The Ranch
IV. The Sub

by Karin

DISCLAIMER: same old same one in this story is mine except for Esau and Travis<g>


NOTES/COMMENTS: This, and the parts to follow (you'll understand why later), are dedicated to Leslie. Due to RL she was unable to beta for me. She would have had a lot of fun with this one. Leslie...this 'breaks' for you <wink>. Thanks a ton to my beta Lynne and the new beta Kris, you've done a great job. This would have been done sooner but Lynne and her 'thoughtful insights' and a need for an 'aww' moment...gosh!! Kris...Thanks for stepping've done a great job!! Thanks


"Morning," JD greeted as he descended the stairs off the kitchen.

'Morning' was returned by 7 others that were either sitting at the table, leaning on a counter, or in front of the sink.

JD went to the fridge and opened it, grabbing at the orange juice carton. He took the large glass that Mrs. Potter put next to the fridge, like she always did, then sat next to Vin at the table.

"How's the foot?" Nathan asked, noticing JD still had a slight limp even after two weeks.

"Fine," JD answered, filling his glass with the juice.

JD stopped short as he lifted the glass to his lips. His eyes scanned the people he could see sitting around him; noticing that all he heard were the birds outside, he set the glass down. He rolled his eyes and turned his seat sideways from the table to face Nathan. Lifting his right foot from the floor, removing the sock before holding the foot up to Nathan so that he could see for himself.

Nathan began his examination, but that was cut short.

"Shoot!" JD said, tearing his foot from Nathan's hand as he stood from the chair quickly. "I'm...gonna...miss...the...bus..." JD said as he put his sock on, hopping across the floor to the mat where his sneakers were.

JD slipped the beige Airwalks on, grabbed his backpack, his hat and headed for the kitchen door.

"Shoes," six manly voices said before JD reached the door.

He let his back pack slide off the shoulder he carried it on, putting his unworn hat on the pack. Then bent one knee up, his foot planted firmly on the ground, while the other knee balanced on the tile, and tied his shoe, then switched knee positions and repeated the action.

JD grabbed at the things he'd discarded earlier as he stood, smiled sarcastically at the group, and turned to leave.

"Here," Mrs. Potter offered, handing JD a piece of toast then the glass still full of juice after he wrestled with the heavy back pack and his hat.

"Thanks," he said in a rushed manner. He grabbed the glass of OJ and took three greedy gulps, handed the glass back to Mrs. Potter, shoved the toast in his mouth, and headed for the door, glancing at the clock on his way by. Two minutes to make it to the end of the driveway, gonna have to run again, JD sighed as his hand went for the door knob.

"JD," Chris said sternly.

"Now what?" JD asked turning away from the door, becoming frustrated.

"Have a good day," Chris said, the words filled with cheer and a bit of sarcasm.

JD groaned out his aggravation as he opened the door. He put his hat on forcefully as he rushed down the steps. He got to the third step when he heard the faint hum of the diesel bus engine rev as it began to leave. Aww man! JD's mind whined.

"Are you happy now?!" JD asked sharply as he entered the house, grabbing the hat off his head as he said it.

"It's just one day JD," Vin smiled.

"It's Wednesday Vin!" JD whispered harshly. JD smiled innocently at Josiah as the big man left the kitchen.

Vin shrugged, "So?"

"Wednesday is the day Josiah goes into to town..." JD reminded.

"Yeah?" Buck asked.

"Oh come on. You know if he takes me to school he's gonna start talking about the way I dress, the music I listen to, or worse yet ...some long winded story about some ancient culture that I'm supposed to understand the meaning to," JD pleaded with anyone, still whispering just in case Josiah was in ear shot.

"I'll take ya'," Vin smiled. All the people in that room knew what JD was talking about. Josiah had a heart of gold; and was the kindest, gentlest man they'd ever met...but when it came to talking, sometimes Josiah had a hard time just getting to the point so that it made sense.

"Cool, thanks," JD smiled, following Vin out the door.

"Where'd JD go? I was going to take him to school," Josiah asked, seeming disappointed.

"Vin took him," Chris said.

"Oh. I guess he must have been anxious to get to school if he couldn't wait for me," Josiah shrugged as he too left the house.

"He woulda' been anxious to get into a tank full of piranha," Buck mumbled out, causing the others to laugh lightly.

+ + + + + + +

"Thank you for coming in so early Mrs. Gaines," Principal Warren De Long greeted, extending his hand to the woman before she sat in the chair in front of his desk.

She was a petite woman, her eyes bright and intelligent that shown her confidence. Her hair danced between brown and a deep red. Although of a small stature, her posture indicated that she could not only hold her own with defiant teenagers, but also nurture and care deeply for those who needed it. Two very rare qualities needed to be a successful teacher.

"Thank you for making time for me," the woman replied with a warm smile.

"I've read over your application and resume. I must say, it's very impressive. You were teaching at a high school in Wichita, Kansas?" Mr. De Long asked.

"Yes sir," she nodded. De Long didn't miss the forced smile that accompanied the nod.

"I've gone over the recommendations from the Superintendent, school board, fellow teachers and students; all outstanding reviews. I really have to ask why you left?" De Long asked, his manner more one of wonderment.

"My husband died 6 months ago. The circumstances were...not pleasant. My teaching began to suffer greatly, and I felt it a disservice to my students to continue. I was extremely distracted," Ella Gaines said, her eyes remorseful and sad as she spoke.

"I took a leave of absence. Living in the house that we built just proved too much to handle emotionally. I needed to start fresh, so I handed in my resignation and packed everything up. It was a difficult decision, but one my students understood," she smiled.

"Please except my sympathies," De Long said.

"Thank you," Ella smiled gratefully.

"So why here?" he asked, shifting in his chair. He would kill to have a teacher like this in his school, but at the time he had a very qualified staff.

"If you don't mind me asking? This isn't a very well known school or a big city. Most people come here because they're lost," De Long chuckled. "In the last ten years we've only had one new student, most of the students have grown up together," De Long said.

"I have a friend here, although it's been a long time since we've spoken. That and the fact that this isn't a place that you'd normally come to. Like you said, most people only stop to ask for directions," she laughed.

"True, true,Mrs. Gaines," DeLong sighed, God he hated to turn the woman down. He was going to tell her there wasn't an opening when the phone on his desk rung.

"Excuse me," he said politely. Ella smiled and nodded.

"Yes?" De Long said as he picked up the receiver. "What!? My God, what happened? Is she okay?" he asked, looking towards Ella as he listened to his secretary, Lucy, that all she knew was Amy Watson had been seriously injured in a car accident. Overwhelmed with the news, De Long rubbed his forehead as Lucy asked about temporary replacements. There were several nearby colleges which specialized in teaching, and were known to send out 3rd and 4th year students to cover for long term cases. In most cases getting credit for teaching, and the experience looked impressive on a resume.

"No, I think I have a solution...keep me updated...I would appreciate that. Thank you Lucy," the man finished and hung up the phone.

"Is everything okay?" Ella asked.

"Miss Watson, one of our history teachers, was involved in an accident this morning. I haven't any details at the moment," De Long said, his skin turning pale as the concept of what he was saying finally seemed to sink in.

"Mrs. Gaines, we've never had the need for long term substitutes. Would you be it possible for you to take over this class until Miss Watson is able to return?" De Long asked. He hadn't had to face this kind of dilemma before. The staff was friendly, everyone knew each other and would socialize on occasion, right down to the man who swept the floors. He knew the news of Amy Watson's accident would effect the school as a whole.

"Yes, of course," Ella said sincerely. "I hope Miss Watson will be okay and can return quickly," she offered as she stood.

De Long nodded absently, still reeling from his co-worker and friend being hurt. He pushed a button and asked the secretary to escort Mrs. Gaines to the class room she would be conducting classes in.

Ella turned from De Long, again giving her sympathies and followed the secretary out the door. Lucy, the secretary, was wiping tears as she gave Ella a half-hearted tour on the way to the class room.

Entering the class room became too much for poor Lucy. She burst into tears, apologizing and excusing herself with haste. Ella smiled her understanding, even asked Lucy to let her know how Miss Watson was doing.

Ella Gaines placed her bag on the desk, her eyes dancing with delight as she sat behind the large industrial desk.

+ + + + + + +

Vin pulled the beat up Jeep Wrangler to a stop in front of the school. JD smiled at his fortune of not having to ride in with Josiah. He really didn't mind Josiah, but trying to follow one of Josiah's '...I once knew this Buddhist Monk...' stories, a riddle that made absolutely no sense what-so-ever, or some long forgotten tale with a moral that had nothing to do with the outcome of the story (the last of which was an old Zen story about tigers and a wild strawberry), was beyond JD's capabilities.

The girls at the high school appreciated Vin driving JD to school as well. He had probably become one of the most popular people on campus...and he'd yet to step foot on the grounds. The beat up Jeep combined with Vin's outdoorsman rough look, sent most girls into the throws of their first crush. If Vin only knew that he was the topic of girls locker room and bathroom talk, JD'd never get another ride from him again.

Vin put the Jeep into gear. The 'See ya' kid' had elicited a small riot as the girls giggled and snickered around a lonely oak.

"Hey guys," JD greeted Travis and Esau as he stepped from the Jeep.

"Hey JD, Vin," Esau nodded.

"Boys," Vin smiled.

"Miss Watson got into an accident," Travis said anxiously.

"What?!" JD asked, shocked that one of his favorite teachers might be hurt.

"She okay?" Vin asked from his perch in the Jeep. He knew Amy Watson, he'd gone out with her a few times.

"Dunno," Esau shrugged.

"Oh man," JD sighed.

" guys see the sub? Wooohee!!" Trevor James asked as he made his way past the small group, exclaiming his pleasure at the substitute.

"How 'bout that...a 'Lil' Buck," Vin smiled as the teen made his way into the school.

"One's not enough?" JD asked under his breath.

"Try and have a good day kid," Vin said. "I'll see if Nate can get an inside scoop," he winked as he drove away. Vin knew that Amy was one of JD's favorite teachers, heck...he didn't think there was one JD didn't like. He'd never seen a kid take to school in the manner at which JD did. He remembered the kid's expression when Chris took him to get registered. It was like JD was a 5 year old on his first day of school. Excited, nervous and ready to go.

And smart? Since JD hadn't attended school for a little over a year, he had been required to take a placement exam. Vin remembered the look of pride on Chris' face when he revealed that JD placed higher academically than most of his soon-to-be-classmates. It just came natural to JD, he just soaked up the information.

+ + + + + + +

Vin pulled in to the ranch, and stopped at the side of the house.

He walked into the kitchen and looked around.

"Where's Nathan?" he asked, wanting to see if he could find out how Amy was doing.

"Hospital," Buck's voice solemn.

"What happened?" Vin asked.

"Josiah got into an accident," Chris said, his voice a little unsteady.

"He all right?" Vin asked urgently, the coincidence didn't escape him.

"Yeah, guess he smacked his head pretty hard. Nathan's gone to see how he's doin'," Buck smiled.

"Anybody else hurt?" Vin questioned, he had that nagging feeling...

"Yeah, Amy Watson, she's a teacher at..." Buck began.

"Yeah, yeah, I know who she is... kids told me when I dropped JD off. She okay?" Vin asked.

"Banged up pretty good. Initial report is she lost her brakes coming down O'Shea Hill, couldn't stop at the stop sign, slammed right into the side of Josiah," Buck said.

"Thank God you took JD to school Vin, 'Burb's totaled. He could've been..." Chris began, his voice low and serious.

"We been over this a million times pard...he wasn't there, so don't even start thinking like that," Buck said sharply to Chris. Not that Buck didn't...the officer said the passenger side of the Suburban was smashed in, the nose of the other car sitting neatly in the front passenger side.

"Nope. No need to go there cowboy, dropped him off all in one piece. He's safe and sound at school," Vin reassured, slapping Chris' back.

Chris smiled and nodded, JD was safe at school.

+ + + + + + +

The bell rang, marking the start of the last class of the day. JD sat next to Esau, as a woman turned from the black board and faced her students.

"I'm Mrs. Gaines. I'll be your teacher until Miss Watson is able to return," she smiled warmly, as she had done several times during the day. "Now, I know you all are concerned about Miss Watson, but I think she would want you all to do the best you could to learn today. I've gone through her planner and see you have been studying the 'California Gold Rush' and the effects it had on the economy. I also noticed that you were to have a test, which I found. I hate to have her come back and find that you aren't where she wanted you to be, so I'm giving you the test as sched..." a knock on the door interrupted Ella.

She opened the door, and as he had done several times during the day, Mr. De Long walked into the classroom. He had given updates in her room, knowing that students would pass along the information. The last update had been that Miss Watson had been taken into surgery.

"Just called the hospital, Miss Watson is out of surgery and doing well. They expect her to be out for a while, but she will make a full recovery," De Long shared the smile with the class.

"Travis can take us over to the hospital tomorrow," Esau whispered as he leaned over towards JD.

"I dunno," JD whispered back.

Esau sat back, not questioning the quick response. Esau and Travis knew just about everything the men at Four Corners did about JD, maybe more. Esau wasn't totally surprised by JD's answer, he'd even expected it. He and Travis would go...and when Miss Watson asked where the third 'musketeer' was, they'd make an excuse for him.

"Okay, let's give Miss Watson a good incentive for a quick recovery by doing well on the exam," Mrs. Gaines smiled after Mr. De Long left the room and the class settled down again.

"As soon as you're done with the test, please bring it up here and place it on my desk. I'll correct it; after you receive your grade, you are free to leave," Mrs. Gaines instructed as the test was handed out. Row by row, a small stack of test papers was handed to the first person in that row, then passed back to the student behind them.

JD grabbed at the paper, took one then passed it on, then waited for the okay to start.

A half hour passed and JD sat straight in his chair as he turned his paper over, placing his pencil behind his ear.

"Is there a problem Mr...," Ella looked down at the names that held the seating arrangements, "...Dunne?"

" ma'am," JD shook his head as he answered. Normally he would have just stood and handed the test in, like he always did for Miss Watson, but she was used to him being done first. Mrs. Gaines wasn't.

"May I ask why you are no longer writing?" she asked somewhat sarcastically. JD shifted in his seat, hung his head and mumbled.

"I'm done."

"Mr. Dunne, please speak up," she said curtly.

"I'm done," he repeated. A little louder, but pleasant.

"In less than 30 minutes," she stated rather than asked, her tone showing her doubt. She had scanned over the test earlier; and with this being an advanced history class, the question's were more difficult than the other 5 test she'd given that day.

"Yes ma'am," JD answered, fidgeting in his seat.

"I find that rather difficult to believe," she declared as she walked to where the teen was sitting. Only Esau heard the next comment she made as she grabbed JD's paper. "I suppose you think you have a perfect score?" she whispered harshly.

JD cocked his head to the side as she strutted back to her desk; a questioning look on his face trying to figure out what he'd done to, for lack of a better word, piss her off.

"Mr. Dunne, what is this?" she asked loudly from her desk. All the students lifted their heads to see what she was referring to. She was pointing to the top of the paper.

"My name," he answered, confused as to the problem.

"JD...that's it? So my calling you Mr. Dunne has been incorrect?"

"Huh?" he asked, he had no idea what her problem was. He sneaked a glance to Esau, who simply shrugged his shoulders.

"I should be calling you Mr. JD?" this garnered a few snickers from the class, not laughing at JD or the situation, but they all thought it a stupid question. Most of the students wrote only their first names on papers and test. Being a small school, not many shared the same names; if they did they simply put the first letter of their last name on the paper.

" ma'am," JD said, feeling self conscious as he felt the eyes of the class on him.

"Then why haven't you written your last name?" she asked.

"I'm the only JD. Miss Watson always..."

"If you haven't noticed, I am not Miss Watson; and to assume that I'm to know that there are no others with your name is grossly jumping to conclusions. While I'm teaching this class you will write your full name. Is that understood?"

"Yes, Ma'am," JD nodded, the fact that several pencils went to the top of the paper didn't go unnoticed by him.

"Please address me as Mrs. Gaines," she added, then began to correct JD's test.

JD blew out a silent breath as he slumped into his chair. He tried to figure out what it was that he'd done wrong, why she was being the way she was towards him.

"Mr. Dunne, your paper," Ella said, holding the test paper out from where she sat.

JD stood from his desk, grabbing his books and headed to the teachers desk, his face still a tad red from being singled out.

He took the test with out looking at the score; not that he didn't want to know how he'd done, he just wanted out of the class as quick as possible.

"That confident?" she whispered.

"Ma..Mrs. Gaines?" he corrected himself as he asked the question.

"You seem disinterested in your grade," she pointed to the paper with her pencil.

JD looked down at the paper, a bit worried; did she dislike him enough to give him a bad grade? He'd seen it happen in Boston; if someone had ticked off the teacher... he knew that it could happen here, too. He smiled as he saw the red 100% surrounded by a circle.

"Did you plan on leaving?" she asked, wiping the smile from JD's face.

"You said ..." JD tried to remind her that she told them when they were finished they could leave.

"I want you to write you full name 300 times," she said, looking down as if she was busy with something.

"Excuse me?" JD asked through his shocked whisper, coming out more like a laugh.

"So you won't forget to write it on the next paper you need to hand in."

"I won't forget," he assured her, still speaking in hushed tones.

Instead of answering him, she simply handed him a piece of blank paper and pointed to where he'd been sitting. JD didn't want a confrontation, so as much as he wanted to tell her how ridiculous she was being and remind this teacher that this was high school...not grade school, he complied. He took the paper and turned to go sit.

"Make it legible," she said harshly. JD turned his head at the voice; seeing the look on her face, he opted not to respond non-verbally or verbally. He simply continued on his way to his desk, where he sat and wrote his full name 300 times.

The bell rang, ending not only JD's hell, but the school day. He had finished his name writing 3 minutes before class ended, but chose to stay in class since Esau and four other students were left taking the test.

Esau had finished just ahead of the bell, so JD followed him to the desk. Esau handed his test in and JD his 'name' paper. Mrs. Gaines thanked Esau for the test, then took JD's paper from him. Not a word was said until they were out of the room.

"Oh man! What the hell is with her!" Esau was the one to ask.

"Hey JD. Any clue to where the wicked witch of the West came from?" a class mate asked. JD felt suddenly on display as most of his classmates talked about what happened as the group went out the exits.

"No clue," JD shrugged.

"She sure has it in for you."

JD shrugged again; not really knowing how to answer as the girl, he knew as Tiffany, stated her point of view.

"Just wish I knew what I did," JD finally said, inserting his thoughts into the discussion that went on around him.

"She seemed pretty pissed you finished early," Jacob Mack furnished a thought.

"But, he always finishes early," Vicky Newman defended.

"You aced it didn't you?" Vicky's twin brother Wes asked.

"Yeah," JD answered with out sounding as if he was bragging.

"Well, if you ask me; if she spent the time looking over Miss W's planner, and where we were in class, seems to me she should've looked at the grades too. She would've seen that you're real smart," Lindsey Babcock babbled.

"Tomorrow's another day, she'll probably be better," JD smiled optimistically. He hated being the topic of discussion. When he'd started school, he was discussed and pondered in the halls, locker room and bathroom; not always in hushed tones. Finding out that he'd been adopted gave a lot of kids something to talk about, and being good in school had proven to be of great interest to some as well. And now this.

"Hey guys," Travis greeted his two friends as he waited for them at the bus.

"Hey," the two responded.

"Sooooo?" Travis asked as he followed the two friends onto the bus.

"Sooooo what?" Esau asked as he sat with JD, Travis in front of them.

"What did you think of Gaines?" Travis asked, the broad smile showed that he was 'pleased', and that had nothing to do with her teaching skills.

"She's okay," Esau answered. Yes, he'd thought she was easy on the eyes, and was sure she'd be in many a boys adolescent dreams that night, but as far as her behavior...well that just seemed to cancel out any pleasant thoughts at all.

"Okay? OKAY?!? What are you two blind? She's totally hot!" Travis laughed.

"Looks have nothing to do with the way she teaches," JD said, breaking his self imposed silence, he just wanted to forget today ever happened. Finding out that Miss Watson had been hurt was bad enough, but to have the 'sub from hell' be your teacher was worse.

"It helps, least she keeps my attention," Travis smiled.

JD just groaned, it was bad enough to have to listen to Buck talk about his latest conquest; but to listen to Travis, the hormone-ly charged teen, after the way he'd been treated. He couldn't stand it.

"What the hell happened?" Travis asked, seeming to suddenly realize the attitudes of his friends weren't exactly 'on'. They'd gotten used to the fact that JD actually liked school, Esau thought it was okay, and Travis knew he had to go...but would rather be doing other things; which he used to do. That is until JD came along and made learning things easier. They did a lot of studying together and if Esau or Travis didn't understand something, they knew they could ask JD and he would explain it to them with out making them feel inadequate in any way.

"She didn't like JD I guess," Esau shrugged. It was the only explanation they (the class that is) had come up with. No one thought it made any sense, though. JD wasn't hard to like.

"See ya' later," JD said as he stood from his seat as the bus stopped. Esau and Travis watched as he began his long trek home. They exchanged looks of worry as JD trudged off the bus, his whole composure looked defeated. From his hanging head and slumped shoulders...all the way down to the feet that dragged, occasionally kicking a rock with half an effort.

Esau got off next, he had time to fill Travis in on what had happened before he exited the bus. Two houses later, Travis stepped off the bus.

'Didn't like JD,' Travis heard the words in his head.

"How?" he asked no one as he walked down his driveway.

JD was kind, friendly, usually a bit reserved around people he didn't know; but willing to help anyone, never expecting a 'Thanks' of gratitude. He never played the games that some teens played, didn't fall into the 'click' trap, only hanging out with the popular people or jocks just to feel important. He treated everyone the same.

JD was every parents dream. The boy you brought home to meet Mom and Dad; one look at that face, you knew your daughter was safe. Every unattached girl had their eyes on him, all wanting to be the first to be asked out. JD liked girls, he just had his priorities. Travis often teased him that they were a little messed up, girls being his first priority not his last.

Travis admired JD for that though. So did Esau. They had discussed JD's motivation once after Amber Malloy had asked JD to help her with home work. Upon learning that her folks were gone, JD had declined the offer. JD still offered his help, but invited her to the ranch to study instead. No one was surprised that she never showed up.

He knew JD wasn't dim about Amber's motives; he knew the last thing JD would want was to disappoint the man who changed his life, or break the promise of trying to be a typical 16 year old kid. Travis had tried to reason with JD that a 'normal' 16 year old would jump at the chance to be with Amber. Then Esau had pointed out the small fact that Amber had visited a 'clinic' on more than one occasion. That of course put the kabosh on any more discussion on that topic.

How can you not like the guy? Travis thought to himself.

He remembered that he hadn't been anxious to get to know JD. He was the new kid...from a city back east...Boston. Travis had heard things about Boston...none of them good. Gangs, drugs, poverty, guns, violence. That was Boston to Travis. Then his friend, Esau, had been paired with him in Chem lab. Esau told him how smart JD was, how nice he was, and not the jerk they thought. He didn't think he was better than anyone else; if anything, he seemed just the opposite. Not a sterotypical street-tough-gang-banger they had figured...but almost shy and reserved.

Travis being Travis, and having the ability to stick his foot in his mouth, had asked JD how he come out here and ended up living with Chris Larabee. Travis hadn't asked to be mean, just curious. JD had been pretty vague, giving them a condensed version. Mother sent him out here, mother died, Chris adopted.

Over time, as the friendship grew and the walls of protection that JD had constructed came down, they find out more. JD never new his father; they concluded on their own that his parents were probably never married. They came to realize that JD had been shaken to the core by his mother's death, and nearly every day since had become a struggle to keep going. Having a family to support him helped; and having friends, good ones, added the much needed 'normality' to his life. JD told them that he'd dropped out of school to work when his mother got too sick to continue.The two teens felt even more privileged to know JD after finding that out; he hadn't made it sound pitiful, like he was complaining, but was rather stating a fact.

Travis wasn't so sure he could be that committed, to grow up that fast, and miss out on the fun he was having. That was when Esau and Travis had made a pact. To do their part to help JD obtain that 'normality' JD's mother so desired for her son.

So how could a person not like JD? Even without knowing the intimate details of JD Dunne's life; with JD, what you saw is what you got. Nothing artificial, no dual personality, no face reserved for one person. He was 100% pure, all natural, no artificial sweeteners, no additives, no preservatives... just JD.

Travis laughed at the only reason he could think of that made any sense for the teacher's dislike of JD...Mrs. Gaines was 'tweaked' in the head.

+ + + + + + +

Chris sat on the porch; hearing the airbrakes of the bus in the distance, he stood from his chair and stretched, hoping the tension that had built up in his back would finally be released. He had debated all day whether he should get JD out of school and tell him what happened to Josiah, or to wait until he came home from school. He knew that JD was aware of what had happened to Amy Watson and since he hadn't gotten a call from JD, the news of Josiah's involvement hadn't come out yet. He finally decided to wait until JD got home. Josiah wasn't hurt seriously, but needed to stay in the hospital that night for the concussion.

He could see JD patting the horses that greeted him from over the fenced in pasture. He took a step away from the chair, then down the steps and headed to meet his son. Chris knew JD would know something was wrong the minute he saw Chris walking towards him, he only hoped that JD didn't think it was too serious.

Chris continued down the long dirt road, watching his son.

'Kid's gotta way with them horses...' Vin had said to Chris the first week JD had been at 'camp'. 'A way with horses?' Chris snorted the thought lightly. He'd seen many of the city kids admire a horse, first from a distance then closer as their time on the ranch grew; but JD, he didn't admire the horses...he knew them, was comfortable with them.

Chris watched as the horses in the opposite pasture whinnied and stomped their feet, impatient for attention. He saw his son turn, speaking to them, and the horses seem to calm. He watched as JD left the horses he'd been entertaining to spend time with the two in the other pasture, he saw the horses nod their heads as JD approached the fence, like they understood what he was saying.

'A way with horses...'

"He's freakin' Dr. Doolittle...' Buck had said. He'd been having a hard time with the new stallion Chris had purchased. He was a bit high strung and skittish, two qualities that never intimidated a woman any way. JD had entered the barn with Chris that day, 2 weeks into JD's stay.

'He's not gonna hurt you,' JD said softly.

'Oh but he wants to!' Buck said sarcastically.

'Not you...him,' JD looked back to the ladies man like he was crazy. Buck looked to Chris, the same look that JD had given him gracing his face.

Before either could say a thing...JD was in the stall, talking softly and stroking the stallion's neck, the horse seeming to understand every word he spoke.

'Lucky...foolish...a gift...' the others had added their two cent comments when Buck had told them what had happened that day.

'I can work it off...muck out the stalls,' JD's words ran through Chris's head, then smiled warmly at what he had learned about JD 3 weeks into his stay, three days before finding out his mother had died.

'My mom cleans this guy's house,' JD had said it like a fact, not in the past tense Chris remembered. Chris didn't know why JD had never let on that his mother wasn't well, maybe if he had, he would have let him call when he had that 'bad feeling'. JD had come to camp proud, not wanting pity, but was also private and guarded. When JD was asked about his father, he would change the subject so quickly, that you forgot you even asked.

'I took a job in the stables as soon as Mr. Peterson, he was the Foreman, allowed it, I was about 6. He said as soon as I could saddle a horse myself, he'd show me how to ride. Two days later I climbed up some boxes and saddled an old mare. He kept his word, took me out right then. He died soon after that, so I taught myself to ride when all my work was done,' JD related to the others when asked how he knew horses so well.

Chris saw JD cross back to the other pasture again, and begin to climb the fence, the teen's words became clear as he got closer. By the time Chris neared JD enough to talk, JD had climbed up onto the fence, his favorite buckskin and Chris's black flanking him, both demanding a scratch under the chin.

"...more chewing on the fence, sucking air isn't good for you," JD said.

"So that's who spoils them," Chris stated; stopping next to where JD sat, lifting his foot onto the bottom rail as his arms rested on the top of the fence.

"Geezz," JD jumped as Chris spoke, Chris grinned his apology.

"Sorry to hear about Miss Watson," Chris said sympathetically.

"Principal De Long said she's gonna be okay," JD said, his voice somewhat sad and resigned

"I heard. Do you know what happened?" Chris asked, wondering if JD had been given details.

"Something about her brakes didn't work and she ran into someone at the bottom of O'Shea Hill," JD shrugged. "Didn't here if anyone else got hurt."

Chris remained silent. He knew how JD felt about Amy Watson as a teacher, and expected him to be concerned, but figured knowing she was going to be okay he wouldn't be so 'distraught' looking.

JD took the silence that Chris'd heard that Miss Watson had taken a turn for the worse.

"Did something happen with Miss Watson?" JD asked.

"No, no. She's fine. I...ah... The person she hit.." Chris tried to find the right words.

"The person die?" JD asked as he turned to straddle the fence, alarm in his voice. He hated to have Miss Watson go through all of this, and to have killed someone. He doubted the woman would ever come back to school.

"No," Chris answered quickly, putting out that fire as quickly as possible. "She hit Josiah."

"Josiah!" JD gasped out forcefully, jumping off the fence to stand in front of Chris.

"He's fine, he has a concussion and they're keeping him overnight just as a precaution," Chris said as he put his hands on his son's shoulders to help calm JD.

"So...he's okay?" JD asked.

"He's got one hell of a headache, but he's fine," Chris smiled.

JD nodded, letting Chris know that he understood.

"You okay?" Chris asked, still seeing the hint of question in his son's eyes.

"Me? Yeah I'm fine, just been kind of a bad day ya' know, finding out about Miss Watson, wondering if she was going to be okay and all," JD said, not revealing his 'encounter' with Mrs. Gaines; Miss Watson's substitute had caused more stress than finding out about Miss Watson.

"I don't think they'll let you in to see Miss Watson yet, but we can go see Josiah and check up on her," Chris offered.

"Is he up for it?" JD asked.

"They've practically had to tie him down. He told Nathan it was just a bump on the head and he could come home," Chris smiled, putting his arm around his son's shoulders and began to walk towards the house.

"Then why didn't they?" JD questioned, after all...who would know how Josiah felt more than Josiah?

"Well...he said all that then threw-up all over the doctor. Then, and only then, was Josiah convinced that he had a concussion," Chris said as the two walked.

"That's kind of serious isn't it?" JD asked, a bit worried that maybe his father wasn't telling him everything.

"Can be, but Josiah's is mild. He'll be fine," Chris reassured.

"If I'd waited for him, he might not of gotten into the accident...I shouldn't have rushed around trying to make the bus. Just should've taken my time, Miss Watson wouldn't have hit him," JD sighed, seeming to apologize.

"You think maybe if you'd gone with Josiah when he was might have been in the accident, too? Or that Miss Watson would've hit that Elm instead of Josiah?" Chris questioned, using the same tactic that Buck had used on Chris that morning.

"She would've been killed," JD said sadly. The tree was huge, and coming off O'Shea Hill without being able to slow down....JD shuddered at the devastation it would have caused.

"Lets get your stuff dropped off at the house and we'll go see Josiah," Chris said. JD nodded as they descended the steps to the house.

"Maybe just you should go. Josiah's probably tired of everyone coming in and telling him how he feels...he doesn't need me to tell him he looks okay, when he really doesn't," JD said, beginning in a light tone, but as the words came out...the more serious the tone.

"Your mom in the hospital a lot?" Chris asked, acting on hunch as to why JD had added the part about 'looking okay'.

"Few times," JD shrugged, not really wanting to get into the topic.

Chris understood JD's body language. He didn't need to ask him any more questions. Like most things that JD tried to avoided, the reason JD didn't want to go to the would remind him of his mother.

"I talked to Nathan earlier, he said Josiah wants to see you," Chris said not looking at his son, but straight ahead as the two continued to walk slowly towards the house.

"I don't know if I can," JD said quietly, as if ashamed that he might disappoint Josiah...again.

"I'll be right there with you," Chris offered his encouragement.

"Promise?" JD pleaded quietly.

"Promise," Chris said, wrapping his arm around JD, bringing him into a half-a-hug as they walked up the porch stairs then into the house.

+ + + + + + +

The 10 minute ride to the hospital was one of silence and reflection for JD. He thought over how the day had turned out. From the minute he woke up, until the moment his father had told him about Josiah.


That was Josiah's explanation for everything it seemed.

The more JD thought the more guilt he felt. It seemed an awful lot of people paid for his selfishness of not wanting to ride to school with Josiah this morning. And Mrs. Gaines was payback for JD's actions. Next time Josiah wants to take me to school...I'll let him. JD said to himself.

Chris seemed to sense JD's thoughts, he didn't question him about them though. He knew that somehow JD was blaming himself for Josiah's misfortune, he also knew that he could talk to JD till he was blue in the face and JD still wouldn't buy it. Like father like son. Chris smiled inwardly at the similarity.

The only way JD would even begin to feel better about the whole situation was having Josiah tell him it wasn't his fault. Even then Chris knew it would be a while before JD truly believed it.

+ + + + + + +

JD walked hesitantly into the starch white room. Josiah filled nearly the entire bed, but for some reason JD thought he looked so small.

Nathan had met JD and Chris outside of Josiah's room, he was on his way to the cafeteria where the others were gathered. He squeezed JD's shoulder and nodded at Chris before he left.

Chris hung back as JD walked in, he could tell his son wasn't comfortable. JD was stiff and his steps halting. He breathed slow and deep, each breath holding a almost effort to calm himself. The way his head turned slightly, Chris figured JD was 'taking in' the room, almost as if he was scanning it for some monster to jump out and grab him.

"So you've come to visit?" Josiah's soothing voice broke the eerie silence. JD jumped slightly at the low, soft tones of the man.

JD swallowed hard, trying to find his voice. "Hi," was all the shaky, almost pitiful voice could choke out.

"It's okay JD," Josiah said, seeming to sense JD's unease.

Chris still watched from the doorway, giving encouraging nods to his son when he'd look back. He began to wonder how many times JD had seen his mother in a similar environment...making JD skittish, nervous.

He watched JD approach the bed like it was a sleeping lion; and he'd been dared to touch it.

JD's shoulders relaxed a bit as a large hand was held out...hand open and waiting, and a warm safe smile grace Josiah's face. JD took the offered hand quickly, like it was a rope saving him from falling over a cliff.

"'m, sorry," JD said in a voice that was just a notch below a whisper and filled with remorse.

Josiah pulled the small hand that he held, dragging JD closer to where he was propped up in the bed.

JD didn't fight, just followed as his head rested on Josiah's chest. Josiah engulfed the teen in his large arms, nearly encircling the youth with one arm, the other hand stroking the dark hair.

"I thank the God's that you weren't with me JD. I'm glad it was me and not that tree. It's not your fault," Josiah said, seeming to know exactly what to say.

JD relaxed a bit. Josiah, feeling the tension leave, loosened his hold on JD and allowed the boy to sit in the chair next to him.

"JD, don't do this," Josiah said, noticing that JD's head hadn't lifted when he sat, but looked away and down.

"I... should've...I didn't..." JD stammered, still not able to look at Josiah. Two large tears dropped from the hazel eyes to the tiled floor.

"Want to ride with me. I know," Josiah almost laughed out.

JD shot his eyes to Josiah, expecting to see disappointment in the man's eyes.

"I have a way of going on, can't expect a 16 year old to find this old preacher's sermons entertaining," Josiah smiled. JD relaxed totally as the burden of guilt lifted from his chest.

"Isn't that...just wish they made sense," JD chuckled out the last of the emotions that had overtaken him.

Josiah laughed, as did Chris and his son. Chris walked into the room. Before sitting in another chair that he grabbed on his way over, he patted JD's back. A pat of pride and admiration for doing something that was obviously difficult for the boy to do.

They stayed for 15 minutes when Josiah's yawn indicated the need to sleep and JD's stomach growl was heard over that yawn. The others had made their way back to the hospital room by then; saying their good-byes, they left the room.

"Doing okay?" Vin asked JD.

"Yeah. Fine, thanks," JD nodded.

The ride home wasn't as quiet as it had been on the way to the hospital. They were pleased to see sandwiches in the fridge that Mrs. Potter had made before leaving for her weekly game of Beano.


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