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Dr. Forrester came by the next day to check John over. Edward had told her that John had been growing ‘antsy’ about being confined to his bed so his aunt had called the doctor.
“How are you holding up Rosemary?” He questioned sympathetically. She looked remarkable for a woman who’d just lost her husband of twenty years and had a very ill teenager just out of the hospital to look after.
She smiled serenely. “I’m doing alright James…I think John is good for me...Keeps my mind from dwelling on Geoffrey too often.”
“I’m glad to hear that. How’s the boy doing?”
“Still too quiet for my liking.”
“Have you tried to get him to talk to you? Tell you what happened?”
She shook her head. “John really doesn’t talk much…He stutters terribly and Joshua and Tiffany weren’t exactly supportive.” At his frown she added. “They made fun of him.”
“I see…I brought the number for a speech therapist that works from our hospital. His name’s Lawrence Hadderly. He’s excellent with kids so maybe he can reach John but that’s not what I meant.”
She looked down at her hands nervously. “I know…,” she looked up at her friend. “He just lost his grandfather the other day.”
“I’m sorry to hear that…Especially so soon after…,” he trailed off. “How’s he handling it?”
“That’s what worries me James…He showed almost no emotion at all when I told him. The only thing he asked was if he had to go back…He looked so scared at the idea but…There was no grief…No sorrow…Not a single tear…It’s like John can’t feel…”
“I’m not that surprised by that. The boys lost so many people already but believe me…He still feels but he’s most likely insulated himself from being hurt by putting up emotional walls around himself. And if he’s been abused as we suspect…He’s shut off his ability to care about anyone…He doesn’t know how to trust or to love…He’s in an emotional void where he can’t be hurt.”
“How long will that last?”
“As long as it takes…Broken bones heal Rosemary, a broken spirit takes a lot longer. You have to be patient…It’s going to take a long time for him to relearn those things if he ever does and let them out of hiding.”
“That scares me too…I apparently didn’t even manage to teach my own two how to love…How do I teach him?” She questioned sadly.
James shook his head sadly at Joshua and Tiffany’s coldness but he’d never blame that on Rose…She was a beautiful, loving, caring woman. John’s presence in her home proved that…He blamed the spoiled and self centered lifestyle that Geoffrey had lavished on his children. “Just be there for him and keep encouraging him but his reaction does tell us one thing…”
“That his grandfather wasn’t the main source of the abuse.”
“How do you know?”
“He wouldn’t have still been afraid to return there if it was grandpa.” She nodded in understanding. “Look Rose…Would you mind if I talk to him a bit…See if I can get him to tell me. Sometimes it’s easier to talk to a doctor or even a stranger than it is to tell a family member.”
“You can try.”
He glanced up as they came into the room. He frowned at the doctor’s entrance behind his aunt shooting a glance toward her. “Dr. Forrester wants to see how you’re doing sweetie,” she informed him at the wary look.
John shifted uncomfortably but he knew better than to argue. He wouldn’t win the fight anyway. He nodded reluctantly.
Dr. Forrester set his bag on the bedside table. “Can you sit up for me son?” He requested.
John sat up slowly, though he was clearly not happy about this turn of events. Forrester pulled out his penlight and a tongue depressor.
“Open your mouth,” John complied, letting the doctor check his throat. “Looks good,” he said. John drew back hesitantly as he reached for his face. “I’m not going to hurt you John…I just want to check your eyes.” John bit his lip nervously but he had no real option here and nowhere to run. He sat quietly and allowed him to lift his lid as he flashed the light in his eyes. He set the items aside and pulled out his stethoscope and the blood pressure cuff. John sat passively but his eyes watched in fascination...He’d seen these before when he’d been sick but had never thought to ask before.
Curiosity finally won out. “W…what is th…that?”
The doctor smiled. “It measures your blood pressure…Want to hear it?”
John remembered another doctor letting him listen to his own heartbeat when he was little and finally nodded. The doctor situated the cuff… “I’m going to pump this up…It’s going to get tight around your arm…It’s okay…It’s supposed to,” he assured him. “Then I’m going to put the bell of the stethoscope on your artery right here,” he explained tapping John’s arm. “I want you to listen very closely and watch the gauge. “As soon as you hear something nod your head alright?”
“Good…Then I’ll release the pressure as soon as the sound stops…I want you to nod again…Remember…Watch the gauge.”
John nodded…Grimacing slightly as the cuff tightened around his arm. Forrester set the bell against the Brachial artery in John’s elbow and released the pressure. John watched intently, suddenly nodding as the needle dropped to 110. The doctor twisted the valve and watched the teenagers face. John nodded again as it hit 80.
“Alright…By your reckoning then your blood pressure is 110/80 which would tell me that your heart is doing its job pretty well but let me listen for myself this time okay?” John nodded and the doctor repeated the procedure with the stethoscope in his own ears.
After a moment he pulled it free and tugged the cuff away with a smile and a shake of his head. John looked at him curiously, so did Rosemary. “Dr. Kildaire here was correct,” he informed Rose seriously. She giggled while John frowned in confusion. Who was Dr. Kildaire?
Rosemary smiled at his baffled look and without thinking reached out to stroke his cheek but John flinched away from the sudden movement. The reaction so automatic that it broke Rose’s heart… She bit her lip in sorrow while Forrester’s mouth tightened in anger at the obvious sign of abuse.
“What I meant John,” he said gently, trying to lighten the moment…“Was that you were correct. Your blood pressure was 110/80.”
He nodded as he chewed his lip nervously, knowing he’d somehow upset his aunt but not understanding why. He sighed softly. It was a sure bet she’d be sending him away as often as he seemed to annoy her, not understanding that her anger was never aimed at him.
The doctor tucked the instrument back into his ears. “Let’s take a listen to your chest,” he said as he tried to pull the loose pajama shirt aside.
John’s dark eyes widened in terror and his hands flew up to push the doctor’s away. “No,” he gasped trying to hitch his body backwards.
Forrester gripped his arm. “Whoa there son…No one’s gonna hurt you,” he assured the frightened boy. “I just want to listen to your heart and lungs.”
The sable head shook in the negative once again. “John Roderick,” his aunt commanded sternly. The boy looked up at her fearfully. “He took care of you in the hospital and I’m right here. I promise you…I won’t let him hurt you…Now behave,” she commanded.
He’d heard that promise before and he knew better than to believe it but he didn’t dare fight…He’d heard the tone in the voice that always warned of repercussions if he failed to do what he was told. They’d only force him anyway and he’d get hurt worse if he fought. He clenched his eyes shut. Forrester exchanged a glance with Rosemary. The look was clear…This young man had been badly hurt by someone.
The doctor pulled the shirt aside long enough to listen to John’s heart and lungs and avoided touching him as much as possible. John breathed a sigh of relief when he was done but it was short lived.
The doctor sat back in his chair and looked at John. He rested his hands on his knees and smiled at the boy.
“Okay Master John…I think I’m going to give your aunt the all clear to let you out of bed as of tomorrow but I don’t want you over exerting yourself for another few days. ” John nodded…not sure what that meant exactly. It had always been expected for him to work hard. Grandfather didn’t approve of laziness. These last few days had been a luxury he’d have never been allowed back home. He turned his attention back to the doctor as he continued. “I think you can get him enrolled in school as well. He should be well enough for that.”
John’s face took on a deer in the headlights look before he glanced away. James shot a curious look to Rosemary.
She shook her head. “John’s not too happy about school but I think he’ll change his mind. It won’t be the same here as it was in Montana and I’ve already hired a tutor to help him catch up if he needs it. He’ll be here day after tomorrow. I sent for John’s records right after I brought him home so we’ll be able to see where we’re at as soon as I get those.”
“Good…I’ll give you Hadderly’s number before I leave too,” he promised before turning back to the boy. “John?” The dark eyes lifted to meet the gray of the doctor’s questioningly before he looked away. “John…When you were sick…I examined you and took some X Rays…Do you know what those are?” The young man nodded. “Good… John? I saw a lot of old bone fractures on those X Rays…You couldn’t tell me how they happened could you?”
John’s eyes flew upward in terror to meet Forrester’s. He knew…He glanced toward his aunt and shook his head. “No,” he whispered.
“You don’t know or you won’t tell me?”
Spirit…Uncle George would kill him. Grandfather was dead and there was no one to stop Uncle George from hurting him now. He couldn’t tell…George had promised him he’d kill him…That everyone would believe it was his own fault and be angry with him. No one would ever want him. “I fell,” he gasped at last, looking away evasively.
“John,” the doctor said softly. “These weren’t caused by falls…”
The boy’s breaths were growing rapid and a slow rock began. “I f…Fell,” he insisted as his eyes grew distant. “Ccc…Clumsy brat,” he mumbled. Rose almost wept at what was obviously a verbatim repetition of the insult.
“You know that’s not true John but you don’t have to lie to us…We want to help you,” he tried again.
“Yyy…ou ccc…Can’t help…I fell…,” he insisted desperately.
The doctor started to speak again but Rose interrupted him. “James stop…Look at him. That’s what I was talking about.”
The doctor backed off as the boy continued to rock. Rosemary quickly moved in. “It’s okay sweetie…Shhh…You don’t have to tell us anything right now okay?” She soothed, trying to hold the boy close to her. John tried pushing her away but she refused to let him go. “It’s alright sweetie,” she assured him.
John began to calm and the dark eyes regained their focus to rest warily on the doctor.
James knew he’d never get the boy to talk…John didn’t trust them enough and perhaps he never would. He smiled reassuringly and patted John’s shoulder briefly. “Alright John…We’ll let this go for now…You just rest. Rosemary…Let me give you a name and number for Dr. Steinman…Maybe he can help.”
She nodded as she kissed the top of the dark head. She stood and let John lie back against the pillows while she escorted her long time friend to the door. She shook her head. “He’s not going to tell us…He’s not ready.”
“He’s definitely afraid but he may never be ready to tell you the truth. Try the doctors I gave you and keep me informed.”
“I will,” she promised as the doctor headed for the door.
John woke early the next morning. The doctor had told Rosemary that he could get up today and he was anxious. He wanted to get to the stable and see Wind Song.
The animal was his responsibility now and he was sure his Aunt would want him to do a good job taking care of the horse so she would have no reason to take her back.
He hopped out of bed and rummaged around in his drawers for something to wear to the stable. He sighed in frustration…Everything was still crisp and new. Would she be annoyed if he messed up his brand new clothes?
Everything was so confusing for him here. At least in Montana he knew his place at the bottom of the pecking order but here…He didn’t know what was expected of him. He blew out a breath and chose a pair of the stiff blue denim pants she’d bought for him.
He’d seen the other kids in Lame Deer wear these but his mother hadn’t been able to afford them. He’d always worn the heavy cotton trousers favored by his people.
John headed for the shower. It was one of the things here that he had come to love…The feeling of the steaming hot water cascading over him was heavenly but he stopped when he heard the tap on the door.
“C…Cccome in,” he stuttered hesitantly.
Rosemary peeked around the door. “Good…You’re up. I just wanted to tell you to be ready to go to the school today. I want to enroll you,” she informed him waving a folder at him. “I got your records yesterday.”
“Bbbut…Wwwind song,” he told her worriedly.
“Don’t you worry about her John alright? There are other people who’ll take care of her.”
Rosemary looked perplexed at the devastated look on her nephews face. “I’m sssorry,” he whispered, looking miserable. He’d misunderstood, thinking she’d already taken the animal back. He’d gotten sick and had been unable to care for her.
“For what sweetheart?” She questioned curiously coming further into the room.
“Gggetting sssick…I ddd…did not mean to,” he stammered.
Rose shook her head, not understanding. “Why are you sorry…That wasn’t your fault háahketa,” she said quietly as she drew near the now distraught teenager.
John rolled his eyes at the endearment making Rose chuckle at the embarrassed blush that stained his cheeks. “Cccould not cccare for her,” he stammered looking stricken that he’d lost the animal.
Rose frowned in confusion but then it clicked. John thought she’d taken the horse away because he’d become ill. She wanted to weep that her brother’s son had been taught to feel that sickness was something to be penalized for…That what he had would be taken from him for any failure to please.
She sighed as she reached slowly to touch his cheek. John started to recoil but caught himself, knowing that his aunt got upset with him for doing it. His body tensed at the touch but he remained frozen in place, prepared to take whatever she aimed at him.
Rose saw the tautness of her nephew's body and suspected he was waiting for the punishment he thought was coming. She smiled sadly as she caressed his cheek before reaching out to take his hand to lead him to the sitting room. John’s hand was lax within her own…Not even a minute tightening of his fingers to tell her he felt anything but discomfort at her touch. His feet dragged as if he was being led to a firing squad.
Rose had to learn to remember that John wasn’t a normal child. He’d been badly abused even if he wouldn’t admit it and saw everything as a cause for punishment. She needed to be more careful how she phrased things with the boy.
She waved him onto the couch. John sat obediently on it…Tense and rigid with his free hand clenched in his lap…Anticipating the angry tongue lashing or the vicious assault he thought was coming.
“Wind Song is still yours sweetheart,” she began softly. The dark eyes lifted briefly with a flash of hope and her heart broke. “All I meant was that I pay people to take care of the horses okay? You are NOT the hired help…You’re my nephew. Your job is school, studying and taking speech therapy.” John frowned at the unfamiliar term but he assumed it meant his deal about learning not to stutter, though he wasn’t sure how that would happen as he always had.
He finally nodded his head in understanding.
“Okay then, besides the doctor only said you could get up today…Nothing strenuous.”
John sighed and nodded in defeat. “You go take your shower and then we’ll go to the school.”
John lagged behind as he followed his aunt into the school. In comparison to Lame Deer, this place was huge. John hoped that maybe in a school this big, he could possibly just get lost in the shuffle.
Rosemary led him to the desk in the office. A harried looking receptionist glanced up briefly. “Can I help you?” She questioned as she returned to her paperwork…A moment later her head snapped up in recognition.
“Yes you can…I’m Rosemary Hughes.”
“Yyyes Ma’am,” the woman stuttered nervously. “Everyone in San Gabriel knows who you are ma’am,” she finished. “What can I do for you?” She questioned, curious as to what the woman was doing here. Both of her children were out of High School and neither of them had attended a public school. Her eyes fell on the handsome boy standing slightly behind her. Who was this young man?
“I’d like to speak to the principle if possible,” she said politely. “I’d like to enroll my nephew here,” she said indicating the teenager behind her.
The woman frowned…Nephew? She’d lived in San Gabriel all her life and she vaguely recalled that both Rosemary’s brothers William and Roderick had died years ago so if this was her nephew…Where had he been all this time?
“Certainly ma’am…I’ll just let him know you’re here,” she said retreating and knocking on a door of the office at the rear of reception area.
Rosemary heard her name and the scrape of a chair and a moment later an older, gray haired man stepped from the office, smoothing his jacket into place. He offered her his hand. “Mrs. Hughes…I’m Mr. Lange…Come in please,” he said with a broad smile as he ushered them around the desk and into his office, never once glancing at the teenager behind her. John was used to being invisible…He usually preferred it. No one hurt you if they didn’t notice you.
“Come along John,” she said briskly. Rose had noted it as well…It didn’t sit with her as easily. She turned to the principle as they entered the room. “This is my nephew John…John Gage,” she introduced the teen.
His reaction was the same as his receptionist. Surprise registered on his face for a brief moment. “Nephew?” He questioned curiously as his eyes swept over the boy, hoping to be let in this little skeleton in the Gage - Hughes closet.
Rosemary smiled, refusing to let John’s half Native American status influence how she felt about him as it had her parents and his mother’s family in reverse. She loved the boy more and more everyday regardless of his penniless start in life or where he hailed from.
“John is my…,” she hesitated, hating to say the words. “Late brother Roderick’s son. My sister in law Kate was Native American and John, until a couple of weeks ago, was raised on the reservation in Montana where she lived.”
Lange’s eyes almost bugged from his head and he quickly busied himself with the papers on his desk while he regained his composure. It had often been rumored that Roderick Gage had fallen from grace with his parents over his choice of bride but it was a sure bet that most people in this town didn’t know exactly what the choice had been. No wonder his parents had been furious. He almost laughed that he was privy to that piece of information.
Rose saw the smirk and her small chin elevated a notch as John seemed to shrink into himself a little more…He’d recognized the look as the same as all the others he’d encountered…He was half Indian…Not wanted…Not welcome…disgraced. She’d said it would be different here but that wasn’t true.
“Ahem…I see,” he said finally.
“Is that a problem?” She questioned haughtily, wondering if this is what her nephew had had to face his whole life. It was certainly eye opening for her.
“Na ma’am…I uh…I was just curious why you uh…Aren’t sending him to the school your own children attended?”
She smiled but it wasn’t a happy one. “My children were raised with the same small minds as the other people in this town,” she said, her tone inferring that she thought he was one of those in that category. His face flushed with color at the innuendo as she continued. “My nephew would be hopelessly outnumbered by the bigoted, intolerant and narrow minded people who attend that school. Will he have the same problem here?” She questioned point blank.
Lange suddenly realized he’d offended the woman. “Uh…No Mrs. Hughes…He will not have the same problem here,” he assured her, knowing he’d insulted one of the most influential people in this town. He tugged a bit nervously at his collar…She could cost him his job if she chose to.
He pushed the button on his desk. The secretary’s voice came back. “Yes sir?”
“Kelly…Please send Mrs. Williams in.” He turned back to Rosemary. “She’s our guidance counselor here…,” he explained as he held his hand out for the boy’s records. Rose handed them over as the door opened to admit an attractive, well dressed woman about Rosemary’s age.
Her eyes widened slightly as she recognized who Mr. Lange’s guest was but then swept toward the handsome young man seated next her. His head was bowed and his eyes lowered as he sat slumped in the chair but his good looks were obvious though he was trying very hard not to be noticed. He seemed vaguely familiar.
“Mrs. Hughes…This is Mrs. Williams…Beth…This is Rosemary Hughes and her nephew John Gage.” Rose sighed as the woman’s eyebrow rose curiously.
“Nephew?” She questioned curiously.
“Perhaps I should take out a full page ad in the San Gabriel Times,” she snapped, having had enough of their gawking and questioning looks.
They both swallowed uncomfortably. “I’m sorry Mrs. Hughes…It’s just that…We didn’t know your brother had children…No one has ever heard of him before.” His explanation appeased the counselor’s curiosity.
This boy was Roderick Gage’s son. She remembered the man well and it was most likely why he seemed so familiar. He was a carbon copy of his father. She’d been half in love with him as a young woman and had been devastated to hear that he’d been disowned by his family for what they considered a ‘bad marriage’ though no details had ever been heard. Most certainly, no one from their circle had heard of the birth of a child.
John flinched at the anger in her voice and his arms crossed over his chest. “Don’t fight,” he whispered.
Rosemary calmed down immediately at the quietly spoken words. “I’m sorry sweetheart,” she apologized contritely. “I didn’t mean to upset you…”
The principle exchanged a concerned glance with Mrs. Lange. “Uh…Perhaps we should look at his records?” He suggested handing the files over.
The woman opened them and scanned the contents. She frowned at Rosemary. “This says he has emotional and behavioral disturbances,” she pointed out.
Rose nodded throwing a glance at John. “Sweetheart…Can you wait in the other room for a few minutes?” She asked.
John nodded and gratefully escaped from the room, closing the door behind him. He leaned against the wall and sighed in relief to be free even though he knew they were talking about him and how bad he was.
Rose turned back to the others. “I want to be assured that whatever I tell you won’t leave this room,” she said coldly. The tone implied that both of them would be looking for another job if they crossed her and they both knew she could do it. Wild horses wouldn’t drag the secret from them.
“Certainly Ma’am,” the Principle assured her. Mrs. Williams nodded her agreement as well.
“My nephew being half white and half Indian has been considered by both sides of his family to be less than acceptable.”
Lange almost cursed under his breath, knowing he’d been just as guilty of prejudging the boy because of his background. “I’m sorry Mrs. Hughes,” he said sincerely.
She nodded at the honest tone. If Mrs. Williams was shocked, she hid it well. “While John won’t confirm this, his doctor and I both believe that my nephew has been abused.” The Guidance Counselor nodded…It would explain the boy’s demeanor as he’d sat here with his aunt.
“That poor boy,” she finally murmured. “No child should have to endure that,” she said softly.
Rose continued on. “I believe that he would do better in a public school with other children with backgrounds more like his own…Down to earth…Normal kids. Those arrogant snobs at a private school would swallow him whole.”
Mrs. Williams nodded. “I agree but there is a problem. John should be going to the ninth grade but,” she hesitated, not wanting to upset the woman. “His grades are…Not where they should be,” she finished tactfully.
Rosemary smiled and nodded. “I’ve already hired a tutor. He’ll be starting with John tomorrow and will continue to tutor him after school until my nephew catches up with the rest of his class. John is exceptionally bright but he’s been raised in a very sheltered environment. He has a lot to learn but from what I’ve seen…He’ll catch up quickly.”
“Perhaps a bit of incentive,” Lange suggested.
Rose smiled again. “John already has that.” She continued at their questioning looks. “He wants to be a fire fighter someday…I’ve told him that I’ll help him to reach that goal but he has to work for it.”
They smiled and nodded. “Then he has something to reach for…That always helps,” Mrs. Williams assured her.
“I’d be pleased to enroll John here Mrs. Hughes,” Mr. Lange said finally. “And of course we’ll send you progress reports if there’s any trouble.”
“One last thing.” They looked at her questioningly. “John stutters.”
“Oh dear,” Lange murmured.
“I’ve hired a speech therapist but perhaps you could make his teachers aware. I don’t want John made uncomfortable here for a lack of understanding on their part. I understand that children can be mean spirited but I do expect the teachers to be… professional?” She hinted.
Lange smiled. “I’ll see to it,” he said understandingly.
“Good…,” she rose to her feet and opened the door. John was waiting patiently just outside. He glanced at the three adults anxiously, almost hoping they’d refuse to take him…They obviously didn’t want him here more than any of the others had.
Lange reached out to offer John a handshake to welcome him but the boy drew back cautiously from the unexpected gesture. Lange glanced at Mrs. Williams who nodded sadly. The reaction had been self explanatory for both of them. “I’m sorry John…I didn’t mean to startle you…I just wanted to welcome you to San Gabriel High.”
John bit his lip in embarrassment and nodded. He cast a glance at his aunt from beneath lowered brows. “You’ll begin on Monday sweetheart,” she told him.
John sighed…It was about to start again…Different place…Same attitudes.
They returned home in time for lunch. Rosemary had tried several times to engage her nephew in conversation but John had only given her cursory nods or shakes of the head as he stared out the car window. His teeth tugging nervously on his lower lip and Rose knew he was worrying over school…She also knew there was no help for it…He had to go and he’d have to tough it out and make his own way.
As much as she wanted too, she couldn’t wrap the boy in cotton wool. She just prayed he’d begin to settle down and maybe make some friends. She’d try to help him any way she could of course but she couldn’t protect him from everything. John might be fearful and distrustful of people but he was an independent young man and though he’d had to learn it the hard way…She meant for him to keep that stubborn streak that had kept him alive through all of the trials that had come his way.
Edward was waiting for her when she arrived home. He smiled at John wanly as the boy slid past him and headed up the stairs. “John…Lunch should be ready soon,” his aunt called to him.
John hesitated, unsure if he really wanted to eat. His stomach was growling but he wasn’t positive if it was hunger or nerves that were causing it. He finally nodded and turned back to the dining room as Rosemary returned her attention to Edward. She noted the worried look on the servants face…So did John but he said nothing as he continued on.
“What is it?” She questioned in concern.
His eyes watched John as he disappeared around the corner before answering his employer. “There’s a man waiting for you in your office Miss Rosemary.” She frowned curiously.
“He’s a Lawyer from Montana ma’am.” Rose’s face paled. “He says he’s here to return John back to his own people.”
“Over my dead body,” she said with certainty.
“And mine,” Edward agreed indignantly, drawing a grin from the woman in spite of the circumstances.
“Call Dennis Chillingsworth…Tell him I need him here. Tell him to bring the guardianship papers that John’s grandfather signed. Get the file from my desk upstairs…It has the letters John’s mother sent asking me to take John to raise at the beginning when she first found out she was ill…”
“Yes ma’am.” Edward took the stairs two at time, an action so undignified that his very proper British instructors would have been horrified but he didn’t care. There was no way he would let this man take John from this home. He’d call the lawyer from the master suite as well…He smiled to himself…If they wanted a fight for the boy…They’d chosen the right opponent.
Neither of them noticed the slight shadow that hovered just around the corner.
Rosemary didn’t wait for Edward…She pushed open the door to her office to find a tall, thin man wearing a slightly rumpled gray suit waiting for her. He was obviously not from the same circles as her own lawyers. He turned to face her and blew out a breath at the sight of the tall, elegant woman who’d just walked in.
He’d warned George Walking Wolf when he’d called him a few days ago that getting the boy back would be difficult…He’d warned him again when he found out just who he would be taking on to do it but the man had been adamant. He wanted John back. The man shook his head…He could only ask but he knew this woman had the power to tie this up in court until the boy came of age if she had to but that wasn’t his call…He was only hired to try.
He stood as she came inside and blotted his suddenly sweating forehead with his handkerchief. Rose almost smiled as she noticed his nervous gesture.
The shadow moved stealthily across the glossy tiles of the entry way as the quiet fourteen year old boy slipped to the doorway of his aunt’s office to listen.
“Mrs. Hughes, my name is Gregory Hilliard of White, Jamison and Hilliard,” he said, trying to sound as lofty as she appeared with her mere presence.
“What can I do for you Mr. Hilliard?” She inquired frostily.
“My law firm has been retained by a George Walking Wolf from Lame Deer Montana.”
Outside in the hallway, John sucked in his breath…Oh Spirit no…He couldn’t go back there. He stilled his suddenly gasping breaths and leaned closer to listen.
She nodded her head but her mind was winging back to conversation she’d overheard between John and his grandfather… ‘I would know that you are safe from Walking Wolf before I leave this earth,’ he’d said. Rosemary had found John’s abuser she was sure of it and now he thought she’d just hand Rod’s son over to him…Not in this lifetime.
“Go on,” she encouraged.
“He claims he is the rightful legal guardian of his nephew by marriage…John Roderick Gage whom he claims was turned over to you a month ago by his father in law…A dying, senile old man who was not in his right mind at the time.”
“I spent over an hour with Mr. Sun Walker and while I didn’t find him all that pleasant he was most assuredly lucid and in control of his faculties when he asked me to take MY nephew to live with me.”
John heard the whisper of footsteps on the carpeted steps and backed into the shadows beneath the staircase as Edward returned with a sheaf of papers. He knocked lightly and then entered the room.
Rose glanced up as he came inside. “Ah thank you Edward,” she said taking the papers from him.
“Mr. Chillingsworth will be here shortly madam,” he informed her smugly looking over the rumpled little lawyer.
The man’s face blanched quite suitably for Edwards taste as he dropped that bombshell. Hilliard once again blotted his forehead. He was out of his league here and all he could do was try to muddle through this. The only way he could possibly win was to take it into a court room and hope the judge would feel that the boy should be returned to the place he’d been raised with a family who already knew him and who he knew in return.
Edward breezed out the door unsuccessfully hiding his rather self satisfied grin. He didn’t see the slender teenage boy that huddled motionless in the shadows. John moved to stand by the door once again.
Rose turned back to the thin man standing in her office. “Now Mr. Hilliard…What I have here are copies of the papers that John’s grandfather signed, turning the boy over to me.”
“Mr. Walking Wolf claims that Daniel Sun Walker was out of his mind with grief over the loss of his wife and made a quick decision to simply rid himself of a problem that had plagued him for years.”
John’s sensitive mouth trembled and the dark eyes burned with tears but he blinked them away. Setting his jaw in rigid lines…He would not cry…He wouldn’t let himself feel the hurt those words had brought. He shoved it down deep. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t already known that they hadn’t cared about him. They’d all made that very plain.
Rose smiled coldly. “Regardless of his reasons…He knew exactly what he was doing.”
The doorbell rang and Rose held up her hand to halt any further conversation until her lawyer was present.
Edward crossed the hallway to answer the door and never saw the wraithlike figure sliding once again into the dimness of the stairwell.
He let the older, dark suited lawyer into the foyer. “They’re in Miss Rosemary’s study,’ he said nodding to the door. The man nodded and followed him across the room. Edward knocked and waited for her to respond before pushing the door open. She might need to time to hide the body, he mused, trying to contain the mental image that thought evoked.
Edward grinned as he closed the door behind the man and made his way to the kitchen. The thin boy once again moved to the door.
“Mr. Walking Wolf is prepared to fight this in court Mrs. Hughes. He claims that he was given guardianship of the boy by Mr. Sun Walker and that the tribal elders approved that decision and that he had no right to take him back without their approval…,” the man was arguing. “He’s demanding custody back until this can be settled.
There was silence but for the rustle of paper and John assumed they were reading whatever the man had.
The boy backed away from the door. He’d heard enough…He wouldn’t go back there. He couldn’t…George would kill him for sure one day. John gagged at the thought of being in that man’s hands once again. His face flushed with shame at the memory of what he’d done. He could once again feel the painful groping of the man’s hands on his body…John shook the thought away. No…No…He’d die first.
He glanced around to be sure no one was looking and ran for the door. He didn’t have time to gather his things…Maybe he could find a way to come back for them…Maybe Laura and Ellen and Carrie would help him. Right now he had to escape.
Chillingsworth read the papers the man held and smiled as he handed them back with a shrug. “These aren’t legal documents Mr. Hilliard. The courts never approved or disapproved guardianship. It was simply never contested since the boy was on reservation land and he had no white relative that wanted him.” He saw the protest on Rosemary’s lips and clarified. “At least none that knew the boy needed a home.”
“Regardless…The boy was raised on the reservation with his family…He should remain there Mr. Chillingsworth…How do you think the boy feels being miles from all those he knows and a lifestyle that he grew up with and the people who love him?” He challenged.
“Relieved I should say,” he replied as he opened his briefcase.
“What?” The other challenged in disbelief.
“Mrs. Hughes asked me to do some checking on the boy so I flew to Montana at her behest,” he said pulling files from his case. “These are affidavits from the Captain of the Lame Deer Fire Department along with his crew that they did on more than one occasion witness the boy being abused by members of this ‘LOVING’ family. This states that the child frequently bore bruises and broken bones that were shrugged off as unimportant or as accidental falls from horses and other incidents. These are affidavits from several of John’s teachers that swear to the same.”
“Maybe they were…Did it ever occur to you that the boy may simply be awkward and clumsy?”He questioned.
Rosemary laughed. “My nephew is positively graceful when it comes to riding…His balance is perfect. I can’t imagine him being clumsy anywhere else.”
Chillingsworth nodded and continued. “This is an affidavit from one Dr. Sean Carlton stating that one of his ‘Loving Uncles’ refused to drive the boy and his mother to the hospital when the child was raging with fever from pneumonia. This is from a Dr. Lee Smith stating that the boy was beaten nearly to death by someone, most likely in his ‘LOVING’ family.”
Rosemary’s face paled as much as Hilliard’s at that piece of information. “What?” She whispered in horror.
“I’m sorry you’re hearing it this way Rose but it’s true. They believe that some member of John’s family came perilously close to killing the boy about seven months ago. He had multiple broken bones, bruising and contusions and that they suspected that he’d been sexually molested.”
“Oh that poor baby,” she whimpered in dismay.
“It goes on to say that the assault was investigated by the local authorities and child welfare agents instigated at behest of a…Captain Robert Rigsby from Fire Station 28 but they returned him to his grandfather’s care with the assurance that he would be kept from the hands of his abuser. That tells me the old man was well aware of what would happen to the boy when he was gone and took steps to prevent it.”
“He told John that he wanted him safe from Walking Wolf,” Rose gasped as she wiped away the tears that had slipped down her cheeks. “I didn’t understand then but…It makes sense now. Not that the old man was a sentimental softy,” she said bitterly. “John’s mother sent me these.” She held out Kate’s letters to her lawyer. He perused them and smiled…Well…I guess this made it all pretty clear,” he said holding the letter out to Hilliard. “John’s mother Kate ‘Red Moon’ Gage wrote this letter to her sister in law Rosemary Lenora Gage Hughes, naming her John’s legal guardian if she chose to accept the responsibility. I’d say she’s made her choice pretty clear.”
“This is dated three and half years ago,” he said skeptically. “Why didn’t you go for the boy sooner if you wanted him so badly?”
“My parents didn’t like the fact that John was half Indian and they didn’t want him here…They hid the letter from me as well as the one from his grandfather asking me to take him when he realized he was dying.”
Hilliard sighed. Walking Wolf didn’t have a leg to stand on not to mention that he couldn’t bring himself to put the boy back into the hands of someone who’d molested and nearly killed the teenager. He had kids of his own after all.
“Can you send me copies of those documents? I’ll need to have them to mail to him when I tell him he has no case.”
Chillingsworth nodded and began to pack his briefcase as the door burst open and Laura ran inside. “Miss Rose…It’s Master John…He’s run away again…Edwards gone after him,” she panted.
“Oh dear God…He must have overheard all of this…He can’t have gotten too far. Laura…Call the police…Ask for Officer Drake and tell him John’s run away again…Get Dr. Forrester too,” she gasped as she ran from the room. The others followed.
John slipped from the house, closing the door softly behind him. He wouldn’t let them send him back there.
His aunt had promised him that he could stay here but he’d already lived this too many times before…Unwanted by anyone for too long, shuffled from home to home.
The police, state authorities, his teachers, even Captain Rigsby had known what was happening to him and yet had sent him back to his abusers over and over again, regardless of how badly he’d been hurt or even that they hadn’t necessarily wanted to. Rigsby had had no choice but John didn’t understand that, all he knew was it had been done and he had been the one to pay the price for their decisions so why should Rosemary be any different?
Well not this time. This time he’d be far, far away.
John slipped around the side of the house casting furtive glances about him to be sure no one was around. He knew the street wasn’t a safe way to go, he’d learned that lesson the hard way…Too many fenced property’s and people that might see him and call. It was no longer a secret that he was living here now.
Straight through the fields behind the house was probably his best bet to reach the mountains undetected. He might have tried it that way the first time had he realized his aunt had owned so much open land between him and the mountains.
John slid to the corner and glanced around…No one was in sight on the back patio. John bit his lip nervously. If the girls in the kitchen saw him, they might just think he was going to the stables but Edward…Edward would know he’d been forbidden to leave the house for another couple of days.
He could only hope the servant wasn’t in the kitchen and wouldn’t see him. He decided to chance it. He wanted to run but was afraid that would draw to much attention. He blew out a breath and left the security of the house behind and began to saunter casually toward the stable area housed beyond the tennis courts and over a small rise.
Edward was whistling as he prepared a tray with coffee to bring to the table for lunch for Miss Rosemary and Mr. Chillingsworth. He figured the Harvard Lawyer would make short work of Mr. Hilliard and would most likely stay to lunch at Mrs. Hughes request. He knew she’d want to be positive that her control over young Master John’s guardianship was one hundred percent secure before she’d let the man leave.
Laura and Carrie were busy preparing lunch and Ellen was setting the cozier table in the breakfast nook. Miss Rose and John had taken to eating there now that Joshua and Tiffany had taken themselves off to school. They knew John was extremely uncomfortable in the austere dining room his two cousin’s favored.
Laura exchanged a look with her companion and the two giggled at Edwards warbling song. The servant seemed happier than they’d ever known him to be since Master John had arrived and Miss Rosemary’s two pretentious monsters had gone away. The boy was good for everyone.
She resumed her chopping of the vegetables for the salad Rosemary favored. She scooped them into a bowl a moment later and started to turn away from the counter but a motion further up the yard caught her eye.
She smiled as she watched Master John making his way toward the stable. Probably going to visit the horse Miss Rose had given him. She didn’t think much of it except that the young man wasn’t wearing a jacket.
She frowned. Master John was just getting over pneumonia…The last thing he needed was a chill from the cool February air. She turned to her boss.
“Edward…Do you think I should take Master John a coat?” She questioned worriedly.
He tossed a look over his shoulder. “Whatever for…? Master John’s not going outside…Miss Rosemary forbade it for another couple of days,” he assured her.
“Well he apparently wasn’t listening,” she replied with a nod of the head toward the window.
“What?” He questioned worriedly as he ran to look out. She was right…John was heading for the stables. He shook his head. “Stubborn young man isn’t he?” He questioned with a smile. He pushed the door to the patio open and stepped outside. “MASTER JOHN…?” He yelled, waving the boy back toward the house.
He expected the teen to be upset that he’d been caught defying his aunt but the boy’s reaction took him by surprise. John whirled to see who’d called. He spotted the servant standing there beckoning him. “Oh Spirit,” he murmured. He’d been caught.
John threw a frightened glance toward Edward before he turned and bolted in the other direction.
“What in the world…?” Edward’s voice trailed off as he suddenly understood. John wasn’t just heading out to visit the horse in defiance of his aunt’s wishes…He was running away. He must have overheard the conversation in the study and misunderstood. “Laura…Get Miss Rose…She’s in the study…HURRY,” he yelled. “Tell her John’s running.”
“Oh no,” she whispered worriedly. She turned and ran for the door as Edward began to race after the fleeing teenager.
Carrie could only stand and watch in fear as the servant took off.
John knew he was in trouble within moments. Normally he could run for quite a long time without flagging, he’d had years of practice at it after all but now after just a few minutes his chest began to hurt. He was still weak and suffering the last vestiges of pneumonia…His breaths began to come in sharp pants as he ran but he kept on…He wouldn’t let them send him back. Fear kept his feet moving.
Edward continued to run…He knew under normal circumstances that he’d never be able to catch the boy but he also knew that John had been ill and wasn’t quite recovered. He also knew that John was going the long way around the tennis courts…Edward knew these grounds like the back of his hand…There was a faster way.
He cut around the fenced in courts and raced along the path that cut through the trees toward the stables.
John was gasping…He just needed a place to hide until he could catch his breath. If he could make it to the stand of trees on the other side of the field he could just disappear. He knew how to blend with the shadows...Move silently. He glanced over his shoulder but Edward was nowhere in sight…Where had he gone? John hoped he’d given up and turned back but he couldn’t stop now. He knew the servant would tell Rosemary and she’d call the police on him again. He had to be gone before they got here…
John stumbled but recovered his balance…Sweat poured from his face and his breaths came in wheezing rasps. He barely had time to register the sound of running footsteps over his own labored breathing when he was hit hard.
Two solid arms wrapped around him like a vice and both of them tumbled to the ground. He realized who it was immediately. “Llll…emme gggo,” he stuttered out painfully as his feet kicked wildly, trying to gain his release.
“John...Stop it,” Edward ordered as he struggled desperately to hang onto the boy.
John didn’t comply… in fact his thrashing grew more violent as Edwards arms tightened about him.
“NOOO,” he shrieked, lashing out like a cornered animal.
Where did this skinny little thing get this kind of strength? Edward wondered vaguely as the boy fought him. The older man grunted in pain as John’s foot connected viciously with his shin but he held on.
John’s breaths were coming in ragged gasps as Edward finally pinned the boy beneath him. “Stop it John,” he commanded.
John was struggling to breath…Between his weakened body, stark terror and the weight of the man on top of him, it was all he could do just to draw air into his starving lungs. He had to get away but with Edward pressing down on him he could hardly move.
John’s mind was winging back to a night seven months ago… “Please no,” whispered from between trembling lips. Gray crowded in but John pushed it back…He had to escape but how? John knew as long as the man was on top of him he was helpless…He remembered the night his uncle had held him down and how he’d gone limp and George had eased his grip…He had an idea…
Edward could feel the teen shaking in terror as his body bucked and twisted beneath him but suddenly John went still.
Edward breathed a sigh of relief thinking he’d finally yielded and eased his grip, sitting up slowly but he quickly learned that the boy was full of tricks. John’s foot lashed out pushing at the older man’s chest. Caught off guard the servant fell backward and John tried to scramble to his feet to flee once more.
Edward quickly recovered, climbing to his feet and John only made it a couple of steps before he felt Edward’s arms wrap around his waist once more, hoisting the slender body almost off his feet and pinning him against his side.
“NOOOO…LET ME GO,” he screamed as Edward began to half drag and half carry him back toward the house. John fought like a wild thing and the older man couldn’t believe the quiet, frightened, shy boy he’d come to be so fond of could put up this kind of fight. He had no idea that John had been fighting for his life for years now and felt that at this moment…He had nothing to lose.
Rosemary ran through the house. Chillingsworth and Hilliard followed while Laura made the two phone calls as she’d been bidden.
Carrie pointed out the back door as the three entered the kitchen. “They ran toward the tennis courts Miss Rosemary. Edward went after him but Master John had a good head start.”
“Oh no,” Rose breathed worriedly as she ran out the door in the direction Carrie had indicated. She heard the wail of stark terror and then fury long moments before she saw her servant come through the trees still hanging onto her struggling and kicking nephew.
Edward had an arm about the boy’s waist and he half carried the wildly thrashing teenager, using his free hand to fend off the rain of blows the young man was unleashing on him. “Oh thank God,” Rose whispered.
“LEMMEE GO,” John half shrieked, half sobbed as they approached the waiting group. Edward was panting himself at this point but he managed to get the boy onto the patio where he forcefully sat him in a chair. John tried to launch himself from it almost before his bottom hit the seat but Edward pushed him back and held him.
“Sit…there,” he panted raggedly.
John was wheezing harshly at this point and could barely breathe much less put up much of a fight. The dark eyes lifted and he saw the group gathered about him. Rose’s eyes filled with despair at the look of hopeless defeat that entered into them for just a moment before that vague blankness she’d come to recognize filled the chocolate colored orbs and the slow rock began as John slipped away.
“John NO,” she breathed.
John’s heart was pounding from his chest and his lungs felt so constricted that he could barely draw a breath. He felt himself pushed roughly into a chair and all hope he’d harbored for a chance to get away from being sent back to George Walking Wolf fled.
They’d send him back…Just like all the others. Why couldn’t they just let him go so he wouldn’t be a bother to them? They didn’t need to send him back…He could take care of himself.
The dark eyes lifted to take in the group around him…He couldn’t fight them all…They fell on the tall lawyer in the wrinkled suit…He was the one who’d deliver him into his Uncle’s hands. The thought made bile rise in John’s throat…He’d rather die. He felt the gray pushing in around the edges of his mind.
He wanted to fight it…To try and get away but he was so tired and he hurt…The gray won and John’s awareness faded to shadows that moved vaguely around him. He felt that slow, comforting rocking motion that always came with it and let it carry him away to his safe place.
He heard the hazy soft sound of his aunt’s voice… “John NO.” But it came too late as he crossed his arms over his torso and folded in on himself.
Rosemary looked at Edward in dismay. “Thank you for bringing him back,” she said softly before looking at the gathering group.
“What’s wrong with the boy?” Hilliard asked.
“It’s…It’s something he does when he’s frightened…I don’t know what it’s called exactly but he’ll be alright in a little while…he’s just very upset,” she explained as she glanced around at Carrie, Ellen and Laura who had finally arrived with Officer Drake.
She hated to ask but Edward was exhausted from the merry chase John had led him on not to mention having to drag the boy back. “Officer…Can you help me get him inside?”
He moved to help her but Edward waved him off… “I’ll take him,” he offered, still a bit breathless but better than he had been. At least John knew him and he wouldn’t be assaulting a police officer with his struggles. He bent and lifted the boy into his arms and was unsurprised by the reaction.
John’s hands pushed against him and his body arced backward as he strained away from Edward’s hold on his body.
“Take him to the study Edward…James should be here any minute.”
Edward nodded and carried the struggling youth away as Rose turned to Drake. “I’m sorry for bothering you…I just didn’t know how far he might get.”
“That’s alright Mrs. Hughes…Call me anytime. Can you tell me what happened?”
She turned to Hilliard. “This gentleman is a lawyer hired by John’s Uncle in Montana,” she explained as they followed Edward and his still writhing charge. “He wants him back. I’m afraid John might have heard all of this and was afraid I was going to send him back there.”
“Where he was abused?” Drake questioned, remembering the woman’s suspicions that the boy had been abused by his family there.
There was a gasp from the three women who worked for Rosemary. Their shock quickly gave way to sympathy and then rage that anyone would hurt someone as sweet as their employer’s nephew but it certainly explained a lot about the boy’s behavior.
She glanced at the girls and smiled at their obvious indignation on John’s behalf. “Yes,” she answered the officer.
“Any chance of that happening?” He questioned softly. It was none of his business of course but he might need to report to children’s services if there was any chance the boy could be put back into some kind of dangerous home life but Rose assuaged that worry.
“No officer…No chance.”
“Then if everything is under control I’ll be on my way…Call me if he uh…Tries again.”
She nodded knowing she had an ally in the officer. She looked to the three women. “I hope I can expect that anything that you saw or heard today will stay within this house?” She questioned softly.
“Miss Rosemary…I…Well none of us would ever do anything to hurt Master John,” Ellen promised, speaking for the other two who were nodding vigorously. The look of righteous anger on their faces was reassuring and Rosemary wondered if her young nephew could ever understand the feelings of protectiveness that he aroused in so many people.
“Thank you…Laura, please show James in as soon as he arrives and could you please show Mr. Hilliard to the door?” She requested before she turned and entered the study where Edward had settled John on the sofa.
The boy calmed as soon as the man let him go, though the wheezing breaths and slow rock continued. John’s arms hugged his torso while the dark eyes appeared locked on something only he could see. His slender fingers rubbed together absently.
Dennis watched with sympathetic eyes as Rosemary sat next to her nephew. John tried to hitch his body away but she wouldn’t let him. She reached out to pull the boy into her arms. The reaction was instant and expected.
“John…John Roderick…I want you to listen to me,” she breathed heavily as she fought to hang onto the now struggling boy. “John stop…I love you…You’re not going anywhere do you understand?” She assured him as she continued to try and hold the resisting young man against her.
The door opened to admit Dr. Forrester and he drew in a sharp breath at the sight that greeted him. He quickly opened his bag and began to pull his equipment from it as Rosemary continued to speak soothingly to her nephew. He spoke softly to Edward and the man nodded tiredly and left the room.
“Come on háhketa…Come back to me sweetheart,” she whispered against the dark head.
John was too tired to fight for very long. The exertion was simply too much, too soon after his wild race and its aftermath with Edward. He heard the quiet voice and knew it was his aunt…He heard the words though he wasn’t sure he believed her…He let the gray lift just a bit… “You’re not going back to Montana,” the words seeped into his brain. Was that true?
The gray lifted a bit more as he finally relaxed against her. “That’s my boy,” she assured him softly.
Exhausted brown eyes lifted to hers before they flitted about the room in confusion. He’d been on the patio…How did he get here? He closed his eyes in frustration…It had happened again. He’d slipped away. Spirit…They must all think he was crazy just like the rest of his family.
John wanted to push away…To run but he was too tired. His breaths were still uneven and his chest hurt. He felt his aunt’s arms around him and then her slender fingers took hold of his chin. He tried to pull back and twist away but her stern tone stopped him. “John Roderick Gage…Don’t you dare pull away from me.”
He sighed in defeat and let her turn his face toward her. “You listen to me John…I know you overheard a conversation with that man and besides the fact that you were eaves dropping which is quite rude by the way but we’ll get to that later…You misunderstood what was being discussed.”
John didn’t know what ‘eaves dropping’ was but he’d long since learned that being sure he knew what was being discussed…Especially when it concerned him was essential to his survival but he didn’t say so. He remained silent and waited for the ax to fall.
“You’re not going away sweetheart…You’re staying here with me do you understand?”
John tugged nervously at his lower lip…Could he believe her? Rose’s heart turned a flip at the lost and hopeless look in the dark eyes.
He jumped as he felt something wrap about his upper arm…He looked up into the eyes of the Doctor who’d been here before. He tried to pull his arm away but Rose’s arms tightened about him. “Stop John…He just wants to be sure you’re alright,” she assured him.
John knew he couldn’t get away and he didn’t have the strength to fight…He’d only lose the battle anyway he mused with a bleak look.
Forrester pumped up the cuff and listened carefully with his…What did he call it? Ah yes…Stethoscope.
Edward returned a moment later with the portable oxygen tank from the doctor’s car. James tried to listen to John’s lungs but the boy stiffened uncomfortably against Rose.
The doctor felt the boy tense and knew he’d be in for a fight if he tried to examine him any further. The boy was wheezing painfully and needed to rest…He decided it would be best if he simply sedated him.
“Shh Shh…Little one,” Rose soothed as she felt the boy’s body grow rigid against her. Forrester dipped back in his bag. He came up with a syringe and John’s eyes widened in terror.
“NO,” he gasped as he began to fight once more. It had all been a lie…They were going to drug him like they had in Montana and then what? Would he wake on the Reservation…In the hands of George Walking Wolf?
“Lemme go…Please…I’d rrrath…er die,” he half sobbed. Rose’s heart climbed into her throat at the words.
“Oh my precious one,” she whispered forlornly. “It’ll be okay I promise.”
But John was having none of it. He continued to wriggle in her grip. “Hold his arm,” Forrester directed as John managed to pull free from Rosemary. Edward and Dennis both moved in to hold the boy…Edward grabbed his arms while Chillingsworth caught the kicking feet.
“NOOO,” he keened in defeat as the needle pierced his skin.
John felt the fight leave him and this time it wasn’t gray but blackness that closed around him. Rose gathered the boy against her once more…It was the only time she could hold Rod’s son without a fight or the rigid tension that usually gripped his body when she forced him to let her hold him or touch him in any way.
“This has just all been too much for you hasn’t it my sweetheart?” She murmured against the dark head resting against her shoulder as she rocked him gently. “You’re whole life has been turned upside down and everything’s happened so fast and you don’t know what’s happening or who to trust do you?” She whispered kissing the top of the teen’s head.
James fitted the mask over the boy’s nose and mouth and turned the tank on. “This should help his breathing Rose,” he promised her quietly, touched by her tenderness for her troubled nephew.
Dennis gathered his briefcase as Edward hovered over his employer and his young charge. “I guess I’ll be going Rose but I promise you we’ll get this cleared up. From what I just witnessed…No sane person would put this boy back in the hands of those people.”
“We already know that several have,” she replied bitterly as her icy green eyes locked with his. “Whatever it takes Dennis,” she breathed softly. “Whatever the cost…, John doesn’t leave this house…Do you understand? I will not lose Rod’s son…Not to anyone...Even if it takes every dime I have.”
“I understand Rose. I’ll do whatever I have to.”
Rose held John against her for a long while until the struggling breaths eased and grew soft and regular. James nodded and removed the mask, listening to his lungs as he breathed on his own. He finally waved Edward over. “Take him up to his bed Edward… He should sleep through the night Rosemary but you may want to have someone sleep in the room with him in case he wakes or even tries to run away again.”
“I’ll stay with him,” she assured him.
The doctor nodded and with a final sketched wave at Rosemary and Edward, took his leave.
Rose looked up at her longtime servant and a man who had now become her confidant. “Thank you again Edward. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate what you did.”
“You’re quite welcome Madame,” he assured her quietly. “You know how fond I’ve become of my young friend here,” he said with a smile. He lifted the boy in his arms. Rose followed him as he carried the unconscious teen up the stairs and got him settled in his bed. Rose sat in a chair next to him and nodded to the man. “Go get some rest Edward…You deserve it.”
In the early morning hours the sedative he’d been given began to wear off and John tossed restlessly as dreams began to plague his half conscious mind.
His parents…Both stood smiling at him. “Mom…Dad,” he whispered as he reached desperately to grab hold of them but they turned and began to walk away, holding hands and not looking back. “Nooo,” he cried out as they seemed to dissipate like fog to be replaced with crushing hands that gripped his arms painfully…Bones snapped under the assault.
Black eyes swam into focus…Calloused hands that touched his body sliding ever downward. John thrashed violently beneath the covers. “Please don’t hurt me,” he whimpered softly as the hands continued to violate his body. He began to shake in terror.
“John…,” A voice called to him. Hands gripped his shoulders and he was pulled into an embrace.
John stiffened fearfully…. “NOOO,” He wailed as he pushed against the arms that held him.
“JOHN…WAKE UP!” A voice demanded close to his ear.
Rose was sleeping uncomfortably in the chair next to John’s bed. She wasn’t sure exactly what woke her as she glanced at the clock on the bedside table. Five A.M.… She suddenly heard the rustle of bedcovers and she sat up to rub the sleep from her green eyes.
A low moan slipped from between her nephew’s lips and she heard the whispered sound… “Mom…Dad,” Rose sat up…He must be dreaming. She stood up and stretched her back. She leaned over her nephew. “Nooo,” he suddenly cried. She sighed…No dream but a nightmare, she surmised as John thrashed beneath the covers. “Please don’t hurt me,” he whimpered as she reached over and gripped his shoulders.
“John…,” she said gently as she wrapped her arms about the writhing teenager and pulled him into her arms.
“NOOO,” he suddenly wailed, stiffening in what he thought was his uncles embrace.
“JOHN ….Wake Up?” The demand came from close to his ear.
John’s eyes snapped open and his breaths came in ragged gasps. The dark orbs shifted about the dimly lit room. Suddenly a light snapped on and he squinted against the glare. He finally recognized the soothing voice of his aunt.
“Shhh little one I’m here…You’re safe.”
“Aunt Rose,” he gasped in relief.
“Yes sweetie it’s Aunt Rose,” she soothed, smoothing the sable hair.
John began to calm down…He was still in California. They hadn’t sent him away. He tensed once more as he realized she was holding him in her arms like a child. He pushed against her and he heard the soft sigh of frustration before she released him.
“Just lay back sweetie,” she said quietly as she eased him back against the pillows. She tried to smooth the dark hair from his forehead but John recoiled from her fingers. “Alright John…I won’t touch you,” she reassured the boy, wondering what it would take to gain his trust. ‘Time’ …That’s what James had told her…She wondered if she’d live long enough at this rate.
John eyed her warily but she didn’t move to touch him again. Instead she pulled the chair near the bed. “Okay háahketa, we need to talk.”
John chewed his lip nervously at the serious tone. He waited for her to tell him that she’d made a mistake bringing him here. That he was too much trouble and that she needed to send him home but he nodded his acceptance of his fate. If he had to, he’d escape from Walking Wolf in Montana…It would be harder to survive in the wilderness in the colder climate but John was nothing if not resourceful.
Rose sighed at the now familiar gesture…She smiled poignantly… Rod had used to do the same thing. “John…I know you were very frightened yesterday by that lawyer showing up here and trying to take you away…”
John shifted uncomfortably…The dark eyes refused to meet hers. “I’ll llleave if you want mmme to…But ppplease ddd…don’t send mmme back,” he pleaded in a whisper.
“Oh sweetheart,” she sighed. “I had no intention of sending you back. I promise you…This is your home and I will never let that man hurt you again.”
John’s eyes widened in shock and shot toward her. Did she know what Walking Wolf had done…If not then how much did she know? John’s face flamed crimson in humiliation. His eyes dropped in shame…His mouth trembled but he clenched his teeth and tried to shove the feelings down deep where they couldn’t hurt him…He’d become very good at hiding what he felt but this hurt was too raw…The shame and guilt so close to the surface still, even after seven months. He had to fight to bury these…To forget the shame and pain and the fear of what he’d done to him.
“John…Sweetheart…Can you tell me what he did?”
John sucked in his breath. “Nnnnothing,” he stuttered in fright. “He dddid nothing.”
“Then why are you afraid to go back there sweetheart?” She pressed.
John was trapped…He couldn’t tell her the truth but she wouldn’t believe anything else as simple as his dislike for his family of the coldness of the state would reduce him to the stark terror he knew they’d witnessed…His breaths began to hitch as his body trembled…
“Cccan’t tell…Can’t tell…Ccan’t tell…,” he repeated like a litany as his body began a slow rock.
Rose was becoming adept at recognizing the warning signs of an impending retreat. “John…It’s okay…You don’t have to tell me anything alright?”
The rocking slowed and the dark eyes lifted to hers for a short moment. “Kay,” he whispered in relief.
“Alright then now that that’s resolved let’s talk about your eaves dropping.”
John frowned. “Eaves dddrop…ping?” He questioned hesitantly.
“Yes…That’s listening to conversations that you were not invited to join.” John’s face flushed in embarrassment. “First of all it’s impolite,” she continued on. “Second of all you may misunderstand what you hear just like you did yesterday understand?”
John refused to look at her but he nodded guiltily. “Yes ma’am,” he mumbled contritely.
Rose smiled at the woebegone expression and reached to tilt his chin toward her but John flinched away and she sighed. He was so head shy and she understood, especially after what Chillingsworth had told them yesterday but she just had to keep trying until John understood that she would never hurt him the way his other family had.
She tried again and while John grew rigid he’d heard the sigh and knew she was upset with him again and sat stiffly as she tilted his chin toward her. “You and I have a long road together John but this is your home now at least until you’re ready to go out there and take on the world alright?”
John didn’t believe her. He’d heard this before from Lacee and Joseph, Mase and Walking Wolf, His grandparents and even his cousin but never this gently. Usually it was with threats of what would happen if he failed to please or be obedient to their every whim. He knew he’d eventually do something that would make her angry enough to send him packing…He always did.
He nodded but the chocolate brown eyes wouldn’t meet hers. Rosemary blew out a breath of frustration but gently brushed his cheek. “Alright háahketa and no more running away…I want your promise…”
John licked suddenly dry lips. Could he make that promise? What if something else happened down the road? Well…Then he cross that trail when he came to it. Nothing would stop him from achieving his goal to be a fire fighter and if she broke her word to try and send him back then he wouldn’t have to honor his either would he? He didn’t think so…But his father had always told him to keep his promises…It was a dilemma but he knew he had little choice if he ever wanted to be let out of the house alone again.
Rose watched the wheels turn behind the dark eyes and knew he was seriously contemplating his answer but she smiled in relief as he gave her an abrupt nod of agreement.
“Good…Breakfast should be ready soon so you need to change and come downstairs but after all that exertion yesterday, I think you need to spend another day inside…Besides your tutor and your speech therapist will be here this afternoon to evaluate how best to help you so I want you to stay close.”
John nodded in resignation, knowing Rosemary simply didn’t trust him out of her sight yet but that was only fair….He didn’t trust her either.
The afternoon found John ensconced in his Aunt’s well stocked library with his nose buried in a book. He’d have much rather been in the stables but Rose hadn’t yielded. He’d been forbidden to leave the house. It was probably just as well considering the amount of black and blue bruises he was sporting from his wrestling match with Edward yesterday.
He’d just about finished the fifth book he’d submerged himself in since he’d come home from the hospital when the door opened and Rose entered along with a man John had never seen before. John eyed the stranger warily as they approached before shifting his gaze toward his aunt.
“John…I want you to meet Mr. Hadderly.”
The older man reached out to shake John’s hand but the boy hadn’t been expecting the sudden move toward him and recoiled violently from the gesture…The book fell from his grip as his hands flew upward to protect his face.
Hadderly looked shocked at the frightened response and turned his gray eyes toward Rose with a suspicious look. She moved quickly to get between them. “John’s a little nervous around strangers,” she explained with a weak smile.
“Yes I see that,” he replied quietly.
“He doesn’t like to be touched,” she informed him setting the ground rules with the man right up front. She turned back to John who was watching the two distrustfully. “Sweetie…Mr. Hadderly wasn’t going to hurt you alright…He just wanted to shake hands. It’s a form of greeting…Didn’t your dad teach you that?”
John shook his head without taking his eyes off the man. He didn’t appear to be coming any closer so he relaxed back into his chair and let his hands drop into his lap.
Rose grinned and patted John’s hand reassuringly, sighing in frustration as he quickly moved it out of her reach. She knew he wasn’t doing it consciously to annoy her but it didn’t make it any easier to watch him shy away from every gesture of affection.
“The appropriate response is to stand and shake the man’s hand sweetie.”
John’s eyes narrowed suspiciously but he did remember that his father had done that with Captain Rigsby and Dr. Carlton. He knew his own people would grasp the wrist of whomever they were greeting but since he was rarely introduced to anyone he’d never practiced the habit.
His mother’s family had never bothered with such niceties, usually preferring to simply grab him by the arm and yank him or shove him in the direction they wanted him to go and his own father had never shook his hand, he’d always just hugged him…Still he did know what was supposed to happen. He finally nodded his understanding of the concept but he made no attempt to comply with it either.
Rose watched the thoughts tumble behind John’s dark eyes and almost smiled…While there were times when John seemed to be a bit impulsive, like stepping into the path of a frightened horse or rescuing a scared girl from the back of a fleeing one, nothing was ever cut and dried with him…He always seemed to take his time to think these things through before committing to anything.
Rod had been that way as well…His sense of honor wouldn’t allow him to break his word and so he always thought long and hard before making a commitment he couldn’t or wouldn’t keep. Had he instilled that characteristic in his son? She didn’t doubt it…Still Rod had always let his heart lead him as well which is why he’d taken no time to fall in love with Katie…His heart had been caught at first sight and he’d rushed in and swept her off her feet and married her without a care for his parents reaction or worrying that they’d cut him off for it.
She saw the understanding finally dawn in John’s face and the slight nod but sighed at the boy’s stubbornness in refusing to comply…He came by it honestly. Her brother Roderick was the most stubborn man she’d ever met and John truly was his father’s son. She knew it would take a long while before the young man would yield to being touched by strangers…Even that casually.
“Mr. Hadderly is a speech therapist sweetie. He wants to talk with you to try and figure out how best to help you.”
John cast a glance at his aunt but remained silently curled in his chair.
Rose wanted to laugh at his willfulness but she knew she had to be firm. She schooled her features into stern lines. “John Roderick…Remember our agreement to work at school and with the therapist. This is part of that agreement.”
John heaved a nervous sigh but knew she wouldn’t back down. He didn’t want to give her a reason to take the horse from him, not that she really needed one. His family had taken almost everything from him after his mother died and he’d never understood exactly what he’d done to deserve it though they’d all assured him that he was a wicked and evil child.
Rose watched the wheels turn and prayed that the boy would capitulate without resorting to threats. She didn’t think she’d have the heart to actually take the animal from him.
John could find no other solution to this problem. He finally threw his aunt a look of surrender and rose from the chair, determined to get through whatever torture the man planned to inflict on him.
They went to sit at the desk before Hadderly turned to the boy. “Alright John…I need to ask you a few questions okay?” The boy nodded, still looking unhappy. “Good…Can you tell me your name?”
“Good…How old are you?”
“Good…John have you always stuttered?”
John thought about that, unsure of the answer. He’d used to only stutter when he was scared or upset and it wasn’t until his mother had died and the abuse had begun that it had become so bad but he’d always done it. “Yyyes…,” he finally replied.
Rose interrupted. “I heard him speak in his native language,” she said quietly. “He didn’t stutter then.” John looked surprised at that as she continued. “Yesterday he was very upset…He was shouting in fact and he didn’t stutter then either.”
Hadderly nodded. “When you were little…Did you stutter all the time or only sometimes?”
Once again his mind drifted back to happier times with his mom and dad. “Jjjjust some…tttimes.”
“When did you stutter?” John suddenly looked at his hands as if he were ashamed of something. “John?” He pressed.
The boy still didn’t respond and Rose reached over to cup his chin and turn his face toward her. John flinched from the contact…His body tensed as if he was prepared to flee if necessary but he didn’t pull away. “John…You need to answer him,” she urged.
“It’s okay to tell me the truth John,” he assured him.
“Www…when I am sccc…ared,” he admitted in a whisper.
“Maybe when you’re uncomfortable or a little frustrated,” he suggested knowingly.
John nodded, looking ashamed that he was afraid of anything.
“It’s okay to feel that way John…You’ve been through a lot.” John’s dark eyes shot toward him warily. How much did this man know? What had his aunt told him? Hadderly smiled at the boy, not in the least put off by the suspicious looks the teen was throwing his way and continued on. “I know you lost both of your parents very young and most recently your grandfather and your uncle is that correct?”
John almost breathed a sigh of relief. He didn’t know about Uncle George or the abuse he’d suffered at the hands of Lacee and Joseph.
“Yes,” he mumbled in agreement.
“Alright…Then I’m guessing that this stutter isn’t a physical impairment as much as an emotional response to stress or fear.”
John bit his lip. What did that mean exactly?
“Can you help him?” Rosemary asked worriedly.
“Absolutely,” he affirmed. “We’ll work on teaching him to speak properly and to annunciate clearly but what matters even more is to slow him down.”
John’s upper lip curled as he cocked a confused frown at the man. Hadderly smiled knowingly.
“I don’t understand?” Rosemary questioned, asking the question that John was thinking.
Hadderly turned to the teenager. “John…You strike me as being pretty smart.”
John shrugged but didn’t look up. He never considered presuming anything good about himself that would get him slapped down but he wouldn’t dare contradict the man either. That could almost be worse if he considered it defiance.
Rose again answered for him. “He’s very bright,” she assured him proudly.”Just like his dad.” John shot her a skeptical glance but he said nothing.
“I’ll bet your mind runs pretty fast and it’s quite possible that your mouth simply can’t keep up.”
Rose giggled and John shot her a glance. Was she laughing at him? “John almost never speaks,” she finally explained. “How much more can you slow him down?”
“That’s not the problem...His mind is still churning those thoughts around even if he’s not vocalizing them and then when he does, they just tumble out to fast for his mouth to keep up.”
“Alright,” she agreed with that.
“He needs to slow down and think about what he wants to say and let the words come slowly.” She nodded again. “And then last is his comfort levels.”
She frowned at that. “I don’t understand.”
“His comfort levels…Emotional, mental and physical. The more comfortable John is with his surroundings, the better he’ll speak.”
“But he stuttered even in Montana,” Rose protested. “And he was raised there.”
Hadderly nodded his head in the direction of the door. “We’ll be right back John,” he assured the boy.
Rose pointed at him. “Stay put,” she ordered sternly.
John shrugged and watched the door close behind the pair. He considered sneaking over to the door to listen but he was afraid his Aunt would be angry if she caught him ‘eaves…dropping’ again so he simply sighed and ‘stayed put’ as she had ordered. He eyed the door nervously knowing that whatever they were discussing, it was about him.
The therapist turned to face Rosemary as she pulled the door closed behind her. “Please forgive me if I offend you Mrs. Hughes but I have to ask…”
“Ask what?” She questioned with a frown.
Hadderly took a deep breath. “Was John a battered child?”
Rose sucked in her breath. “How did you know?” She questioned in confusion.
Hadderly smiled at her tolerantly. “I’ve been working with young people a long time Mrs. Hughes and frequently there are emotional reasons behind a speech impairment as often as physical. He shows more than enough symptoms of being abused. He speaks little and doesn’t make eye contact. He doesn’t like to be touched and flinches away from rapid movements. He protects his face, most likely from being hit there often.”
Rose stared at him aghast that he’d figured it out that easily, wondering how it could be so plain to some people and how no one in Montana had caught on in three years…At least not enough to do something about it. She finally nodded in agreement. “Yes…Yes he was.”
“By his family in Montana?”
“Yes,” she replied.
“So there was no comfort level for him there either after his mother died and the abuse began.”
She shook her head. “No…There probably wasn’t,” she admitted, finally understanding.
“Most likely that’s when his stutter became truly pronounced…When his environment became completely hostile, his comfort levels dropped to zero.”
“So the more comfortable I make him here…,” she trailed off.
“The less likely he is to stutter.”
She nodded. “Well that’s one prescription I plan to do my best to fill.”
He smiled in relief. He hated the idea of any child being abused and was happy to know that at least this one had been rescued from that environment. “Let’s go back in.”
They pushed the door open and nervous dark eyes rose to meet theirs. Rose was relieved to see that John hadn’t left the chair to eaves drop on this conversation. Hadderly nodded at John.
“Alright Mr. Gage,” Hadderly said with a smile, “I’ll see you tomorrow. I’ll normally be here in the afternoon after your tutor leaves and I’m sure we can help you.”
John nodded his acquiescence but leaned back warily in the chair as the man offered him his hand. John regarded him suspiciously for a long moment.
“John,” Rose murmured warningly.
The boy sighed in resignation, He really had no option. He reached out to shake his hand. It was brief and quick but it was a start.
Rosemary carefully hooked her arm through John’s, pretending not to notice the immediate stiffening of her nephew’s body at the familiar gesture. “Come along John…Let’s show Mr. Hadderly out,” she suggested.
John knew he really didn’t have a choice here either and she was merely being polite in suggesting it rather than demanding but he didn’t dare refuse her however so he allowed her to lead him toward the door.
John noted sourly that Edward was at his post. He tossed the man an irritated glance. Edward chuckled at the surly pout being thrown his way by the teenager, knowing he was still smarting at being caught and manhandled by the servant yesterday.
He was still nursing his bruises and a grudge, made even worse that the man was now stationed at the door to be sure John didn’t pull another little disappearing act and to be the boys shadow until Rosemary was sure he wouldn’t try to run again.
John scowled even more at the servants grin, knowing Edward was amused at his irritation. Mr. Hadderly threw them one final nod and left.
Rosemary turned to face the teenager. “Mr. Pierce will be here soon sweetie. Do you want to go read some more until he arrives?”
John nodded and cast one final ugly look at Edward before turning to head back to the library. Rose and the servant laughed softly at his obvious disgruntlement at being kept a prisoner in the house. The laughter grew louder as the door closed with a resounding slam.
John returned to the library but his attempt to finish his latest book was short lived. His aunt came in with yet another stranger. John blew out a breath in frustration, knowing this was the… ‘Tutor’…She’d told him would come. He assumed that meant some kind of teacher.
He sighed, wondering if he’d come to regret the deal he’d made with her but if it would help him achieve his goal to become a fire fighter than it would be worth the trouble.
Rosemary heard the sigh and grinned before she led the short, gray haired man toward the teenager.
“John…This is Mr. Pierce.”
This time a least John was prepared when the man offered his hand and he didn’t recoil from it…He also didn’t respond to it until his aunt cleared her throat warningly.
John heaved another sigh of defeat before he finally climbed to his feet and reluctantly shook the man’s hand. Again the grip was hesitant and quick before he dropped it and retreated.
Rose shook her head at her nephew’s wary stubbornness before continuing on. “Mr. Pierce, this willful young man’s name is John. Mr. Pierce is here to help you get caught up with the rest of your class sweetie.”
The youth nodded his head in rueful acceptance of the man’s job here.
“John,” he replied with an almost haughty tone that the boy recognized immediately. John averted his eyes and his jaw tightened in embarrassment as the man’s eyes swept over the boy disdainfully. He’d already heard the rumors about his dubious parentage and figured he’d have his work cut out for him to educate the ignorant little savage.
He turned away dismissively and went to the desk to set his case down. He opened it and quickly pulled out a sheaf of paper and set them on the polished surface.
“Alright John…Have a seat right here,” he directed without any further niceties’, sliding the papers toward the empty chair. “This is just a few brief tests that I‘d like you to take so I’ll know just how difficult it will be to get you up to the same standards as the other ninth graders,” he said condescendingly.
Rose bristled at the tone but John only nodded, well used to the attitude being displayed toward him. The man smirked as John picked up the pen. “I assume you can read, can’t you?”
Rose’s eyes blazed with anger and John’s face flushed scarlet in embarrassment. He wanted to run from the room and just keep going but he knew she’d just have them bring him back. He nodded his head, looking completely humiliated before he began to read the questions on the page in front of him.
Rose beckoned the man away from John and they stepped outside, shutting the door behind them.
“Yes Ma’am?” He questioned once they were out if ear shot of the boy.
“I believe I did mention that John was my nephew?”
“Yes ma’am and it’s a very kind thing you’re doing to educate someone of his um…poor class so well Mrs. Hughes,” he said ingratiatingly.
The green eyes turned frigid…She couldn’t believe these people and their attitudes...How did John tolerate this for all these years? It was no small wonder he pulled away from everyone.
“Class Mr. Pierce? What exactly does that mean?”
“He’s obviously of poor heritage ma’am,” he explained not catching the rage in her eyes or the iciness of her tone.
“His heritage is GAGE…The same as my own. He’s my brother’s son and his mother was a beautiful, gentle, intelligent young woman who just happened to be of Native American descent and who our own government sentences to abject poverty by the treaty’s they forced them to sign to avoid being massacred by white soldiers and I’ll thank you to remember that. John is very intelligent and thankfully I doubt it will take much of your time to bring him up to the ‘level’ of his ‘class’,” she replied haughtily.
Pierce blanched, finally realizing that he’d insulted his employer as well as the boy. “I’m very sorry if I offended you Mrs. Hughes,” he said contritely. “I just assumed…,” he trailed off.
“You assumed incorrectly and it was my nephew you offended,” she interrupted.
“Yes ma’am,” he agreed.
“I won’t have John treated like that again,” she warned. “He’s already been exposed to too many people with your narrow opinion.”
He nodded his acquiescence and considered himself fortunate that despite the dressing down he’d just received that he still had a job. “I’d like to see his records if I could?” He asked quietly.
Rosemary led him to her office and pulled out John’s file. He read it over carefully, noting that John’s grades had fluctuated dramatically over the years. His third grade being the best while he was here in Duarte and then the last two and a half when he’d failed at everything.
He was disturbed that the school had simply passed him along instead of finding the underlying cause for the boys sudden failing grades.
“When did his father die?” He asked.
Rose hesitated briefly before she replied. “When John was eight...Almost nine.”
“They were living here in California then, is that correct?” She nodded. “And his mother?”
“When he was eleven.”
He nodded…It fit with what he was seeing. “So his failing grades were quite possibly emotional then and not an inability to learn.”
She nodded her agreement once again. “I think so. My nephew is quite intelligent and I think the schools there simply didn’t care enough about a half Indian child to push the issue or find out why he was failing.”
He nodded at her explanation, having just come to the same conclusion himself. “I think we should be able to come up to with a plan to get John up to speed,” he admitted, feeling like a heel for prejudging the boy’s abilities based on his heritage. He was no better than those who’d already done it in the past but if the teacher’s notes from the first through fifth grade were correct, the boy was above average in intelligence and quite astute.
After that they’d slowly begun to drop before plummeting decisively in the last year. “Did um… Something happen after that?” He questioned hesitantly.
“What do you mean?”
“Just that in the last year or so…It looks as if he simply stopped trying.”
Rose nodded again. “I believe my nephew was abused by his mother’s family. They resented him being half white.”
The man’s face paled a bit. “You believe? You don’t know for sure?”
“No,” she admitted. “John won’t talk about it but his doctor and I are fairly certain.”
“I’m sorry Mrs. Hughes…,” he said guiltily. The boy needed a fair chance and he hadn’t given it. What did that say about him?
“Apologize to John, not me.”
They returned the Library a while later where John sat patiently waiting. The papers sat in front of him. Pierce picked up the stack and glanced at them. A look of confusion creased the man’s brow. The answers appeared to be gibberish.
“What is it?” Rosemary asked curiously.
He handed them to her. “I can’t read this.”
She quickly scanned the pages. “John…?” She questioned sternly. “What is this?” She asked, holding out the papers.
“I answered his questions,” John replied shortly with a stubborn set to his mouth.
“This is Cheyenne?” She asked with dawning understanding.
John nodded and glared at the tutor. “I assume you can read?” He asked sarcastically.
The man flushed to his roots. “I need the answers in English,” he said quietly, knowing how deeply he’d offended the young man.
John’s chin tilted defiantly. “They are on the back.”
Pierce flipped the paper over and began to read his neatly printed answers. His eyebrow rose in wonder. His aunt was correct after all. There were a few glaring areas where the boy needed some work but for the most part it was obvious that he was intelligent and had been paying better attention than his records indicated.
John saw the incredulous look that passed over the man’s face and misunderstood. He stood up to glower angrily at the man. “I ddd…id not fail bbb…because I am stupid vé’ho’é…I ffff…ailed because I ddd…id not care,” he snapped as he headed for the door.
“JOHN,” Rose called after him. There was no mistaking the rebuke in her voice.
He stopped at the stern tone and glanced at her fearfully, knowing he’d overstepped. He’d let his anger at the man’s condescending attitude get the better of him and now his aunt was mad at him. He knew better than to show defiance if he didn’t want to be punished for it. How could he have been so stupid?
Rose saw the frightened look in his eyes and immediately softened her tone. “Come back here sweetie…We’re not done,” she said gently.
John swallowed nervously but obediently returned to his aunt knowing he’d never make it past Edward. “Yes ma’am,” he whispered, staring at the floor and chewing his lip worriedly.
“You’re not in trouble but I do expect you to be respectful and do as you’re told by Mr. Pierce.”
“Yes mmm…ma’am,” he stuttered warily.
Mr. Pierce stepped in at the downcast eyes. “Mrs. Hughes, this was my fault not John’s,” he admitted, turning to the teenager. “John…I’m afraid we got off on the wrong foot…I prejudged you and that was unfair.
John’s dark eyes flicked toward him warily. No one ever apologized to him…It was usually him asking for forgiveness even when he wasn’t sure what he’d done wrong, and he had no idea what to say. He finally shrugged…He was well used to unfair…He’d lived with ‘unfairness’ most of his life.
“I’ve looked at your records and from what I can see here,” he said waving the papers in front of the teen… “I think you’ll have no problem catching up with the rest of your class.”
John looked a bit shocked that the man was actually paying him a compliment. His eyes darted toward his aunt. She smiled at him reassuringly. “Now I’m going to go home and put a curriculum together and then we’ll begin working after school on Monday. I’ll need to see what your classes are.”
John nodded reluctantly at the reminder that he’d be back in school in four days. He wondered what new torments awaited him there.
At the same moment John was contemplating his return to school, eighteen year old Roy DeSoto was sliding into the driver’s seat of his 1962 Chevy in the parking lot of the army recruiting center in Norwalk. His girlfriend Joanne Hutchins was seated beside him.
Tears glistened in her blue eyes and her long auburn hair was pulled back in a ponytail. “Jo...please don’t cry,” the young man pleaded softly.
“I’m sorry Roy…I know we talked about this but I don’t want you to go.”
Roy grimaced and worried his lower lip with his teeth. “I know Jo…But now that my dad’s moved out…Well…It’s the best chance I’ve got for getting some kind of future for us.”
“And what happens if you don’t come back…Where’s my future then?” She questioned with a hitch to her voice.
“I’ll come home babe,” he assured her.
“You can’t promise that,” she whispered through trembling lips.
“I’m going into the Medics Jo…It’s only two years and I won’t be right on the front lines.”
“Close enough,” she mumbled unhappily. “I’ll miss you so much.”
Roy reached over to gently tug on her long hair. She turned to face him and his heart sank at the sight of her tear streaked cheeks. “You wanted to go to college anyway,” he soothed softly. “At least you’ll be busy with that.”
“I’d rather have you…Safe here and not over there being shot at.”
“I know babe,” he said quietly.
He glanced over at the pretty girl sitting next to him. They’d known each other since they were nine and her family moved from their farm and into the house next door to the DeSoto’s. They’d become best friends until the ninth grade when her pigtails and braces went away and a hint of the pretty woman she’d one day become became evident.
Roy had no intention of letting any of the other boys steal her away and had finally screwed up the nerve to ask her out. She’d accepted and they’d been a steady couple for three years. They’d had a brief falling out a few months ago over some silly argument and broken up but both of them had known right from the beginning that they were meant for each other.
Roy had only asked one other girl out but even then…It had only lasted a couple of weeks. She wasn’t Joanne Hutchins. He’d gone over to her house and begged her to forgive him and she did. Telling him that she’d missed him too. They’d been almost inseparable ever since.
“Um Jo…I want to ask you something.”
“Well…I know we had that fight a few months ago but…”
She smiled. “Oh Roy…I’ve forgotten all about that.”
“I haven’t and I don’t want to risk losing you while I’m gone.”
“You won’t…I knew from the moment we met that you were the only man for me,” she teased.
Roy chuckled. “I was nine babe.”
She grinned. “I still knew.”
“So did I,” he agreed, smiling tenderly. “That’s why I have to ask you this now…Before I leave.” Her brow lifted curiously. “Jo…I uh…I want you to know…I love you. I want you to be my wife.”
Her eyes filled with tears once again. “Oh Roy…,” she gasped as she threw herself into his arms. “You know I love you too,” she said kissing him exuberantly. “Of course I’ll marry you.”
“Your parents won’t like it,” he warned.
“You’re not marrying them are you?” She teased.
Roy grinned. “Just wanted to be sure they couldn’t talk you out of it.”
“That’ll never happen,” she promised, kissing him again.
Roy smiled. “Good…That’s a relief.” Roy started the car and pulled out of the parking lot.
John spent the weekend working with Wind Song under the watchful eye the stable manager Frank. John sighed in frustration. Knowing his aunt wasn’t going to turn him loose until she was sure of two things…One…That he didn’t over do physically until he was completely well and two…That he wouldn’t run away again.
John had thought about all of it for a long time after Mr. Pierce had left and while he had no intention of letting his guard down around his aunt and even though he wasn’t happy about the prospect of returning to school…He knew staying with Rosemary was his best chance to fulfill his dream of being a fireman, besides…He had nowhere else to go.
He threw one final glance toward Frank as he mounted the tall bay mare and he shrugged to himself in resignation as the man pulled himself into the saddle of his own mount and followed the slender teenager out of the yard. John smiled to himself, knowing he could most likely outride the older man and easily lose him but figured his aunt would confine him to the house once again if he did, so he relaxed in the saddle and allowed the man to keep pace with him.
Rose drove John to school on Monday morning. Her heart ached at the unhappy look on her nephew’s face as she pulled up in front. “Don’t worry sweetie, it’s not going to be as bad as you think,” she assured him softly.
The look John shot her spoke volumes and she sighed. Her nephew had been through so much in fourteen very short years…Things most ordinary people couldn’t begin to comprehend and she knew he was expecting the same here…She could only hope that he was wrong.
She touched his arm and sighed quietly as he immediately moved out of reach. “Just go to the office we went to last week…They’ll give you your schedule and show you around alright?”
He nodded in resignation…He really had no option. He climbed from the car and made his way up the walkway, following the flow of teenagers going inside. John was oblivious to the curious looks of the other students as he walked along, especially the interested ones of a pack of giggly girls that began to hope that the handsome young stranger would be in their class.
Rosemary watched the group turn to follow the boy inside and laughed. John would have no shortage of female attention and God help her when he finally started to seriously notice them back.
Things didn’t start out to well for John. Mr. Lange personally walked him to his first class and introduced him to the teacher Miss Hanson. “Joan…This is the young man I told you about last week. His name is John Gage and he’s Rosemary Hughes’ nephew. Please be sure to make him feel welcome,” he requested with a smile.
The middle aged woman gave the boy a pointed frown but nodded at the principle. She’d already heard story’s all over town about this one. She turned and faced the class, reaching out to rest her hand on John’s shoulder but the boy side stepped away from her. She frowned once more but Lange quickly leaned close to her ear. “Don’t touch him…He doesn’t like to be touched,” he whispered urgently.
She glanced at the boy and wondered what was wrong with him but she nodded and cleared her throat. “Class…This is John Gage…He’s just arrived in San Gabriel a couple of weeks ago from Montana so please be sure to welcome him,” she said throwing a look at Lange. He nodded his thanks for her acquiescence and left.
“Good luck John,” he said in parting.
The boy nodded and glanced back at his teacher. She pointed to a vacant chair at the front of the classroom. “Have a seat,” she said coldly. John sighed at the sudden change in tone but he obediently went and sat down, ignoring the looks from the other students and sliding down in his seat, hoping to stay unnoticed.
She remembered the boy’s father Roderick…He’d been the most sought after man in town but he and his brother William and his Sister Rosemary hadn’t gone to school here…They lived in Santa Barbara most of the time and only summered here with the Hughes family. They attended a private school and seldom associated with the regular residents of the town.
She smirked to herself as she turned back to the blackboard to continue the lesson. If the rumors were true then it was likely that the hoity toity schools they’d attended had most likely turned down the boy’s admission which is why his Aunt would have had to send him here. Not to mention that she wouldn’t want anyone of her association in Santa Barbara to know of her brothers…er…Indiscretion.
She almost giggled to herself as she wondered how embarrassed Rosemary Gage Hughes was to have to admit that the boy was even related to her.
John stayed silent but he did at least pay attention to the teacher, despite the condescending attitude she so clearly displayed. He wondered what he’d done to make her dislike him but shrugged it off. He was well used to it anyway but still... He was more than happy when the bell rang and practically bolted from the chair and out the door.
He spent the better part of the rest of the morning just trying to find his way around the school. His quietly stuttered requests for assistance left him red faced in embarrassment at the snickers of amusement that had followed him along with the several intentional mis-directions by a trio of smart aleck boys a couple of years older than him.
Their ire had been raised by the obvious interest of about half of the girls in school as the newcomer walked through the corridors, most of whom wouldn’t give them the time of day. They’d decided that it must be because of who his aunt was…
John finally stopped asking for help and simply began to memorize the layout. Each new class was much like the first and by lunch time he had had about enough of this place and was ready to go home and never come back.
‘Don’t let them steal your dream,’ his mother’s voice whispered.
‘Promise me you’ll save lives,’ his father’s words echoed in his head.
“But they will not give me a chance?” He whispered to the ghosts in his head.
John sat alone at a table in the lunch room. Not very hungry, he pushed idly at the food on his plate. He avoided making eye contact with anyone and ignored the curious looks from the boys and moony eyed glances from the girls.
John suddenly sensed that he was no longer alone and glanced up to see the same trio of boys who’d harassed him earlier that morning standing a few feet away. He sighed, already knowing where this was going.
He worried his lower lip with his teeth and looked away, hoping they’d just leave if he didn’t challenge them…He hoped in vain.
“Hey kid…Our food isn’t good enough for ya?” One named Jerry taunted, giving John a shove in the back. He shrugged indifferently and shifted subtly away from them but he didn’t reply. “I’m talking to you,” the other boy pressed.
“It’s fff…fine,’ John mumbled.
“Yeah…So eat it,” Jerry sneered pushing the tray toward the younger boy. Only John’s quick reflexes kept it from tumbling into his lap…he pushed it away.
“Maybe he only eats filet mignon,” one of the others named Harry suggested with a sneer. “He comes from that rich family.”
“Oh he’s not rich…,” the third boy named Nate corrected. “His aunt is loaded but I heard Miss Hanson telling Mr. Haverty that Rosemary Hughes had to hide him away here so none of her rich friends would find out about him cuz he’s just her poor, bastard nephew.”
John’s head snapped up. “Th…that is a ll…lie, he stuttered in protest.
“His mom was just some Indian his dad slept with,” Nate informed them.
John shot to his feet angrily. “Th…That’s nnnot so…They were mmmarried.”
John’s anger was exactly what they were waiting for. One shoved John and he stumbled backwards but quickly recovered as the others closed in around him.
“You calling me a liar?” Harry challenged.
“YES,” John agreed angrily.
“Well my mom works for the Blake’s and she overheard them talking…She said you were some little half breed Indian from Montana or something. She said Alex tried to drown you for attacking his girlfriend.”
John shook his head. “I...I d…d…did not,” he stammered in protest. “Sh…she kkkissed me,” he argued.
Jerry shoved him again. John staggered back into one of the others. He felt one of them grab his arm. “Now you’re attacking me too huh?” Harry growled.
“No,” he gasped as he was pushed back to the center of the ring of antagonists. John saw a room full of faces watching the altercation. Some looked nervous while others seemed shocked. Some looked angry at the obvious bullying of a younger boy while still others grinned at the prospect of watching the new kid get his butt whipped.
He knew he was about to take yet another beating but he refused to back down and he’d never beg them to leave him alone. They’d only see it as a weakness anyway. “I do not wish to fight,” he said softly as he tried to move forward to brush past them and simply walk away but the other boys were having none of it.
“I just betcha don’t,” Jerry sneered as he threw a punch…Pain exploded in John’s head as the boy’s fist connected with his cheekbone.
John’s head reeled but he shook off the blow and threw one of his own. The older teen fell backward. Shock crossed his features that this skinny little runt was that strong and that he’d actually stood up to them.
The other two boys moved in to grab a hold of him. John struggled to break their hold on him as the first climbed to his feet, prepared to teach the kid a lesson now that his friends were holding him securely. John tore his arm free from one and drove his elbow into the boy’s ribs, that young man grunted in pain as the breath left his body with a whoosh.
The third swung but John ducked and shoved him away. By then Jerry and Nate were back on their feet and Harry was quick to follow, still holding his ribs. Two of the boy’s grabbed John’s arms once again.
Jerry drew back his fist but suddenly found his arm held in a firm grip. He spun around, prepared to teach whoever had dared to interfere with him a lesson but he quailed in fright as he recognized the other young man who held his arm.
Drew Burke…A junior like themselves but this one was already a star football player. He was tall with sandy brown hair and a muscular build and he knew how to use his fists. His old man was a carpenter and Drew had been helping him on the job for years, using the heavy labor as a tool to keep himself in shape for the grueling grind of football.
“Uh…Hey Drew…,” Jerry said nervously.
“Jerry…,” he returned with an angry look in his eyes. “You’ve had your fun…Why don’t you and the other two stooges here leave the kid alone and take a hike huh?”
“He uh…He started it,” he lied.
“No…He didn’t…,” Drew began languidly but another voice interrupted.
“What’s going on here?”Mr. Lange asked as he pushed his way through the crowd of teenagers. His eyes fell on John and he shook his head. The boy was already causing trouble.
“He started a fight Mr. Lange,” Jerry started to explain, glancing at his friends.
Lange turned to John. “Is that true John?” He asked shortly. John stood mute but he shook his head in the negative, still not looking up to meet the older man’s eyes.
“The kid here didn’t start it Mr. Lange,” Drew said with a smirk at the three boys. Jerry and his friends did. He was just sitting here minding his own business.”
John shot the older boy a grateful look though he really didn’t think it would help much. John was used to taking the blame for everything no matter who else started it…It wouldn’t be any different here.
“I see…Thank you Mr. Burke. John, go to my office please…Wait for me there. You three…Come with me.”
John heaved a sigh wishing he could just run somewhere and never come back…Why did these things always happen to him? His aunt would be angry with him for causing all this trouble even if he hadn’t started it…Though it was obvious that the man didn’t believe him or his rescuer.
John started past the group but the older boy reached out to stop him. John pulled back and threw him a glance from beneath lowered lashes. “You okay kid?” He asked.
“Yyy…Yes,” he stuttered softly. He waited for the laughter or at the very least a mocking grin at his stutter but it never came.
“Good…My names Drew…What’s yours?”
“Nice to meet ya John…Just wish you’d been welcomed to San Gabriel a little more nicely.” John nodded but didn’t answer. “I was pretty impressed that you held your own against the three of them.” John shrugged but didn’t add that he’d been defending himself against people like them for years. Drew smiled at the younger boy…He had guts. “I’ll see ya around John,” he assured the younger boy. John threw him another quick nod and headed for the Principal’s office to await whatever punishment would be meted out for this infraction.
John glanced up a short time later as Mr. Lange and a woman came into the office. She was dressed all in white and John recognized the uniform as a nurse. She came over and squatted next to him.
“Let me take a look at your cheek sweetie,” she said softly.
“I…It is fff...fine,” he stuttered, keeping his eyes lowered.
“You’re already bruising sweetheart. Let me see,” she said again as she gently took hold of his chin.
John tried to jerk his head away but Mr. Lange cleared his throat loudly. “AAHEMM,” he growled.
John recognized the warning and stopped resisting. She lifted his face and winced in sympathy at the large bruise that was blossoming on his cheek. His eye was already swelling closed.
“I’ll get some ice,” she assured him as she turned to the principal. You need to call his aunt…She’ll have to be told that he’s been hurt.”
“NO,” John gasped in protest.
Lange patted his shoulder reassuringly but John pulled away from the casual touch. The man sighed and pulled his hand back. “I’ve got no choice son…She has to be informed but I’ll tell her what happened I promise you.”
John was afraid of exactly that. He’d tell her that he’d started it…The fact that he was here in the man’s office and the other boys…Where were they? Most likely back in class knowing they’d won this round. His aunt would be furious. She’d take Wind Song away and he’d never achieve his dream to be fireman if he got kicked out of school. His heart sank into his stomach at the thought
The dark eyes lifted and the nurse felt a wrench in her heart at the misery reflected in the chocolate brown eyes of this young man. “I…I’m sorry…P…Please do not t…tell her. I’ll be gggood,” he pleaded.
“Oh sweetie…This wasn’t your fault alright,” she soothed as she climbed to her feet. The boy looked so lost sitting there as Mr. Lange dialed the number to his Aunt’s home. She didn’t understand the fear that John harbored in his soul that he was about to lose yet another home or the dream that was about to be stripped from him.
“Oh Háahketa,” Rose murmured as she entered the office and saw the bruise decorating his cheek.
John tugged at his lower lip and cast a furtive glance at his aunt. “I…I’m ss…sorry,” he stuttered.
“What happened John?” She questioned as she came to his side. She reached to lift his chin but John flinched away. “Oh sweetie,” she sighed. She turned to the principal. “What happened?”
“Three other boys were harassing him in the lunch room. It escalated into a fist fight. They said John started it.”
Her eyebrow arched questioningly as she turned to her nephew. “They sss…said I was a b…bas…tard,” he stuttered just above a whisper. “Th…that you ppput me here ssso no o…one wwwould know you w…were my a…aunt.”
“WHAT?” She bit out as frosty green eyes turned toward the principal and he shook his head.
“Several other students said one of the teachers was overheard spreading that piece of information…”
“Well it’s not true,” Rose snapped. “My brother was quite happily married to John’s mother and I thought he’d be accepted here but I was apparently wrong.”
“Yes ma’am… Uh…No ma’am,” Lange stammered at the fury in her tone “Uh…She’s already been suspended pending an investigation and I think John will be fine here...It’ll just take time. Now one of the other boys told us what happened. John didn’t throw the first punch. He only defended himself. The other boys have already been suspended as well.”
John glanced at the man in surprise but quickly dropped his eyes waiting for the ax to fall…Sure he was about to get kicked out as well for the injuries he’d caused the others…It wouldn’t be the first time. “Is John in trouble?” She questioned with an arched brow.
“No Mrs. Hughes… The three boys who started it have some injuries but…There was nothing major and we just wanted you to know what happened. You can take him home with you if you’d like. It would be best to put some more ice on that bruise.”
She nodded. “Come along John…”
John glanced up in surprise…His dark eyes shifting warily between his aunt and the principal but he obediently stood up and followed her out.
John sat silently in the front seat next to Rosemary as they drove home. He cast furtive glances toward his aunt wondering how much trouble he was in. He was causing her a lot of problems and even though he hadn’t started the fight he would most likely end up taking the blame for it...He always did.
John wanted to believe that she cared…She always seemed to be on his side but John knew from bitter experience that that could be deceptive.
Captain Rigsby, his grandfather even his Uncle George had seemed to protect him at first but they’d taught him well…People could turn on you faster than a viper and he’d learned the hard way to trust no one. His eyes shifted warily toward her once more.
Rose glanced toward the troubled teen…His jaw was clenched tightly and his eyes were averted and she knew he was waiting for her to react with anger…To lash out at him…To punish him for someone else’s bad behavior.
“You’re not in trouble háhketa,” she said quietly. John jumped at the softly spoken words but nodded hesitantly. “Can you tell me what happened?”
John shrugged. “It ddd…does not mmmatter,” he stuttered, looking away.
“It does to me sweetie. I didn’t send you there for you to be hurt and insulted.”
John’s shoulders lifted indifferently. What was one more school…One more rejection? He’d had a lifetime full. They could beat him with their fists but John wouldn’t let them hurt him where it mattered…He’d pushed that part of himself so far down into his soul he didn’t even think he could ever find it again… He simply no longer cared.
“Jjjust a ig…ig..norant half breed anyway,” he mumbled softly, refusing to meet her eyes.
The Gage temper soared…Rosemary’s foot hit the brake and she pulled the car to the side of the road. She threw the car in park and turned toward him, her green eyes were icy with anger.
“DON’T YOU EVER SAY THAT AGAIN,” she snapped.
John’s eyes widened fearfully at the fury in her tone, her voice shook with it. He’d known she’d turn on him eventually and his stomach turned a small flip and he wondered what he’d done wrong to cause her rage. His family and his teachers had always told him that so why was she angry? He wondered, unable to understand that her anger wasn’t directed at him but for him.
Rose was heartbroken that her fourteen year old nephew could quote those horrible slurs about himself as easily as most children boasted of their athletic abilities and spelling bee ribbons.
She reached out to grip his shoulders but John recoiled instantly, huddling against the door in fright. “I’m sss…sorry,” he whispered desperately. “I…I’m sssorry.”
Rose was furious…Longing to drive back to Montana and beat someone senseless for this. She saw the dark eyes widen in terror and quickly lowered her voice.
“I’m not angry with you, I’m angry at the people who said such horrible things about you…That made you think that about yourself.” John frowned in confusion… He didn’t know how to think of himself any other way. “I don’t want you to talk about yourself like that anymore. You’re smart and handsome and the fact that your mom was Indian doesn’t make you any less important to me. I loved Katie and I love you too…Do you understand?”
John didn’t understand…He been told so many times that he was useless and unworthy of his family’s love that he’d finally learned to believe it. He was so confused and unsure of what she wanted from him but he’d learned to be compliant if it would save him a beating. He nodded obediently.
Rose sighed in defeat at the fear reflected in the dark eyes. She knew he was simply agreeing with her to keep from making her even angrier and avoid the punishment he was sure would follow. She needed to be more careful with the boy…She couldn’t let her anger with the people who’d hurt him be misconstrued by the teenager as anger toward him.
She knew he couldn’t understand how desperately she wished that she could hold him, comfort him but she knew he wouldn’t let her…He wasn’t ready for that yet. Rose was horribly afraid she’d never get through to him but she had to keep trying.
He very slowly reached out to gently brush his cheek. John tensed as she touched his face and remained frozen in wary watchfulness, afraid to move and make her mad again and prepared to take whatever punishment she meted out.
He blew out a nervous breath as she dropped her hand in defeat. He slowly relaxed as she once more put the car in gear and continued toward home.
Rosemary was frustrated…His first day of school and he’d already met with the same senseless bigotry he’d had to deal with before and it bothered even more that John casually accepted it. She’d hoped it would be different here as it had been when he’d lived in Duarte but then he’d been much younger and the other children had seen it as something cool instead of the cruelness of these older teenagers.
She guessed they were merely repeating what they’d heard from home and wondered how to let this town know just how much she loved her nephew...How proud she was of him. She’d have to think about that. She cast a glance at John, who remained as far from her as he could get and sighed. She was out of her league with the boy. Too much damage had been done and John quite probably would require professional help. She’d call Dr. Steinman when they got home and make the appointment. It would be the first of many.
John brushed past Edward when they returned home and retreated up the stairs to his room. The man’s eyes looked to Rosemary as she followed the young man inside but he knew it wasn’t his place to ask her what happened.
His eyes followed the fleeing teen until he disappeared from view before he closed the door. Rosemary was also watching her nephew but her green eyes turned to her loyal servant. “He got into a fight,” she said bluntly.
“I see that madam,” he replied drily.
“I guess a few boys ganged up on him…Said some pretty hateful things to him. John just defended himself.”
Edward nodded in understanding, grateful that she felt she could trust him enough to confide in him. He’d grown quite fond of the boy and the defiant spirit that he tried to keep hidden but was still alive and well behind a wall of indifference and the smothering blanket of fear. It flashed in those dark, wary eyes that the boy kept submissively lowered so it wouldn’t be readily seen but Edward would lay odds that it would eventually fight its way free.
“Did he hold his own madam?” He questioned with a grin of certainty.
Rosemary looked shocked for a moment before a smile curled her lips. “He certainly did,” she said proudly.
“Good for him then,” he mumbled as he headed toward the kitchen. Rose giggled and went to her office to make a phone call.
Mr. Pierce arrived a bit after three and began to set up as Edward went to get John. The boy shuffled resignedly into the room, hoping things would go better in this class than it had at school. At least he probably wouldn’t get beat up here.
“Good afternoon John, let’s get started shall…Oh dear,” he said in surprise, halting his own dialogue as he turned to face the teenager and noticed the discoloration on his cheek and the slight swelling around the eye. “What happened John?” He questioned gently. The boy shrugged but didn’t answer. The man sighed…The boy had no reason to trust him after all even if he was capable of trusting anyone at this point “Did you get into a fight or something?” The thin shoulders lifted in noncommittal indifference once again. Pierce gave it up. “Alright John…I know we started off a bit rocky but I hope someday you’ll be able to talk to me okay?”
The boy didn’t reply but turned toward the desk the older man had set up for him. Pierce spent some time going through John’s schedule and lesson books to see where they were at and nodded confidently. “Alright John…I don’t think we’ll have any problem getting you caught up…A couple of months or so and you’ll be fine,” he assured him.
John wasn’t sure about all of this yet but he knew if he was to achieve his dream than he’d have to work hard for it. That didn’t worry him…He’d worked hard his whole life. He cast a nervous glance at his teacher and the two of them got down to work.
Mr. Hadderly was patiently waiting for his turn when the tutor left and John blew out a tired breath and wondered if he’d ever have a moment to himself again but it would all be worth it if he could be a fire fighter someday.
The man’s eyebrows knotted together over his nose when he saw John’s face. His mouth set in angry resignation that the boy had once again suffered some kind of abuse. “What happened to you?” He questioned pointedly, wanting to know if it was something that had happened here or at school.
The dark eyes looked away evasively. “It was my ff…fault…,” he whispered. “I was cc…clumsy,” he stuttered. The lie came too easily for Rosemary who was standing in the doorway watching.
“He got into a fight at school but it wasn’t his fault,” she corrected as she came into the room. John spun around to face her in surprise. She came to him and rested her hand on his shoulder He shifted subtly away but she squeezed gently and he stood still. “It’s alright for you to tell the truth sweetie…you won’t get in trouble for it.”
John chewed his lip uncertainly. John wasn’t sure of anything anymore but he’d been covering up his injuries for so long now that it came naturally. He finally nodded, “Yes mm…ma’am,” he mumbled in confusion.
Hadderly noted the wary look and shook his head. Someone had certainly screwed up this kids head and he made up his mind on the spot to do everything in his power to be sure John spoke normally no matter how long it took.
The next few days at school were easier. John’s assailants were still on suspension and though he didn’t know it, Drew Burke’s intercession for him the previous day had placed him on the ‘off limits’ list for any other bully’s who might have been inclined to target the teen and John was left in peace.
He began to at least establish a routine though he remained withdrawn and solitary and for the most part remained oblivious to the stares of the teenage girls that followed in his wake as he passed them in the hallways.
His afternoons were filled with tutoring sessions, homework, and speech therapy where he did much better one on one. Edward had to leave the room on more than one occasion however as the beleaguered therapist had had his hands full trying to correct the formation of John’s mouth by pursing the boy’s lips only to have his hands slapped away by the irritated teen.
In the evenings, his Aunt expected him to make an appearance at the dinner table where her endeavors to teach her nephew table manners were often an exercise in futility.
John was quite capable of mimicking her but really didn’t see any need for all the pretense when all he wanted to do was eat. She often had to hold back her giggles at the eye rolls of frustration when she corrected his bad habits.
John was more than relieved when Saturday finally rolled around and he could escape the rules, the class room and the confines of the house and head out to the stables where he could visit Wind Song.
He’d expected to be denied the privilege because of the fight the first day but his aunt seemed to have forgotten it. He gladly slipped out the door early in the morning before she remembered the trouble he’d caused.
John wasted no time saddling the mare. He slipped the bridle on and mounted her bareback.
The stable manager Frank, smiled in wonder at the boy and the graceful way he sat the horse…Moving as one as they headed out of the paddock. The boy had been taught well.
John had been out for several hours exploring the low lying hills around the San Gabriel Mountains. He’d forded several small streams and just lost himself in the coolness of the February morning.
He gazed up at the colorful trees and craggy peaks that seemed to beckon him to climb higher and higher. He heaved a sigh…He’d have to come back and explore them another day when he didn’t have the horse to worry about.
He finally turned Wind Song back the way he’d come. They crossed a rather rocky stream bed. The mare hadn’t had any problem with the descent but John noticed a slight limping gate as she climbed the other side.
He pulled her up and quickly dismounted, moving around to inspect her right front hoof. “Easy girl,” he intoned softly as he lifted the foot she held up from the ground. His examination proved successful. The horses shoe had come loose and a small stone from the stream bed had become lodged between the hoof and the steel.
John sighed…It would be a long walk home but there was no way he was going to try and ride the animal in this condition.
A slight buzzing sound suddenly intruded and dark haired teen glanced around curiously for the source. It quickly grew louder and moment later a figure roared around a bend of the trail with the growl of the motor and clods of dirt and dust flying out from behind it.
Wind Song’s eyes rolled warningly at the screaming of the unfamiliar machine coming toward her and John would have been prepared if he’d been watching her instead of staring in fascination at the dirt bike.
The mare suddenly reared in fear, ripping the reins free of John’s grip…Her forehoof caught the boys arm and he spun away from the slashing feet, clutching at his arm in agony. “Oh Spirit,” he whispered as unbidden tears of pain flooded his eyes. He blinked them quickly away and turned back toward his horse.
Wind Song’s front feet hit the ground and the animal bolted and all John could do was watch her race off toward home without him.
The figure, dressed in blue denim suddenly realized the trouble he’d caused and brought his bike to a skidding stop next to John.
“Hey man…Are you alright?” A young muffled voice asked from behind the visor of his helmet.
John’s teeth were clenched against the burning pain in his arm but he lifted his hand away to check. Blood stained his fingers.
“Oh man,” the other boy muttered as he spotted the crimson liquid. He pulled his helmet free spilling out a head full of sandy blonde hair and revealing a handsome face about the same age as John’s. The blue eyes were full of concern as they scanned the dark hired boy. “I’m sorry…I didn’t mean to scare your horse. Are you okay?”
John nodded shortly as he began to roll up his sleeve to inspect the damage.
“Hey…Let me help you,” the boy offered, moving closer to the thin, dark haired teen.
John shook his head in the negative but the boy persisted and he heaved a sigh knowing he was about to be laughed at but he couldn’t refuse to talk forever.
“Nnno…It is Ooo…Kay,” John stuttered quietly.
The other boy’s eyebrows furrowed over his nose. He’d heard the gossip all around town and at school that Mrs. Hughes had nephew living with her now. Rumor had it that the kid had some kind of speech impairment and he wondered if this was him. He shrugged to himself…It didn’t matter to him one way or the other at this point. The boy was hurt and it was his fault, besides he seemed nice enough.
“You’re not fine…you’re bleeding,” he replied without missing a beat. John was surprised that he hadn’t seemed to notice the stutter. The blonde teen reached out to grip John’s arm but he pulled back out of reach.
The other boy raised his hands as if in surrender at the fearful reaction. “Hey man…I’m not gonna hurt you. I just wanna help.” He assured him. He’d noted the fading black and blue below his eye and remembered that the kid had been attacked by the schools resident bully squad on his first day. “Some welcome you received,” he muttered to himself. It was no small wonder the kid was nervous.
The blonde blew out a breath. “I just wanna see how bad it is.”
“It is fff…fine,” John insisted, backing away.
The blonde frowned again. What was wrong with this kid? “My names Gil…Gil Robinson,” he said, trying again.
It was John’s turn to frown uncertainly. This boy didn’t seem angry or aggressive and genuinely seemed to be trying to help. “Jjj…John Gage,” he finally replied softly.
“You’re Mrs. Hughes nephew right?” John nodded. “Cool…You’re goin to San Gabriel High?” John’s head bobbed once more in agreement. “So I’ll probably see ya around?” John shrugged but didn’t reply. “Look, that arms bleeding pretty bad,” he noted, seeing the blood dripping from between John’s fingers. “Let me give ya a ride home,” Gil offered, nodding toward his bike.
John chewed his lip as his dark eyes took in the motor bike. His first instinct was to refuse but his curiosity was peaked and he really wanted to try it. He finally nodded.
“Great…C’mon then,” then he said waving John toward it. Gil climbed on and kick started the motor. “Hop on,” he invited.
John carefully straddled the bike the seat behind the other boy. His eyes widened in delight as the Gil put the machine in gear and the two took off toward home.
Rosemary paced in front of the barn worriedly while Frank went to get his truck. One of the hired hands had just come to tell her that John’s horse had returned to the stable lame and alone.
She hoped John was alright…As good a rider as John was, she couldn’t imagine the horse throwing the boy so what could have happened?
She turned as Frank’s old Chevy rumbled up beside her. She was about to climb up beside him when the older man held up his hand to stop her. “Look Miss Rosemary,” he said pointing.
She turned to follow the direction of his finger and heaved a sigh of relief. A small motor bike was coming toward them at a rapid clip. She recognized the sable hair of her nephew as the dark locks waved in the wind.
The bike slowed as it grew closer and the driver brought it to gentle halt. “John…Are you alright?” She questioned worriedly as her green eyes scanned the boy for injuries.
John kept his arm carefully hidden as he stepped from the bike. “I am fff…fine Aunt Rosemary,” he replied as his eyes shifted away from her toward Wind Song standing a few feet away. “She ppp…Pulled up lame,” he told Frank. “Is sh…she okay?”
“She’ll be fine sir, he assured the worried teen. “How did she get away from you?” He asked.
“That was my fault,” the blonde teen finally spoke up. “My bike scared her and she split.”
“I see,” Rose said sounding relieved. She glanced toward John and noted his dark eyes were scanning the bike over with interest and she smiled. There were so many things John hadn’t experienced before and she wanted to give him everything he’d been previously denied. She turned her attention back to the blonde.
“Well thank you for giving him a ride home Mr. ...?” she let the sentence hang.
“Robinson ma’am…Gil Robinson. My dad works on your car for you,” he informed her. She nodded, though she truly had no idea who Edward took the cars to, to be serviced. “It was the least I could do since he got hurt cuz of me,” he finished.
John almost groaned aloud as his aunt gasped. “John…Are you injured?” She questioned anxiously as her green eyes looked him over searchingly.
“Iii…It is just a sss…scratch,” he replied quietly.
“It was bleeding pretty bad,” Gil corrected. John shot him a frown...The look was clear…It shouted ‘shut up’ silently.
“Let me see,” she demanded.
“It is nnn…nothing,” he insisted, well used to hiding injuries from his grandfather.
“RIGHT NOW John Roderick,” she insisted adamantly.
The teen sighed in resignation and rolled up his sleeve for her inspection.
Rose gasped in shock. A deep two inch long gash ran across his forearm and still oozed blood. Black and purple bruising discolored the surrounding tissue.
“Alright young man…It’s a trip to Dr. Forrester’s for you,” she said briskly as she gripped his arm and began to lead him toward the house.
“I…I do not nnn….need a ddd…doctor,” he stuttered as he tried to pull his arm free. “It hhh…has almost st…stopped bleeding,” he finished with a shrug of unconcern. He most especially didn’t want to have to see a doctor and cause her more expense and another problem so soon after the fight at school.
Rosemary blew out a frustrated breath, not understanding how John couldn’t see that a wound this deep was a cause for concern. She had no idea that it would have been totally ignored by his own people and regarded as unimportant.
“John…You need to see a doctor. That could easily become infected,” she insisted, refusing to release his arm. “Thank you Mr. Robinson for bringing him home…”
“Bbb…but Aunt Rrr…rose,” he stammered uselessly as she pulled him along beside her. She never slowed down and John shot a final look over his shoulder at Gil.
“Th…Thank you Ggg…Gil,” he called back, meaning it in more ways than one. The other boy hadn’t laughed at him, taunted him or called him names. He’d been genuinely nice and had given him a ride home on the bike.
“No problem…Hey…Maybe I’ll see you at school Monday.”
John looked a little shocked that the other boy sounded almost hopeful about the idea.
A small smile almost slipped free. “O…Okay,” he agreed as the dark eyes turned once more toward the bike.
Rosemary caught the interested glance and stopped momentarily. “Mr. Robinson? Could you teach John to ride that?” She asked, glancing at the motorbike.
Her nephew’s chocolate colored eyes widened at the suggestion and then hope flared as he looked toward his new friend. He worried his lower lip with his teeth as he waited for the other boys reply.
“Yes ma’am…That wouldn’t be a problem.”
“Good…Then John will let you know on Monday when he’ll be able to ride. Come along John,” she finished as she steered the dark haired boy toward the house.
John threw the blonde boy an embarrassed eye roll and reluctantly allowed his aunt to drag him along behind her.
Gil grinned and set his helmet in place. John heard the bike rev to life behind him and roar away.
Rose sat him down in the hallway and told him to wait. She returned a moment later with her purse. A few minutes later they were in the car on their way to the hospital. “Edward is calling the doctor. He’ll meet us there,” she informed him.
John sighed in resignation…He wasn’t looking forward to the needles he feared were coming his way over this.
He was right. Eight stitches and a tetanus shot later they returned home. John shot his aunt a sulky glare from beneath lowered lashes as he rubbed his sore arm and retreated up the stairs.
Rose waited until he was out of ear shot before she let the gurgle of laughter slip free.
Edward cocked an amused eyebrow at his employer, glad that John seemed to be able to make her laugh again.
“He really hates needles,” she quipped. “I was afraid they’d have to tie him down to give him a tetanus shot.” Edward grinned as she continued. “As it was, they needed a couple of burly nurses to hold him down.”
Edward’s chuckle joined hers. He understood completely the struggle they must have engaged in. John was near to impossible to hang onto even as thin and small as he was.
She turned to walk away but stopped suddenly…She spun back around. “I’ll need you to come with me Monday after John goes to school,” she informed him.
“Yes ma’am,” he agreed looking a little curious. Rose usually drove John to school herself. His chauffeuring duties had ended when Master Geoffrey had died and Joshua and Tiffany had gone back to school.
“I’m buying John one of those motorized bikes,” she explained with a grin. “And I’ll need some help.”
Edward smiled. “I’m sure he’ll like that Madam.”
She nodded, hoping it would pave the way to a new friendship that might bring the boy out of his shell. John also had an appointment with Dr. Steinman in the afternoon and she hoped he’d be able to diagnose John’s problem and give her a solution to the odd behavior her nephew sometimes exhibited.
She knew John would be unhappy about it and hoped the gift would keep him from staying upset too long.
By dinner time, John seemed to have forgiven her for hauling him to the emergency room. He remained quiet but that was normal for him. She was grateful that his stomach overruled his stubborn nature and he joined her for dinner.
By the next day, he was back at the stable with Wind Song, though he refrained from riding in deference to her sore hoof.
Gil sat at dinner with his parents. “So what have you been up to this weekend?” His father asked him between bites of pot roast.
“Just out on the bike,” he replied absently, like most normal teenagers. Paul sighed at the rather vague answer and Gil grinned. “I did meet this new kid. He seems pretty cool.”
“Oh? What’s his name?”
“John...John Gage. He’s Mrs. Hughes nephew.
“Oh yeah…I heard about him coming to live with her,” he replied frowning.
“I uh…Spooked his horse with my bike yesterday but he was cool about it even though he got hurt.”
Paul groaned aloud. “Great,” he muttered.
“What?” Gil asked frowning.
“I just lost a customer,” his father answered.
“Nah…I gave him a ride home and she wasn’t mad at me either. She’s really nice.”
“Well…We don’t exactly run around in the same circles as the Hughes family, so don’t get upset if that friendship gets the boot,” his father warned.
“I don’t think so dad…John doesn’t seem like Joshua and Tiffany,” He said looking disgusted and remembering the one time he’d met the two arrogant teenagers…They’d barely looked at him much less acknowledged his existence as they’d waited for the flat tire on Joshua’s car to be repaired.
Gil’s brows knotted over the bridge of his nose in concentration as he thought of John.
“What is it honey?” His mother Christy asked.
“I don’t know…He seems really shy and quiet and he stutters some.”
Paul nodded. “I’d heard that rumor around town. Apparently the boy’s half Indian and he was raised on a reservation somewhere.”
“Far out,” Gil said excitedly.
Paul and Christy grinned proudly that their son didn’t show the same bigoted mentality that some of the other people in this town did. Paul continued. “I guess he’s had it pretty rough there so I’m sure it’s a pretty big culture shock for him here.”
“Probably and he talks kinda funny,” Gil admitted.
Paul frowned at the comment. “You mean the stutter?” He questioned disapprovingly.
“Oh no dad…I’m cool with that…But he talks real stilted…Proper…You know like ‘do not’ instead of ‘don’t’ like we do ya know?”
Paul grinned. “Probably because he was taught to speak English as a second language,” he explained. “He speaks it without the slang and conjunctions.”
“Oh,” Gil replied, looking thoughtful.
“You’re not picking on him about it are you?”
“No sir…I figure I’ll teach him to talk like a Californian.”
His parents grinned. “You think he’ll be okay with that?”
“Yeah…I’m gonna introduce him to Cathy and Mary Lynn tomorrow…They’ll help and they’ll be cool too. Mary Lynn REALLY wants to meet him so she’ll be anxious to help teach him,” Gil teased with a grin.
“Let’s hope the young man is REALLY happy to meet her,” his father said with a laugh.
“I think he’ll be cool…His aunt asked me to teach him to ride my bike,” he added.
His parents looked surprised. Apparently Gil was correct and the boy didn’t have the same high and mighty opinion of himself as his arrogant cousin’s displayed.
“Just don’t make a pest of yourself with Mrs. Hughes,” his father warned.
“I won’t dad…I just think John could use a friend.”
“Good…We’re really proud of you,” Paul said quietly.
“Thanks Dad,” he answered with a smile.
Rose dropped John off at school the next morning. It was something that she could have had Edward do but between school, tutoring and speech therapy she had almost no time with John. She chose to do this herself just to have an opportunity to draw her troubled nephew into a conversation but the boy remained withdrawn and quiet unless she forced the issue. She suspected the teen was always too afraid to say the wrong thing and make her angry again.
She pulled to a stop in front of the building and John opened the door. She reached out to touch his arm…He shifted subtly away but turned to look at her, the dark eyebrow rising questioningly.
“Please don’t be late after school sweetie…We have an appointment.” John shot her a wary glance from beneath lowered lashes. “It’s a doctor,” she explained at the look he gave her.
He frowned at that. He wasn’t sick and his arm was healing fine…What did he need another doctor for?
“Www…Why?” He questioned hesitantly.
“It’s nothing to worry about Háahketa,” she assured him, seeing the ‘deer in the headlights’ look he gave her.
John chewed his lip nervously and Rose was afraid she might have made a mistake in warning him…Worried he might run again.
“John it’s nothing to be afraid of, I promise you alright?”
He heaved a sigh of resignation…So far she hadn’t lied to him and he really had no other option. He nodded his acquiescence as he climbed from the car.
John found a quiet table at lunch time as he usually did, preferring to eat alone and avoid the smirks and snickers at his stutter.
Someone suddenly set a tray on the table close to him and John tensed nervously, afraid his former antagonizers had returned to finish the fight.
He threw a glance at the person sliding into the chair beside him and breathed a sigh of relief as he recognized Gil.
“Hey John,” he greeted with a grin. “Mind if we sit here?” He asked nodding toward the two girls settling into the seats across from them. John gave them a wary glance but shrugged indifferently. “Thanks…This I my girlfriend Cathy and her friend Mary Lynn,” he added.
John gave them a brief nod and a shy look from beneath the long black lashes. “Hi John,” Mary Lynn gushed brightly. “I asked Gil if he’d introduce me to you.”
John knew he couldn’t stay silent forever and blew out a resigned breath as he thought back to his therapy session with Hadderly and concentrated before he spoke. “W…Why?” He finally mumbled with only a minor stumble.
She giggled a bit at the innocently voiced question. “Because I think you’re cute…So when Gil told Cathy he met you Saturday morning I asked her to ask him to introduce me to you.”
John’s face flushed crimson at the open admission but still couldn’t understand why the girl would want to meet him. John didn’t see himself as good looking or anything else appealing to a young woman, though apparently they did. He threw the girl another glance. She was quite attractive…Different than Elise but still pretty.
“Anyway,” Cathy picked up the story to relieve the awkward moment. “We saw you sitting all alone and thought you could use some company.”
John seldom needed or wanted company…He was always wary around others…Afraid of slipping and saying the wrong thing or resigned to the laughter that followed his stutter.
He’d been working with Hadderly for a couple of weeks now and there was some improvement but not enough yet to speak normally in a long conversation.
He shrugged once more and looked down at his lunch without replying. The two girls glanced at Gil curiously.
He already knew that John had been harassed by some of the other students and understood the other boy’s reluctance to speak in front of them. He’d already told Cathy and Mary Lynn but he couldn’t tell John that without embarrassing him.
“So how’s your arm?” Gil asked curiously.
John shot him a frustrated look. He couldn’t answer with a nod or shake of the head. He had to speak. “Eight st….stitches,” he stuttered quietly before tugging at his lip as he waited for the snickering to start but the girls didn’t seem to notice.
“Oh…? What happened?” Mary Lynn questioned in concern, trying to get the handsome young man to talk to her.
John shot a hopeful look at Gil, silently praying that he’d jump in and answer the question so he wouldn’t have to but the blonde took a bite of his lunch and stayed silent. John sighed but he couldn’t find any way to avoid answering.
“Mmm…My horse ccc…clipped me with hhh….her hoof,” he explained shortly, amost cringing in embarrassment.
“I spooked her with my bike,” Gil finally added, having won this round in forcing John to speak.
“Oh how awful…I’m glad you weren’t seriously hurt,” she gushed, leaning toward him. John’s dark eyes lifted to meet hers. He gave her a small grateful smile that she showed no signs of the mocking laughter he’d expected to see.
The girl sighed dreamily at the crooked grin and chocolate colored eyes that gazed back at her.
“Oh gosh,” she breathed.
John frowned in confusion at the exclamation while Gil and Cathy giggled at their friend’s reaction.
Mary Lynn shot them a glare but regained her senses. She had the shy, handsome boy on the string…She just needed to reel him in. “Is your horse okay?” She asked him with an interested grin.
John finally pulled his gaze away from the pretty blonde girl. “She is fff…fine,” he replied, returning his attention to his lunch
She sighed…He was too shy but she wasn’t one to give up easily. “Maybe you could take me riding some time?” She hinted less than subtly.
John shrugged. “I g…guess,” he mumbled uncertainly.
She was pushing him and John couldn’t understand why she’d want to ride with him.
“When?” She pressed. Now that she had a commitment she wasn’t about to back off and let him off the hook.
“Uh…Um…Sss…Saturday?” He suggested, knowing his afternoons were all full of classes and therapy.
“Alright…I’ll be there. What time?”
John looked suddenly panicked at the girl’s aggressive behavior but he was trapped. What had he gotten himself into? “Uh…Uh…Nine?” He replied.
“I’ll be there.” She sat back with a satisfied grin. She was quite pleased to be the first of her friends to snag a date with the handsome newcomer.
Gil and Cathy saw the nervous look on the boys face and took pity on him. “Hey maybe Cathy and I could come too and then I can teach you to ride my bike,” he suggested with a grin.
John almost pounced on the idea but then frowned hesitantly. “I…I have to ask mmm…my aunt,” he said uncertainly. She might not want all these strangers around her horses. They weren’t his property after all.
“That’s cool man…Just tell us tomorrow.”
“Cool…?” John questioned with a frown. He thought it seemed a little warm to him.
The girls giggled and Gil grinned. “That means ‘it’s alright’ and we’ll wait till you ask.”
“Oh,” he murmured, blushing in embarrassment.
“Relax man,” Gil teased. “We’re not laughing at you just with ya.” John shot him a wary glance as the blonde continued. “We’ll teach ya to talk like a native Californian,” he promised.
John gave him a slight crooked smile and nodded at his new friends.
Rosemary and Edward spent the morning shopping for a motor bike for John. Neither of them knew exactly what they were looking for and turned to the middle aged owner of the lot.
He led them to a bike that he promised that her nephew would be sure to love and be able to handle since it as his first one.
Rose paid the man and he promised it would be delivered by Wednesday.
Rose and Edward were at the school when classes let out. She had decided to bring the servant along in case there was any trouble with John and the doctor. She’d seen too many of John’s frightened reactions to stress and planned to be prepared if it happened again.
John slid into the backseat next to his aunt, casting her a curious glance at Edwards presence behind the wheel.
“I thought it would be easier for us to chat if Edward was driving.”
John shrugged…He wasn’t sure what she wanted to chat about but he had something he needed to ask her. He hoped she wouldn’t be angry at him for asking to use her property or having people over to the house.
She noticed the hesitant look he was giving her and frowned. “What is it sweetie?” She asked, thinking he was worried about the doctor’s appointment.
“A…Aunt Rosemary…?” He began nervously.
“Is something wrong?”
John took a deep breath and plunged in hoping the worst that would happen was that she’d say no. “Can I…Um…Www…would t be okay…Ccc…can I take some people rrr…riding Sss…Saturday?” He finally managed to get out.
“Ggg…Gil and his t…two friends,” he stuttered.
She smiled, glad that John seemed to finally be making friends and hoped that the surprise she’d purchased earlier would help pave the way as well.
John followed his aunt into the doctor’s office...His dark eyes casting anxious glances about him. This place didn’t look like any doctors office he’d ever seen before.
The young woman at the desk smiled as they approached. “Can I help you?” She questioned.
“We’re here to see Dr. Steinman.”
The woman nodded and picked up the phone. A moment later an older, gray haired man stepped from another room. “Mrs. Hughes…How nice to meet you,” he greeted offering his hand. She shook it and turned to John. The brown eyes wary as the man turned his attention to him. “This must be John?” He inquired as he reached to shake the boys hand as well.
John stepped back and regarded him for a long moment. “AHEM,” Rose cleared her throat.
John understood the wordless rebuke and shook the hand being held out to him.
“It’s nice to meet you John,” Steinman said observing the young man closely…His gray eyes taking in the hesitant mannerisms and the evasive dark eyes that looked everywhere but at him. “Why don’t we step into my office,” he offered, sweeping his hand toward the door.
Rose ushered a reluctant John in ahead of her. He shuffled hesitantly toward the chair wondering why he was here. He didn’t have long to wait.
“John why don’t you sit on the couch…Mrs. Hughes,” he added, indicating the overstuffed chair close by.
The teen paused uncertainly before sitting nervously on the edge of the sofa. He cast a guarded look toward his aunt before he folded his hands in his lap and waited.
“John…your aunt tells me you have some issues that she’d like me to help you resolve.”
The dark eyes shot toward Rosemary. What did that mean? John shook his head.
“She says you don’t like people to touch you…Is that true?”
John’s eyes were locked on the floor. What had she told him? How much did they know about what his uncle’s…Especially his Uncle George had done to him? His Aunt Lacee? John licked his lips nervously but shook his head again, refusing to answer.
“John..I can’t help you if you won’t talk to me.”
He wanted to shout that no one could help him. No one would ever be able to heal the hurt…The fear…The guilt and the shame of what had happened to him. The pain his Uncle George had inflicted on him had killed his soul.
Rose watched her nephew worriedly as the long slim fingers began to rub together absently.
John shook his head again. He felt her eyes on him and became afraid that she’d try and force him to tell them what had happened. He couldn’t do that…He could never tell anyone. Why couldn’t they just leave him alone?
They all wanted him to remember and all he wanted to do was forget. How could she do this to him? He’d just begun to trust her and she’d betrayed him…
He began a slow rock as his breaths grew rapid. Gray began to edge in along with the rapidly growing anxiety. Rosemary recognized the warning signs as the dark eyes began to lose focus.
“Oh God John…NO,” she gasped as she shot from her chair and reached for the teen.
John pushed at her hands agitatedly and the doctor’s eyes widened as she forcibly wrapped her arms around the teenager. John arched backward, twisting frantically as his anger grew at her refusal to release him.
Dr. Steinman finally came around the desk as Rosemary was pulled from the couch and sank to the floor still holding the boy.
He reached to help her but she shook her head. “You’ll only…make it worse,” she gasped.
Steinman backed away but quickly picked up the phone. “I need Diazepam stat,” he barked before hanging the instrument up. He continued to watch the struggle for a long moment until the nurse ran in with the requested medication.
He snatched the syringe from her hand and knelt next to the two thrashing figures. He plunged the needle into the boys arm before Rosemary could stop him.
John’s resistance finally grew weaker and then ceased as he sank into oblivion.
“You didn’t need to do that,” she panted breathlessly.
“He was out of control Mrs. Hughes.”
“No he wasn’t…He’s done this before and he always comes out of it on his own,” she argued as she cradled her nephew against her.
The nurse remained standing, wide eyed in surprise. She’d never seen anyone do that before.
“I think we should admit him for testing,” Steinman advised the elegant woman seated on the floor still holding the sleeping teenager.
Rose shook her head. “I don’t think a hospital would help him,” she replied.
“I didn’t mean a regular hospital Mrs. Hughes,” the man clarified. “I don’t believe there’s anything physically wrong with him…I meant my hospital.”
Rosemary’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “My nephew is not in need of a Psychiatric hospital,” she growled as she brushed the sable locks from the sleeping boys face. “He’s not crazy.”
“Well that’s what we need to determine.”
“I already have,” she snapped.
“He could hurt you…,” he began but Rose halted him with a glare.
“John would never hurt anyone,” she said with certainty as she hugged the boy to her. He’d already been through so much…She wouldn’t let this man lock him up and turn him into a guinea pig. “My nephew has been abused and traumatized but he’s as sane as you and I.”
“Mrs. Hughes,” he argued condescendingly. “I’m a Psychiatrist…I have a PhD…”
“I don’t need a degree to know you can’t help my nephew…That’s very clear.” She looked up at the nurse. “Please ask my driver to step in here. His name is Edward and he’s waiting in the car,” she added, glad that she’d decided to bring the man along.
The nurse nodded and left.
“I’d advise against this…The boy would benefit from several drug therapy programs that would keep him calm and manageable.”
Rose looked at him in shock. “You haven’t even diagnosed him and you want to put him on some drug therapy program?” She asked, looking appalled.
The doctor drew himself up huffily. “John is showing several signs of schizophrenia,” he informed her as the door opened and the nurse returned with Edward.
The man gasped in shock to find his employer on the floor with the unconscious teenager in her lap. “Ma’am?” He questioned in concern.
“John had one of those seizures,” she explained. “Dr. Steinman saw fit to sedate him.”
“I see,” he replied, correctly reading the disgusted tone in his bosses’ voice. He certainly didn’t approve of the man’s methods but it wasn’t his place to say so. “I’ll take him to the car Miss Rosemary,” he offered as he squatted beside them and lifted the teenager in his arms.
“I once again strenuously advise you to admit him into my clinic,” Steinman warned her as Rose climbed to her feet.
Edward shot her a worried look…Surely Miss Rose wouldn’t consider locking the young master up in some hospital. He breathed a sigh relief as she replied.
“I’m taking John home…I’ll find another doctor that CAN help him instead of drugging him. We won’t be back.”
She turned and opened the door for Edward to carry the boy out.
To John’s dismay and Rosemary’s disappointment…Steinman wouldn’t be the last doctor unable to help them. He was only the first of many.
Continued in part 10
Posted to Site 12/31/12
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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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