it.’ Joshua…,” She said turning toward the slender boy next to her. “John…This rather ill mannered young man is my son Joshua,” she introduced him testily. “Joshua…This is your Uncle Roderick’s son, John.”
The older teen allowed his eyes to wander over the boy. He was thin to a fault and if he had to guess by height he’d say about twelve or thirteen. The hair was a definite match for his mothers and his own but the quick glimpse he’d caught of the eyes, they were a chocolate brown rather than their own shade of jade.
Joshua grimaced distastefully, remembering the woman and the infant that his mother had introduced them too a long time ago. “Oh that’s right…He married that…Indian woman,” he sneered arrogantly.
John heard the tone and his face flamed, while his eyes burned with tears of embarrassment for his mother’s sake even though his anger climbed. What was wrong with his mom? She’d been a good mother…Loving, sweet, gentle and without a harsh word for anyone. How could anyone be so disdainful of someone so beautiful of spirit…Someone they never even knew?
The desire to knock this young man senseless was almost overwhelming but he knew he’d never win the battle besides…There was very little fight left in John anymore. Why was being an Indian such a bad thing to these people?
“That’s enough Joshua…Kate was a wonderful woman and you will not talk about her disrespectfully and certainly not in front of John…Is that clear?”
Joshua looked at his mother in shock. She’d never used that tone with him before. How could she defend her brothers marrying that woman? Why would she welcome this boy into their home? He wouldn’t even look at him nor had he spoken a word since Joshua had barged into the room…
“But mother…,” he began.
“But nothing…He’s my brother’s only child and that alone makes him special to me. I’ll care for him just as much as if he was my own. He’s part of this family and he’s living here now and that’s the end of it.” John frowned…Not sure how to take that comment.
He knew all about families. They fought and hit and hurt and yelled and they abandoned you in the end. He wanted nothing to do with being part of another one.
Joshua mouth tightened and John’s heart sank a little more. It was plainly obvious that he wasn’t wanted here either…Was there no one who could just see him for who he was and not whether he was red or white or half of both? Just care about him because he was John and not just her brother’s son?
A pretty young woman came into the room. “Mother…Diana just told me.” She trailed off as her eyes fell on John.
“Well Diana is certainly playing the town crier this morning?” She said lightly. “Tiffany…I’d like you to meet your cousin John,” she added drily.
Her eyes swept over him appraisingly, noting that John hadn’t looked at her or acknowledged her presence. Tiffany was unaccustomed to being ignored. “Well…Does he talk?” She asked snidely.
John finally looked up, the hurt look in those dark eyes broke Rosemary’s heart. “When he’s spoken to and not around as if he isn’t in the room,” she answered just as coldly.
John looked toward his aunt in grateful surprise that she was actually defending him. He’d always been expected to simply take whatever was handed to him so he was unsure of how to respond.
“Well it would have been nice if we’d been told that he’d be coming to live in our house,” Joshua said with an arrogant sneer. Tiffany nodded in agreement with a flippant grin.
Rosemary’s hackles rose and the Gage temper flared. “I BEG your pardon?” she questioned with a low warning growl. “Last time I checked…This was MY house and you are both welcome to live in it but I do not now or EVER need your consent to do anything in it…Are we clear?” Her voice had risen as she spoke and the anger in it was plain.
Both of her children blinked in shock…They’d never heard their mother raise her voice...Ever.
John had heard too much yelling over the course of his life…He backed away from the small family group. His head was lowered and his hands were pressed over his ears. “Do not fight…Please…Do not fight,” he whispered in despair. He was well aware that when people fought over him, he somehow or other always ended up the loser.
The gray walls of his safe place were closing in and a steady rock began but he suddenly felt hands grips his arms and he stiffened, trying to pull back but he heard a gentle voice. No one was shaking him in anger or yelling at him to stop but the raised voices had ceased…He pushed the walls back cautiously.
Rose saw her son and daughter’s eyes widen as they stared at her in surprise and then looked over her shoulder at John in fear. She’d heard the softly whispered plea but had been focused on her own children and hadn’t glanced at him until now.
She turned and saw the frightened reaction that her raised voice had caused. She remembered Kate telling her that there had been many fights with her family over John and his half white status and how badly he was affected by it. She suspected he’d heard enough fights in his fouteen years to last him a lifetime.
Rod had mentioned in a letter that John had had some emotional trauma and trouble dealing with it…She was obviously seeing it. She moved quickly and gripped the boys arms. He stiffened under her hands and tried to pull back…His hands rising defensively to try and push hers away.
“John…Sweetie…Look at me háahketa,” she commanded without raising her voice. The dark eyes that seemed so vague a second ago regained their focus. He looked at her in confusion. “Good boy,” she soothed. “We’re not fighting my sweetheart,” she assured him. “I’m setting a few ground rules with my own children now okay? It has nothing to do with you and it should have been done a long time ago.”
John’s dark eyes still looked a bit lost but he nodded his head.
“You go to the kitchen and we’ll join you for breakfast shortly alright?” John nodded again and slipped from her grip, shooting one more wary glance at the two young people standing there looking at him as if he were crazy.
What had he done? John pulled the door closed behind him and squeezed his eyes shut in despair as his aunt’s voice rose once more. He knew something had happened to cause those looks but he couldn’t remember…He couldn’t go through this again…Not again.
He looked toward the kitchen. His stomach was growling but John didn’t care. He had to get out…He ran up the stairs and found the room he’d slept in. He quickly snatched up his mother’s blanket and wrapped his helmet in it…Shoving the pen and the small box holding his mother’s jewelry down into his pocket.
He glanced down at what he was wearing. He hoped she wouldn’t get angry at him for taking the clothes but she’d thrown everything else away. He took nothing else.
He padded quietly down the stairs and headed for door. One of the young maids saw him as she was setting up the table in the dining room. She frowned as the boy slid out the door, closing it quietly behind him.
Rosemary waited until the door closed behind John before she turned back to her children.
“What’s wrong with that boy?” Tiffany asked, looking nervous.
“Nothing’s wrong with him,” she snapped back. “He’s been yanked away from everything and everyone he knows. His parents are both dead and his grandfather soon will be. He’s been raised on an Indian Reservation in absolute poverty, treated like an outcast by his family and he’s been dragged fifteen hundred miles from everything he knows and dumped into a home with two people with NO MANNERS that have made it very clear that he’s not welcome…How do you suppose you’d react?”
Tiffany at least had the decency to look a little ashamed while her brother stiffened indignantly. “Then why didn’t you just leave him there...?”
Rosemary hung her head for a brief moment…How had she failed so miserably to instill any kind of compassion in her own son? “Did you hear anything I just said?” She asked softly.
“Of course mother but he doesn’t belong here,” he reiterated.
“I suppose I could have left my brothers only child on the streets of some little backwater town in Montana but then…I have a heart which apparently you were born without,” she said sadly.
Joshua shook his head. “Certainly not the street Mother...They must have an orphanage there...Besides he’s crazy…Did you see him?”
She glared at him in disbelief. “He’s been traumatized a good part of his life…Did YOU SEE HIM?” She stressed, her anger rising once again. “Regardless of that,” she said holding up her hand and forestalling the argument she saw coming. “This is my house…My rules. You are invited to live here the same as John but I set the rules here…You don’t. DO NOT question what I choose to do in it or who I invite to live in it again. Do you understand? I will not have John feel like a second class citizen in this house…He’s had enough of that in his very short life.”
Realizing that she was very serious, they both nodded reluctantly, wondering what exactly she meant by that but Rose didn’t enlighten them. She pulled the door open and stormed out. She took a couple of deep breaths before she headed to the dining room to join her nephew. She didn’t want John to see her upset and further agitate the boy.
She entered the room and frowned in concern. John wasn’t anywhere to be seen. She went to the kitchen and pushed the door open. Two of the girls glanced up as she came inside… the third was already on her way to make up the beds. The others would join her in doing the housework after the family was through eating.
“Have either of you seen my nephew?” She questioned.
“Earlier this morning Miss Rosemary,” Carrie replied.
“I saw him Miss Rose. He went out the front door a few minutes ago.”
“What?” She gasped as she looked toward the window where a gray clouds and flashes of lightning were streaking the sky. A drizzling rain was falling and Rosemary had a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. “Did he take anything with him?”
“He was carrying a blanket ma’am,” she replied, looking a bit worried now herself. Was she in trouble for not telling her employer? Had the young man stolen the blanket or something?
“Oh no,” Rosemary murmured as Joshua and Tiffany entered the room, looking surprised as their mother raced past them to the front door. She pulled it open and stepped out on the porch but John was nowhere in sight.
Edward followed her out. “Is there a problem Mrs. Hughes?” He asked, prepared to call the police if that little upstart she’d dragged home had stolen something.
“Yes…Yes there is. Please check out back and see if my nephew is out there. Check the stable and the tennis courts.”
“What did he take?” He questioned, prepared to shake it from him if he had too.
Rosemary looked shocked for a moment before her brows lowered ominously. “He didn’t TAKE anything. He heard my children and me arguing over his being here this morning and I’m afraid he may have run away.”
Edward swallowed at the angry look she gave him. “I’m sorry madam,” he mumbled, afraid he’d overstepped.
“You should be…Now please go and do as I asked.”
She turned and ran up the stairs to John’s room and as she feared…The only thing missing was the blanket from the foot of the bed and his fireman’s helmet. She pulled the closet door open. Everything she’d bought him was still there. The boy had left with nothing but the clothes on his back.
She came back down as Edward came back inside. He was now damp himself despite the umbrella he carried but he shook his head. None of the stable hands saw him Ma’am.”
“Call the police. I want him found…He can’t have gotten that far,” she murmured looking out the window.
She crossed her arms over her chest worriedly. Where would the boy go? Duarte was only eight miles away. John had lived there six years ago and might remember the area. There were a lot of mountainous areas between here and there where the boy could disappear but what if he’d gone the other way…Toward L.A. She shuddered to think of her sheltered nephew wandering the streets of Los Angeles and without a dime in his pocket.
John slipped out the door, closing it quietly behind him. He shivered as the chill wind swept over him but he had to go now. He wouldn’t stay in another place where he wasn’t wanted. He already knew where that would lead and he didn’t think he could take much more abuse.
The rain coming down was just a drizzle but enough to quickly wet his hair and the light shirt he wore. He gave an involuntary shiver as the cold water trickled down his back. He thought about the helmet but figured that would attract too much attention as he walked.
John looked about him…He didn’t even know for sure where in California he was. His eyes swept the mountains behind him and he decided that that would be his best bet for now. Somewhere where he could find food and shelter until he figured out what he wanted to do.
He still held on to his dream to be a fireman, though right now he wasn’t sure how he would accomplish that goal… Penniless and on the street but he would survive. If he learned nothing else about himself in fourteen years it was that…They may have killed his spirit but his heart was still beating and while it was…John Gage would keep his promise to his parents not to let them win…He would survive and someday he’d be a fire fighter.
He headed for the mountains.
Officer Kevin Drake arrived a few minutes later. He blew out a breath at the house he was standing in front of…The Hughes mansion. He scratched his head and almost called his dispatcher to confirm the address. They’d said a 10-57 and he wondered who was missing.
He pulled himself from the car and headed up the walkway. He was only halfway there when the front door opened and a woman hurried out. He’d seen the lady frequently in newspapers and magazines and recognized her immediately as Rosemary Gage Hughes.
He prayed it wasn’t a kidnapping or something. “Mrs. Hughes,” he greeted, stepping up on the porch out of the rain.
She didn’t waste any words. “It’s my nephew John…He’s missing.”
“Are you sure ma’am…Kids sometimes wander off or just go hide,” he said reassuringly but he frowned. Her nephew…? He hadn’t realized there were any nieces or nephews. Geoffrey Hughes was an only child and both of Rosemary’s brothers Roderick and William were long dead. If there were children from either of them…Where had they been?
“He’s fourteen and yes I’m sure…I just picked him up yesterday,” she informed him, unknowingly answering his unspoken question. “He’s been living with his mother’s family in Montana but his grandfather is dying and he asked me to take John to raise but…He overheard a fight between me and my children this morning and I think he’s run away…Please…You have to find him.”
“He’ll probably come back when he gets hungry enough ma’am…Most of em do.”
She shook her head… “You don’t understand…I believe my nephews been abused by his family…He was pretty upset this morning and I think he’s afraid he’s going to be hurt here too,” she said despairingly. She should have done more to reassure him but she hadn’t realized how much damage had actually been done by their fighting.
“And is that a possibility?” Officer Drake questioned with a frown.
“No…No I’d never allow him to be hurt,” she assured him. “But he’s been raised on a reservation in Montana…John’s been pretty sheltered from city life. I don’t know how long he’d last out there,” she said waving west toward Los Angeles. Her eyes turned north. “And if he makes it into those mountains…We may never find him…He could fall or be eaten by some animal…,’ she said fearfully.
Rosemary had no idea how adept John was at living off the land or what his training had entailed but she knew he’d never survive the riff raff that inhabited the back streets of LA. John would be a lamb among the wolves there.
“What does he look like?” Drake asked, pulling out his notebook.
“He’s about 5’5 and very thin. He’s got dark brown hair…Brown eyes. He’s half Native American.”
Drake looked over at her in surprise. Well, well…That answered one question…It was a sure bet that neither the Gage nor the Hughes family would have wanted that little piece of information to get out. No wonder they’d kept the boy hidden away.
“What was he wearing?”
“A tan shirt and blue jeans.”
She shook her head.”But he does have his mother’s Indian blanket and a fireman’s helmet.
Drake’s eyes swept the chilly gray covered sky and shook his head. It was pretty cold this morning even for California… “Anything else…Do you have a photo?”
She shook her head. “Nothing recent. The last photo I have of him was when he was eight…Just before my brother was …killed.”
“Yes ma’am.” He blew out a breath once more. “I’ll get this right out and we’ll find him. He can’t have got too far.”
She nodded and went back into the house. She needed to get Geoffrey his breakfast and at least that would take her mind off her missing nephew. She knew Geoff would be very upset by all this if he found out and hoped the help as well as her own children wouldn’t bring it to his attention.
She loved her husband but he certainly frustrated her with his snobbish ways and he hadn’t wanted her to bring the boy here in the first place but she’d put her own foot down on this one and he’d given in but she knew he was still unhappy about the whole situation. Afraid his peers would be reminded of Roderick’s folly of marrying beneath him and being disowned by his parents…Worried that it would reflect badly on him and his children as well. Rose shrugged…She never had been one to care what others thought. He was Rick’s beloved son and that’s all that mattered.
She headed upstairs with his tray a few minutes later. Geoffrey rarely got out of bed anymore even though his doctor had told him he should get more exercise…She sighed, wishing he’d try a little harder to help himself…Rose suspected he enjoyed the pampering and since he could run his office from the bedroom, he had no need to venture to far from his bed but it really wasn’t healthy for him.
She was still a young woman and she wanted her husband back but those twenty years that hadn’t seemed like much when she was eighteen and he was thirty eight were a mountain to climb now when she was thirty nine and he was almost sixty. She shook her head ashamed of her own selfish thoughts. She'd known when she’d chosen to marry him that this day would come. She’d only got him home from Santa Barbara Hospital yesterday morning before she flew out to Montana to get John and she was already frustrated.
She pushed the door open and went inside. Joshua and Tiffany were at their father’s bedside and she could tell from the smug look on their faces that they’d already told him of the trouble John’s presence had caused.
She set the tray down and folded her arms over her chest. “Both of you leave…NOW,” she ordered.
Both of them looked rather pleased with themselves…Sure that the boy would be on his way back to Montana the moment he was found but neither of them seemed to recognize the Gage stubborn streak that ran straight up Rosemary’s spine.
She looked to her husband as they left. “Say whatever it is you need to say and get it over with but John stays,” she said with certainty.
Geoffrey scowled at the woman he’d loved for twenty three years. She’d only been sixteen when he’d first met her but they’d both known they were in love…He’d waited two years until she was eighteen to ask her to marry him.
She rarely stood up to him and they almost never fought but he’d been determined not to bring Rod’s half Indian son into his home and Rosemary had stood her ground. Her green eyes had flashed with a passion as she’d argued with him and Geoff finally gave in but the boy hadn’t even been here a whole day and he’d already caused a problem that would most likely land them in the newspaper with the whole sordid story of the boys parentage laid out for the world to see…
He heaved a sigh as he glanced up at his wife. The determined tilt of her chin and the folded arms warned him that he wouldn’t win this time either. He finally chuckled and shook his head. “What’s for breakfast?” He asked casually. She smiled…
John was cold, wet and hungry. He’d had been walking for a long time…The trip toward the mountains taking more time than expected as he’d had to contend with streets lined with homes and with dogs and fenced yards.
He’d consistently had to double back to go around and watch out for people and traffic as well as trying to find shelter from the heavier deluges that had been happening on and off all day. He didn’t want to be seen by too many people and have someone report the crazy kid out walking in the rain…Especially in this neighborhood where he obviously didn’t belong.
It was starting to get late but he was within sight of the foothills now. John was thirsty…His throat was sore and his stomach rumbled and he hoped he could find something edible once he reached the safety of the mountains.
He shivered from the cold and looked at the sodden blanket he held in his arms. He’d tried to keep it as dry as possible but he’d been caught out where there was no refuge several times and the blanket was now as wet as the rest of him.
John heard a buzzing sound and glanced around before finally looking up into the gray drizzle overhead. A small plane flew over and John watched as it banked and returned to fly over him once again. He shrugged and kept walking, never imagining that its pilot might be looking for him.
John heard the sound of an engine and glanced around to find somewhere to hide until it passed but there was nowhere…Several high fences lined the street with their expensive houses sitting back from the road behind them.
John kept walking, hoping whoever it was would just drive on past without giving him a second look but he heard the car slow down behind him. He finally glanced over his shoulder and his heart picked up its pace at the sight of the police cruisers…Not just one but three.
Were they looking for him? They must be or maybe someone had seen him and called them thinking he was lost or maybe they weren’t looking for him at all and were just checking him out.
One Officer stepped out of his car and squinted at the teenager. “John Gage?” He called questioningly.
John swallowed heavily. Oh no…They were looking for him. Why had she called them? They didn’t want him…He’d given her an easy way out.
John bit his lip and glanced around nervously as the others began to climb from their cars. John backed away…
“Look son…No one wants to hurt you okay? You’re Aunt is worried about you and she wants you home,” the man said as he advanced on the boy. He saw the frightened look in the dark eyes as they shifted from him to the others.
He shook his head. “They ddd…do not www…want me,” he stuttered but Drake couldn’t tell if it was a speech impairment or from the cold at this point.
“Look John…Your only fourteen…You can’t be living out here on your own alright?” He reasoned moving closer. He saw the boy grow tense as he advanced and knew at the same moment John did what was about to happen. “He’s gonna run,” he yelled at his fellow officer’s as the boy whirled and sprinted toward the trees at the edge of the foothills.
John ran for all he was worth, knowing he could lose them if he could just get into the woods. The officer’s were afraid of the same thing. ‘The boy ran like a damn deer…’ the thought skittered through Drake’s mind.
Five other officers began to spread out, hoping to get ahead of him and cut off his escape but the boy was fast…They had no idea how much practice he’d had outrunning his Uncles or the other kids both in Lame Deer and on the reservation.
John would have made it but he slipped in the mud, dropping the bundle he carried. He ran a few more steps before he regained his balance. He hesitated …looking at the only things he still had left. His eyes swept toward the uniformed men that ran toward him but John couldn’t just leave them behind.
He ran back the three steps and grabbed the bundle…It was all one of them needed to make a flying tackle that took the slender boy to the ground.
John felt the breath leave his body with a ‘whoosh’ as he was slammed into the ground by someone nearly twice his size. He felt the man’s arms wrap around his body and that’s all it took…The boy began to fight…His feet kicked out and he swung blindly in terror at being held down.
Two other officers joined the fray until John was pinned on the ground and his arms drawn behind his back. He felt something snap around his wrist and a terrified moan slipped from his lips.
“I…I ddd…didn’t do an…anything wrong,” he stammered as the second cuff snapped into place. Gray…Gray walls were edging in as he felt himself yanked to his feet…His legs kicked open spread eagle and the hands that felt him all over, even up between his legs.
His eyes clenched shut at the very personal violation of his body. “Noooo,” he whimpered as the black eyes of his uncle swam before him and he gagged, barely managing to keep from throwing up. A steady rock began but suddenly another officer took his arm…
Drake was eyeing the boy worriedly as the dark orbs seemed to lose their focus. “Get the cuffs off of him Coleman,” he barked authoritatively. The kid seemed to snap out of whatever haze he’d been in at his command and Drake almost checked to see if he was on drugs or something but John’s head swiveled toward him…The eyes looking frightened but at least he seemed okay for the moment.
“But he kicked me…” The other officer complained.
“He’s a scared kid…Not a criminal…Get them off.”
“Not a criminal?” Another voice asked skeptically. “How do you explain this?” He asked holding up the box containing Kate’s jewelry that Coleman had tossed on the hood of the car next to the green pen. “You gonna tell me that belongs to him.”
“It’s mmm…mine,” John whispered. “I ddd…didn’t st….steal it.”
“I’ll just bet…” The other said gruffly, pushing the boy over the hood of one of the cars. John was shaking with a combination of exhaustion, cold and fear and he was once again fighting the gray that crowded the edges of his awareness.
“He’s Rosemary Hughes’ nephew…You wanna go tell her you’re arresting him?” Drake challenged.
The other swallowed nervously. “Uh…Nephew…?” Drake nodded with a grin, noticing how quickly Coleman produced the key. He unhooked the cuffs.
Drake took the terrified teenager by the arm and helped him stand. The kid’s face was pale, his lips were lined in a pale shade of blue and a dark bruise showed starkly against his high cheekbone. She’d said he’d been abused, Drake believed it from the look of fear in the chocolate brown eyes that wouldn’t meet his own. His heart turned a flip…He’d seen a lot in his fifteen years of being a cop but nothing riled him more than seeing an abused child.
The officer shrugged his jacket off and draped it over the shivering boy. “C’mon kid…Let’s get you into the car and I’ll take you home.”
John nodded in defeat and let the officer lead him toward the squad car…The dark eyes glancing back at the blanket and helmet lying in the mud before shifting to the items on the hood of the car.
“I’ll get those for you son,” Drake assured him as he settled the boy in the back seat, slamming the door closed behind him.
John pulled the jacket a little tighter around him and huddled into its warmth…His eyes watched the older man as he retrieved the blanket and the helmet, holding out his hand for the small box of jewelry and the pen. John once again felt the officer’s hands running over his body…He clenched his eyes shut and shuddered at the memory.
Coleman handed it to him. “Let me know if he stole it huh?” He taunted.
The older man shook his head with certainty…He had a feeling about this kid but he didn’t know why. “He didn’t,” he added as he turned away.
“Ten bucks says he did,” the other challenged.
The sun had set and Rosemary was pacing the front sitting room when the police car pulled into the long drive leading up to the door.
She’d been worrying all day…The rain and cold and John’s unfamiliarity with his surroundings leaving her with all sorts of frightened imaginings. Joshua and Tiffany had been no help at all…Both of them quite content if John never returned. She’d finally ordered them to either go and find something to do or go to their rooms, otherwise she’d be shipping them back to school a week early.
Geoffrey had tried to reassure her that the boy was probably fine and had found a warm, dry place to hunker down in but Rose doubted it.
She watched as the vehicle pulled to a stop and the officer she’d spoken to earlier got out. She frowned, afraid this was nothing more than a follow up…She gasped in relief when she saw him open the back door.
A bedraggled looking John stepped out. He was huddled under a jacket that was way too big for him. He threw a nervous glance at the officer walking beside him as they went to the rear of the vehicle. Drake opened it and pulled the blanket and the helmet from the trunk, handing them to the boy. They walked toward the front door.
Rosemary ran to the door and yanked it open. She stepped out on the porch as the officer led John up on it. She never thought twice…She reached out and pulled the boy into her arms. John stiffened immediately and tried to pull back but she hung on.
“Oh sweetie…I was so worried about you,” she whispered against the damp, dark hair. “Are you okay?” She asked as she took the frightened young face between her hands.
John nodded but he wouldn’t meet her eyes. His mind replayed the assault by the officer…He clenched his lids shut as the black eyes of his uncle swam before him…His hands moving over him…Would he ever be able to get past that? Rose let him go, looking worriedly to the officer.
Drake watched the frightened reaction and frowned. The kid was very obviously reliving something. He could only imagine what and he wished he could pound someone for it…See their face as they experienced what they’d subjected this boy to.
“He seems okay Mrs. Hughes…Just cold and wet. He um…He ran when we tried to stop him. One of the officers tackled him. He uh… put up quite a fight,” he said scratching his head and grinning wryly that such a skinny kid had required three officers to hold him down.
“Was he hurt…,” she questioned anxiously before turning to John. “Are you okay háahketa,” she asked letting her green eyes roam over him.
John nodded hesitantly waiting for the anger to replace the concern…Expecting it once the officer left. Was she acting for his benefit or had she really been worried?
“Ma’am…He had these with him as well as the helmet and the blanket,” he said holding out the pen and the box as he handed John the other two items.
“My brother’s pen,” Rosemary said as she took the box and looked inside. She smiled at the concerned looking policeman.”These belonged to his mother,” she explained handing the items to John. The boy took them, looking relieved. So was Drake. He didn’t want to arrest this kid.
The man looked at the helmet John held. “Was his father a fireman?” He asked curiously.
She shook her head. “Engineer…He…died in a fire on an oil rig but John wants to be a fireman someday.”
Drake nodded. “Good choice son,” he said gently. “You’ll be a fine one I bet,” he assured him. John shot him a small glance but he said nothing.
Rose sighed and shook her head at the man. He nodded understandingly. The woman had a long way to go to reach her troubled nephew but he admired her for the effort. “Let me know if I can help in any way,” Drake assured her but his eyes were on John.
“Thank you…Thank you for finding him and bringing him home. C’mon sweetie,” she said, sweeping her hand toward the house. John sighed and headed for the door to his new prison but at least this one was warm and comfortable. Drake smiled as he took his jacket back and headed down the stairs whistling and looking forward to getting his ten bucks.
John stood just inside the door with his head down. He was cold and his throat hurt and his stomach rumbled with hunger but he figured he’d have to get used to that. He was sure she’d be furious with him for causing so much trouble.
“John…Why don’t you go upstairs and shower and get changed and I’ll have them fix you something to eat alright? You must be starving and freezing.”
He started up the stairs without a word but her hand on her arm stopped him. John stepped away from the contact but he waited as she held her hand out. “Let me take the blanket John. It’s filthy…I’ll have them wash it and bring it back.”
John clutched it to him…Was this his punishment? Would she take it and not give it back? He knew he had no choice. He reluctantly handed it to her. She smiled and waited while he mounted the stairs.
She hoped that he wouldn’t try to leave again but she also knew she couldn’t hold the boy a prisoner. She’d just have to try harder to win his trust.
John set his helmet on the dresser and tucked the small box and the pen back under the clothes in the drawer before he pulled his wet clothes off and stepped into the shower. The hot water cascading over his cold, shaking body felt heavenly.
He toweled dry and got dressed but even after the shower he still felt shivery. He found Rosemary in his room when he came out. She held a tray with a steaming bowl of soup and two sandwiches. “You missed dinner but this should hold you till morning sweetie.”
Johnny walked barefoot across the soft carpet to join her at the small table that sat in the corner of his room.
John was starving and wolfed the food down, barely chewing. Rose shook her head. She had some serious work to do with the boy’s table manners, wondering again if he’d learned to simply shove it in before someone could take it from him.
He swallowed down the glass of milk, letting it soothe his sore throat. “Are you tired?” She questioned as she loaded the empty dishes onto the tray.
John nodded…His eyes drooping with exhaustion… He also didn’t feel well but he’d never complain about it…It wouldn’t get him anything but contempt for being a weakling anyway.
“Okay…We’ll talk tomorrow sweetie. I also want you to meet your Uncle Geoffrey in the morning and then I’ll show you around,” she told him as she turned the covers of the bed down. She patted the sheets. John eased past her and slid beneath the covers. She pulled them over him and resisted the urge to sweep the damp hair from his face…She knew he’d only pull away.
John dozed off and on for several hours…Starting awake violently as nightmares claimed him…The sound of his own low cries of terror jerking him from his dreams. Thankfully the house was huge and no one had heard his whimpers…He twisted beneath the covers as he remembered the pain of his aunt’s words and his Uncle Joseph’s hands as they landed blow after painful blow and worse were the replays of watching his mom die in his arms or of those men in his living room telling them of his father’s death.
He was disgusted with himself for the fear that seemed to have become a part of his soul…Especially when he slept…That was where George and what he’d done still lurked like a phantom.
The black eyes looming before him…Huge, brutal hands touching where they shouldn’t…Hurting him.
He swallowed down a moan of misery…No one could ever know. His uncle had told him that they’d blame him. Not to mention that John would be totally humiliated if anyone knew what had happened to him…Especially here with these people…They’d never understand…No one would…How could he have let that happen to him? How could he have been so helpless? What could he have done to stop it? He gasped breathlessly as the guilt and shame welled inside of him.
He knew he’d have to live with this the rest of his life and prayed that someday he’d forget the pain and the fear and the feeling of that man’s hands touching him but how…He’d been bad enough even before but now it was almost torture to let anyone touch him…His mind flying back to that night in his room.
He finally drifted off again. The sun was beginning to lighten the sky when he woke the next time. Sweat beaded his brow and felt achy all over. His throat was scratchy too. He was afraid the chill yesterday had made him sick.
He pushed the blankets off of him and stumbled from the bed. He made his way to the bathroom to splash some cold water on his face. He looked at himself in the mirror…His cheeks were flushed with fever.
Spirit…That’s all he needed. To get sick and make these people have to pay for a doctor. Would they? Maybe it was just a cold…Maybe they’d just leave him alone to sleep…He didn’t want to be a burden on his aunt. She seemed nice but how long would that last until she saw him as a problem to be rid of?
John sighed and dried his face before he padded back to his bed. He lay there worrying until a solid knock on his door made him jump. The man John had met the first night stepped into his room. John tensed. What did he want?
“Good morning Master John…It’s almost time for breakfast.” John began to relax. Rosemary had said she’d send the man to wake him yesterday. He started to climb from the bed but the man’s next words froze him in mid motion. “I’ll help you to undress and…” the rest trailed off as the dark eyes widened fearfully.
The boy shook his head frantically as the man came around the footboard. “Nnn…No,” he stuttered as he almost fell from the bed in his haste to retreat from this new threat.
“Are you alright sir?” Edward asked worriedly as he reached down to grip the boys arm to help him up.
John stiffened immediately…He pulled back violently almost knocking himself out as he hit the wall hard in an effort to get away. He shook visibly as he huddled into the corner… ‘Not again…please not again.’ Gray walls slammed down and he began to rock. “Do nnn…not ttt…touch me,” he whispered.
Edward stood in shocked horror at the teenagers reaction…He had no idea what had caused it or what to do about it.
Rosemary’s arrival solved that. There was a light tap on the door as she peeked around it. “Is John up yet?” She asked and then gasped at the sight of her nephew rocking in the corner. “What happened?” She questioned as she rounded the end of the bed at a run.
“I don’t know ma’am…I came in to help him get dressed and…And he did that,” he stammered nervously, afraid he was about to get sacked over this crazy kid’s behavior. “I assure you…I…I didn’t hurt him.”
Rose’s green eyes filled with tears. God in Heaven…What had happened to her nephew to make him this terrified of everyone…She was afraid she knew and it ripped at her heart and soul. “I’m sure you didn’t Edward,” she said softly as she sank down the wall to sit near the boy. John shifted away but she didn’t let that stop her. She put her arms around him and pulled him against her.
Edward watched as the boy arched over backward…Afraid that he’d have to call the police for help but Rose hung on. She had no idea what was wrong either…she simply wanted to soothe his fear...John fought hard but she determinedly held him close and spoke softly. Maybe the boy was having a seizure. “Is it epilepsy ma’am…Should I call for the doctor?” He questioned anxiously.
She shook her head. “No…I don’t think he’s sick…At least not the way you mean. I don’t think this is a seizure or anything,” she assured the man as she continued to hold the struggling boy in her arms. “It’s okay háahketa,” she whispered against the dark hair. “I won’t let anyone hurt you anymore…I promise. Oh my sweetheart…What did they do to you?”
Edward blinked as if he’d been slapped at her softly spoken words and the meaning became clear. The boy had been abused…Had to be…That would explain so much…The bruise on his cheek… Dear God …no wonder the poor thing was so quiet and afraid. He moved to kneel near them. “Can I help madam?”
She shook her head. “I think you’ll only frighten him more,” she murmured before returning her attention to John. She let the boy rock until he began to calm.
John heard the quiet voice…It wasn’t George’s voice or a man’s arms that held him…The voice was gentle, not frightening. The fight eased a bit and John let the rocking of his body slow until he was resting against the woman who held him.
The dark eyes blinked open slowly, glancing around. He raised his head to look into concerned green eyes. “Okay now?” She asked softly.
John nodded in confusion. What had just happened? That man…He’d wanted to undress him…Just like his uncle…Please not again…Where was he? His head swiveled until he located him…The dark eyes filled with fear. “Ddd…doan…ttt…touch me,” he whispered again.
“It’s okay sweetie…Edward wasn’t going to hurt you…He just wanted to help you get ready for breakfast. That’s his job…He does it for Uncle Geoffrey and Joshua,” she explained. “He just wanted to help you pick out what to wear and get you towels and things like that…That’s all.”
John looked at her in disbelief. No one really needed that did they? No one had ever had to help him get dressed since he was little unless he was sick or hurt. What was wrong with these people? Was that the truth? He didn’t need help…He didn’t need anyone.
He shook his head adamantly. “Ddd…don’t want hhh…help.”
“Okay sweetie…Edward won’t do that anymore okay…He didn’t mean to frighten you… He won’t touch you.”
“That’s the truth sir,” he said quietly from a safe distance. “I only wanted to assist you.”
John nodded as he lifted a shaky hand to wipe the sweat from his face. “Are you okay now?” She asked as she let him pull away.
John nodded tiredly feeling like a fool. He couldn’t remember what had happened but from the looks on their faces he knew he’d had one of those blackouts his family told him he suffered from.
John’s face flushed in humiliation…Now they’d really think he was crazy…They’d certainly be anxious to get rid of him for sure. “I…I…I’m sorry,” he stuttered as he slowly climbed to his feet.
“Don’t be sweetie…I know this is all new to you but you’ll get used to everything. I promise and we’ll be a little more careful to explain things to you from now on okay?” John nodded, looking at his feet in embarrassment.
Rose saw the flushed cheeks and the sweat coated face of her nephew but thought it was from embarrassment and the physical exertion he’d just been through. “Why don’t you take a shower and get dressed. After breakfast I’ll introduce you to your Uncle Geoffrey.”
John nodded and waited for them to leave before he slumped on the bed. Why did these stupid seizures happen to him? He didn’t know how to stop them. Was he really crazy? He didn’t know.
He looked at the door…His aunt seemed so kind but he’d learned long ago not to trust anyone. Even those who pretended to care had let him down. Teachers…The police…Doctors…Even Rigsby and the others. They’d sent him back to his own personal hell…His own family hated him…Even his parents had left him.
Oh he knew it wasn’t by choice but still…John was angry and frustrated…He had nothing and no one…Maybe it was better that way…No one could leave you if you didn’t let them in your life…They couldn’t let you down if you expected nothing from them and they couldn’t hurt you if you just didn’t feel. He sighed in dismay and pushed himself tiredly to his feet and headed for the bathroom.
Rosemary turned to the servant who walked beside her. “I’d appreciate it if you kept what just happened between us Edward,” she asked softly but the man knew it wasn’t a request. It didn’t matter…That boy in there didn’t need any more heartache than he’d apparently already been through and he was well aware of Joshua and Tiffany’s arrogant snobbery and what the boy would be in for if they ever found out.
“Of course Miss Rosemary…I would never betray your trust.” She smiled up at the man. “Besides…The poor boy looks as if he’s been through enough,” he added quietly.
“Yes…I believe so too,” she replied, determined that there would be no more of it and grateful to have an ally in Edward. The first thing she needed to do was find a good doctor. She needed to know what was wrong with her nephew in order to fix it. “Send him downstairs when he’s done.”
John showered slowly…He felt terrible…Tired and weak. His throat felt like sandpaper and his muscles ached but then they always did after he went away…Though he didn’t know why. He stifled a raspy cough that threatened and hoped his Aunt wouldn’t notice. He didn’t want to be a problem.
He got dressed and headed for the door.
Edward waited patiently until John’s door opened and the boy stepped out. The dark eyes grew wary at the sight of him. “Your aunt is waiting in the dining room Master John,” he said formally.
Master John? No had ever called him that before. Half breed…Boy…Problem…stupid…burden and trouble but they’d never been respectful. He nodded…Making a wide berth around the man. Edward smiled sadly at the boy but waited until he was well past him to follow him down the stairs. John shuffled a bit slowly into the dining room…His chocolate brown eyes casting a nervous glance toward Rosemary before shifting to his two cousins.
Did they know what happened this morning? Was he in for more taunting from the pair? His face flushed and once again Rosemary thought that it was embarrassment that colored the boys cheeks rather than the shadow of fever.
John slid into his chair and looked to Rose not sure what to expect but it certainly wasn’t the parade of food that made its way onto the table at the hands of two of the women he’d seen yesterday.
John’s eyes widened in shock and looked around to see who else was coming to the table but it was only set for four. He frowned thoughtfully…They could have fed his whole family for days with what was on the table right now just for them.
One of the women began to scoop food onto plates and set them before Rosemary and his cousins. They never even gave her a second glance. She looked expectantly toward John. He peered at his aunt uncertainly. What did the woman want?
Rose hid a smile behind her hand. “She’s waiting for you to tell her what you like sweetie…She doesn’t know you enough yet to know what you like.”
Neither did John. He barely recognized some of the items as food. He pointed to the eggs with a shrug and Rose sighed. “Would you like bacon? Sausage…Toast…A muffin…Fruit?” She questioned in exasperation, knowing that a scoop or two of scrambled eggs wasn’t going to hold a growing boy for long.
John’s eyes widened once more… All of that? He felt almost guilty as he shrugged hesitantly. Rose made the decision at the uncomfortable look on her nephew’s face to move breakfast from the dining room to the smaller nook in the kitchen after Joshua and Tiffany returned to school. He’d be less intimidated in the less austere setting.
John coughed lightly as the woman set the plate in front of him. “Th…Thank Yyy…you,” he stuttered nervously. Carrie smiled in pleased surprise.
Joshua’s eyes took on a narrow gaze at the stammer in John’s voice before he smirked at his young cousin and Tiffany giggled. “YYY…Your wwww…www…welcome,” The young man mocked. The maid glared at Joshua before she turned and headed for the kitchen, wishing she could dump a plate of food over his head for his hatefulness.
John flushed crimson as he realized that they were laughing at him. He stood up…He was starving but he wouldn’t sit there and let them humiliate him. He couldn’t help the way he spoke.“Sit down John.” Rose said quietly. He chewed his lip in indecision…He wanted to leave but would she punish him for defying her the way Lacee had? Probably…
He slowly sank into his seat, prepared to take whatever they dished out. He had no pride left anyway after everything his family had done to him. He gazed at his clenched hands that were now in his lap. He coughed again as he tugged at his lower lip to keep it from trembling.
Rosemary folded her hands, resting her elbows on the table and leaned toward her two children. Her chin rested on her fists. “I want you two to listen to me very carefully.”
The smirks fled from the faces of Rosemary’s children. “John is a member of this family,” she continued in an ominous tone. “I will not have him humiliated at this table or in my home again. I know I raised both of you with better manners than this and you are both embarrassing me and I won’t have it.” They both swallowed nervously and glanced toward their young cousin who was looking at his aunt in shock.
“If you can’t treat him with the same respect that you give a guest at my table…Feel free to leave it.”
“I’m sorry mother,” Tiffany murmured, looking contrite. “I just wasn’t expecting him to…”
Rosemary’s eyebrow rose challengingly and Tiffany decided to stop there before she said anything else to offend her mother. The green eyes turned toward Joshua.
“Uh…Forgive me mother,” he said condescendingly, the tone less than believable and shot a glare at John. He put the little upstart in his place later.
John hesitantly began to eat with his usual lack of table manners and while Rose knew she needed to correct them, she refused to embarrass the boy in front of his cousins but then she didn’t need to…It only took a short while for the younger boy to feel their eyes on him and realize he’d done something wrong…Again.
He glanced around him nervously before setting the fork down, tugging at his lip once more. “It’s alright sweetie…Go ahead and eat.”
John shook his head, stifling yet another cough that threatened to slip out…uncertain of what he’d done but knowing they’d make fun of him if he continued. Rose sighed in frustration…The boy was so insecure. She reached out to touch his cheek but he flinched away. Her heart turned a flip at the obviously frightened reaction. This wasn’t going to be easy for either of them.
“Alright then…If we’re through then John and I are going upstairs. I want you to meet your Uncle Geoffrey.”
John almost groaned in dismay…He just wanted to go back to his room and sleep but he didn’t dare refuse her. He stood and followed her from the room, leaving most of his breakfast untouched.
The girl Carrie stood just inside the door with her coworker. “They’ve got some nerve questioning his manners,” she said angrily. “John’s got better manners than either of them,” she said softly. “At least he said thank you.” Laura nodded her agreement.
Rosemary pushed the door open to her bedroom. Geoffrey was sitting in his chair by the window with a book in his lap. His finished breakfast tray sat on the desk. “Good morning my darling,” she teased gently as she ushered the thin dark haired boy into the room ahead of her.
“Good morning Rose,” he returned as his eyes swept over the teenager. Was he really fourteen, he wondered? He was awfully small for that age. Joshua was much taller and heavier too…Though in all fairness he supposed this young man had probably had a much more active lifestyle than Joshua did.
He didn’t imagine that a boy raised on an Indian reservation had too many servants to do the heavy work or the cooking or cleaning. He almost admired the boy for it. He couldn’t imagine his pampered, spoiled son lifting a finger to do anything more than swing a tennis racquet but that was his own fault…Rose had wanted to raise them to be more self sufficient but he’d objected.
He’d been spoiled his whole life as well and at the time hadn’t seen any need to make them work for anything if he could just give it to them but now he had to admit…It might have been a mistake.
“Geoffrey…This is Rod’s son John. John…This is my husband… Your Uncle Geoffrey.”
John hovered close to Rosemary’s side as she urged him toward the gray haired man in the chair. He glanced over uncertainly at his aunt…This man was much older than her. His face was very pale and his gray eyes had small wrinkles at the corners. He reminded him a little of Sun Walker.
John thought about his grandfather and wondered how the old man was faring without him. They were probably all quite happy to have him gone. He let Rose move him closer but he froze hesitantly a few steps away. “Come here boy…Let me take a look at you,” he growled.
John edged a bit closer but pulled back quickly as the man reached out to lightly grip the front of his shirt, pulling him toward him. “Nooo,” he whispered, trying to retreat.
“It’s okay sweetie…He’s not going to hurt you…He just wants you to come a little closer…” She looked to Geoffrey. “He doesn’t like to be touched,” she said warningly.
John was shaking…Was she telling the truth or was this a trick to get him to come too close and be unable to escape. He glanced toward the door. Could he make it?
“Well…You’re certainly a skinny little waif aren’t you?” Geoff asked with a small smile. “Not like Rod…He was big and strong.”
“I…I am st…strong,” John murmured, looking indignant that the man thought he wasn’t like his father.
“Geoff,” Rose said reproachfully. “He’ll get there…Rod didn’t sprout until he was sixteen,” she informed him.
The older man laughed, relieved to see that there was still a spark of life in the dark eyes that looked so forlorn and lost. “Alright Rose…I was just playing with him. You look just like him anyway. How old are you John?” He questioned uncertainly…Sure that they had the age wrong.
“Fff…fourt…ttt…teen,” he stuttered.
Geoffrey glanced up at his wife. “We need to see if we can fix that,” he said with a look of concern.
She nodded her agreement. “I will…Very soon.”
Fix what? John wondered glancing between them. “Well John…Your Aunt was very worried about you when she found out that your mother passed away. You’re not going to give her anymore grief as you did yesterday are you?”
“Geoffrey,” she admonished.
“Well I won’t have this whole town talking about us…Having the police chase him down. He needs to understand his position here.”
John bit his lip. Here it comes…Whatever job he was supposed to do to earn his keep. At least he’d know what was expected of him.
“His position…?” She questioned with an arch to one delicate eyebrow.
“He’s not some little ragamuffin off the street Rosemary…He’s a Gage and he’s living here in our home.”
She smiled, looking a bit relieved herself. “Don’t worry darling…John will be just fine.” The boy looked at her in confusion. What was his position? He still didn’t know. “He wants to be a fire fighter…Right sweetheart?”
John nodded but the older man frowned. “That’s not exactly a job for our sort.” John looked at Rosemary worriedly. Would they forbid it too?
“But it’s what he wants and I think it’s time he has what HE wants,” she said gently as she reached out to run her fingers through the sable waves. John ducked his head away and she sighed sadly that the boy couldn’t accept a simple gesture of affection.
Geoff leaned his head back against the cushion. “Well then…I guess you’d better find out how to help him then,” he said tiredly.
“Come John…Uncle Geoff’s tired and needs to rest,” she directed, turning the boy toward the door. “Wait for me in the hall sweetheart.” John walked toward it, turning back in time to see her kiss her husband’s forehead. “Thank you darling?” She whispered.
“Certainly a scared little thing.”
John bristled indignantly as he slipped out the door. He couldn’t help the fear his family had instilled in him but he’d have to try harder not to let it show. He wouldn’t let them think he was a weakling…
Rose turned as John closed the door. “I think he’s stronger than any of us,” she said softly. Rose could only guess at what he’d endured but she suspected that it was bad. What kind of strength would it take for a child to handle that alone and still be sane.
The older man smiled without opening his eyes…Whatever it took to make his wife happy whether he liked it or not. He just hoped she could keep control over the boy and keep his parentage quiet.
Allison 1 Alex 1 Eleanor 1 Kyle 1 Elise 1
Rosemary led the way down the stairs and showed him around the house. His eyes were wide in shock at the size of this home but what really caught his attention was the library. He forgot himself for a moment as his fingers touched the leather bound books in wonder.
“Do you like to read?” Rose asked. He nodded and for a moment Rose thought she might see a smile but John caught himself. Afraid if he showed an interest, she’d use it to hurt him with it. “You’re welcome to any book here. Feel free to use them.”
He shot her a suspicious glance, waiting for her to tell him what she wanted for the use of them or worse that it had been a joke to make him think she’d actually allow him to touch them. Rose saw the look and sighed. She moved toward the door. The teenager hesitated before he followed.
Rose led the way around to the back of the house. John obediently tagged along, thinking she would be showing him whatever chores would be expected of him for letting him stay here and for the use of the books. Nobody gave him anything for nothing.
He really didn’t feel well and would have loved to go curl up in his room with one of them but he had no intention of telling her that and having that man tell him he was weak and not like his father again. John stifled a cough and continued on.
The day was brisk and cool but at least no rain clouds threatened.
Rose stopped and stood looking at him as they stepped out on the porch. John looked at her curiously. Rose smiled. “It is appropriate behavior for a gentleman to offer his arm to a lady when accompanying her,” she teased gently.
A frown knotted his eyebrows over his nose. What did she mean by that? “Aaa…Propri…ate?” He questioned.
He’d been so sheltered on that reservation. She could only imagine that he probably hadn’t learned a lot of ‘polite society behavior’ at least by her standards and she guessed that Rod hadn’t been around often enough to teach them either. She shook her head and smiled at the look he gave her.
“It means an expected or acceptable action.” She slowly reached out to touch his arm but John drew back cautiously. “It’s alright háahketa,” she soothed, giggling at the eye roll of embarrassment she received at the endearment, nevertheless, he allowed her to take hold of his arm by the elbow though he was clearly uncomfortable, looping her own through it and knowing she had to move slowly and wondering again just what he’d been through in his fourteen short years.
“Ap…propriate,” he whispered to himself and Rose stifled a grin at the way he rolled the word on his tongue…Getting the feel of it. The boy was smart…She could see the intelligence in his eyes…He WANTED to learn….She just needed to find a way to spark him back to life.
“This is the proper way to escort a lady. Come along,” she said with a smile.
John was tense but he didn’t pull away. They walked slowly and Rosemary let her eyes scan the young man surreptitiously. He was the spitting image of his father at that age except for those dark, chocolate brown eyes that could already tear her heart out.
John finally seemed to notice her gaze and looked at her questioningly. “I was just thinking how much you look like your dad,” she answered the unspoken question. “But you have Katie’s eyes.” John shrugged. “You’re going to be a heart breaker one day John Roderick Gage,” she teased gently.
“Heart bbb…breaker?” He questioned in confusion.
Rose smiled. “You’ll break the girls hearts with your looks…You’re so handsome.”
John blushed and shook his head, looking away. “Oh Sweetheart,” she sighed at the insecure young man who couldn’t see anything good in himself. She had to figure out how to reach him. John chewed his lip nervously but didn’t answer. She pointed at a green paved area. “That’s the tennis court John…Do you play ten…,” she caught herself. The boy had probably never even seen a tennis racquet much less played the game. She changed direction…“I’ll teach you to play if you like.” John shrugged indifferently. Well…That hadn’t worked…They continued on. He finally shot her a timid glance from beneath those long lashes. “What sweetheart?” She questioned.
“What ddd…did I ddd…do wrong?” he questioned timidly.
“You mean this morning?” He nodded before he looked away once more.
“Oh sweetie…It wasn’t anything very important…Just some little things we need to work on.”
She smiled. “Your table manners for starters.”
She smiled. “Little things…like using a napkin and not your shirt sleeve,” she teased, pointing at the small stain on his cuff.
John blushed. “Oh…”
“Chewing with your mouth closed.”
“Why?” He asked innocently.
She grinned. “Because it’s polite…” John frowned…Who cared how he chewed? And what should he use to wipe his mouth?
Rose had to refrain from laughing at the confused frown. “Sometimes my darling we have to learn rules we don’t always understand or see a need for but I’ll teach you all those things. We have time and I’m sorry they made you feel bad that you don’t know them all yet.”
“Why…,” he hesitated, afraid he’d be in trouble for asking. She smiled and waited patiently so he plunged ahead. “Why do th…they nnn…not like mmm…me?” He asked, trying not to let the hurt show.
Rosemary blew out a breath. “Oh my sweetheart…I wish I could explain the kind of arrogance that they were born to.” John frowned in confusion once more so she tried again. “Because you’re different….”
“Why am I ddd…different?” He questioned, asking her the same thing he’d asked his father almost nine years ago. He hadn’t understood his answer then…He didn’t understand hers now.
“Because you’re half Indian.”
“I am also hhh…half white?”
“I know…But unfortunately they can only see the part that wasn’t raised to be like them.”
That seemed to be everyone’s problem with him but how could he ever be like them if they wouldn’t see ALL of him not just the half they didn’t like? John frowned, thinking of their behavior over the last two days.
“I do not w…wish to bbb…be like them…They are mmm…mean.” His eyes widened in horror at what he’d just blurted out and he backed away, almost cringing as he waited for her to punish him for that remark. John looked absolutely terrified, wishing he’d kept his mouth shut as he usually did. It was always safer that way...How could he be so stupid to let his guard down…? “I…I…I am sss…sor…ry,” he stammered fearfully.
Rose’s heart broke at the look of fear in her nephews beautiful eyes. “It’s okay my darling…You were only being honest…You’re right. They were very mean to you.”
“Th…They are mmm…mean to everyone,” he mumbled.
“What?” She asked curiously.
“They nnn…never say th…thank you or ppp…please. They lll…laugh at me,” He looked away. They are ru…rude…Even ttt…to you. My family would have bbb….bea…,” John caught himself and cut off the words at what he’d almost let slip. He couldn’t tell anyone. George would kill him for sure and she’d probably only think he’d deserved it anyway but he knew if he’d spoken to an adult the way her children spoke to her he’d have been beaten half to death. “Been angry,” he finished with a shrug.
Rose heard the hesitation and her eyes narrowed. He’d been about to say something different she was sure of it but she didn’t push.
She thought about what he did say, marveling at how observant the boy was about some things yet oblivious about others but he was absolutely right. She’d simply never noticed and she was just as bad wasn’t she? So accustomed to the servants being there that it just never occurred to her to acknowledge what they did or to get to know them as people. To notice that her own children were impolite to them …As if it were their right to hurt those they saw as being beneath them…Worse she’d allowed that disrespectful attitude to extend to her as well.
“Oh sweetheart… You’re absolutely right and I’m sorry too…” His head tilted curiously at that comment. “I don’t always think to say it either do I? And you’re right my children are very rude even with me. I guess I need to correct that. Thank you for pointing that out to me.”
John wasn’t sure if she was angry with him or not and he looked away.
“Sweetie…I’m sorry they laugh at you and that they’re mean but the good thing is they’ll be going back to school soon and then it will be just the three of us here and we can get you into school and…” John coughed and shrugged. Rose frowned. “Don’t you like school?”
John shook his head. “They www….were like th…them,” he stuttered, his face flushing. “Because I am a Ó’xevé’ho’e.”
“A what?” She questioned.
“Half breed,” John almost whispered in shame. “Th…they laughed at me t…too.”
Rose almost wept. “I am so sorry háahketa,” she apologized quietly. “No one should have to go through what you did.”
John looked away…He wasn’t a weak baby and he didn’t want her pity. He just didn’t understand why everyone hated him…His family on the reservation must be right. It must be him…Something he’d done wrong. He just couldn’t figure out what it was and the fact that he was different wasn’t an answer. Even Rosemary only cared for him because he was her brother’s son…She’d even said so. Why couldn’t they care for him, just for him unless it truly was his fault, he asked himself for the millionth time. John shoved the hurt away… ‘Just don’t care and they can’t hurt you,’ he told himself.
They resumed walking. “I thought about putting you in private school John but…I think maybe you’d do better in public…It would be more what you’re used to and not all those arrogant kids about.” John shrugged indifferently. Rose sighed. It seemed the small flow of words had stopped. She tried again. “Did you get good grades in school?” She asked. John flushed and shook his head. “Why not…You’re so smart?”
A forlorn look filled the dark eyes. “I…Ig…norant half breed…Nnnn…Never amount ttt…to anything anywww…way,” he repeated verbatim.
“Oh my God,” she whispered staring at him in shock. “Did they tell you that?” John nodded. “That’s not true…Oh sweetie that’s not true at all.” She turned the boy to face her but he flinched away as she reached to touch him. Tears filled her eyes at the lost and lonely look in his eyes. She had to reach him. “John…I’ll make you a deal. You want to be a fire fighter right?”
“Yes,” he mumbled.
“Well you can’t be.” John looked devastated at that statement and Rose’s heart skipped a beat. “You can’t be if you don’t get good grades. Now…I’ll see to it that you get all the help you need to get those grades if you’ll work for them,” she said, tossing out the lure.
John nodded…That was one thing John wasn’t afraid of…He worked hard for everything. “What ddd…do you www…want me to ddd…do?” He asked hesitantly.
“Study…That’s your job.” John looked baffled as she continued. “You go to school every day and you study. I’ll hire you a tutor to be sure you can be up to the same standard as the rest of the kids your age but you’ve got to be willing to work hard in school and with your teachers. Can you promise me that?”
John thought about it. He desperately wanted to be a fire fighter…It’s all he’d ever wanted and he’d promised his parents that he wouldn’t give up despite his family’s determination to kill his spirit and his dream. Did she really mean that? She looked like she meant it but he couldn’t be sure. What did she want in return? There had to be something…John was always expected to pay back what had been given. He sighed…He’d go up that hidden trail when he found it. “I…I ppp…pro…mise.”
Rosemary smiled in relief…She’d found what drove him and she could use it… “Good boy,” she said, squeezing his hands. “Come on…We have more to see.”
John bit his lip wondering what this would cost him. He’d given her a weapon to use against him and he hoped he hadn’t made a mistake in giving that dream into her hands.
They strolled around a small pond and even though Rosemary tried several times to renew a conversation, John was resistant…Already afraid that he’d said too much…That he'd slip as he had earlier.That she might suspect what had been done to him. He swallowed heavily…throwing her a nervous glance.
What would she think if she ever found out… She’d throw him out for sure. She’d be disgusted…She’d never want him around her precious, spoiled son and daughter. John shivered at that thought or maybe it was the brisk breeze that touched his skin or both.
Rose watched the young face and the play of emotions that crossed it and she knew he was hiding so much more but she didn’t know how to make him open up. Her children had always been free to speak their mind…Perhaps too free, she thought now in retrospect. John had pointed out what she’d failed to see but she suspected her nephew had never been allowed to hope or dream or express his thoughts…To laugh or cry or share his dreams. She was saddened by it.
Oh she knew Rod would have allowed it…Even encouraged him but what about Kate’s family. She shook her head. She’d only seen the grandfather and he’d been harsh enough with the boy in that hour that she had to wonder what else he’d been subjected to. She’d just have to keep trying to win his trust…But how? It was painfully obvious he didn’t trust anyone and more than likely, rightfully so.
John suddenly lifted his head and looked around. “Th…There are hhh…horses here?” He asked…Maybe this was what she’d brought him here for. John knew he could handle this if she had.
Rose looked around. How had he known? She couldn’t see the stable and she’d heard nothing. “How did you know that sweetheart?” She asked curiously. He pointed at the ground but Rosemary didn’t see anything but grass. “What?” She questioned again.
He kicked at the faintest of hoof prints. She had to bend to see them. “There,” he said as if she were blind.
“You can see that?” She questioned in surprise.
He nodded and sniffed. “You can smell them as well.”
Rose tried but smelled nothing. “I’ll take your word for it sweetie,” she teased. What could she say? He’d obviously known they were there. “The stable is over this way,” she told him pointing toward a small stand of wooded area that blocked the view.
They headed around the wide stand of trees toward the stables. Rosemary noted that John’s pace had picked up considerably and smiled. She now knew that he had an obvious love for books and horses. The boy was slowly and quietly revealing a little more of himself at every turn but she knew there was so much more still hidden inside.
They approached the barn from the back and John’s dark eyes finally lost that forlorn look of being lost and hopeless. They showed a hint of life in them until they drew closer.
They heard the angry scream of a horse and they glanced at each other...She with concern and he with anger at the frightened sound of the whinny. They rounded the corner of the building and Rosemary’s temper soared.
Joshua, Tiffany and several of their friends were at one of the paddocks. Joshua held the lead of Rosemary’s skittish new mare, while the frantic stable hand fretted worriedly nearby.
The animal was trying desperately to back away but the young man held her…Jerking the rope looped over her nose viciously and sending her walleyed in terror. She screamed again…Rearing on her hind legs and drawing a laugh from the group.
Joshua had every intention of breaking this animal to impress his girlfriend Allison and the others but the horse was having none of it.
“She’s as scared as that boy mother brought home,” Tiffany called to her friends with a giggle from where she sat on the fence watching.
John’s mouth tightened in embarrassment but all he cared about was the frightened horse. His dark eyes watched the poor thing with sorrow. She was a beautiful bay about sixteen hands with a white sock on her hind foot.
“It’s all over town that he’s here and that he even got arrested…Is he really an Indian?” One of the boys named Kyle asked sneeringly.
“Yeah…My Uncle Roderick married a squaw…It’s why my grandparents disowned him.”
Rose was livid at the humiliated look on John’s face but one of the girls in the group finally looked up and saw them as they drew closer.
“Ahem…,” she cleared her throat drawing the attention of the others while Joshua continued to taunt the mare with the rope. “Is uh…That him?” She questioned.
They all turned. “That’s him,” Tiffany said.
“You didn’t tell us he was so cute,” the first girl said with a delighted grin.
The others laughed but Alex, another friend of Joshua’s wasn’t amused. Elise was his girlfriend and he didn’t like the idea that she found the younger boy attractive.
“I think he’s adorable,” another girl named Eleanor teased with a grin as John approached the group quickly.
Joshua rolled his eyes as his girlfriend Allison swept a glance over his cousin as well. “He’s an ignorant savage from some stupid little town in North Dakota or something,” he snarled, taking his irritation with the woman out on the horse. He flicked the rope at her once more.
The animal reared and Joshua was surprised to find himself shoved back out of the way by the irate younger boy but he had no time to voice his indignation at the rude handling as he suddenly found himself facing his furious mother.
“How dare you hurt my horse,” she growled angrily but her face paled suddenly as she realized that John had taken the lead. “Oh dear God,” she whispered.
Joshua spun around to see the animal once again on her hind legs as John stepped toward her, letting the rope slide through his fingers and making no effort to hold her feet on the ground. He chortled in glee at the idea of seeing the kid get his butt kicked by the terrified horse. Tiffany and their friends smirked at each other as well, while Rose pressed her hand to her mouth in horror.
John raised his hands…Palms up and began to speak in an almost sing song tone. “Shhh He’koom… Anene ho’nó éve e’etanó Né tse ho’no’ éxan’mo ánováόό’o,”(Be still…Do not be afraid…I will not hurt you girl)
The horse’s hooves landed and she danced gingerly about…Her brown eyes settling on this new one. Her ears pricked forward as he spoke…He began to move closer.
“John no,” Rose whispered in terror, afraid her nephew would be badly hurt by the frightened animal but the horse remained still…Watching him curiously as he continued to softly speak and move slowly toward her.
The stable hand who’d been helplessly standing by earlier looked stunned as the boy drew closer to the animal. No one had been able to get this close in the three months she’d been here without cornering the poor frightened beast.
“Páháve ánováόό’o, hόxe’όo’ό… Né tse ho’no’ éxan’mo ná’ véstá,” (Good girl, See…I will not hurt you. I promise)
The horse quivered nervously but didn’t move as John stepped to her and laid his hand on the glossy neck. “Né’ mo’onahe,” (You are beautiful). He assured the animal sincerely.
The nose brushed against him and the young man smiled and leaned close to the delicate ear. “We are the same…We will be friends…You and I,” he whispered as he pulled the rope clear of her soft muzzle.
Rosemary’s mouth dropped open in stunned disbelief…So did the stable hands.
Joshua’s face turned red in rage at being made a fool of by his young cousin. One look at his friends confirmed that. Alex and Kyle smirked at him while Allison, Elise and Alex’s sister Eleanor gazed in awe, interest and admiration respectively. Tiffany giggled at her brother’s obvious embarrassment at being outdone by the boy.
Rose blinked in amazement and then her green eyes shot toward her nephew as another realization set in. John hadn’t stuttered once…His whole attention had been focused on the horse and if that was the case…Then the stutter could most likely be corrected as well. She had an idea.
“John…Can you ride her?” She asked softly as she moved closer.
The horse watched her approach and quivered uncertainly but she didn’t pull away from John. The others laughed. “Of course he can’t mother,” Joshua sneered arrogantly. If he couldn’t handle the horse than the boy certainly couldn’t, regardless of the fact that the horse had calmed under his hands…It had to be because Joshua had simply broken her down for him.
John looked to his aunt at her question and then back to the horse. “If sh…she wants me too,” he replied with a shrug.
“Wants him too,” Josh snorted. Tiffany, Alex and Kyle laughed but the girls pressed closer in the hopes that he’d try. They found the boy fascinating.
John looped the lead rope under and tied it to the opposite ring. He flipped it carefully over her head and in one smooth jump, mounted the mare bareback. She stood uncertainly for a moment as he spoke to her gently. “It is me my friend,” he soothed softly, patting the sweating neck.
The others waited for him to end up on his butt on the ground but after a few seconds the horse relaxed. There was only the slightest of motion from John’s knees and the mare began to move.
The ranch hands mouth dropped open once again as he moved to Rosemary’s side. “I don’t believe it,” he whispered.
Rosemary smiled. “I do…There’s something very special about him.”
The man nodded. “Yes ma’am…Uh Miss Rosemary…I…I’m sorry about all this…Master. Josh just wouldn’t take no for an answer and…”
“Thank you Frank…I’ll take care of it,” she said as she watched John urge the animal into an easy canter. The mare responded to the boy as if they’d been together forever.
“Bring her in John,” Rose called softly, grinning at the look of absolute disbelief on her son’s face. The others looked just as stunned.
John brought the horse toward the group. She shied nervously around Joshua but stood quietly as John slid from her back.
“Do you like her John?” Rosemary asked quietly with an almost sly look.
“She is bbb…beautiful,” he answered.
The others snickered at the stutter and John bit his lip and looked at the ground.
Rosemary’s green eyes grew cold. “If you all have nothing better to do than stand around taunting my nephew and abusing my animals you can go back to the house.”
They all quickly subsided under that icy glare and she turned back to John. “Would you like to have her?”
John’s mouth dropped open in shock that anyone would offer him a gift like this. He’d never owned a horse…He’d never really owned anything. He’d worked the reservation ranch but none of the animals had been his…They belonged to the people…All of them…What kind of payment would she expect for this animal…Whatever it was would be out of his reach…He had nothing to offer and she knew it. This was obviously just a way to further humiliate him.
The others were just as surprised, especially Joshua and Tiffany. “Mother…?” Tiffany questioned. “You paid a fortune for her…I thought you bought her for yourself?”
“I did…But she seems to like John better and I can get another.”
John’s eyes narrowed suspiciously after a moment. Why would she do this? Would she wait for him to say yes and then deny him the animal? Was this a cruel joke on the ‘ignorant savage from some backwater little town?’ he wondered, remembering Joshua’s hurtful words.
Rose almost held her breath as she watched the emotions on the boy’s face. Would he trust her or shy away the same way the horse did?
“I have nnn…no way ttt…to ppp…pay for her,” he finally replied dejectedly.
The group laughed at that scornfully. John looked at his feet in embarrassment…Why had she done that to him? Rose turned on the group angrily. “I’m sure the stable hands would love you to go help out in the barn.” At their looks of indignation she continued. “Or you can leave…NOW.”
“But mother,” Josh began to protest. “Allison and Elise want to ride…We’re all going.”
“Then keep your mouths closed or go help saddle them…Pick one but this conversation does not include any of you.” They recognized the anger behind the tone and chose the former, moving a safe distance away as she turned back to her red faced nephew.
“Now sweetheart…I didn’t ask you to pay for her. I asked if you’d like to have her.”
John hesitated, chewing his lip in indecision. His eyes flicked toward the pretty mare standing near his elbow…Her dark, brown eyes watching him soulfully. He finally nodded. “Yes,” he murmured softly, wondering what this was going to cost him. “Bbb…but I can not ttt…take…,” he began to protest a gift of that expense.
“Good…, she cut him off. “Then I’ll make you a deal. Kind of like the other one.” John nodded again. He knew there had to be something repaid and he wondered what she’d ask of him this time. “I want to find someone who can help you make that stutter go away.”
John’s face turned scarlet in embarrassment. “I…I’m sss…sorry,” he whispered, with a slight cough.
“For what háahketa?”
John looked away. “I can nnn…not mmm…make it gg…go away…” John looked ready to cry but he quickly got himself under control.
Rosemary resisted the urge to pull the distraught boy into her arms, knowing John would only tense up anyway. “There are people who can help you John,” she said gently. “They know how to correct that… I’ll find someone who can make that stutter go away so it won’t be a deterrent for you …Will you try?”
John felt so stupid but he wanted this beautiful animal very much. Could he bear the humiliation of having someone have to teach him how to speak properly? He didn’t know why it happened or how to stop it himself and it had gotten worse after his Uncle had attacked him that night. Was there a way? It would make it easier to be a fire fighter if he didn’t stutter so badly…John scuffed the grass with his toe.
The horse seemed to sense his indecision and pushed the boy with her nose drawing a chuckle from Rosemary. John patted the soft nose and nodded. “Yes…” Rose grinned.
“Then she is yours.”
“Háa’háešeNoo’όtse,” he said softly to the mare, Coughing once more.
“What did you say?” Rosemary asked curiously.
“Wind Song…That is her name.”
“That’s beautiful…Would you like her saddled?” Rose asked nodding to the other horses that were being led out. John frowned at the light weight English saddles the horses were wearing, his nose curled in distaste and Rosemary almost giggled at the look. “Frank…I think John would be more comfortable with old Mack’s saddle…Would you get it for him?” She requested guessing from the look that the boy was used to something far more substantial.
The older man disappeared into the barn, reappearing a moment later with a heavy western saddle and bridle. It took John no time at all to get her ready. He swung easily onto the horses back.
“Do you want me to send someone with you or will you be able to find your way back?” Rose asked the boy.
“Don’t worry Mrs. Hughes,” Elise said with a smile. “He can ride with us.”
Eleanor and Allison nodded their agreement while Joshua, Alex, Tiffany and Kyle scowled their displeasure. John looked a bit hesitant about that idea, figuring they only wanted him along so they could make fun of him some more.
Rosemary looked dubiously at the girls. “I don’t know…There won’t be any more hateful comments?” She warned.
“No Mrs. Hughes,” Elise promised.
John bit his lip uncertainly as Rosemary thought it over. “John…If they bother you, just come home okay?” she reassured the boy.
He nodded as the others mounted. They all set out but John remained careful to stay at the back of the pack and out of the conversation. He had no intention of trusting these people any time soon.
They’d been riding for almost a half an hour before the young woman Elise dropped back to ride next to John. He cast her a sideway’s glance but said nothing.
Elise smiled at the young man next to her. “What were you saying to the horse John?” He shrugged but didn’t answer...Not planning on giving these others an opportunity to make fun of his stutter. The others began to fall back to join them and John tensed uncomfortably at being surrounded by these people.
“What language was that John… It was beautiful,” she tried again.
John bit his lip uncertainly. “It is th…the language of my ppp…people.”
“Your people…I thought you were a Gage?” Allison asked with a frown.
“My mmm…mother’s people.”
“The squaw,” Joshua sneered.
John’s mouth tightened in a combination of anger and humiliation. “Ddd…Do not ccc…call her th…that,” he growled, the stutter more pronounced than ever.
“Www….Why nnn…not,” Joshua taunted. “It’s the truth.”
“Leave him alone Josh,” Elise said angrily.
“Mmm…my Mmm…Mother was a ggg…ood www…woman…You have nnn…no respect…Not even fff…for your own,” he stammered with tears burning behind his eyes. He blinked them away, trying to regain control.
“Who do you think you’re talking to like that,” Joshua bit out. He reached over to shove John, his horse pushing against Wind Song.
The mare staggered a bit from the sudden contact and she spun away from the other horse. She lashed out at being so rudely crowded, her hoof connected with Elise’s horse. John quickly brought his mount under control but Elise didn’t have that kind of experience. Several of the horses let out squeals of annoyance and danced about excitedly but her gelding panicked at being kicked, his back legs rose viciously, nearly unseating the young woman and then bolted.
The girl let out a scream of terror as she felt her feet slip from the stirrups. She barely managed to hold on to the flying mane as the frightened horse raced toward the barn.
John didn’t even think, while the others struggled to regain control of their mounts …John kicked Wind Song into a flat gallop. The thoroughbred mare’s long legs quickly closed the distance, overtaking the other.
Elise was sliding now…Barely able to stay in the saddle. The ground sped by beneath her and the pretty girl was sure she was about to be killed or maimed beneath the galloping feet. Her panicked screams only added to the horse’s fright, urging him to a faster speed.
John pulled alongside. He’d need both hands to help the girl and without hesitation dropped the reins, using only his legs to guide his own horse he moved Wind Song closer…He leaned halfway off the side of his own mount in an effort to reach the girl before she fell beneath the churning hooves.
Elise’s fingers were clutched in a death grip in the horse’s mane but they were rapidly beginning to cramp. One hand finally pulled loose and she was sure her life was about to end but just as she was about to fall, hands reached out and snaked about her, pulling her away from the galloping horse and hauling her upward and across in front of her rescuer.
She gripped the young man who held her and felt the horse begin to slow. She looked up, expecting to see Alex or even Joshua but was shocked to find herself staring into the gorgeous dark eyes of John Gage.
The tired animal finally pulled up and John sat back, bringing her to a stop without ever touching the reins. “Are you alright?” He asked, coughing harshly from the exertion. The girl clung to him in shock.
“I…I…think so,” she whispered as tears welled in her eyes. “I thought I was… going to… die,” she added with a watery hiccup as she wept against his shoulder.
The pounding sound of hooves kept him from answering. “Oh my gosh Elise…Are you alright?” Tiffany asked worriedly as Alex moved closer.
“Get your hands off of her you…idiot,” he growled at John as he climbed off his horse and reached up to pull the woman off of Wind Song.
I am not hhh…holding her Vvv… vé’ho’é ,” John shot back. They had no idea what the word meant and it probably wasn’t good but the fact was what he’d said was true, the others noted. Elise was clinging to the young man and not the other way around.
Elise slapped at the older boy’s hands until he stepped back in shock. “John isn’t the idiot…That would be Josh for scaring the horse in the first place,” she snapped angrily. “I would have been killed if he hadn’t saved me,” she said looking back into those bottomless brown eyes and smiling.
John looked decidedly uncomfortable though he had to admit…The girl’s body felt…What words could he use to describe it? Warm…Soft…delightful…In his arms.
“Get down from there Elise,” Alex growled as he watched her blue eyes lock with John’s.
She slid her arms tighter around the younger boy, “Can you take me back to the stable John…I’d feel much safer with you,” she said softly, noting that despite his thinness…The young man was strong enough to lift her clear of the galloping horse.
Eleanor and Allison grinned as they watched Alex’s face turn scarlet in rage. Joshua’s eyes almost bugged from his head as the young woman snuggled closer to his young cousin.
Tiffany and Kyle stared in dumbfounded disbelief, while John’s face was crimson in embarrassment at the girl’s attentions but short of shoving her off the horse, which he didn't t think would be 'ap...propriate,' there wasn’t much help for it. He finally nodded and without word or warning wheeled Wind Song about and headed back to the barn.
Alex’s eyes narrowed angrily. “I’m gonna kill that little savage,” he sneered.
Allison and Eleanor exchanged a worried glance. He almost sounded like he meant it.
The three young men trailed along behind the girls who were still talking about the young Indians daring rescue of their friend.
“I mean…Did you see that Eleanor…He was hanging half off his own horse and just scooped her almost from off the ground,” Allison trilled in excitement. That was so brave of him to do that.”
Eleanor grinned. “Did you see Alex’s face at the way Elise was all over him?”
Allison giggled. “Joshua and Kyle’s too. They’re all pretty mad.”
Tiffany scowled at the tone of hero worship in her friends’ voices. “He’s just some dumb kid from…”
“Yes we know Tiff…Some backwater town in North Dakota,” Allison said with a sigh, knowing Joshua would be angry with her for admiring his young cousin but she couldn’t help it.
“Who cares? He’s got the most incredible eyes...He's a doll,” Eleanor said with a grin. “Too bad Elise got him first.”
“What do you mean?” Tiffany gasped. “He’s too young for Elise.”
Eleanor looked at her incredulously. “Are you kidding? Are you blind?”
Tiffany looked ahead of her…It certainly appeared as if the pretty seventeen year old was extremely grateful to her rescuer…Not that John seemed to be reciprocating.
John shifted uncomfortably on the back of his horse as the girl in his arms snuggled closer against him. It wasn’t that he wasn’t enjoying the experience but still…He’d never held a girl this close before.
John was a little confused…He generally disliked being touched by most people but this seemed different…Her hair smelled sweet, like coconut and she felt…Nice… pressed against him this way.
He flushed a bit in embarrassment at the way his teenage body betrayed him at that thought and he clenched his teeth and shifted a little away from her, hoping to regain control of his breathing and the odd feeling in the pit of his stomach, not to mention the reaction in another portion of his anatomy. He prayed the girl wouldn’t notice.
They arrived back at the stable just as several of the stable hands were getting ready to head out looking for them. Frank held the runaway horse by the reins with a look of worry. He breathed a sigh of relief as the group entered the yard.
“Are you alright Miss?” He asked in concern as he reached up to help the young woman down.
“Yes,” she breathed out with a smile back toward John as he slid from Wind Song’s back. “The horse ran away with me but John saved me.”
“Well…That was brave of you Master John,” Frank said as he handed the horse over to another hand, before reaching out to take John’s horse. He couldn’t believe the difference in the animal in that short space but then…The mare hadn’t been wild just scared of everything…Much like the boy if the rumors circulating among the hired help were true.
The other’s arrived and began to dismount. Alex quickly moved to Elise’s side, brushing John out of his way in the process. “Are you alright Elise…I didn’t get a chance out there to see if you’d been hurt,” he said solicitously. The younger boy stepped aside throwing the girl a slight glance before he turned to head back to the house.
He didn’t get far before Elise shook off Alex’s fawning presence. “I’m fine Alex…No thanks to you or Joshua,” she snapped as she turned and half ran after the retreating younger boy.
John really didn’t want to. He was embarrassed by his body’s reaction to the girl’s nearness and besides…He’d been feeling sick all morning. He’d hoped to just shower and maybe lie down for a while with one of his Aunts books…that was of course…If she’d meant it. He turned back to face her as the others hurried to catch up.
“We’re going out by the pool for lunch…Will you join us?” John shook his head as the dark eyes flitted toward the others, noting the angry looks in the eyes of his cousins as well as the other two young men Alex and Kyle.
“They ddd…do not www…want me here,” he stuttered.
“Well I do,” she argued as she looped her arm through his and turned him toward the house. Short of yanking his arm free of hers he had little option but to walk beside her.
He remembered walking with his aunt earlier. “This is ap…ppp….propriate,” he questioned glancing at their linked arms.
She smiled over at him. “Very…Especially after a gentleman saves a ladies life,” she teased.
Eleanor glanced at Allison as they walked behind with Tiffany. They giggled at her obvious infatuation with the younger boy, knowing that Alex was probably seething in a rage behind them. They were right.
Elise had no idea of the anger Alex was stoking up as he watched the woman he planned to marry one day making eyes at a boy three years younger than her and a damn half blood Indian to boot…Unfortunately for him…Elise didn’t feel the same way.
They walked along making small talk until they reached the patio. John noted the pool and marveled at the sight. No one in his town had anything like this in their backyard. John wasn’t big on water but he could swim exceptionally well. Being raised within walking distance of the Tongue River, it was a necessity that every child on the reservation was expected to learn. Maybe someday they’d let him in it but not today…Today it was too cold, even here in California. A brisk wind still blew.
John was used to much colder weather than this and he wondered why he felt so chilled by what his people would call a light breeze.
Tiffany opened the sliding doors that led into the large kitchen. “Ellen…Laura…We’re back. You can serve lunch anytime,” she finished without so much as a smile.
The two maids waited for her to go back outside before throwing her a jaunty salute…They both giggled. “Maybe they’ll learn some manners from their cousin,” Ellen teased with a grin.
A short time later Laura set a tray of drinks on the small bar. “We’ll be bringing lunch out in just a minute Miss Tiffany,” she said politely before going back inside.
John’s throat was sore and he eyed the glasses filled with beverages longingly but he didn’t dare take one without being told to. He felt a slender arm slip through his once again and glanced over into the blue eyes smiling back at him.
“Are you ready to eat?” She asked him, tugging him toward the bar.
Alex’s hazel eyes glared daggers at John’s back but the young half breed appeared oblivious.
“Yyy…Yes,” he finally admitted. “I’m th…thirsty.”
“Well here you are then,” she said handing him a glass. John sniffed the contents curiously before tasting it. His lip curled a bit but the ice tea felt good on his scratchy throat. “I wanted to thank you again or saving me,” she said softly as she looped her arm through his.
John flushed at her familiar gesture and tried to back away but she didn’t release him, instead she stepped closer, leaning over to place a soft kiss on his lips.
John had no time to protest or even pull away. His eyes widened in shock for a moment but he had no time to react before he suddenly felt himself being yanked unceremoniously away from the girl.
Alex was already fuming, but when Elise leaned over and kissed the younger boy his temper soared. This was the last straw. He stormed toward them and grabbed John’s arm, hauling him away from the pretty brunette.
“Stay away from my girlfriend,” he yelled angrily.
“Stop it Alex,” Elise cried out in protest. “I’m not your girlfriend.”
Her argument didn’t stop the older boy. His fist lashed out clumsily to connect with John’s cheek…It wasn’t that hard of a blow from the rather out of shape young man. He wasn’t all that strong and obviously had no background in real fighting and John might have just shrugged it off but he was standing too close to the pool.
He stepped back with the intent to just walk away but his foot hit the wet decking and slipped out from under him. His arms wind milled briefly before he finally lost the battle with gravity and fell in.
Alex laughed in triumph and knelt next to the edge as John shot to the surface. “I’ll teach you to put your dirty hands on my girl,” he snarled as his fist caught a handful of sopping dark hair and shoved John under once again.
John barely had time to draw a breath he was pushed under the surface once more.
“Stop it Alex…,” Elise yelled angrily as she pushed at his back.
“Let him up,” Tiffany screamed at the other boy, fearful that he’d drown John and her mother would kill them all for sure.
Joshua tried to grab Alex’s arm as held the boy under but the other man shoved him away. “Stop it Alex…You’re gonna kill him,” he warned. He wasn’t all that concerned about John but the scandal if it happened on their property would be devastating to his father.
“I told you I’d kill the little savage,” he growled.
There was a crash as Laura stepped out on the patio with a tray. She saw what was happening and gasped in horror. The heavy platter hit the floor as the woman whirled and raced back into the house to get help.
“Miss Rosemary,” she shrieked as she ran through the kitchen.
Rose stepped out of the sitting room where she’d been eating her own lunch while she went over some papers her lawyer had sent over that would officially make her John’s legal guardian.
“What is it Laura?” She questioned the panting woman.
“He’s going to kill him…”
“Who…What are talking about?”
“Master Alex…He’s going to drown John,” she gasped.
Rose’s eyes widened and she turned and ran for the kitchen. “Get Edward…Hurry,” she yelled back.
John’s ears were roaring and blackness was beginning to close in around him as he struggled to hold his breath. Hands were holding him under and he couldn’t get his feet on the bottom to give himself any leverage.
He pushed at the hands that were twisted in his hair frantically…Finally he gripped the wrists and kicked off the side of the concrete…He saw the bubbles as another body hit the water beside him but he didn’t have time to worry about that. John shot to the surface. His head broke clear and he was gasping and choking for air.
He heard the frantic screaming of the girls and the raised voices of several men before something else hit the water beside him. Strong hands grabbed hold and John tried desperately to fight them off but he was so tired and he couldn’t catch his breath.
“It’s alright Master John,” Edward said soothingly as he gripped the floundering teenager and pulled him toward the edge where Rosemary stood with her hands pressed over her mouth in worry that John was hurt.
The servant made sure John was securely holding the edge before he climbed out and reached down to pull the boy out of the water.
John stood shivering and coughing up the water he’d swallowed as Laura ran back outside with a blanket. “Here Edward,” she said with a worried look.
He took it and wrapped the cold, shaking youth in the blanket as Joshua leaned down to pull Alex from the water.
“What happened?” Rosemary growled angrily.
John looked at the floor but didn’t answer. “He kissed my girl…,” Alex sputtered as he stood there dripping. He glanced around but no towel or blanket appeared to be forthcoming for him. “Get me a towel,” he snapped at Laura. She shot him a glare but sauntered slowly toward the house.
“He didn’t kiss me Mrs. Hughes…I kissed him. I was just thanking him for saving my life earlier and…”
“Saving your life?” She questioned in surprise.
The group explained the earlier chain of events which left Rosemary ready to shove her own son into the pool as well. “I just wanted to thank him and then Alex attacked him,” Elise concluded as Laura returned with the smallest towel she’d been able to locate. She smiled politely as Alex glared at her.
Rosemary turned to John. “Are you alright?”
“Yyy…Yes ma’am,” he coughed.
“Go up to your room John…,” she said, sounding angry. John was sure she thought he was to blame.
“Yes ma’am,” he whispered, sure that he was about to get the boot. He was causing problems for her already.
“Take a hot shower and change…Edward…Please see to it that he’s alright.”
John nodded and headed slowly toward the house. Edward walked alongside ready to assist the shaking youth if he needed it.
“Laura…Could you please make sure John gets something hot to drink and some lunch?”
The woman nodded and almost smiled as she headed into the house. It was the first time she could remember Miss Rose saying please to her since she’d been here. Master John was rubbing off on them already.
Rosemary turned back to the rest of the group. Her green eyes blazed angrily at Alex… “I can’t imagine what possessed you Alex Blake to think that you could attack my nephew in his own home. I should have you arrested for attempted murder.”
“He’s just a dirty Indian,” he sneered.
The others gasped at the insult but it was choked off as Rosemary’s hand lashed out, landing a ringing slap to the young man’s face. Joshua and Tiffany’s eyes widened in shock…Their mother had almost never raised her voice in their presence in all the time that they could remember and she most certainly never raised a hand to anyone.
“That boy is my nephew…My brother’s only child. He’s a member of my family, so any insult you hurl at him becomes an insult to me and my family as well do you understand me?” She bit out angrily.
“Yes,” he mumbled in humiliated shock as his hand rubbed the reddened patch on his cheek.
“Get out of my house and until you can treat my nephew with the respect he deserves don’t come back.”
The others looked dumbstruck. Rosemary had been friends with Alex’s parents for years now…That John held a special place in her life was obvious if she was willing to throw away twenty years of friendship for his sake.
Alex stalked away in a combination of shame and anger. She turned to the others. “Elise…I’m glad you’re not hurt and that John was able to save you from a bad fall but please remember that he was raised in a very sheltered environment. He’s very shy and he doesn’t understand the um…Forwardness of your lifestyle,” she said delicately. “He’s still only fourteen, so please give him some time before you educate him in that area?” She finished with a raised eyebrow.
Elise blushed as Eleanor and Allison giggled. “Yes Mrs. Hughes,” she agreed. “It’s just that he’s so…,” she hesitated at a loss for an explanation.
“I know,” Rose agreed. John was an enigma…He was handsome despite his youth, Strong despite his thinness…He drew a woman’s heart from her chest with those soulful dark eyes that peeked shyly from beneath those long lashes and though he spoke with a stutter, his sensitive mouth begged for a kiss. His quiet and withdrawn demeanor pulled at the soul. He was different and special and hard for a young woman to resist. “Just give him a few more years,” she teased.
They all laughed. “I won’t stand a chance in a few more years,” she mumbled ruefully.
“Okay…I think we’ve all had enough excitement for one day. Why don’t you go home? I need to see if John’s okay.” The girls and Kyle left. Rose turned to Joshua and Tiffany. “I’m very angry with both of you,” she began quietly. “John has been through more tragedy and suffering in fourteen years than you two will most likely experience in your whole lives. I brought him here to be a member of this family…Not to be abused by you and your friends.”
“Mother…,” Joshua began condescendingly.
She held up her hand. “Do not take that tone with me again. I AM your mother and I will not be talked to like that anymore do you understand?”
They both nodded, looking a bit shocked by the sudden change in their mother. “If you and the others can’t treat him respectfully than you need to go upstairs and pack and go back to school…Now.”
Their eyes widened in surprise. Would she actually throw them out of their own house? “The schools not open yet…It’s too early,” Tiffany began.
“The houses are open I’m sure,” she said as she turned on her heel and headed back to the house.
The two stared after her with a mixture of annoyance, shock and the realization that John’s presence had somehow changed their mother.
Edward followed John to the door of his bedroom. The dripping teenager turned to face him. “I…I…I’m okay,” he stuttered as he pushed the door open, afraid the man would follow him inside. John didn’t want to be alone with him.
“Yes sir,” Edward agreed as he swept his hand toward the room.
John licked his suddenly dry lips. “I…I…Ddd…don’t need any help,” he pressed.
“Mrs. Hughes told me to see to it that you were dry and warm Master John. Why don’t you go get out of those wet clothes,” he suggested as he moved to the drawers and found a pair of warm sweat pants and a sweater. He handed them to the boy with a nod of his head toward the bathroom.
John moved toward the room, keeping a wary eye on the man but Edward didn’t move until he heard the door lock click. He shook his head sadly and could only guess at what that poor child had experienced that made him that afraid, especially of men.
He felt bile rise in his throat at the thought that someone had hurt this quiet boy so badly and how. He suddenly felt extremely protective of this young man who’d been placed in his care.
John stripped off the sopping clothes and stood naked and shivering as he adjusted the water temperature, making the cascade of water as hot as he could stand it before stepping inside. He shuddered a bit as his body warmed beneath the spray.
He coughed as the steam seemed to help clear his slightly stuffy nose. Must be the water he’d inhaled…No small wonder he felt so lousy. He stood for a long time enjoying the feel of the warmth and wondering where he’d go this time if his aunt threw him out.
He turned the water off and stepped out. He toweled himself off and put the dry clothing on. He stepped from the bathroom and stopped at the sight Rosemary standing by the bed.
She smiled at him and patted the sheets that Edward had turned down for him before heading back to his own room to change himself. John shuffled slowly toward her…A little afraid she was still angry with him.
“Come on sweetheart,” she invited, noting the paleness of his face. “Hop on in there and warm up. Laura will be up with lunch and something hot to drink. Do you want to watch the television?” She questioned.
John’s eyes scanned the room. Television? He didn’t have a television…The dark eyes returned to her questioningly and she smiled. She went to the tall cabinet and folded the doors back to reveal a television tucked inside.
“Do you want it on?”
John shook his head and she closed the doors once more and returned to the bed as John slid beneath the covers. He had to admit he was tired but he knew that just two days ago, this would never have happened. He’d have had to be at death’s door before his grandfather would have allowed him to idle about in bed this early in the day, much less eat his lunch in it.
He looked up at his aunt. He hated to beg but he didn’t feel well and he hoped she’d give him at least till morning before he had to go…So maybe if he apologized first before she told him to leave. “I….I’m sss…sorry Aunt R…Rosemary,” he whispered before averting his gaze.
“For what sweetie?”
“Ccc…causing so mmm…much trouble,” he mumbled.
“You didn’t cause anything sweetie. You were just the victim of someone else’s jealousy, nothing more.”
John looked up at her in confused surprise. He was always to blame for everything back home. She saw the look. “What is it sweetie?”
“You are nnn…not angry?”
“I’m very angry.” John’s eyes dropped once again, waiting for the explosion or worse the punishment that would follow. “But not at you,” she finished. The dark eyes shot to her once more in disbelief. She smiled and despite the fact that she knew he’d pull away, she leaned down and hugged the young man.
John tensed immediately but relaxed back against the pillows as she stood up and pulled the covers over him. “Laura will be up soon…You relax for awhile…If you want to read you can go find a book and if you feel up to it later, you can come down and join us for dinner alright?”
“Yes ma’am,” he whispered tiredly.
John didn’t know it but it had become a friendly battle among the girls downstairs on who would get to take the food up to John. The three ended up drawing straws for the job. Laura grinned happily as she drew the short straw. “I’ll run this upstairs,” she teased as she scooped up the tray.
“My turn next time,” Ellen called after her. They all laughed.
Laura tapped on the door and waited for the teenager to answer. When no reply came she pushed the door open and peeked inside. The young man was curled beneath the covers, his eyes drooping tiredly.
“Master John,” she called softly. “Your lunch is ready.”
John’s eyes blinked open slowly and he hitched himself up against the pillows as she came into the room. He smiled as she set the tray in his lap. “Thank you,” he murmured shyly, his voice sounding a bit scratchy… The quiet reply making the woman grin. Those snooty kids downstairs could tout their manners and good breeding all they wanted but this boy didn’t have to tell everyone his pedigree…He showed it.
“My pleasure sir,” she replied with a smile. It turned into a frown a moment later. The young man was pale and sweating. The flush of color on his high cheekbones concerned her as did the slight shaking that denoted a case of chills. “Are you alright sir?” She questioned.
John knew better than to complain about the way he felt about anything…They’d just accuse him of being lazy anyway. He avoided looking at her and nodded. “I’m fine.”
Laura frowned but nodded, assuming the teenager knew whether or not he was sick. “Yes sir,” she agreed and left the room. She’d mention her concerns to Edward. Diana wouldn’t care but the older male servant seemed to be growing rather fond of the young man too.
John barely finished eating before his eyes began to droop. Sweat was beading his brow and he kicked the covers off and climbed tiredly to his feet, setting the tray on the table for Laura to pick up. He thought about going down to look through his aunts books but a ragged cough erupted leaving his throat feeling raw.
He retreated to the bed and lay down. He felt hot and was a bit confused at the chills that were wracking his body. How could he be hot and cold at the same time? He remembered being sick before and ending up in the hospital, the last time was just before his mother had died but that was in Montana where it was freezing. He’d been a little cold after he’d fallen into the pool but that shouldn’t have made him sick, though in all fairness…He hadn’t been feeling well when he’d gotten up this morning either.
He shrugged to himself…It was probably just a cold. It would pass and they’d be none the wiser. The last thing he wanted to do was complain and cause yet another problem for his aunt. She’d get tired of this pretty quick if he continued to burden her with his problems and caused her trouble.
John slid beneath the blankets and pulled them closer around his chin...Hoping he’d feel better by dinner.
Diana breezed into John’s room with only a cursory knock. John’s eyes blinked open blearily as he gazed at the older woman through a foggy haze of fever. Who was she? Oh yes…That mean lady he’d met the first day.
She shot him a glare as she spotted him tucked under the covers. “Lazy, no good mongrel pups Miss Rose keeps dragging home,” she muttered as she scooped John’s wet clothing from the floor of the bathroom.
John’s face flushed even more than it already had been. He’d been so anxious to get into something warm after his unexpected dip in the pool and then finding his aunt waiting for him that he hadn’t thought to pick up the dirty clothes.
He coughed raggedly as he struggled from the bed, afraid he’d be in trouble for having left them for someone else to clean up. “I’ll ddd…do it,” he whispered with a gravely tone to his voice.
“Well it’s a bit late to worry about it now isn’t it?” She growled at the young man…Ill mannered, Heathen savage…That’s what he was… Her eyes scanned the pale, sweating young man standing before her. His high cheekbones were flushed crimson but then what could she expect from some half Indian brat anyway. She watched the TV…She knew what they were like.
“I’m sss…sorry,” he mumbled.
“Don’t mumble at me young man,” she grouched as she marched toward the door with the wet garments. “And I’ll have you know that my maids do not have time to keep remaking beds just so that you can mess them back up again with your lollygagging about…So if you’re quite through lazing around…Straighten that out,” she barked like a drill Sergeant.
John retreated to the bed in confusion…His Aunt had told him to lie down so why was the woman angry at him? He coughed harshly as he pulled the sheets and bedspread back into place. He jumped at the tap on the door and spun around to face the maid as she came in to retrieve his tray.
“Master John…,” she gently rebuked the young man. “You don’t have to make your own bed,” she protested. “That’s my job.”
John’s dark eyes held a wary look of uncertainty. “She ttt…told me too,” he stuttered in confusion as he swayed a bit unsteadily. He really didn’t feel well now.
“Who…?” Laura couldn’t believe Miss Rosemary would tell him such a thing. She practically doted on the young man already. John shrugged helplessly… He didn’t know her name. “Well don’t you worry…I’ll take care of the beds alright,” she assured him as she started past him. She looked at him a little more closely… “Are you alright sir? You’re very flushed.”
“He’s an Indian…He’s supposed to be red…,” Diana snarled as she came back into the room. John looked down at his feet in embarrassment. “If you’re done here Laura…Take the tray and go.”
“Is that the ‘she’ you were talking about?” Laura asked in a quiet aside. John nodded. Laura breathed out a sigh. The woman was a witch and she ran the household with an iron fist but the young woman didn’t think that extended to John besides…The boy was obviously unwell but she didn’t dare stand up to her either. She’d go get Edward…Diana wouldn’t dare argue with him.
Laura snatched up the tray and headed for the door. She wasted no time finding Master Geoffrey and Joshua’s personal servant. “Edward,” she said in hushed tones. She didn’t want to be overheard tattling about her boss. “I think John is ill,” she murmured.
His face grew very concerned. “Why do you think so?”
“He’s sweating and pale but his cheeks are flushed…Miss Diana’s in there giving him a hard time about messing up the bed.”
“Old battleaxe,” he muttered angrily. “Go find Miss Rosemary,” he told the woman as he turned and headed for John’s room.
Diana watched Laura leave before she turned back to John…She saw the guarded look in the boys eyes and knew she had him completely intimidated. “I don’t appreciate you going behind my back to my employee’s,” she said angrily as she moved toward John.
“I ddd…didn’t,” he stammered as he backed away from the angry woman, afraid he knew where this was leading.
“I told you to straighten the bed not Laura…She already had to do it once today,” she informed him huffily.
“And she can do it ten times more if need be,” a man’s voice came from behind her. For the first time, John almost wilted in relief at Edward’s appearance. “Furthermore I think you’re forgetting who works for whom here. Master John lives here now…You work for him.”
She drew herself up in a snit. “I most certainly do not…,” she snapped angrily.
“I’m afraid the young master here is your boss Diana…Like it or not.”
“I won’t work for that…That…,” She waved her hand toward John, halting her tirade as Edward glared at her.
“You finish that sentence and you might be correct…You won’t be working here.”
John’s dark eyes flitted from one to the other. “Do not yell…Please…Please don’t fight,” he whispered as he backed away, his hands moving to cover his ears in fright at the suddenly raised voices…It always started this way and he always lost in the end. The voices stopped almost immediately.
“Oh dear God…,” Rosemary’s voice came from the doorway where she stood with Laura. She brushed past the two now silent servants as they stood watching the frightened teenager.
“John…Sweetheart…Nobody’s fighting my darling…It’s okay,” she assured the boy as she pulled his hands away from his ears. She could only guess that he’d heard plenty of yelling and raised voices in his past and if this was his reaction to it…She had to wonder about what else had followed.
He twisted his hands away. “Nnn…no,” he whispered with a vague look to the eyes but Rose persisted.
“Come on sweetheart…Look at me,” she prodded.
“He’s crazy,” Diana muttered worriedly.
“He’s scared,” Edward growled. “Just get out.” He quickly moved to his employer’s side as John’s eyes began to refocus now that the loud voices had stilled.
He looked around him, knowing he’d zoned out once again. His knees were shaking and John thought it was from his small blackout but it wasn’t …His aunt’s face seemed to distort for a moment. The dark eyes blinked, trying to clear the fog. “Aunt Rrr…Rose,” he finally slurred as he began to fold in on himself.
“JOHN,” she gasped as he fell against her.
Edward caught him before he hit the ground, scooping the young man into his arms and carrying him to the bed. Rosemary quickly followed.
“Call Dr. Forrester…Tell him to hurry,” she almost pleaded with the man. “Diana…Get out. I’ll deal with you later. Laura…I need a small towel and a pan of cool water…He’s burning up.”
“Yes ma’am,” she gasped as she ran from the room. Edward was on her heels with the older woman a second behind.
Laura returned quickly with the requested items. She handed it to her employer, her eyes scanning the very sick teenager in the bed. Rose began to bath the boys face and neck as he thrashed restlessly on the bed. A fluid cough erupted from his lips.
Edward returned at a run. “The doctor is on his way Miss Rosemary,” he announced. “What do you need me to do?”
“Help me get him undressed.”
John pushed agitatedly at their hands as they tried to pull the sweater off over his head. “Nnno…No…,” he panted in terror. His body arching away as Edward tried to sit him up. ‘Noo,” he whimpered as their hands touched his body. The fear was evident and tears welled in Rosemary’s eyes. She so desperately wanted to make someone pay for whatever had been done to her nephew.
They won the battle and Edward’s face showed the same distress as his mistress’ as Rosemary picked up the cloth and began to bathe his chest. She gasped at the ribs that showed beneath the thinly stretched flesh. Dark bruises showed starkly against his ribs and shoulders where the boy had obviously been hit or pushed hard enough to damage the underlying tissue…Possibly from the police knocking him down yesterday…Though some looked older.
“Oh háahketa,” she murmured sorrowfully as she continued to try and cool the overly warm skin.
The doctor arrived quickly and Laura led him up the stairs. “Rosemary,” he greeted as he came into the room.
“James…Thank you for coming. It’s my nephew…He’s very sick,” she told him as she backed away to let the doctor in.
“This is Roderick’s boy?” He questioned. She nodded in confirmation. The man quickly laid his hand on John’s forehead, mentally judging his temperature before shaking his head and opening his bag. He pulled out his penlight to check the boy’s eyes. He tucked a thermometer between his lips and placed the stethoscope in his ears, pulling back the blanket to check John’s heart and lungs and sucked in his breath at the leanness and the bruising.
His blue eyes lifted to Rosemary. “What the heck happened to him?”
She shook her head. “I just picked him up in Montana a couple of days ago. He ran away yesterday. He was cold and wet when they brought him home. One of the officers had to tackle him to catch him and then today he got knocked into the pool.” She didn’t say it was deliberate or that Alex had tried to drown him.
“Someone should be shot for this,” he mumbled angrily as he continued his exam. There were pronounced wheezing rales in the boys lungs and no small wonder. This half starved child probably didn’t have the strength to fight off a simple cold much less what he suspected. He plucked the thermometer from the boy’s mouth and read it. “103°…Let’s get him to the hospital.”
“What is it?” Rose asked worriedly.
“My guess is pneumonia but I can’t be sure without a chest X-Ray and some blood work. Besides…I’d like to check this boy out a little more thoroughly,” he added with a frown.
Rosemary nodded her agreement…Whatever it took to make John well. Edward wrapped the young man warmly in a blanket and scooped him into his arms. They followed the doctor out.
They arrived at the hospital a short time later. Rosemary had ridden with the doctor, holding John in the backseat, while Edward had followed in their own car.
The boy gasped against her shoulder periodically as he tried to breathe past the fluid that was slowly suffocating him.
“Hold on little one,” Rose encouraged, kissing the damp forehead gently.
The doctor ran inside and things began to happen quickly. He returned with a gurney and two orderlies who quickly pulled the teenager from the back seat. They whisked John away into a treatment room while another nurse escorted the worried woman to a waiting area. Edward hovered at her elbow.
It was almost two hours before the nurse called her into the room. John lay on the exam table covered to the chin in warm blankets, with an IV dripping fluids and antibiotics slowly into his arm. An oxygen mask covered the lower half of his face and a young nurse bathed the sweat dampened cheeks. His hair was plastered to his forehead in wet strings.
“Rosemary…Have you considered calling the authorities in Montana and reporting your nephew as a case of child abuse?”
Rose closed her eyes in grief. “He has been abused then?” At his confirming nod she continued. “I suspected he was but I was only there for a couple of hours and John hasn’t said anything about it.”
“He most likely wouldn’t Rosemary. If he’s a normal case than he’s probably afraid and been told not to tell or else.”
She nodded, having seen the terror in the boy herself. “How bad do you think…?” She trailed off…Not sure she wanted to know.
The doctor glanced at a lighted panel on the wall where a series of X-Rays hung. “Broken ribs…Multiple times… His arm at least twice on one side… His left wrist and cheekbone… Can’t prove it was abuse of course if he won’t talk but he’s also badly malnourished. He’s had pneumonia at least a couple of times.”
She nodded. “Yes…He had it right after he was born and then I think he had it again a few years later but I’m not sure.”
“Hmmm,” he grunted in disgust. “Someone should be shot for this.”
“Yes well…He was living with his grandfather who seemed to be pretty rough with him but the old man is dying,” she whispered quietly with a glance toward John who was sleeping. “I don’t think there would be much point now.”
“If it was him.”
She nodded again. “I know they were pretty cruel to him on the reservation from what my brother told me before he…died,” she finished after a hesitation. The doctor smiled understandingly. Rose and Roderick had been very close. “And John’s been scared silly since I picked him up…He won’t look at anyone. He barely talks and stutters when he does. He won’t let anyone touch him. He jerks away if you try.”
“That would be pretty normal for an abused child as well Rose…He’s most likely very afraid of being hit again.”
Tears welled in her eyes at the idea. “He’s afraid of men in particular,” she whispered, looking away. The doctor glanced at the sleeping teenager. He hadn’t noted any sign of sexual abuse during the exam but that didn’t rule out the boy having been molested.
“There’s no evidence of that kind of abuse Rosemary,” he reassured her softly. She breathed a sigh of relief that was short lived. “It could just be that it was a man who hit him or that he never…Finished what he started.” Rose felt bile climb into her throat.
She hesitated briefly. “He’s also done something else that frightens me…”
“What’s that Rosemary?”
“When he’s afraid…He rocks…He covers his ears if you raise your voice around him and he…he seems to just pull into himself.”
The doctor frowned. “I don’t know Rose…That’s not my area of expertise I’m afraid.”
“How do I help him?”
“Find him a doctor who can tell you what is wrong with him?”
“You mean a psychiatrist?”
“Maybe…But someone who specializes in abused children…Mental illness.”
“He isn’t mentally ill,” she protested.
“I didn’t mean to imply that certainly but several other types of problems can fall into that realm of medicine. I’m just not an expert in the field.” She nodded her understanding.
“He’s a pretty sick young man Rose…I want to admit him of course and we’ll get him rehydrated and try to get this fever down. We’ll start him on oxygen therapy and incentive spirometry as soon as he’s able. Right now what he needs is rest and quiet.”
She nodded. “Can I stay with him?”
“Of course… I’ll clear it for you to stay as long as you like.”
“Thank you…I’ll tell Edward to go home and let Geoffrey know where I am or he’ll be worried.”
“How’s he taking having Roderick’s son here?” Dr. Forrester asked looking a bit worried, Geoffrey Hughes was in very poor health and the doctor well remembered the gossip that had spread like wildfire so long ago when Rod had married an Indian woman and been disowned by his family. Geoffrey Hughes had been mortified by the scandal but had bravely stood by his wife, while she on the other hand had openly embraced the woman and her brother’s decision to marry her.
“He’s not happy about it. He’s afraid John’s parentage will come out.”
“Does that worry you?”
“Of course not. John’s my brothers son…I won’t hide my nephew in a closet…Besides, I loved Katie and I’ll love John as well…If he’ll let me.”
“Just be patient. If he has been abused, you’re in for a long road to win his trust…If you ever do. Some children will never trust anyone again.”
“I’ll keep trying as long as it takes.”
“Watch out for signs of depression Rose…Suicidal tendencies…Drugs…Alcohol. With abused kids…,” he shrugged.
“I’ll get him the help he needs. John was a precious treasure to both of them. I won’t let Rod or Katie down.”
Two days passed without improvement. John was proving resistant to some of the drugs and intolerant of some of the others. Rose stayed at his side throughout…Afraid he’d wake and be scared that he was alone.
She fretted at being away from her husband for so long but this boy needed her right now and she couldn’t bear the idea of leaving him alone. He’d had enough of that, she guessed accurately. Facing prejudice, abuse and poverty all alone…At least for the last three years anyway. No child should have to endure that and it grieved her that she hadn’t known about Kate’s death sooner. She could have had John out of that environment at a much younger age if she had. She pushed aside the resentment with her parents for having kept it from her.
John jerked suddenly pulling her attention back to him.
John woke with a start. He felt very hot and something was pressed over the lower part of his face, feeding a cool rush of air into his nose and mouth. Sweat trickled through his hair and his throat hurt. He was sick…Very sick. He remembered feeling this bad before. A vicious cough erupted from his lips and he reached up to try and push the mask away from his face.
A gentle hand suddenly reached out to grip his fingers while the other swept the damp hair from his forehead. “Shhh háahketa,” a soft voice whispered.
“Mama,” he whimpered miserably and then he remembered. His mother was dead.
“No my darling…It’s Aunt Rose. I’m here and you’re going to be okay. You’re in the hospital.”
Bleary dark eyes searched the dimly lit room before settling on Rose’s face. “Chest H…hurs,” he moaned softly.
“I know sweetie…Now you leave that mask alone alright…It’s helping you breathe. Do you need anything?”
John’s eyes swept around briefly and spotted the water jug. “Wa...ter?” he asked from a scratchy throat.
She tucked the mask below his chin and brought the cup to his lips…Lifting his head enough to sip the cool liquid. “Better?”
He nodded tiredly. “Sss…Sorry,” he rasped.
“Being a pr…pr…oblem…Causing you tttrou…ble,” he wheezed.
“Oh sweetheart…You’re not causing trouble. It’s not your fault you got sick okay?” John’s eyes felt like there were lead weights attached to his lids as he struggled to stay awake. Rose leaned down to press a gentle kiss on his forehead. The eyes opened in shock for a brief moment before exhaustion won out and they slid closed once more.
Rose laid his hand on the bed and she brushed at her eyes. She’d seen the look in the boy’s dark eyes and it tore at her heart that such a simple gesture would bring such a look of total disbelief that anyone would care about him.
Edward pushed the door open sometime later. “Miss Rosemary…?” He called softly. She turned to look at him as he came inside. “You’ve been here for two days …You should go home ma’am…Master Geoff’s not feeling well. He’s been asking for you. I’ll stay with Master John.”
She hesitated briefly but her love for her husband won out. She had to go… “I’ll be back soon little one,” she promised as she kissed the boy’s cheek tenderly. John slept on.
Edward sat in the now vacant chair. He’d stay all night if he needed too. The boy shouldn’t be alone.
Rosemary entered the house with a tired sigh. She’d been at the hospital for two days now and she desperately needed a shower and a change of clothing. She rubbed her eyes briefly before she headed for the stairs but a voice stopped her before she could mount the steps.
She turned to face the three young women who took care of her household cleaning and cooking duties. “Yes?”
“How is Master John doing Ma’am?” One questioned, unable to contain their worried frowns,
Rose smiled. “Well my nephew certainly knows how to win the hearts of the ladies,” she teased remembering Elise’s infatuation with the boy as well.
Carrie stepped forward. “He’s been very nice Miss Rose.”
“Yes…Well…John is very sick right now.” They exchanged anxious looks. “But the doctor assures me that he’ll be fine in a few days. He’ll need a lot of rest and that could mean some extra work for all of you,” she teased.
“Oh that’s alright ma’am…We won’t mind,” Ellen assured her.
“I didn’t think you would,” she said softly, amazed at how easily John won the loyalty and affection of total strangers and yet couldn’t see for himself just how special he was…Mostly because the ones closest to him…The ones who should have been there for him, hadn’t been able to see it either. With that sad thought, she turned and headed up the stairs. “I’ll be sure to let him know you were asking for him though,” she called back.
The three grinned. “Thank you Miss Rose,” Laura replied for all of them.
Tiffany and Joshua were waiting for her at the top of the stairs. “Father’s been asking for you,” Tiffany said.
“Yes…Edward told me that,” she replied flatly as she moved past them.
“It upset him that you were at the hospital with that boy for so long,” Joshua said in almost accusation.
She spun around to face them. “That BOY…? He’s your cousin and my nephew. He’s very sick and it’s a very sad day to me that my household staff is more concerned with his health than his own family is.” She turned without another word and continued on to her room.
Geoffrey was sitting in his chair when she entered the room. His face was pale and he was holding his chest as if in pain. Rosemary ran the last few steps. “Geoff…Darling…Are you alright?” She questioned worriedly.
“Ah you’re home,” he whispered tiredly. “I was beginning to…to think you’d left me,” he teased with a hitched breath.
“I’m sorry Geoff…John is very sick…I needed to stay with him. I hope you understand but you didn’t answer my question. Are you alright?” She asked kissing him gently.
“Just a little pain in my shoulder and chest tonight,” he whispered. “Dinner must not agree with me.”
Rose’s green eyes swept over him worriedly. “Your chest? Geoffrey… Are you having chest pains again?” He nodded tightly. “Oh dear God,” she whispered as she snatched up the phone. The number for the hospital was kept on the nightstand for just this reason.
“San Gabriel Valley Medical…,” a woman’s voice answered.
“I need an ambulance…I think my husband is having a heart attack. Please hurry…It’s 1128 Marsh Ave…”
She slammed the phone down and turned to Geoffrey. “Don’t get so excited Rose,” he gasped. “It’s probably in…in…digestion.” He smiled reassuringly but he knew it wasn’t. The Doctor’s in Santa Barbara had pretty much told him that the next heart attack could very well be his last. He hadn’t told Rosemary…She’d only have worried herself to death over him and she couldn’t change the inevitable but he suspected she knew it anyway.
“I don’t think so,” she breathed out fearfully as she ran to the door. “Joshua…Tiffany…Come here now.”
Both of them were still on the stairs and hearing the urgent tone, came running. “I think your father is having another heart attack. I’ve called for an ambulance. I want you to go down and wait for them. Show them up here as soon as they arrive.”
Tiffany nodded as Joshua’s eyes traveled past his mother to his father’s limp form slumped in the chair. “Maybe if you’d been home with him where you belonged, you could have called for help sooner,” he said angrily. Rose gasped in hurt shock.
“Don’t t…talk to your m…mother like that boy,” Geoff growled weakly. “John needed her too. Maybe if you’d spent a bit m…more time with your old man…You might have noticed tonight too,” he muttered.
Joshua’s mouth tightened guiltily. He was supposed to be up here with his father for dinner earlier but he’d put off his visit to spend time with Allison.
Rose knelt next to her husband and took his hand as tears trickled down her cheeks. “I’m sorry Geoff,” she began but he held up his hand.
“Don’t Rosie…,” he whispered. “We both knew this day would come when I had the…The last one,” he panted. He smiled as he lifted his hand to wipe at the tears. “Besides…You have someone else…Who needs you more than me now.”
“No Geoff,” she protested, heaving a sigh of relief at the sound of approaching sirens.
“You take care of th…that boy,” he insisted. Geoff knew how special John was to his wife but he also knew she had loved him with her whole heart and soul and she’d be grieving his loss. He was grateful that John would be here to help her through.
“Just hold on darling. Help is coming,” she assured him.
He smiled serenely as he laid his head back. The sirens cut off and she knew they’d arrived. “They’re here darling,” she said brightly as his hand caressed her cheek. He let out one single gasp and his hand fell limply into his lap.
“GEOFFREY…,” She cried in despair.
The attendants came through the door with a stretcher…Tiffany was on their heels. “Step back ma’am,” one directed as they moved in to lift the man onto the gurney.
“DADDY…,” Tiffany screamed.
“Help him,” Rosemary whispered.
“We’ll get him to the hospital ma’am…That’s all we can do,” one said as they carried the man out. They glanced at each other as they headed down the stairs knowingly. From the ashen complexion and slack features they could tell that he was already gone and by the time they could get him to the hospital…It would be too late for anyone there to do him any good either. It was a shame that there was no one available right now to help him…Maybe he’d have stood a chance.
They loaded him into the ambulance and drove away. Rosemary and the children followed.
Dr. Forrester came from the treatment room where Geoffrey had been taken. His stethoscope dangled uselessly around his neck. He stopped in the doorway and heaved a tired sigh at the sight of the three people within.
Rosemary, Tiffany and Joshua came to their feet. Rose’s face was white with fear. “Geoffrey?”
James shook his head. “We did all we could Rosemary. He was already gone when they brought him in…We couldn’t revive him.”
Tears welled and rolled down her cheeks as grief washed over her in waves. Tiffany wept beside her. Joshua turned to her, his face a stony mask. “I hope you’re happy mother,” he sneered. “If you’d been home tonight instead of with that boy…”
Rose looked at him in horror at the accusation but it was the doctor that stepped in. “You listen to me Joshua Hughes…Your father was warned three weeks ago that another heart attack would most likely be fatal. He was well aware of the fact that he was dying.”
Rose stared at the doctor looking stunned. “What? He never told me….He…”
“He didn’t want you know Rose but I spoke to him and the doctor’s in Santa Barbara at length…Geoff was well aware that he was on borrowed time…You knew it too really.”
Rose nodded and looked down at her hands. “Was that why he gave in so easily and let me go after John?”
Forrester nodded. “Though he told me that day you went after him that he’d have lost the battle anyway since you were so adamant.” Rose smiled through her tears. “He knew you’d need that young man in there.”
“That young man in there?” Joshua growled. “What about us…YOUR OWN CHILDREN?” He barked.
“Well…I don’t see any sign that you’re particularly supportive for her or needful of her sympathy toward your loss,” the doctor said looking disgusted. He’d brought Joshua and Tiffany into the world and had been the family physician for twenty three years. He hobnobbed in the same circles and felt no need to pull his punches when it came to dealing with these two spoiled monsters. “Rosemary,” he said softly, redirecting his attention to the silent woman. “I need to talk to you about where to send Geoffrey.”
“Yes…Yes of course,” she said looking a bit lost. “I’ll just go check on John and have Edward take Joshua and Tiffany home…I’ll be right…back,” she said as her voice cracked.
Her two children stared after her in disbelief as she turned and headed down the corridor…She hadn’t even looked to them but was heading for John’s room. Tiffany bit her lip guiltily. Dr. Forrester was right…Neither of them had offered their mother an ounce of support tonight. She’d stood there silently as her brother hurled his hateful accusations instead of looking to each other to soothe their mutual grief.
She watched for a moment as her mother broke into a run. Tiffany finally headed after her.
Rose pushed the door open to John’s room. Edward glanced up from the magazine he’d been reading. “Miss Rosemary?” He questioned at the sight of her tear streaked face.
“Edward,” she sniffed as she tried to compose herself. “Geoffrey passed away…A short time ago.”
Tears welled in the servants eyes. He’d been with Geoffrey since before he’d married and while the man was an arrogant snob, he’d also been very good to those he cared for…Including him. He wiped away the tears…He’d grieve privately later. “My deepest sympathies Miss Rosemary…What do you need me to do ma’am?” He questioned.
Rose brushed past him and sat next to John who was sleeping fitfully…A cough slipped from between his lips, fogging the mask over his face. She gathered the boy into her arms and held him against her…The heat of his skin searing her throat as she pressed him to her.
Tiffany stood in the doorway. Her heart breaking…It should have been her holding her mother but because of her selfishness, she’d had to come to this young man to seek some kind of solace. Her eyes narrowed as jealousy reared its ugly head as she watched her mother hold the teenager against her. If he hadn’t been here, her mother would have turned to her for comfort, she told herself bitterly.
Rose pressed a soft kiss against the boy’s damp hair as she held him…Her fingers stroked the sable waves gently as she rocked him. “Can you please take Joshua and Tiffany home and bring back Geoff’s black suit…You know the one he likes best.” Edward nodded. “There’s a folder of papers in my desk in the office…It just says ‘Geoffrey-Personal’…Can you bring those back as well. It has all the information about Geoff’s final wishes.
The servant nodded and glanced at the door where Tiffany stood watching with a combination of bitterness and sorrow in her green eyes as John stirred against his aunt. He shook his head in despair at the girl’s lack of understanding.
The eyes blinked open blearily and he raised his head. “Shhh my darling,” she said reassuringly. “You’re okay.” John tensed as he realized that she held him in her arms. Why…? Why was she holding him…Rocking him? Had he gone away again? He couldn’t remember.
John was miserably hot and his chest hurt when he breathed. His throat burned and a pounding headache pulsed through his brain and while he usually hated being touched by anyone, her hand stroking through his hair and her whispered voice in his ear felt surprisingly comforting right now.
He coughed raspingly and he was too tired to fight. He let his head drop back to her shoulder…His dark eyes drifted shut.
Rose had felt the tensing of her nephew’s body and expected that he’d pull away from her but he didn’t…Instead he’d lain his head on her shoulder and let her hold him as he drifted off to sleep. She was grateful that he’d allowed the embrace. She needed to hold onto someone and her own children hadn’t been an option.
Somehow she’d failed as a mother…Perhaps handing them everything and expecting nothing was a mistake for that’s exactly what she had received back...Nothing. Perhaps there should have been some expectation in return so they’d appreciate what they did have. Maybe the only thing that should have been offered without strings attached was love and attention.
That was what this young man in her arms needed right now…Unconditional love and her attention. She could give him that. Oh she’d see to it that he’d never want for anything again if she could help it but she understood that John’s trust couldn’t be bought with clothes and horses and ‘things’…She needed to earn it. Could she? Could she teach this child to love? Did the poor thing even know what it meant? Did she? She’d obviously failed to teach her own two…All she could do was try.
Edward watched with a half smile as she cradled the young man against her. The boy had come into her life with perfect timing…Miss Rosemary would need him to focus her attentions on and he’d be the anchor to get her through the storm of grief. He just prayed this troubled boy would be a willing recipient of it.
He turned to Tiffany and her grief stricken eyes met his. She came into the room as her mother laid John back against the pillows. She smoothed the damp strands of sable hair away from his face. He didn’t stir.
Rosemary looked up into her daughters eyes as she glared at John. She sighed at the coldness in her child. “Edward will take you and Joshua home. Tiffany…The next few days will be very trying with the funeral and John being ill. I’ll need you to help me with the organizing…I’ll have to split my time…John will need me here as well.”
Tiffany bristled…She wasn’t about to spend her days overseeing the household while she should be grieving and receiving the sympathy and support of her friends so her mother could stay with this little usurper…
“That’s what we have servant’s for mother,” she said shooting a glance toward Edward. She tried to put her arms around her mother to lead her away from the bed but Rose pushed her away in disbelief. For two cents the servant would have tipped the girl over his knee and given her the spanking she truly deserved
“I see,” Rosemary said sadly that she couldn’t rely on her daughter for comfort or assistance…Her son blamed her for his father’s death…“Well…In that case. Edward…Would you please take them home and come back and help me with John so I can handle this myself from here,” she requested tiredly. “I’ll need someone to stay with him while I make some phone calls.”
“Yes ma’am,” he agreed. “I don’t mind sitting with Master John at all… Miss Tiffany,” he said sweeping his hand toward the door.
“But mother…You should come home with US,” she argued. “You can make the arrangements from there. You should be at home helping us… not here with HIM,” she said pouting.
“John needs me Tiffany and you obviously don’t…You’ll be just fine at home without me. That’s what we have servants for.”
Edward hid his smirk behind his hand as the girl’s mouth opened in shock but she realized her plan to get her mother away from her young nephew had failed. She meekly followed the servant out.
Joshua was waiting. “Is mother coming?” He asked as he folded his arms across his chest.
She shook her head. “John needs her more than we do,” she said angrily. “She’d going to make the arrangements from here.”
He turned and stalked away. Edward shook his head as Tiffany followed. The battle lines had obviously been drawn and Edward knew who the victor would inevitably be. His eyes turned back to the young man in the bed. The two couldn’t figure out that the way to their mother’s heart would have been acceptance and compassion for their troubled cousin and had chosen the wrong road.
This troubled young man needed Rosemary now and his rather shy, innocent and naïve demeanor had already won the household’s hearts…With the exception of Diana of course. He chuckled…Things were about to change. He turned and followed them out.
John woke the next morning to his aunt’s soft singing…He didn’t recognize the tune but it was pretty. He barely caught the words about crying a river or something. He frowned to himself as her fingers stroked through his hair absently until she noticed that his eyes were cracked open.
“Well good morning sweetie,” she greeted, trying to sound cheerful. John thought he saw tears on her cheeks. Was she crying for him? Was he that sick?
“Morn…ing,” he rasped tiredly. He bit his lip for a minute beneath the mask before asking. “Are you c…crying?” He’d hated it when his mother cried…She’d done it a lot and it was usually his fault. At least that’s what Lacee had told him.
Rose smiled and brushed at her cheeks. “Yes I am sweetie but it’s nothing to do with you.”
John frowned. “Then why?” He pressed uncertainly.
“Lots of reasons sweetheart but the main one is that…Your Uncle Geoffrey died last night,” she explained gently.
John blinked in shock. Not again…Was it him? Did people just die whenever he was around? “I…I…I’m sss…sorry,” he mumbled, thinking that it was somehow his fault.
“Oh sweetheart…Thank you.” She brushed the hair away from his face and smiled. “Your fever’s down some,” she sniffed through a new round of tears, trying to change the subject.
“Aunt Rosemary…?” He whispered, his heart hurt in his chest for the tears he knew he was somehow responsible for…He pushed the feeling down deep…He couldn’t allow it to overwhelm him…He wasn’t a weakling like his family thought. Sorrow and grief and those softer emotions were for babies and old women besides…They hurt when you allowed them to rise up to the surface.
“Yes sweetheart,” she replied, not understanding the misplaced guilt he was feeling but she understood the pain in the tone. She leaned down to hug the boy, thinking that he was hurting for the loss of yet another person in his life. He was but not for the reasons she thought. He’d barely known the man but even if he had…John had long ago taught himself not to FEEL anything. He’d told Rigsby that he was already dead and he’d meant it.
“Why ddd….does every…one die…ro…round me?” He whispered with a hitched breath.
“Oh sweetheart…It’s not your fault,” she gasped as she suddenly understood. “Your Uncle Geoffrey has been sick for a long time. He’s had several heart attacks that made him very weak and this last one…Well…He just wasn’t strong enough for them to bring him back this time.” She brushed the dark hair back as John looked away.
Certain she’d come to her senses eventually and blame him…They always did. Maybe he was to blame… Maybe there was something wrong with him? His aunt said he was a wicked and evil child…Maybe she was right. Why else did this keep happening?
He didn’t know what to say to help her. He wondered if she’d send him away now. He swallowed back the fear of being a burden on her now that her husband was dead. He could try to help her around the house…Maybe she’d let him stay if he earned his keep…He could even sleep in the barn if she wanted him too.
“Can I…Help?” He questioned hesitantly.
John had no idea that those simple words would tear at her heart. Why couldn’t her own children have tried using them?
“You already have,” she said softly. John frowned. What had he done? “You just rest now alright?” She urged.
“If you nnn…need me…” he began but she pressed her fingers over his lips. She needed him right now more than he could possibly understand.
“Shhh…You sleep. That’s what I need you to do. I have a few people I need to call and some others that will be coming here. We’ll try not to disturb you.”
John frowned. Why was she worried about that? Nobody worried about him. They were put out by his mere existence and the trouble he caused them but they were never worried. He didn’t understand her at all. She’d already made it clear that the only reason she’d taken him in was out of love her for John’s father …Her duty to her dead brother...Not for him.
John closed his eyes as weariness washed over him. He drifted off.
Edward pushed the door open… “Reverend Hartman is here Ma’am,” he said quietly. “So are your parents.”
“Send them in.”
Edward waved the Pastor, Lenora and Jonathan into the room. Her parents bustled inside.
“Rosemary…I’m so sorry about Geo…,” he mother’s voice stammered to a halt as she realized it wasn’t her daughter in the bed, as she’d assumed she’d been sedated in her grief.
Her eyes swept over the young man who lay covered to the chin. His pale, sweat coated face turned away, while the lower half was obscured by an oxygen mask. “Roderick’s son?” she whispered questioningly. She could barely see him.
“Yes…His name’s John…John Roderick in case you didn’t know,” Rose said scathingly as she remembered their snubbing of the boy.
“We know his name,” Jonathan replied coldly, “but we had no idea he was in the hospital.”
“We thought it was you,” Lenora said quietly.
“No mother…I’m holding up pretty well. John’s giving me something to keep my mind off of everything.” She turned to the Pastor. “Thank you for coming to me. I don’t want to leave him until this fever breaks,” she explained.
He nodded. “Of course Rosemary…I understand,” he said as he shook her hand and then moved around the bed to take a closer look at the sleeping teen. “Good Heaven’s Rosemary, he’s the spitting image of his father,” he announced. John shifted restlessly at the sound of their voices.
“Would you like me to wake him so you can meet him?” She offered hopefully.
Her mother opened her mouth to reply in the affirmative but Jonathan interrupted. “I think we’ve made it very clear Rosemary, that we have no desire to have anything to do with THAT woman’s child.”
The Pastor was appalled at the venom in the man’s tone…Regardless of the reason…How could he blame anything on a defenseless child? He’d never asked to be born.
“That woman was a beautiful, kind lady and a good mother,” she snapped back. “And he’s also your SON’S child.”
“I have no son,” Jonathan spat spitefully. Lenora began to cry softly.
Rose thought she heard John’s soft whimper of distress but his eyes remained closed and he didn’t move. “Let’s take this outside…We’re disturbing John and he needs to rest,” She said in disgust. She leaned down and kissed the damp forehead gently. She thought she saw an almost imperceptible tensing of the thin body but it was hard to tell beneath the blankets. She could only pray he hadn’t heard any of this.
They stepped outside and closed the door. The chocolate brown eyes opened slowly and he brushed at the tears that welled in his eyes. Why did they hate his mother so much? Why did they hate him? They hadn’t even given him a chance. He’d never let them know they could hurt him…He promised himself. No one would ever hurt him again…He’d make sure of it.
The funeral was held the two days later. Laura volunteered to sit with John so that Edward could attend the service and be available for Miss Rosemary if he was needed. He’d also been with Master Geoffrey for twenty five years and needed time to say goodbye as well.
The rest of the staff had gone to the gravesite to pay their respects to the family and then return to be available to help with the mourners who would gather at the house after the service besides, she’d much rather be here with the boy than all those rich snobs that hung about the Hughes home.
She blotted the small beads of sweat that pooled on his face before trickling down into his hair. “I just hope you don’t end up becoming like them,” she whispered to the sleeping young man. She prayed that he wouldn’t lose the innocent shyness that they’d come to love about him because of Joshua and Tiffany.
She sat back with her book. A long while later she noted that John’s skin was dry. She reached over to place her hand on his forehead with a sigh of relief. The fever had broken. Miss Rosemary would be pleased when she returned.
John was released from the hospital three days later. He was still weak and tired as Edward assisted him from the car. As much as he hated the feel of anyone’s hands on him, he knew he’d never make it up those stairs alone and tolerated the servant holding him by the arm as he climbed. Just that short amount of exercise had left him winded.
Rosemary drew the cover back on the bed. “Alright Mr. Gage,” she teased. “Back into bed,” she ordered.
John nodded as he made his way into the bathroom to change into his pajamas. It wasn’t long before his aunt had him tucked warmly beneath the sheets. Much to John’s chagrin, she leaned down to kiss his forehead.
He didn’t like it but couldn’t find a way to tell her so without hurting her feelings and he didn’t want to do that either but he didn’t trust her…He didn’t trust anyone. She’d turn on him too just like all the others. He couldn’t risk letting his guard down. He sighed…At least she didn’t try to touch him very often. John shuddered…He still had trouble dealing with that.
“Edward…Would you go down and ask them to send up some lunch for John?”
He nodded and left.
Carrie grinned as she made her way upstairs with a bowl of soup and a glass of milk for John. She’d won the toss in the kitchen and had happily grabbed the tray, hoping to win one of John’s shy ‘thank you’s’ she stopped suddenly as Diana blocked her way.
“Take that right back to the kitchen,” she demanded.
“Edward said Miss Rosemary wanted us to bring John his lunch.”
“Then Edward can bring it up himself. My staff have other duties besides playing nursemaid to that little half breed savage,” she sneered, still angry that Rosemary had been with him instead of master Geoffrey when he’d needed her…She knew Joshua and Tiffany were angry too.
Carrie’s eyes widened in shock and then almost in delight as she saw her employer come up behind the woman. “Step aside Diana,” Rosemary said frostily.
The woman gasped and spun around as Carrie darted around her and continued on, throwing a gloating smirk back over her shoulder and hoping that the old witch would finally get her comeuppance.
“Diana…I’m afraid the time has come,” Rosemary said softly.
“Come for what Madam?” She asked huffily.
“For you to retire…”
The woman bristled haughtily. “I have run this household for Master Geoffrey for twenty five years…,” she reminded Rose huffily.
“Yes…And now he’s gone and it’s my household. Joshua and Tiffany will be going back to college tomrrow. John will be starting high school and tutoring as well as speech therapy and he’ll need a lot of loving support which he will not get from you. The last thing he needs is interference from anyone. With Joshua and Tiffany gone…I’m choosing to downsize my staff…Starting with you.”
The woman’s eyes almost bugged from her head. “Who’ll take care of my house?”
“Your house,” Rosemary laughed. She knew it …The woman really did think she owned the place. “I think Ellen can handle it. I’ll see to it that you have a large severance package…I think Geoff would have wanted that since you were with him for so long but this is a parting of the ways.”
The woman’s mouth twitched in rage…”Just wait until I spread it all over town that your nephew is some little half breed savage.”
Rose laughed again. “Go right ahead. I’m not ashamed of John or his mother…I love them both,” she shot back. “As a matter of fact…Maybe I’ll have a coming out party to introduce him to everyone,” she shot back.
Rose heard a soft sound and turned to see Carrie and John in the doorway of his room…A look of stunned disbelief on his face. Had she really said that? Had he misunderstood? No one loved him…He didn’t deserve it…Lacee, Mase…Even his grandfather had told him he wasn’t loved or worth being loved. He was only half Indian…Not truly one of them.
His grandparents here had made it very clear too…He wasn’t one of them either…He must have heard that wrong…After all he’d only heard part of the conversation… That had to be it.
“John, go back to bed,” Rosemary commanded softly.
“Yes ma’am,” he replied as he turned away in confusion. What the heck was going on out there anyway?
“Sorry Miss Rosemary,” Carrie apologized. “He was going to ask you if he could get a book from the library.”
She nodded. “I’ll have Edward bring him down a bit later.” The woman nodded and went to tell John.
Diana glared at Rosemary as she turned back to her. “Pack your things Diana…I’ll have a check for you before you leave.” Rose turned and left the bitter older woman standing on the stairs, staring after her.
Edward leaned against the wall at the bottom of the stairs. Things were about to change as he had supposed. He grinned as he inspected his nails. Master John Gage would be good for everyone here he guessed but most especially for Miss Rose. He was glad he’d come.
The next morning Joshua and Tiffany packed their suitcases into their cars. Rosemary gave them each a hug and a kiss goodbye before she waved them off.
Neither of them was happy about returning to school and leaving their mother alone with John. By the time they returned she might well have given him the house. Joshua thought bitterly.
Tiffany waved goodbye with her own worried concerns. Why couldn’t her mother look to her for comfort? She wondered as she climbed into her car. It never occurred to her that she had turned to her for support and had had it thrown back into her face.
Rose breathed a sigh of relief as she headed back into the house. “Well Edward…I certainly hope you won’t be too bored with just John to look after.”
The servant smiled. “I have a feeling madam that that young man will turn out to be quite a handful once he settles in…”
Rose smiled. “I’m afraid you might be right.” She continued on and Edward smiled. Miss Rose looked happy… Edward was well aware that the woman would have probably gone to pieces if she hadn’t had to be there for John. He was grateful for the young man’s presence. He knew it would be an uphill battle but he looked forward to seeing the boy victorious at the top when it was over.
Rosemary peeked into John’s room…The boy was still sleeping. The book he’d gone to sleep with last night lay on his chest and his left arm was thrown over his face as if blocking the light. She smiled and went to tug the book free and laid it on the bedside table.
She leaned down to kiss his cheek. “I love you sweetheart,” she said softly as she smoothed the sable hair back. John shifted beneath the covers but didn’t wake. It was okay…She’d have plenty of time to be sure he knew that later. She quietly left the room.
She went back to her rooms and began going through some of Geoffrey’s things. She planned on saving some of the items for Joshua and Tiffany but for the most part…Edward would be taking the majority of the items to donate.
She was still hard at it an hour later when Edward tapped on the door. He came inside at her query. “The mail Ma’am.”
She smiled as he retreated out the door carrying a bag of clothing. She flipped through the letters idly but stopped as she came across one in an unfamiliar hand. The post mark read Montana.
Her heart skipped a beat…She bit her lip worriedly that maybe Sun Walker had recovered and wanted the boy back. He’d better not or he’d be in for the fight of his life. She wouldn’t give John up.
She opened the letter and scanned the contents. Her eyes filled with tears…How could she tell John? The boy had already lost so much…Blamed himself unfairly for the loss of so many people around him, thinking he was somehow responsible.
She walked down the hall to his room and pushed the door open. John was awake and once again had the book in his lap. He still looked tired and she hated what she was about to do. She sat on the edge of his bed.
John bit his lip uncertainly at the sorrowful look in her eyes and thought the worst. She was coming to tell him he had to leave…He just knew it…He’d caused so much trouble already.
“Sweetheart…I have something to tell you.” He nodded slowly. “It’s bad news I’m afraid.” John knew it…Here it comes…Where could he go? “I received a letter today from your cousin Thomas.” John frowned.
“Thomas?” He questioned in confusion. His heart pounded…Did they want him back. He couldn’t go back there…Uncle George was back there. Black eyes swam before him and his breathing grew rapid…He’d run away…He wouldn’t let her send him back to him.
“It’s okay sweetheart,” she soothed gently. “I know it’s not easy to hear and I feel just awful telling you this but it’s your grandfather…”
John frowned again. “Sun Walker? What of him?”
There was a flare of grief in John’s heart …It had happened again…Why? He pushed the pain down deep…He would not show grief or sorrow…It wasn’t wanted by the old man…It wasn’t allowed. He nodded his head. “Do I have to go back?” He questioned fearfully, thinking that George would demand it now that his grandfather was gone. He’d heard him tell his Aunt Mase that he’d get him back as soon as the old man died.
Defeat, despair and terror weighed at John’s heart. He’d rather be dead. Rosemary looked at him in surprise.
“No sweetheart…You live here now. This is your home.”
The dark eyes rose to meet hers and the first timid smile she’d seen curled the corners of his mouth. It wasn’t huge and it didn’t last long but it was a new start for both of them.
Continued in Part 9
Published to site 01/28/12
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The Characters of Emergency do not belong to me. They are the property of Universal Studios and Mark VII Limited. No copyright infringement is intended or monetary gain made. I merely like to toy with them and return them to their proper owner in good working order. The characters of Emergency belong to Universal and Mark VII but this story itself however, is the property of the author.
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