by Grasshopper

Chapter 30

Luc found the wadded up piece of material in his hand when he woke up the next morning. Not sure what it meant, he folded it up as neatly as he could and hid it at the back of his Lego kit under the big red pieces.

After the school year started, the dreams began to ease off. Luc still fretted about his mommy, but he never said anything to Cole or to Wes. Sometimes, he talked to Teezy, but mostly he whispered to Leo and Poppy. When he had a dream, it was always the same now. His mommy would call to him, but Poppy or Leo would always be there to keep him from running to see her. Luc figured that one day he'd see his mommy and the dreams would stop.

Albert was improving every day. Between Sarah and Annie, he was walking slowly with just a slight drag to his foot and his speech was getting clearer and clearer. Wes drove him into McLaren every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for therapy and became the grocery pick-up wagon.

The papers to adopt Luc were all signed. The only hitch had been Cole and Wes both wanting to adopt him. Finally, it was agreed that Cole would be the adoptive parent because his father and mother were respected citizens of the community and were the child's grandparents. Wes understood but felt that old inferiority showing its face again.

Wes' reputation began to grow. He had to make several trips to Chicago to discuss future projects with the gallery owners. Cole went with him one weekend when a popular art magazine asked to cover the opening of his new show and specifically asked if they could meet his partner. Wes had been totally against shoving himself or Cole into that spotlight, but as they talked about it, what Cole said made sense.

"Wes, we're not invisible here in McLaren County. Everyone's known us since we were born and they know we're together now. I'm so proud of you and I've never hidden how I feel. I think it would be a good idea to establish exactly who we are."

So, on an October Saturday night in Chicago, Wesley Crandall and Cole Hewett stood in front of one of his drawings, handsome in their tuxedos, Cole's blond hair curling around his crystal blue eyes, Wes' brown hair almost touching his shoulders, his hand shoving it back out of his eyes. Both held wine glasses that kept emptying and being refilled by some invisible hand. They couldn't hear the comments as people passed by:

"God, that white streak in his hair is so sexy."
"How long have they been together?"
"Damn, all the gorgeous ones are gay."
"Did you see his eyes?"

"This collar is choking me and it's hot as hell in here," Wes griped. "How much longer do we have to stay?"

Cole chuckled, "It's your show, Darlin' Wes. Not too much longer. The magazine people took their picture and asked their questions. We'll duck out of here as soon as it's polite. Besides, you still have another "show" to perform tonight." Wes rolled his eyes. Cole had threatened to 'gay out' on him if he didn't make this promise. "You're always sooooo serious," Cole poked at him. "Either you make good on your promise or I'm gonna make sure the whole art world knows just how GAY we really are." he grinned, those blue eyes sparkling.

Choking with laughter, Wes raised one eyebrow and growled, "As much as I'd love to see that, I always honor my swears."

The gallery owners, always pleased after one of Wes' openings, walked over. "Wesley, you promised to show us work in another medium. Many of your fans are waiting with great excitement to see something in oils or watercolor or whatever you wish."

Wes frowned, "I know, I'll have something for you next time."

"Oh, the same anonymous client with the huge Swiss bank account who bought the drawing of the little boy bought the triptych of you and Cole and the beautiful young girl. You are becoming quite famous in certain circles, my boy."

As Cole and Wes rode up in the elevator to their hotel room, Wes questioned, "I wonder who's buying the pictures and paying so much for them?"

"No idea," Cole answered. "You're getting rich, Wesley. I think I love you lots more now," he giggled as he ran his fingers down the sleeve of Wes' coat.

"You little golddigger," Wes growled as he pushed Cole up against the wall of the elevator and went for his neck. Just as Wes began to rub his body against Cole's, the elevator doors opened with a swoosh and they broke apart.

"I don't remember the hall being this long," Cole mumbled. "Where is the room?"

"Right here, right here," Wes fumbled with his keycard, dropped it and tried again. The door finally opened and they fell into the room. Cole headed for the big king sized bed, changed direction and poured them another glass of wine. Handing one of the glasses to Wes, he saw the laughter in those silver eyes. It made Cole's heart so happy to see his usually serious, quiet love so full of life and laughter. "Heck, if I'd known all it took was a few glasses of wine, I'd have..........."

"What? You'd have what?" Wes grinned. He stacked up the pillows and pushed Cole onto the bed. "Get comfortable."

"Oh, it's time for the show?" Cole smiled. He undid his tie, opened his shirt three buttons, kicked off his shoes and got all cozy, staring at the closed bathroom door.

The sound of a CD player being loaded made Cole's eyes widen. He never believed Wes would really go through with this. Man, he was buying a vat of wine when he got home.

The bathroom door opened, there was a click and music filled the room. Cole looked helplessly at the open door as Wes curved himself around the edge of the door, the cutest sexy look on his face.

"You're just too good to be true
Can't take my eyes off of you.
You'd be like Heaven to touch
I wanna hold you so much.
At long last love has arrived
And I thank God I'm alive
You're too good to be true
Can't take my eyes off of you."

As he walked farther into the room, Wes reached up and pulled his loose tie off, waved around in the air and threw it at Cole where it hung from his shoulder. His strong hands went to the buttons on his shirt and he flicked them open one by one, his smooth tanned chest slowly coming into view. All the while, he stared at Cole, his gorgeous silver eyes heavy lidded as he licked his lips.

"Pardon the way that I stare
There's nothing else to compare.
The sight of you makes me weak.
There are no words left to speak.
But if you feel like I feel,
Please let me know that it's real,
You're just too good to be true,
Can't take my eyes off of you."

Cole's hand went to his mouth as he was caught halfway between laughter and a sexual surge so strong it was taking his breath away. As Wes pushed the white dress shirt back and ran his fingers slowly over his chest and down toward the brown hair curling below his belly button, Cole sucked in his breath and felt himself harden. He reached to undo his pants but Wes murmured, "No."

"I love you, baby,
And if it's quite alright
I need you, baby,
To warm a lonely night.
I love you, baby,
Trust me when I say:"

Cole, mesmerized, held his hands up in surrender as he watched Wes unbuckle his belt, and walk over to the side of the bed. Looking down, Wes nodded for Cole to undo his pants and pull the zipper down. Cole ran the back of his hand down the hardness and watched Wes' eyes widen. Letting his pants drop, Wes thumbed his briefs down slowly, slowly. Cole began to rock as his body began to lose control. "I've got to........"


"Oh, pretty baby,
Don't bring me down, I say,
Oh, pretty baby
Don't bring me down, I pray.
Oh, pretty baby, now that I found you, stay."

Wes, his eyes never leaving Cole's blue ones, climbed up on the bed and stood above Cole, looking down. There he stood, the white dress shirt open, hiding nothing. Slowly, sinking down, he came to rest straddling Cole's hips. Cole's wine glass tipped over and spilled on the sheets.

The last words of the song came strong and clear,

"And let me love you, baby,
Let me love you."

but neither of them heard or cared. Silver eyes / blue eyes.

"Oh My God," Cole gasped. "Love me, baby. Now, Right Now!!!"

Sleeping, tangled in each other's arms, Wes woke up to Cole staring at him about an inch away. "Hey," he mumbled.

Cole pulled Wes over and pressed himself close. "Hey." Kissing softly and slowly, they lay quietly for a few minutes.

"Will you do that for me again?"

Wes laughed, "I didn't do much."

"Dang, you were the sexiest thing I've ever seen. I wanted you so bad I thought I was gonna die and you kept saying "No". You were killing me."

"Sorry," Wes grinned, not sorry at all.

"I want you to be this happy always," Cole said gently. "I want to hear you laugh and I want to dance with you."

"I'll try. I will."

They spent the morning in bed, showing each other all the love and wanting in their hearts. "I guess we need to head on home," Cole sighed. It wasn't that they didn't love their family, it was just that they loved being alone. "I love you, Darlin'. Always have... always will." One last kiss, and they dressed and headed to the airport, neither one noticing the admiring glances from men and women alike as they walked through the terminal.

All through the winter months, Wes labored upstairs under his skylight. He'd appear in the kitchen, his work shirt covered with paint splotches, his

Hair standing on end from being shoved back over and over as he worked.

"When do we get to see what you're working on?" Cole asked as he chopped celery for the casserole he was making.

"When it's done," Wes muttered. He looked up and saw the look on Cole's face. "Sorry, Baby. I didn't mean to snap. It's just that I want this to be perfect and I keep messing it up."

"I bet it's already perfect ; you just don't know it. You know what a perfectionist you can be."

"Daddy, Wes, Teezy is on the roof and can't get down," Luc's voice called through the kitchen windows.

"Oh Lord, Annie will kill me," Wes spluttered. They burst out the front door craning their necks to stare up onto the thirty foot slanted rooftop. Perched on the veranda section fifteen feet above the ground, they saw tiny pink sneakers hanging over the edge.

"Helloooooooo," Teezy called, waving happily. Hellooo Unca Cole, Unca Wes."

"Hold on to something, Teezy," Cole yelled. "How the hell did she get up there, Luc?"

"She climbed up the ladder."

"What ladder?" Wes asked, trying to keep the exasperation out of his voice. "I don't see a ladder."

Luc frowned. "It is not here, Wes."

"Luc !" Cole groaned, "Make sense. Teezy could get hurt real bad."

"I was telling Teezy how I flied at night and she wanted to try too. We did bad?" his bottom lip started trembling.

"Show me the ladder !!"

He took them around the house to his bedroom window side. A ladder was propped up against the wall, but it lacked about two feet to reach the veranda section of the roof. Wes climbed the ladder, pulled himself up the gap and crawled onto the roof heading around the front to find Teezy.

"Luc, there's no way Teezy climbed that ladder and got to the roof."

"No, Daddy."

Cole quickly carried the ladder back to the front, climbed up to the top rung and held out his arms as Wes lifted a subdued Teezy over the edge and into Cole's grasp. Holding her tight, he climbed down and headed for the rocking chairs on the front porch. Sitting down in the nearest one, he breathed a sigh of relief. Wes sat in the rocker next to him. Luc stood out in the front yard, his head down.

"Luc, get up here." Cole looked over at Wes as if to say, 'Who's doing this?'

Wes rolled his eyes and nodded his head, "You're doin' fine."

Cole watched the little guy stumble up the steps and stand in front of him. "I am very sorry, Daddy," he mumbled. "I love Teezy. I would not hurt my Teezy."

Cole flashed his eyes over toward Wes. Wes raised his eyes up to the sky.

"Luc, you and Teezy were in your room playing music. I have to be able to trust you that you are where you're supposed to be."

"Okay, I am sorry. I will be in my room always."

Cole rubbed his hand over his face. He didn't dare look at Wes. "No, not always, just when Wes and I think that's where you are."

"I may come out sometimes?" Luc looked from Cole to Wes. Teezy started to cry. When he heard her, Luc began to sniffle.

"Oh Lord," Wes groaned. "Come here, little man." Luc went to Wes and crawled up in his lap. "I am sorry," he sniffled.

"We know you are. Sometimes, you just forget that you and Teezy can get hurt. Will you promise to think before you do something like this again?"

"Yes, I will promise Teezy, promise to think hard too."

Teezy's chocolate eyes, wet from her tears, looked like a puppy who'd lost its bone. "I promise, Unca Cole, Unca Wes. I promise to think."

"We will get spankings?"

Cole bit his lip and Wes choked back a laugh. "No, you're both safe and didn't get hurt. You scared us so much. Luc, I want you to go to your room and start thinking. Teezy, go in the spare room and think too. We'll call you when it's time for supper." Two sets of little feet scuffed into the house and two doors closed quietly.

"Oh My God," Wes moaned, "This parenting thing is tough. I just wanted to grab him up and hug him."

"I know, me too, but he's got to see that he did a dumb thing."

When it was almost time for supper, Wes walked out into the living room. A minute later, he called Cole, "Come out here." When Cole walked out, Wes pointed toward the two doorways. Luc and Teezy were both lying on their stomachs with their heads poked out the doors.

"Save me, " Cole choked back laughter. "Have you two thought?"

"Yes, Daddy."
"Yes, Unca Cole."

"Then come to supper."

It was late that night, long after Teezy was home in her bed asleep and Luc was cuddled with Poppy, Leo, Pat and Bob that Wes asked Cole, "How DID Teezy get up on that roof?"

Wes was painfully hesitant to show Cole his finished work. What if it was crap? Cole wouldn't tell him, but it was time. He was so comfortable with his black charcoal. Maybe that was the thing. Maybe he had to stretch himself.

He stared at his father's painting of his mother hanging over the fireplace. It was as if Kat was going to step out of the painting and dance around the living room. All the love Billy felt for her was there to see.

There had been no question in Wes' mind when he started painting. He took photos and had them tacked all over the walls. Taking what he wanted from this one and that one, he had created what he wanted. At first, the colors had been quiet and understated but, in time, he became bolder.

He knew Cole was waiting to see. Cole knew he was finished. He had completed five paintings and the show would be next month in April. He had been temperamental, silent, unresponsive and secretive while he was painting. Cole probably hated him by now.

"I'm ready to show you."

"About time," Cole smiled. "I can't wait." They walked up the stairs together, Cole's arm slung over Wes' shoulders.

"I'm sorry I've been a total bitch," Wes sighed.

"Well, you're my bitch, so I wouldn't worry about it," Cole grinned. He sat down on the edge of the bed and waited.

Wes had turned the easels to the wall after each painting was completed. Now, he turned one at a time for Cole to see.

The first was a painting of the sandstone bluffs. There was a storm coming in and, in the thunderhead, you could see eerie faces. Cole looked closely and his heart jerked as he saw the faces of Billy and Cat, Callie and Karl and Father. He looked at Wes.

"These are the people who influenced my life. Good or bad, they shaped me. I see them all the time in the land. I can hear them when the wind howls over the bluffs. I found it fitting."

Cole found the 'C' in the curve of a high sandstone cliff. "You still put it in."

Wes smiled, "Always."

The second painting was of Mercy standing at the edge of the bluffs holding Violet's hand, her face tipped up to the sun. The sky was a pale lavender laced into the blue. Mercy's face held a glow of peace. The 'C' was tucked into pocket of Violet's apron.

Wes turned the third easel around and Cole saw his father laughing from his wheelchair as Annie pushed him across the barnyard. Sarah was standing on the back porch, her face wreathed in a smile. The 'C' was part of a hanging basket of petunias swinging from a hook.

The fourth was of Luc and Teezy, riding on Hawk, Teezy hanging on for dear life as Luc urged Hawk into a gallop. "I swear they're gonna break their necks," Cole groaned. The red of Luc's feather sticking out of his hatband was the only touch of red Wes had used in any of the paintings. He had laced the 'C' into the curve of the pony's rump.

But it was the last painting that made Cole cry. The others were perfect, each showing Wes' talent and his love of family, but this one was Cole. This one was Wes' heart put on canvas for the world to see. Cole was standing at the bedroom window outlined by the early morning light. Wes had painted every curve and shadow of muscle. All Cole had on was a pair of faded jeans, the button undone, his blond hair messy from sleep, but it was his eyes that cornered you. His beautiful blue eyes that were looking at someone across the room. Cole just let the tears flow down his cheeks. "I love you," he whispered.

"I know. That's why I can paint," Wes nodded, "Because you love me. It's why I can breathe. It's why I survived." He walked across the room to the bed where Cole sat and stood in front of him waiting.

"They're all perfect, Wes. They show your emotions and they come alive. If I didn't know you, I'd still know how you feel about these people, that they are all parts of your life and part of you. I love them and so will the world. I'm always proud of you, and never prouder than right now. You were brave enough to put your heart into these and they're perfect."

The April show was a success and Wes began to actually believe that he was good enough, that what he put onto a canvas or a sheet of drawing paper was good enough. The little boy who had sat crouched in a deep dark pit singing a song to the moon began to believe in himself.

In the next two years:

Albert walked away from his wheelchair with the help of Annie and a wooden cane with a bear's head that Wyatt carved for him.

Luc and Teezy spent many hours thinking.

Sarah volunteered at the school and helped in the Kindergarten classrooms.

Mercy and Craig had one more baby, a boy they named William Wesley, but everyone called him Billy. He had his grandfather's hair and his father's soft hazel eyes.

Annie and Teezy moved into the Hewett's big house, filling the rooms with laughter that softened the pain of Callie's memory.

Wyatt moved into the house beside Mercy and her family. His family was here on the bluffs.

Cole was a natural at ranching and the ranch prospered. He loved the land, his boy and Wesley, not in that order. He had worried about Wesley all his life but that was just the way of it,

Wes was just Wes. He was still slow to talk and slow to smile, but he was working on it. The one thing he did know in his life was that he loved Cole Hewett and would until forever.

Twenty-seven years ago, Mrs. Harris had taken his hand and led him toward a room where happy jumping music was playing and a bagillion children were all doing fun things. Clapping her hands together, Mrs. Harris had said, "Look children, we have a new member of our happy class. This is Wesley Straihan. Make him welcome."

"Helllllooooo, Wesley," he had heard the chorus of voices. Standing there in the doorway, he felt all their eyes check him out and size him up. He hoped he looked okay. He hoped for just one friend.

Cole Hewett had seen the scared little boy at the door, his raggedy shirt so faded it was no color at all, his long brown hair cut unevenly, wearing much-scuffed cowboy boots instead of Nikes. Cole had seen a bird with a torn wing, a puppy with a broken leg. Cole had seen the fear and the hope in Wesley Straihan's eyes.

Two little boys..... Two steadfast hearts

As Wesley would say: "Okay then.... Okay."

The End

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