by Grasshopper

Chapter 21

The Night Wes Disappeared

At eighteen, Wes had grown to his full height of six foot three, his body was deeply tanned and tightly muscled from years of manual labor in the hot Wyoming sun, his dark hair still worn long to wing down over his cheeks and his grin was still lop-sided, but it was those eyes, the spooky silver eyes that saw the world through a different kaleidoscope that caught and held people's attention. The work at the grain silos and odd jobs around the county hadn't destroyed his spirit; more, it built in him a strong work ethic and a keen sense of fairness.

The differences between the life he had led and Cole's life were always a source of concern, Wes knowing that one day Cole might look at him and wish Wes had a better education, better manners, better everything. It was the one weak place in the love Wes felt. He wasn't good enough and never would be. Cole had always watched out for him and always worried, but they were grown now.

The biggest gap was family. The Hewett's were tight. Cole and Callie had always been loved and given everything. They had no concept of what it was to do without even the most basic items. Mr. Hewett wasn't as wealthy as Lily Campbell's father by any stretch of the imagination, but he made his family comfortable and had a legacy of the ranch for Cole.

Wes's family, if you could call it that, was torn all apart. He had no one to turn to except Mercy and she was not as strong as Wes. He'd had to rely on himself all his life. Wes had learned many things in the darkness of the oubliette; silence, endurance, and mostly acceptance: acceptance that he was different and always would be. He found it almost soothing to know that he had shared that black pit with his mother and his father; that their spirits had been there all along. Wes knew that sometimes sitting down in the darkness, his mind had verged on madness and all that had saved him had been the songs that he sang and the drawings and what he knew now to be the love.

He had accepted that Cole would go off to college. He had accepted that there would be many many intelligent, colorful new people with searching minds and bright futures. He had accepted that there would come a day when he had to walk away. Cole would never hurt him on purpose. It wasn't in him to be cruel. It would just happen and it would be up to Wes to help Cole through it. He loved Cole that much. He wasn't enough and never would be.

Cole had left on that past Sunday driving to school as usual, laughing and calling out the truck window, "See you Friday! Take care! I love you!"

The cold was settled in, December gloomy and snow-filled. On Thursday morning, Wes and Mercy sat at the kitchen table, Mercy fussing at him, her voice muffled because her hands covering her blushing face, "Craig and I couldn't hear the TV because there were loud um.... bumping noises coming from upstairs."

Wes laughed, "Sorry Mercy. Cole gets a little....... I kinda.......," he felt his own cheeks begin to burn. "Aw, hell, Sis, give me a break."

She covered his hand with her own, "Okay okay, Just good heavens, Wesley," she grinned.

"I'm going over to see Callie after work. You need anything from the store?"

"No thanks, Craig is bringing me home and we'll stop by the grocery. He's staying for supper.."

"It's getting serious, isn't it?" Wes watched his sister blush again. It was so great to see Mercy happy after all these years. He leaned down and kissed the top of her head.

"Drive safely," Mercy called out as Wes swung out the back door, not knowing that would be the last time she saw him.

Dropping a kiss on Mrs. Hewett's cheek, Wes gobbled the cookie she handed him on his way through the kitchen late that afternoon. "You doing okay?" he asked.

"Yes, fine and dandy. You?"

"Okay... better when Cole gets home," he smiled.

Sarah watched his broad shoulders as he walked off down the hall, thinking her son couldn't have found a finer young man to love. She'd come a long way.

Tapping on Callie's door, he poked his head in to see her flopped on her bed like a beached whale, her feet hanging off one side. "Hiya, Cal," he said softly.

"Oh, there is no CAL here," she snarked, "Just a big fat walrus who can't even sit up." Wes offered his hands and pulled her up into a sitting position on the edge of the bed.


"There is no better.... Just worse and worse."

"You want something? Anything? A coke? Some chips?"

"NO! I'm as fat as a hog and you want me to chow down on chips and coke?"

"I better go then and let you rest," Wes said, his eyes darting toward the door and escape.

"Wait, Wesley, I want some company. Sit down and talk to me."

"Cole will be home tomorrow," Wes smiled, "We're almost finished building the crib. Next, we're painting sky and clouds on the nursery ceiling. Everything looks so great. I wish you would come look. Cole and I are both so excited."

Callie wrinkled her nose thinking, >Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! Do you even know how sick I am of hearing Cole this and Cole that... Wes this, Wes that. You two make me sick. I hate you, hate you, hate you. If you say one more word about................<

Unaware, Wes spoke, "Cole isn't sure that we should........................."

"Stop!!" Callie burst out. "Just stop. Not one more word." Realizing what she'd done, she backpedaled and then thought to herself, >Maybe this is the time. Maybe I can do it right now.<

Wes stared at her, his brows furrowed. "What? What did I say?"

Callie organized her thoughts. This was gonna be so good. "I have something to tell you, Wesley, and show you. It's gonna hurt real bad, but I just can't stand you not knowing how he's hurting you without you even knowing it."

"What? Who's hurting me?" Wes had a horrid sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.

"Cole." The name hung in the air.

"Cole would never hurt me. He never would. Stop, Callie!" Wes cried.

"He isn't as good as you think he is, Wesley. You know I told you that he needed to go off to school to meet people like him? How being stuck in this suckfest of a town wasn't for Coley?"

"You said that but so what? He comes home every weekend. All he does at school is study."

"Who says?"

"Cole, and I believe him. I trust him."

"You shouldn't, Wesley. He's cheating on you. As a matter of fact, he's cheating on you A LOT! I guess he's shopping around. It's what I told you he'd do."

"That's a bunch of crap and you know it. Why are you sayin' all this? Why would you want to hurt Cole? Or me?"

"Better now than later, after the baby's born and you get stuck raising it. Cole doesn't want to live here. Don't you know that?"

"You're talkin' shit, Callie Hewett. It's just you sayin' it. I don't believe a word comin' out of your mouth."

"Then maybe you'll believe this." She pulled herself up off the bed and held her back as she walked over to the CD cabinet and slipped a photo out. "I knew you'd never believe me, so I asked a friend of mine at the university if he'd check on Cole. This was happening at a party. I have a video of it all if you want to see. Cole was naked, doing this with whoever this is. My friend said this isn't the only guy Cole's hooked up with either."

Wes stared at the photo in his hand. It was Cole, Wes could see his beautiful curly hair. Cole doing what Wes had always believed was for them alone to show their love, not at a party with some strange guy. >Maybe he loves this guy< Wes thought frantically. >I always knew something like this would happen.<

Callie had hit the one soft spot in Wes' armor. Wes believed in Cole, in his love for Cole and Cole's for him. This didn't change any of that. But, Wes had always known that he wasn't good enough and now it was there right in front of him. Callie wouldn't make this up. Why should she? Cole and............ Oh, God! Stumbling toward the door, Wes looked at Callie with eyes the color of mist on a stormy ocean, the mists swirling with tears.

"Don't tell Cole about this. He doesn't need to know that I know. It would only hurt him. Don't tell Cole." He ran out the door and she heard the kitchen door slam after him.

"Believe me, Wesley Straihan, I won't tell my brother anything that went on tonight." She felt a twinge of guilt but, with so many other sins under the bridge, what was one more?

Wes drove up to the footpath leading to the cave, jumped out of the Camaro and ran to the edge of the bluff. The snow was falling heavily, flurries blowing against his strong body, buffeting him. Why not just fall? Let the wind take him? He'd always wanted to fly. He felt the frozen ground giving way under his boots. This was good; just fall, Wesley.

A strong gust of wind pushed him back as if a giant hand was shoving at his chest. The eerie sound of the wind whistling through the gorge below sounded like a voice..... "No, no, noooooo."

Wes shook his head to clear his thoughts. No, this wasn't the way. He needed to go away. If he were gone, Cole would begin to live the life he was destined for. The baby! Wes felt his heart break one last time. He had wanted to share in the baby, love it and raise it like nobody ever did for him, but the little child would so much better off with the Hewetts. "Maybe I have enough Straihan in my blood to be cruel too," he muttered.

He turned toward the cave, and rolled back the boulder they had placed over the treasure box. His eyes stinging with tears, Wes opened the box and took out the old crumpled photo of Kat. He didn't need a picture of Cole. Cole lived in his head, running a continuous loop. He touched Leo and then Poppy. He wanted the baby to have them for protection. Finally, he took out the much listened to Willie Nelson CD. It was amazing how little Wes had. Nothing belonged to him; not Cole, not the baby.

Pulling a grocery receipt out of his pocket, he found a stub of pencil and scribbled a note:

Cole ~ Give Leo and Poppy to the baby. You know what they mean to me.


He left the note inside the box and covered it back over with the big rock.

He didn't touch the penny money. He knew how Cole had 'helped' him find most of it and it didn't belong to him.

Standing for a few minutes at the mouth of the shallow cave, Wesley remembered how it felt to stand behind Cole and hold him tightly in his arms and how his breath would ruffle Cole's blond curls. Cole was shorter and as they stood here looking out over the mountains, he felt so protective. Wes remembered much more, but it hurt too much to think. Standing here, he fought to hold on.

The wind broke. Wesley would never know if he really heard his mother's voice or his mind had just lost its way. All he knew was she seemed to touch his face and whisper, "Wesley, do what you need to do. Be strong." he heard

The faint tune of a melody almost forgotten:

"Baby's boat's a silver moon sailing in the sky"

Wes knew what he had to do. He walked sadly down the path, climbed into his old car and drove away from the cave, away from McLaren, away from Cole.

Driving north along state road 287, Wes had no idea where he was going or what he'd do when he got there. He had no family except Mercy and Cole. Mercy needed to have her own life now and Cole, well, Wes was giving him that. Space and time to find his own way.

The third day into his trip to nowhere, Wes had begun to argue with himself. He missed Cole way too much and he wanted to be there when the baby was born. Lucas was gonna be such a great baby; Wes could feel it. He'd have all the love and care that Karl never had and he'd make them all so proud.

Last night, he'd looked long and hard at that photo of Cole and saw the tiny things he had missed when Callie had shoved it at him; the slackness around Cole's mouth and the lack of animation in his face. It was as if he wasn't there in some way. Wes didn't understand what he was questioning, but he was damnwell gonna go home and ask Cole. All he wanted to do was go home. What was he doing out here in Idaho driving along this backroad when everything he wanted was back in McLaren? Why believe Callie? What the hell was he thinking?

Slamming his foot on the brake, he looked for a place to turn around. He could make it home in two days if he pushed it. Suddenly, all the doubts fell away. He trusted Cole. There was an explanation for that picture. He didn't want to think about why Callie had wanted to hurt him like that, but he knew he needed to go home. What an idiot! He'd trusted Cole all his life. It wasn't about to change now.

He shoved the Willie Nelson CD in the player and punched track #7, thinking about that day, years ago by the cottonwood pond, when Cole had stood in front of him, held out his hand and asked him to dance. It was this song and it still brought happy smile tears to his eyes:

"If you had not fallen,
Then I would not have found you ..
Angel flying too close to the ground."

"I'm coming home, Cole," he murmured. "Wait."

As he took the sharp curve at 70, it was already too late to save himself. The big Jeep Cherokee, loaded with heavy bags of feed, tried to get out of the way, braking hard, its backend fishtailing, smashed into the driver's side of the old Camaro pushing it over the embankment and down into the shallow ditch running alongside the road. The tires spun uselessly as the smell of gasoline filled the air.

A red tailed hawk circled the wreckage, one lone feather floating down, came to rest on Wes' outstretched hand. The last sound Wes heard was a whisper in the wind calling his name. His silver eyes shaded to black and he could feel Cole holding him. Not now, lord, not now. Then, even Cole's face turned to bible black.

Present Day

"Luc, you want to ride with me out to check on the water levels in the north ponds?"

Luc nodded his head vigorously, grinning that lopsided grin, running to his room to get his chaps.

Cole watched his son scooting away and felt a surge of pride. 'You'd be so proud of him, Wes,' he thought for the millionth time.

They saddled their horses, Cole's big silver stallion, Angel, and Luc's pinto pony, Hawk. The day Cole had given Luc the little pony, his fourth birthday, and had asked what Luc would name it, Luc had immediately looked up and pointed at the red tailed hawk circling the sky above them.


Luc smiled and made a circle with his thumb and pointer. "Well, Hawk it is then." Ruffling Luc's long brown hair, Cole felt that all too familiar lump in his throat. Sometimes, he felt like he was looking at what Wes would have been if he'd been loved........ Except for the eyes. Luc's crystal blue eyes shone with a light that was all his own.

They rode out , side by side, each with a red tail feather from a high flying hawk stuck in the sweatband of their cowboy hats.

Sarah, Albert and Cole had driven Luc to the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona after the local doctor had been unable to give them answers. All Dr. Griffiths had said was, "Lucas has everything needed to speak; I have no reason to give you why he doesn't other than he chooses not to. He let out a loud yell when he was born....,"

"But after that," Cole frowned, "Nothing. He never even looks as if he wants to talk."

The trip to Arizona told them nothing they didn't already know. There was no physical reason why Lucas didn't speak. It had to be emotional and that perhaps, one day, he would decide to talk.

Luc, at four and half years, hadn't started school yet, and Cole and his parents had devised ways to know what Luc wanted. What they missed were

his thoughts. His eyes spoke volumes, but no one knew what they were saying.

Luc loved his Aunt Mercy and his face lit up like sunshine when she came to visit. Mercy felt as if she had Wesley all over again .. except for the eyes. Katherine, Katy for short, little Violet and Luc played together and the girls seemed to always know what he was thinking.

Cole and Luc rode out every morning to mend the fences, check the herd, clean feeders; whatever needed to be done. At four and a half, Luc was a solemn child, attentive and smart. Cole had grown used to keeping a constant stream of conversation going as they rode along and explaining every step of what they did so that Luc understood. He figured he couldn't wait for questions, so he just provided answers as they worked.

"We're working with barbed wire today, so keep your big gloves on."
"That's a white-tailed kite flying right over there."
"Come here, Luc. This is cheatgrass. It hogs the water and can be food for wildfires in the fall."
"See that bluff over there, it's made out of sandstone."

Luc soaked in all the big words and filed it all away to use when he spoke. He loved his Daddy and loved to hear him talk. He paid close attention and watched with those solemn eyes, nodding his head.

Cole took Luc to visit Wyatt. Wyatt watched the small boy in amazement as he went from one picture to the next, touching the one bit of color. Luc's favorite was the painting of Kat still hanging in Billy's room. He would sit for long periods staring at the portrait. Billy's old room became Luc's. The three would go for long walks in the deep woods and Luc would gather 'treasures' to put on the window ledges.

"He looks just like Billy," Wyatt sighed, "Except for..................,"

"I know," Cole said softly, "Except for the eyes. I know you're gonna think I'm nuts, but there's something we don't understand going on behind those blue eyes. It's not that he can't talk, it's more that he's waiting. He's just not ready yet. I know that sounds crazy."

"Cole, we've seen so much that we can't understand; why would that be any weirder than any of the rest. I always get this feeling I'm just waiting.... waiting for something to happen. In a way, I'm waiting for Billy."

"Me too. I know Wesley is out there. I just don't know where and I don't know why he won't come home. He'd never hurt me like this on purpose."

Over the five years since Wes had disappeared, Cole had graduated from college, but came home to help his dad run the ranch. He had a degree in ranching and agricultural development, but he stayed. Luc needed him close and one day, God willing, Wes would come home.

Christmas was close, only four days away. It was such a mixed time of the year for Cole and for Mercy. They had both gained Luc, but they had lost Wesley. The weather had turned ugly and Cole was the only one of the family riding out these last few days. He and the hands wore thermal everything and still they nearly froze. Getting the hay and feed to the cows was like riding into a deep freeze. Cole had made it Luc's job to tend to his pony and to oil up his boots and chaps. He could always find the little face peering out the window watching for him to ride up to the barn and then running hellbent, jacket flapping, out the back door to be pulled up into the saddle with his dad.

Cole's rule about Christmas was one present from Grandma and Grandpa, one from him, one from Mercy and one from Uncle Wyatt.... and one from Santa, of course. His stocking was always filled with little treats, and Luc bounced with anticipation for Christmas morning to see what wonderful things he would get.

But, his most favoritest present of all was his birthday present from his daddy and Wes. Luc's birthtime being twenty-three minutes before Christmas Day and his birthday being Chritmas Eve, he had a birthday cake and little presents from Katy and Violet and then he opened the gift from Daddy and Wes. His eyes never held question marks, only pleasure.

Cole had thought long and hard concerning what to say to Luc about Wesley. What could he say? Luc was just a child but still he needed to know that an important part of the family was missing. Finally, when Luc turned four, Cole sat him down and started to explain about Wes. "I want to tell you a story, Luc. Would you like to hear a story about two little boys like you who were the very best of friends?" Luc bobbed his head up and down smiling.

Cole told him about the penny money and the songs and then about the cave and the pond in the cottonwoods. "I love Wes, Luc. He is my best, best friend." Luc took his small hand, made a fist and held it to his heart. "Yes, love, like that. He had to go away, but one day soon, he'll be back and you'll love him too."

Sometimes, Luc would see overwhelming sadness in his daddy's eyes and he would put his small fist to his heart. "Yes, I'm thinking about Wes."

When Cole had given Luc his first birthday present from he and Wes, he had decided that it wouldn't be some bought toy to be played with and shoved away. He would go out into the desert, or to Wyatt's looking for just the right piece of wood.

Cole had found a notebook in Wes' closet filled with drawings and sketches of the two of them as kids. As Wes grew older, the drawings became better and better until they were works of art. Cole knew about the tiny capital 'C' hidden in the picture and he would search until he found it.

He would take one of the drawings each December with the piece of sun bleached wood he'd found in the desert and Wyatt would back the drawing on the wood and polyurethane the piece.

The first one was of Wes and Cole at six peering down into the schoolyard hole looking for China. On their tummies, chins propped on their hands, they

were laughing. The 'C' was hidden in the curve of Wes' cheek, the red tailed hawk perched on the top of the tetherball pole.

Birthday number two had brought Luc a drawing of Cole and Wes as they came off the volleyball field, laughing after beating the Waverly Cougars,

arms around each other's shoulders, sweat dripping off their young faces.

The 'C' was hiding in the curve of the volleyball Wes was kicking and the red tailed hawk sat watching from the high branch of the cottonwood at the far end of the playground.

The third drawing was one of Cole and Wes lying in the meadow in front of the cave in the summer surrounded by yellow wildflowers. Cole had his head resting on Wes' legs and Wes was twisting that blond curl right behind Cole's right ear. Jack was chasing butterflies and dandelion fluff was drifting in the breeze. The 'C' was cleverly peeking out of the curl around Wes' finger and the red tailed hawk cruised in the air currents high above the cave.

The fourth drawing was of Wes diving into the cottonwood pond and Cole dog paddling in the cool water. The little hut was off to the right and Whistler stood patiently as the boys played. The 'C' was hidden in Whistler's saddle strap and the red tailed hawk sat serenely on the roof of the hut.

This Christmas, Cole had chosen a drawing of he and Wes standing in the opening to the cave, Wes standing behind Cole, his arms folded around him. Cole's head was leaning back against Wes' chest and they were looking off into the sunset over the bluffs, dreaming. It was easy to see the love. It shone out of the picture. The 'C' was drawn into the bracelet of stones on Wes' arm and the red tailed hawk was flying off into the sunset.

Luc loved the drawings as soon as he was old enough to understand them. He would sit on the floor with them and look at each one in turn, studying Wes and Cole and their faces. He would always touch the red tailed hawk and then point to the feather in his hat hanging on the peg by the door.

"Yep, it's from that bird; the red tailed hawk," Cole would answer him. "It's Wes' bird, I guess.

Looking at that bracelet started to bring back all the old bad memories, but Cole damped them down. Wes may have killed his brother, but he had to. Cole would die before he'd ever tell what Karl had said or that he had any doubts about Wes. He felt the two small silver beads on the chain around his neck. He'd given these to Wes for protection. He wished Wes had them now.

On Christmas Eve morning, the day, five years ago, that Lucas was born, there was a stillness in the air. The snow clouds were heavy like they'd been the night he was born. "I better go see to the horses," Cole said as he wiped his mouth and stood up from the breakfast table. "It feels like a storm coming. When Luc wakes up, I'll be in the barn."

The strange feeling lasted through out the day. Mercy and Craig brought the girls over for Luc's birthday cake and he opened his gifts. Cole gave him the drawing wrapped in bright blue tissue paper with a huge silver bow.

All the adults talked about how great the drawing was and then Luc searched for the 'C'. When he found it in the shape of the encircled bracelet, he walked over to Cole, reached in his daddy's shirt and pulled out the chain. He looked questioningly at Cole. "Yes, these beads are from that bracelet. How did you know?" Luc just smiled that lop-sided smile.

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