by Grasshopper

Chapter 24

Cole and Wes tucked Luc into bed, and then stood at the foot of the bed, hands clasped tightly together. "He's a terrific kid," Cole smiled as they watched Luc turn on his side and scrunch up to a raggedy brown lop-eared bunny. "Look here, Wes," Cole whispered, tugging Wes over to a shelf built into the wall beside Luc's bed. On it sat a framed photo of Cole and Wes that Callie had taken in junior high. Their faces were alight with laughter and, arms thrown around each other, they glowed with the feelings that were just awakening in them.

Beside the photo, on either side, sat a tiny golden lion and a small brown bear. Leo was clean and fluffy, his tail mended with gold thread. Poppy had been washed carefully, his torn ear mended and two bright shiny new black button eyes stared back at Wes. Luc had made two little chairs out of glue and popsicle sticks, painted them blue and sat his two best friends down to guard his room.

Wes touched Leo with a fingertip. Tears welled up and one traced its way down his cheek. Cole wiped it gently away. "Mom cleaned them for Luc and I told him how important they were to you. He built their chairs and said they would wait here with him for you to come home." Wes couldn't get his breath for a moment and then turned his wet eyes toward Cole.

"He's a very intuitive child, Wes. I can't begin to explain some of the things I've seen him do. You'll see for yourself. I do know that he's loved you since the day he was born. It's as if he's just been waiting for you. I can't explain the thing that happened at 11:37 Christmas Eve with your eyes and his."

"I think," Wes murmured, "He was telling me it was time to come home and he gave me the light to find my way. I don't understand either, Cole, but it brought me home. That's all that matters."

As they checked Luc one last time and walked quietly toward the door, Wes watched Cole close the door to just a certain angle. Cole walked across the hall and opened his door, crossed the room and switched on the light that hung above the painting of the red tailed hawk. "Luc needs to see this painting if he wakes up in the night."

"Who painted that?" Wes asked, his voice quivering with emotion as he studied the familiar black and white lines and the one red feather. Stepping closer, he climbed onto the bed to stare into the odd silver eyes of the hawk. "Cole, the eyes."

"Yeah, look close."

Wes could make out the face of a tortured girl crying for release deep in the pupils. "Who did this, Cole? This is my mother." Cole sat down on the bed and pulled Wes close. Wes sat mesmerized by the painting. It could have been Wes' work, but it wasn't. He hadn't painted that. "Tell me, please."

"You sure you're ready to hear everything?"

Wes nodded, his eyes never leaving the startling canvas. He felt like he already knew the answers, but he couldn't quite grasp them.

"I drove to Provo the day after you wrote that horrible note. I had to find you. I thought you had gone to find out about your parents."

"I just wanted to run away," Wes sighed. "I didn't care about anything if you didn't love me."


Wes hung his head.

"Wes, I found out who your father was and what happened to him. He painted that hawk, Wes. That's the connection between the painting and Luc."

"Tell me everything."

Cole told Wes about the church fire and about whole families ripped apart; that his father's family had lived in a small town called Thistle and he had had a brother. "He looks just like you, Wes. His name is Wyatt, I guess Uncle Wyatt, and he's great. He loved his little brother and is finally at peace knowing what happened to Billy."

"What's my real name then?" Wes asked. "I've always hated being a Straihan."

"Your father's name was William Crandall. He was burned badly in the fire and never saw Katherine, your mother, again after that day. At least, not until he found her here in McLaren years later. What's really weird is that he lived with the Harrelson's and taught art at the high school. The reason they didn't see him in you was because of the scars on his face. From the fire."

Wes turned his face away. The thought of his father going through such pain and agony hurt him badly. Taking a deep breath, he asked, "So, how did my mother get here? Why was she married to Father if she loved Billy?"

"No one knows the answers to any of that. Wyatt said there was a visiting preacher in Thistle the week of the fire. I'm thinking it must have been Rev. Straihan, but how he got your mother to leave with him, I don't know."

"Why? Why did Mother leave Billy?" Wesley's voice took on a confused tone.

Cole rubbed widening circles on Wes' back.

Baby, let's take one step at a time. We'll find out, but first, let's get you settled back into your life. I've missed you so much." Cole's hand wandered from Wes' back down to the waistband of his jeans still massaging the tight muscles. "You're so tense. Let me work those kinks out."

Wes started to tug off his shirt, then stopped. "Uh, I'm kinda thinking we're right in Luc's line of sight right here under the painting."

Cole turned his head toward the open door, "Lord, I almost forgot."

"I have an idea," Cole said, his blue eyes twinkling. "I'll tell mom and dad we're gonna be gone for awhile."

Sarah and Albert stood at the window watching the two men drive off toward the bluffs. "I hope they'll be warm enough," Sarah worried.

Albert choked on his hot chocolate, "Oh, I imagine we'll be able to feel the heat from here."

"Albert!" Sarah blushed.

The cave seemed smaller to Wes. There was still a stack of cordwood by the entrance and the faint smell of a wood fire hanging in the air. Quickly, they tossed kindling, racked up three good sized logs and spread the old blanket on the dirt. "It hasn't changed," Wes said as he looked around.

"Luc and I come up here all the time," Cole said in a breathy whisper. "We like to ......."


Wes' voice sounded ragged. All Wes could think of was how many days and nights he hadn't been with Cole. How many days filled with laughter and companionship; how many nights filled with passion and need. There would never be enough nights to make up for the time wasted. He felt the heat rising in his body and watched as Cole responded to his name.

"Come here."

It was fitting that they come together in this place. The shadows of the fire dancing on the far wall, the shadows of their bodies as they stripped away their clothes and sank to the ground.

"It's been so long."
"Let me feel..."
"Your mouth, give...."
"Oh God, yes, there."
"Bring me....."
"Not yet. Make it last."

Wes could feel Cole tremble under him, opening for him, "Your eyes, let me look in your eyes."

Ragged breathing ~
The sound of flesh slapping, sliding ~
Heat ~
Pressure building, building ~
Burning in the blood ~
Clinging to the edge ~

Not yet, Not yet ~

Wes held on as long as he could, biting til blood stained his lip, gasping Cole's name over and over. Then, as his silver eyes locked onto Cole's glorious blue, their fingers locked together, he came, plunged deep inside the body of the boy he'd loved all his life.

"Is the penny money still here?" Wes asked as they lay quietly by the fire, his body spooning Cole's against the cold of the cave.

"Yeah, why didn't you take it with you?"

"It was ours, not mine," was all he said. "I want to meet my uncle."

"I called him this afternoon. He's expecting us as soon as we can go. Luc loves it there."

"Will I like him?" Wes fretted.

"I think," Cole smiled, "It will be kinda like coming home."

Pulling their clothes on to ward off the cold and building up the fire, Cole sank back into Wes' arms and, as the weak morning sun began to make its way into the gray Wyoming sky, they slept.

Cole dreamed of Callie. Perhaps it was the heat from the fire glowing nearby. Perhaps it was the heat from Wes' body that warmed his heart and his soul. Callie held a pile a photos, laughing as she threw them one by one into the fire watching them blaze up quickly to turn to ash. "Ask him about Karl, Coley. You're scared to hear the answer. You know he killed his brother. Can you live with that? He's a murderer. One day, he will kill you. Run, Coley. Run toward the wind. Run to the bluffs." He felt a hard grip on his arm and struggled to get loose.

"Cole, Cole, wake up. You're dreaming."

He blinked his eyes and curled into Wes' arms. No, he'd never run from Wes. If Wes did that, he had his reasons. Cole knew he'd never question or ask.

Damn Callie.

"You okay?"

"Yeah, just hold on a little longer."

"My pleasure," Wes murmured and wrapped Cole in his strong arms and legs.

As the sun rose higher in the sky, Wes stood in the cave entrance and shaded his eyes with his hand. "Hey Cole, what's that over there by the bluffs?"

Cole smiled, "A new house that got built while you were gone."

"Who lives there? God, it's beautiful. Those windows go all the way to the clouds."

"Let's walk over there. No one's home yet."

Cole grabbed Wes' hand and they walked through the snow toward the A-frame house. Made of rough cedar, the huge windows were open to every view and the covered porch wound its way all around the house. As they got closer, Wes could see bright splashes of color in the furniture and wide canvases on the walls. "One day, we'll have a house like this, right Cole?"

"Sure we will, Wes. I promised you a house and lots of pets, remember? Let's go look inside."

Wes pulled back on Cole's hand. "Do you know the owners? We can't just walk in."

"I know them really well and yes, we can." He opened the door and stepped inside onto the braided Native American rugs in the traditional blacks, browns, reds and whites. The fire was blazing in the giant fireplace that opened into both the living area and the kitchen. Wes twirled in a circle. "Oh Cole, I love this house. Who lives here?"

"We do."

Wes froze. "What?"

"I always keep my promises."

"Cole, oh Cole. This is our house? We can live here?"

"There's music in every room, sunshine in every window and safety, Wesley, safety for you for the rest of your life."

Crying freely, Wes walked into Cole's arms and mumbled, "Thankyouthankyou thankyouthankyou."

"You're very welcome."

"When? How?" was all Wes could say.

"I built it, with a lot of help from Luc, Dad, Wyatt and Craig. I wanted it ready for you when you got home."

"Oh, Cole, I was so stupid."

"Shhhh, forget all that now." he ran his fingers through Wes' long hair pushing it out of his eyes. "Oh, Mr. Cramer's chocolate lab had puppies

about two months back. I've got our name in for two of them. Luc's about to have a hissy to go get them."

They climbed the stairs and Wes saw the big loft area, one side a huge kingsized bed and bathroom; the other side had a large easel set up under a skylight. "I figured you'd need a place to draw."

What to say when someone has done something like this? How to express the feelings, the emotion, the overwhelming rush of love? "It's too much, Cole. I have nothing to offer you."

"Yes, you do. All I ever want is you; don't you know that by now? Your heart is precious and you've trusted it to me. It's all I want."

"I never thought my life could be so happy. I used to dream of a house like this, dream of living in it with you. I never thought it would happen. You've given me my dream."

Cole threw his arm around Wes' waist and pulled him toward the stairs. "Let's go look around. I've got so much to show you and there's so much for you to decide about. Mom and Mercy helped, but I left a lot of stuff undone for you to figure out."

Wes began to single out things and began to notice the drawings on the walls. "These are mine," he breathed. "You got them mounted on desert wood."

"I gave one to Luc every birthday."

"But," Wes puzzled, looking further along the wall, "These aren't mine. Who did ................................?" His voice trailed off. "My father?"

"Yeah, Wyatt gave these to you. Look how much alike you and Billy created your drawings. Wyatt said that Billy painted before the fire but after, all he ever did were drawings in black and white with a touch of color. Sound familiar?"

Wes turned as a log cracked loudly in the fireplace. "Jesus, Cole, who did the painting above the fireplace?"

"Billy," Cole said, waiting for Wes to realize who that was in the painting.

"Cole," he stammered, "That's my mother, isn't it?" he walked closer to the hearth and stared up at the painting of the lovely young girl, the wind tugging at her long black hair, tearing a violet ribbon from her curls, her hands reaching out to someone. "It's in color," Wes whispered.

"It's the last painting he ever did. The fire in Thistle scarred him so badly and he lost Kat. He never painted again."

"I don't deserve so much happiness when my parents had theirs ripped away by the man I had to call Father."

"That's where you're wrong, Wesley. You made it through all the pain and terror. I wouldn't have stayed as strong as you. Your strength made you who you are today. Your parents would be ... are so proud of you. Think of it, Wes, all these years, you thought you had his blood running through your veins, but you didn't. You had Billy's and Kat's. You aren't a Straihan; you're made of strong tough Lucas/Crandall blood. Look at her, Wes. Look at the love in her eyes. That's the way Billy saw her. They made you. They would have loved you so much."

"But Father killed them and threw them in the pit." Wes knew he had to get past all the memories for Cole, for Luc, for Mercy. "I won't talk about this again. It's the past and the past can't hurt us anymore." Cole caught his hand and they walked out onto the front porch. Drifts of snow were piled deeply in the corners and fresh snow was building up. Across the winter-deadened meadows, they could see a small pinto pony high-steppin' its way, carrying a small boy who was waving happily riding alongside Cole's dad.

"Daddy, Wes, Yippee!! We live here now. Our house. Daddy, Wes, Luc. Kittie, Wes, puppies."

"My God, that's the most I've ever heard him say," Cole laughed. "See how you've made everyone so happy."

Albert stopped long enough to get Luc there safely. "I came over early and lit the fire. I figured you'd be looking at the house this morning." His smile was glowing. He was remembering a time long ago when he had wished Wesley Straihan out of his son's life. Now, he couldn't imagine any of their lives without him in it. "I'll be seeing you for supper."

Wes stepped out into the snow and lifted Luc out of his saddle. They walked to the covered corral where Wes ran water for Hawk, Cole slid his saddle off and Luc filled his feed bag with fresh feed. "There, that'll do for a while. We'll settle him down with Whistler, Angel and No Name before it gets late."

"No Name?" Wes asked.

"Your horse, Wes. I thought you'd want to name him. He answers to No Name, but that's a dumb name."

"Show Wes Billy?"

"Yep, but I think Wes needs some time to see everything."

Wes lifted Luc up and rode the small boy on his hip. "You helped Dad build this house for us?"

"Yep, for me, Daddy, Wes, horses, doggies, kitties, um, chickies, ducks, goats, cows, um, tigers, monkeys .........." he started to giggle.

"You goof," Wes laughed.

"Come," Luc pulled on his hand. "See my room." He tugged Wes into the open doorway at the foot of the stairs and into a room that would have been Wes' dream. Bunkbeds covered with bright Native American throws, a huge red beanbag chair, a boy-sized desk with a computer, a television, a pile of DVDs and a climbing loft built right into the wall that reached from the floor to the ceiling with a rope dangling down and brightly colored pillows all around.

The only odd part was the one blank wall across from the bunkbeds.

Luc watched Wes look around, his eyes stopping on the bare wall. Luc ran over and pressed his hand to the cool wooden panels. "My hawk here."

"We couldn't move the hawk drawing here until you came home," Cole explained.

Luc nodded his head happily, "Now move hawk. Wes is home."

Driving over to meet Wyatt the next day, Wes was nervous but excited. He had more family. This was his uncle, his real father's brother. He would know all sorts of stuff about his brother to tell Wes. Wes wanted to know everything there was to know about Billy and Kat. There were still so many unanswered questions. Why did Kat disappear the day of the fire? How did she end up in McLaren married to Father? How did Billy find her? Were they planning to run away when Father killed them? Luc patted Wes on the arm as if he knew the questions tumbling around inside his head. "Unca Wyatt loves you."

"Thanks, little man."

Driving up into the yard, Wes saw a large man, dressed in flannel and jeans, make his way up out of the forest. His longish hair was covering one eye until he reached up with his hand and shoved it back. Waving his muscular arm, as the man came closer, Wes could see a very familiar lop-sided grin on his face.

Cole and Luc tumbled out of the truck as Wyatt walked around and opened Wes' door. "Get out here and let me look at you, Wesley," he said, his gruff voice full of happiness. "Goddamn, Cole, you were dead right. His daddy spit him out, didn't he? Son, you're the spittin' image of your father." Grabbed up in a bear hug, Wes could only gasp for breath. "I swear, you're Billy all over again."

"That's a good thing?" Wes asked softly.

"That's a very good thing. My brother Billy was the best there was. Come on in and let's get something warm inside us. I made your favorite, little guy, M&M stew."

Wes looked questioningly at Cole. "It's beef stew and Wyatt drops some M&Ms in right before he gives it to Luc."

Sitting around the table, Wes looked at the drawings hanging on the walls.

There were a few paintings, but most of the work was charcoal or black and white drawings with a touch of red hidden in the lines.

"Wes had some of his drawings in an art magazine, Wyatt," Cole bragged.

"It's like having Billy back with me," Wyatt smiled. Cole chuckled when both Wyatt and Wes reached up at the same moment to shove back long brown hair out of their eyes.

"I think there's a lot of you in Wesley too, especially the hair," Cole laughed.

"So many questions and we may never know the answers," Wes sighed. "We know that Billy, my father, found Kat, my mother, in McLaren, but how is a mystery."

"I know my brother and he would never have given up searching for her. What I want to know is why she didn't leave that monster? She could have just walked away, come home. Why did she stay?"

Unanswered questions. New found family. Some secrets are never meant to be told.

Talk about this story on our forum

Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.

[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead