The Ranch
IX. Pop Tarts at Midnight

by Karin


Silence was interrupted by a quick intake of breath; and hazel eyes shot open.

The eyes closed tightly; a hard swallow followed as a hand reached into the darkness for the lamp that he hoped would be there.

'Please, please, please' he chanted just under his breath as his hand blindly searched for the light he hoped was there. A heavy sigh exited the young man's lips as his hand grasped the object he was searching for. With a click, the darkness receded to the corners as a soft glow lit a portion of his room.

"Thank you, God," JD whispered his relief that he hadn't woken to find himself in a dank, small room, still in the possession of one Seth Billings. JD's hand fell slowly from the neck of the lamp onto the top of the night table. JD's head turned to where his fingers touched the edge of a piece of paper. He withdrew his hand, reassured that he was where he belonged. All the proof he needed was in that 8 ½ x 11-inch piece of paper.

The digital clock guarded the precious Paternity Test, the numbers reflecting softly on the edge nearest to it.

11:32 JD sighed as he read the time. At least I got a few hours.

JD's knees met his elbows as he sat up in bed slowly, his face fully engulfed in his hands as he rubbed away the momentary worry.

He pulled away from his hands and took in another slow deep breath. His nostrils flared as clean air was drawn in, filling his lungs until they burned. He held the breath until the need for fresher air became too urgent to shove aside. He closed his eyes, letting the used air gradually escape his pursed lips.

Succumbing to the fact he wasn't going to relax enough to fall back to the sleep he desperately wanted, he pushed his bed covers aside and removed himself from his bed; then made his way to the window he had looked out of so many times before.

He placed both hands onto the sill that framed the window, leaning in until his hair whispered against the pane. He stared out the window, surveying every inch of the moon lit landscape he could see from his vantage point.

He'd missed so much in the three weeks he'd been with Billings. There was a tree off to the left that had been blown down; all signs of any debris gone except for part of the trunk that jutted from the ground, ending suddenly with jagged pieces of wood. He'd missed the first snowfall that blanketed the grass, pastures and fences. He missed out on seeing Dottie foal for the first time.

All these things he'd been anxious to see, and he hadn't been able to witness any of it. Instead he had been currying drugs and money back and forth from supplier to buyer. And if he'd made a delivery and the recipient hadn't paid, he'd been dodging things that were thrown at him, then locked in his room without getting a meal (which were few and far between as it was) only to be let out again when Seth needed him.

He had asked Billings exactly what he was supposed to do when someone refused to pay; after all, it wasn't like he was intimidating, and if it came to a physical confrontation... he wouldn't stand a chance against any of the people he'd come in contact with, even the women.

JD sighed as his mind traveled back to where he had spent three miserable weeks with a man who'd claimed to be his father. Squeezing his eyes shut, he tried to push it back to a part of his brain that wouldn't be so front and center, he didn't want to think about it. He was home, were he wanted to be.

He had thought it would be so simple. Billings would take the DNA test, he'd failed and JD would come home. He figured that would be it, end of story. He hadn't realized that the nightmare of being Seth's 'son' was just on hiatus for a few hours. Not until Chris had said something about calling Mrs. Travis, did JD understand that he'd have to relive every moment, word for word.

He did understand why he would have to tell his father and Mrs. Travis. There were some very serious legal matters that needed to be looked into. The judge that signed the custody paper was more than likely crooked; JD suspected he was probably in cahoots with Billings. Seth Billings was a drug dealer, plain and simple. The only thing that really interested JD at all about the possible investigation of Seth Billings was simple. Why.

Why him? Was he just another part of some game? Was the whole 'I'm your father' thing an ends to a mean? Had he done this before?

The questions were endless, and the answers didn't seem to be anywhere in sight.

What would his father think of him once he found out what he'd done? Would he ever trust him again once he told him? Would he still love him?

JD pinched the bridge of his nose as the unanswerable questions swirled constantly in his head. He hung his head and leaned more into the window. A soft chill ran down his back as the top of his head rested against the frost-covered windowpane that kept out the cold.

The teen's stomach grumbled softly, reminding JD that he hadn't eaten any dinner. Mrs. Potter and the men of the house had left shortly after Esau and Travis, leaving the father and son alone.

They'd spent hours just sitting on the couch. JD healing his father's heart, and Chris making JD feel safe again with just a touch. No words were spoken; they weren't needed. The security JD felt under Chris' wing was immeasurable; and with every breath Chris felt his son take, eased the ache in his heart he'd felt for three weeks.

Another rumble from his stomach; JD decided to check out the kitchen for something to ease the twinge of hunger he was feeling, and possibly help him get back to some much needed sleep.

+ + + + + + +

Chris woke with a start as he heard a faint creak of a door. His head turned as he heard the soft shuffling of feet walking down the hallway towards the kitchen.

He flipped the covers off, grabbed a white t-shirt from his dresser and quickly made his way to his bedroom door, tugging the shirt on. He quietly opened the door and walked the dozen or so steps it took to get to JD's open bedroom door.

Chris could see the signs of a restless sleep. The digital clock that normally rested on the end table was turned so the red numbers pointed to the door. The lampshade was tilted, telling Chris his son had to find the button that turned the light on. The blankets had been pulled from the bottom of the bed and left in a reckless lump, showing that JD had tossed and turned, probably due to the unfamiliarity of his bed.

Chris' attention went to the window, out of curiosity more than anything that caught his eye. JD had been looking out the window; that told Chris his son was in pain. Once he saw the small spot on one of the panes where the frost had melted, he wanted nothing more than to find Seth Billings and take his anger out on the man who had caused JD's hurt...and God forgive him if Billings had raised a hand to his son.

Chris fought the urge to run downstairs into the kitchen; if JD wanted to talk, he would've come into his room like he used to. But that was before Seth; maybe things had changed. In the time spent with Billings, maybe JD had learned to keep his thoughts to himself, his worries unvoiced. Or maybe it was a lost trust. The trust that Chris would protect him and keep him safe, the promise that was broken when JD walked out the door and into Seth Billings' life.

The time JD had been gone, Chris was never alone physically; the men he worked with were well aware of Chris' worry and turmoil, because they shared it. He'd always been able to talk to someone, or listen; JD most likely didn't have that privilege. So maybe he had grown accustomed to keeping to himself.

It had taken nearly 4 months to get JD to express his feelings; JD was home, he wasn't about to allow JD to drown in those waters again without a fight.

With a new resolve, Chris walked the rest of the hallway to where the steps led to the kitchen. JD had yet to tell anybody about his experience while in the custody of Seth Billings. Every time the subject came up, JD would just say 'not now', and Chris had let it slide. 'Not now,' wasn't going to be accepted this time; even if he had to pry it out of JD, Chris was going to get some answers.

+ + + + + + +

The refrigerator door opened ever so slightly, sending a beam of light across the linoleum floor. The door was pushed open; a hand lay on top of the door as the body attached to the arm leaned and slouched, inspecting the contents.

JD sighed with exasperation as the buffet in the fridge fell short of his expectations. He grabbed the gallon of milk and shut the door. After pouring a glass of milk, he returned the jug to the fridge and shuffled his bare feet to the table and set the glass down. Then he turned, eyeing the cupboards and decided to take inventory there.

He was at the last cupboard, still not finding anything to pacify his craving, when a small box caught his eye. He reached for the box and removed it from it's hiding place.

Pop Tarts, JD thought. When did Mrs. Potter start buying Pop Tarts? He'd made more than one request for the pastries over the months, but Mrs. Potter had always said that as long as she was the cook in this house, there'd be no such food. Maybe Mrs. Potter had bought them earlier. She'd left and come back with a few grocery bags before leaving for the night. Maybe she'd picked them up as a sort of 'welcome' home present.

JD's brows creased as he scowled at the suspected reason behind the specialty. If it hadn't been for Seth Billings, there wouldn't be any need for the present, wouldn't have been any reason for Chris to call Mary Travis, he wouldn't be getting up in the middle of the night and wouldn't be feeling so uneasy.

Shaking off the negative thoughts, he quickly opened the box of cherry filled 'pastry' as he walked to the table. He sat down at the table, then struggled to open the silver packaging in some controlled fashion. After managing to tear the package neatly on the seam, he turned the Pop Tarts over, revealing the frosted cover. He placed the two treats back on the packaging, frosting side up.

He broke off the top left corner of his snack, getting nothing but the always.

JD hesitated before placing the piece of tart in his mouth, looking at the clock on the wall.


Pop Tarts at Midnight, JD silently sighed, a tinge of sadness filling his empty stomach. JD lifted his head to gaze across the table to where his mother would have sat with her Pop Tart, only to find the spot vacant.

JD's eyes filled as memories flooded his tired brain. His gaze intensely focused on the pastry responsible for causing his mind to wander back to Boston, memories that had been successfully filed away in a secure vault in the back of his brain.

The memories were far from sad ones, but the building of more was no longer tangible; and that is what would bring on the sadness and regret.

As JD continued his stare, the Pop Tart seemed to loose all color, changing to shades of dull grays. He watched the two forms sitting across from each other, a package of Pop Tarts placed in the middle of the small wooden table. The young boy shoved a piece of the treat into his mouth and attempted to speak...the young woman tilted her head and brought her finger to her lips. The boy stopped speaking abruptly and hung his head in apology for speaking with food in his mouth.

JD blinked away the memory, then brought his head to rest on his left hand as his right picked at the broken corner, staring intently at the Pop Tart.

+ + + + + + +

Chris silently watched from the shadow of the stairway. He noted the slump of JD shoulders as he found the Pop Tarts that Mrs. Potter had bought weeks ago. They were going to be a Christmas present for the young man, but after he'd left, Mrs. Potter had hidden them deep in the cupboard.

With concern etching his face, he watched JD pause at putting the piece of tart he'd broken off, then stare blankly across the table. His heart ached as he saw the sadness of a memory wash over every inch of his son.

Chris stepped out of the shadows and down the last step. JD's elbow came to rest on the table, supporting his head, and he picked at the Pop Tart he had asked for so many times since coming to Four Corners.

"You going to eat that, or just pick at it until there's nothing but crumbs left?" Chris asked as he came closer to the table.

"Dad..." JD gasped after he jumped slightly at the sound of his father's voice. "Did I wake you up?"

"Heard your door," Chris smiled. "You mind?" he asked, pointing at the chair that sat directly across from JD.

JD shook his head in response then motioned with his hand, "Go ahead."

The two sat in utter silence; one's mind occupied with memories old and new, the other trying to figure out if the reason for his son's quiet demeanor was due to the disappointment that his father hadn't done more than stand by and watch a stranger take him away.

Both were lost in their thoughts, but the Pop Tart seemed to hold each person's gaze.

Chris' eyes drifted away from the two treats lying on top of another, to the small crusty corner that lay on the silver wrapping, disconnected.

"Thought you liked these?" Chris suddenly asked, picking up the rejected piece of tart.

"I do," JD said with a shrug of his shoulder.

"Decided it wasn't going to hit the spot?" Chris asked with a quick smile, placing the corner back on the wrapper.

"No," JD answered shortly.

"JD," Chris sighed heavily, like a man with a lot on his mind would do. "I'm, sorry." After all the silence, it was the only thing Chris could say. He had gone through a dozen scenarios and words he'd say to apologize for allowing JD to be taken, but all seemed to fall short of conveying the magnitude of his sorrow.

"For what?" JD asked through a light laugh, not knowing what his father had to apologize for.

"Not fighting harder, not standing up to Billings...for everything," Chris said quietly.

"Nothing you could have done," JD said with a slight shrug of his shoulder, never looking up from the Pop Tart; still picking at the broken corner.

Chris lifted his eyes from the table and studied JD. He could see JD truly didn't harbor any hard feelings about his inability to save JD from going with Seth; but there was something. He could tell JD wasn't with him...not mentally. JD was somewhere else, in the past. It had been a long time since he'd seen that look of pure sadness on his son; but there it all-consuming sadness etched on every part of JD's face and weighing heavily on his shoulders.


It was a simple word; a name, his son's name...but the slight worry in Chris' voice asked so much more. 'What is it?', 'What's wrong?', 'Where are you?'.

JD heard the unasked questions. His eyes remained on the center of the table as he brought both arms to lean on the table and lowered his chin to rest on his crossed arms.

"Mom used to bring these home once in awhile; especially when we hadn't seen each other for a while. She'd come home about midnight; I couldn't sleep good when she wasn't home, so I'd hear her. We'd open up one of them and talk while we ate them," JD revealed with a small, sad, smile.

"It's a good memory," Chris acknowledged.

Then silence rained on the two again. There was more, Chris could tell as the posture of his son changed again. The sadness seemed to melt away once JD told him about the tradition he'd shared with his mother, only to be replaced with something else.


Again, it was just one word. JD's small nod let Chris know he had found his mark.

"What happened?" Chris asked evenly, his jaw tensing to keep the harsh bite from his words.

JD shook his head, still not wanting to talk about his experience; after all, his father was an ex-cop and he'd been currying drugs. The thought of Chris' disappointment brought tears to his eyes.

"What the Hell did he do to you?" Chris questioned in a harsh whisper, the look on his son's face making him think of the worst possible scenario. "Did he hurt you?" Chris asked, his voice a bit softer, but still held an edge to it.

"!" JD stumbled through his answer, seeming to understand what his father was insinuating.

"What then? What did he do to you?"

"He didn't do anything!" JD spat out, pushing himself away from the table. He paced like a caged animal; feeling cornered.

He HAD done something, though; Chris knew that. What was it that had JD so up in arms? JD looked...scared. Scared to say whatever it was.

"Okay, he didn't do anything," Chris said in an easy manner. He arose from the table, as if he was dealing with a 'system kid'. "Was it something at the school you went to?" Chris asked, leaning against the table where JD had sat. Hoping against all hope that JD didn't recognize the tactic. If he did, Chris would never get any answers.

"Didn't go, he wouldn't let me," JD said as he still paced, his hands alternating between resting on his hips to combing through his hair.

"What did he make you do?" Chris asked, his eyes non-threatening as JD stopped and looked directly at him. The tears that filled JD's eyes, made his heart ache.

JD wasn't hurt by what Billings had done, he was upset at what it would do to his father. The fear of disappointing Chris shone clear with each drop that fell from JD's red eye's.

"You're gonna hate me," JD managed through a choking sob.

"No...that's never going to happen," Chris assured, taking his son in his arms and holding tight to the small form shaking uncontrollably. "I love you. There's nothing that is going to change that."

"He was a dealer..." JD said quietly into his father's shoulder. "...I curried."

"Drugs?" Chris asked, releasing his hold on JD, stunned with his confession; this hadn't even crossed his mind.

"Not cause I wanted to...he made me...I didn't want to..." JD began to plead for his father to understand. "...he got so mad when I told him I wouldn't...Dad, have to believe me..." JD cried, his words and tears running wildly.

"Jesus, JD," Chris gasped. He grabbed JD's face with both hands; he suddenly realized that his words had been mistaken for anger. "I believe you. You hear me? He made you do it, you had nowhere else to go...I understand, I do. JD, this wasn't your fault."

"I tried...not to...but..." JD softly let out.

"What would he do when you refused?" Chris asked. If he laid one hand on you... Chris let the thought disappear with the threat, guiding his son by the shoulders back to the chair he'd occupied earlier, then taking the seat he'd sat in before.

JD didn't know what to say, he knew what he should say, he just didn't want to say it. Saying it would just bring it all back. And the way his father had asked the question told JD his father could fly into a rage of the likes he'd never seen before.

"Did he hit you?" the tone of the question only reinforced JD's reluctance to answer.

"Dad..." JD said carefully, wanting to choose his words, try to extinguish the growing fire in Chris' eyes.

"...son of a bit..." Chris seethed through a tight jaw. He stood, making his way to the counter and slamming his fist down on it.

"Only once! That's it... he never touched me again," JD said, jumping up; rushing over to where Chris stood with his fist still on the counter. "Honest, Dad...he just backhanded me...that was it," JD tried to make it sound like it was no big deal; adding a small smile to add to the effect. After all he'd gotten worse beatings back in Boston just trying to get home from work, the backhand had stunned him, but he knew it could've been worse.

Chris' eyes turned from the hole he was boring into the side of the fridge to look at his son. ...just backhanded me...that was it? The guy hit you JD, why in God's name are you smiling about that?

"It's no big deal, Dad. Please...just let it go, okay?" JD requested.

"Let it go? Christ JD, the guy beat you! And that's not a big deal to you?" Chris was stunned at what he was hearing.

"He hit me...once. He didn't beat me," JD pointed out.

Chris took a deep breath... okay, so getting hit isn't a big deal to him. I'll worry about that later. Right now, I want to know how Billings got him to sell drugs, Chris thought as he let the breath out.

"So he got you to sell drugs," Chris sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose; reminding himself to stay calm.

"I didn't sell them," JD said, shaking his head for emphasis as he walked back to the table, hoping his father would leave the anger at the counter and return to the table. "He'd package them up, give me the addresses, and I'd take them."

"You never handled any money?" Chris asked, pulling the chair back to the table as he sat.

"Every three days or so," JD shrugged, grabbing at the discarded and forgotten piece of Pop Tart. "All depended on how many deliveries," JD said casually as he put the pastry in his mouth.

"Everybody paid?" Chris asked, breaking off a corner off the already deformed pastry, then popped it into his mouth.

"No," JD couldn't help but smile and laugh a bit, reaching across the table and breaking another piece from the Pop Tart.

"What did Billings' do?" Chris asked; another corner placed in his mouth.

"Get mad. He'd holler and yell and throw things at me, then lock me in my room for the rest of the night," JD revealed, a frosted piece of Tart placed in his mouth. "But," JD swallowed the treat, "he never hit me, again."

"He could have," Chris said with a raised brow as he also got a frosted piece.

"Uh-uh," JD smiled, his grin holding some mischief to it. "I told him I'd call you, tell you where we were, and you'd kill him."

"That did it?" Chris asked, beginning to work on the next Pop Tart.

"Well, I told him I didn't think you'd come alone," JD said, then smiled at how skittish Billings had looked at the thought.

Chris joined in the light laugh the image made. JD...all 5 feet of him, standing up to a man as tall as Buck and built like Nathan, shaking in his shoes at the thought of 6 men invading his home. Billings' would probably rather have dealt with a drug raid...with dogs, than to face them.

"You look thin; Ezra said you lost a lot of weight," Chris changed the subject, breaking off another piece of the Pop Tart.

"He had the three basic groups covered. You know, booze, dope and coke," JD shrugged. "When he wasn't around I fumbled through the cupboards, grabbed what looked safe and hid what I could under my bed."

Chris shook his head in disgust; again he would like to explore this some more, but the nagging question of why he hadn't called when Billings' had gotten the DNA test popped into his head.

"Why didn't you call when you got the results to the paternity test? Why'd you run?" Chris asked.

"Cause he wasn't going to tell me," JD sighed. "It came in the mail on Wednesday, he opened the envelope up, read it, then tossed it in the garbage. He started drinking, did a few lines, and lit up...I waited for a few hours for him to pass out. It must have been around 1 or 2 in the morning when he finally did...I waited for a little while, to make sure he wouldn't wake up. I snuck out of my room, and found the paper," JD took a deep breath after he quickly retold his story.

"Soon as I found we weren't a match, I grabbed my jacket and hat...and left," JD revealed, with a tilt of his head to the shoulder that shrugged to meet it.

"Why didn't you go to the police? When you first started currying for him?" Chris asked.

"His word against mine, they wouldn't believe me," JD defended.

"They would've taken you back to the apartment, they would have seen the way you were living," Chris tried to remain calm.

"I don't know! I was scared...I didn't know what to do!" JD snapped, pushing himself from the table, beginning to pace again.

"You could've gone to the police when you got the results," Chris said quietly, keeping his voice calm. Rising slowly from the table, he walked slowly to where his son paced.

"All I wanted to do was get home!" JD cried out. "Why are you doing this? I thought you believed me!"

"I do, I do...okay...okay," Chris soothed, as he grabbed his son around the back of the neck and pulled him into an embrace. "I do believe you."

Chris released JD, and then directed him back to the chair. He crouched next to his son as the boy sat, his hand never leaving his son's back.

"I believe you, 100%. The reason..." Chris began, but the phone ringing interrupted him.

JD looked at the offending object as he ran the back of his arms across his face to remove the tears he'd let go.

"It's 2 in the morning, this better be good," Chris growled his 'hello'.

"JD's run away, I think he might be headed to the ranch," the soft urgent voice said.

Chris shot JD a look, "Mary?"

JD looked like a deer caught in headlights, looking around trying to find a way out. Chris walked over to JD with the portable phone still at his ear to calm the boy with a steady hand.

"Yes, Seth Billings just called me. He's very upset..."

"I'm sure he is," Chris said in a low sarcastic manner.

"Have you heard from JD? Has he contacted you in anyway?" Mary asked, missing the sarcastic statement.

"He's sitting right here at the kitchen table," Chris said evenly, squeezing JD's shoulder for assurance when he felt the kid tremble.

"I just got off the phone with Mr. Billings', he said he woke up and JD was gone. I'll call him and tell him he's there with you," Mary said.

"You have a phone call to make, but you might want it to be your father-in-law or a lawyer," Chris seethed.

"Billings' is the child's father, Chris. I can't..."

"No he's not. JD landed here early yesterday morning. He left Billings' place three days ago," Chris offered.

"What? And you believe JD?"

"Mary, I think it's best if you grab yourself a lawyer and get over here. You call Seth Billings' and I'll have you charged with Child Endangerment," Chris' voice held no room for argument as to how serious he was.

"Half an hour, should I bring a doctor?" Mary asked, becoming very compliant.

"Nathan's looked at him already. Bring the petition with you, too," Chris added.

JD was shaking so badly he thought for sure he'd bounce right out of the chair.

"I don't want to talk to her..." JD said quickly, his arms wrapped around himself and his head shaking furiously.

"I know, but the sooner the better," Chris said softly.

"She'll make me go back," JD choked out.

"No," Chris said; squatting down at the back of the chair his son sat in, and wrapping his protective arms around JD. "She's not going to make you leave, she can't. You're my son, no ones ever going to take you away again," Chris whispered his promise in his son's ear.


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X. Confessions