by Susan J. King

JD Dunne Challenge Scene #2

JD had taken to going for a ride everyday. It was his way of escaping; the only time he was allowed to be alone to think. Something was wrong and none of his friends knew what was upsetting him.

The others had all noticed that JD seemed somber and distant, but even more worrisome was how quiet he had become. Every time someone asked him what was wrong, JD would only say, "I'm fine". He no longer was the bundle of energy that they'd grown accustomed to, they didn't even know if it was a physical problem or emotional, but no one could force him to talk or let Nathan check him out. . . no matter how hard Buck and Nathan tried.

When Josiah found out about these daily rides, he decided that this was the perfect time for him to approach JD. The others wouldn't be around and so, maybe, just maybe, JD might be more open to discussing whatever was bothering him. Josiah had always had a soft spot for JD; he was old enough to be the young man's father. But it wasn't until JD had accidentally shot an innocent young woman that these paternal feelings were revealed for the others to see. Sure, he had given JD some 'courting' advice, but it wasn't until JD decided to leave town, that Josiah realized the depth of his feelings for this young man.

JD can't keep this up. . . none of us can. Something's wrong and I think it's time to find out exactly what it is.

+ + + + + + +

Toby knew the way by now, he'd taken the same path five days running, down to the stream and the pastures beyond. JD sighed, leaning against the saddle horn and stared out across the river valley. He shook his head. Sure was different to where he'd grown up.

Sunrise caressed the horizon, JD swung a leg in front of him, settled and steady, taking in the beauty of it all. Days like this he remembered walks in the awaking grounds, horses snorting when they realised breakfast and morning exercise was on the way.

He wasn't allowed to ride more than one poor beast, scrawny and gangly, but he had taught himself well enough, encouraging the best from the young animal.

He'd been seventeen when they sold the horse on - trained better than any of the household had hoped for. After that he was reduced to watching the family at the manor ride their own mounts, envy their freedom and grace.

Out here there were no big houses, no stables, no big streets with big stores and big things in he could never hope to afford. Small smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. As much as he loved Four Corners, there were times he missed the noise and the smells and the sights of Boston.

Below him the river bubbled over rocks and spiralled down miniature falls, gentle sound embracing the morning air. Cool water called to him, but he wasn't in the mood for swimming. Instead he climbed from Toby's back and walked out towards the water's edge.

He smiled, remembering Casey's words: "best fishing in the whole damn territory!" Well, he had to say he couldn't prove her wrong.

Climbing the small rise, he found himself on a rock overhang, river below partially hidden by the rude tongue. Collecting up a handful of small pebbles, he tossed them one at a time into the river, watching them bounce from half hidden rocks, or splash into cool clear pools, each of them disappearing into cold depths.

Finally, wiping hands on the butt of his trousers, he settled beside the river, rock cool and smooth in the coming day.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah watched the youngster as he settled on the rocky overhang. He had been a worry to the other lawmen for a few days now, the JD they knew so well seemed to have disappeared and this stranger now sat amongst them.

He wasn't exactly sullen, the preacher wasn't sure the boy had it in him to be sullen, but instead of the exuberant, out going young lawmen that couldn't sit still for more than five minutes, he'd become quiet, contemplative, preferring his own company rather than that of his friends. Not even Buck could get a rise out of him and that had the knock on affect of dampening the big cowboy's spirits too.

Now, as he watched from aback the blazed chestnut, Josiah saw JD pull something from his pocket; a small square of card, wrinkled and worn, and at last an idea began to form.

Climbing down, he made his way towards the seated figure - not making any particular effort at stealth, but so engrossed was the youngster that JD didn't hear his approach.

The card was a photograph - a dark haired, dark eyed young woman with a lacy shawl across her shoulders and a babe in her arms.

Josiah tilted his head slightly as he watched for his companion's reaction, quiet voice carrying on the morning breeze.

"She's a pretty lady JD."

JD span, startled, hand going to his gun belt as he almost lost his seating on the jutting rock. Seeing the preacher stationed behind him, hands raised in acquiescence, he lowered the gun and sighed.

"Damn it Josiah!" He clutched at his chest. "Why do you guys do that to a person?"

Josiah shrugged, dead pan. "Like to see how high you can jump I guess."

JD shook his head, reholstering the pistol. "One day I ain't gonna be able to stop myself in time, what y' gonna do then?"

"Then I'll meet my maker in heaven and apologise for being a might early." The preacher tilted his head again to get a better look at the photograph still clutched in the young man's hand.

"That you she's got a hold of there, JD?"

JD looked slightly embarrassed, but nodded. "Yeah, I guess." He shrugged. "Never had no brothers nor sisters." Smile grew nostalgic, wistful as he took in the youthful face before him. "I remember that shawl. Smelled of violets; ma's favourite perfume. Always smelled so pretty."

Josiah nodded. "Flower of love."

He watched as JD continued to stare at the picture, then saw the bright eyes dim.

"It's all I got left of her," JD's voice cracked a little as he continued, "but it's fading away, Josiah. Soon I won't have anything left to remind me of her." He looked at Josiah, pain deep in his expressive eyes. "When that's gone, how m' I gonna remember her? Her face - sometimes I have to look at this because I'm forgetting her, she's disappearing from my mind."

Josiah saw the tears brim and threaten to fall, a boy missing his mother.

"You don't need a picture to remember her by, JD." Soft voice reached into the boy's soul. "All you have to do is look in the mirror to see those same dark eyes lookin' back at you; same gentle curls in the same dark hair. And when you smile JD, she smiles with you." He reached out, squeezing the young man's shoulder as the tears began to fall. "She'll always be with you JD, in your heart."

JD wiped at the tears, feeling a little foolish, but knowing that the preacher would understand. "I miss her, you know. It was just her and me for a long time, as long as I can remember, then suddenly - it was just me." Tears ran again, fingers brushing them away as they fell. "I was scared Josiah, more scared than I've ever been." Voice choked a little as he went on, looking away, unable to meet Josiah's eye. "All alone, Josiah, I'm the only family I got now."

Compassion poured from the older man, his face soften at JD's obvious pain. "Now son," he ducked his head forcing JD to meet his gaze, "I don't think that's rightly true, do you? Not now anyhow." He smiled. "I know at least one person back in town who's been broodin' about you for days - Miss Ellie walked right past him yesterday evenin' and he didn't even notice he was so worried about you."

JD sniffed, sleeve wiping at wet face. "Buck ignored Miss Ellie?"

Josiah nodded. "As God is my witness it's true."

"He's been after her for months!" He frowned, a little unsure. "He's been worried about me?"

"We all have son, an' if Chris' mood gets any darker......well the Lord only knows what will happen."

JD baulked at a little at that idea. "Chris is mad at me?"

Josiah grinned slowly, shaking his head. "Naw, you know Chris - when he's worried he gets mad, when he's sad he gets mad; only time he don't get mad is when he's happy, an' then not always." He watched JD go paler still and he schooled his features. "Best come in now 'fore he comes ahuntin' for y'."

JD swallowed noisily, then nodded. "Yeah, okay, that's probably a good idea." He pulled his hat from his head, moving it around in his hands before looking back up at the priest. "Thanks."

Josiah spread his hands wide, moving back over to his horse. "If I can't bring peace of mind to members of my congregation, then what kind of man of God am I?"

JD grinned. "An ornery one." He watched as Josiah mounted and turned bright eyes up to him. "I'll follow y' in, Josiah, just got a few words to say to my mama."

"Fair nuff," the preacher agreed, then nodded towards an outcropping of rocks just behind the youngster. "I got a feelin' your ma got a few words to say to you too."

JD frowned, glancing behind him, then back up at Josiah. The preacher shrugged, and JD turned and moved over to the rocks as indicated. What he saw made his heart flutter, turning back to speak of his surprise to Josiah, only to find the other man gone.

Turning back he knelt, sad smile coming to his face, eyes bright with love and unshed tears.

"Love y' mama," he whispered, reaching forward to touch the soft leaves and fragrant flowers, "see you next year."

Straightening he went back to Toby, intent on making it up to his friends back in town. At the rock formation the small purple flowers shivered in the breeze.