"How could this happen?" a 16-year-old boy whispered to a framed picture; ever so slightly his finger tips touched the glass, tracing over the figure of a man who he'd come to call Dad.
"How could she do this?" he continued in virtual darkness, the only thing providing light in the bedroom was the lamp on his desk.
The picture held no answer, because there wasn't any answer to give. No reason for this to happen.
"At least we had Thanksgiving," JD said quietly through a controlled sob, wishing he could keep the tears under control as the memories began to flood his mind.
He had never seen so much food set on a table except on TV. Like everything else he'd watched on television, when he was back in Boston, he figured the buffet was exaggerated...even when he got older.
At his mother's urging, he had come to the ranch as a participant, and only weeks later he would learn he was an orphan. For the first time in his life he had men in his life. Role models to look up to, men who cared about him and his well-being as much as he did them. Men who began as friends became men he considered family. Uncles he never had growing up, and a father he'd been denied for so long.
JD's whole family sat at that large table; his 'Uncles' Josiah, Nathan, Ezra, Buck and Vin; Esau and Travis, friends he figured were the best brothers anyone could have; Mrs. Potter, who he'd come to admire for everything she did; and Chris, his father.
Thanksgiving was the time to be thankful, and JD was more than thankful, he was grateful. He knew it would be easy to wallow in self-pity over the loss of his mother, especially with the time of the season; but he had been given a great gift, a second chance at a life, the chance to be a typical 16-year-old kid...
...And now it was going to end.
Three days had passed since Thanksgiving, the day he learned he would no longer be living at the ranch. An eternity since Mary Travis had informed him that he was being taken away; and hardly 6 hours since he'd spent five minutes with the man that said he was his birth father.
JD had not been prepared for his mother's death, even knowing it was bound to happen, and happen sooner than he wanted it to, did nothing to ease the devastation he had felt. Someone claiming to be his father was a surprise; learning that the man would be taking him from the only other home he'd known and a father he loved dearly, was more than unwelcome news.
JD's heart sank further into his stomach as he wiped his bare arm across his streaming eyes, trying to stop the flow of sadness down his cheeks. He sniffed and took a deep breath, trying to get back on task.
He placed the wooden framed 8x 10 photo into a small box. His index fingertip traced Chris' tight smile, as if the action would allow him never to forget how his father looked.
The top of the box firmly in place, JD pulled the colorful wrapping around the box. He taped the meeting of the edges together, and then folded the ends neatly and tightly before adding another piece of tape. JD held three rolls of ribbon against the wrapped box, choosing to go with the red ribbon that brought out the color of the nose on the reindeer patterned paper.
With acute precision, JD brought the ends of the ribbon together, then twisted it around itself, and wrapped the ribbon in the opposite direction. He tied the ribbon off, then picked out a white bow to accent Santa's beard. He searched the small box that held tags, looking for just the right one. JD scrutinized each and everyone until a grin formed on his face at a tag that pictured a ranch house, colorful lights hanging from the eaves, the house's roof blanketed by snow. Off to the side there was a fence with horses pastured in its confines.
The teen filled in the 'to:' and 'from:' then carefully peeled the label off and placed it just under the white bow.
JD caressed the package, whispering softly, "Merry Christmas, Dad. Just wish..."
He couldn't finish his thought as he began to silently cry as he hugged his father's gift. The picture that Josiah took of JD and Chris mounted on their horses, both wearing their 'cowboy' hats, Chris' arms resting loosely on his saddle horn, one of JD's arm off to the side and slightly in the air, Chris focused solely on his son, JD's eye's wide, mouth open as he told his tale through a laugh; moved with every silent sob JD cried.
When there were no more tears to shed, JD gathered up the nine presents he had wrapped for his family and friends. All the gifts were similar in size; all contained a picture taken by one of the others, of JD and the person it was meant for.
Buck's present held a picture Nathan had snuck off after JD had first came to the ranch as a 'camper'. Buck had JD in a headlock, Buck's fist readied for a noogie, both faces glowed with laughter.
Nathan's picture was of one of the healer in the middle of a lecture to the teen as he signed his casted arm; JD's eyes in the middle of a roll.
There was a picture of Josiah, his large arm draped across the teen's shoulders. Josiah's head was tilted slightly away from JD and JD had a puzzled look on his face.
The next present contained a picture of JD and Ezra. While as a camper, JD was required to attend classes. Ezra stood behind JD, his hand on his shoulder as he smiled proudly at the teen; the teen's head tilted back, returning the smile of pride.
Next to the picture of his father and him, was the picture he'd wrapped for Vin. Chris had taken the photograph the first time JD had gone fishing. It was by a small pond near the cabin. The trio had ridden out soon after JD had been adopted. JD was reeling in his first fish ever, Vin whispering instructions in his ear beside him.
Travis' and Esau's pictures were the same exact photos. All three stood together, JD in the middle, all covered completely in mud. The three ATV's they had ridden were in the background, the teens posed in front of them.
He hadn't any decent pictures of him and Mrs. Potter, so instead he had made her a plaque. He wrote 'I grew up hearing and reading of Guardian Angels and Fairy God Mothers; but not until I met you, did I know they truly existed. Thank you for being you. You're the Grandmother I always dreamed of having. Love, JD.'
After JD placed each present carefully under the tree, he took a few steps back.
So this is Christmas? He thought to himself as he sighed aloud.
JD looked around the room, studying each window pane, every piece of hardwood on the floor, every tongue and grooved board that made up the walls, the feel and look of the couch he had fallen asleep on more times than he could count, the overstuffed chair his father claimed as his, every stone in the fire place. He took it all in, hoping to God that he'd be back soon, hoping if fate was against him that he'd at least never forget it.
He mapped out the whole first floor in his mind, going from room to room, etching all the information into his brain. As he walked through the house, he began to hug himself. Somewhere along the line the comfort and safety this house had provided for him for so many months had left him, leaving him feeling cold and empty.
He'd felt that way after hearing of his mother's passing, but only for a moment. The men of this house had opened their arms and hearts to him. He highly doubted that he'd ever feel that safety and comfort with his 'father'.
Worn out and tired, JD walked defeated back to his room. Ever since being told that this man had come to claim him and take him away, he had thought of running. Not far, just to the cabin, or to Travis' or Esau's. He could hide in the barn or something. He reconsidered after realizing the consequences of his actions. Not only would Esau and Travis get into trouble, Chris and the others would surely pay a price; JD knew they'd never help the police find him.
So after being a jerk to this 'man' claiming to be his father, JD gave up trying to find a way out of it. Chris had already talked to Judge Travis, he said his hands were tied, and that any sort of custody battle would take months just to get to court...by that time JD would probably be 18.
It made no sense to fight, so he resigned to go with the man called Seth Billings willingly. In essence, JD gave up.
JD had been right; the good guy never wins, the bad guy never gets what's coming to him and there are no happy endings...unlike TV where the cops get their man in an hour, the bad guy always loses and there's always a happy ending.
At least they'd had Thanksgiving.
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VII. Christmas Eve