by Grasshopper

Chapter 10

Jealousy is a fuel, a combustible. It can raise its bright green eyes and make you hurt the very people you love. It takes over your brain and, all of a sudden, the very thing you wanted becomes the thing you must hurt.

Callie Hewett sat brushing her long blonde hair with furious strokes muttering to herself, "God, how stupid can I be? What an idiot!!Why didn't I see that? My own brother!! And Wesley!!! God, that was so gross!!" She shuttered, remembering the shadows on the cave wall, the sweat shiny naked skin, the sounds of sex. Her Cole! Her Wes! How could she have been so blind? They didn't care anything at all about her. They had probably been laughing at her all these years. Waiting for Wes!! Like that was ever going to happen!! Oh my God!! Her brother was a queer. Maybe he talked Wesley into doing that! How could she not have known? How long had they been doing ...... that?? Here she'd been saving herself for Wesley, well, maybe not her body, but she had been saving her heart and that was what was important.....and all the time, he was fucking around," she growled as she threw the brush across the room, "with my own brother."

Callie paced back and forth, back and forth across her bedroom, the evil of jealousy taking root; its tendrils winding inside her chest and squeezing her heart. She'd show them! She'd just tell everyone at school that her brother and Wesley were fags. Yes! No, wait! That would make her icky too. Her twin brother was queer. No, ewww. People would look at her funny, thinking she was too.

This was all Wesley Straihan's fault. Everyone always told them that the Straihans were trash, no good trash. Her family had made friends with them, look how nice she had been to that crippled mousey sister and look how they paid her back.

She paced and cursed the day they'd ever set eyes on Wesley. Well, if she couldn't have him, then neither could Cole. Cole ..... how did she not know? How had he kept this secret? What else did he lie to her about? "Damn your eyes, Cole Hewett!! You shouldn't have done this to me!!" No, she wouldn't do anything to embarrass Cole or her family. It was all Wes' fault. It was Wes that needed to learn a lesson.

Karl Straihan Jr. looked out the bus window wearily. Home! He was fucking home, back to this fucking town where his Leave it to Beaver perfect family would all be waiting with open loving arms to welcome him back. Yeah, right!

Not fuckin' likely.

Climbing off the bus, he grabbed the small cheap duffle the prison had given him. He owned the jeans, white t-shirt and cheap jacket on his back, the shoes he'd wore into the jail and more muscle. That's all he'd brought out with him .... Those things and a hatred that burned bright. His prison tats crawled up his arms and across his back. His hair shaved, a scar slashed across his left cheek, Karl Jr. headed toward Terry Collom's garage. He needed wheels, a place to crash, but first he needed a drink.

The storm lasted into the night and the next day the entire world was white. Cole and his dad cranked up the generator to keep the fridge and freezers running. They stoked the big fireplace in the living room and the Ben Franklin stove in the playroom. With the power down, there was no school and lots of work to be done.

Finally, the Hewetts sat down to eat big bowls of steaming vegetable soup cooked the old fashioned way in a huge cast iron pot in the big fireplace.

"Where's Callie?" her dad asked.

"I haven't seen her all day," Cole said. "I'll check on her after I eat."

Cole turned the knob on Callie's bedroom door. It was locked. "Hey, Cal. Why's the door locked? You sticking pins in your voodoo dolls in there?" he teased.

The door opened a crack and blue eyes met blue eyes. "I have bad cramps. Go away!" Callie knew that was one thing Cole wouldn't question.

"Gross! You need anything? Pills? Mom?"

"No, just go away and leave me alone."

"Okay. Okay." Cole shook his head. Girls!

By Monday, power lines were back up and the roads were cleared. Callie had stayed in her room for two days stewing and getting angrier as she thought back to all the times Cole and Wes had gone off on their own. Everything made sense now. Everyone had just assumed that Cole and Wes were best friends and neither of them had ever done anything to make it otherwise. Even Callie hadn't suspected. She had cried her last tear. The anger built as she realized what a fool they had made of her all these years. Well, she'd pay them back and, as she stared out the window into the white world, she knew just how.

Albert Hewett backed the truck out of the barn and headed toward McLaren. He needed to stop by the feed store, pick up some milk and bread at Krogers and fill up at the gas station. He'd pick Callie up from school first. Cole had practice.

"You feelin' better?" he asked as Callie climbed into the truck.

"What? Oh, yes, better," she answered, not looking at her father.

"Run in Krogers for milk and bread while I get some feed over at Miley's.

I'll circle back and pick you up out front."

Chores done, he pulled up at the pump at Collom's. "I'm gonna set the gas going and go talk to Terry about switchin' the tires. You just sit tight. I won't be long."

Callie flipped the makeup mirror down on her visor and checked her hair and lipstick. Closing it up, she saw a tough muscular guy rolling a new tire out of the garage. She watched his butt muscles work in his tight jeans. Damn, he looked fine! As if he felt her looking at him, the man turned his head. Callie felt a jolt as she looked directly into Karl Straihan's eyes.

Karl sauntered over to the truck. "Well, hey there, Princess. Long time no see."

"That's because you've been in jail, Karl Straihan," Callie said haughtily.

"Yeah, so I have. You scared of me, little girl?"

She was, but Callie was too confident of her control over men to think much about the tremble of fear that crawled up her spine. Especially not when there was a much more interesting tremble of something entirely different rising deep in her belly. He was hotter close up than he had been from a distance in a Prison Break kind of way.

Karl laughed, "You gettin' wet panties, Princess? Like what you see, huh?"

"You've gotta be kidding me," she replied. "Me, interested in the likes of you?

In your dreams."

Karl raised one eyebrow. "I'm out at the Blue Moon Saloon most every night, SugarPuss. When you can't stand that itch another minute, come find me."

"Maybe in your next life. I wouldn't be caught dead."

"Oh, I don't want you dead, Princess. I want you alive and kickin." He turned and walked off as Albert climbed into the truck cab.

"Was that Karl Straihan? I heard he was getting out of prison. Was he bothering you, Callie? Don't get anywhere near him. He's bad trouble."

Callie watched Karl turn up the collar on his jacket and stand with one foot propped behind him against an oil drum by the fence. As he struck a match to light his cigarette, his hand cupped against the wind, their eyes locked and he smiled, not the smile she was used to, but the smile of a predator. Callie, could feel his eyes on her long after the truck had turned the corner.

Lily Campbell's senior party promised to be THE party. Her dad was the richest man in southeastern Wyoming and her parties were legend. Everyone was talking about it; what they'd wear, who they'd go with, who they'd sleep with, who'd get naked first, who'd win the rainbow game this year, who'd make an ass out of themselves first.

"You wanna go?" Cole asked Wes as they walked down the school hallway between classes.

"Nah, I don't like parties. You know that. You go on. I know your parents are good friends of the Campbells."

"I wouldn't go, but my mom is raggin' on me about never going anywhere and she wants me to watch Callie."

"Watch Callie do what?" Wes laughed.

"I have no idea," Cole chuckled. "Callie does what she wants. You know, she's been real weird lately. If I didn't know better I'd swear she is angry with me, but when I asked her, she laughed and said I was being silly."

"Yeah, I kinda noticed a chill. Maybe it's just nerves, you know, school getting over and all."

"Yeah, maybe. Anyway, if you change your mind, we'll go together. I never have fun without you anyway."

"Oh, did I tell you, I think Mercy has a boyfriend."

"Great, who?"

"Remember Craig Harold? He was in the same class as Mercy in school. He saw her at the doughnut shop where she works and came in five days in a row until she spoke to him. You know how shy Mercy is."

"Well, good for Mercy."

Mercy hid in the back of the shop. Craig had been coming in at this same time every day for a week. She was terrified to see him again. This was a dream she knew would not really come true. Craig had been Callie's all through high school and Mercy would never believe that he preferred her over Callie Hewett.

The bell on the counter rang and she knew she had to go out front. Squeezing her hands tightly together, she walked through the open door, never more aware of the way her leg dragged, to stand behind the counter by the glass shelves filled with all kinds of wonderful smelling doughnuts. Raising her eyes, she said, "May I help you?"

"You certainly may," Craig said happily, a smile in his voice. He had come home for spring break from the university and found the girl he'd always wanted selling doughnuts right here in McLaren. At nineteen, Craig had totally stopped listening to his father about who he could and could not date.

He had been ready to ask her to go to dinner and a movie this weekend, but when she raised her soft brown eyes, he saw the same look he'd seen a hundred times in high school. Mercy always seemed afraid. He never wanted to see that look in her eyes because of him.

"Mercy, would you like to go for a walk?"

Mercy's head jerked up. "What? I ......................, What did you say?"

"Would you like to go for a walk and look for wildflowers?" Craig had such an expectant look on his face.

"I don't know," she stammered.

Craig smiled, "Please, I'd love to take you to London or Paris for dinner, but a walk will do just fine until you trust me."

Mercy shyly tried to think of an answer. Craig brought his hand from behind his back and offered her a single pale lavender rose. "I remembered how you like purple."

Mercy smiled, that smile only Wesley ever saw; the smile that changed her face from plain to beautiful. Taking the rose shyly, pressing it to her cheek, she replied, "Yes."

Callie caught up with Wes in the hallway outside World Government class. "Hey, Wes, what ya up to?"

"Going to Study Hall."

"Let's cut. I need to talk to you."

Wes looked at her face and saw worry lines. "Sure, let me put my books in my locker and I'll meet you out on the wall."

The sun glinted off of Callie's gold hair. The air was brisk and their jackets felt good against the wind coming in off the plains. The cold still had a ways to go before it left this part of Wyoming for springtime.

"What's wrong, Callie?" Wes asked, concern shifting in his silver eyes.

Callie hesitated for a second, then said, "I'm worried about Cole."

"Why? What's wrong with him?" Callie could feel the fear coming off Wes in waves. A part of her hated doing this, but jealousy had her by the short hairs.

"Well, I thought maybe, you being his best friend and all, maybe you could talk to him."

"About what? What's wrong?" Wes frantically tried to think of what could be going on with Cole that he didn't know about.

"Mom and Daddy are upset because he says he's not going to go to university if you don't go. He's gonna stay here and go to the junior college. You know how our parents have dreamed of him going off to the University of Wyoming, getting a Business/Ag degree in ranching, meeting the right girl and taking over the ranch one day."

Wes sat on the wall, silent. He had known this would come up one day. He had no money to go to the university. Father had not allowed him to try for a scholarship because of that damn pride thing. Cole had to go. There was no question in Wes' mind that Cole needed the best education.

"I know how much you care about Cole. He is your best friend after all," she said, watching Wes out of the corner of her eye. "I'm sorry you can't go and all. I know how hard it is for you to get money. Cole has never been poor like that. He deserves this opportunity, don't you think? Surely you won't stand in his way? I know you'll do what's best for Cole. I know it'll be hard, but it sure would help if you'd talk some sense into him."

Callie hopped down off the wall and stood looking up at him. She had known Wesley forever. She knew he had a heart that wouldn't let Cole lose out because of him. Okay, she'd stirred the pot. Now, let's see what happens.

Wes sat quietly, thinking of words that would make Cole leave without him. He sighed. There were none. Over the past eleven years, Cole had watched over Wesley. It wasn't a new thing. It was just the way they were. Wes had lied to Cole so many times to hide the monsters in his life. He had never lied to Cole about the way he felt about him or that he wanted to be with Cole forever. Is that what love is? Doing what's right for the person you love even if it tears you apart? Cole can't stay here taking jerkoff classes at the junior college. He needed to really learn and he needed to meet people like himself, not be stuck with a poor kid like Wes.

Maybe Cole's parents were right. Maybe he did need to meet the right girl and run the ranch. Maybe Wes was just keeping Cole from making the right choices; maybe he had been hurting Cole all along. Wes knew that Cole was the best thing he had in this wide world, but if he was keeping him from finding the best of life, Wes would have to step back and let him go.

Callie stood quietly inside the library watching Wes through the big window. He was thinking hard and Callie would bet a hundred dollars she knew exactly what he was thinking about. Wes would always do what was best for Cole. "Yes!" she murmured as he jumped down off the wall. "Now, let's see what he does about it."

Wes had last period with Cole. He stood outside the open door and caught Cole's arm as he came around the corner. "I'm cuttin' class. I've gotta do some stuff. Can you meet me at the cave later?"

"I'll come with you now."

Wes wanted some time by himself to sort all this out before he talked to Cole. "Nah, you stay here. This is family stuff."

Cole watched Wes' eyes. He'd learned a long time ago that he could see lies in Wes' eyes by watching the colors change. The spooky eyes he'd loved since Kindergarten would turn from misty sea green to silver and back. He didn't think Wes even knew. Sometimes, Cole felt like Wes' eyes held magic in them.

Why was he lying? "Okay, I'll head up there right after school. Be careful." He watched Wes head off down the hall. Should he go to class and not hear a dang word or just follow Wes and make sure he's okay? No decision .... Cole took off in the same direction.

Mercy hung up her apron and left by the back door. She was on lunch break until 1:00 and usually ate at Mike's Diner. She and Ellie, the waitress, had become good friends. Older than Mercy by about thirty years, Ellie had become, in a way, the mother she'd never had. At first, Mercy had been shy and quiet, but over the past few months, she'd begun to ask Ellie questions and tell her enough that Ellie knew Mercy only trusted her brother, Wesley.

Today, Mercy had to really ask Ellie's advice. A woman's opinion.

"Do you have a few minutes to sit with me?" she asked.

"Sure, Mercy, let me clock out and we'll just eat lunch together."

Grilled cheese sandwiches and cole slaw in front of them, they talked about the weather for a minute or two and then Mercy blurted out, "Ellie, I have a date! Well, kind of a date ... a walk actually."

Ellie's smile broadened into a huge grin. "Good for you, sweetie. It's about time." Mercy didn't reply and Ellie saw the confusion on her face. "What? You don't want to go?"

"No," Mercy murmured softly, "I've wanted to be with him since fifth grade. It's just that....." her voice trailed off.

"What? Tell Ellie what's wrong." She reached over and covered Mercy's slender hand with her own.

"My brother.................." she started.

"Wesley? I know he'll be happy for you."

"Not Wesley. No."

"Oh, Karl Jr.? That's right, he's back, isn't he? So what? You don't have to have anything to do with him, Mercy."

"It's not that simple. I ............................." she closed down. "I need to think about this. I need to talk to Wesley." She took one more bite of her sandwich and slid out of the booth. "See you later, Ellie."

Ellie watched her young friend hurry across the street to go back into the doughnut shop. Sighing, she mumbled to herself, 'Those Straihans, I just don't know how a sensitive girl came out of that bunch of psychos.'

Mercy leaned against the closed back door. She had almost told Ellie. Almost told her about the rapes and the basement. It was on the tip of her tongue to just let it all come flying out into the light of day. Mercy was so frightened; frightened for Craig if Karl found out, frightened for Wesley, and frightened for herself. How could she put anyone she cared about in jeopardy? She couldn't go out with Craig. She didn't want him to end up run off the road or his head bashed in out in the desert. Wes was right. They had to leave. Just disappear; it was the only way. As tears trickled down her cheeks, she tied on her apron, straightened her shoulders and went back to work.

Cole watched Wes head out of town, taking the path that led to the north pastures, the meadows and the cave. That was the opposite direction from the Straihan place. What kind of family business could Wes do out at the cave? Always trusting Wesley, Cole let him go. He'd give Wes his hour and then he'd meet him at the cave. Sitting down on the low cement block wall that surrounded the student parking lot, Cole thought about the future.

Cole had this great plan. He still had to convince Wes to come with him and get a job. They'd work it all out; Cole would take classes and work part-time and Wes could take night classes when they had enough money saved up. Mercy would come too and they'd all work hard until they could have the dreams they'd wanted for so long. Cole had always promised Wes a home and animals and a place for Mercy. They'd have it. Not here, but somewhere. As much as Cole loved his parents, he loved Wesley more and they were gonna make this work. They had to.

What seemed like five hours went by, actually forty minutes, before Cole hopped off the wall and followed Wes' trail off up into the hills. The wind was picking up and the clouds were graying.

He found Wes sitting in the cave, staring into the fire he had built. Sliding down beside him, Cole kissed the side of his face. "Okay, I'm here. What ya need, cowboy?"

Wes reached out and pulled Cole between his spread legs to lean back against his chest. Wrapping his arms around Cole, he said softly, "I'm leaving."

"What? I just got here."

"No, I'm leaving McLaren. Mercy and I are leaving."

"Of course you are. I am too. We'll all go to Laramie and I'll go to classes and you'll..........................." Wes laid a finger gently over Cole's mouth.

"Listen to me, Cole. Mercy and I are leaving. You're going to the university and we are going to find out what happened to our mother." Cole twisted around in Wes' arms and rose up on his knees.

"What? Yes, we'll do that, but you are coming with me .... Aren't you?" Tears and fright flashed into Cole's navy blue eyes.

Wes took a deep breath. Yes, he wanted to scream. Sighing, he said softly, "No, Cole, I'm not."

Cole tried to read Wes' eyes. They were clouded and opaque, dark and unreadable. "Why not? All our lives we've planned. All our lives we've dreamed."

"And it's been that. It's been dreams. I have to find out the truth about myself and my family. Until I can do that, I'm not of any use to you."

Cole tried to take in the shattering of all his dreams. "Well," he said, shakily, "I can drive home every weekend. Laramie's only a hundred fifty miles from here. It won't be the same, but we'll still have each other."

Wes had been sitting alone by the fire before Cole got to the cave and he had thought back over all the years and all the times that Cole had taken care of him and helped him and pulled him up out of the mire he lived in to make him feel worthy. How many times Wes had sat in that pit, that oubliette, thinking of Cole, drawing his face, knowing, in his heart, this day would come. The day when he'd have to cut the strong tie that bound them together. He wasn't worthy of Cole's love, never had been. He and Mercy didn't belong in McLaren anymore. He had to get her away before something really bad happened. He could feel it coming. What Callie had said to him only strengthened the feelings he was getting from the dreams.

"I don't understand what you're saying," Cole shouted.

"I'm saying you are going to the university in Laramie and Mercy and I are going to Salt Lake City to find out what happened to our mother."

"Are you coming back?"

Wes stared into the fire. He didn't know. He had no idea what he'd do without Cole. "I don't know. I don't think so."

"Why are you doing this? I know you love me. Wes, look at me!" Cole took hold of Wes' shoulders and shook him, tears running down his face. He finally looked into the silver eyes of the boy he had loved all his life. Wes' eyes were the color of the river mists in the dead of night. No expression, no life. Dead eyes.

"Love you? Never question that. Never think I don't. I have things I have to do and so do you," Wes said sadly, his voice catching. "This is something that I have to do. If you love me, don't stop me."

"I love you. I won't stop you. I won't say I understand because I sure as hell don't. I know you love Mercy and you always protect her, but why now? You are going to graduate, aren't you? At least wait until May. Oh, Wes, I can't do this."

"Yes, you can," Wes whispered. "You're the strongest person I know. You can do this because I'm asking you to. Hate me if you need to, but I have to go."

"I could never hate you. I could say it, scream it, paint it across the mountains, but it wouldn't be true. Oh, Wes....." His mouth found Wes' and they clung together, tears mingling, hearts breaking, "Don't do this."

So, Callie exacted her revenge, but the price was much higher than she knew.

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