Sixteen-year-old Chris Larabee hefted another bale up onto the stack in the hayloft. His back ached, the muscles in his arms burned with the effort. Tall and wiry, he was strong for his age, but he was still a boy doing a man's job and it was taking its toll. Chris and his best friend Buck were on their own, supporting themselves with casual labour where ever they could. They never stayed too long in one place, hitching their way north through Wyoming and Montana. Buck Wilmington was two years younger, but both looked older than they were. They only worked for cash, always lied about their age, and if asked for surnames called themselves Lewis and Watson.
It had been a year since Chris' parents, Sarah and Adam, had been killed when their home was fire bombed. Chris had been out with Buck, they were meant to be back at eleven, but had stayed out to watch a second movie, one they had been forbidden to see. Buck had been living with the Larabee's for two years, ever since his single mother had died suddenly. She had suffered a stroke in her sleep; Buck found her the next morning. The Larabees lived in a small town outside Denver; a town where everyone knew everyone else's business. So everyone pretty much knew how Sophia Wilmington made her money. They knew what she did in the city every night; they knew what a 'personal escort' really was. As a result, no one wanted their child to have much to do with her gregarious, outgoing, fun loving son. Everyone that was except his best friend Chris and his family. Chris and Buck had met on Bucks first say at school and from that moment on they were inseparable. The Larabees weren't exactly happy about it, but there was no keeping the boys apart, so reluctantly at first, they let Buck into their lives and slowly into their family. By the time Sophia died, Buck was as much a part of the Larabee household as any born brother Chris could have, so there was no question about who was going to look after him.
That the Larabees had been murdered was not disputed. Why and by whom was a mystery. The police did eventually come up with a suspect, but they couldn't find a shred of corroborating evidence so no charges were brought. Chris and Buck weren't prepared to accept that. Family services - in their wisdom - on the grounds that Buck was only the Larabee's foster son, formal adoption papers not having gone through before they died, had split the boys up. Buck, younger, more easy-going was placed with a foster family. Chris, older, his grief manifesting its self in aggressive behaviour, was placed in a group home. This didn't seem to bother the boys as much as expected. But then again, after just two weeks, both boys disappeared on the same night. Each boy had a bank account with a modest sum in it, no more than a few hundred dollars; these were emptied via an ATM machine that night, after which the boys vanished.
The man suspected, but never charged, for the murder of the Larabees was found dead from a heart attack some months later, but the boys were never seen again. They were fifteen and thirteen respectively when they left, both tall and mature for their years. To the Denver social authorities they were a very low priority. Now, a year later, the boys having left the state, there was little chance they would be picked up, mainly because no one was looking for them. The investigators hired by Orin Travis were looking for Christopher Larabee, and once they picked up the trail of two young men working their way north, it didn't take them long to find the boys. They were working on a small ranch near a tiny crossroads settlement called Pine Ridge Junction in Wyoming.
>>Who's this?<< Chris asked.
Buck, on the far side of the yard, chopping wood for winter, looked up.
>>Trouble, fancy rental car, old guy, looks rich. What do you want me to do?<< he replied.
Chris kept back from the hayloft door, but kept watching. >>I see him. Can you get close enough to hear what they're saying?<<
>>Not really, he's left the keys in the ignition, if we need to, we can take his car. I can have the dogs keep them back.<<
Orin looked around the yard, he'd seen places like this. Fifty years ago, even forty, this ranch would have provided a reasonable income, but now it just wasn't big enough to be really viable. Too far from any town or city of any note to make it desirable as a weekend home or hobby ranch, it wasn't worth enough to sell, so it's owner - Morgan Butler - just continued to work it, barely scrapping a living. The ranch house was small and showing serious signs of decay; up against the side of the house was a carport, a dilapidated truck parked under it. There was a barn, some assorted outbuildings and corrals. A few horses sheltered in the shade of the barn in the closest corral.
"Mr Butler?" Orin greeted the tough looking man who came out of the house; he could have been any age from fifty to seventy. Wiry grey hair poked out from under his cap.
Orin held out his hand. "My name is Orin Travis, I believe you have two young men working for you?" Butler looked suspicious. "Christopher and Buck are their names I believe?"
"What of it?"
"Christopher is a long lost relative of my wife. The young man was recently orphaned. We want to offer him a home, but it has taken sometime to find him. May I see the young man?"
Butler shrugged. "I guess." He walked a few paces toward the barn. "Chris, get your self down here boy!" he yelled.
>>Don't know what he wants, what are you gonna do?<<
>>Talk to him, I guess. You got the dogs with you?<<
Chris climbed down the ladder and strode across the yard, trying his hardest to look laid back and confident, which he wasn't.
Orin watched him approach. Christopher Larabee was a tall, slim - you could even call him skinny - boy, with slightly wavy, corn blond hair. Orin had to remind himself this boy was only sixteen because he looked older and seemed to be carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.
"Yes, Mr Butler?" Chris asked respectfully, ignoring Orin.
"Fella here reckons youre some kind of relative of his." Butler gestured to Orin.
Chris looked over at Orin. "I dont know you, mister," he informed Orin curtly.
"I know you don't. My name is Orin Travis, and you are distantly related to my wife."
"Distant? How distant?"
"Very distant. But that isn't an issue. We, my wife and I, we would like to offer you a home, with us. I know your parents died recently."
"Year back, ain't that recently."
"I know, but we didn't know about you until we began to investigate the family tree and then we had to find you."
>>Reckons his wife's some kind of relative, wants t' take me in.<< Chris explained to Buck.
Buck frowned. >>Think he's for real?<<
>>Not sure, maybe?<<
>>What's he offering? Whatever it is, it's gotta be better then this.<<
>>What if he's here to take me, us, in?<<
>>He looks too old t be a cop. Sides hes on his own, no backup. See what proof hes got?<<
While this conversation had been taking place in his head, Chris had been glaring at Travis. How do I know Im related to you? he challenged.
Orin looked over at Mr Butler. Sir, could you give us a moment?
I guess, Ill be on the porch, where I can see you all. Chris boy, you dont feel right about this fella you high tail it back t me. You hear stories these day.
Thanks Mr Butler. Chris watched his employer walk to the house, then turned back to Orin. So show me how Im related to you.
Not me, my wife, and Ill show you.
Travis pulled out the huge family tree and unfolded it on the hood of the car. He then showed Chris how he was related, and the other boys hed found. We are also looking into a cousin of Johns we didnt know about, if we can find him, and he needs a home, hell be welcome.
Chris was studying the document and relaying information to Buck at the same time.
Dont see my name, he pointed out.
Right there, Christopher Adam Larabee.
Dont know what youve been told, but Im Chris Lewis.
You are Christopher Larabee, from Colorado. Your parents were killed in an arson attack on your home, you were placed in a group home but ran away on the same night as your foster brother, Buck Wilmington. Where is he? Somewhere close Im sure. Why dont you call him out here?
>>Come on out here, he wants t meet you, I reckon its okay.<<
Buck emerged from the shadows beside the house, two old hound dogs and a retriever at his side. Introductions were made and Orin went through the family tree once more. At that time it didn't occur to him that Chris hadn't called to Buck, he'd just appeared.
Whats all these red marks? Buck asked.
Those are all boys and young men who have died tragically young.
Sure are a lot of them. Chris pointed to Steven. That your boy?
That why youre only lookin for boys, you trying to replace him?
Orin looked up at Buck. He knew the dark haired boy was two years younger than Chris, but youd never know. He was almost as tall, broader in the shoulder, but just as lean. The dark blue eyes seemed to be searching his face, looking for the truth no doubt.
No, no Im not. Im trying to stop what happened to Steven happening again. You see there is something in my wife's family, something passed from mother to son, something that makes the boys different, something that is hard to live with, or hard for other people to accept. Steven killed himself because he couldnt take it anymore. These others, all those red marks, I want to stop it happening anymore."
>>What the hell is he talking about?<< Buck asked.
>>Dont know, cancer maybe? Think Im gonna die?<<
>>Dont say that, not ever. Do you reckon its this, us talking like this and you know the other stuff?<<
>>Cant be, no one knows, no one, not even our parents.<<
They didnt talk about the other stuff much, especially Chris' 'gift.
+ + + + + + +
Orin had been watching the boys, there was something reminiscent of Ezra. It had been a few weeks since Ezra and JD had come to live with Evie and him. They had left Washington the day after Ezra arrived and driven the hundred and eighty miles to their house in the woods, on the edge of the Shenandah National Park. It stood, on four floors, above a small river, a river just deep enough to row a boat on, fish in, and in the shady, slow flowing bends - swim. To the untrained observer, the house looked as if it was a traditionally built timber home, when in fact the timber on the outside was just for show, underneath was a steel and concrete frame. This allowed for under floor heating, a basement level indoor swimming pool, more flexible space inside and protection from termites. All of the main floor and each of the bedrooms had access to wide, shady decks; the main deck was big enough to accommodate a huge hot tub.
JD was beside himself with excitement. Having been bounced around foster homes and group homes he was used to adapting to new surroundings. As far as JD was concerned the house, 'Riverside Lodge', was just perfect. Ezra was pretty impressed too, not that he was about to admit to that. They were sharing a room, Ezra and JD. Ezra was less than enthusiastic about sharing a room with a hyperactive five-year-old, and said so, in front of JD.
Nonetheless, they would be sharing, at least until more boys arrived. JD's gift was there for all to see if you watched him closely. It wasn't just Roo that moved into his grasp whenever JD reached for him cookies, Lego bricks, the TV remote all moved when JD wanted them enough. It was clear to the Travises that this was why JD had been returned from so many foster homes. The families might have called him disruptive and hyperactive, but in truth, he was adorable, and no real trouble, quite able to amuse himself. What they didn't want in their home was a freak, and once they saw that stuffed joey move, they knew that's what he was. As far as they could ascertain JD hadn't yet worked out what he was doing, or that other people couldn't do it.
Ezra's 'gift' was harder to discover, he admitted to nothing. Yet there were these incidents, when he would have that expression on his face, just like the one Chris and Buck kept sharing. Incidents when, for no reason, waiters would give him double portions of ice cream, or move them to the best table. When Evie told him he couldn't have the designer polo shirt he had spied while they were out buying him some proper play clothes, the assistant suddenly materialised and reduced the shirts in price to match the generic ones. Orin was beginning to sense what Ezra could do, and it was dangerous.
>>Why's he looking at us like that?<< Buck asked.
>>How should I know?<<
"Mr Travis, are you okay, sir?" Buck asked.
Orin smiled, it was time to play hardball. "I'm fine. Okay boys, cards on the table. Chris, I told you something runs in my wife's family, something passed from mother to son."
"Yeah?" Chris responded.
"That thing is unusual mental abilities, such as the power to 'hear' lies, to sense illness, feel other peoples emotions, even move things with their mind and telepathy, to make others hear your thoughts. Just as you can make Buck hear you, in his head."
Since Buck wasn't related to Chris, it never occurred to Orin that the power he suspected Chris had, was mutual.
>>Well that was unexpected!<< Chris exclaimed.
>>Shit! How the hell did he know - I mean he must be on the level, who'd come up with a story like that if it weren't true?<<
"There's more," Orin continued.
Both boys returned their attention to Orin.
"Chris, the authorities in Colorado have given my wife and I custody of you."
"What!" Chris spluttered. "I don't need no one to look after me, we can look after ourselves."
"You're only sixteen, you're still a minor, at least until you're eighteen. Besides, you should be in school."
"I should be in school? Just me? What about Buck?"
Orin took a deep breath; he and Evie hadn't envisioned taking 'normal' boys, unrelated to Evie. They had found five boys, now that had risen to a possible sixth; seven was just too many.
"I'm not sure we can, the thing is he's not related "
"He's my brother, if Mom and Dad had lived they'd have had the signed the papers to make it legal."
>>Hush up Chris, this is your blood family, he's your relative, sort of, it's okay.<<
>>Like fuck it's okay, you're family!<<
>>We can e-mail and stuff, I'll follow you, we'll be close enough to talk. You should do this, he's rich, you can go to back to school, college <<
>>Stop it! Stop it now, I'm not going any place without you! Yeah he's rich and going with him could be the chance of a lifetime, but I don't give a rats ass what he's offering if it's just me. Together, bro, or not at all! I'm gonna tell him.<<
>>Chris no !<<
But it was too late, Chris mind was made up and when that happened, there was no stopping him.
"Mr Travis, you said you think I can make Buck hear my thoughts?"
"Yes," Travis responded cautiously.
"We I can and so can he, I hear him as well as he hears me." Orin looked from one boy to another, not sure he believed Chris. "Give him something to read, something I haven't seen."
Orin agreed, so while Chris turned his back, Buck silently read the custody document. Chris spoke it, word for word.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra was well aware of JD's abilities and that they really were related, though he thought of it more as 'connected'. The first night in their room, Ezra wanted to exchange beds with JD so he could sleep nearest to the window.
>>JD change beds with me<< he sent to the little boy. After all, a small child, however strong-minded ought to be receptive - right?
"I don't wanna move beds," JD responded verbally.
"What?" Ezra responded, somewhat stunned; in the past everyone seemed to respond to his 'suggestions' as if they thought of it themselves.
"You said change beds, but I don't want to. Aunt Evie said this was my bed. See? I gots Scooby Doo on my comforter and everything,.I don't want no dumb old boring one like that one."
Ezra's comforter was a tasteful tartan in navy and green.
"Well, you can take your comforter with you!" Ezra had explained in exasperation, but JD would have none of it.
When they were at the restaurant, JD frowned when Ezra made the waiter give him extra ice cream. He wanted extra ice cream, too. The next time they ate out, Ezra asked for a different table. JD thought that was something a grown up should do, besides he didn't see what was wrong with the first table, every time the waiter came out he could see the kitchen and that was interesting.
"Ezra?" he asked quietly from behind his huge menu.
"Yes?" Ezra was trying to find something on the menu that met his exacting standards.
"Why did you tell the man to give us a new table?"
"Because I have no intention of eating in a kitchen corridor."
"Oh." JD really didn't know what that meant but he was distracted from enquiring more when Evie asked him what he wanted to eat. JD didn't find decisions easy when faced with a wide choice of things he liked, be it candy, toys or food.
That night Ezra waited until he and JD were alone in their room, before trying to explain something.
"Yeah?" JD yawned.
"You remember I told the waiter to move our table?"
"And I asked you to move beds?"
"I ain't gonna!"
"I know. I'm going to tell you a secret, a big, big secret. Can you keep a secret?"
JD was wide awake now; he chewed his bottom lip and frowned. "Can I tell Aunt Evie?"
JD had bonded with Evie, and he was rapidly getting more relaxed around Orin.
"No, not even her, this is a special boys secret, not for grown-ups or girls."
"Oh." Now that JD understood, a boy secret made sense.
"When I told the waiter to move tables only you and him could hear me. It's a special thing we have because we're related."
"We's family," JD confirmed proudly.
"Right, I made him hear me in his head and you can hear it too, but no one else. You must never, ever, let anyone know when I do this."
"I wanted ice cream too, but you only asked for you, that was mean."
"Very well, next time I'll ask for both of us, okay?"
"Okay." JD smiled hugely, then yawned.
+ + + + + + +
Nathan and Josiah arrived while Orin was away in Wyoming. Josiah had informed them two weeks before that Obadiah had slipped into a coma and was fading fast; when he finally died, Nathan was with him and ready for it. It didn't stop him grieving, but it was easier to bear. Eve offered to bring the boys to the funeral, but Josiah said that wasn't necessary, Obadiah had asked for a simple cremation, and Nathan wanted it to be a low-key affair.
Two days after his father died, Nathan, accompanied by Josiah, arrived in Washington to start a new life. Despite their obvious emotional and physical exhaustion, JD insisted on showing them the house. It was set into a steep slope, the basement level cut into the slope and only half the width of the rest of the house, had a row of folding glass doors opening out onto a patio. Inside there was a large indoor pool with Jacuzzi, sauna, changing area, plant room and storage. The first floor was level with the ground at the back and opened onto a large deck over the pool patio at the front, this deck had room enough for a huge hot tub. There was a large living and dining area, some of it double height with a gallery and fireplace. There was also a games room, a study, large kitchen, laundry room, mudroom, shower room, and guest cloakroom. On the next floor, which had a wrap-around deck on three sides, there was a master bedroom and a guestroom with their own bathrooms, three double bedrooms, a family bathroom and a second cloakroom. The fourth floor was only half the size of the rest of the house, with its roof set at right angles to the rest of the building, this was laid out as a studio, loft style apartment, with its own bathroom and small kitchen and two large decks. This was to be Josiah's room, giving the nineteen year old a degree of independence.
When JD assured everyone he was happy to sleep alone, Ezra moved in with Nathan, muttering that if anyone had asked JD that earlier he could have had some peace weeks ago. With the three younger boys in bed, Eve sat down with Josiah, who was staring at the floor.
"How are you doing?" she asked softly.
"I'm okay ma'am," he told her.
She tilted her head, trying to see into his eyes. "Really?"
"It was hard," he admitted, then looked up. "But it was also different, for once I was able to sort of almost block out the others. I don't know, maybe it's because we're the same, me and Nathan, or maybe it was just that I really cared about him." He smiled at Evie. "I have a good feeling about this, us being here. It's going to work, I just know it is."
+ + + + + + +
Orin returned only two days later with not one, but two boys. He had to admit it was somewhat disconcerting to travel with two teenage boys who almost never spoke and know they were chatting away to each other almost the whole time. Since they landed in Washington early, Orin took the boys by taxi to the apartment and picked up their second car and headed out, almost immediately, for 'Riverside Lodge'. After a very long day and a night flight during which neither boy slept, it wasn't surprising that, in the luxurious leather seats of the Bentley, the two boys nodded off to sleep. As Orin drove west, he started by listening to the morning news show on a talk radio station but quickly changed over to a local station playing hits of the 50's, 60's and 70's. As he approached the turnoff to their private drive, he called into the back of the car, to wake the boys.
The first house they saw was a long, low, dark wood cabin, set a little back from the single-track road.
"That it?" Buck asked.
Orin chuckled. "No, that's where Mrs Potter lives, she takes care of the place for us; her daughter Becky lives there too, but she is away in the Navy, but her son Rick, lives over the barn. In return for free accommodation, he maintains a presence at the house when we're not there and looks after the animals. He works from home, on his computer, some kind of financial work, via the Internet."
"Horses?" Chris sat up straight. "You didn't say you had horses."
"You didn't ask. We have three, but there's room for more."
Orin had called ahead on his cell phone, so as they approached the house, Evie and the boys were there to greet them.
>>Think you're really related to these guys?<< Buck asked as he exited the car.
>>Reckon so. Sure is a weird feeling.<<
>>The little guy is cute as a bug.<<
"I'm not a bug!" JD protested.
>>JD!<< Ezra hissed.
"But he said I was a bug."
Chris and Buck just stared in amazement at the little raven headed boy.
>>He heard us,<< Chris commented, somewhat unnecessarily.
Buck ignored him. >>JD? Is that your name?<< he asked.
"Yeah, it means John Dunne 'cause that's my name. What's your name? Will you be my friend? Why did you call me a bug?"
>>My name's Buck and this is my brother, Chris. Sure I'll be your friend. I said you were cute as a bug and you are.<<
"Why's he looking at me all scary?" JD asked, pointing at Chris.
>>JD, what did I tell you?<< Ezra chided.
>>What about them?<< Chris asked Ezra, looking over at Nathan and Josiah.
>>Nope, can't hear us,<< Ezra explained. >>As far as I can tell.<<
"Boys, it is rude to carry on a conversation that excludes half the people present," Orin chastised.
Buck apologised instantly. "Sorry."
"I have no idea to what you refer," Ezra protested, "I haven't spoken."
"Oh really," Orin commented.
Chris just glared.
JD, who still didn't understand that the voices he heard were in his head, not spoken out loud, just looked confused, as did Josiah, Nathan and Evie. Before explanations could be made Travis' two dogs, father and son black Labradors, Butch and Billy, arrived. As they rounded the house, they made a beeline for their lord and master, then abruptly changed direction and charged at Buck, who dropped to his knees to welcome them with open arms like long lost friends.
+ + + + + + +
Buck and Chris got the same house tour from JD as Josiah and Nathan, which included their room, across the hall from Nathan and Ezra. Still tired, the new arrivals fell asleep after lunch, two dogs sleeping on the floor beside Buck. By the time they woke it was almost dark, so the tour of the outside was put off until the next day.
Used to working for a living, they woke long before anyone else in the house, and set off to explore. They left by the back door, the dogs following them out into the early morning sunshine. In the barn they met two cats who instantly rubbed themselves up against Buck. By the time Orin, also an early riser, arrived to check on the horses, Buck was in one of the stalls with a big grey. Its head rested on his shoulder, eyes half closed in contentment as he stroked its neck and spoke softly to it. Orin just stood and watch in amazement hoping he wouldn't break the spell. This horse, standing so contentedly was Max; he had been Steven's horse and apart from Rick, no one had been able to get close to him since Steven had died.
Orin saw movement out of the corner of his eye; Chris was mucking out Saris stall, Orin's own mare. He caught the blond teen's eye and beckoned him over.
"So," he whispered, once Chris was beside him. "You going to explain this to me?"
"Explain what? He's stroking a horse."
"That was Steven's horse; apart from Rick, no one else can get close to him."
"Buck's good with horses."
"And dogs." The dogs were lounging just outside the stall; they had greeted Orin, but then gone back to their original position. "And cats - apparently." The two cats were sitting on the side of the stall, contentedly watching Buck. "Those two are barn cats, semi-wild and nocturnal. I've never seen them sit like that."
Chris said nothing.
"If this is going to work, if we are going to help you boys, you need to be honest with us."
>>Tell him,<< Buck instructed Chris.
"Buck has a 'connection' with animals," Chris explained.
Chris shrugged. "He doesnt know how it works, it's sort of telepathy but not, not like we have, but he can make them do things, influence them, even communicate with some. Animals like him, they come to him, they never hurt him."
"No, the smarter ones, not bugs or fish and you know the dumb ones?"
"I get it."
"If they're domesticated already, it helps."
"Max don't understand where his herd leader has gone," Buck said softly. "He's confused." He looked over at Orin. "Can I tell him I'm his new leader?"
Orin didn't know how to answer, Max was Steven's horse, he was such a one man horse it was hard to think of him being ridden by someone else. He was so much part of Steven it felt like a betrayal. But then again Steven loved Max, he wouldn't want him to be like he was now, exercised on a walker because no one could ride him, human contact limited to the essentials because he was so unpredictable. They had even thought of having him put down, simply because they could see no future for him.
"I'll have to ask Evie first."
Buck nodded, assuring the horse he'd return.
While still watching this amazing human/equine connection, Orin turned his attention to Chris.
"And what about you?"
"Do you have any 'gift' other than telepathy?"
"Me, no, no I just talk to Buck."
"And JD and Ezra," Orin reminded.
Chris was lying and Orin knew it, but now was not the time to push the matter.
+ + + + + + +
In the following weeks, the six boys settled in and began to get to know each other and understand what they could do. Buck was allowed to ride Max, which he did with no saddle or bridle, just a halter, and that was mainly for appearances. Chris was taken to a local horse trader to pick out a horse of his own; he chose a fiery, star faced black called, incongruously, Pony. The other boys all wanted to have riding lessons; JD was especially keen, as was Ezra, though he never let that excitement show. Nathan was the most unsure around horses, but he didn't want to be left out.
JD and Buck became firm friends almost overnight. While the others often tired of the little boy's constant energy and incessant chatter, Buck just doted on him, and if he ever did get tired he'd just send the dogs to play with JD for a bit. The only real cloud hanging over the household was Vin. JD would ask every now and again when Vin was coming to say with him.
The investigators had identified the landscape in the postcard as the Turtle Mountain in North Dakota, which tied in with the postmark, which must have been Bismarck. Much of the lake was inside the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, which also tied in with Claire's comment about everyone where she was staying being 'native'. Basic research proved that Claire was Claire Tanner, but there was no record of her having a child, at least no official record. Local research found that Claire Tanner had been killed four years ago, battered to death by her ex husband; she had been working at a store in New Town. There was no official record of her son, but when investigators tried to question locals, they got the distinct feeling they were being stonewalled; eventually the local tribal authorities insisted, very firmly, that they leave.
Orin Travis had a lot of connections in Washington; he didnt call on them often, but just this once he did, managing to arrange a meeting between Evie and the most senior Sioux representative in the capital. She told him the whole story, trusting and hoping he wouldn't think she was a mad woman. He didn't, instead he arranged a meeting for her in New Town with one of the most senior tribal elders.
+ + + + + + +
Eve Travis wasn't a timid woman, but she found the prospect of this journey daunting. Orin wasn't happy she was going on her own. He wanted to go instead, or for Josiah to travel with her, but the tribal elders had been very specific, they would see Mrs Travis and no one else.
"Darling, I can fly on my own and drive on my own, you know?" Evie assured her husband. "I'll call you."
"You better, or I'll call out the National Guard!"
Evie just shook her head. It was a long flight, with three changes of plane, but eventually she was driving out of Sidney in Montana and into North Dakota.
She had a mental picture of the elder as an old man, his weather-beaten face, deeply lined, with flowing white hair. What she had never imagined was a slightly plump woman, in her forties. She introduced herself as Benita Iron Hawk. The two women talked for some time, mostly about family and children. Evie was impatient; she wanted to talk about Vin, but understood that she had to let Benita lead the conversation. Just as she was beginning to lose patience, it dawned on her that Benita was assessing her, trying to decide if she could be trusted. Eventually Benita explained that she now needed to consult with the full council.
"Have you found a room?" she asked.
"Oh, no, not yet, I came straight here."
"Well I'd recommend the Four Bears Lodge, I'll contact you there tomorrow."
True to her word, Benita contacted her the next day, just after eleven.
"Vin isn't here anymore," she explained. Evie's heart sank. "The man who killed his mother, the man who claimed to be his father, has never been caught. It was felt that Vin should be moved to another reservation. They have agreed to speak to you. If you go here." She handed Evie a slip of paper, on which was printed a name and an address. "The man who lives there is Vin's guardian at the moment."
+ + + + + + +
It was a long drive, back into Montana, to the huge Fort Peck reservation. It took her sometime to find the address; the small communities were mostly made up of pre-fabricated wood cabins and trailer homes; there were no signs to tell you where you were and which road you were on. After a few false starts, Evie found the right cabin. It stood on its own, halfway up a gentle slope surrounded by open grassland. The cabin was small and painted green, an aging pickup truck stood beside it under a lean to. On the other side was a collection of ramshackle outbuildings. A rather scrawny mongrel dog trotted out to meet her SUV as she drove up to what she took to be the front door.
Evie looked up to see an elderly man, in jeans and checkered shirt standing in the doorway, leaning heavily on a stick.
"Oh, hello." Eve was still peering down at the dog from the car window, which looked up at her.
"Dog won't hurt you, he's just curious."
"Er, thanks." Eve got out of the car and approached the man.
"Dan Black Eagle?" she asked.
"That's me. You look tired; can I get you a drink?"
"That would be most welcome."
"Coke, root beer, water?"
"Coke, if you have it."
"Fine, have a seat, they tell me you have a story to tell."
Over a bottle of coke, she told the story again, Dan nodded occasionally, once or twice asked for clarification, but that was all, he made no comment until she was through.
"I know it sounds far fetched, but I assure you it's " she began to say.
"I believe you."
"But I you do?"
"I do. Vin, my grandson, his Sioux name is Makha Hokshita - Boy of the Land. He's not like other boys. He is " the old man searched for a word. "Part of the land, all the land."
"He knows when the weather will change; he knows when and where the lightning will strike, when the river will rise. He knows when the earth will shake. Christmas Day we were just back here after having lunch in town with the community and suddenly he shoots to his feet. I asked him what was wrong? Know what he said?"
Evie shook her head.
"'The earth just moved' that's what he said, 'the earth just moved'; later he starts begging me to call someone and tell them folks to run because the water is too high. Of course, I didn't understand it, not until I saw the TV the next morning. I tried to make sure he didn't see, but we had a blizzard, not much to do but hunker down and watch TV."
"Was he very upset?"
"Very cried for days. He can feel it, the earth, to him it's like a living thing."
"Can I meet him?"
"When he gets home."
"Where is he now?"
Dan waved his hand at the vast expanse of grass before them. "Out there, some place. Keeping him in is a real trial. So far the most we've managed is three mornings a week in school, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, if we're lucky, in the winter. But now, summer vacation, well he's out there sunrise to sunset. If he was anyplace else then I guess the school would have tried to make him stay, but here, they understood. I'll miss him."
Evie didn't know what to say for a while. The plan was to make sure these boys were safe, to make sure they didn't fall by the wayside as so many of their ancestors had. Vin seemed to be in the perfect environment with a guardian who loved him. She tried to explain this to Dan.
"No, he needs to go with you. I'm an old man, I've got diabetes, my heart's clogged with crap and I've got cancer."
Evie didn't know what to say, the old man beside her was telling her he was dying and if she took Vin away he would, in all likelihood die alone. "You said he was happy here, is there no one else who could take him in, when you ?"
"Oh yes, of course, but he doesnt belong, not because he's white, but because he's different. I'm not saying he's picked on or anything, but he feels it, he feels like an outsider. Besides, right now he can cope with his gift, because he's young, he doesnt really understand it. He won't be 10 forever and once manhood hits, who knows " Dan looked away from her, trying to hide his feelings. "Boy should be with his family."
Evie looked away too, gazing out across the land in the distance, she saw a figure on horseback approaching them. As she looked on, Evie was surprised to find that behind them the sun was setting. Long shadows reached out; the golden light gave the land a magical quality and out on the horizon a rider was approaching them.
"Is that him?" she asked, pointing at the figure.
Dan squinted. "Mostly likely; my eyes arent so good either."
+ + + + + + +
Vin turned out to be a slight boy, his shoulder length, dark blond hair, bleached by the sun, skin tanned to an even honey brown. He rode a small black horse with a white blaze and a collection of white socks. Still sitting astride his horse, Vin looked at Evie, trying to work out if she was a threat to his grandfather.
"Vin, boy?" Dan stood up, leaning on his stick.
"You see to Peso and then come into the house."
Vin nodded and turned the horse toward the collection of outbuildings.
"Mrs Travis, can you join us for supper?" Dan asked as Vin rode away.
"I'd be delighted."
They ate Rice-a-roni and Buffalo wings while Evie began to explain a little of her mission to Vin, who just about remembered his cousin, JD.
"I remember goin' with Ma to see a little baby in hospital," he admitted.
Evie showed him the picture of him in the hospital looking at little JD, then she showed him picture of JD, aged five; he was sitting on the deck of the Lodge, grinning into the camera.
"He knows about you, too; he keeps asking when he can meet his cousin Vin."
Vin looked at the picture. "He looks like a nice kid, wish I could meet him," he admitted wistfully.
"Your grandfather has told me about your special gift," Evie said softly.
Vin looked at Dan, fear evident on his face. "Just hear Mrs Travis out," the old man encouraged.
"You see, JD has a gift too, not like yours exactly but similar and you two are not the only ones."
"There's others?" Vin asked in wonder.
"Oh yes, six of them and they are all related to you."
It had seemed incongruous that Buck had a gift like the others, but wasn't related. His great grandmother had been an orphan, found on a doorstep, so there was no way to trace her family, but a simple DNA test had proven that he was indeed related to Chris via the maternal line. Both boys were delighted with the news.
"Really?" Vin's startlingly blue eyes shone with curiosity and amazement.
"Really, and these six boys, including JD, all live here." She showed him some pictures of the house.
"Wow, look grandfather, they even have a swimming pool." Vin looked at some more pictures. "Who's that?"
"Buck and Max," Evie explained. Vin frowned at the picture. "Max is the horse."
"We have room for lots of horses. Vin?"
"How would you like to come and stay here, meet JD and the others?"
"Fer real? I can go visit here?"
"Well, more like come and stay, permanently."
For a second, it looked as if Vin didn't understand, then his eyes shot over to the man who was the only family he had. "No! I don't wanna, I live here with grandfather," he stated firmly.
"Vin, please " Evie began.
"Mrs Travis, ma'am?" Dan interrupted.
"You have somewhere to stay?"
"Oh, yes, in Wolf Point."
"I'm sorry to be hasty ma'am, but Vin and I need to talk, perhaps you could come back tomorrow morning?"
+ + + + + + +
Evie spoke to her family that night, assured them that Vin was happy and healthy. So happy and healthy, that he might not be joining them.
"Aunt Evie, don't Vin wanna meet me?" JD asked, once he got hold of the phone.
"Oh yes, he does, sweetie, he remembers you, but he might only come for a visit." JD sighed dramatically. He had convinced himself that his cousin Vin would come and stay and share a room with him. "Are you sure?"
"No, I'm not sure, we'll have to wait and see what happens tomorrow. Okay?"
The whole house was on tenterhooks the next day, waiting for a phone call, which came a little after twelve.
"Well, he's going to come, but there is a condition," Evie explained to her husband.
After the phone call the day before, he was expecting her to say that the ailing grandfather was coming too, which was okay; they had a guest room, the old man could have it, or Josiah could have it and Dan could have the loft apartment.
"Which is?" he asked.
"His horse comes, too."
Well, that was easier than the grandfather, but there was something in her voice that told Orin there was more to this.
"And he won't let the horse fly and he insists on travelling with it."
"Oh, well, we can make room for the horse. How are you going to get here?"
"I'm not sure yet, I've found numbers for companies that specialize in cross country horse transportation. I'll let you know how I get on."
"Any idea how far it is?"
"About 1800 miles, I think."
"That's gonna take days," Orin lamented.
"Tell me about it."
+ + + + + + +
When Evie had returned to the house, it was clear that Dan and Vin had done a lot of talking and it hadn't been easy. Both looked as if they had slept in their clothes; Vin's eyes looked blood shot and puffy. Evie had no idea which way the decision had gone.
"We have decided," Dan began. "That it would be best if Vin came to live with you."
Evie looked down at Vin, standing beside his grandfather, arms wrapped around him, cheek pressed to the old man's side.
"But there are conditions."
Dan went on to explain that Vin wouldn't let Peso fly and he insisted on travelling with him. "It's a wise move, that horse is an ornery cuss,.Vin's the only person he's never bitten, kicked or head butted."
"Ah, well, maybe that would be best then," Evie addressed her comments to Vin, who, to her surprise, rewarded her with a small smile. She turned back to Dan. "Sir, you are welcome to come as well, we have plenty of room, permanently or as a visitor."
Vin looked up pleadingly at his grandfather. "I told you so, I told you it would be okay."
"I know you did. Ma'am, that is very generous of you, but this is where I was born, where my family are buried, this land is my land, and this is where I'll say."
"Please Grandfather, please don't make me go without you," Vin pleaded.
Dan looked down at the boy clinging to him. "No more Makha Hokshita, we have discussed this, you are one of The People, but we are not your blood tribe. These boys are, you need to be with them. This is my land, but all the land is yours. Be strong, grandson of my heart."
Vin took a deep breath, blinking back tears. "Yes sir. Will you come and visit me?"
Dan looked over at Evie. "Any time, for as long as you want," she assured him.
"Thank you." He looked back at Vin. "If I can, I will."
In those words and the look in his eyes, Evie suddenly understood how close to the end of his life Dan was and how desperate he was to spare Vin the pain of watching him die.
It took nearly a week to find a company that would take Peso to Virginia, and let Evie and Vin travel with them. On top of that they had to get Peso to a vet to get the necessary medical certificates for the trip. The actual drive took four and a half days. Sitting in the back of the truck, behind Hank and Charlie, the two drivers, gave Evie and Vin a chance to get to know one another. The two of them quickly tired of the drivers choice of music, so Evie purchased a copy of Harry Potter on CD, a second pair of head phones and an adapter so they could both listen to it on her personal CD player. Movie theatres were too enclosed for Vin, and since he couldn't really read, he had no knowledge of stories of the young wizard and they captivated him. By the time they reached Des Moines, the second book was playing on the truck's music system and all four of them were listening.
The three hourly rest breaks were as essential to Vin as they were for Peso. The truck would pull off the highway onto a quiet country road where they could unload Peso and let him walk up and down on the grass verge for at least fifteen minutes. Normally, one of the drivers did this, but on this trip, Vin took charge of his beloved horse, connecting once more to the land.
More than two weeks after she set out, Evie returned home with a new member of the family and a new resident for the barn.
+ + + + + + +
The 'family' was assembled on the deck to greet them as the truck rolled up. Hank and Charlie let them get out then continued on to the barn where Rick was waiting to show them where to unload Peso.
While Evie had been away, the other six boys had been getting to know one another and, with Orin, working out a few house rules. The boys also sorted out something else, namely that Chris was in charge; Josiah was older, but Chris was the leader; what Chris said, went.
>>Hello Vin, can you hear me?<< Chris sent to Vin.
The apprehensive boy standing beside Evie, made no response.
>>It's okay to admit if you can,<< Buck told him softly.
Still there was no response. >>I guess he can't hear us. Okay JD, go say howdy.<< In response to Buck, JD set off at a run toward his cousin.
"Hi Vin, I'm JD, you and me's cousins, you're gonna be in my room, do you wanna come an' see it?" JD stopped in front of Vin and held out his little hand.
"'K." It wasn't much of a response, but JD was happy with anything. He took Vin's hand and dragged him toward the house, stopping in front of the other boys. "This is Chris, he's the boss, and that's his brother Buck and this is Ezra an' Nathan an' Josiah, he's the oldest and the biggest, but he's not scary." Not giving Vin any time to assimilate any of this information, JD turned to Orin. "This is uncle Orin, he's nice but he can't cook as good as Aunt Evie or Mrs Potter. Come on." With that, he dragged Vin into the house.
+ + + + + + +
Buck watched JD drag Vin into the house then headed over to the barn to see the new horse. That was where Vin and JD found him, in Peso's stall. Vin glared at Buck. Peso was his horse, his and no one elses, but there was Buck, standing in front of him, Peso softly nuzzling his hand, nuzzling, not biting.
"It's okay," Buck said softly. "He's still yours. He knows you're not of his kind, but you are of his herd. Before he came to the place with lots of grass, our kind had hurt him, but he knew you were a young one and you were hurt and scared, just like him, so he had to protect you. I hope I have made him understand that no one will hurt you or him here."
Vin was walking slowly toward them. "Can you talk to animals?" he asked in awe.
Buck shrugged, giving Peso a half smile. "Sort of, it's hard to explain. You are very important to him."
By now Vin was standing right beside him. Buck stepped back and Vin took his place, Peso intently began nuzzling Vin, getting reacquainted.
+ + + + + + +
That evening they had a celebration barbecue on the deck, the boys played in the hot tube. Vin, resplendent in brand new swimming shorts - Evie had called Orin with a comprehensive list of basic things Vin was going to need when he arrived, before she could take him shopping - looked a little nervous.
Kneeling in front of the scrawny ten-year-old, Josiah spoke to him. "It's okay, no need to be afraid, you'll enjoy it," he told him softly,
"I ain't afraid of nothin'," Vin countered defiantly.
"Sure you are, this is all new to you, it's normal to be afraid in new situations. I was afraid when I first came here. We're all family - sort of - and we're all the same, we're all different, we're not like other people and that means we'll always look out for each other, just like Peso looks out for you."
Vin looked deep into Josiah's pale blue eyes, Chris had told him about the 'gifts' all the others had. He had struggled to understand them, but he remembered that Josiah knew how people were feeling, so he figured it was okay to admit he was a little scared.
"I ain't never swum any place but a creek or a lake," he told Josiah solemnly.
"Well, this is only a hot tub, it's just like a big bath, but swimming in a pool is just like swimming in a lake, only the water is warm and clean - okay?"
Not surprisingly, Evie was very tired, so she and Orin retired early, not long after the younger boys. Chris, Buck and Josiah were still awake, they were up in Josiah's loft talking. Somehow, there was a feeling that this was it, the seven boys seemed to fit together and there were no other boys out there needing this special sanctuary.
Having gone to bed very early, the Travises woke early, and not wanting to wake the boys, they lay in bed and talked. There was a lot to talk about. The first thing they talked about was the boys education. They had always intended that the house was to be a holiday home and then a retirement home. Access to local schools wasn't a priority. Indeed, the nearest schools were almost twenty miles away, nearly half an hours drive - in good weather. Even if the schools had been around the corner, were they going to be able to cope with the boys? JD couldn't yet control his telekinesis, if he was seen at school, moving things, there was no knowing what would happen. Vin was, as far as Evie could determine, barely literate, not surprising since no one could keep him in school. Ezra was well educated, certainly he was very well read, but he hadn't been to school since he was eight, and if he did attend - what might he be tempted to make the other children, or even the staff, do? Buck and Chris had both lost a whole school year. Nathan was the only one who could probably cope in a new school with no obvious problems. The closest college was an hours drive away. If Josiah was to attend there, he'd need his own car, always assuming he could cope in the emotional cauldron that was the average college campus.
"We could home school them," Evie suggested.
Orin wasn't so sure. "I don't know; it's a lot to take on."
"I did teach college history, remember?"
Orin and Evie had met not long after he was first appointed as a judge in Charlottesville. He had come to the university to do some research.
"I reckon I can handle the humanities and art. You can do English and civics We could pay Rick to give them computer lessons."
"Evie, I don't think that's " Orin warned.
One of the reasons Rick worked from home was that he was profoundly deaf; working online it wasn't a problem. He could lip read, but he didn't attempt to speak, relying on sign language and written notes. The Travis' had picked up a basic sign vocabulary and could finger spell, no doubt given time, the boys would do the same.
"He'll be fine, they'll be on computers - we're going to need at least two more, you know? We can put the pool and foosball table in the pool room and use the second games room as a class room, we'll need some "
"Hold up Evie girl, you're talking as if this a done deal."
"Whatever happens, we have to school JD and Vin at home."
"I agree about JD, but Vin?"
"He's never managed a whole day in school. On the reservation they understood; he could take off on his horse and be safe. But here?" She left it hanging.
"Yeah, you're right. I guess if we have two, what's four more? What about science? Neither of us can teach high school science. Nathan wants to be a doctor, he needs biology and chemistry."
"I think we can manage science at elementary level and I was thinking Nettie Wells could handle the high school science and the math as well."
Nettie was a retired high school principal, who had originally been a science teacher. She lived just four miles away.
"Think she'd do it?"
Evie snorted. "In a heartbeat, and she'd be discreet, too. Lots of kids are home schooled. I'll bet there are plenty of web sites that can help. The question remains, where do we find them someone who understands their 'special needs'?"
"Ah, now, there I had a thought while you were away."
Orin went on to explain that he thought that maybe a Buddhist, possibly a monk, skilled in meditation, might be a good person to help the boys.
By now it was past the time when the oldest boys would be up. Chris and Buck rose early, heading out to the barn to start the chores; Josiah would follow them down and start breakfast. When Orin went to the boys rooms, Nathan would be up, reading on the deck, while Ezra slept on, no more than a tuft of auburn hair sticking out from under the comforter. JD would be asleep, spread-eagled on the bed, comforter wrapped around him, if it wasn't on the floor. It remained to be seen how Vin slept. The other boys had all been awake when their guardians turned in for the night. Evie had looked in on the two youngest just after ten, at which time they were both sound asleep.
"They're not there," Orin announced as he returned to the bedroom.
"What?" Evie was about to take a shower.
"None of the boys are in their rooms." Orin looked over at the alarm clock beside the bed. It was still early. "I'm gonna check downstairs."
Evie pulled her robe back on. "I'll check the barn."
The boys weren't in the barn, the pool or the main floor of the house. "Dogs," Orin suddenly said.
"What about them?"
"They're not here, and wherever the dogs are "
"Buck is," Evie finished. "But where is that?"
Orin turned back to look up at the house. "I didn't check on Josiah."
+ + + + + + +
The top floor apartment didn't have air conditioning; there were ceiling fans and the decks had screens. Josiah had been offered the use of the guestroom, but said he preferred the space and independence of the attic apartment. And it was in this large apartment that they found their seven boys - sound asleep. Josiah was asleep at one end of the large corner couch, Chris at the other end. Ezra was in the recliner. Nathan slept on the floor, with JD snuggled up against him. Out on the deck, lying on top of a comforter, was Buck, the dogs sleeping on either side of him and in the hammock, young Vin slept contentedly, the morning breeze just moving his long hair where it fell through the netting.
There was evidence of midnight feasting. Corn chips, empty packets of cookies, glasses of half drunk milk and cartons of juice, littered the floor and the coffee table.
"Reckon they talked all night?" Orin asked.
"Looks that way," Evie sighed. "Even Chris looks sweet when he's asleep like that."
"I think they bonded," Orin commented.
Leaving the boys to sleep, Evie headed for the kitchen, while Orin left a note under Rick's door, asking him to see to the horses. They then got breakfast started, little knowing just how intense the boys late night talk had been and what was about to be revealed to them. Hearing the boys moving they told them not to worry about getting dressed, just to come on down to the deck outside the kitchen where breakfast was ready. That was their first hint that something had changed, the boys came as one; just in the way they moved, their guardians could tell they were no longer seven individuals, they were 'brothers' now, united.
The younger boys ate with gusto, but the older ones seemed subdued, though they did eat. Once everyone was finished, Chris spoke to JD and Vin.
"Boys, you go an' get dressed, then go out to play." He looked over at Buck, who nodded then looked down at the dogs, who stood up and followed the two boys as they got down from the table and left without a word.
"You know, I miss having dogs," Orin commented, as he watched what had formally been his dogs, leave.
"Judge Travis, sir." Josiah began, his tone bringing everyone's attention to him.
"You can call me Orin or Uncle Orin you know, I'm no longer a judge."
Josiah ignored this. "We had a talk last night, the seven of us." He looked around the table at the others, who all nodded, all but Chris who kept his eyes down.
"We had a talk about our special gifts, our abilities and Chris well, he told us what he can do, and " Josiah took a deep breath. "What he has done. He wants to tell you, both of you, the truth. Ever since he's been here, I've felt his guilt and Buck's concern for him. They both know there may be consequences and, well, they're ready to take whatever comes."
As Josiah spoke, it was as if a total silence fell over the table, though they were out on the deck, even the river and the wild life seemed to have fallen silent.
"Go on," Evie prompted.
"Chris?" Josiah looked at the blond.
Chris looked at Buck, who nodded his encouragement. "I the thing is the police, they knew who killed our parents, but they had no evidence, they said they couldn't hold him, they let him go." Chris had looked very apprehensive, but as he spoke of his parents killer, a look of steely determination came across his face. "They split us up, me and Buck, but not so far we couldn't talk, so when the time was right, we left. Tracked the man, Fowler his name was, to a bar, cornered him in an alley. That's where I " And there his voice failed him.
"What Chris, what did you do?" Orin encouraged gently.
"I I " >>Tell him. I can't.<<
>>You sure?<< Buck asked.
"That's where Chris killed him," Buck explained. "Fowler admitted it," he added hastily.
"Sorry, I'm not following all this, what did this man admit?" Orin asked.
"He admitted he killed Sarah and Adam, Chris' mom and dad. He said someone paid him to do it, but he didn't know who."
"That's when I killed him." Chris looked into the eyes of his new guardians, trying to work out what their reaction was.
"That man died of a heart attack, I've seen the report, he died of natural causes, you didn "
"I did that," Chris cut in.
"I stopped his heart, I didn't mean to, I just wanted to hurt him, I just wanted to keep him there til the cops came, make him tell them what he told us, I didn't mean to do it!"
Chris suddenly couldnt go on, so Buck continued the narrative.
"He just wanted to make Fowler think he was having a heart attack, so he'd confess."
Fear was creeping into Evie. "Just how would you make him think he was having a heart attack?"
Buck answered, "Chris can make things, things inside you, go wrong. He can make you sick. In school, he used to make teaches have a headache, if they were being mean. Once there was boy, he was bullying the little kids, Chris made him pee his pants. It was just little stuff - honest. He didn't even know he could, you know, stop a heart, not until then."
"I know it's murder, that you have to "
Orin held up his hand, stopping Chris. "First of all, it isn't murder. If it's anything, it's manslaughter. Now just let me think a moment." There was a long silence, all five boys focused on Orin. "Are you sure it was you?" he finally asked. "Maybe he just had a heart attack? People do."
>>Show him,<< Buck told Chris.
>>No, no way, I don't want to hurt him.<<
>>Just a little headache? You know one of those behind the eyes ones? Like you used to give Grouchy Gordon in school.<<
Mr. Gordon was a teacher in Chris' old high school, who was very fond of keeping his class in after school for extra work.
>>Okay, just for a second.<<
Orin suddenly put his hands to his temples. "Ouch, ow, damn it!" he swore as a sudden lighting hot pain shot behind his eyes and was then gone. He looked up, his eyes still watering.
"What's the matter? Orin?" Evie asked, clearly concerned.
But Orin kept his eyes on Chris. "Did you do that?"
"Yes sir, I'm sorry, I just wanted you to understand. I really am sorry that I killed him, but "
"He did kill my family. He poured gas into the house and lit it. They burned to death. I'm not sorry he's dead."
"Me neither," Buck added darkly.
"If you don't want me to stay, I'll go. If I have to go to jail, I'll go. I don't want to spoil this for any of the others. This place is so perfect, for us, all of us." Chris looked around the table, at his new brothers, then back at the Travises. "I don't want to spoil it for them."
"If Chris goes, I go," Buck added.
>>You don't have to.<<
>>Like hell I don't, we're brothers, remember?<<
"No one is going to jail," Evie stated firmly. "Right?" she looked at her husband.
Orin fixed his gaze on Chris. "You have to promise me you'll never, ever, do that again; no matter what the provocation."
"I swear it, Sir."
"Very well, we'll call the matter closed."
Thirteen years later, seven young men met at the house in the woods to celebrate Memorial Day.
"Oh come on Chris, I'm eighteen now," JD pleaded.
"You're too young," came the reply.
"Vin was eighteen when he started," JD countered.
"He's got you there, Stud," Buck pointed out.
>>Stay out of this.<< Why he bothered to say this telepathically he didn't know, they could all hear it, it was just habit.
That they could communicate telepathically seemed to be an additional gift, something extra added to their individual gift. Ezra's special gift was a form of telepathy. He'd always had it. But the others had to learn it and they had come to the conclusion that the ability to 'speak' telepathically was acquired almost like learning to speak a foreign language. The younger you were exposed to it, the quicker and easier you learned. Chris had met Buck at recess on Buck's first day at school. It took them just minutes to work out that they could 'hear' each other and learn to 'speak'. JD was only five when he first 'heard' Ezra, it took him only a few months to learn to 'speak' as well as 'hear'. Vin was communicating telepathically within six months, Nathan within the year. Only Josiah really struggled to learn. It took him nearly eighteen months to 'hear' anyone and over three years before he was able to speak. Even then, he couldn't communicate without eye contact. The rest didn't need to see the others to communicate, though only Chris and Buck could do it over more than a few hundred yards.
The others watched the confrontation with amusement, knowing Chris was on his own. The seven of them had decided very early that they wanted to use their gifts to help others, all of them, not just Nathan being a doctor and Josiah a counselor, so they formed 'Seven Securities'. Seven Securities, known to them as 2S. The company had two major areas of business, security consultants, usually employed to test firms security systems. This work paid so well and they were so good at it, that they could subsidies their other work as private detectives. Seven Securities had a reputation for getting results and only charging what you could afford. Nathan was in his last year at medical school, where he was close to the top of his class and always at the top when it came to diagnosis, but he still helped out when he could. Josiah was a qualified counselor and much in demand, but he only worked part time; his ability to sense others feeling, especially deceit, was key to their work. The majority of the work didn't involve any special gifts, just routine legwork and research. Chris and Buck had both served time in the DC police department. They left when Ezra graduated college to form the company. Vin had joined them as soon as he turned eighteen. There was no question of him holding down any kind of job with set hours, Vin still needed his freedom.
"I've been working with Ezra, on locks," JD explained.
"Yeah, Ez taught me how they work and then I practiced moving them."
"He can open most common locks and padlocks with ease," Ezra explained.
"Sure would come in handy," Vin commented.
>>Come on bro, stop being stubborn.<< Buck encouraged.
"I can open bolts, start cars, throw things," JD pointed out. Just then a magazine lifted off the nearby table and flew - slowly - at Chris, who batted it away.
"I know what you can do, but you're still at school," Chris pointed out. JD had entered college a year ahead of his peers, majoring in computer science. In truth, he could have entered two years ahead, but the Travises didn't think he was ready, so he continued to study at home.
"So is Nate," JD pointed out.
"It's not the same." Chris knew he was losing the argument, but it was hard to think of JD as grown up, he'd always been the baby of the family.
"He's a man, Chris, accept it," Josiah said softly
"I'm only talking about the summer. I'll do what I'm told, I'll even listen to Buck when he tells me what to do."
>>As if!<< Buck commented.
>>Well, if you said things that weren't just a load of hooey, I'd listen more often.<<
>>What I tell you, boy, is pure wisdom.<<
"Will you two cut it out," Nathan snapped. "Chris, he's been eighteen for six months, thats six months older than Vin was when he joined."
Chris fumed silently for a while. "You'll listen and do as you're told?" he challenged JD eventually.
"I swear I will."
"Okay, but you can expect to be seeing a lot of the coffee and Xerox machines."
JD shrugged. After all, he could work both without having to touch them.
"Alright!" Buck exclaimed. "Can we go eat now? Orin said Aunt Evie and Gloria have been cooking all week an' I'm in the mood for some home cooking, I've missed it!"
"Yeah, kid?" Buck looked over at JD.
"We come here almost every weekend."
"So? I miss home cooking all week, every week."
"Damn straight. There's no place like home." Vin slapped Buck on the back and headed for the dining table.