The Lost Boys V:
Seven Men Alone II

by Angie

Fifth story in The Lost Boys series.

Josiah stared at the tattered Bible and his hands shook. Orin had waited until the others were in bed before giving him the news that his sister was alive but his father had died. His mind was spinning with the implications. He was the oldest, it was his responsibility to care for Hannah. He couldn't even care for himself yet and he was being burdened with another person.

Even as the thought formed in his head, he violently rejected it. Throwing the Bible across the room, he bolted for the door and ran out into the moonlit night. Orin exhaled slowly before getting up and retrieving the Bible from the floor. Several papers had fallen out of it, along with a few faded and tattered pictures. It was easy to recognize Josiah, he was tall and gangly even before his time on the island. The girl at his side with the long braids had to be Hannah. The couple behind them looked stern and unyielding. Orin tucked the pictures back into the book and began to look over the papers that had fallen out. One was a letter, inviting the missionary to host a revival in Mission Flats, a little town in the Texas panhandle. Another was a fragile, yellowed newspaper clipping announcing the funeral of Rachael Sanchez, dated over five years ago. One of the papers was crisp, heavy stationary and Orin curiously unfolded it. Without even looking at the signature, he recognized Steven's elegant cursive script. Fury boiled in his gut as he realized that his son was searching for relatives of the boys and urging them to come and get them. That was how Reverend Sanchez had come to be so close. If his horse hadn't thrown him, he probably would have made it to the ranch and taken the young man away with him.

He ran until his legs wouldn't carry him another step. Josiah went to his knees on the frozen ground and gave vent to the emotions running rampant in his heart. He pounded on the dirt with his fists, cursing fate and his father. He cursed himself for the sudden, burning hatred he felt for his sister at being 'infirm' and requiring care. He cursed Orin for bringing him the news and then he cursed God for laying another burden on his already weary shoulders.

Orin stood back, not willing to impose on what he presumed to be an emotional letting at finding out that his sister was alive after all this time. He had no way of knowing what was really running through Josiah's mind at the moment. When the loud, anguished sobs quieted, he slowly walked up and placed his coat around the teenager's body and went to his knees beside him.

"Just tell me what you want to do, son. I want to help you," Orin said gently.

"I'm not your son! I'm not anybody's son anymore! I don't know what to do! I don't know how I'm going to ... how I can ... I don't know what made me think I could take care of anyone!" Josiah shouted.

"I'm so sorry, Josiah. I want to help you. Do you want to go and see your sister? Make sure that she's alright?"

"How am I supposed to do it? The Bible says that 'a bruised reed, he will not break and a weak flame, he will not snuff out'. But I don't know how I'm going to be able to do it all! I can't take care of all of them anymore!"

Slowly, the way he would approach a nervous yearling colt, Orin put an arm around Josiah and drew him closer. He knew that the young man was working too hard, trying to do too much. He let his hand glide up until he could pull Josiah's head against his shoulder.

"I will help you, Josiah."

"You've given us too much already!"

"And it is mine to give, isn't it?"

"But how can we ever pay you back?"

Orin sat back on his heels so he could see into the troubled blue eyes. "Have you ever wondered why Evie and I don't have any children of our own? It's because she can't. Now I know it isn't the same but having you boys here is like having children for her. That woman is happier than she's been since we got married and it's all because of the seven of you."

"She's hardly old enough to me my Ma," Josiah argued.

"Doesn't change the fact that she cares for you, does it? Evie wanted a house full of children. She was devastated when the doctors told her that she couldn't. That was part of the reason we were on that ship that found you boys in the first place, I was taking her on a trip to try to lighten her spirits. So, every time she smiles because of one of you boys, you are paying me back triple what I'm putting out. That woman means the world to me and keeping her happy is worth everything to me."

They sat there a few minutes longer and then Orin got up and pulled Josiah to his feet. Although there was still a torrent of emotions scrolling across the teenager's face, he seemed a little relieved. They walked back to the house and both of them hurried to the fireplace to get warm.

"I'd like to see her, to see if she remembers me," Josiah said.

"I'll take you over on Saturday," Orin agreed.

At the hospital, the doctor removed the big, heavy cast and replaced it with a lighter one that only covered Vin from his hip to his knee. He wanted to work the joint to make sure that it didn't freeze in place as it healed. He explained that the cast would be removed and replaced every week so that he could repeat the procedure. Vin lay trembling and drenched in sweat after the first time. It hurt so bad when the doctor moved his leg that he passed out. Later that afternoon, he had a muscle spasm. He cried as Mrs. Travis massaged his leg. That evening, she gave him a sponge bath and worked all of his muscles that weren't covered by the cast. One of the nurses said that lanolin would help protect his skin from bedsores, a common problem for bedridden patients, so Evie was rubbing it into his skin. It was actually more comfortable for him to lie on his stomach and he fell asleep while she was working on his back.

Evie got a letter from Orin and the boys and she read it to Vin that evening. JD wrote that he had named the new puppy Scamp, because that was what Ezra said it behaved like. She read about all of the vegetables Nathan and the others had been putting up for winter. Mrs. Wells had invited them to pick any of the apples that were still good and they had put up several more quarts of applesauce. Mr. and Mrs. Potter had traded them two bushels of green beans for the work the older boys had done repairing their storage building after a tree branch fell on the roof and damaged it. Vin was secretly proud that his brothers were developing a good rapport with the townspeople. Ezra had told them that it would be good to have a good name built up for themselves if they decided to stay in the area.

A few nights later, when Evie was having supper at the hotel restaurant, a very elegant woman sat at the next table. While a judge's salary wasn't the best, she did have a few dollars and some nice clothing but this woman was dressed like a queen. Evie shook her head at the way all of the staff fawned over the other woman.

Over the course of the next week, Evie saw a lot of the fancy-dressed woman. She carried herself as if most of the people around her were miles beneath her station in life. It was only after one of the hotel staff let it slip that Mrs. Travis was the wife of the circuit judge that the woman deigned to even speak to her.

"Mrs. Travis, Maude Stanton, how very nice to meet you. I understand that you are only visiting in St. Louis, what brings you here?"

"My son is recovering from surgery," Evie answered politely.

"Your son? How tragic! Is he doing well?"

"He's doing very well, thank you."

"Perhaps you would do me the honor of joining me and my associate for supper Tuesday next?"

"I don't think so. I spend most of my time at the hospital with Vin. But thank you for your very kind invitation," Evie said as she tried to come up with an excuse to leave the lobby where she'd been cornered.

Vin clenched his teeth and fought back tears as the doctor slowly raised and lowered his leg. He had been doing the bending and stretching for almost fifteen minutes and it was all the boy could take. Evie petted his hand with her free hand and he opened his eyes to look up at her.

"I'm so sorry that it hurts you, sweetheart," she told him. When the doctor finally finished, he told the nurse to take him and have the cast replaced. Evie leaned over the bed and gathered him up as much as she was able and held him while he cried. Helen was there with another pill and a glass of juice to wash it down. By the time they finished the cast he was asleep again.

That night, when Evie got back to the hotel, the staff was all abuzz with the news that Mrs. Stanton had disappeared. It seemed that she was not the wealthy socialite that she has purported herself to be and that the money she had been bragging about was stolen. Evie shook her head and wondered what drove a woman to do something like that.

Orin brought the surrey to a stop outside of the small convent. Josiah looked at the building and then glanced around at the small town that surrounded it. With a sigh, he stepped down and slowly walked toward the wrought iron gate. He pulled the rope that rang the bell and waited. He could see into the courtyard where there were statues and small clusters of withered flowers. Finally, a woman in a heavy winter robe stood on the other side of the gate.

When his young ward didn't say anything, Orin spoke, "We're here to see Hannah Sanchez. This is her brother, Josiah." The woman's head dipped and she opened the gate. They followed her through the courtyard and into the building. The air was filled with the sound of prayer, rising and falling in a familiar rhythm. They followed the woman down a long corridor and up some stairs until she gestured for them to sit down on a bench outside of a heavy oaken door. A few minutes later, the door opened and a wizened old woman stood before them.

"Mr. Travis, Mr. Sanchez, please come into my office," she said. Once inside, she poured tea for them and took a seat in a rather rickety looking old chair. "I understand you've come to see Hannah?"

"Yes, Ma'am," Josiah answered.

"Before I take you to see her I must tell you about her. Your sister is not in her right mind. Her body bears witness to numerous beatings. Witnesses have said that your father may have beaten her to drive out some demon he perceived her to have."

"He hated her because she looked like my Ma," Josiah replied, his voice tight with anger.

"We suspected as much. Hannah does not speak. She can, we know from her nightmares when she screams and begs forgiveness, but when she is awake, she will not respond. We would like to keep her here, with your permission, and pray over her. Sister Agatha feels that we can soothe her spirit and eventually help her to overcome what was done to her. I cannot prevent you from taking her from us, if that is your wish, but I wanted you to know that she will not want for anything if you leave her with us."

"I want to see my sister."

"Come with me. Mr. Travis, I'm sorry but you will have to remain here. The presence of any man in her cell causes Hannah to become agitated and she hurts herself. You may walk in the courtyard or sit in the chapel while I take Josiah to his sister."

As he followed the Mother Superior, Josiah remembered his sister the last time he had seen her. Their father had just sold him to be apprentice on the ship and Hannah was sobbing and begging to go with him. Their father had threatened to have her horse whipped if she didn't cease her caterwauling. With tears pouring down her cheeks, she had waved to him as he walked up the gangplank and onto the great ship.

The heavy door opened with surprising ease under the woman's light touch. The small room was lit with several lanterns, so that there were no shadows. Instead of a bedstead, Hannah's mattress was on the floor. His sister was on her knees, drawing on the wall with a piece of charcoal. Josiah recognized the picture she was rendering as being from the big cathedral in New York City. Several places on the walls held other drawings.

"Hannah?" Josiah called softly. Her hand trembled on the wall and then the charcoal dropped to the floor. Her head came around slowly until her eyes fell on him. Josiah was horrified to see the fear and terror that filled her face as she looked at him. Her keening wail was like a knife in his heart. The Mother Superior moved quickly to her side and knelt, soothing her as well as she could.

"That's your brother Josiah. Do you remember Josiah?" the woman asked as she rocked the terrified young woman.

"No, no, no, no, no, no," Hannah mumbled.

Not wanting to prolong her terror, Josiah opened the door and fled. Orin looked up expectantly as the teen came running out of the convent.

"Josiah!" he called and the young man turned, coming straight to him and throwing his arms around him as he shook. "It's alright, son, it's alright. We'll get through this," Orin soothed. After he had calmed Josiah, they returned to the office to await the Mother Superior. She came in and crossed to offer her support to the anguished teenager.

"I was afraid that she would react that way, I'm sorry that I didn't warn you."

"What did he do to her?" Josiah asked through clenched teeth.

"He couldn't break her spirit so he battered her body. Give us some time with her. Allow us to try to lead her soul back. When she is better, perhaps she will want to see you. You are welcome to come and see her, from a distance, any time."

"Thank you, Ma'am," Josiah said. "I'd like that. Will you ... write to me and let me know how she's doing?"

"Of course. And we will continue to tell her that you want to see her. We have faith that God will heal her torment and reveal to her the path to her salvation."

Josiah was quiet on the ride back to the ranch. He knew that there was no way he could care for his sister and that she was better off where she was. He vowed to find some way to earn money to help support her at the convent. He was also relieved that Orin didn't press him to talk about what had happened.

It was dark by the time they got home. Orin was surprised that Chris and Buck came jogging down to the barn and started to unhitch the team. Seeing that they had things well in hand, he and Josiah went on up to the house where Nathan had set plates aside for them.

Finally, after four long weeks, the doctor was going to leave the cast off and put Vin in a different kind of support. This one had leather straps and metal bars to hold his leg in line with his hip on the side that had been repaired. Now he would have to learn to walk, all over again. Nurse Ruth and Mrs. Travis helped him into the rolling chair and took him down the hall to a special room. Vin eyed the parallel bars warily as he was positioned at one end. Two nurses helped him to stand and held him until he regained his balance. It hurt more than he thought possible just to hold up his own weight. Vin broke into a sweat as he took hold of the bars.

For the first few days, he had only to stand between the bars. Then he had to try to take a step. It took all of his concentration to slide his foot forward on his good side. When he tried to move his leg on the side that had been fixed, he couldn't because of the pain. The nurses shook their heads sadly and helped him back to the chair and took him back to his room. Evie tried to console him but all Vin could do was cry.

After two weeks, the doctor said that Vin was well enough to go home. Even though he couldn't walk, he could stand for a few minutes at a time. Evie was given a list of exercises to do with him to help build up his muscles and his tolerance for pain. She was horrified at this and objected strenuously.

"Mrs. Travis, there is nothing wrong with him physically. He will have to work if he is to walk again but there is no reason for us to keep him here. He will recover just as well back at home with his family. I will send along directions for the doctor in Denver so that he can follow up with you. I will also give you some more of the pain medicine he's been taking."

So, with mixed emotions, Evie packed their things and got ready to go home. She sent a telegram to Orin and the boys to let them know that they were coming back. The hospital gave them a wheelchair for Vin to use. It was difficult for her to lift him in and out of it, but the man driving the surrey that was hired to take them to the train was willing to help.

At the ranch, the boys were excitedly preparing for Vin to come home and also for the coming Christmas holiday. Everyone had been working on gifts for the others and each had their own hiding place for their projects.

One afternoon, quite by accident, Orin ran into Steven on the street. The tension between the two men made the air crackle around them.

"Father," Steven said stiffly, "I have something to tell you."

"Shall we see if there is a table available in the saloon?" Orin asked. They went into the saloon and found a table, close enough to the stove to be comfortable without being too close to any of the other patrons. "Well, son, what was it you wanted to tell me?"

"I wanted to let you know that ... that you will be a grandfather by this time next year," Steven said. "I don't know if that matters to you any more but Mary felt you had the right to know."

"Steven! Congratulations! I'm so happy for you! I know Evie will be thrilled, too. When is she due? Do you need anything? Is Mary alright?"

Surprised at the enthusiasm, Steven answered, "Thank you, Mary's fine. She's excited, looking forward to having a child of her own."

"That's wonderful news, son."

"I wasn't sure how you would feel about it now that you have all of those boys."

"Steven Francis Travis, how could I not be happy for you? Your wife is going to have a baby! That's great news! I can't understand how you can be so jealous of those boys."

"I'm not ... jealous of them," Steven defended hotly.

"Then why are you trying to find their relatives?"

Startled blue eyes looked up before looking away, "I don't know what you're talking about."

"You sent a letter to Josiah's father, telling him that the boy was here and inviting him to come and get him."

"H-h-how do you know about that?"

"Josiah's father was killed when he fell from his horse over near Greeley. A nun from the convent over that way found the letter and came to see me to tell me that Josiah's sister was there."

"I suppose you're taking her in too?"

"No, Hannah is staying where she is because that's the better place for her. But why Steven? Why are you trying to split those boys up?"

"Don't you think their families have a right to know?"

Orin rubbed the bridge of his nose to stall the impending headache. "Steven, did you ever read Mary's stories on the boys? Do you know that Josiah's father literally sold him, like a Negro slave, to that ship captain? Does that sound like a man who wanted his son? How many other letters have you sent out? How many other family members have you found? Don't you know that losing one of those boys is going to break Evie's heart?"

"But that man was his father! Didn't he have a right to his son? Didn't he have the right to inherit from his father?"

"My God! Is that what this is all about? Your inheritance? Steven, I can't believe you! Those boys had no one to care for them. I gave them a home. You have a home, a wife, a good job, why are you so afraid that these boys are going to reap the benefits of what I have?"

"Because you're my father!" Steven shouted as he leapt up from the table and stormed out.

Two days later, a deliveryman knocked on the door of Steven Travis's house. Mary opened the door and signed for the letter that was addressed to both she and her husband. Curious, she opened it. Inside was a check made out to both of them, along with a copy of Orin's will. The letter enclosed urged her husband to review the story of the 'Prodigal Son' in the Bible and to spend his riches wisely. Orin had taken a loan against the ranch and was giving them one quarter of its value. He had changed his will to leave one quarter to their unborn child and any children they might have. The other half was left to his wife, Evie, and to her children, natural and adopted. Mary dropped the letter as if it would burn her. It lay on the dining room table until Steven arrived home that night.

Traveling by train with a child was difficult. Traveling by train with a child in a wheelchair was doubly difficult. Vin was in constant pain, caused by the motion of the train. The passenger car was crowded, making it impossible for him to stretch out. Evie did everything she could to make him more comfortable. Vin tried not to be a bother, suffering stoically in silence, but when he finally managed to sleep, he cried out in pain.

The conductor watched the young woman and the boy in the wheelchair. The child seemed familiar to him but he couldn't place him. It wasn't until he heard the boy mention a hammock that he realized who they were. He remembered the fair-haired child and the other children traveling with him back in the spring. He wondered what had happened to the boy to cause him to be in the chair.

"Excuse me, Ma'am, but didn't you travel to Denver several months ago?" Cletus Thompson asked. "I thought you looked familiar to me and the boy, too." It wasn't long before he had the whole story about the surgery and the long recovery. He mentally reviewed the contents of the baggage car before making his suggestion. "Perhaps you would be more comfortable in the baggage car? I can put a small heat stove in there and you and the boy could at least have the room to stretch out and lie down. I might even be able to come up with some of that netting like the boys used last time to fashion him a hammock so he would be more comfortable."

Evie was grateful to the man for his kindness. They had to wait until the next day when the train stopped for water before they could move but just the prospect of being able to ease Vin's pain made it worthwhile. The small stove didn't give off much heat but it took the icy chill out of the air. The conductor had found some of the net and slung a hammock between the cargo ties in the walls. Thickly wrapped in blankets and padded with the pillows she had brought, Vin was snug in his little nest. Mr. Thompson also managed to stow a couple of bails of hay, which Evie used to make a bed for herself.

The telegraph said that they would be arriving on Monday and the boys were thrilled. They couldn't wait to see Vin and hear all about his surgery. Nathan spent all day Sunday making fresh bread and a pecan pie for the homecoming celebration they were planning. Since they had missed Thanksgiving together, the boys were planning a feast to make up for it. Chris and Josiah had gone hunting and brought back a fine turkey. The garden had yielded several large pumpkins and Mrs. Wells had taught them how to can the cooked pumpkin so they could have it for later.

It was seven very anxious people who paced on the boardwalk in front of the train station. JD asked about every sixty seconds if it was time for them to be there. The man at the ticket desk repeated tiredly and for the umpteenth time that the last wire said that the train was on time. Ezra and Buck stood on the corner of the boardwalk and stared at the horizon, looking for any clue that the train was coming. Finally, a faint plume of smoke could be seen. The boys immediately lined up to stare into the distance. Orin tried to cover his nervousness but he couldn't stop fidgeting with the bow tie he had put on that morning. All of them were dressed in their Sunday best and he had promised that they could have dinner in the restaurant to celebrate.

Finally, they could hear the thin peel of the train horn. Then they could see a larger plume of smoke. By the time they could actually see the engine, the boys were in a frenzy, jockeying for the best view of the coming train until Orin feared that one of them would fall. He called to them and made them come back to the bench. The train slowed as it approached. Seven pairs of eyes hungrily searched the windows, looking for the familiar faces. As the passengers began to get off, the boys worried that Vin and Evie weren't among them. As the doors to the baggage car were opened and luggage unloaded, they turned to Orin to explain it to them. Finally, Nathan spied the familiar hair and pointed.

"There they are!" he exclaimed, surging forward to take Vin from the conductor's arms. All of the boys crowded around, with JD jumping up and down until Josiah hefted him onto his hip so he could see. While the conductor was going back for the chair, Evie stepped out. Orin's heart sang as he crossed to sweep her into his arms.

"Hey, what's that for?" JD asked at seeing the wheelchair.

"It's mine," Vin explained. "I still can't walk, so I have to use that."

The news did not go over too well. Five pairs of eyes turned on Evie, accusation and disbelief writ large in their faces. Nathan lowered Vin into the chair and made sure that he was covered warmly as Buck commandeered the handles on the back. Chris and Ezra took the bags as the entourage turned to see what they were going to do next.

"The doctor said that he's done all that he could for Vin. He gave me some exercises to help him build up his muscles until he can walk again," Evie explained.

After storing the bags in the wagon, the group made their way to the restaurant. Vin was suddenly self-conscious about the stares he was getting from the people around him. His stomach started feeling funny and he hoped that he wouldn't be sick.

Orin had written to his wife about the situation with Josiah and she pulled him aside to tell him how sorry she was to hear about his father and sister. It surprised her to see how close the oldest boy was to her husband now. JD was very demanding of her attention, wanting to tell her everything, twice. She was touched at how quickly the boys had fallen back into the pattern of protecting Vin. Orin had also advised her of what he had done with regard to Steven and the ranch. She would wait until they were alone together to discuss that subject.

On the ride home, Vin sat in Josiah's lap, so as not to get jarred in any way. The boys piled up like puppies, all of them touching Vin in some way as if afraid he would disappear if they let go. Once they reached the ranch, Orin took Vin to the house while the boys dealt with the team and put the wagon away. JD and Ezra brought the wheelchair and bags to the house. As soon as Vin was safely ensconced in the chair again, JD brought Scamp in to meet him. The gangly-legged puppy stood on his hind legs to sniff and thoroughly wash Vin's face with his excited tongue. JD brought the ball and soon Vin was rolling the ball down the hallway for the dog to fetch.

"I can't believe you let them play fetch in the house," Evie said as she leaned in close to her husband.

"It was either allow it in the house or allow them to play outside in the cold. I simply chose the lesser of two evils," he explained.

There was some initial awkwardness when it came time for Vin to get ready for bed. Josiah carried him upstairs and Nathan brought the chair but when Vin asked for Evie to help him change clothes, the boys were somewhat hurt. Nathan was especially hurt when Mrs. Travis sat on the bed and rubbed Vin down with the lanolin to help him relax.

The old patterns tried to reassert themselves. The boys tried to take over caring for Vin but he seemed to prefer for Mrs. Travis to do it. Within a few days, tempers were flaring. The issue came to a head that Saturday when they were getting ready to go into Four Corners to pick up supplies. Vin was alone in the bedroom, waiting for someone to come and carry him down the stairs. He wanted to brush his hair but he couldn't reach the brush, which was sitting on the dresser. He slowly pushed himself to a standing position and took two, painful, shuffling steps toward the dresser. Keeping one hand on the dresser for balance, he took up the brush and began to go over his hair. He never heard Nathan as he stood in the doorway, glaring.

Nathan turned and went silently down the stairs. He couldn't believe that Vin was faking! It had to be a ploy to get more attention from the Travis's. Seething with anger, he went down to the barn and began brushing one of the wagon team. Chris came in and was surprised to find the older boy there.

"I thought you were bringing Vin down for Mrs. Travis," he said.

"Well, you were wrong. Let him come down on his own. I saw him standing, he can walk, he's just playing this for all the attention he's getting!" Nathan shouted, startling the horse.

"What do you mean, he's faking? Mrs. Travis said that he can't walk, not until he builds up the muscles in his legs," Chris protested.

"Well, I saw what I saw and he was walking!"

Chris ran from the barn and back to the house. Evie called to him as he passed, asking him not to run in the house, but he ignored her and ran up the stairs. Knowing that something was very wrong, she asked Josiah to finish getting the others ready to go and she quickly mounted the stairs. She paused at the top, hearing the blond boy's voice laced thickly with anger.

"You lied to us! Nathan said you can walk!"

Inside the room, Vin nearly lost his balance, he was so startled by his friend. Carefully, he turned, leaning against the dresser as he looked at Chris. "Only a few steps," he answered.

"I'll bet! I'll bet you're just playing this up, like you did at the cave, to get attention. I'll bet you love all of the attention you've been getting. You've got Mr. and Mrs. Travis babying you. You really like the attention, don't you? Just like in the cave. You had to go and run out in the storm and get hurt so we had to take care of you. And then you got to go on the train to St. Louis and spend all that time with her. I can just see you lying in bed while she babied you!"

Vin's leg was beginning to shake and he knew that he needed to sit down before he fell. "Chris, would you push me my chair?"

"Get it yourself," the blond said crossly.

Evie debated whether or not to interfere and her worry that Vin might fall outweighed her hope that Chris would come to his senses. She crossed the landing and opened the door just as Vin tried to walk over to his chair. She knew from the instant that she saw him that he was going to fall and there was no way she could get to him in time. Vin's leg folded and he landed hard on his hands and knees.

"Vin!" she cried as she rushed to his side, pushing Chris out of her way.

Josiah heard the sound of a body hitting the floor and he leapt up to run up the stairs. He crossed the room and carefully picked Vin up, setting him on the bed. Evie was right there, worrying that he'd injured his hip again. The older boy turned on Chris to ask what happened.

Shame burned in Chris's heart. Vin hadn't lied to him and now he might be hurt again. He didn't understand why it made him so angry seeing Mrs. Travis lavish attention on his friend. He loved Vin, the same way he had loved his real brother. His breath was coming fast and he knew he had to get away before his anger got out of control and he broke something or hit someone. He passed Nathan on the steps as he ran out of the house.

"Vin, are you in pain? Is it bad?" Evie had asked him. He could see the fear and worry in her face and he didn't want to upset her any more so he shook his head.

"I'm fine, it just hurts a little. I shouldn't have stood for so long."

Nathan stopped in the doorway, aching right down to his toes. He realized that Vin was putting on a brave front for the woman, just like he had done in the cave after he was hurt. He recognized that he was jealous, but he didn't understand why.

Orin finished hitching up the team by himself, growing angry that at least one of the boys hadn't come back to help him. He saw Chris run from the house and head for the field. Tossing the lead rein over the porch railing, he went into the house. "What's going on in here? Where is everyone?" Buck and Ezra were standing at the foot of the stairs, trying to hear what was going on up there. JD was standing in the middle of the room, completely bundled up for the trip into town. "Ezra, help JD off with his coat. Buck, put your coat on and go bring Chris back to the house. Is my wife up there?" He waited for the boys to nod before he ascended the stairs.

An hour later, he had the entire family gathered around the kitchen table. The team was unhitched and the wagon stored in the barn. Orin and Evie sat at opposite ends of the table looking at each of the boys.

"Now, I will ask the questions and you will answer them. There will be no shouting and only the person I ask will respond. Is that clear?" Orin looked at the boys and each of them nodded. "Now, I know that Nathan was supposed to have brought Vin down the stairs this morning. Is there some reason why you didn't do that, son?"

Nathan couldn't even bring himself to move his gaze from his folded hands. All of this was his fault and he knew it. The silence became oppressive before he lifted his head and answered. "Yes, Sir, it was my turn and I didn't do it. I went up to get him and saw him walk over to the dresser and brush his hair. I thought he was lying about being not able to walk-" He stopped when he saw the stricken look in Vin's eyes.

"So you left him up there and did what?"

"I went to the barn and started brushing the horses. When Chris came down, I told him what I saw and he went back to the house."

"Alright, Chris, what happened next?"

"I went upstairs and Vin was standing at the dresser just like Nathan said. I told him that I thought he was lying about not being able to walk. He asked me to push his chair over and I didn't. I told him to walk over and get it himself." Chris's eyes were brimming with tears that rolled down his face, "I'm sorry Vin."

"And then what happened?" Orin asked, seeing the uncomfortable squirming that the older boys were doing in their seats.

"Vin fell and Mrs. Travis came running in and then Josiah. I was mad so I ran outside."

Orin could see that it was taking all of his will power for the blond boy to remain at the table. He also read intense shame from Nathan and anger from Josiah, Buck and Ezra. Now he had to find the words to repair this rift before it blew the boys apart.

When it was all said and done, the boys were heartily ashamed for the way they had reacted. Nathan and Chris apologized and begged for Vin to forgive them. The other three older boys expressed their anger, under the careful control of the adults. Vin wavered from hurt to ashamed to angry as he was confronted by each of the others. Only JD was excluded from the emotional outpouring, he sat like a little statue until he suddenly burst into tears.

"I want my momma!" JD cried as he hurtled out of his chair and into Evie's arms. He didn't understand what was happening and it scared him. His 'brothers' sounded angry and he was afraid that they were going to go away.

By the time they finished supper and were getting ready for bed, a truce had been declared. Orin and Evie noticed that the sleeping arrangements had changed slightly. Vin was now sleeping between Ezra and Buck while JD slept with Josiah. The adults knew that it was probably the green-eyed monster of jealousy that had bitten the boys but they were at something of a loss as to how to solve the problem. In the end, only time would smooth out the bumps in the road they traveled.