by Grasshopper

Chapter 25

Cole and Wes stood at the huge bay window in the loft looking out at Luc and Katy playing on the swing/slide set they had set up as soon as the winter snows melted away. Naked, still damp from their shower, Wes pressed up against Cole's back, his arms thrown around Cole's chest lightly. "Remember swinging at school? I was always afraid you were really gonna let go and fly away," Cole said, his hands grasping Wes' arms.

"I wanted to," Wes admitted, "I wanted to just fly away, up over the treetops and disappear. You kept me here. I wanted, even then, to be with you more than I wanted to run. I hope Luc never has to live with fear."

"We'll keep him safe. No one can get through the both of us, right?"

Pulling on briefs and jeans, they walked downstairs to get more coffee. "What's on your deal today?" Wes asked.

"I have to drive Dad into Laramie to sign those papers, remember? We should be back by dinner."

Albert had suffered a mild heart attack back in February and scared the living hell out of them all. Now, he insisted on getting his papers in order 'in case something really happened'. He had spoken to Cole quietly, explaining that he was leaving the ranch to him, with the provision that Sarah live in her home the rest of her life with a sound allowance and good medical care.

"Of course Mom would stay here, Dad," Cole said, startled that his dad would even have to say that much less put it in the will.

Albert sighed. "As much as I hate to say it, if something happened to you, I don't want Callie managing my estate. The little girl I knew and loved seems to have run away from us forever."

"Yeah," Cole muttered. "I don't even know her anymore."

"It's breaking your mother's heart. She wants to know what she did wrong. I try to tell her she raised you both the same and you turned out to be a fine son. It wasn't anything she did, or me. I truly don't know what happened."

Cole would never tell his father about the videos and the pictures. It would be the last straw. Callie was gone out of their lives and the trouble she caused was over. Better to leave the past alone and look forward to the future.

Spring sprang towards the end of May and everything bloomed at once. Color splashed all over the bluffs, the meadows and the pastures. Wes was in heaven. He'd never had beauty in his life and now he couldn't get enough color and discovered that he had a green thumb. The yard surrounding their beautiful house was like a blank sheet of drawing paper and Wes was the artist. He had planted a windbreak of gambel oaks along the northern edge of the property, blue velvet honeysuckle vines crawling up the railings of the porch mixed with English ivy, beds of lilacs, lavender and pungent, along the drive, buffalo berry shrubs edging the sandstone patio and, Cole's favorite, a clutch of ivory silk lilac trees beneath their bedroom window. Looking down at them, you could see the creamy white flowers and the bold red bark.

Coming in from the yard at the end of the day, jeans muddy, white t-shirt streaked with dirt, his long hair caught back with a blue rolled bandana, Wes stopped to unlace and pull off his grimy boots. Cole met him at the door with a bottle of water. "It's lookin' great out there. You still gonna put that maple outside Luc's window like you said?"

"Yeah, he told me he wanted a bird tree, so I dug up a wild maple over beyond the gully."

"You got a letter."

Wes pulled off his dirty t-shirt and wiped his face, "Who from?"

"The magazine."

Wes hesitated, then said, "Open it for me." He headed for the stairs, stopping to poke his head in Luc's door. "You done yet?" he asked the little fella.

"Nu-Uh," Luc answered. Wes had made him a building table out of a plain pressed wood door resting on two sawhorses. The three 'men' had taken all Cole's old Lego's and Luc's new ones and mixed them together plus more that had magically appeared after Grandma and Grandpa visited one afternoon. Luc was designing, with a little help from his dads, a freeform alien landscape including villages, vehicles and well, aliens. Concentrating hard, his face scrunched up in a serious working scowl, Luc was constructing what looked like either a elephaffulo or maybe a girraferous. "Aliens, Wes, look."

"I see them. Cool. Let me take a shower and I'll come help. I've gotta finish my mountain over there."

Cole waved the letter at him. "It's from a Claire Douglas. She says that a gallery in Chicago is interested in showing your work." Wes could hear the excitement in Cole's voice. "So, what do you think?" He followed Wes up the stairs and into the bathroom.

"I think I need to think," Wes rolled his eyes as Cole bounced on the balls of his feet.

"Why not? You're so talented. I want the world to see how much."

His dirty clothes stripped off, Wes stepped into the open shower, walls of beautiful turquoise and white tile, four shower heads aimed at his body. "My drawing has always been personal. I'm not sure I can draw for strangers."

Cole knew when not to push. "Okay, you think about it. Want some help in there?"

Wes sat on the wooden bench he'd made for them out near the edge of the bluff. Luc could go this far and no farther. He sat alone, staring out across the arroyo, considering his options. He couldn't just live here off of Cole. As much as he loved Cole, he needed to find his path. They had Luc to watch after and Wes contributed nothing except love and care. His one talent was drawing. He knew he had to accept the invitation to submit drawings to the Chicago gallery. He needed to call Ms. Douglas and find out what exactly they wanted. Then he'd have to get busy. The letter said the gallery wanted to show his work in July. That gave him about six weeks.

His head began to twinge; right behind his eyes it felt like little pins pricking his skull. His eyes dimmed to gray, and for a few seconds, all he could see was black and white. He'd been having these headaches for weeks now, really ever since he'd come home. He told himself it was stress and something left over from the accident. No big deal. Rubbing his eyes with the backs of his fingers, he went in to tell Cole what he'd decided.

The Riverton Gallery wanted at least ten drawings along the same lines as the ones that had been featured in Art For the World. Characters, they wanted emotion and everyday characters.

Wes smiled as the thought of the great area upstairs that Cole had set up for him. Thing was, he drew when it struck him, anyplace and anywhere. Standing in front of an easel was for painting and he hadn't attempted that.

He'd been lucky to have a pencil and the backs of old worksheets from school.

And so, he began. His notebook went everywhere with him; to the cave, to the Hewett's, to Mercy's house, out onto the bluffs, to the cottonwood pond, to the Harrelson's barn and even to the old Straihan place. The notebook wasn't the only thing that went everywhere with him. Luc sat silently, patiently waiting while Wes worked. He would play with little sticks on the ground or build walls with small rocks and Wes found that he drew strength from the little guy.

As the sketches took shape and form, Wes would tack them up on the wall upstairs and they would all three stare at them. It seemed as if Wes not only drew the familiar things in their lives, but he breathed life into the black and white lines. The people seemed to be on the verge of speaking and the animals were caught in the middle of a jump, a trot, a roll.

Wes let Luc show him where the dash of red belonged in each picture. He was always right. By the first week in July, Wes had completed twelve drawings, each 22" by 17" and each matted in the earthtones of the bluffs and framed with the natural wood of the desert. The only one that was different was one of Luc perched on a rail fence, laughing delightedly, hands clapping, with his cowboy hat pushed back, the red tail feather cocked to the front. His eyes had taken on a silver glow and the picture was matted in the same shade of red as the feather. Wes said it was the centerpiece of the drawings.

Cole helped Wes box up the finished pictures. Clare Douglas was sending a truck to pick up the boxes and deliver them to the gallery. She was as excited as Wes, Cole and Luc and would be at the opening on July 19th. The whole family was planning on flying up the day before. Wes was the only one hesitating. The idea of a big city and crowds of people made his head ache. He didn't want to have to talk to people about his drawings. This was the part of the deal he didn't want.

Sarah had made a label identifying which drawing was in which box. As they closed up the boxes and attached the labels, she repeated what was written on the label:

"Katy and Violet picking wildflowers."
"Albert saddling Wrangler."
"Luc sitting on the fence."
"Mr. Klein working on his old Ford truck."
"Mrs. Harris working with her kindergarteners."
"Cole asleep with his feet propped on the rail."
"Sarah rolling out pie dough."
"Luc and Cole working with the new mustang."
"Luc watching the hawk circle."
"Sarah and Albert planting kale in the garden."
"Cole watching the sunset over the bluffs."

And then, a sigh before she could read the last label. Her voice almost a whisper, she read:

"Callie riding across the meadow on Firefly."

"I still think........," Cole started to argue.

"I know what you think, Hon," Wes answered. "This one's for your mom and dad. Let it be."

No one watched Luc. No one even thought he would know who that was in the drawing. But, he did know. He knew and his head began to hurt. It twinged and it felt like little pins poking into his skull. His vision faded to gray, and for a few seconds, all he could see was black and white. Then, the pain withdrew and he skipped off to his room to work on his project.

The second week in July, the air stilled and the heat ate into their skin. Everything was extremely dry; the grass brown, crunching under their boots.

The water holes were drying up and any runoff from snow was long gone.

The sky held a reddish tint and heavy cumulus clouds hung low over the sleepy town of McLaren, Wyoming.

Cole had ridden out early to see to the herd and Wes was making waffles for Luc for breakfast. "Come get 'em before I feed 'em to the hounds." The hounds, Bob and Pat, named for Spongebob and Patrick, were actually two gorgeous chocolate Labradors. Cole had tried to talk Luc out of the names, but Luc was adamant; so Bob and Pat they were. Bob had a green collar and Pat had a red collar and that was pretty much the only way to tell the two apart. It didn't matter too much because the two dog brothers stuck together; where one was, the other was close behind.

"Me..... Me here," Luc laughed as he climbed up into his chair. Bob sat on one side of Luc's chair and Pat on the other their long brown heads resting on the boy's legs. "No, Bob and Pat, this is all my brefuss," Luc giggled. He squirted blueberry syrup in the little squares and then picked the waffle up whole to take a huge chomp.

"Hey, blueberry face," Wes grinned, "We have to go in town today and pick up your new pants for the trip."

"Yep, I gots new clothes for big Chicago, right? I am a big boy now."

"You are indeed. I'm gonna be depending on you to hold my hand if I get scared, okay?"

"I will, Wes. It's a deal."

The trip was a success. The people attending the showing were as enthralled with Wesley, Cole and Luc as they were with the drawings. Never before had the differences in their looks been as apparent as Cole, in his stylish navy suit, sky blue shirt, open at the neck, to match his eyes and Wes, new 501 jeans, a long sleeved white dress shirt and dark tan cowboy boots. Their faces glowing with the gold of the Wyoming sun, Cole's blonde hair curling around his dimpled cheeks and Wes' long hair catching the lights as he shoved it out of his eyes. Between them stood a child, a child who resembled them both. A beautiful child whose eyes matched those of the artist and seemed to have the wisdom of the ages marked inside.

"And who is this little angel?" a woman asked, peering down at Luc.

"Our son," Wes replied.

"And where is his mo........?" the woman barged on.

"Luc is OUR son," Cole answered and the look in his eyes told her to take it somewhere else..... quickly.

Clare was as thrilled as Wes when he was handed a check for seven of his drawings. Cole whistled, "Woohoo! I better hold onto you." He hugged Wes and kissed him gently. "Proud of you, Baby," he whispered.

"You hold onto it," Wes said handing Cole the check. "It's for us. It's kinda Penny Money."

As they talked to the gallery owners, and looked to see which drawings had been sold, it shocked them that the drawing of Luc sitting on the fence had been paid for in cash and had sold for the highest amount.

"Somebody liked your funny face," Wes laughed.

"Famous Luc," Luc giggled.

"Yep, it's Hollywood next stop for you, kiddo."

The gallery requested more drawings and finally, for the first time in his life, Wesley Straihan Crandall felt worthy of the love he found in Cole and in Luc. He could be worth something. He could hold his own place in this crazy world.

"Mom, will you and Dad keep Luc with you tonight?" Cole asked quietly as they walked down the busy street back to their hotel.

"Sure, I,...... Oh..... Yes, of course," she blushed.

That night was one of release for Wesley. He'd always held back a little bit of himself because he never felt that he was worthy of Cole's love. As many times as Cole told him, he never quite accepted, but tonight, after all those people had shaken his hand and told him he was talented and people had actually bought some of the drawings, he had this feeling of accomplishment. He wasn't just "that straihan boy". He wasn't scared every day. He wasn't tangled in a web of lies so Cole wouldn't find out. He knew why his mother hadn't helped him grow up and he knew who his real father was. He could be proud of his parents, not afraid. He had Uncle Wyatt and Sarah & Albert. He had Mercy & Craig and their kids. Most importantly, he belonged to Cole and to Luc. Wes finally had a family.

"Come to bed, Baby," Cole laughed. "What's out that window that's more important than me?"

"Nothing," Wes smiled, "Not one damn thing."

Wes woke up in the early morning hours of August 27 with an intense pain behind his eyes. "Jesus," he groaned. When his eyes cleared, he saw nothing but black and white. No color, no gray. "Not again," he panicked.

"Daddyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy! Wesssssssssssssssssssssssss!" Cole sat up in the bed, jumped out and he and Wes hit the floor running. They took the stairs three at a time and crashed into Luc's bedroom. The little guy was sitting straight up in his bed, his hands pressed to his eyes. "Head owwwwwwwww. My eyes! Daddy! Wes!"

"What? What's happening?" Cole cried. He looked over at Wes and saw the pained expression on his face. "What? Your eyes too? What the hell's going on?"

As quickly as it came, the pain subsided, but the darkness remained. "Wes! No colors. Wes," Luc called. Wes held out his arms and Luc flew into them.

"I have no idea why this is happening," Wes said, his voice shaking. "Can you see me, Luc?"

"Yes," his small voice quavered.

Cole didn't know what to do for either of them. "Do you need aspirin or eye drops or what?" he asked.

"It doesn't hurt anymore. You, Luc?"

"No, no hurts but I can't see my red feather

Cole jumped up to call his parents and the doctor when the house suddenly reverberated with a blinding streak of lightning followed quickly by a loud crash of thunder. "My God," he breathed. "Come here, Wes."

Wes ran to Luc's window and they stared out at the dawn sky above the sandstone bluffs. Swirling heavy clouds that seemed to touch the ground grew darker as they watched. The clouds were traveling quickly across the sky and another crack of lightning immediately followed by booming thunder lit up the horizon. "Wes, this is tornado weather. See how the clouds are twisting? We need to get to Mom and Dad's cellar."

"I'll go get Mercy and the girls. Craig's gone to Sheridan."

"Wes, stay." Luc huddled in his bed.

"Stay with Daddy. I'll get Katy and Violet and come to Grandpa's."

"Go! Go! We'll be fine."

Wes drove fast through the darkening early morning. Damn, their beautiful new house. He tried to think of anything they could do, but a tornado just destroyed everything in its path. They just had to get out of the way.

Blowing the horn as he tore into Mercy's front yard, jumped out of the truck and ran to the door just as Mercy opened it. "What?" she cried, her sweet face a mask of fear.

"Look at the sky. Get the girls. We need to get to the Hewett's cellar right now."

They could see the clouds going vertical and the wind had picked up. Branches were flying, thrown against the windshield. Mercy held onto Katy and Violet as Wes drove as fast as possible down the dirt road toward the Hewett's ranch house.

"Quick, get to the barn. See, there's Cole. He'll help you. I've gotta go let the horses out. Here Katy, take your cat. Go!"

Wes began throwing the stall doors open. "Go, Go..... Outrun it." He stopped long enough to look at the sky and see the funnel shaped cloud forming. "Shit!" He slapped Hawk's rump as he careened by. The horses sensed the danger and ran.

Cole pulled him by the arm, "Come on, it's God's will now." Wes remembered the God friend he'd had in the pit. The God who had shared his light with a scared little boy and given him snow to drink.

"I guess we just wait now. Where's Luc?"

"With Mom down in the cellar."

But, he wasn't. When Wes and Cole climbed down the stairs into the earthen root cellar, Luc was nowhere to be found. Sarah cried, "He was right here by me. I helped Albert move that water barrel and he was gone."

Wes stood very still. "Can you.........?" Cole whispered.

Wes could see Luc, scared and running toward their house. What the hell? Then he knew. The dogs. They had left the dogs in the laundry room. Dear Lord, the funnel cloud was growing, its tail twisting, sweeping a path across the far bluffs.

"I know where he is. Stay safe. I'll get him."

"I'm coming," Cole cried over the sound of the wind.

"Stay here. Your mom and dad need you. I'll be right back." He didn't give Cole time to argue. He climbed the steps and slammed the door shut. The sound of the wind was louder and small bits of things were blowing, hitting him as he ran up the path.

'Luc,' he screamed in his mind, 'Get in the ditch I was digging for the water pipes. Now, Luc....the ditch. Let the dogs run. Get in the ditch!"

Wes ran until his heart felt like it was going to explode. 'I'm coming, Luc.

Hold on!'

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