Main Characters: All seven
Modern AU (Sanchez family universe)
Disclaimer: I don't own The Magnificent Seven, not making any money, just cheap thrills.
Warnings: AU; Angst; Violence; Tissue Warning
A/N: This story is set in 1930s Wyoming and is inspired by the Kenny Rogers song, Lucille. Whenever I hear that song I see Josiah as the wronged husband. As the song mentions the city of Toledo, and having found there are other U.S. cities with that name, for the sake of the story I'm pretending that one of those other cities is located in Wyoming. Thanks to SJ for her help in fleshing out the outline for this story that has been floating in my head for a couple of months now.
Summary: In 1930s Wyoming, Josiah struggles to care for his four sons after his wife's desertion.
Josiah Sanchez looked out over his fields of wheat, a feeling of contentment stealing over him as the stalks waved in the wind. If Lucille could see the field like this maybe she would understand his surety that they would finally see the good year they needed. He knew this life hadn't been easy for his wife, but he hoped that with a good crop he could finally give her some of the things she had been forced to do without.
Lucille Sanchez glared at the small boy in front of her, the vase that had belonged to her mother at his feet. Her hand shot out, slapping the boy across the face. "You worthless little bastard, look what you've done," she screamed.
Vin dropped his head, blinking rapidly to hold the tears back. He hadn't meant to break the vase, he'd only been trying to reach his father's whiskey. He'd heard Nathan talking about how alcohol was good for cleaning wounds so they didn't get infected; he only wanted to clean the small cut on his finger. "I'm sorry, I only..."
"I don't care to hear your excuses Vincent," Lucille snarled. "It's bad enough I have to raise my husband's mistake, I shouldn't have to tolerate you destroying the few nice things I have."
Vin shook his head, "But you's always saying that vase is ugly."
Shaking with rage, Lucille grabbed the boy's thin arm, dragging him towards the small hall closet and shoving him inside. "You can come out when your father gets home and you can tell him you're the reason I'm leaving." Giving one last look of loathing towards the boy, she slammed the door closed. She was unaware of the silent witnesses to her tirade as she marched off to her room. She would pack the few nice things she had, take her butter and egg money and leave this hell hole that her husband insisted was a palace in the making. Curling her lips in disgust, she quickly packed her things and was soon on her way to town, dressed in her nicest outfit.
Buck had been in his room, playing with his cowboys and indians when his mother's voice had caught his attention. He sighed, it sounded like Vin was in trouble again. He glanced at the bed where JD lay napping, he was glad his mother hadn't woke his brother. Buck loved his mother, she was beautiful and always had a little story to tell him or his youngest brother. Yet, in the past two years, young Buck had been forced to admit his mother had a meanness in her. He didn't understand everything but he knew that two years ago there had been a knock at their door, a knock that had changed everything. When his father had opened the door, Vin had been on the other side, a note pinned to his shirt and a small bag in his hand. The bag hadn't held much, a change of clothes, a nightshirt, a beat-up harmonica and a small picture of his mother.
His father had brought the younger boy inside and removed the note from his shirt. After he had read the note, he had spoken quietly with the little boy before taking Buck's mother into the other room. Buck had heard their voices as they spoke, it was the first time he could remember hearing his mother sound truly angry. He hadn't liked it and for a time he had blamed Vin for the change in his mother. That anger towards the younger boy had continued until a year later. Vin had woke up crying, still frightened from the nightmare that had woke him. Buck had thought about getting up to check on him when the door opened, admitting his mother to the room shared by all four boys. Buck had closed his eyes, Vin would be okay now, mama would see to that. Shocked, he had listened as his mother laid into Vin for waking her up, warning him that he'd better not do it again or she would switch him for it. That had been a turning point for Buck, it was then he had realized that the only one to blame for the change in his mother was his mother.
Later he had spoken to Nathan, his adopted brother, about the way his mother treated Vin. He had thought maybe Nathan would understand it, after all she didn't treat him much better. Nathan had explained that Buck's father had known Vin's mother and that Lucille hated the reminder that there had been another woman Josiah had liked, that was why she was so mean to Vin. Buck had been angry, that wasn't fair, it wasn't Vin's fault.
When he heard his mother saying she was leaving, a part of him wanted to rush out of his room and beg her to stay. He didn't though, somehow he knew they would be better off without his mother's hatred and anger poisoning the air, certainly Vin and Nathan would suffer less with in his mother's absence. As soon as he heard the car start up, Buck left his room, hurrying to the closet. He opened the door, his heart flooding with sadness as his little brother looked up at him with big blue eyes that pleaded for understanding. "You can come out now Vin."
Vin shook his head, "She said I had to wait for Pa to come home." He wanted out of the small closet, he hated it in here, but he didn't want a whipping.
"She's gone Vin," Buck told the younger boy. "I don't think she's coming back."
"I'm sorry Buck, I didn't mean to be bad," Vin whimpered.
"I know Vin, but you ain't really bad," Buck tried to console the boy.
"Buck's right Vin, come on out of there now," Nathan said, startling both of the younger boys. At twelve, Nathan was the oldest of the four boys, and would naturally take charge whenever the children were alone. "Ms. Lucille left?" he asked Buck.
Buck nodded, "She had a bag, I don't think she's coming back."
Nathan sighed, he wasn't surprised. He had lived with the Sanchez family for a few years now and like many people in these times they struggled to meet the needs of their children. Rarely was there anything left over for extras, sometimes there wasn't even enough to cover the necessities. Ms. Lucille had never enjoyed living hand to mouth as she called it, but she had tolerated it, until the day little Vin had arrived on their doorstep. The constant evidence of her husband's unfaithfulness was more than she could take. Unfortunately she chose to take her anger out, not on the man who deserved it, but on the innocent little boy who still grieved for the mother he had loved.
Trusting his brothers, Vin crawled from the small space. Heaving a sigh of relief, he stood up. "Nathan?" he nearly whispered.
"What is it Vin?" Nathan kindly asked, while inside he seethed over the treatment Ms. Lucille had heaped on his brother.
"I gots a cut," Vin said, holding out his finger.
Nathan took the small hand in his, "So ya do. Come on to the kitchen and I'll clean it up for ya." Treating the small cut didn't take long, and once he was done he shooed the younger boy out of the room. Nathan didn't know how to cook much, but he guessed he could make some pancakes and fry some sausage. He hoped his father wouldn't be too disappointed at the less than filling meal he would find, but it was the best he could do. Pulling ingredients from the pantry, Nathan began to mix up the batter. It was to this scene that Josiah returned.
Josiah furrowed his brow in confusion. "Nathan, son, what are you doing?"
"Fixing supper," Nathan replied. Taking a deep breath, he steadied himself for the task at hand. "Ms. Lucille left," he carefully began. "she took a bag with her."
"Damn her," Josiah cursed, his hand curling into a fist. Seeing the fear in Nathan's eyes, he forced himself to a calmness he didn't feel. God knew things hadn't been good between them for a couple of years, not since she had discovered the short affair he'd had with Spotted Dear, an affair that had given him another son. "I'm sorry Nathan, I shouldn't have said that. What are you making?"
Nathan relaxed, he'd wondered for a minute if Josiah was going to hurt him. It was true the man had never done so before, but he'd never had reason to be this angry before either. Nathan trusted his adopted father, but he'd already seen one adult visit their anger upon an innocent child. "Pancakes and sausage."
Josiah nodded, "Do you think you can look after your brothers while I go to town?"
"I guess," Nathan hesitantly replied. "Can't ya go after supper?"
He shook his head, "It's gonna take me a little while to get there, but I've got to get the car back if nothing else." He wasn't about to tell the twelve year old that he was going to try to convince Lucille to come home, a man had his pride after all.
"Oh," Nathan hadn't thought about that, he guessed they did need the car. "Don't worry Pa, I'll take good care of the kids."
Josiah smiled, "I know you will son. I'll be back as soon as I can," he promised. Turning on his heel, he started the long walk into town.
Chris Larabee leaned back in his chair, sipping the beer, enjoying the coolness as it slid down his parched throat. He'd stopped in the small town of Toledo, Wyoming a week ago. It was just one more town to pass through as he searched for any sign of his wife and son. A year ago he'd had a small farm in Oklahoma, in the heart of what they were calling the dust bowl. The first few years there had been good, but then erosion had set in and soon the topsoil was blowing in the wind, literally and the promised land had turned to ashes. He had struggled on for a couple of years, promising Sarah that soon things would turn around for them. He didn't really blame her for leaving. It was a miracle she'd held on as long as she had. Sarah was a beautiful woman and she deserved to be surrounded by pretty things, not choking on the dust of the prairies. Coming home to find his family gone had been the catalyst for Chris. He'd turned his back on the small farm and left, drifting from town to town as he searched for the woman and child he loved.
Arriving in Toledo, he had been in need of funds if he was going to continue his search. Asking at the local bar, he had been pointed in the direction of Bill Miller. Mr. Miller was an older man who owned a small gold mine a few miles from town. He wasn't making a fortune, but he was making a comfortable living from the operation. Unfortunately, his horse had thrown him a few days before Chris' arrival, leaving the older man unable to work. Fearing claim jumpers, Miller had hired Chris to work his claim until he had recovered. In exchange Larabee would receive room and board, along with a small share of any gold he found during the time he worked the mine. That had been a week ago. The work was hard, but satisfying in its way. Chris had come to town to tell Miller how the workings were progressing. After the short meeting, he made his way to the bar across from the bus depot, intent on enjoying a couple of beers before he returned to the mine.
Chris looked up when the door opened, his eyes widened when he took in the attractive blonde as she eased into the room. He hadn't realized there were such attractive women in these parts. Then he saw it, the wedding ring on her left hand. He watched with a frown as the woman made her way to the bar, slipping her ring off as she sat down near the only other man in the place. He listened with growing sadness as she spoke, all too easily imagining Sarah saying similar things. Of course his Sarah would never be in a bar picking up men. His attention was pulled from the bar by the opening of the door a second time. The man standing there was huge and as he headed towards the woman, Chris wondered if he would have to protect the blonde from the man.
Josiah had made it to town much more quickly than he had expected, thanks to a ride with a passing neighbor. Seeing his car parked in front of the Brand B Bar, he figured that was where he would find his wayward wife. Stepping inside, it took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dark interior. He had expected to feel anger, but all he felt was pain. The pain of loss as he saw his wife speaking to a man he'd never seen before and the pain of guilt as he realized he had pushed her to this. Still, for the sake of his children if nothing else, he had to try.
"You picked a fine time to leave me Lucille," his deep voice rumbled.
Lucille hid her surprise. "Surely you saw it coming Josiah," she coldly answered.
"Maybe," Josiah admitted. "Still, we got four hungry children waiting at home and I got a crop to care for. How do I take care of it all alone?"
She turned to him then, a cruel smirk on her face. "That would be your problem Mr. Sanchez. I never wanted children, you knew that when we wed, and yet within only a year of our marriage I found myself with a child to tend to. You wanted those children, wanted to be a farmer, well you're welcome to it all. I am finished living on dreams which are not my own." Without another word, she turned back to the other man and took his hand. Letting him lead her from the bar, she left Josiah standing alone, his heart broken by the cruelty of her words.
Humilated and hurting, Josiah left the bar. He returned in a moment with a small bag in his hand. "Fred, if my wife returns could you see that she gets this?"
"Sure thing Josiah," Fred Baker replied. He had recognized Lucille Sanchez when she walked in the bar, it was a small town after all. Like many in Toledo, he had never thought the woman would stick it out on Josiah's farm. It was too isolated and she had always been a flighty little thing, made for the bright lights of a city not the peacefulness and hard work of a farm. Frankly he was surprised she'd lasted the nearly dozen years of their marriage.
"Thank you." Josiah turned away and left the bar once more. A moment later he was driving his car back along the road towards his home and children. He promised himself that no matter the difficulty, he would find a way to provide his children with all of the love and care they deserved. He wouldn't allow his wife's desertion to deprive his boys of what they should have.
Ezra let a heavy sigh pass his lips as he entered the small Wyoming town. He hoped there would be work available to him as his funds were quite low. As he made his way down the street, he feared his hope wouldn't be realized. The few shops he saw on the main street were already closed, though it was only just now four in the afternoon. Such an early closing time wasn't entirely unusual for a general store, but he could see that the only garage in the small town seemed to be closed as well, not a good sign. Spying a dingy looking bar across from the bus depot, he casually moved towards the small structure. It seemed that would be the best place to inquire after the possibility of employment. If employment wasn't to be found, then perhaps he could interest a few of the patrons in a small poker game.
Fred Baker, as he could be found six evenings a week, was behind the bar. He looked up as the door opened, expecting to see somebody he knew, he was surprised to see a stranger enter his establishment. The man's clothes had seen better days, but clearly they were of a high quality. Like so many others, this man must have fallen from the heights with the crash of '29. He hadn't seen the bus pull into the depot which could only mean the man walking across the room was traveling by other means. The small bag in one hand told him that the man was likely on foot. Just what this town needed, another drifter looking for work that didn't exist. "What can I get you?"
"A beer please," Ezra replied. Fishing a nickel from his pocket, he slid it across the counter to the bartender as the beer was placed in front of him.
"Bus ain't come yet," Fred commented as he dropped the nickel in the till.
"Has it not?" Ezra asked. "I'm afraid I have not kept up with the bus schedules as I have been reduced to traveling by shanks mare," he ruefully confessed.
"Figured," Fred nodded. "Where you headed?"
Ezra shrugged, "Nowhere and everywhere." He took a sip of the beer, grimacing at the bitterness of the cheap brew. "This is a lovely little burg you have here." It never hurt to compliment a man's home, be it town or house.
Fred set the glass he had been drying on a shelf and picked up another, "It's okay I guess. Leastways we're still here," he added as an afterthought.
“Indeed.” Ezra glanced around the bar, hiding his disappointment at the lack of clientèle. “It seems I am either early or late for happy hour.”
“Folks should start coming in soon.” No sooner had the words left Fred's mouth when the door opened and two men stepped inside, calling out greetings to him while shooting curious glances Ezra's way.
Ezra sipped his beer as he watched the room slowly fill up. He frowned thoughtfully, clearly these men were all of the working class. He sincerely hoped that employment would be found, the thought of winning money from these men was abhorrent and distasteful. That didn't mean he wouldn't engage them in a game of course, a man had to eat after all.
Fred returned to the bar. “Another beer mister?”
Ezra inclined his head, “Please.” The glass was taken away and refilled, Ezra slid another nickel onto the smooth surface of the bar. “I wonder sir if you might know of any opportunities for employment in the area,” he quietly inquired.
Fred started to shake his head, when a scene from a few days ago replayed itself in his mind. “Nobody really has any need for more workers, but I might know of one possibility. Don't know if you'd be suited for it though,” he admitted.
His mother would be most disappointed if she were here now. “I may not look as if I am acquainted with difficult work, but I assure you sir that I am willing to perform any job that is available. That is as long as it's legal of course,” he added. He had no wish to become the patsy for some enterprising criminal nor did he desire to give the man the impression that he was untrustworthy.
“Nothing illegal,” Fred quickly assured him. In better times he would have been insulted at the implication. Things were different now. He personally knew at least three men who had turned to criminal activity to support their families, men who before the crash would never have considered such a thing. “Fella a few miles from town lost his wife recently and could use somebody to look after his kids while he works his fields. Doubt he could pay much, maybe just room and board.”
Ezra wasn't too sure about the idea. It was true he had always enjoyed a certain rapport with children, but there was a difference between occasionally entertaining a child and caring for them full-time. “How old are the children?”
Fred furrowed his brow in thought, “Let's see...JD is about five I reckon, so that'd make Vin seven, Buck ten and Nathan must be about twelve now.”
That wasn't too bad, at least none of them were in diapers. “Does this gentleman have a name?”
“Josiah Sanchez,” Fred replied. “His place is about ten miles from town.” Grabbing a piece of paper, he quickly wrote out directions.
“Thank you,” Ezra took the paper with a smile. Certainly it wasn't the ideal situation, but if it worked out he would at least have a place to live while he made inquiries into more desirable employment.
Nathan sat at the kitchen table, looking through the recipe box. There had to be something in here that he could fix for supper. Nobody had complained yet, but they had to be getting tired of breakfast foods three times a day, especially their father. No man wanted to return after working all day in the hot sun to a supper like that. The trouble was Nathan had only ever fixed breakfast for the family. He had only helped with the other two meals, leaving him at a disadvantage now.
“What is it Buck?” Nathan tiredly asked.
Buck frowned at the tone of voice. Nathan sounded like his Ma had done sometimes. He was a kid, he wasn't supposed to sound all worn out. “You want some help?” he quietly asked. Vin and JD could wait.
Nathan wasn't fooled, he'd heard the sound of raised voices a few minutes ago and now there was silence. “That really what you came out here for?”
“No, but helping you is more important,” Buck honestly replied.
Nathan smiled sadly. Buck was only ten, he should be playing, not trying to take care of everybody else. “I got it Buck. So what did you need?”
Buck hesitated, he didn't know if he should tell Nathan.
“You can tell me Buck, whatever it is. I won't get mad,” he assured the younger boy. He suspected that was why the boy didn't want to tell him what the problem was. Still Buck was silent. “It have anything to do with the yelling I heard a few minutes ago?”
Buck finally nodded. “JD got mad at Vin. He said it was his fault Ma left and that he hated him. I ...I told him to shut his mouth and now he's in our room crying.”
“What about Vin?”
“He's in the hall closet,” Buck almost whispered. It worried him that the younger boy was hiding there when he knew how much he hated it.
Nathan frowned. Vin had always been one to go off by himself when he was upset, but not inside. The younger boy, raised on a reservation for the first five years of his life, was always more at home outside. It was to the hills that he usually ran when he needed to be alone, never indoors. Certainly he shouldn't be hiding in the closet that Lucille had always forced him into as punishment. “Punishment,” he whispered, horrified at where his thoughts were taking him.
“Buck you go talk to JD, tell him you're sorry for yelling at him and try to make him understand. I'm gonna go see to Vin.” He hated to ask, but he couldn't take care of both boys and Buck shared a particular bond with JD.
“Sure Nathan,” Buck readily agreed. Turning around, he hurried to the room he shared with his brothers. He had felt terrible for yelling at JD, he knew the five year old didn't understand why their mother had left, but that didn't mean he could hurt Vin. “I'm sorry JD,” he softly said. Sitting down on the edge of his brother's bed, he began to slowly rub circles on the boy's back. “I shouldn't have yelled at you.”
“He made mama leave,” JD sobbed.
Buck sighed, “Why do you think that?”
“He was always being bad and mama'd get mad.”
“You know that ain't true...”
“Is too,” JD snapped. “Mama was always mad cause of him.”
“JD how many times did you come to me or Nathan cause Ma had punished Vin for something he didn't do?”
JD frowned. “I was wrong.”
Buck might have laughed if things weren't so serious. “I love Ma, I always thought she was perfect.” He paused, silently asking God to forgive him for what he was gonna say. “But she wasn't perfect JD and she was wrong for the way she treated Vin.”
JD scrambled onto his knees, punching his brother on the nose. “Take it back! Mama's good...she only lefted cause of him.”
Buck grabbed JD's hand. He was glad the boy couldn't punch too hard yet or he'd have a bloody nose for sure. “She might be good JD but that don't mean she's right. Vin is just a little boy, like you, Ma's a grown up, she should have done better.” It hurt to say it, but he knew he was right. No matter why, Ma shouldn't have been mean to Vin especially when she was mad at Pa. It wasn't Vin's fault.
“He shoulda been better,” JD stubbornly insisted.
Buck sighed. “Vin did all of his chores, more than you or me ever did, and he tried not to ever bother Ma. What else was he supposed to do?”
JD sniffled, “I don't know. He shouldn't a made her leave.”
“So you gonna be like Ma?”
JD looked up, confused by the question. “Huh?”
“That's what Ma did. She blamed Vin for stuff that wasn't his fault.”
Buck hid his smile. He knew that now that JD was curious he'd listen. “I don't understand exactly, but Nathan explained it to me once. He said that Pa liked Vin's mama too and that Ma didn't like that none. He said that Vin reminded Ma that she wasn't the only girl Pa had liked and that was why she was mean to him.”
“That ain't right,” JD hollered, his innate sense of fair play coming to the surface. “Didn't Ma know that it was okay for Pa to have more than one friend?”
“I think it's different with grown ups,” Buck replied. That part had confused him too.
JD frowned, “Then I don't want to ever grow up.” He glanced down at his knees. “I'm sorry Buck.”
“It's okay JD, but maybe you should tell Vin.”
JD nodded and scrambled off the bed. “Where is he?”
“He's hiding in the closet. Nathan's talking to him, so maybe you should wait.”
Nathan quietly opened the closet door and lowered himself to the floor next to his younger brother. “Vin, why you hiding in here?”
“I was bad,” Vin sniffled.
“What did you do?” Nathan gently asked.
“I made Ms. Lucille leave,” Vin quietly admitted. He held himself as still as he could, bracing himself for Nathan's anger. Now that the older boy knew what he'd done, he'd be mad at him too.
“No you didn't.”
“Uh-huh, she said so. I was a bad boy and that's why she left.” Vin wrapped his arms around his knees, hugging himself as best he could.
Nathan sighed, wrapping his arm around the smaller boy. “You weren't bad Vin and you ain't why she left.” No response came from the younger boy. He wasn't surprised, he knew that Vin was convinced he deserved all of the punishments he got. Why shouldn't he be? Lucille had always told him so and Pa had never done anything about it. Nathan suspected that the man didn't know how badly Lucille had treated the boy and he was equally sure that Vin didn't realize it. He probably thought that since his Pa didn't make her stop it must mean that he was just as bad as Lucille told him he was. “Do you think I'm bad?”
“No! You're the best Nathan,” Vin assured him.
“Lucille didn't exactly treat me nice, did she?”
Vin thought about it and shook his head.
“Did I ever tell you how I come to live here?”
“No,” Vin quietly replied.
“My first Pa brought me here so's I'd have a place to live when he was gone. Ya see, he knew he was dying and he maybe could've lived longer if'n we'd went to someplace like Arizona.”
“Why didn't ya?”
He'd asked his father that same question. “Cause he knew that I'd end up in an orphanage there, but cause I'm black it'd be more like a workhouse. Pa knew Mr. Sanchez, they'd been friends but they hadn't seen each other for a long time. Your Pa had always told him that he could come to see him anytime, for anything...so he did. He knew that Wyoming had a history of being fair to folks so he figured that folks here wouldn't have a problem with white folks taking in a black child.”
“Folks is mean when you're different,” Vin mumbled.
Nathan hugged the small boy. He knew that being half Apache, Vin had seen that side of people too. “Some of them are, but not all of 'em. Anyway, when we first got here Ms. Lucille didn't treat Buck or JD very good either. Oh she wasn't never as mean to them as she was to me or you, but she didn't pay them much attention either. It concerned Pa, but by then he was too tired and weak to travel any further. He told me to be careful of her, said that she didn't seem like she much cared for being a mother. After he passed and your Pa unofficially adopted me, she started treating Buck and JD better. Guess it helped her some having me to boss around. You see what I'm getting at Vin?”
“You think she just wasn't supposed to be a Ma?”
Nathan nodded, “Something like that. Now, what do you say we get out of here?”
“Okay,” Vin hesitantly agreed.
Nathan stood up and helped Vin out of the small space. Placing his fingers under Vin's chin, he tilted the boy's head up until he could look him in the eye. “It ain't your fault that she left, you understand?” Vin nodded, but he knew the younger boy didn't really believe him. Maybe someday he would. “No more punishing yourself.”
“But what if...”
“No Vin,” Nathan firmly interrupted. “If you think you need punished you tell me or Pa and we'll decide if you do. Promise me.”
Vin wasn't sure that Nathan was right, but the older boy had looked out for him from the first day he had come here. He couldn't refuse him anything. “I promise.”
“Good boy,” Nathan smiled. “Now why don't you come out to the kitchen with me and help me figure out what to fix for supper.”
Before they could move more than a step, the bedroom door opened and a small brown whirlwind rushed out. Barreling into Vin, JD wrapped his arms around the older boy. “I'm sorry Vin, I'm sorry. You ain't bad, you ain't, and I don't hate you.”
Vin wrapped his arms around the smaller boy, a smile on his face. “It's okay JD,” he assured the small brunette.
“You can hit me if you want,” JD bravely offered.
“I don't want to hit you JD.”
“Good, cause I don't like getting hit,” JD admitted.
Vin giggled. “Want to play cowboys and indians?” At JD's nod, he rushed outside with his younger brother, forgetting all about helping Nathan.
Nathan watched them go, a grin on his face. He didn't mind losing the help. He'd only asked so that Vin would have something to take his mind off of his worries. Playing with JD was a better solution.
An hour later Nathan was no closer to coming up with something for supper. A knock at the door interrupted his thoughts. He pulled it open. “Yes sir, can I help you?”
Ezra hid his surprise. He'd had no idea the family he'd been referred to was black. Inwardly he chuckled at the irony of him playing mammy to a family of coloreds, while outwardly he was the epitome of politeness. “Good day young man, would your father be available?”
“He's in the fields, but he should be back in a while. Can I give him a message?”
Ezra frowned. “To be honest young man, I would be most obliged if I could wait for him. I will of course remain on the porch if you wish,” he offered when he saw the uncertainty on the boy's face.
Nathan shook his head, Pa would skin him if he made this man wait outside. “You don't have to do that. You're welcome to come inside.”
“Nathan,” he dutifully supplied.
“Ezra Standish at your service Master Nathan,” Ezra responded with his own introduction and a winning smile.
“I'm working on supper Mr. Standish but you can read one of Pa's books while you wait, if you want.” Nathan wasn't sure if it was proper to leave company alone, but he couldn't let Pa come home to no supper. It was bad enough that it wouldn't be as filling as the man would probably like.
Ezra didn't relish the idea of rifling through the few books the boy's father probably possessed. Undoubtedly he would find nothing new to peruse. “Perhaps I could be of assistance,” he offered.
“You can cook?” Nathan winced. He knew his surprise was easy to see, he only hoped the man wouldn't be too insulted.
Ezra grinned, “Most assuredly. I am no master chef, but I am quite handy in the kitchen. Lead on young sir,” he added with a flourish of his hand.
Nathan eagerly led the way, maybe tonight his father would have the kind of meal he deserved after a hard day of work.
Nathan grinned as he breathed in the good scents filling the kitchen. The stew Mr. Standish had put together smelled even better than what Ms. Lucille used to make. She might not have been much of a mother, but she could cook Nathan admitted to himself. If the smell was anything to go by then Mr. Standish was putting her to shame.
Ezra looked up at the sound of the front door closing and small feet thundering across the wooden floor. "Your siblings?"
"Yes sir," Nathan replied with a short nod. "I best go tell them to wash up."
Nathan stepped into the main room just before the younger boys reached the kitchen. He shook his head at the sight of the dust covering the younger boys. "You're not coming into the kitchen looking like that," he firmly told them.
"Aw Nate, we don't look that bad," Buck protested. His stomach rumbled and his mouth watered at the smell of stew and freshly baked biscuits. He really didn't want to take the time to wash up, but he could tell by the look on Nathan's face that they weren't going to get out of washing. "Come on guys," he sighed in defeat.
"Beat some of the dust off your clothes too," Nathan spoke quickly. He knew if he didn't they'd come back in from the pump with clean hands and faces, but with clothes thickly covered in dirt.
JD glared up at Nathan. He didn't want to brush off, nor did he want to wash up, he just wanted to eat. "I ain't got to do what you tell me," he loudly declared, his little jaw jutting out at a stubborn angle.
"John Daniel Sanchez you will obey your brother when I'm not here."
JD gulped, whirling around to face his father standing in the doorway. "Yes sir, but you're here now."
Josiah bit back a smile. "So I am, and I don't want half the dirt from the yard in the stew I can smell."
JD sighed, "Dust off and wash up?" A nod from his father and the little boy followed the others outside to do as they had been told.
"Supper'll be on the table by the time you get washed up Pa," Nathan said.
"It smells good son," Josiah smiled. "I'll be right there." Normally he would have washed up before coming into the house, however JD's raised voice had brought him inside.
Ezra stepped from the kitchen just in time to see the back of the children's father disappearing back outside. He supposed the introductions would simply have to wait until the man and his other children arrived in the kitchen. Though he had heard the younger boys playing outside when he had arrived, he had yet to actually see them. However, he knew there were three children, aside from Nathan, thanks to the information he had gleaned from the bartender. Turning back to the kitchen, he proceeded, with Nathan's help, to set the table. He was surprised when Nathan set a place for him as well. He had intended to wait for the boy's father to offer an invitation to supper. He didn't suppose it would do any harm, after all the boy undoubtedly knew his sire best.
"Pa, this is Mr. Sanchez," Nathan was saying as Ezra turned to the table.
Ezra nearly dropped the tray of biscuits he held. For the second time since his arrival at the Sanchez farm he had been taken by surprise. He hadn't been expecting to see a white man being referred to as Pa by a black child. Quickly recovering himself, he hoped neither father nor son had noticed his shock. The unusual situation didn't really bother him, he had simply been surprised. "Hello Mr. Sanchez, it's a pleasure to meet you," he said. Setting down the biscuits, he offered his hand to the older man.
"Mr. Standish," Josiah rumbled, quickly shaking the smaller man's hand.
"Mr. Standish helped me fix supper Pa," Nathan informed him. "More like I helped him, truth be told," he corrected in almost the same breath.
"You didn't have to do that Mr. Standish," Josiah said. He was embarrassed that Nathan had let a guest in their home work like that.
"It was my pleasure Mr. Sanchez. I enjoy cooking. A task made more enjoyable with the help of such an able young man," Ezra returned, flashing his trademark grin. Before more could be said, the three younger boys came barreling into the kitchen. The first one into the room came to a sudden stop upon spotting Ezra, causing the others to run into him so that they all nearly tumbled to the floor.
"Slow down boys," Josiah firmly, but kindly, ordered. "The food isn't going anywhere," he teased.
Vin blushed, for as always he had been the first one in the door. In spite of his size, he never could seem to get enough to eat. Pa often teased him about it, sometimes swearing that he must be feeding a tapeworm.
"Boys this is Mr. Sanchez, he'll be joining us for supper. Mr. Sanchez, these are my other boys, Buck, Vin and JD." As he introduced them, he touched each boy on the shoulder.
"It's a pleasure to meet you young sirs," Ezra smiled, giving a small tilt of his head, as if tipping an invisible hat.
For a moment nobody moved and then Josiah stepped towards the table. Suddenly feet were moving, chairs scraped the floor and within only a minute everybody was seated and ready to eat.
"This is delicious," Josiah complimented the two cooks. "I think it may be the best stew I ever had."
"Ain't as good as Mama's," JD said.
"JD," Josiah said in quiet warning.
"It's good Pa, just not as good as Mama's."
"I'm sure it isn't JD," Ezra interjected. He didn't want the boy punished for rudeness. He was, according to the bartender, only five. Of course he would believe his mother to be perfect in everything she did, as well he should. At least young JD would never have to discover that mothers are only human and far from perfect, he thought not knowing how far from the truth he was. "I do thank you for the kind compliment."
Buck stared, "You made the stew?" He had thought that Nathan had just finally found a recipe he could make.
"And the biscuits," Nathan informed them. "I just helped."
"Men ain't supposed to cook," JD piped up from his place next to Buck.
"Perhaps not young sir, but when one is hungry and without female companionship, one does as one must." Ezra smiled at the confused look on the boy's face as he tried to work out what had been said. Before he could explain in simpler terms, another voice sounded.
"He means that it's okay for a man to cook if there ain't no women to do it," Vin explained.
"Oh," JD nodded. "Why didn't he just say that?"
Vin sighed. "He did JD, he just said it fancy."
JD turned back to Ezra. "Did your Mama run away too?" he innocently asked.
Ezra nearly choked on the spoonful of stew he'd just swallowed. With effort he managed to get it down. Perhaps the boy was learning his mother wasn't perfect after all, he sadly thought.
"JD he's too old to need his Ma to take care of him," Vin said.
Simultaneously from JD's other side, Buck spoke. ""JD it ain't polite to ask folks personal questions."
Josiah shot an apologetic look at Mr. Standish. He knew that Vin didn't realize the rudeness of his comment. He'd have to remember to take the boy aside later and explain it to him.
Ezra offered the older man a small, understanding smile. He understood what Vin was attempting to do. It wasn't the boy's fault that he didn't realize he was being rude.
Nathan could see JD gearing up for an explosion. He never liked being corrected by his brothers. Normally he'd let Pa handle it, but he was afraid that the youngest would lash out at Vin again if he wasn't distracted, and quickly. "JD, if you eat all of your supper I'll make you some popcorn and then I'll read you a story." The youngest always liked it when Nathan read to him. He claimed nobody else could do the voices right.
"Honest?" JD eagerly asked.
"Honest," Nathan confirmed. He was relieved that the boy had been distracted before he could cause a scene. He blushed as he caught the proud look coming from Josiah.
Once the offer of popcorn and a story were on the table, Ezra noticed that the younger boys finished supper in short order. Gaining permission to be excused, they jumped up from the table, prepared to make their escapes.
"Buck, Vin, you boys wash the dishes while Nathan is making popcorn," Josiah ordered. "JD can pick out the book tonight."
Ezra could see they wanted to argue. To their and their father's credit they refrained. Contenting themselves with twin sighs, they turned back to the table and began to clear it.
"Mr. Standish, would you join me outside for a cigar?" Josiah asked.
"Certainly Mr. Sanchez." Pushing his chair away from the table, Ezra followed the older man out to the porch.
Josiah leaned against the porch post, smoke circling his curly, graying head of hair. "What brings you out this way Mr. Standish?"
The moment he had been anticipating had arrived. "I spoke to a man in town who informed me that you might be in need of assistance...with the children," he added almost as an afterthought. He was certain the man would turn him down without a thought if he thought he was offering himself as a farmhand. It was painfully obvious that he was not well acquainted with such onerous labor.
Josiah frowned. It shouldn't have surprised him that folks were talking about his troubles, but he didn't have to like it. "I suppose he told you why I could use some help?"
"Only that you had recently lost your wife. My condolences," he quietly offered, though he was no longer certain such words should be offered.
"Thank you, but she didn't die. I'm sure you already figured that out." Josiah had seen his reaction to JD's question and as the man didn't appear stupid he had likely worked it out for himself.
"I had suspected," Ezra admitted. Though he was uncomfortable discussing such a personal topic he had no wish to insult the man's intelligence.
"I'm sorry you made a trip out here for nothing Mr. Standish..."
"Mr. Sanchez I assure you that I am quite capable of looking after your boys while you toil in the fields."
Josiah sighed. "I'm sure you can Mr. Standish. The problem is I can't afford to hire help. The boys and I will just have to muddle through as best we can."
"I understand Mr. Sanchez," Ezra replied in a tired voice. "However, I would be amenable to exchanging my help with the children for food and a place to sleep."
Josiah frowned, he wasn't sure that was a fair deal. "I don't know, that's an awful lot of work for just room and board."
"The children will be returning to school soon, will they not? That will decrease the difficulty of the job considerably," he continued without giving Josiah a chance to answer.
"Actually it won't," Josiah replied. "The boys don't go to school." Speaking quickly, he went on to explain before the younger man could voice the objections he could see forming in his eyes. "It's not that I don't want them to get an education, but there isn't a school here anymore. So many families left the area that the town decided it wasn't worth the expense to keep the school open. Besides my boys, there's only a couple of other children in the area."
Ezra smiled, "Then I insist that you allow me to enter into your employ. Though teaching is not my profession, I am fully qualified to instruct your children. I know Nathan can read, what of the others?"
"Um, Buck can read but Vin and JD never got the chance to go to school before it was closed." Josiah haltingly replied, the other man's reaction to his information taking him by surprise. "I know Nate has tried to help them learn, but he's only a child himself and I haven't had time to work with them," he shamefully admitted. He was their father, he should have made the time. Perhaps if he had taken some of the burden from Lucille she wouldn't have left.
"Understandable sir, and the boy is to be admired for his efforts. Yet, as you say, he is but a child, too young for such responsibility."
"You'd really be willing to take care of the boys, help them with their schooling, for just room and board?"
Ezra flashed his trademark grin, letting his gold tooth flash in the light coming from the front window. He could see that the larger man was surprised at his willingness to toil for such a small reward. "For the chance to stay in one place for, hopefully, a long term? Yes sir, I most assuredly and most happily would enter into your employ for such wages."
"You're hired," he said, holding out his hand to seal the deal. Privately he promised himself that if the crop was as good as he was expecting then he would present the younger man with a small amount of cash in addition to their current agreement. "I won't be comfortable being referred to as Mr. Sanchez all the time, call me Josiah."
"Thank you Josiah, I am Ezra," and the gold tooth flashed again in the light of the window. Though they had only just come to an agreement, Ezra felt as if he had just come home.
Ezra deftly measured ingredients for the bread. "This recipe calls for one quarter cup of warm water, if I wish to double the recipe how much water will I need?"
Nathan chewed his lip, pencil scratching across the paper in front of him. "Half a cup?"
Ezra ducked his head to hide a smile. "Is that your answer or a question?" He had never taught school, but he was certain that learning to project confidence was as important as learning the mechanics of reading, writing and arithmetic.
"That's my answer," Nathan confidently replied.
"Well done Master Nathan," he praised. "Now what of the other ingredients? How much would I need of each of ingredient were I to double the recipe?"
"Can I..." Nathan paused at a look from Mr. Standish. "May I see the recipe please?" he politely requested.
"Of course." Ezra slid the recipe card towards the boy. He knew the recipe quite well and could do without it. He had considered setting up a schoolroom in the front room, discarding the idea almost as quickly as it had come. With four children to instruct, at three different levels, he would have time for nothing else if he attempted a traditional school. Thus the decision to teach the children during the course of everyday activities.
Nathan carefully calculated the amounts that would be needed, checking his answers by using the opposite equation. Satisfied that the answers were correct, he slid the paper over to Mr. Standish.
“Well done,” Ezra liberally praised his oldest student. He was very pleased to see the progress Nathan was making with fractions. “You have an excellent mind Master Nathan, it is a shame your education was interrupted. Oh well,” he sighed, “I suppose it just means a bit of extra effort will need to be put forth, if you're willing?”
“Yes sir,” Nathan grinned. He had always loved learning. The closing of the school two years ago had been a sad day for him, though he supposed he was in the minority in that feeling.
“You keep that attitude and you'll easily become a success in life,” Ezra said, returning the grin. “Now for a lesson which one wouldn't learn in school.” Ezra stepped away from the table, motioning to the breadboard as he did.
“Knead the bread Master Nathan, only for a moment. It is nearly at the correct stage, but you must feel the texture in order to know when to stop kneading. If you knead the dough for too long you will create air pockets and your bread will be filled with holes.” Ezra watched the boy, his eyes lit by curiosity. He opened his mouth to ask, quickly snapping it closed. No, regardless of age, such questions would be rude.
Nathan noticed his teacher watching him. It wasn't the first time he'd been watched with such curiosity, though Mr. Standish was the first adult he'd met who hadn't questioned his place here. He could see, however, that the man wanted to ask. “My father was dying.”
“You're wondering how a black child came to be living with a white family, calling a white man Pa.”
Ezra blushed, embarrassed to be caught out by a child. “You are correct, however, you owe me no explanation.” No matter his desire to learn the answer, he would not intrude on the privacy of another.
Nathan shrugged, “I don't mind. Like I said, my father was dying and he wanted to make sure I was taken care of. Pa, I mean Mr. Sanchez, had told him to come anytime and that he'd help him anyway he could.”
“Your father brought you here in the hopes that Mr. Sanchez would take you in?”
“Yes sir,” Nathan confirmed. “He didn't have any family and he didn't want me to end up in an orphanage. He said that cause I'm black I'd never get adopted, but would just be hired out to white folks looking for cheap labor. He knew that if Pa agreed to take me, he'd treat me as a son even if he couldn't adopt me. That was four years ago. My father died a few months after we arrived and I've been Pa's son ever since.”
“Your father was a wise man,” Ezra quietly said.
Nathan smiled, pleased by the words. “Have I kneaded the bread long enough?”
Ezra blinked. He'd forgotten, for a moment, what they were doing. “Perfect, now remember, for the future, the way the dough feels.”
“I don't see why I have to learn how to multiply and divide,” Buck groused. “I know how to add and subtract, don't need anything else.”
“Indeed,” Ezra commented, a small smile playing at the corners of his lips. “Your father sends you to the store, he tells you that you may use the change from the transaction to buy yourself some candy. The store clerk tallys your purchases as follows: two pounds of flour when ten pounds cost 33 cents; two pounds of sugar when ten pounds cost 49 cents; a tube of toothpaste for 27 cents and a pound of sharp Wisconsin cheese for 23 cents. You give the clerk the 75 cents your father gave you and he presents you with a nickel in change.”
“Alright,” Buck grinned.
“Not alright,” Ezra corrected.
“What do you mean it's not alright?”
Ezra bit back a laugh as the child glared at him suspiciously. “Your purchases came to 67 cents, which you would have known if you knew multiplication and division. You should have received 8 cents in change. You, Master Buck were cheated.”
“That ain't fair.”
“Isn't, and no it is not. However, there will always be those who will take advantage of the ignorant.”
“I'm not stupid,” Buck snapped. He'd been happy when Mr. Standish came to live with them, but if the man was gonna call him names Pa should make him leave.
“No you're not, you are however ignorant, which is simply another word for uneducated.”
“Oh,” Buck mumbled. “I didn't know that,” he admitted. He paused in feeding the chickens, scuffing his shoes in the dirt. “Guess maybe it'd be good to learn more, huh?”
Ezra smiled, flashing his gold tooth. “It would be advisable,” he agreed.
“Do you have any twos?” Vin shyly asked.
Ezra smiled at the quiet child as he handed over the two in his hand. He had quickly noticed that this boy's personality was much different from his brothers. Nathan did tend to be quiet as well, but his was a different sort of quiet and of course he wasn't related to the others by blood. His eyes narrowed thoughtfully. Was that the explanation? Was Vin adopted as well? Was that why he was so much quieter and shyer than Buck and JD, both of whom could only be described as rambunctious.
Vin looked up from his cards prepared to tell Mr. Standish what his new pair added up to. The look on the man's face stopped him and he shot a nervous glance down at his cards. “I'm sorry,” he whispered.
The quiet words brought Ezra from his musings. “Sorry? Whatever for Master Vin?”
Vin shrugged. “Whatever I did wrong.”
Ezra was confused. Why would the child think he had done something wrong?
“You looked mad,” JD offered.
“You looked mad, that's how come Vin thought he was in trouble.” JD offered the explanation as if it were the most normal thing in the world.
Ezra sighed, yet another difference in the boys. Vin, as well-behaved of a child as he had ever seen, was always the first to take the blame when others seemed upset or angry. It saddened Ezra to see a child so quick to assume he had done something wrong. “Then it is I who owes the apology to you Master Vin. I wasn't angry and you did nothing wrong, I was simply lost in thought.”
Vin looked at him closely, staring into his eyes as if searching for the truth. “Okay.”
Apparently he had found what he was looking for. “Now, as you have found a matching pair, can you tell me what they amount to?”
“Four,” Vin confidently replied. “Two plus two equals four,” he clarified, giving the entire problem as Mr. Standish had taught them to do.
“Well done Master Vin,” Ezra praised the boy, getting a grin in response. They continued to play the game for a while longer. He had worried about teaching the two youngest, as neither had been given the chance to attend school. He had been pleasantly surprised that both boys knew their letters and numbers. As he had begun to teach them, he had quickly discovered that both boys were fast learners, combined with a desire to learn it made teaching them easier than he had expected.
“I have been curious about something since I arrived,” Ezra paused.
“What is that sir?” Vin asked his voice blending with JD's as he asked the same question.
“What does JD stand for?” Ezra grinned, flashing his gold tooth and bringing giggles from the boys.
“John Daniel,” JD replied once his laughter had stopped.
“I should have surmised as much,” Ezra commented. “I suppose Vin is short for Vincent?” he asked the older boy. Before Vin could respond, another voice joined the conversation.
“Actually it is short for Jivin,” Josiah answered. He winced at the surprised and grateful look his son shot his way. No child should be grateful for being allowed to use his own name.
Ezra saw the look between father and son. Filing it away for later, he turned his attention to Josiah. “An unusual name.”
“It's Apache, his mother's people,” Josiah explained.
The pieces began to fall into place for Ezra. “Does it have a meaning?” He knew that most indian names carried a meaning of some sort.
Josiah dropped his eyes. “I'm sure it does, but I'm ashamed to say I don't know what it is.” That wasn't all he was ashamed of, he admitted to himself. He never should have allowed Lucille to change Vin's name to Vincent, insisting that the boy be called by a Christian name. “Are the boys done for the day Ezra?”
“I believe we have done enough work today.” Gathering the cards, he put them away and headed to the kitchen to check on supper.
“Vin can I talk to you outside?”
Vin nodded, “Yes Sir.” Standing up, he shuffled towards the door, his head hanging down. He couldn't think of anything he had done wrong. He must have done so or Pa wouldn't have wanted to talk outside. Feeling as if he'd been kicked in the stomach, he made his way towards the barn.
“Where are you going son?”
Vin spun so fast he nearly fell down. “Ain't I getting switched?”
Josiah would have laughed, but he had begun to realize just how hard Lucille had been on the boy. “Have you done something to deserve punishment?”
“No sir,” Vin shook his head. “Least, I don't think I did.”
“You didn't,” Josiah confirmed. “I just want to talk to you. Come over here and sit next to me.”
Vin ran over to the porch and sat next to his father on the swing. For several minutes neither of them said anything. Vin worried his lip with his teeth. Was Ms. Lucille coming back? Was Pa going to send him away so she'd come back? Maybe his brothers had gone to him and told him that it was Vin's fault that their mother had left.
Josiah watched his small son. He looked so much like his mother, not in coloring certainly, but in the shape of his face and in his mannerisms. The realization of how badly he had betrayed her love brought an ache to his soul that he didn't think would ever go away. “I'm sorry son.”
“For what Pa?” Vin was confused. There wasn't any reason for his father to apologize to him.
“I never should have let Lucille force you to use a different name.”
“Oh,” Vin shrugged. “Did you love my mama?” he asked after a moment of silence.
Josiah smiled softly. Wrapping an arm around thin shoulders, he pulled his son close. “Very much, but we weren't able to be together.”
“Why not?” Vin innocently asked.
He sighed, how to explain his infidelity to a child. How do you tell your son that you had taken advantage of his mother's kindness, ruining her life in the process? “That's difficult to explain son.”
“That's what I thought,” Vin mumbled. His mother had told him she would explain when he was older. He wasn't really surprised that his father didn't want to answer him either.
“What do you mean?”
“Mama said she'd tell me when I'm older. Guess I won't never be old enough,” he sighed.
Josiah smiled. He knew that to a boy Vin's age time passed as slowly as waiting for Christmas. “I know you don't want to wait Vin but the day will come when you're old enough to know the story of your mother and I.”
“When you're fourteen,” Josiah offered. He wasn't sure he'd be ready then either, but the boy would more readily accept the delay if he had a firm date to cling to.
“Thanks Pa,” Vin said with a shy smile. “Pa?”
“If I can be Jivin again, does that mean I don't have to pretend I don't hear them?”
Josiah straightened up, startled by this information. Had his son inherited his mother's gift? “Hear them?”
“The spirits,” Vin hesitantly confessed. “They tell me things, sometimes. Ms. Lucille said it was heathen lies and I was evil for saying it.”
“Oh Vin.” Josiah hugged his son to him, silently berating himself for his neglect of the precious gift Spotted Dear had given him. “Lucille was wrong son. It's a gift you have son, one you share with your mother. And to answer your question...no you don't have to hide your gift, at least not from your family.”
“Folks don't like it when you're different,” Vin whispered.
“Some don't,” Josiah confirmed. “I'm not ashamed of your gift Vin and I don't think it's evil, but some will so it's probably best if you don't let everybody know. Do you understand?”
“Yes sir,” Vin replied.
Josiah leaned back in the swing, gently moving it back and forth as he held his son in his arms. He remembered the day he had met Spotted Dear. He and Lucille had been fighting, her resentment of the farm and motherhood beginning to come forth. It had been before the crash of '29 and their life had been pretty good, or so he had thought. Josiah Sanchez, you're a fool, he berated himself. He should have seen then that she wasn't the woman for him. He had loved her though, in spite of her acerbic tongue and brimming resentment.
The fights, as the months went on, had worn him down. It had been at this low point that he had met Spotted Dear. The young Apache woman had been working in a small diner as a waitress. The first time he'd met her he had felt his heart stutter to a halt as he drank in her beauty. It had been her inner beauty that had held his attention. They had spent weeks getting to know each other, learning all they could about the other as they slowly moved from friends to lovers. Looking back, he realized that Spotted Dear's spirits had told her their time was short. Two months after meeting her, Lucille had discovered the infidelity. Threatened with the loss of his son, Buck, he had given into her demands to end the relationship. Spotted Dear had smiled softly and told him she understood. The spirits had blessed them and she would never forget their time together. Kissing him gently, she had said good-bye. The next day she had left town. He hadn't known about Vin until the day he had arrived at his door, a letter in his hand and a note pinned to his jacket.
The fight he and Lucille had that night had been one of the worst they'd ever had. Lord she had been furious. After hours of arguing he had finally convinced her to take the boy in. To gain her agreement, reluctantly he had been forced to agree that Vin would have to leave his Apache past behind. He would have agreed to nearly any condition for the chance to know and love the son Spotted Dear had given to him. He made a mental note to write to the reservation his lover had ran to. If he was to help his son reclaim his heritage, the other half of himself, he would need to know more about Apache culture.
The next day Vin ran across the fields to Mr. Miller's mine. The old man had been the only one he had ever been able to talk to about his gift. He couldn't wait to tell him that with his father's acceptance of his gift the promise made by the spirits had finally come true. He stood on top of the hill above the mine, staring in shock at the blond man stepping out of the mine entrance. Dropping to the ground, he drew out his slingshot and picked up a rock.
“Ow!” Chris yelled. Quickly turning around, he took a step towards his rifle.
“Hold it right there mister,” Vin yelled. Another rock was already in his sling. “The next one is gonna be between your eyes. What'd you do with Mr. Miller?” he demanded.
Chris froze. “Now hold on boy, I didn't do anything to Mr. Miller...”
“Then where is he?”
“If you'd stop interrupting me I'd tell you,” Chris growled. “His horse threw him a couple of weeks ago and he broke his leg. He hired me to work the mine for him while he's laid up.”
“You're lying,” Vin accused the blond.
Chris sighed. “Stubborn little shit,” he mumbled. “It's the truth boy. He's staying in town for now.” He shook his head, bemused, why was he explaining this to a child? Oh yeah, because the boy had deadly aim and while a rock probably wouldn't kill him it wouldn't feel good.
Vin studied him, his head cocked to one side. The spirits were telling him he could trust this man. He gave a short, clipped nod and lowered his slingshot, dropping the rock to the ground. Making his way down the hill, he offered his hand to the blond. “Name's Vin Tanner Sanchez. Sorry about the rock, I thought you was a claim jumper,” he explained. Looking up, blue eyes locked with green and a shiver raced down his back. It was as if he were seeing into the man's soul, finding an old friend he hadn't known he'd lost.
Chris took the hand, shaking it firmly. “That's alright son, can't blame ya for wanting to protect a friend. Name's Chris Larabee,” he introduced as the boy looked up. He felt a feeling of peace wash over him. It was like nothing he had ever felt; it was as if he'd found a piece of his soul. Shaking his head, he brushed aside the fanciful notion. The sun must be getting to him. “You live around here?”
Vin jumped at the question. “Yes sir, I live a couple of miles over that way,” he replied, pointing towards the farm.
“Call me Chris. Your Pa know you're here?”
Vin nodded, “I told him I was coming over.”
“Well since you're here, you want to join me for lunch?”
“I could eat,” Vin grinned.
“Well come on then,” Chris said, returning the grin.
(A/N: Jivin is an Apache name meaning to give life. I don't know the pronunciation but I'm guessing both of the vowels would be short vowel sound. So it would the I would be pronounced like the I in it.)
"Do you visit Mr. Miller often?" Chris asked as he dished up some reheated stew.
Vin shrugged. "If I have time. Sometimes I come see him every other day and sometimes not for weeks and weeks. When is he gonna be back?" Vin could feel his face turning red. "Sorry. You're nice and all, but I just...well I gots something to tell Mr. Miller."
"I understand Vin, you don't need to apologize." Chris smiled sadly at the young boy, his presence reminding him of his own missing child. "It's going to be awhile. At least another month."
"Oh," Vin mumbled.
Even a blind man could have seen that the boy was disappointed. "Must be awfully important."
"Whatever you have to tell him."
Vin shrugged. "Guess it can wait."
"Maybe it doesn't have to. If it's okay with your folks I could take you with me when I go to see him."
Vin looked up at him, his face open with the surprise he felt. "You'd do that for me?"
"Sure would. Be nice to have some company on the ride into town."
"When you going?" Now that the offer had been made, Vin felt his earlier excitement returning.
"I was planning to go tomorrow afternoon." Chris grinned at the loud whoop Vin let go. "That meet with your approval?"
Nodding happily Vin returned the grin. "Yes sir."
"Of course we still have to clear it with your folks."
Vin deflated. If this had happened when Ms. Lucille was still here he knew the answer would have been no. Pa was harder to figure as he hadn't really ever said much about what was allowed, leaving that to his wife. "I'll ask Pa when I get home."
Chris frowned. The way the boy's spirits had flagged he worried that his invitation was going to cause trouble for him. "How about if I come home with you? That way your Pa can meet me and I can let him know that it was my idea for you to come along."
It only took Vin a minute to realize that it was probably a good idea. His father would likely want to meet Chris before he let him go into town with him. “Okay,” he readily agreed to the suggestion.
A little over an hour later the two walked into the barn at the Sanchez farm. “Pa! You in here?” Vin called.
“Over here son,” Josiah replied without looking up from the cabinet door he was sanding. Late summer, with only the need to wait for the harvest and keep up with weeding was always a good time to take care of any small repairs that had been delayed.
Vin led Chris deeper into the barn, back to the small workshop his father had made for himself. Now that he was here, he hesitated to interrupt his father. “Um, Pa?”
“Yes son?” Josiah looked up. Laying aside the door, he rose to his full height. “Hello.”
“Pa, this is Chris Larabee,” Vin said. “Chris this is my Pa.”
“Hello Mr. Sanchez,” Chris greeted, offering his hand.
Shaking the other man's hand, Josiah sized the man up. “Mr. Larabee,” he quietly returned the greeting. The man didn't look like a salesman, leaving only one other choice in Josiah's mind. “I'm sorry you traveled all the way out here for nothing Mr. Larabee, but I'm afraid I can't offer you any work.”
Chris chuckled. “Good thing I'm not looking for work.”
“He's looking after Mr. Miller's mine for him cause Mr. Miller broke his leg,” Vin quickly informed his father.
Josiah looked down at his son. “What were you doing over at Miller's?”
Vin swallowed past the lump in his throat. “He's my friend,” he managed to force out through suddenly too dry lips.
Chris frowned. What had happened to the fierce little boy he'd met only a short time ago? Narrowing his eyes, he watched the boy's father closely as he knelt down in front of the small figure. His hand itched to jerk the man away from the seemingly frightened boy. Yet he hesitated. He had no proof that the man did or would mistreat Vin, nor had he any legal right to interfere in how he disciplined his son. Not that he'd let that stop him if Sanchez made a wrong move.
Josiah watched his son, once again berating himself for his failures. It was painfully obvious that Lucille's treatment of Vin had been more than just harsh. How could he have failed so spectacularly? “I'm not mad son, I just didn't know you knew Mr. Miller.”
Vin looked up, “He's my friend.”
Josiah smiled, “Everybody should have a friend. How long have you been going to visit Mr. Miller?” He'd known Bill Miller for many years. He'd never been a sociable man, but after the loss of his young wife he had become very nearly reclusive.
Vin studied his father carefully. Satisfied that he wasn't angry, he finally replied. “More than a year. I didn't have to hide from him,” he whispered. He frowned at the sad look which passed over his father's face.
Josiah nodded, patting his son on the shoulder. Pushing himself to his feet, he turned to Chris. “I hope Vin hasn't been a bother.”
Chris barely heard the whispered words of his young friend. Filing them away for later, he turned his attention back to the father. “Oh no, no bother. He was awfully disappointed when he found out that Mr. Miller wasn't there,” he admitted. Chris didn't mention the slingshot episode. Vin had only been defending a friend, or so he had thought, no need to bring it up. “That's the reason I'm here.”
“Yes sir. You see I was telling Vin I'm going into town tomorrow afternoon to see Mr. Miller. I go in every week, give him a progress report ya might say.”
“How is Bill doing?” Josiah interrupted. He'd heard of the man's accident, but with everything that had happened he hadn't had the chance to see him.
“He's doing better. Doc says he'll be able to get his cast off in another couple of weeks and should be able to work his mine again a couple weeks after that.”
Josiah nodded. “Good, Bill never did like sitting around.”
“No sir, reckon no man does. Anyway, I thought I could take Vin with me to see Mr. Miller, if it's alright with you.”
Josiah glanced down to find big blue eyes staring up at him, silently pleading for permission. He nearly laughed at the blatant begging his son was indulging in. “I suppose he can....” He winced as his son let out a loud whoop. “He'll have to get all of his chores done first.”
“I will Pa, I will.”
“You'll have to obey Mr. Larabee. I don't want to hear that you didn't mind him,” Josiah dutifully informed the boy. He wasn't really worried. It wouldn't occur to Vin to disobey an adult.
“You won't Pa. I'll behave, I promise,” Vin solemnly swore.
Josiah smiled down at the boy. “I'm sure you will son. If I give you a nickel, you think you can bring some candy back to share with your brothers?”
Vin grinned. Candy and trip to town! If he didn't know better he would have thought it was his birthday. “Yes sir!”
“I'll pick you up after lunch eagle eye,” Chris said with a wink.
“Why don't you come over about noon and you can have lunch with us,” Josiah suggested.
“I don't want to put you out.”
“You'll be looking after my boy, least I can do is feed you.”
It was said in such a friendly, matter of fact tone that Chris could do nothing other than accept the offer. “See you tomorrow then.”
Bill looked up from the book he was pretending to read as a movement on the street drew his attention. Used to being alone most of the time he had been surprised to find himself looking forward to the weekly visits from Chris. He wondered if he could convince the younger man into remaining in his employ on a more permanent basis. The good Lord knew the mine could support two men, as the past few weeks had proven. It'd be nice to have some company again and he was getting older. He nodded, decision made. He'd start talking to Chris about it as soon as he was out of this cast and back at his shack. Maybe it was Vin's spirits, Bill didn't know, but something told him that he needed to convince Chris to stay. He didn't know if he could do it, however, he was sure that he would have better luck if he waited until the two of them would be staying at the mine. The doctor had made it clear that even after the cast was removed he would need help for at least a couple of weeks, giving him time to talk Chris into remaining. A knock on the door jerked him from his thoughts. “Come in.”
“Hello Bill,” Chris greeted the older man. “I hope you don't mind but I brought some company along.”
Bill frowned. “I ain't in no mood for company.”
Chris glanced to the side. “Sorry Vin, guess you'll have to wait in the hall.”
“Vin! Well why didn't you say it was Vin? Get that boy in here,” Bill gruffly ordered. The last time he had seen Vin had been a week before his accident. He'd been worried about the boy, but he couldn't ask after him without causing him more trouble.
Chris stepped aside, letting the young boy enter the room first. He was amazed at the transformation his employer underwent at sight of Vin. His whole face lit up with joy, though there was an underlying sadness in the old eyes as Bill welcomed the boy into the room.
“Hello Shiitsooyee,” Vin respectfully greeted the man who had quickly taken the place of a grandfather in his life.
“Hello child,” Bill said, a small smile on his weather-beaten face. Patting his knee, he silently invited the boy onto his lap.
Vin doubtfully eyed the cast on Bill's leg. “Are you sure it's okay?”
“You planning to sit on my cast?”
“No sir,” Vin quickly assured his older friend.
“Then get on up here, unless maybe you don't want to sit on my lap.” He grinned as the young boy quickly clambered into his lap, though even in his excitement he was careful of the casted leg. “Now then,” Bill began, “have you been well child? Has Ms. Lucille been alright to you?” He was careful to keep his voice low enough that Chris would have trouble hearing what they discussed. Though such precautions were probably unnecessary as the younger man had moved to the other side of the room, reading over the titles of the few books which rested there, purposely giving them their privacy.
“She left a couple of weeks ago,” Vin shamefully informed him. He shouldn't be happy she was gone, not when it hurt his Pa and brothers so much, but he was. How could he not be when his life had improved so much with Ms. Lucille gone? Still, Vin knew it wasn't right to enjoy his improved life when it came at the cost of pain for others. “I was bad and she left,” he hesitantly admitted.
“That what she told you?” The answering nod didn't surprise him. He'd always known that woman had a vindictive streak in her. Bill never would understand how anybody could worship a so-called loving god when people like Lucille were allowed to continue breathing while his sweet Becky had passed much too soon. “It ain't true child. She only told you that so you'd feel badly about her leaving.”
“That's what they said,” Vin admitted.
“Your spirits?” Another nod answered him. “What about your father and brothers, what do they say?”
“Mostly the same. JD was mad at me but now he's not.” Vin laid his head against Bill's shoulder, absently playing with the buttons on the old man's shirt as they sat in a companionable silence. “Are you sure it wasn't my fault?”
Bill hugged him close. He'd never hit a woman before, but if he ever saw Lucille Sanchez again he thought he just might. “I know it wasn't. You're only a child Vin, how could you do anything that would cause an adult to run away? Fact is I'm surprised Lucille stayed on that farm as long as she did. Truth is she was always a self-centered girl and she grew into a selfish woman,” he assured the boy in his arms. “How have things been since she left?” He was almost afraid to ask. Josiah had inherited his father's formidable temper and though he'd never directed it at a woman or child, Bill couldn't help the fear that Lucille's desertion would push him over the edge.
Vin smiled, the joy he'd felt with his father's permission to use his real name returning to him. “Lots better. Pa hired a man, Mr. Standish, to look after us kids and he's teaching us stuff we woulda learned in school. That's not the best part,” he grinned.
“Oh? And what is the best part?”
“Pa told Mr. Standish my real name,” Vin whispered to the man he considered a grandfather. “He says I don't have to pretend I ain't Apache no more.”
Bill breathed a sigh of relief. “That's wonderful Vin, I'm very happy for you.” He had never agreed with the idea that anybody should have to ignore a part of their heritage.
“He's even okay about the spirits, but he did say not to tell everybody about them.”
Bill nodded. He had to agree with Josiah about that. “He's likely right. Some folks wouldn't like it.”
“Folks don't like it when you're different,” Vin solemnly agreed. He glanced over at Chris. “They say he has a big sadness but we can help him.”
“I intend to child, I intend to,” Bill said, shooting his own glance at Chris. If the spirits were telling Vin such things then he knew that his plan to convince the younger man to stay was the correct one.
(Shiitsooyee= Grandfather I'm not certain of pronunciation but I think the double I would be similar to a short u sound.)
Vin patted his pocket. Yep, the candy for his brothers was still there. He looked up at Chris, a small smile blooming on his face. He didn't think he had ever had such a good day in his life. "Thank you for taking me with you," he said in response to the questioning look on Chris' face.
Chris smiled, “You're welcome Vin.” As the ride continued in companionable silence, Chris became lost in thought. It felt good to hold a small body in his arms again but he couldn't help wishing that it was his son seated in front of him.
“They say you need to face the past,” Vin quietly spoke the message of the spirits. Clamping his hand over his mouth, he stared up at Chris in horrified silence. He shouldn't have said that! Nobody was supposed to know about the spirits, Pa had said so.
“Vin?” Chris was confused. Why would the boy have said something like that?
Vin ducked his head, his face coloring with shame. He should have obeyed his father. “I'm sorry...I shouldn't have said anything.”
“I'm not angry Vin, I just don't understand why you said that.”
“I ain't supposed to say.”
Chris frowned. “So you're just going to leave me confused?” He bit back a smile at the look which came over Vin's face as he thought that over.
“My Ma was Apache...”
“Your Pa doesn't want you telling people?”
Vin could hear the disapproval in Chris' voice. “No, he don't mind folks knowing that. It's my gift he don't want me to talk about.”
“Gift?” He was confused again.
“ Ma had the same gift.” Vin paused, bracing himself to continue. He shouldn't have said anything, but he had and he owed Chris an answer. “The spirits talk to me, they tell me things I need to know. I ain't supposed to tell; folks don't like it when you're different.” Please don't hate me.
Chris was silent for several minutes. He didn't really have a problem with what Vin was telling him. He just wasn't sure that he believed it. “Spirits huh? That who you meant when you said I need to face the past?”
“Yes sir,” Vin nodded. He felt hope growing. Maybe he hadn't lost his new friend after all.
“What else did they tell you?”
“Nothing.” That wasn't completely true, but he didn't think Chris would like the spirits telling his secrets. They hadn't told him yet anyway, they had said they would tell him what they meant later.
Chris gave the boy a small smile. “Well I suppose it's good advice. I'll try to work on that,” he placated his young friend. When Vin raised an eyebrow and shot him a doubtful look he was sure the boy was going to call him on it. Nothing more was said, however, Vin just heaved a sigh and leaned back against him.
Josiah chuckled at the sounds coming from the kitchen. Ezra had surely been put out when their expected guest had failed to arrive until well after lunch. The younger man would be mortified if he knew he was behaving like many a housewife. He'd deny it of course, claiming that he was only bothered by the rudeness of the man in accepting an invitation to lunch and then failing to arrive until after the meal.
One thing he had learned about Ezra in the time he'd been here was that the man was a stickler for etiquette. He had even gone so far as to give the boys etiquette lessons along with their regular schoolwork. Josiah wasn't too sure how well some of those fancy manners would go over here in Wyoming, but he supposed it wouldn't hurt the boys to know how to act in more polite society. After all, you never knew where life would take you. He only needed to look at Ezra for the truth of that.
He winced at the sound of a lid slamming into place. He sure hoped Mr. Larabee and Vin got back in time for supper. Speak of the devil. Stepping outside, he moved to the hitching rail. “Did you have a good time son?” he asked as he lifted Vin down from the large black horse.
“Yes Pa, thank you for letting me go. I gots the candy too,” he added, patting his pocket where the candy laid.
Josiah grinned down at the boy. “That's good son, why don't you keep hold of that until after supper.” He looked up at the man still astride the horse. “You'll stay for supper?”
“No need for that,” Chris tried to refuse. He knew in these hard times a man sometimes could barely feed his own and Sanchez had four children to feed.
“You missed lunch and I'm sure you could use a hot meal.”
“Please Chris,” Vin put in. “You could meet my brothers and Mr. Standish,” he added.
He couldn't say no to those big blue eyes. “A hot meal does sound good.” He climbed down from the saddle, tying the horse to the hitching rail.
“We should probably wash up, supper should be ready soon,” Josiah said. “Boys, come wash up for supper!”
+ + + + + + +
He woke with a gasp, his sweat soaked shirt clinging to his body, his breathing labored as if he'd just ran several miles. The nightmare which had plagued him for several nights was as elusive as ever. He wasn't sure how he knew it was the same dream. He could never remember the events of the nightmare so how could he know it was the same one each night?
"Chris? You okay boy?"
"Yeah, just a bad dream," Chris replied. Scrubbing his hand over his face, he took a minute to get his breathing under control. "Go on back to sleep Bill."
Bill harrumphed, but he laid back down. He wasn't one to push a body. If Chris decided he wanted to talk about whatever was bothering him then he would. Pushing him would more than likely only convince him to leave.
Knowing he wouldn't get anymore sleep tonight, Chris grabbed clean clothes and headed down to the creek. Stripping off his sweat soaked nightshirt, he waded into the cold water. At this rate he was going to have to start sleeping in the nude or he'd be washing clothes every couple of days. He didn't understand why the nightmare wouldn't let go. It had started the day Bill had asked him to stay on after he was back on his feet. He wanted to stay, God knew he did. He hadn't felt so much at peace in a long time and he hated to leave it behind. He shook his head. How could he even consider staying when Sarah and Adam were out there somewhere?
Maybe he could come back after he found them. The more he'd come to know Vin and his family, the more at home he felt, surprising him greatly. He had expected to be uncomfortable around so many boys, living reminders of what he had lost. Yet he wasn't, on the contrary he had gradually grown closer to each of them.
The youngest JD had been the most difficult to be around, reminding him so much of Adam with his enthusiasm for life and boundless curiosity. Nathan, though still a child, was the most like an adult. The boy was very intelligent and wholly focused on his studies when he wasn't doing chores. He rarely played with the other boys, but he was always aware of them, always looking after his younger brothers. Buck, too, would often be found taking care of the younger boys. Like his youngest brother, he possessed an enthusiasm for life, but being older he was less likely to let it lead him into trouble.
Chris enjoyed the visits with Josiah too, when he was able to get away from the mine. A child of missionaries, Josiah Sanchez had traveled the world, giving him a unique outlook on life and a love of nature. Chris had quickly realized that it was that love for nature that had led the older man to becoming a farmer, settling down on the farm that had been in the family for eighty years, once again making it a working operation.
Ezra had been a surprise. Obviously well educated, Chris hadn't expected to find somebody like him in the wilds of Wyoming. He wasn't a bad man, actually he was very easy to get along with, but Chris still wasn't comfortable around the man. He was too refined, too much the gentleman, too like the type of man Sarah deserved.
A short distance away, a small boy tossed his head, whimpering as he was assaulted with the images of his nightmare. "No Chris...don't..."
"Vin, wake up Vin," Nathan called, shaking his brother's shoulder. This was the third night in a row that Vin had woke him up, the same cry on his lips each time.
"Nathan?" Vin squinted, looking up at his brother through sleep bleared eyes. "I'm sorry."
"You want to talk about it?" Nathan asked, ignoring the apology for now.
Vin shook his head.
"Can't, not my secret to tell."
Nathan frowned. "Whose secret is it? Is it Chris' secret?"
Vin nodded. He wanted to tell somebody but the spirits said he couldn't, not yet. He hoped he could soon, maybe then the nightmare would stop.
Nathan's frown grew. "I don't think Chris should ask you to keep secrets, not if it's the kind of secret that gives you nightmares."
"He didn't ask," Vin mumbled.
"Then you can tell me what the secret is."
"Can't," Vin shook his head.
"I don't understand Vin. If Chris didn't ask you to keep it a secret, why can't you tell me?"
"Ain't my secret to tell."
Nathan shook his head. Lord but his little brother could be stubborn. "Vin I'm sure Chris wouldn't mind."
"Chris don't know."
"He doesn't know that you know his secret?" Nathan was confused. "How do you know it then?"
"No," Vin replied. "He don't know the secret."
What? Now Nathan was really confused. "That doesn't make any sense Vin. How can Chris have a secret that he doesn't know about?"
"The spirits said he don't."
Nathan sighed. "Did the spirits tell you what to do with this secret?"
"I have to make Chris remember the secret, but I don't know how."
"I thought you said Chris doesn't know the secret."
"He does, but he doesn't remember it so he don't know it," Vin explained.
"Oh. Maybe you should talk to Pa about it, he might know how to make Chris remember."
Vin shrugged his shoulders. "Maybe."
Putting his fingers under Vin's chin, Nathan tilted the younger boy's head until he could look him in the eye. "Will you think about it? I don't like seeing you having nightmares, Pa wouldn't like it either."
"You ain't gonna tell him, are you?"
"Not yet, but I will if you keep having nightmares."
"I'll think about it," Vin finally agreed.
"Good." Nathan smiled down at the younger boy. "It's still early, why don't you see if you can get some more sleep." With gentle hands, he tucked Vin in. He just hoped the boy could get a little more sleep. Standing up, he moved towards the door.
"Nathan? Thank you."
Nathan smiled softly. "You're welcome Vin." It was nearly time for him to get up and gather the eggs, he didn't think it would matter if he got them a little early.
The days passed and Vin was no closer to an answer than he had been. He had thought about Nathan's suggestion, but finally decided not to talk to his father. He wouldn't be able to explain things any better to him which might make the man fear Vin's gift. He didn't want to have to return to the days of hiding who he was. Vin didn't think he could do that again. He needed to find a way to make Chris remember or he would leave. The spirits had told Vin that if Chris left he would never see him again because his friend would be dead by Christmas.
Having overheard the conversation between his brothers, Buck too had been thinking. He didn't have any more idea than Nathan about Chris' secret, but if it was hurting his brother he'd have to do something about it. Buck knew that Vin wouldn't go to Pa about the secret. He'd spent too much time hearing that being part Apache was bad, it'd take more than a few weeks before he believed their father's words of assurance. In the meantime the younger boy was suffering from horrible nightmares. Making up his mind, Buck gave a short nod and headed out to the barn to talk to his father. He found him in the back stall working on some leather harnesses.
“Pa, can I talk to you?”
Josiah looked up, a mischievous glint in his eyes. “Looks like you can,” he teased.
Buck gave a small smile, but he didn't laugh, he wasn't in a teasing mood. “It's kind of important.”
Josiah sobered, “What is it son?”
“Well...um I got a problem that I'm not sure how to handle.” Buck bit his lip as he wrestled with how to continue.
Josiah waited patiently for the boy to get his thoughts in order. He'd learned early on that rushing a child would only get him flustered until he took twice as long as if he just let them be.
“The thing is, well I know a secret, sort of, and I think if I tell one person about it that it'll help him and somebody else. It ain't my secret though and I only know it cause I overheard something. What do you think I should do?” Buck looked up at his father, his dark blue eyes filled with the faith that only a child could have.
Though he showed no outward sign, Josiah was stunned once again by the faith his children had in him. For a few minutes he seemingly focused on his leather work. In truth he was using the chore as a distraction while he thought over his son's question. “Were you eavesdropping?”
Buck shook his head after a moment's thought. “No sir, I couldn't really help overhearing.”
Josiah nodded. That told him the secret had likely been spoken of during the night, perhaps as one of the boys dreamed. “Is it the sort of secret you should tell me? I mean is it a secret that might hurt you or one of your brothers?”
“I don't think so. There is somebody that needs to know the secret, but I don't know if I should tell him.”
“Knowing when to share a secret can be difficult. Let me ask you this son, will telling the secret help or hurt?”
Buck sighed, scuffing the toe of his boot in the dirt. “I think it'll help, but I ain't sure.”
“One can never be sure that they're actions will help, but most of the time doing nothing will cause more harm than good.”
Buck nodded, a grim smile crossing his face. “Thanks Pa, I know what to do now. Is it okay if I go over to Mr. Miller's mine?”
So the secret had something to do with Bill or Chris, probably Chris if he didn't miss his guess. He'd let Buck handle it for now, but if it seemed he needed help he'd be there to offer it. “As long as your chores are done.”
“Thanks Pa, bye!” Buck called as he turned and ran towards the entrance of the barn.
“Be back in time for supper,” Josiah called after him, chuckling under his breath. That boy surely could move when he wanted to. He saw Buck wave to him, letting him know he'd heard.
By the time he arrived at the mine, Buck wasn't so sure about what to do. Before he could make up his mind to go back home Chris looked up and waved him down from the crest of the hill. Buck decided that it was a sign that he was doing the right thing.
“Hey Buck, what brings you around?” Chris asked.
“Just thought I'd come over and visit, be neighborly,” Buck shyly replied.
Chris frowned. He admitted he didn't know Buck as well as he knew Vin, but this shy boy wasn't familiar to him. “Something wrong son?”
Buck shrugged his shoulders, scuffing his boots in the dirt. Now that he was here, facing the man whose secret was hurting his brother, he didn't know how to start.
“Is everything okay at your place?” Chris gently asked.
“Mostly,” Buck mumbled.
Chris sighed, dropping to one knee so he was at eye level with the boy. “You know you can tell me if something's wrong.”
“It's about your secret.”
Chris was confused. “I don't have any secrets Buck.”
“You don't know it, I heard Vin say so.”
The confusion grew. “How can I have a secret and not know it?”
Buck shrugged. “I don't know, it has to do with...um....” he trailed off, suddenly realizing that Chris might not know about the spirits. “Do you know about Vin's gift?”
“You mean that he can talk to spirits?”
Buck let out a relieved sigh. “The spirits told him the secret and it's making him have nightmares. I don't want my brother to be hurting so I come to tell you that you have to remember the secret.” Buck was proud that his voice only quaked a little as he made his demand.
“I'm sorry Buck but I don't know what secret the spirits could be talking about.”
“I don't know either but I hear Vin at night, calling out to you and sometimes to a Sarah and Adam.” The fury that lit in Chris' eyes at mention of those names had Buck backing away.
Chris glared at the boy. “You keep your nose out of my business boy and you can tell your brother the same thing.”
“I can't Chris, the spirits want me to help you remember,” came a voice from behind him.
Chris spun, his glare intensifying as he saw Vin. “I don't know what secret you're talking about boy.”
Vin sighed. He wasn't sure the time was right for this, but Buck coming here was making him act. He had been surprised when his father had told him Buck had gone to the mine. That surprise had turned to alarm at the mention of a secret. He hadn't even bothered to ask for permission, he had simply turned and ran towards the mine, hoping to stop Buck. “You do, but the spirits say it's locked inside you.”
Chris growled, “Spirits hell! You've been going through my things, haven't you? That's how you know about Sarah and Adam.” Anger at the invasion of his privacy blinded him to the fear in Vin's eyes as the boy took a step backwards. Quickly he closed the distance between them, as he reached for Vin's arm Buck was suddenly between them, shoving him away.
“You leave him alone! He didn't do anything wrong!” Buck stood protectively in front of his younger brother, his body trembling with fear and anger.
“The hell he didn't,” Chris snarled as he regained his footing.
“Please Chris,” Vin peaked out from behind Buck, “you have to remember so they can rest.”
Chris blinked, the statement slowing his anger. “So who can rest? Your spirits?”
“No Chris, your spirits,” Vin quietly corrected the man.
That stopped the anger, turning it to confusion. “I don't talk to spirits.”
“Not spirits you talk to, they're spirits that are tied to you,” the boy gently explained.
Chris shook his head. “No, there's no spirits tied to me. You're wrong Vin, you and your spirits.”
“She says she's sorry. That she didn't know what she was doing. She never meant to hurt you but if you don't remember the pain and accept it they can't find peace.”
“No,” Chris whispered. He staggered away, images flashing through his mind. It couldn't be true.
“Sarah needs your forgiveness Chris. You have to remember so you can forgive her.” Vin followed the blond man, his eyes glistening with tears as he saw the pain he was causing his friend.
“No!” Chris cried out, dropping to his knees.
Chris struggled against the wind, the dust so thick it was nearly choking him. He wished he could take his family out of this god-forsaken land that had already cost them a daughter, but where would they go? Nobody would buy a farm in the heart of the dust bowl and without funds they couldn't go anywhere else. He refused to turn his wife and son into hobos. As hard as life was here, at least they had a home and with it hope for the future. His head lowered against the wind, he finally made it to the kitchen door.
Stumbling inside, he was barely in the door when he tripped over something. He fell to the floor, instinctively bringing his hands forward to catch himself. The floor needed washed again, it was feeling very tacky under his hands. It took a minute to realize there was something on the floor and another minute to recognize the substance as blood. Blood! There was so much blood, too much blood. A pit opened in his stomach as he turned back towards the thing that had tripped him. Adam! No, no, it couldn't be his boy. What had happened? Why was his son lying there so still? Why was he lying in blood? He had to get him out of the blood, Adam wouldn't like lying in it. He was only five, still young enough for the sight of blood to upset him. Crawling forward, he picked the boy up in his arms, dragging him away from the blood. He was cold, Adam shouldn't be this cold. “Adam, wake up son. Please wake up honey, talk to me Adam, please.” His pleas fell on deaf ears. Sarah, he had to find his wife, she would know how to make Adam wake up. Struggling to his feet, he carried Adam through the house, searching for his wife.
He found her in their bedroom, sitting in the rocker. The rocker she had spent hours rocking Adam in when he was a baby and later their little girl. The baby who had laid in her crib, choking to death on the dust that constantly moved through the air, dust that no walls could keep out. They hadn't even known what was happening until Sarah went to wake her from her nap. He still remembered the sound of Sarah's scream. He could hear it now, but Sarah only sat in the rocker, her hands crossed over her stomach, a knife protruding from between them. He wasn't aware of anything after that. He didn't feel the pain when his knees hit the floor. He didn't hear the sound of his voice as he screamed out his pain. He wasn't aware of pulling Sarah into his arms to join Adam, of holding his family in a protective embrace. He didn't know when a neighbor stopped by, finding him on his knees, broken by the loss of wife and child. He didn't remember the funeral, or later returning to his farm and setting match to timber. He didn't remember watching it burn. He didn't remember driving away from the farm that had cost him everything, nor when he had begun searching for them.
“Why? Why did she do it? I loved them both so much, why couldn't she stay with me? Why couldn't she let Adam stay with me?” Chris looked up at the sky, his face streaked with tears. “Why?” he cried to the heavens.
Vin and Buck watched, both boys frightened by what they were seeing. They'd never seen an adult cry before. They'd never expected to see a man on his knees, crying like a small child. Uncertainly Vin moved forward, Buck reluctantly following him. “She was scared Chris,” Vin quietly spoke, passing on the message Sarah needed her husband to hear. “She didn't mean to hurt you, she only knew that the dust had taken one child and she was afraid it would take the other. She thought she was doing a good thing, keeping Adam from suffering like Emily had. Sarah didn't know she was causing him and you pain.”
Chris looked up at the boy. He could see the truth in the sky-blue eyes. “Is she talking to you now?” he whispered.
Vin nodded. “She needs you to forgive her Chris. She needs you to accept what happened. It's the only way they and you can have peace.”
Chris took a shuddering breath. Could he forgive her for tearing his world apart? He had loved her, more than life itself, how could he not forgive her? “Tell her I forgive her and that I'll be with them soon.”
Vin gasped. “No Chris, you can't. Sarah says you still have things to do here. She won't be punished because she was hurting too much to know what she was doing, but you will be. She says you're needed here.”
“That sounds like her, always trying to take care of me.” Chris smiled sadly. “Will she wait for me?”
Vin smiled. “Forever and a day.”
Any doubts fled with those words. Sarah had always said she would love him forever and a day. There was no way Vin could have known to use them. He closed his eyes, picturing his Sarah as she had looked the day he first saw her. “I love you sweet woman. Take care of our children until the day I join you.”
“She will Chris. She loves you too.” Vin smiled, relieved that the job the spirits had given him was done. When they had told him that Chris would die if he didn't remember the secret, he had been more afraid than he'd ever been before. He hadn't known how he was going to make Chris remember. A hand landed on his shoulder. Looking up, he smiled at Buck. “Thanks for butting in Buck.”
Buck nodded, he was just glad it had worked out. “You think he'll be okay?”
“I think so. The spirits say he will be.”
“Well they've been right so far,” Buck smiled.
Vin stepped forward, wrapping his small arms around the man kneeling on the ground. “Thank you for staying around,” he whispered. He smiled as he felt strong arms returning the hug. Silently he promised Sarah and Adam that he would help Chris to heal.
Well there you have it, the opening story of the Sanchez family universe. Now that the opening story is completed, this universe is open to any who wish to play in it. Please feed the muse with reviews.