The Ranch
IV. The Sub

by Karin


JD woke in a good mood with the satisfaction that Josiah would be back at the ranch before he came home from school, and he didn't have History on Thursday, so there wasn't any reason to be in contact with Mrs. Gaines. Again, the students were updated through out the day as to Miss Watson's progress, she was awake and alert and very anxious to get home and heal so she could return soon.

"JD, could I speak to you for a minute?" came the voice of the person he didn't want to see today, JD sighed evenly, trying to control the anger he still felt over what happened the previous day.

JD didn't want to give the woman any more of a reason to dislike him, so he crossed the hall, making his way through the crowd of students.

"Please come in and close the door," she said. JD again did as he was asked, the door closing behind him.

JD stood expectantly, his Chemistry book at his side.

"You have Chemistry this period?" Mrs. Gaines asked, pointing to the book.

"No... Free Period, thought I'd get some studying in," JD answered.

"And do you do as well in that class as you do in this class?" she asked, strolling to her desk, motioning him to sit as she did so herself.

"I do all right, I guess," JD shrugged, not taking the seat that was offered, but chose to lean on the nearest desk top instead.

"I wanted to apologize, for yesterday," she sighed, seeming to become uncomfortable. "I can't excuse what I did and said, but maybe help you understand. I came in yesterday morning applying for a job. Miss Watson had her unfortunate accident, and Mr. De Long asked if I'd mind subbing. Now, I don't know how it is here, but when I was in high school, we made it our duty to make trouble for the sub. I've never substituted before, so I jumped to the conclusion that I'd be treated the same as I treated my subs," Ella finished, smiling at the young man who leaned on a desk .

"No big deal," JD nodded, although he still didn't buy it. Vin's suspicious nature must be rubbing off on him a bit he figured.

"I heard what some of the students were saying. You seem to be very popular among the kids here, you're very lucky.They obviously listen to you," she said warmly as she stood.

"They're only commenting on what they saw...or heard about what happened," JD stated firmly.

"And that had nothing to do with you?" she accused.

JD shook his head in disbelief. Was she accusing him of starting rumors?

"I didn't say anything to anyone. Why is this my fault? There are 19 other kids in the class and for some reason you decided to give me a hard time..."

"I know. Again I'm sorry for that. It's a little overwhelming when you step into a class where everyone has known everyone since childhood...It's kind of like stepping into an organization that's been around for years and trying to fit in. I know I have pretty big shoes to fill...I guess I just wanted..."

"You were worried that no one would pay attention," JD stated, he understood all to well what that was like.

"Pitiful isn't it," She smiled, her words seemed to be filled with humor.

"No, not really. Miss Watson's a good teacher. You shouldn't try and be like her, just teach," JD shrugged his advice, it seemed so simple to him.

"Thank you JD," Ella smiled.

"No problem," JD shrugged. He didn't smile, he still didn't trust her, but was pleasant.

He pushed himself from the desk and began to leave.

"Thank you again, for giving me the chance to apologize," Ella said as JD opened the door.

"Sure," he nodded, then left the room.

+ + + + + + +

It didn't take long for the news of JD's meeting to reach his best friends and self appointed 'keepers'.

JD sat on the bus, reading an assignment paper when his seat suddenly jumped a little and he was knocked to the side by a body. JD looked over to see Travis sitting next to him, a stern look on his face; the same look mirrored Esau's as he leaned over the back of the seat in front of the two.

"What did Gamesly want?" Travis asked, using one of the many nicknames that had been used since yesterday.

"Nothing," JD answered with a shrug, his attention going back to the paper that outlined what was acceptable for the report he had to write for English.

"Nothing? What do you mean nothing. Gavin said you were in there for like 20 minutes!" Esau reported.

"Only about 5," JD corrected, his head tilted to the left at the exaggeration.

"What she say? She give you a hard time again?" Travis asked.

"Just apologized," JD answered.

Travis and Esau knew that short answers meant either JD didn't really want to talk about it or that he considered it to be no big deal. Unfortunately, or fortunately, JD was blessed with friends that didn't give into his little whim of 'want to talk/ don't want to talk'. They knew JD would most likely get pretty ticked off at them for pushing the subject...but as his friends, they felt what had happened was important, and wanted to make sure nothing more was in store for JD.

"That's it...she just said she was sorry," Travis said with a doubting tone.

"Yeah," JD replied.

"For 5 minutes..." Esau reminded. The words sounded more like a question.

"What do you want me to say?" JD asked, his voice a few decibels above normal. This was a red flag to the two friends that meant 'drop the subject'...JD forgot they were color blind.

"What else did she say? Why'd she do what she did man!" Esau was the one to ask harshly.

JD felt relief from the third degree as the bus stopped at the ranch.

"Nothing. I gotta go," JD said. Travis stood then JD passed the two and was off the bus.

"She must have said something else," Travis said.

JD spun around to see Esau and Travis standing beside each other, their stances suggested they doubted the 'apology theory'.

"Look guys. Josiah came home this morning...I don't want to talk about this, okay. She just apologized, that's it," JD tried to reason.

"Then we'll go say hello to Josiah, that way we can talk," Esau smiled, Travis following the other's lead as they walked towards JD.

"Aw, hell," JD sighed.

"All she said was she was sorry, said she heard what everyone was saying about her and stuff. She thought I could tell everyone to knock it off," JD sighed out.

"You believe it? That she was really sorry, I mean?" Travis asked.

"I guess."

"You don't sound convinced buddy," Esau laughed a little.

"It's kind of hard to explain. She was nice enough and all, but it's just ...I don't know. Just something about her," JD finally let on.

"She messed with you yesterday, JD. Maybe De Long found out about it, told her he'd let her go... I don't know," Travis offered an explanation.

"I don't think he knows. I guess I don't trust her. I mean all through her talking to me it was like she was making up excuses know. Why she did what she did. She sounded really sorry, she just didn't 'look' like she was sorry," JD aired his impression and more of the conversation.

"She got after Erving this morning about having his books on his desk while we took some pop quiz," Travis sighed.

"Erving was probably cheating..." Esau smiled. Erving was 19 and still had a year to go before graduation. He wasn't slow...he just hated school and his parents refused to let him quit. Little did Erving know, maybe if he studied he would have, that he could quit...after all he was an 'adult'.

"Well, yeah...but at least he was taking the test!" Travis said. Miss Watson always let Erving do that, she knew he was cheating, but the fact of the matter was he only looked as a last resort. She knew that Erving was learning, even if he didn't.

"True. But Mrs. Gaines doesn't know that," JD defended...why he really didn't know.

"Okay. Well, what about Holly, she gave her detention for painting her nails," Travis stated another example.

"In class? Hello?" JD replied sarcastically.

"Fine," Travis sighed in defeat.

"There's just you," Esau said.


"JD, since you started school not once have you gotten into any trouble..."

"Not that we haven't tried," Travis smiled.

"I'm serious guys," Esau said, making the other two stop chuckling. "Not once has a teacher done what she did yesterday. She picked you out of the class and humiliated front of God and everyone," Esau reminded.

"It was just one day, it won't be so bad tomorrow," JD seemed to be sure. He turned to where his friends had stopped near the steps of the house.

"You guy's coming in to see Josiah?" he asked.

"If he's up to it," Travis said.

"Boys," Josiah greeted from the door. "I guess I'm up for it," he smiled.

The boys greeted Josiah and told them how glad they were that he was okay. After phone calls to their prospective homes, they stayed for dinner, then Buck took them home. Not one word was spoken about Ella Gaines.

+ + + + + + +

"Hey pen died, you got an extra?" JD asked in a whisper. He was trying to take notes as Mrs. Gaines lectured on the economical effects of the 'California Gold Rush.'


"Mr. Dunne..." Ella said, her stance one of aggravation.

"Yes, Ma...Mrs. Gaines?" JD asked. He knew it was about the pen, but felt if he blurted it out that would give her some reason to point out that he was disrespectful or something.

"Is there a reason you are disturbing your neighbor?" she asked sharply.

"He was just..." Esau tried, but the look on the woman's face seemed to make him lose his voice.

"Mr. Dunne?"

"My pen ran out of ink, I just asked if Esau had an extra one I could use," JD said.

"In the future I suggest you learn to carry two pens," she stated, turning back to the black board.

"I suppose you want me to write that 300 times," JD said under his breath. A few of the kids around him heard the remark, they didn't laugh out loud, but contained it in their bouncing shoulders.

"Excuse me?" Ella said sharply as she spun around. The shoulders stopped instantly, hoping they weren't caught.

"Nothing," JD said.

"No, I think you said more than 'nothing'," Mrs. Gaines retorted harshly.

JD felt the eyes of his classmates on him, wondering if he would repeat his comment, or if he'd back down. Most of the class secretly wanted JD to stand up and defend himself, but knew more than likely he wouldn't.

"Mr. Dunne, if you make it your practice to continually disrupt my class, I will ask you to leave," Ella said.

A million and one thoughts of response went through JD's head, but he settled on... "Yes Mrs. Gaines."

"Thank you."

She continued her lecture, occasionally sending JD an unseen glance, he was too busy taking notes to see the small glares.

+ + + + + + +

On the way home from school, Travis and Esau tried again to get JD to tell his father, or anyone, what was happening with the new teacher.

JD still stood firm, "Monday starts a new week. I promise if something happens then I'll say something to my dad."

"You're such a wuss. Why didn't you tell her off when she hassled you about the pen?" Esau asked, his arms resting on the seat in front of JD.

"What was he supposed to say...I think you did the right thing, if you would've rooted her out...she would have sent you to De Long's office. And that wouldn't go over with your dad very well at all," Travis defended JD's actions, aping Esau who he sat with.

"You guys need some serious work on your 'good cop, bad cop' routine," JD said, closing the book he was reading as the bus stopped.

"See ya'," he said as he passed the two dumbfounded friends.

"Told you I should've been good cop," Esau said as the two turned and slumped into the seats.

"Sue me," Travis shrugged.

"You think we should tell Mr. Larabee?" Esau asked.

"Let's give him till Wednesday, that'll be a week, if things don't change...then we tell JD he don't have a choice, cause we'll say something," Travis suggested.

"Wednesday...that's it. See ya'," Esau nodded as he too left the bus. "Later."

+ + + + + + +

"Dunno...let me ask."

"Hey Dad. Would it be all right if me and the guys used the cabin this weekend?" JD asked, his hand covering the mouth piece of the phone.

"When do you plan on doing homework?" Chris asked.

"Sunday night...we'll be back before 6, I swear," JD said.

"How you plan on getting there?" wondering if he was going to be taking a ride.

"Horses?" JD asked hopefully.

Chris sighed shaking his head. Those kids should have lived in the west with as much time as they spend riding horses he thought.

"You just saw those two, you figure that you'd make plans during the day instead of 10 minutes after you get home. Tell them to get over here if you plan on getting there before dark," Chris smiled, finally giving his answer.

"Esau. He said to get over here now," JD smiled, giving Chris a thumbs up of thanks.

JD hung up the phone and dashed up the stairs to his room. Chris shook his head, the three friends had taken several weekend trips to the cabin and every time the look on JD's face was the same.

Well, if this isn't a typical 16 year old kid, I don't know what it is Chris thought, reminding himself of the silent promise he had made to Katherine to look out for him, care for him and let him be a 'kid'.

JD rushed around in his room, grabbing a change of clothes and stuffing them into his back pack. Then he jogged to the bathroom, grabbed his toothbrush and some toothpaste. Then back to his room. He scanned the area, mentally going through a check list. He stopped at the nightstand in the corner.

"Yes," he smiled, crawled over the bed to get the object he had almost forgotten.

"JD! Lets' go!" he heard his father yell up the stairs.

"Coming!" he yelled back. He shut the door to his room and ran down the steps. He stopped only to put on his boots, then ran to the barn; knowing his father was there waiting with his friends.

"Hey guys," JD said breathlessly as he jogged to a stop in the barn.

"Hey," Travis said, not looking to JD, but continued to tighten the cinch of the saddle on his horse. He'd felt it come loose as Esau and he rode over.

"You aren't gonna wear that are you?" Esau asked. Only then did Travis look at JD.

"Oh you can't be serious," Travis laughed.

Chris stayed in the tack room, laughing to himself over the boys' bantering.

"What?" JD asked, knowing what they were talking about.

"I told you I should've picked one out..." Travis said.

"You're the one who said 'pick out the one you like'," Esau retorted.

"Do we have to go through this every time?" JD asked, almost pleading.

"Well if ya'd picked out a 'real' hat..." Esau said.

"I like this hat. You know..." JD started.

"...Bat Masterson wore one just like it," Esau and Travis said together.

"Well...he did," JD defended.

+ + + + + + +

Chris stood amongst the three mounted riders, he did a quick once over of the saddles and checked the equipment they'd loaded on the horses. He did this as he talked about the route the teens would be taking, thinking he was distracting them...little did Chris know the teens knew all to well he was checking the tightness of cinches and making sure all the buckles that needed buckling were done so correctly.

"Sunday about 5?" Chris asked, satisfied that everything was secure.

"No later than 6," JD smiled.

"You have the cell phone?" Chris asked, for the third time.

"Yes. Dad, don't worry. How many times have we gone up to the cabin?" JD sighed. He was amused the first three times at his father's concern...but they'd gone three more times since and it was beginning to wear thin.

"I know. But it's my job to worry," Chris smiled.

JD groaned and signaled his horse it was time to go.

Chris slapped the buckskin's flank as it passed.

"We'll keep an eye on him," Esau smiled, as Travis tipped his hat to Chris, nodding that he, too, would make sure JD didn't get into trouble in the woods.

"Thanks. Have fun," Chris said as he watched the boys leave the ranch.

+ + + + + + +

The trio smiled as they broke through the first tree line.


Freedom from the cars, responsibilities, and parents who worry too much. Free to be 16, with out a care in the world, and no one but your buddies to hear a swear without the threat of a grounding.

It was the same every time. The boys would walk the horses through the tree line, following a beaten path. The minute they broke the tree line, everything changed. Even the horses could sense it, they began to lift their heads...waiting...

"Wooooheeee!!" break free and run like the wind.

+ + + + + + +

The weekend had been great. During the day the boys would go fishing and if they were lucky they would have fish for dinner. The only bad thing was that it rained Saturday night, putting a damper on camping out in a field not too far from the cabin that Vin had taken JD a few times.

By Sunday afternoon they were on their way home. JD had called to let his father know when they had left, so he would know when to expect them.

+ + + + + + +

Chris looked out the living room window... again. He glanced down at his watch to check the time, 5:17. Should be home soon. He thought.

It had been a long weekend for him. He was glad JD had friends...good friends, who liked JD for no other reason than him being JD. Travis and Esau had begun taking up a lot of JD's time, and although Chris knew that friends were important, he still felt a twinge of jealousy. Not the 'green-eyed-all-consuming-jealousy', more of a regretful envy. Regret that his son was spending his time with others and not him.

Chris sighed, shaking his head at the foolish thoughts.

He turned away from the window, making himself watch a television show JD enjoyed watching. Some western that had been taken off a network that now showed the re-runs on a cable station. Chris felt himself chuckle as the mustached man with a big hat 'bumped' a shorter man with a hat similar to the one JD wore when 'playing cowboy', as Buck had called it.

He shook his head as the younger moved to get away from the taller man, Chris began to absently rub his forearm at the dull sensation radiating close to his wrist. It wasn't painful...more annoying than anything.

Getting old Chris shook his head at what he was sure the start of arthritis.

+ + + + + + +

"Hold up guys," JD yelled from where he'd pulled to a stop.

The other two riders turned their horses, walking back to where JD was dismounting.

"What's the matter? He pull up a rock?" Esau asked, as he dismounted along with Travis.

"I dunno, his stride's off," JD stated. He stood back from the horse, eyeing the four legs to see if the horse was favoring one over any of the others.

Travis and Esau hadn't seen the horse go lame, but didn't question their friend who seemed to know horses better than the two that had lived out here all their lives.

"You wanna walk him around for me?" JD asked Esau.

"Sure," Esau said. He grabbed the hanging reins and clicked the signal for the horse to walk. The horse didn't walk but a dozen steps when JD whoaed them.

JD put a hand on the horse's flank, letting the hand remain on the horse as his hand traced the muscular leg till it came to the fetlock of the foot.

"You wanna get me that old shirt out of my bag?" JD asked no one in particular, but Travis nodded and did as he was asked.

"What's up?" he asked as he handed JD the white shirt.

"He cut his fetlock," JD said. "I think," he added, not really sure if it was mud from the rain or dried blood he saw just above the hoof.

JD took the white shirt and dabbed at the spot in question. JD found the answer he wanted, but not in the way he expected it. He was hoping to clear away the dark spot and check the white shirt so he could examine it closer for color.

The horse found the 'dabbing' a bit too harsh and lashed out without warning with the injured foot...catching JD not only off guard, but on the arm.

"Ahh...shit!" JD yelled as he spun around from the force.

Esau didn't know exactly what to do, calm the horse who was prancing after hearing the cry, or help the person who'd cried out. He chose to calm the horse, seeing that Travis was with JD.

"Easy...easy..." Esau said, rubbing the muzzle of the nervous horse, doing what he'd seen JD do before.

"JD, You okay?" Travis looked to his friend, examining his face. From his angle he thought for sure the horse had caught him in the head.

"Yes," JD answered with aggravation. "Think I busted my arm," JD added, trying to get the pain under control.

"Oh shit!" Travis exclaimed.

"Can he walk?" Esau asked.

"I said my arm, not my leg," JD responded harshly.

"I meant the horse. Is he okay to go?" Esau responded just as sharply.

"It's just a small cut...he can do whatever," JD sighed as he walked over to the horse in question, cradling his arm.

"He'll go home, tie his reins up," JD added, grabbing his pack from the saddle horn with his good arm.

"No reception, buddy," Travis said, slamming the cell phone shut.

"Maybe your Dad isn't home," Esau tried to ease his and JD's mind, knowing how Mr. Larabee would react to seeing a riderless horse stroll into the yard.

"Nice try, you know he's probably checking his watch every 2 seconds, staring out the window. He's probably been doing that since Friday night," JD scowled, the others knew he was right.

"Front or back?" Esau asked as he mounted his horse.

"Back," JD sighed. Travis helped JD up on the horse with Esau, then jogged to his horse and the trio, minus a horse, began heading for the ranch.

+ + + + + + +

"Shit," Chris said as he saw a buckskin enter the grounds and go straight to the barn.

By the time Chris got his boots on, ran out to the barn, put the buckskin into a free stall, grabbed his horse so as to saddle it up; he heard hooves hitting wet ground.

Chris stepped out of the barn and saw three teens riding two horses.

"You okay?" he asked everyone.

"JD busted his arm," Travis said as he dismounted.

"What happened?" Chris asked, making his way to help JD off the horse.

"Dillion came up lame, I went to check his foot and he kicked out," JD said as his feet hit the ground.

"We'll take care of the horses, Mr. Larabee," Travis offered.

"Why didn't you call?" Chris asked, after nodding his thanks to Travis.

"No reception," JD said, his voice growing tired.

"Okay, let's get that x-rayed," Chris said. "Put some antiseptic spray on Dillion's foot, don't try and clean it. Last thing I need is you guys getting hurt, too."

+ + + + + + +

The phone rang at the house for what seemed to be the tenth time since Chris and JD came home from the hospital emergency room. Chris was pretty sure that everyone who could call, had and wondered who else it could be.

Chris walked into the living room where JD occupied the same recliner he'd been in since they'd gotten home, 20 minutes ago.

"Hello?" JD answered tiredly.

Chris saw JD's head tip back against the chair and his eyes roll.

"Yes, Casey. I'm it wasn't Esau's fault...yes, I'm sure it's I didn't get a purple cast...because I hate's blue...besides, purple is for I don't need you to come over and take care of me....isn't it past your bedtime?" JD asked, finally looking to see that it was 9 p.m. JD looked at the receiver quizzically.

"Huh, she hung up," JD seemed to smile.

"Guess she didn't like the 'bedtime' remark," Chris smiled as he sat on the couch.

"And that's a bad thing why?" JD asked, slightly aggravated that the girl had even called. He knew he'd be the topic of Casey's conversation's to her 12 year old friends and any adolescent that was with in ear shot.

"How's the arm? Still hurt?" Chris asked, he could tell JD didn't really want to discuss the bad case of puppy-love.

"Kind of," JD said. To tell the truth it hurt like hell...he just wasn't looking forward to taking the medicine the doctor had prescribed.

"You want to take one of the pills the..." Chris was going to say 'doctor prescribed', but stopped as he saw the dark hair shake adamantly.

"If it hurts..."

"Am I gonna wake up in my bed or at the hospital?" JD asked.

"Here. Unless you plan on sleepwalking to the hospital," Chris chuckled.

"Not funny. You don't know what it's like Dad," JD stated.

"No. But I know what it's like to see your kid get carted off ; I wouldn't have suggested it if I thought that it would happen again," Chris said evenly.

"They don't know that though. They just said 'try this, see what happens'. I'm not too thrilled about waiting to see what happens," JD said as he stood from the chair.

Chris was going to say something to respond, but the phone ringing stopped him. He looked to JD to see if he was going to pick it up.

"No way...probably one of Casey's friends," JD shook his head to his father who looked at him.

"Hello? No he's right here," JD shook his head vehemently to indicated he had no desire to talk to anyone.

"No... pretty much...that'd be great, see you in five," Chris said, then pushed the button to shut the phone off.

"That was Nathan, he's coming over," Chris said.


"He thought you might be a bit nervous about taking the meds, he has some herbal brew he said should help with the pain and help you sleep," Chris said as he stood. He headed to the kitchen to put the tea kettle on so it would be hot when Nathan arrived.

+ + + + + + +

"It I don't know, something illegal," JD said looking at the bag of herbs that Nathan put into a pouch, then dropped it into the boiling water.

"It's not," Nathan laughed.

"There is no way I'm drinking that! It smells gross!" JD said as Nathan poured a cupful, and JD got a nose full of the aroma.

"It taste just as bad...but it works; if you plan on sleeping at all tonight I suggest you drink it, or take the meds," Nathan offered.

"What a choice," JD sighed, taking a sip of the concoction.

"Uggghhhh. That's worse than gross," JD said.

"You taste it!" JD exclaimed as his father continued to laugh at the facial expressions of his son.

"Don't think I haven't," Chris said shaking his head.

"You could have warned me," JD sighed as he took another sip of the herbal water.

"Not too much," Nathan said, taking away the half full cup.

"Why...thought you said this stuff was okay?" JD started to panic.

"I did. It's a bit strong...and from the way your eyes look, I'd say it's working...real well," Nathan smiled. JD's eye lids were growing heavy, and he wore the oddest smile on his face.

"Let's get you to bed kiddo," Chris said helping JD to stand.

"I'm okay, really," JD said a bit on the 'happy' side. If Chris didn't know better, he'd think JD acted as if he'd been drinking.

"I know, just hate to have you fall down the stairs," Chris stated.

"That would kinda suck huh?" JD asked, his brow furrowed.

"Kinda," Chris said, then looked to Nathan. He was a little concerned as to how his son was acting.

Nathan held up a bottle of apple brandy, indicating with his forefinger and thumb that he'd put a smidge in the tea.

+ + + + + + +

JD sat on the fence at the end of the long dirt road that led to his house. He reached into his pack for the third time, taking out a carrot and began to break it in several pieces.

"Hold on... this isn't as easy as it used to be," JD scolded the anxious horses that stood in front and beside him.

"You shouldn't have started giving them treats in the morning," JD turned to see his two smiling friends walking towards him.

"Hey," JD greeted, as he gave the last three pieces of the carrot to the horses.

"How's the arm?" Travis asked.

"All right," JD shrugged. "I'm gonna have to see if Mrs. Gaines will let me print out my report instead of writing it."

"You could break all your fingers and she'd probably say no," Esau offered.

"I dunno. My writing with my left is okay, just looks like a 2nd grader's," JD smiled. He'd practiced all morning to see if he'd be able to take notes and see if he could read them after.

"Does it still hurt?" Travis asked, he was curious as to whether JD took the pain pills the doctor had prescribed.


"You arm...does it still hurt?" Travis repeated.

"Naw," JD responded.

"You take that stuff?" Esau voiced Travis' thought.

"Nope. Nathan came over and brewed up this herbal tea looked and smelled pretty bad, but it worked. I haven't slept that good in a long time," JD smiled just as the bus rounded the corner and stopped to pick up the waiting boys.

+ + + + + + +

Last period. Thank GOD, kind of. History...well, best to get it over with. JD thought as he took his History book and notebook out of his locker, he was still having a hard time with the coordination that it took when having a wrist that didn't bend.

He walked into the classroom, making small talk with Tiffany who was learning the finer points on why you should never touch a wounded fetlock while standing behind a horse.

He smiled cordially to her as he broke off to the left and found his seat next to Esau and she continued on to sit behind Lila.

Mrs. Gaines turned from the blackboard and smiled at her class. She began to lecture on 'Famous Lawmen of the Old West', and to whether they were hired killers or peacekeepers doing what ever it is they had to, to keep and dispense justice.

JD listened intently, and took notes the best he could. He glanced over to Esau and hoped to God he was taking good notes, then returned his eyes to his notebook and looked at the chicken scratches he had made. Please, please, please! For once in your life take good notes Esau, JD begged silently.

The class went on with out incident, the bell rang and students began to leave after writing down the assignment that Mrs. Gaines had written on the board.

JD hung back, nodding to Esau that he would catch up.

"Can I help you?" Ella asked as she felt a presence standing behind her.

"Uhmm...Well, that report that's due Friday..?" JD began.

"There's no extension," she shook her head as she grabbed an eraser and wiped the board clean.

"No... I don't need an extension. You said you wanted the report handwritten, I was wondering if I could print it out instead?" JD asked.

"You don't understand the word 'hand...written'?" she asked sharply, turning from the board and looked JD in the eye.

"No...I mean...yes I know what that means; but, you see, I broke my arm over the weekend, and I've been trying to write but it's all pretty messy... and using my left hand isn't any better," JD said with patience. He'd gotten used to this woman and the way her words would come out harsher than he thought she meant them to.

"Oh...Ohhh," Ella finally said, looking to the blue cast and not the boy's face.

"I'm sorry JD...I should have been paying more attention. A printed report will be fine. Can I ask what happened?" Ella was genuinely concerned, being a teacher, one of the hardest things she'd dealt with was when a student had been hurt and the explanation less than believable.

"Esau, Travis and I went out to this cabin my Dad has...on the way back my horse cut his foot. I got stupid and checked it standing right behind him. He kicked out when I touched it and well... broke my arm," JD laughed. The story got funnier and funnier to him every time he told it. Not funny because he broke his arm, but funny because he wasn't careful...he knew better than to stand behind a horse when checking it's feet.

"You have horses?" Ella asked.

"Yeah, my Dad has about a dozen or so, kind of does this breeding thing on the side," JD said, finally feeling relaxed around the woman.

"Really? And what does he do on the other side?" she smiled.

"In the summer he runs this camp thing, most of the time he takes in system kids, you know..." JD was going to into detail, but the woman's nodding head indicated he didn't need to.

"Sounds like he's very busy, what about your mother?" she asked, simply out of curiosity.

"She died a little while back," JD said, hanging his head.

"I'm sorry. JD I didn't mean..."

"It's okay...I'm gonna miss my bus," JD shifted his stance, then walked out of the room.

+ + + + + + +

The rest of the week was quiet at school. There were no confrontations with Mrs. Gaines. She had even praised JD and others as they debated over whether life was easier or harder in the west. Most of the class thought life was tougher now. JD pointed out that although choices were harder to make, that life was simpler in the west. You had responsibilities at a young age, referencing the letter, printed in the textbook, of a 10 year old girl, that had stated that her younger brother had to round up the cattle from the summer feeding area back to the homestead. The boy had been only 6 years old at the time.

He went on, arguing that maybe the choices were so hard today because they were allowed to make these choices; back then most, of the people their age were married and starting a family, understanding the commitment it took to go along with that life. And to put it bluntly, most of them weren't.

Friday finally came, JD handed in his 2 page report, feeling a little embarrassed at the size. Compared to the 5-7 page reports that the others handed in, JD's looked pretty slim.

"How's your arm?" Mrs. Gaines asked with a smile.

"Pretty good, getting used to doing stuff," JD smiled back.

"Don't worry about the report JD, I'm sure it's fine," she said. She'd seen the look on his face as he'd placed his on top of the others on the corner of her desk.

"I took a little longer than I thought," JD chuckled.

"Not easy trying to type with the cast either?" she laughed.

"Not really...did the one finger 'seek and find'," the teen smiled.

"Have a good weekend...try not to break anything okay?" she smiled.

"Once was enough," JD sighed through a laugh, and left the room.

JD's weekend started off great, seeing a tall sandy blond haired man standing next to a beat up red Jeep as he stepped from the building.

Vin straightened as he saw JD come through the doors, and returned the wave that JD sent him.

"Boys" Vin nodded as JD and his two friends came closer then stopped.

"What's up?" JD asked, it wasn't unusual for Vin, his Dad or any of the others to pick JD up from school if they'd been in the area; but with the accidents JD wondered of something was wrong.

"Chris had the truck serviced, just dropped him off to pick it up. He said he had a few things to do 'round town, figured I'd pick ya' up. Got some fencing that needs fixing, wanna go?" Vin asked.

"Not gonna be much help," JD said lifting his arm in the air. Most people would call him crazy, but he loved helping on the ranch, fixing fences, cleaning out the stalls, taking care of the horses...he could do without dealing with the three pigs they had; but Ham, Bacon, and Pork Chop would be out of his life before too long.

"We gotta go...we're gonna miss the bus...see ya' Vin," Travis said, slapping Esau on the chest, and both waved as they ran towards their bus.

"Just wanted the company," Vin smiled, after waving to the boys and returning his attention to JD.

"Doc said I couldn't ride for a while," JD stated; when checking a fence the two usually rode on the horses.

"You heard wrong...he said no riding till it came off," Vin said with a sideways grin; had to admire the kid for trying.

"We ain't riding, we can take 'Buster'," Vin smiled, referring to the beat up farm truck that was far from quiet.

"Ya' can get changed while I try and see if he wants to start," Vin smiled as he hopped into the Jeep.

"Cool," JD said, getting in the Jeep as well.

+ + + + + + +


Chris turned around to face the person who'd called his name.

"Ella?" Chris said, surprise crossing his face as the woman came closer.

"Chris Larabee...God you haven't changed a bit," the woman's face beamed.

"Neither have you," he said, taken back at how beautiful the woman still was. "What in God's name are you doing here?"

"A long story," she sighed, shaking her head. "You missed the last reunion, last I heard you got yourself hitched to Sarah Connally, married life obviously agrees with you," she smiled.

Chris cocked his head, hanging it slightly.

"Not married," he said.

"I guess it didn't agree with you after all," Ella smiled lightly.

" agreed with me. I...ah...I lost Sarah and a son a few years back," Chris said.

"Oh, Chris. I'm so sorry. I ..I shouldn't hav.."

"It's okay. What about you?" Chris said, changing the subject sort of.

"My husband died a few months back..." Ella said sadly, Chris nodded his sympathy. "And as for kids, well..." Ella shrugged.

"Still teenagers?" he asked, knowing that she'd gone to college for teaching.

"Yeah..." she smiled warmly.

"So how'd you end up here? This isn't exactly on any map," Chris said.

"I told you, it's a long story," she smiled.

"Well, if you don't have any plans, why don't you come out to my ranch. Four Corners, can't miss it. Take a right on Wickestown Road, there's a sign at the end of the driveway. On second thought...why don't you just follow me back?" Chris asked, not knowing how long Ella had been in town.

"I have to run into the bank..."

"Me too, come on," Chris said. He guided Ella into the bank. And escorted her out and to her car. He then jumped into his truck and headed to Four Corners, Ella right behind him.

Ella followed Chris out of town, her mind distracted by the conversation they'd had right before they parted.

'I want you to meet someone' Chris had said, his eyes dancing at the mention of the idea.

'This someone special' she'd asked, hiding the panic she had felt.

'Very' he'd answered simply...but his eyes still sparkled when he'd said it...just like they had those many years ago, when he'd loved her.

+ + + + + + +

Chris stopped the truck, he put his forefinger in the air indicating he'd only be a minute, then went to the mailbox to empty it out.

Ella's breath was taken away as she stopped at the large sign that hung out at the post. 'Four Corners Ranch'. She saw three horses galloping in the pasture to the right. One a large buckskin, a large black and a gray.

Ella shook her head in amazement. She put the car into gear as Chris returned to the truck and began to head towards the house.

As she passed through the property Ella couldn't help but smile. Everything was just as they had talked about. The lay out and use of the land. The good sized garden off to the right, next to a small building. No doubt the nursery/ tool shed Ella smiled. The large red barn off to the left of the house, a small fenced in area behind the barn.pigs probably. Ella saw the chicken fence a ways back from the house.

Then there was the house. It had two stories, she could tell by the two dormers that jutted from the roof. There was a porch that ran the length of the house. She didn't doubt that the porch most likely wrapped right around to the other side.

It was exactly as they had dreamed all those years ago. The warm smile disappeared as she came to stop in front of the house.

'Someone special'.

The words repeated themselves in her head, seeing the look on Chris' face as he said the words. She frowned as she shut the car off. This is our dream house, just as we planned it, and you're sharing it with someone else. This is my dream too, and I'm not willing to share it with anyone else but you she thought as she stepped from the car.

"Ella," Chris said pleasantly as he held her car door open. "Come on in and I'll introduce you to everyone."

She smiled and walked up the stairs (five, just like she thought there would be) following Chris. She was amazed again as she entered the house. The floor plan was just as they had thought it out. This house was built for Ella, and she knew it.

"Ella this here's Josiah Sanchez, Nathan Jackson, Ezra Standish, and Buck..." Chris turned to where he heard the door open then shut.

"Guys, this here's Ella..." Chris began, not knowing if the woman was using her maiden name or her married name.

"...Gaines. It's a pleasure to meet you all," she smiled.

+ + + + + + +

"We got company," Vin said as he pulled into 'Busters' parking space next to the barn.

"Mrs. Travis get a new car?" JD asked, wondering who else it could be.

"Not that I know of," Vin said as he shut Buster's rusted door.

Vin and JD entered the house through the kitchen. JD and Vin took off their muddy boots and left them next to the door.

"I'm gonna wash up for supper and change," JD said, and headed for his room.

Vin was about to go down into the cellar where they all kept a change of clothes. Mrs. Potter kept a clean set for each man, for emergencies.

"Vin," Vin jerked his head to the entryway of the kitchen and saw Chris walking towards him.

"Hey, got that fence fixed," Vin said, then opened the cellar door.

"Where's JD?" Chris asked, seeming to ignore what Vin said.

"Upstairs gettin' changed," Vin nodded to the hidden stairway.

"I want you to meet an old friend of mine," Chris said, hitching his head in the direction he'd come from. Vin followed Chris into the living room, all the while trying to get as much dirt off from his clothes and hands as he could...which wasn't much.

"Vin...this is Ella Gaines, Ella...Vin Tanner," Chris motioned his hand to both when introduced.

"Ma'am," he said as he tipped his wide brimmed hat, when Ella extended her hand to shake the Vin's.

"Nice to meet you," she said, tilting her head towards the man. She secretly wondered if this had been the 'special person' that Chris had talked about. God she hoped not, what a waste of both men if he was. She had seen that sparkle in Chris' eyes when the kitchen door had shut.

"So...this special person..."

"Is upstairs, should be here in a minute," Chris smiled anxiously.

"Hey, Dad! Would it be all right if..." A voice came from the kitchen, as the voice came closer to where he saw Vin standing, the words weren't as loud.

"Ella this is my son," Chris smiled proudly.


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V. Hearts and Plots