Author's Notes: I started writing this several months ago, but had no plans to post until just recently. Blame Cindy Combs for introducing me to the fandom, and thanks to Mog for the ATF AU.
Warnings: First Person POV and since the POV is Vin's, so is the voice, and the spelling/grammar. References to sex (off camera). Definite OFC. My first finished Mag 7 fic - although I dabble in other sandboxes. Be kind, still learning.
Disclaimer: Just playing. Not my characters, and all I get is a deep sense of satisfaction.
When I was fifteen and livin' on the street, the US Army looked like a mighty fine prospect. They'd house me, feed me, clothe me an' pay me. Git me offa the street once an' fer all. They' d teach me too, skills that'd help me git a job after, and alla that looked mighty fine ta me. Mighty fine. My goal was to enlist, soon 's I hit eighteen. Talked ta a recruiter when I turned sixteen, an' he told me I hadta git my high school diploma. Almost quit that dream right there. Couldn't hardly read a'tall. Oh I could pick m' way through but it took a long time, an' I knew I couldn't keep up with a class. M' writin' was hard ta make sense of the little schoolin' I did get all m' teachers despaired of m' writin'.
But I ain't ever been a quitter, an' so I enrolled in high school. Gave 'em a fake address, and kept m'self to m'self. I chose the most crowded school in the city so's they wouldn't look too far to try an' find m' records. I was plopped inta class as a junior, since that's what I'd be if I had been goin' to school non-stop. I hadn't seen the inside of a classroom since I was thirteen and finally ran from the abusive bastard that was the latest in a long line of abusive or neglectful foster homes. He were the last, too. I ran as far as I could first chance I got, and settled in Denver. I liked it. Got real cold in winter, but it's a good city. And there was Purgatorio. Most folks look at Purgatorio and see a slum. Run down buildings tagged with gang sign evr'where.
But they's good people in Purgatorio, too. And Mama Marie is one 'a the best. She fed me for months an' in exchange, I did fix up work around her apartment and buildin'. It' s the same buildin' I live in now. I lived on barter. When ya live on the street an' care ta keep livin', ya got a list o' priorities. Food first, clothes, then roof. Roof weren' t all that necessary 'cept in the dead o' winter. Clothes I scrounged from dust bins and missions and the Salvation Army. But food cost money less I wanted ta start divin' in dumpsters fer it make no mistake, I done that a time 'r two but... Other'n what I could get in missions and what I got in barter from folks like Mama Marie a 'course. I preferred barter. Felt like I was payin' somehow fer what I got. Didn't like takin' no handouts I did when I hadta, but I didn't like it none.
So livin' on the street, an' goin' ta school was hard. But at least I could get in early ta wash up. Janitors opened th' school at six am fer the athletes jist 'cause a school's overcrowded, don' mean it didn't have a sports program. Mostly basketball, cross country runnin', like that. Sports that don't need much in the way of space or equipment. Even a swim team, 'cause the city pool was jist down the street. I got there early even earlier than th' runners 'r swimmers so's I could shower. I kept a fresh washed set a' clothes in m' locker. Most days m' locker held clothes that was dryin' from the hand washin' I gave 'em in the boy's locker room 'fore anyone else got ta school. That locker, with a lock on it, usually held most evr'thin' I owned. I kept a comb there, an' toothpaste and toothbrush, shampoo when I could git it, an' soap. I loved the clean feelin'. Near three years on the street I was used ta bein' kinda grungy. Clean was a luxury. I got kinda spoiled from the near-daily hot water showers. I still think hot water showers 'r up there with the best that can be had in this life. Don't hold with none 'a the stuff Ez believes is luxury. Bein' clean, warm 'n fed is still the best feelin' there is, fer me.
Back then, the school work was hard fer me. Almost three years away from any a' that an' I was barely keepin' m' head above a d-minus average. Got better when I got placed inta Mz. Nettie' s Junior English Lit class. Nothin' ever got past Mz. Nettie Wells. She' s been teachin' longer' n I been alive, an' she knew lookin' at me I didn' t have nobody ta look out fer me a' tall. She only let me drift for a week or so b' fore she cracked down on my school work.
When I entered th' class in October, already a month behind, they' s readin' Homer "The Odyssey." Man! What an eye opener. Mz. Wells' d read long passages in class, an' most o' the other kids'd bitch an' complain they didn' understand. Not me. I loved the words comin' out o' her mouth, paintin' whole murals with her voice. War, love, death, adventure. It was all there epic poetry it was a ... revelation. Yeah. A revelation, that fits. As much as I loved hearin' it, I hated readin' it. Those same elegant words that fell outta Mz. Wells' mouth tripped me up awful when I tried ta read it m'self. After the first test, when I could only answer the questions to the bits she' d read in class, I think Mz. Wells knew I didn' read good. She set me up with a library carrel an' a tape recorder an' gave me recordin' s instead a' books. Ain't it amazin'? They got people ta read books out loud and they put 'em on cassettes so folks like me c'n listen to 'em an keep up with th' class.
Ever' afternoon I went ta the library and listened to the books fer class. The librarian was a real nice lady, and she helped me find other recordin' s to fit m' other classes. I've always been good at math, so that weren't no big deal, long as I could see the numbers right. She got me a special kinda math text that had big clear printin' in it. Used fer those that didn't see too good. Weren't perfect, but I wasn't lookin' fer perfect. Jist tryin' ta git by was good 'nough fer me. Between Mz. Wells an' that librarian, well I got by real good.
Mz. Wells let me have extra time with the written tests, an' she let me ask questions 'bout what words meant when ta anyone else she woulda tol' them ta look it up themselves. I never could find words in the dictionary.
Leastways, not then. Learned some since then, things that help now. I didn' know I' s dyslexic then. I jus' thought I' s stupid. Not survival stupid I'd been on the street long 'nough ta know I could take care o' m'self, but book learnin' stupid. Slowly, Mz. Wells got me used ta the idea I wasn' t stupid. I just saw stuff diff' rent from lots o' folks. She found out that I could read easier when I' s lookin' through a bit o' colored plastic. Didn' fix th' problem, but it helped some. Then she taught me other tricks ta help with m' readin' and writin' .
Still use some o' those tricks to this day. Computers make it right easy on me, an' the reports we need ta fill out after evr' case are the same format. Memorized it in m' first two weeks on the job. Only gotta fill in the descriptions and actions mine an' other people's. That takes some time, but I fill 'em out real careful. Got Chris or Ez to check 'em over when I'm done. Learned a lot more 'bout language an' grammar from Ez over the last coupla years.
Final project fer that English class junior year was one we did in pairs. I kept m' self ta m' self, 'cept when Mz. Nettie was helpin' me out, so I didn' t have no friends ta pair up with. Didn' matter none though, 'cause Mz. Nettie made up the pairs. She said she was tired o' the same people workin' t' gether all the time, and this time it weren' t gonna happen. She paired me with this girl little girl. An' I mean little she weren' t no taller than five feet, and tiny. I coulda spanned her waist with my hands, an' m' fingers woulda met an' overlapped round her back. Made me feel like an awkward giant next ta her, an' at that time I' s small fer m' age. Her name was Rose, and she had the biggest dark brown eyes, warm, toasted brown skin, an' long chestnut brown hair. I found out later she was mostly Native American, only in the city ta go ta school. Rose Red Hawk. My Rose Red Hawk.
Rose was the smartest person I' d ever met. An' she didn' seem ta mind bein' paired with me. We spent long afternoons holed up in th' library, talkin' and workin' on our project. She was an artist. She always had coal dust on her fingers and clothes, an' at first I thought she' s livin' hard, like me, but I found out it' s just from the charcoal n' pencils she did her drawin' s with. Her sketchpad was filled with people she knew or saw on the street. She was livin' with an older cousin durin' the school year, and with her legal guardian, her grandfather, durin' the summer. She tol' me that summers were her fav' rite time. She an' her grandfather would spend the whole summer livin' off the land as he taught her 'bout the old days. He featured in most a' her pictures.
At the end a' school she went off ta live in the wilds with her grandfather, an' I had my summer on th' streets o' Purgatorio, workin' round the neighborhood an' barterin' for food, keepin' outta sight of the small but powerful gangs. Not powerful like they is t'day, but I was livin' a lot closer to 'em then than I am now, and they was plenty powerful ten-'leven years ago. 'Specially fer a skinny street rat like me. Found me a part time job stockin' grocery shelves at night fer Mr. Luis on the corner. Still shop there. I also swept up a coupla other neighborhood shops. The florist paid me a bit, an' at the fruit stand I got a bag a fresh fruit four times a week. That summer I put away a bit o' money. Not a lot, but some. Some a' what I saved I used ta join the Y an' I started workin' out. I knew th' Army'd make me fit, but I figured it couldn't hurt ta git a jump start. Knew I'd never be big, but I wanted ta make sure I's fit. And the Y had showers. It were a good way ta spend the summer. I also spent some time in the city library, usin' the tape recorders an' tryin' ta read along. Mostly what books I heard Rose talk about that she loved the ones I could find, anyway.
There's a lot y' c'n learn when you're tryin' ta stay offa the streets.
Senior year, an' Rose is in a coupla m' classes. She an' I picked up our friendship like we' d never dropped it. I turned seventeen that fall, and I was one year away from getting' off the streets fer good. By the time the new year rolled 'round we was inseparable. My Rose Red. I called her that 'cause she reminded me of the story m' ma used ta tell me "Snow White an' Rose Red" 'bout the two little girls who b' friended a bear only the bear turned out ta be a prince enchanted. Kinda a girly story, but it was one m' ma loved, an' I remember her best that way, when I's all warm and curled up in her arms.
Rose helped me with m' readin' and writin' all that year, and I told her all my dreams to go inta the service an' make som' thin' outta m' self. That I wouldn't be jist a street rat fer long. She listened, an' didn't judge. She encouraged m' dreams. First person ta do that since m' ma passed.
That summer after high school I earned m' diploma (barely, but I got it), 'stead a' hangin' round the dirty streets a Denver, I went an' spent it with Rose an' her grandfather. Learned how ta fish, hunt, track, an' shoot. Rifle and bow. Learned what things growin' wild was good food ta eat an' how ta cook on a campfire. I found a home out there in the wilderness. If I' d known more a this stuff earlier in m' life, I mighta had a better childhood. Damn sure I' da had more ta eat. Summer came to a close, an' I was comin' up on m' eighteenth birthday.
Since I was technically a ward o' the state o' Texas, an' since I left the great state of Texas years back (and I didn' t figure I wanted ta go there agin), an' didn' t have no parent to sign for me, I couldn' t enlist 'fore I turned eighteen. But my ma had got me a social security card when I was a babe, after m' pa died. An' I had a copy of m' birth certificate. She' d given 'em ta me when she knew she weren' t gonna get no better. I' d kept them safe. Carried 'em with me ever' where wrapped in plastic stuck inna old wallet one a' my foster mother' s was givin' ta good will. I guess I stole it off that charity pile, but I don' t feel sorry fer that. I needed somethin' ta keep the important stuff in, the stuff that tol' me I was Tanner like m' ma said, an' worth somthin' 'cause she said so. How I managed ta keep hold of that when most evr' thin' else I owned was taken from me 'r left behind on m' many moves, I don' t know but I think I knew early I' d need those papers later, when I's finally old enough ta fend fer m'self. They was the only thin' left of m' ma 'sides m' memories, an' those faded over time. Still remember her scent, and the way her voice sounded, but I cain't remember what she looked like no more. But I remember the love, an' I reckon that's the most important thing.
Fall came 'round, and I hadta say g' bye ta both Rose Red and her grandfather, Black Eagle. Black Eagle was mebbe the ver' first man I considered like a father. He did the things a father was supposed ta' do. Taught me stuff I' d need ta make m' way in the world. I never told him, but I loved him fer that. Sayin' g' bye ta my Rose, though, was the hardest damn thing I ever did. Promised her I' d write an' fer the pain writin' caused me, ya got an' idea what that promise meant ta me. She promised the same. And we did.
Her letters were peppered with sketches and doodles done in the margins. Mine were short, and generally written on whatever was handy. Started writin' poetry 'cause I felt bad that mosta m' letters were nearly identical. "Miss you. Love you." I needed ta be able t' say that diff' rent. So I started on the poetry. Worked fer Homer. Now, I ain' t sayin' I wrote no epic poems, but I got m' point across. Leastways I hope I did. Some a' the poems were just fun. I wrote an ode t' a tank once during a training mission. It kept me from losing it in the cramped confines o' the interior. Never did like small spaces. Interior of a tank is like bein' crammed inna shoebox with a couple a other guys and you're all pretty much on topa each other. Started carrin' around a small notebook to jot thin' s down on. I sent her the pages tore outta the book. Not pretty I guess, but I' s done the best I could at the time.
So we wrote an' she drew. Almost through that whole first year. A coupla weeks in, they liked the way I shot in boot camp, an' I was sent up to sniper school. Things was goin' good, an' by the first coupla months of the new year I got me a raise in pay, so I wrote Rosie ta ask her ta marry me.
The letter I got back was mad. She tol' me no self-respectin' man asked an important question like that through a badly written, sweat-stained, dirty, three line note on the back of some hand drawn map done on maneuvers. Then, she went on ta tan m' hide -who did I think I was, who did I think she was least I could do was ask her proper an' in person. Whooeee, she tore a strip offa me with those fancy words she was so good at usin' . The last line of the letter said, "Regardless, my love, ask me that when you stand tall in front of me again, and I' ll reply 'yes.' Yes, Beloved, I will marry you." I tell ya, that was the best day of m' life. My girl was gonna be m' wife when I asked her proper! We didn' t need much, and I figured m' first long furlough we' d git tagether and git hitched.
Six months later I git the word from Black Eagle. Rosie My Rose Red died pneumonia. She was only nineteen, but I guess it hit her hard. She' d been a part o' m' life for two years. She was the first fam' ly I had since Mama died. She left a hole in m' soul I thought' d never be filled. I' s wrong 'bout that. But instead o' a wife fer fam' ly, I got six brothers instead.
See, when I got outta the service I tried a few things bounty huntin' only the last 'fore I joined the ATF an' met the men who are m' brothers. I gave the Army six years o' m' life. After Rose died, I lost it fer a bit. Took alla the dangerous missions I could tryin' ta lose m' sorrow, so's it didn' seem ta matter much fer me ta sign on fer two more years. Only 'cause I liked the Rangers pretty good, I didn't have nowhere else ta be, an' I had no one waitin' on me no more. I only left after that 'cause the politics was gittin' too hard ta ignore. Never could stand fer any o' that load of shit.
I moved around a bit 'fore Denver pulled me back. I needed a place ta stay, an' this time I had money. A lot o' m' service pay was banked waitin' for me, an' fer the first time in m' life I wasn' t just surviving y' know day ta day. I looked up Mama Marie and there was a vacancy in her building. It was cheap, an' near people I knew, so I took it. I had odd jobs, but the trackin' skills I first learned from Black Eagle, and honed by m' Captain in the Rangers became a skill I could use in other ways. I began bounty huntin' ta earn a livin' a trail's a trail whether in the forest or the city, an' I'd learned city trackin' in the Rangers computer skills, too and I liked it. I was free ta come an' go. I had an old Jeep, that had arguably seen better days, but with m' first bounty collected I added the Harley ta m' stable. The motorcycle could get in and out of tight spots easily. I liked the freedom it gave me. It needed some fixin' up, so I used what I' d learned in the Army 'bout machines, and traded with Rudy Rameriz, m' local mechanic, for parts and bits o' labor I didn' t feel comfortable doin' all by m' self. After all, barter was somthin' I understood.
It was a good life. Got better when that damn cowboy offered me a regular, steady job as an ATF agent. I got m' self six brothers and more trouble than I could ever imagine. I thought about Rose Red a lot. I' d loved her so much, an' she was taken from me. Seemed ta me most alla those I loved died an' left me alone. Almost didn' wanna try agin after that. I did tho'. I guess near eight years makes a diff'rence in how ya see things. That an' the odd kinda connection I seem ta have with a green eyed, mule-headed, stubborn cuss of a cowboy.
Two years ago, when I joined the team an' first learned about Chris Larabee' s wife an' son, I could relate, a little. Never tol' him 'bout my Rose, though. She' s a secret I kept ta myself. Ez remarks on her drawin' s evr' time he comes over ta m' apartment. Black Eagle had sent me many of her sketchbooks after her death. My favorites of the landscapes I had framed an' they hang about m' apartment. There' s a pastel drawin' of the tree where she first told me she loved me. We was sittin' up in the branches an' talkin' dreams and wishes. She jus' up an' said it. "Vin, I love you." Jus' like that. Hadn't heard those words spoke my way since m' ma died. I near fell outta that tree. I didn't say it back, not then. I couldn't speak 'round the lump in m' throat. She knew, though, an' jist smiled that smile like I give her the best gift in th' world.
In th' kitchen, there' s a charcoal sketch of the stream where we went skinny dippin' . Oh, and the bank of it is the place we first made love.
I 'member I was scared, an' I couldn' t stop tremblin' . We were wet from the swim, and the moss was soft and springy like. She was all golden brown, warm, and sweet. Never seen a girl nekkid before, least not so's I could sit an' look m' fill at her. We had no idea what we were doin' , but it was the most exhileratin' feelin' she was soft and small, round in all the right places, and she smelled like sunshine after the rain on a field o' wildflowers in bloom. It was magic and messy, and she bled a bit. Not a lot, but it shore freaked me out a little, 'til she explained that was supposed ta happen the first time for a girl she was quick ta say it happened only the first time. She said it hurt a little she'd felt the tear deep inside. Hell, I felt the tear as I pushed through, and I didn' even know what the hell was goin' on.
I was so green. I only knew about sex from what I picked up from locker-room talk. An' mosta that was so crude that I couldn't see any way t' do any of it with m' Rose. I didn't have no one to sit me down an' explain the birds n' bees. Coulda used a friend like Buck back then ta explain a few things plain. Oh, I c' n laugh now, but back then I was mortified. She' d bled! I thought she was dyin' ! I' d hurt her and that made me feel big and clumsy and bad. She put a stop ta that right off. Rose was the one who taught me about sex. She didn' t know much more' n me, and what she didn' t know from readin' about it, we figured out.
Took me weeks to even want ta take her again I didn' t want ta cause her no pain. In that time we used our hands and our mouths instead. Got pretty good at pleasin' each other that way. Got a lot more confident 'bout what sex was really about what love was really about. Then, the night 'fore I left, we did it again. Out under the stars, laid out on a quilt an' sayin' our private goodbyes. I think Black Eagle knew we was t' gether, but he didn' t mind none. We was grown. He just figured his granddaughter had chosen her mate.
Then Rosie died, and I kinda iced over inside. Oh, I had sex occasionally when the tension got too great, but I never made love again. I figure we all git one great love. Fer Chris it was Sarah an' even if he can find a measure of happiness with Mary Travis, it won' t be the pure soul-deep love he shared with Sarah. Fer one, Mary' s soul-deep love was with her late husband. That' s not sayin' they won' t love each other, 'cause they will. They do. But it ain' t gonna be no first time lightin' strike. Ya only git that once iffn yer lucky. I was lucky. I had my Rose. Mebbe I'll even find someone agin sometime. But I ain't lookin' jist yet.
Don' t rightly know why I never told the boys 'bout Rose Red. I guess I' s afraid if I give m' memories away they won' t be there for me to see 'em. Kinda silly, I know. The sketch books I got are filled with her thoughts and dreams. Me an' her. Grandfather Black Eagle. Some folks I never met. Mz. Nettie is there too. Some a' my poems are copied in by Rosie next to an image. One a' the ones I framed has a short poem about m' loneliness missin' her penned in her neat, precise hand. It's a watercolor of a high mountain cliff, stark an' lonely, but way up you c'n just see a bird of prey hanging in the blue sky. Ez loves that picture. He tol' me once it "speaks" to him. That's when he usually bugs me 'bout who the artist is. I think he knows I wrote the poem, and he figures if that's true, I must know the artist, 'cause that sure as hell ain't my handwritin'. Although he says it more... genteel like.
And then there are the nudes. Lotsa nudes... of me, mostly. Some of us. I blushed when I saw them the first time. They still make me a mite warm. Me in the water of that stream, hair drippin' in m' eyes. Me lyin' in the sun, wild flowers all 'round. Me asleep under the stars. Us entwined on a quilt. There's even one a' her alone, in all her glory, nekkid to the waist, a sheet pooled near her hips, hair fanned out b'hind her, a sensual smile on her lips an' lookin' all passion-tousled and edible. Lookin' like I jist got up a minute and am comin' right back. How she did that one I don't know, but it makes me ache a little ta see it. These sketches are kept in a safe deposit box. I' d love ta frame them, 'cause she saw beauty ever' where even in me, but I' s too embarrassed ta go git 'em done. Where' d I hang 'em? If the team ever saw 'em... cain' t rightly imagine what Buck' d say. Don' really want ta know. So I keep the landscapes up where I can see and remember, and every so often I go ta m' safe deposit box and take them out to look. Proof, once upon a time, that someone loved me, and loved me well.
I saw Black Eagle fer the first time in mor' n ten years yest' day. He came ta the office to tell me 'bout Rosie' s legacy. See, what Rose didn' t tell me when I was writin' them letters an' poems of love and she was writin' painfully long letters in return, was when I' d left, I' d left her with child.
Rose died eight weeks after deliverin' my firstborn. A daughter she named Tanner. Tanner Red Hawk. Sounds kinda nice, don' t it? Black Eagle never told me 'bout the girl, mostly 'cause I went a bit nuts in the army after her mama's death, an' he weren't sure how I'd take th' news. But he says Rosie always wanted me ta have m' girl. She was waitin' til she could tell me in person, so iffn I decided that I didn' t want her no more 'cause of the babe, I could jus' walk away. It' s also why she didn' t accept m' marriage proposal right off. She didn' want me ta think she was trappin' me. Heck, don' make no diff'rence ta me. I woulda married her if she couldn't ever have had kids, or iffn she wanted ten of the li'l buggers. I jist wanted her. That's all. Anythin' else is just frostin' on the cake as JD would say.
Black Eagle came t' the office in a wheelchair, he' d been in a bad accident an' was still recovering. He said the state had taken Tanner from him while he was in the hospital, and he jist got the word that six weeks ago m' ten year old daughter ran away from her foster home. They didn' call him right away, but soon 's he heard he came right ta Denver ta find me.
I asked if he still spent summers in the woods, and he said he did. Tanner an' he spent evr' summer since she was in swadlin' clothes out livin' off the land. He said she is a better fisher than her mother, and can snare, and gather, too. The summer months are bountiful iffn ya know where ta look and what is edible. Tanner does. He also brought me Rose's last paintin'. I unwrapped it then an' there, an' I could hear the boys behind me. It was us. Th' three of us. Me an' Rosie curled together onna quilt, outside in the sunshine havin' a picnic, an' in m' arms is a babe m'daughter Tanner, dark hair and skin slightly lighter than her ma's. Rosie's last dream. I think Ez recognised the artist's hand, an' finally had his answer.
Black Eagle said the social worker was supposed ta call me when she first took Tanner seein' as I' m her only close livin' relative 'sides Black Eagle. Never got no calls from child protective services. Gonna have ta look inta that. But right now? Now I' m goin' ta meet m' girl. Chris is with me, as is Buck. I' m leadin' them further inta the back country up in the mountains, but within the tree line, there is a hidden valley. A valley no one really knows about. It's right difficult ta git inta an' outta, an' its a hard day's hike in from civilization, which may be why it's usually empty of people. It's fairly small, only a few dozen acres all told, but it is lush and food is plentiful. There is a lazy stream fed by mountain springs that widens out inta a small lake, an' it has plentiful fish. No one could starve here iffn they know anythin' at all 'bout livin' a little rough. 'Bout the only four-footed predators are the occasional bear passin' through, and there useta be a wolf pack nearby. Nothin' that'll come close ta humans.
Tonight we' re camped up on the ridge. T' morra we' ll hike down inta the valley, an' I' ll meet m' daughter fer the first time. 'S hard ta wait, but I didn' t want us stumblin' inta her campfire after dark an' scarin' her. I' ve seen a picture she looks a lot like her mama but she got my blue eyes.
The past twenty-four hours have been hard waitin'. I wanted ta run right up here, but Buck slowed me down some, makin' sure we's packed proper and didn't git killed on the ride up. Chris was there, too, jus' lendin' his support and sharin' his calm. Feels a mite odd, thinkin' Chris is calm an' I'm all a bundle a' jangled nerves. All th' boys wanted ta come, but Ez pointed out we's a little hard ta take all t'gether at first. B'sides, there's stuff fer them all ta do b'fore we git back. Ez muttered sumthin' about "incompetent miscreants" so I think he's gonna have himself a talk with child protective services. Judge Travis is gonna help me git custody all proper like. It helps I'm named on her birth certificate. Leastways I won't haveta fight too hard fer her. I will tho', if necessary. Josiah was gonna try an' find me a new place ta live. I cain't raise a child in Purgatorio 'specially iffn she's at all like her ma. Fer the moment, Chris is gonna let us move inta his place. It'll be hard fer him, havin' a kid around again, but he wouldn't take 'no' fer an answer. JD, Casey, and Nate are movin' alla m' stuff.
I dunno what I'd do without 'em m' teammates. M' brothers. I hope Tanner likes havin' uncles, b'cause that's what she's gittin. Six hard-headed, mule-stubborn, orn'ry uncles. And surrogate fathers all. Plus a self-appointed grandmother. I hadta let JD break the news ta Mz. Nettie. I woulda like to have told her m'self, but I couldn't stay that long. Tanner's waitin'. I know Mz. Nettie'll understand. Don't really know what she'll think of Rosie an' me bein' together all them years ago, an' producin' a child an' all. Rose was one a' her best an' brightest. Hope she c'n forgive me.
M' mind is whirlin' a million miles a minute. At the same time, I feel like I'm standin' still and evr'thin' else is passin' me by. I worry about Chris. He's the only of us who has Dad experience, and I know it pains him, but I hope he don't mind me askin' fer advice on occasion. I hope he don't really mind us movin' in ta the ranch fer a while. Truthful? I'm kinda scared ta be 'lone with her. What's she gonna think 'bout me? What's she gonna think a' us? I hope she likes 'em, 'cause they ain't goin' nowhere. Hope she likes me. What if I cain't live up ta her expectations? What if I fail her? What if I screw this up? Lord, Rosie, why'd you ever have ta leave me? All I know is she knows I didn't know nothin' about her. That I wasn't ever told 'bout Rose havin' a baby. I'm so scared I won't be able ta do this.
Chris tried ta tell me all first time fathers felt like that but most first-timers ain't startin' on someone already half-growed. Gotta stop this thinkin'. Gotta concentrate on th' mornin'. In the mornin' I'll meet her. I'll meet m' little girl. Gonna take awhile ta git used to that. Havin' a child. Wonder if she likes ta be called Tanner, or iffn there's a nickname she prefers.
I can't rightly git a handle on this feelin'. I have a daughter. I am a father. I cain't understand 'xactly what I'm feelin'. She's too much an abstract. I know I should be angry that I wasn't told, but all I c'n concentrate on is that out there is a little bit of my Rose still in this world, an' I am thankful fer that.
M' mind's whirlin'. Don' t think I' m gonna sleep t' night.
January 2003-July 2003
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