“I bet he’s rich,” JD commented.
“Looks that way to me. Look at all those suitcases!” Buck said, moving closer to get a better look.
“I say we introduce ourselves. See what he’s here for.”
“All right. Let’s go.”
The man getting off the stage looked over at the boy in the bowler hat. He had come all this and finally found him. Now how was he going to get up the nerve to talk to him?
**Looks like I won’t have to,** he thought wryly, as the boy and another man approached him.
**What will I say?** he thought, suddenly becoming nervous.
“G’day, sir. My name’s JD Dunne and this here is Buck Wilmington,” he said, pointing at the other man. “We figured we’d come over and introduce ourselves, you being new and all.”
**What to do? What to do?**
What if he recognized the name? He couldn’t explain why he was here, not in front of his friend.
“James Clayburn,” he said, deciding to take the chance.
He looked into the kid’s big hazel eyes, so much like his mother’s, for any sign of recognition. There was none.
“Pleasure to meet you, sir. Would you like us to help you with your bags? You sure do have a lot. You rich or something?” JD asked, his curious nature taking over.
Buck groaned inwardly. When was the kid gonna learn you just don’t ask that sort of thing?
“I’m sorry about that. The kid just doesn’t know when to keep quiet. You got any fine looking ladies traveling with you?” he asked, peering behind the man.
“Who’s the one that doesn’t know how to keep quiet?” JD asked, glaring at Buck.
James was amused. Yes, JD was very much like his mother.
“Or something, to answer your first question. And no, to the second. Sorry,” he said, watching as Buck and JD fought over who didn’t know when to keep quiet. Obviously JD had made a good friend in somebody.
“Gentleman, gentleman,” drawled a southern voice from behind him. “Hurry up and assist this refined man with his luggage so we can get to our usual business.”
“That’s Ezra. He’s probably gonna want you to play cards with him. You being rich and all. I’d watch him if I were you,” JD confided. “He cheats.”
Ezra raised his eyebrows, “I’m offended by that, Mr. Dunne. I never cheat.”
“Yeah, right,” scoffed Buck as he picked up a few bags. “C’mon, JD, let’s help this man with his luggage.”
James began to ask around town about JD, without being to obvious. Turns out that he was one of the seven hired guns. James began to feel a strange sense of pride. But he still didn’t know how to tell JD...
“Hey, Buck, do you think there’s anything weird about James?” asked JD, sitting in front of the jail with Buck.
“What do you mean? Weird how?”
“I don’t know, he just seems oddly familiar somehow. Like....I know him from somewhere.”
“Can’t help you there, kid. Speak of the Devil himself,” Buck pointed as James began to walk toward them.
“Howdy, James,” called out JD.
“Hello, JD, Buck. Buck, if you don’t mind I’d like to talk to JD for a moment.”
“Why?” asked Buck, narrowing his eyes suspiciously.
“It’s a private matter,” James answered, almost apologetically. He could tell how much Buck worried about JD.
“Well, okay,” Buck said, getting up to leave.
“Wait, don’t go, Buck,” JD said, getting up also. “Why don’t we go over to the boarding house, James? We aren’t going to get any privacy here.”
“All right, ” James said, smiling, “Lead the way.”
James was pacing. He didn’t know how to start. How do tell a person something like this?
JD looked at him expectantly, “Well?”
“I want you to let me finish it completely, okay? Promise you won’t interrupt.”
“Okay, I promise,” JD said, wondering what he was about to be told.
“About eighteen years ago I went to New York for a political convention. I was always interested in politics. Anyway, while I was there I fell in love. It was with your mother,” he paused, letting the words sink in, “She was so enthusiastic, like you, and a huge dreamer. I couldn’t help falling in love with her. But I was from a wealthy family and engaged to someone else. They wouldn’t have approved of her even if I wasn’t. We had secret rendezvous. I loved every minute of it. She knew I was engaged, she didn’t care. We just wanted to be together,” he paused, not really knowing what to say next. It was clear to him that JD didn’t yet realize what he was saying. “Then one night my family came to New York to get me. The next day would be our last. She told me she understood and that I should leave. She said not to worry. So I left.”
JD sat there, not quite understanding where this was going. He opened his mouth to ask, but James raised his hand.
“JD, I’m your father. I didn’t know until recently. I’ve been searching for you ever since. Last year my wife died, I went back to find your mother-” he stopped, tears glistening in his eyes. “But she had died. I found out she had a son, our son. JD, I’m so sorry I wasn’t there, I really am.”
He started to cry and JD was surprised. He didn’t know how to take this news. This man, this man was his father? And now he was openly crying in front of him. This was too much.
“Look, JD, I want to spend time with you, to make up for lost time. I want you to come live in New York with me. You don’t have to decide right away.” he added, seeing the look that came across JD’s face.
“I want to pay for your college. I know your mom wanted you to go, but I guess she didn’t have enough money.”
JD nodded. She had tried to save money for him, but it wasn’t enough. So he had decided to come out West.
“Let me make up for not being there, JD. Let me pay for your college.”
JD didn’t answer. As much as JD would like to go to college, he loved it here. He didn’t know if he would be able to leave.
“Look, just think it over, okay? Take all the time you need. I’m going to be here. In the mean time I’d like us to spend some time together. Would you do that for me?” James asked hopefully, getting up to leave.
“Yeah......” JD answered vaguely.
“Thank you.” And with that he was gone.
Buck and Chris Larabee watched as James left the boarding house.
“Why do you think he wanted to talk to JD?”
“I don’t know,” answered Buck, “but I’m going to find out.”
“Let me know when you do,” Chris called, watching as Buck made his way over to the boarding house.
“Hey, JD. What did James want?” JD didn’t answer and Buck noticed he looked slightly dazed.
“Hey, kid, what’s wrong?” Buck tried again, worried by the way he was acting.
JD didn’t, or couldn’t answer. Should he tell Buck? How could he when he didn’t even fully understand it himself?
He looked up. Buck was waiting expectantly, his eyebrows raised. “Well?”
JD frowned. “I don’t want to talk about it right now, Buck,” he said softly.
Now Buck was really concerned. Since when did JD not want to talk? “Are you sure, kid? Because I-”
“I’m sure, Buck. Look, why don’t we head over to the saloon, okay?” JD got up and left, leaving Buck behind.
**What did he tell you, kid? Why has it caused you to act so far away?**
Chris frowned. He had been watching that James fellow ever since he came out of the boarding house. He seemed to get an uneasy feeling whenever he saw him. Chris had no idea why, he was pretty sure he had never seen the man before in his life. All of a sudden James looked up and noticed Chris staring him. Their eyes met, and Chris was shocked to see a look of pure hatred there. **What the hell?**
Then James looked toward the door. JD and Buck had just came in. Chris noticed that JD was looking a little dazed. And pale. What had James done to the poor kid? He’d have to ask Buck.
“C’mon, kid. Let’s go sit with Chris, okay?” Buck was saying.
JD nodded. Why did James have to be in the saloon? He couldn’t just sit there and ignore him. But he certainly didn’t want to talk with him right now. Not when he could barely think straight. James seemed to understand. He got up, tipped his hat in greeting, and then left. JD breathed a sigh of relief.
Buck had noticed the exchange. He could tell that JD was relieved to see James leave. He saw Chris looking at him questioningly. Buck shrugged, he had no idea what was going on.
“JD, you wanna tell us what James told you?” Chris asked softly.
“No,” JD whispered, his eyes on the ground.
“JD, if something is wrong, we can fix it. You know you can tell us anything,” Buck told him, concerned.
“No,” JD said again, louder this time. He abruptly got out of his chair. “I can’t tell you. You wouldn’t understand,” he turned to leave, but Buck grabbed his arm.
“JD, why don’t you try us? We just might surprise you.”
“I can’t right now. I have to go,.” he pulled his arm out of Buck’s grasp and left.
Buck stared after him, now concerned more than ever. He started to get up to follow him, but Chris gestured for him to stay.
“Buck, there’s something bothering me about James. I think I know him from somewhere. Or at least he knows me. I caught him glaring at me right before you came in.”
Buck frowned, “I wish JD would tell us what’s bothering him.”
“I’m sure he will. Just give him time.”
JD lay on his bed, looking up at the ceiling. He had no idea what to do. Should he tell them that James was his father and that he wanted to take him back to New York? Or should he wait until he decided, so the others wouldn’t worry? God, he needed help.
JD sat up suddenly, an idea popping into his head. He could tell his problem to Josiah, the next best thing to God in Four Corners. He could keep a secret if JD asked him to. And he could offer JD some guidance. Some much needed guidance.
Josiah Sanchez was lighting candles in the church when JD came rushing in.
“Josiah,” he began, out of breath, “I need your help.”
“What is it, young brother?” he asked, concerned. He had seen JD earlier and the boy looked troubled.
“You have to promise you won’t tell anyone. Especially not Buck, okay?” JD asked solemnly.
“I promise. You know, you don’t have to ask. I wouldn’t tell anyone anyway.”
JD took a deep breath. He’d probably feel better once he told someone. “Josiah, James is my father.”
Josiah dropped the candle he was just about to light. Had he heard right? Josiah cleared his throat, “What did you say, JD? I must have heard wrong.”
JD shook his head, “No, you didn’t. James Clayburn is my father. I just found out today. Apparently he met my mother and they fell in love. But he was already engaged so he had to leave her. He didn’t know she was pregnant. He came back to New York last year and found out that she had died, and that I was his son. He’s been looking for me ever since.” JD paused and spread out his arms, “Now it looks like he’s found me.”
“Well, this is good news, son. You should be out celebrating!”
JD looked down at the floor. Yes, it was good news. But he hadn’t told Josiah all of it.
“He wants me to move back to New York with him. He wants me to go to college,” JD said softly.
Josiah sighed. So this was what was bothering the kid. He didn’t know what to do and wanted Josiah’s help.
“What do you want, son? Do you want to go to college?”
“Well, yes,” he admitted, “That’s what my mother wanted me to do. I feel like I’m letting her down somehow. But now I have a chance to make up for it. I don’t know what to do!” he exclaimed, looking at Josiah pleadingly.
“Son, I’d be lying if I said none of us would miss you, but I think all of us would understand if you decided to leave.” **Everyone except Buck,** he added silently.
“I don’t want to leave! I love it here, but.....”
“I’m afraid I can’t help you. This is a decision you have to make yourself. But don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone what we talked about.”
The Next Day
“Hi, James. Mind if I sit down?” JD asked nervously as he walked up to where James was sitting in front of the saloon. He might as well get to know James, even if he didn’t know what he was going to do yet.
“Of course! You’re my son, JD. I’d love it if you sat with me,” James added seriously.
JD sat down across from James.
“So....” JD said, uncertain. What should he say to this man?
“Why don’t you tell me about those hired guns? I can see they’re friends of yours,” James figured he should help the boy out a bit, he knew this was hard for him.
JD smiled. Yes, they were his friends. The best friends he had ever had.
“Well, you’ve met Buck. I’m sure you could tell what was his main interest when you met him! He’s always telling me what to do. Always teasing me. But I know it’s just his way of showing he cares. You’ve also met Ezra. He’s a gambler. I mean what I said when I told you to watch out for him. He’s always using words I don’t understand. Then there’s Vin Tanner. He’s the best tracker I have ever seen. I bet he could track anything,” JD proudly added. “And there’s Nathan Jackson. He use to be a slave, now he’s like the doctor here. Of course, he says he’s a healer, not a doctor. But I bet he could be a doctor if he wanted,” JD finished confidently.
James nodded. Yes, it looks like JD had joined up with some good men.
“And the other two?”
“Well, there’s Josiah. He’s a preacher, I told him you’re my father, just so you know. I haven’t told anyone else yet, I’m not ready.”
“I understand. You take all the time you need, son.” James told him, a little emphasis on the son part. God, it felt good to say that.
“Finally, there’s Chris Larabee.”
James eyes narrowed a bit at the mention of Chris. He didn’t want to her about the man, but he had asked. Plus, he couldn’t let on to JD that he knew who Chris was. Not yet.
“He’s the fastest draw around,” JD was saying, complete admiration in his tone.
James narrowed his eyes some more, his look almost hostile. Why did JD have to worship Larabee? Why couldn’t he have chosen one of the other men?
“Is something wrong?” JD asked, worried by the look in James’ eye. What had brought that on?
“No, no,” James answered quickly. It wasn’t the time to tell JD. Not until he was sure JD was going back to New York with him, then he would tell him. But not before. He had to make sure JD chose him.
“So, JD, why don’t you tell me about your journey out West?”
Buck had been watching the pair ever since JD had sat down. What was going on? At least now he knew that JD wasn’t in any danger, if he was he certainly wouldn’t be sitting with James. In fact, the kid seemed to be enjoying James’ company. He wasn’t acting like the dazed, preoccupied kid he had been the day before. No, he was chatting with James like he had known the man his whole life.
“Why doesn’t he tell me what’s going on?” Buck whispered to himself.
“Maybe he doesn’t want to cause you any unnecessary pain,” came a voice behind him.
Buck turned. Josiah was standing behind him.
Buck frowned. What did Josiah mean by that? Did Josiah know something he wasn’t telling?
“Maybe he’s just waiting for the right time,” Josiah continued.
“Josiah, what are you trying to say? Do you know something?”
Josiah didn’t answer. He had promised.
“You do know something! JD told you what James told him, didn’t he?”
Josiah sighed. He should’ve just kept on walking when he saw Buck.
“Yes,” he began slowly, “but let him tell you at his own time, Buck. It’s not my place to tell you.”
“The hell it ain’t! Josiah, if it’s something I should know about.....” Buck took a threatening step toward Josiah.
“It’s something you don’t want to know about, Brother Buck,” Josiah said softly. Buck looked at Josiah in confusion. “What do you mean? What is it?”
“I can’t tell you,” And with that Josiah turned and walked back to the church.
“Damn!” Buck yelled, throwing his hat into the street.
Then an idea came to him. If Josiah wouldn’t tell him, he’d just make JD tell him himself.
Then, with a renowned resolve, Buck began to walk towards James and JD.
JD was laughing at a joke James had told when he spotted Josiah talking to Buck.
Josiah wasn’t telling Buck JD’s secret, was he? He wouldn’t break his promise, would he? JD wasn’t ready for Buck to know, Josiah had to realize that.
He didn’t notice he was staring until James said something.
“What’s wrong, JD? You don’t think Josiah is telling Buck I’m your father, do you?”
JD frowned, “I don’t know...”
Now both James and JD were watching the pair.
“Oh, no,” JD whispered when Buck started to walk towards them.
Even if Josiah hadn’t told him, JD knew that Buck knew something was up. Now Buck was coming over here to ask JD himself, he was certain.
He couldn’t tell Buck now. Not yet. What was he going to do?
“JD, I’d leave now if I were you. I know you’re not ready. I’ll keep Buck occupied, don’t worry.”
JD tossed a grateful look towards James. Now where would he go? Buck was certain to see him if he crossed the street...
“I believe there’s a back door,” James was saying, pointing toward the saloon.
“I believe you’re right. You’ll keep him busy?” JD asked, getting up and walking to the door.
James nodded. Yes, he’d keep him busy. “Go!” JD went into the saloon.
A few seconds later Buck appeared. He frowned when he no longer saw JD. He looked up and down the street, still no sign of him. He looked at James and asked, “Where did JD go?”
James smiled and shrugged his shoulders. “I haven’t the faintest idea. Care to sit down?”
Buck took the seat across from James. “Look, James, I don’t have anything against you, but you better tell me what’s going on between you and JD before I do something you’ll regret.”
“What makes you think there’s anything going on between me and JD?”
Buck sighed. It was obvious that James was going to make this hard. “Look, all I know is that ever since you had that talk with JD he’s been avoiding me. Hell, he’s been avoiding everyone.”
James frowned, “I’m sorry about that, Buck. It’s a private matter, and until JD’s ready to tell you, there’s nothing I can do for you.”
Buck stared at James, contemplating what he should do. “Fine,” he finally said, rising from his chair. “I’ll wait until JD’s ready to tell me. If you see him, could you tell him I’m looking for him?”
James nodded and Buck, satisfied, turned and walked away from the table.
James also rose and began to walk towards the boarding house. He wondered how Buck was going to take the news that James was JD’s father.
That’s what he was thinking when he ran straight into Chris Larabee.
“Watch where you’re going,” James snapped, unable to keep his hatred of Larabee out of his voice.
He pushed the stunned Larabee out of his way and continued on his way.
Chris watched the man go, a mixture of anger and confusion on his face. Who the hell did James think he was?
A long ago forgotten scene flashed through Chris’ mind.
No, it couldn’t be. James wasn’t......Was he?
Chris continued to watch James until he entered the boarding house before he turned and walked slowly to the saloon.
No, it couldn’t be the same person. It had been too many years, he just wouldn’t show up one day.
JD lay on his bed, staring up at the ceiling. It was a position he commonly found himself these days. It was the only place he could keep away from everyone.
He knew Buck was probably looking for him. JD couldn’t blame him. If Buck had been acting like JD was acting, he would want to know what was wrong, too.
JD wondered how Buck would react to the news. Would he be happy for JD? Would he be supportive of whatever JD chose to do? Would be skeptical and question if James really was his father?
JD wasn’t really worried about how Buck would take the news that James was his father. It was the other dilemma that bothered him. How would Buck take the news that JD might be leaving Four Corners?
That was the real reason JD hadn’t yet told Buck that James was his father. He had to make this decision on his own, he realized that now. He couldn’t have Buck, or anyone else, trying to influence his decision either way.
As much as JD didn’t want to leave Four Corners, this was an opportunity he might not ever get again. Besides, he could always come back, right?
Yeah, he could. But he wouldn’t becoming back to the same Four Corners that he loved so much. It would be different. JD himself would be different. And who knows if the rest of the seven would still be here, waiting for him. What would the point be coming back if they weren’t here to welcome him?
But college. That had always been a dream for JD, to go to college. Or was it? Was college JD’s dream, or was it someone else’s dream for him? Did he want to go for him, or to please someone else?
JD figured that was the question he would have to answer to make his decision.
“Hey, JD!” Buck called out as he saw JD walk into the saloon. “I’ve been looking all over for you, kid. Come on over here!” Buck gestured to the seat next to him.
JD hesitated at the door, wondering if he should go in.
“JD!” Buck called again, confusion in his eyes. Why wasn’t JD coming in?
Finally JD come over and sat across from Buck, a wary look on his face. He wondered if Buck was going to ask about James.
Buck noticed JD’s look and hastily began to reassure him, “Look, kid, you don’t have to tell me what’s been bothering you until you’re ready, okay? I’m not going to push you into telling me something you aren’t ready to,” Buck said, his eyes never leaving JD’s face.
JD breathed a sigh of relief, “Thank you, Buck.”
Buck was silent for a moment, his face almost sad. He had been hoping JD was going to tell him now. He then said softly, feeling as though JD was pulling away from him, “You’re welcome, kid.”
Chris watched as James finally left the boarding house.
He saw James coming towards him, but James had not yet noticed Chris. He was busy reading what looked like a telegram.
It was when he was about a foot away from Chris that James finally looked up.
James’ eyes narrowed when he saw who he had almost ran into yet again.
He was about to go around Chris when the two men’s eyes met.
Chris’ eyes widened in shock as he finally realized just who James was.
“You!” he breathed, just as he lunged at James, taking them both to the ground.
JD and Buck were sitting in the saloon when they heard all the commotion coming from outside.
Buck looked at JD in confusion, before he ran out of the saloon, JD right on his heels.
“What the-- ” Buck began, but stopped when he saw the scene before him.
Chris had tackled James to the ground and was at the moment delivering a vicious blow to his stomach.
JD watched the scene, too horrified to move. What was Chris doing, tackling James like that? It didn’t make sense.
Buck, seeing that JD was making no move to intervene, pulled Chris off of James, yelling at him as he did so.
“What the hell are you doing, Chris? ” he demanded.
Chris remained silent, he was shaking with rage and didn’t quite yet trust himself to speak. Buck had never seen him so angry. When Chris finally spoke, his voice was deadly calm, “Not now, Buck.”
Buck looked at him questioningly, but Chris ignored him.
Instead he looked toward JD, “JD, why don’t you take James over for a visit in the jail?”
JD stood still, looking back and forth between Chris and James. Did Chris realize what he was asking JD to do? He couldn’t place his own father in jail! What kind of person would he be?
**What kind of person would you be if you didn’t?**
JD frowned at the thought. What was James hiding from JD that Chris seemed to know about?
“JD,” Chris said again, a warning tone in his voice.
JD continued to look on his eyes betraying the struggle that was going on inside. He couldn’t arrest his own father, he just couldn’t. No matter how bad he might be. They didn’t understand the reason JD couldn’t do as Chris asked. Chris didn’t realize the predicament JD was in.
Buck took a step towards JD, a worried look on his face. Why was the kid just standing there like that? Buck made a move to touch JD’s arm, but the kid quickly backed away.
“JD,” Buck began slowly, “Chris asked you to take James to the jail.”
JD looked to James again, a pained look on his face. James shrugged his shoulders at the boy, as if to say, ‘What can you do?’
“I--” he tried to begin, but couldn’t go on. He couldn’t tell them now, not like this. Not when it was so obvious that Chris and James hated each other. Now wasn’t the time to tell them.
So JD did the only thing he could do at the moment.
He turned and ran.
“JD!” Buck called after the retreating figure. Seeing that JD wasn’t coming back anytime soon, he turned back to Chris and James.
“What the hell was that all about?” Buck demanded of Chris and James. He was sure it had to do with the both of them.
James diverted his eyes from Buck’s piercing gaze. “How the hell should I know?”
“How the hell should you know?” Buck asked incredulously. “You damn well know--”
“Buck,” interrupted Chris, “I want this man locked up, understand?”
Buck looked toward Chris. Buck had never seen more hate in Chris’ eyes, and that was saying a lot. Why it was there, he had no idea. Buck frowned, “Now, Chris, I don’t know what you have against James, but as far as I can see, he ain’t done nothin’ wrong. In fact, you attacked him.”
Chris took a menacing step toward Buck, “Buck, I’m telling you, got it? This man needs to be locked up.”
“And I’m telling you, Chris, I ain’t gonna do it!” Buck said adamantly, “If you tell me what’s going on, maybe.”
Chris gave James a hard glare before he turned and walked away. “You got lucky this time,” he called over his shoulder.
Buck looked at James questioningly, “James? You care to tell me what’s been going on? With you and JD? And with you and Chris?”
James sighed, “Buck, I told you before, JD has to tell you himself. And Chris.... Well, let’s just say their are some mutual hard feelings there.”
Buck seemed to consider this a information before stepping right up to James’ face, “Let me tell you something, James. So far I’ve been nice, but I’m not going to be for much longer. You’ve been trouble ever since you got here. First, you have a little talk with JD, and ever since then he’s been acting stranger than hell. And then Chris goes and attacks you? Something ain’t right, and I aim to find out,” and with saying that, Buck stormed away in the direction JD had gone.
James remained alone in the street, staring after Buck with a bewildered expression on his face.
JD knew Buck was coming even before he heard him coming up the stairs. He knew Buck wouldn’t be able to stay away long. He knew Buck worried about him, but sometimes JD just wanted to be alone.
Especially now, because of the scene in front of the saloon a few minutes ago.
Why had Chris attacked James like that? It didn’t make sense. James had never mentioned that he even knew who Chris was.
JD couldn’t think about it much longer because suddenly there was a light knocking on the door.
“JD? Let me in, kid. I know you’re in there,” came Buck’s concern filled voice.
JD wearily got up and opened the door. “C’mon in,” he said softly, not meeting Buck’s gaze.
“Is James in jail?” JD asked suddenly.
Buck shook his head. He cocked his head to one side, peering lightly at JD, “Why’d ya run off like that, kid?”
JD hesitated a moment. “I....I didn’t want to arrest James.”
Buck ran a hand through his hair, frustrated, “I know that, kid, but why?”
JD looked away, “Buck, I really don’t want to talk about it now.”
Buck placed his hands on either side of JD’s face, forcing him to meet his eyes, “I know you don’t, son. And I know I promised not to pressure you into telling me, but damn it, JD, this is killing me. Tell me, JD.”
JD remained silent, a torn expression on his face.
JD thought about it a moment. He couldn’t keep this a secret forever, e would have to tell sometime. He couldn’t keep this in any longer, it was eating him up inside.
Finally, JD nodded. “Okay,” he whispered softly.
Buck gave JD an encouraging smile.
JD took a deep breath, trying to calm his nerves. He vaguely noticed that his hands were shaking.
“Buck, James is my father.”
Buck was sure he had heard wrong. James was JD’s father? Impossible. JD had never know his father, he had said so himself. JD wouldn’t lie, would he? Unless he hadn’t known....
Buck chuckled nervously, “Come again, JD? I must have heard you wrong. I could’ve sworn you said-- ”
JD shook his head sadly, his hazel eyes wide, “No, you heard me right, Buck. James is my father.”
Buck quickly sat on the bed, his knees giving way. “Well...well...” he said slowly, unsure of what to say. James was JD’s father?
“I just found out myself,” JD hastily reassured him, not wanting Buck to think he had been keeping something from him.
“So that’s what James told you? What’s been bothering you?” Buck asked slowly, still in a daze. His father?
JD nodded, “That’s right.”
Buck opened his mouth to say something. but then stopped. He was at a loss for words. He didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know what to think.
He knew he should be happy for JD, but strangely, he wasn’t. He didn’t want James to JD’s father. He was afraid it would change the closeness that he and JD shared. What if JD started to confide in James, and not Buck? Already JD had begun to pull away from Buck since James had arrived, by not telling him sooner. What if JD pulled away completely? Buck didn’t know if he could bear that.
And what of the fact that no one even knew who James was? What kind of man would abandon his family, and then show up years later, just as the boy found a new one?
**Now, Buck, you don’t know if that’s what happened,** he silently chided himself.
Buck resented James just the same. It didn’t matter what excuse James had for not being there, it didn’t change the fact that he wasn’t.
And Buck, knowing how hard life was for a kid growing up without a father, could sympathize entirely with how JD must have felt.
And then there was also the fact that Chris seemed to know who James was, and hated him. Chris wouldn’t hate a man for no reason, Buck was certain of that. He would have to ask Chris later all about the mysterious James Clayburn.
And then there was also the possibility that James was lying.
“Buck?” he heard JD ask.
Buck blinked. He had forgotten JD was even there.
JD shifted uneasily, “Aren’t you going to say anything?”
“Is this all James told you?”
JD hesitated. “Yes,” he lied, remembering the decision James wanted him to make. He couldn’t tell that to Buck, not yet. One shock a day was enough. Plus, he was afraid of how Buck would react to the news that JD was seriously considering leaving Four Corners.
Buck was silent for a moment, considering what he was about to say to JD. He was sure JD didn’t want to hear it, hell, Buck didn’t even want to say it.
He scratched his head. “JD, how do you know James is telling the truth?”
There. He said it.
JD stared at Buck in wide eyed shock. “What?” He asked, his voice barely above a whisper.
Buck raised his hand. “Now, JD, before you get upset, let me explain.”
“Explain?” JD asked, his voice rising. He never expected this. Never expected Buck to doubt James’ words. “Who the hell do you think you are, Buck, to even suggest such a thing?”
Buck sighed. He had a feeling JD would react like this. Buck himself may have had the same reaction, if someone had tried to take away his new found family.
“JD, listen to me, please. You’re too trusting! Someone could easily take advantage of that trust, someone like James,” Buck said reasonably.
“But why would James lie?” JD asked, his voice small. He knew Buck was right, he was too trusting. But JD refused to believe that James would lie.
“Maybe to drive a wedge between--”
JD’s eyes widened as he realized the cause of Buck’s attitude, “Buck, you’re afraid things will change, aren’t you?”
Buck shifted his eyes and remained silent. JD knew he had been correct.
JD grabbed hold of Buck’s hands and looked him squarely in the eyes, “Nothing’s going to change, Buck, I promise!”
Buck’s eyes remained doubtful. He knew it was easy for JD to say that now. But what of the times when James would want to do things with JD, alone? Buck would be left out, he knew. And those times would add up, and soon JD would forget about Buck, and the rest of his ‘brothers’ he had made in Four Corners.
“Buck, I promise,” JD said again, worried by the look in Buck’s eyes.
Buck finally sighed, “All right, JD.”
JD grinned, “So you’ll become friends with James, right?”
Buck was about to answer ‘hell, no’, when he saw the hopeful look in JD’s eyes. He couldn’t crush JD’s spirit like that.
“All right,” he reluctantly agreed. “If you say nothing’s going to change, then I guess it wouldn’t hurt to become friends with James.”
Buck didn’t know how wrong he was.
Buck walked into the saloon looking for Chris. He didn’t see the man, but he did see Vin leaning against the bar, so he walked up to him.
“Chris left town ‘bout fifteen minutes ago.”
“Did he say where he was going?”
“Mr. Larabee neither voiced where he was destined for on his venture, nor when he would be making our acquaintance again.”
“Well damn. I needed to talk to him about something.” Buck turned and saw Ezra and Nathan sitting at one of the tables. Buck noticed Ezra looked uncharacteristically disheveled.
Buck shot a questioning look towards Vin.
Vin grinned, “Ezra here lost a lot of money to that James fella a few minutes ago.”
Ezra glared at Vin, “Mr. Tanner, I hardly regard my unfortunate losings to be entertaining.”
Vin snickered, “Yeah, they are, Ezra.”
“James was better than you expected, huh, Ezra?” Nathan joined in.
Normally Buck would join in the ribbing of Ezra, but right now he had more pressing matters on his mind.
“Actually, that’s who I wanted to talk to Chris about,” Buck said, pulling out the chair across from Nathan and sitting down. I take it all you saw what happened this morning?”
Vin nodded, his eyes darkening.
“Yeah,” Nathan said with a frown.
“I myself missed the spectacle Mr. Larabee made of himself. Mr. Tanner informed me of the atrocious details.”
“Anyone know why Chris did that?” Buck asked, already knowing the answer.
“We’re just as in the dark as you,” Nathan answered apologetically.
Buck sighed in frustration. Why did Chris have to leave town now? Hadn’t he just told Buck he would tell him what was going on? Despite Buck’s promise to JD to befriend James, he didn’t want to. Buck was sure that whatever Chris had on James, it would get him out of having to do so.
Josiah turned to see a grinning JD walk into the church.
“Hello, young brother. Why the sudden change of attitude?” he asked curiously. The last time he had seen JD he had been preoccupied and withdrawn. What had changed in just a few hours?
“I told Buck about James being my father,” JD answered solemnly.
Josiah raised his eyebrows in surprise. He had figured JD wouldn’t get up he nerve to tell Buck until a few more days had gone by. “How’d he take it?” Josiah asked genuinely interested.
JD frowned, “Well, he was a bit skeptical at first, but that’s to be expected,” JD hastily defended Buck. “I think he only said that because he was afraid things would change between us.”
“Will they?” Josiah asked, cutting in. He knew they would, even if JD didn’t mean for them to. JD probably didn’t realize just how much this changed things.
JD looked at Josiah in surprise. Why did he think everything would change? They wouldn’t, why would they? “Of course not!” he answered adamantly.
Josiah nodded. “So what happened after that?”
“Well, I made him agree to try and become friends with James.”
“Well, that’s good,” Josiah said thoughtfully. He was surprised Buck would agree to such a thing.
JD grinned, “That’s real good.”
Josiah turned serious. “What did he say about the decision James wants you to make?”
JD looked away. Why did Josiah have to ask about that?
“You did tell him, didn’t you?” Josiah asked sternly.
JD looked up at the ceiling, down at the floor, anywhere to avoid Josiah’s eyes.
“I didn’t tell him yet, okay?” JD finally admitted.
Josiah sighed. He should have figured as much. JD wouldn’t have been in such a good mood if he had told Buck that today.
“And when were you going to clue him in on that little detail?”
JD grinned sheepishly, “When I’ve decided.”
“Don’t you think you should tell him now, before he finds out from someone else?”
“I just can’t yet, Josiah. Besides, who’s going to tell him? You aren’t, I’m not, and I really don’t think James himself will.”
Buck noticed James sitting by himself and decided now was as good of time as any to try and befriend him. He was only doing this for JD, of course. And he would make sure James knew that.
“Mind if I sit down?”
James looked up in surprise, “Of course, Buck, any friend of JD’s is a friend of mine. Though I’m a bit surprised you want to sit with me, after that scene yesterday morning.”
Buck shrugged and sat down. He reflected quietly for a few minutes, just thinking. Now that he knew the truth, he could easily see the resemblance between JD and James. The same black hair, the same hazel eyes, the same impish smile. He wondered why he hadn’t noticed the similarities before.
“James, I figured that I should tell you, JD told me everything.”
James swallowed nervously. He wondered why Buck was being so civil. He knew he wouldn’t be, if someone had just told him that the boy he had come to be so fond of might be leaving. “Everything?”
Buck nodded, “Yeah. Of course, I doubted it at first, but now I see that it’s true. I promised JD I would try and be friends with you,” he added, letting James know he wasn’t sitting here by choice.
James nodded, and decided to voice his thoughts, “I’m surprised you’re taking this so well. I don’t think that I would be acting so civil to the man who just gave the kid that I am so fond of a proposition to leave this place forever.”
Buck frowned at James’s words. He must have misunderstood what the man had just said. “What do you mean?”
James continued on as if he didn’t hear Buck’s words, “Maybe you realize that the life I have to offer JD in New York is much better than any kind of life he could have here.”
Buck paled as what James was saying began to sink in. His heart constricted painfully at the thought of JD leaving. James must be lying, this couldn’t be happening. “W-w-what do you mean? JD never said anything about leaving,” he stammered.
James blanched as he realized his mistake. JD hadn’t told him about that, and here he was, blurting it out with no warning. Buck looked to James like he was about to have a heart attack. “Oh my God, he didn’t tell you, did he? I’m so sorry. He didn’t tell you about my offer to pay for his college in New York.”
Buck blinked at James’ words. This had to be an awful dream, it just had to be. JD would never keep such a thing from Buck, never.
“I think there must be some mistake, James, JD would have told me this.....” Buck began, clearly in denial.
“Buck, I’m sorry, but it’s the truth. You have to believe that I didn’t mean to tell you. If I had known you didn’t know,” James shrugged helplessly. He hoped JD wouldn’t be angry about this, he really didn’t mean to tell Buck.
Buck was no longer listening to what James was saying. His words sounded foreign to Buck, and he didn’t want to listen to what he was saying.
“I really am sorry, Buck. I didn’t know,” James was still saying.
Buck waved off his words and stood abruptly, pushing back his chair. “Yeah, yeah. Look, James, if you don’t mind, there’s something I have to take care of.”
James nodded in understanding, “Of course.”
Buck tipped his hat and turned, striding purposely out of the saloon.
James watched him go, a feeling of remorse coming over him. This was gonna be a long day.
After Buck’s talk with James, he strode towards the livery, looking for JD. The boy hadn’t been in the saloon, nor was he at the jail. So Buck headed to the next best bet, the livery.
Buck knew he was right when he saw the black haired boy brushing down his horse, murmuring softly in it’s ear.
For a few moments Buck just watched him. He marveled at just how good JD actually was with his horse. Buck recalled when he has first seen JD. He had rode up and then proceeded to fall off his horse. You never would have guessed then how good of a rider he actually was. Or that in a few months he would become much more to Buck, to all of them, then just a friend. He would become their family.
And now Buck’s family was being threatened to be taken away by a man who, until a few days ago, was a complete stranger.
Buck stalled a few moments longer, wondering if he should come right out and tell JD he knew about James’ offer, or give the kid a chance to tell him.
He decided he should give him a chance. JD wouldn’t have kept it from him much longer anyway. At least he hoped he wouldn’t of.
Buck cleared his throat, “JD,” he called softly, causing the young man in question to turn.
“Hey, Buck,” JD replied with a grin.
Buck winced at how carefree JD sounded, as if he didn’t have a care in the world. And why should he? He didn’t know Buck knew. Didn’t know that he was putting his best friend through hell.
“Just got through talking to James,” Buck said, watching JD closely for any kind of reaction.
“Yeah?” JD asked, dusting off the dirt on his pants, his hazel eyes wide with interest, “What did’ja talk about?”
Buck shrugged, “The usual. You know, James did have a few interesting things to tell me, though,” he said, still watching JD closely. He wondered if JD knew where this was heading.
“Yeah, well, I sort of promised James I’d have lunch with him, so......” JD trailed off, unnerved by the way JD was staring at him, and by the tone of his voice.
He made a move to step around him, but Buck’s sudden grab of his arm stopped him.
“Now hold on, son, there’s something I wanted to ask ya about.”
JD had an uncanny feeling that he didn’t want to have this conversation with Buck. At least not yet.
“I promised James-”
“This won’t take long. Promise,” Buck cut him off, his hand still grasping JD’s arm.
JD sighed, knowing he was stuck, “Okay.”
Buck nodded and let go of his arm, “Well, I was just wondering if something else was bothering ya, besides what ya already told me.”
JD shifted uneasily, “What do ya mean?” he asked innocently.
“Well, you still seem to be a little preoccupied, and I was just wondering if there was anything else you wanted to talk about?” Buck asked, hoping JD would tell him.
JD quickly shook his head, his eyes barely hiding his alarm, “Nope. Everything’s fine.”
A look of hurt flashed through Buck’s eyes. Obviously JD wasn’t going to tell him. “Look, JD, I know about-”
“Wait!” JD interrupted. He had seen the look of hurt in Buck’s eyes, and quickly regretted lying to him. “There is something I have to tell you.”
Relief coursed through Buck. He knew JD would come through for him. “Well? What is it then?”
JD averted his eyes from Buck’s gaze, it was bad enough saying it, he could do without having to see Buck’s reaction. “Well, when James told me he was my father, he, um, also offered to, well, pay for my college in New York,” JD held his breath, waiting to see what Buck would say.
“I know,” Buck said softly, his voice laced in pain. He was hoping James had been mistaken, but to hear JD say it.....
JD looked at him in confusion. “You do? But how?”
“James accidentally let it slip while I was talking to him in the saloon,” Buck confessed with a defeated sigh.
JD paled as he realized how Buck must have felt. “Buck, I’m sorry, I should’ve told you myself, but I was scared, and I knew it would upset you, and...” JD trailed off as a solitary tear rolled down his cheek. He was so sorry, he hadn’t meant for Buck to find out like that. And now everything was so messed up.
Buck noticed the tear and instantly felt bad. He knew JD was hurting now, but so was he. He tried to push away his grief for a few moments and help the kid.
He gestured to a spot on the hay, “JD, sit down for a bit, okay, son?”
JD looked at him, unsure, but finally sat down when Buck gestured again.
Buck sat down next to him and placed an arm around his slightly trembling shoulders, “It’s all right, JD. I ain’t upset about you not tellin’ me sooner. I know ya just didn’t want me to get hurt.”
JD gave Buck a helpless look, “It’s just that it came so sudden, and you were already upset over him being my father, and- and-”
Buck gave his shoulder a comforting squeeze, “It’s all right, son. I know you meant well. Don’t you worry, everything’s going to turn out fine.”
JD looked down at the ground, “But what if it doesn’t, Buck? What if I decide to leave? I just don’t know yet.....”
Buck shuddered a the thought, but tried to remain calm for JD’s sake. He placed his hands on either side of JD’s face, forcing him to look him in the eyes. When Buck’s eyes met JD’s desperate, pleading ones, he was overcome with sadness.
“JD, I want you to know that, whatever you decide, you have a family here, and we’ll always be here son, no matter what. We won’t ever leave ya, kid, understand?”
JD relaxed a bit and nodded, “I know, Buck.”
Buck dropped his hands and gave JD a reassuring smile, “Good.”
“I just want you to know that, right now, I don’t want to leave,” JD said softly, hoping to give Buck some reassurance.
Buck smiled at the attempt, “Thanks, kid.”
Even though JD seemed content to stay here now, the threat of James’ offer still loomed. James wanted to take away the most important part of Buck’s new found family, and probably wouldn’t give up until he did. Well, Buck would be damned if he let him.
James took a sip of his brandy and winced. God, it was awful. How he wished he was in a nice restaurant back in New York right now. But no, he was stuck in this two-bit town in the middle of nowhere.
James brushed some of the ever-present dust off of his jacket and smiled as he remembered why he was here.
JD. JD was definitely worth all of this. James had always wanted a son, and JD was turning out to be the perfect one.
James hoped JD would make the right decision. Which, of course, was to leave this God forsaken town with him.
James grimaced as he remember his earlier scene with Wilmington. He can’t believe he had blurted it out like that. Of course, even though he had acted like he was sorry, he wasn’t at all contrite about it. The only regret he might have felt about telling Wilmington about New York was that JD might be hurt by it. He had enjoyed watching Wilmington’s crestfallen expression. He didn’t like the man, and he was sure the feeling was mutual. Wilmington was just another thing that tied JD to Four Corners.
Four Corners. How he hated the place. The dust, the horses, the poor facilities, and the worst liquor he had ever tasted this side of the Mississippi. Of course, James would never tell this to JD. JD seemed to love this place. Why, James would never understand. Once JD was back in New York, he would realize how lucky he was to finally get away from here.
James would also never tell JD about his dislike for Wilmington...and Larabee. Although he was sure JD already sensed his hatred for the latter. The others he didn’t mind, they didn’t seem like trouble to his plans. The only one he had really spoken to was Standish, and that was when James had beaten him at poker.
But Wilmington...he was the one closest to JD. If anyone could persuade JD to stay, it was him. And Larabee...he could shatter JD’s perspective of James in a minute by telling him who he really was.
Speaking of which, James hoped Moraritti didn’t expect him to go into Jefferson this visit. He didn’t want his son involved in that sort of thing. It was bad enough he was. Plus, it would be too suspicious. Wilmington already distrusted him, and Larabee knew exactly what was in Jefferson.
James frowned at the thought. Why did Larabee leave town like that? If James had on Chris what Chris had on him, he would tell in a second. He certainly wouldn’t leave a man like him in an unsuspecting town. Larabee must be up to something. James would have to watch out.
James wondered if Moraritti would give JD a job once he graduated college. He seriously doubted JD would accept it if he did. JD had a good heart and a good set of morals, James could see this already. His mother had seen to this, God rest her soul. And, James admitted begrudgingly, so had these six men. That’s why James couldn’t tell JD what he did for a living, at least not yet. He’d wait until they were both safely in New York, when he would know James better and trust him more.
Maybe JD wouldn’t like it, but at least James hoped he would understand.
It should be a no brainer, really. Why should he leave Buck and the others for some guy who just suddenly showed up one day claiming to be his father? Where was he all these years, when JD’s mother was sick? Where was he when JD was growing up without a father?
Come to think of it, James had never really given JD an adequate explanation for all of this. So he claims that he had to leave because of his wealthy family, and that he didn’t know JD’s mother was pregnant. He could very well be lying. Maybe he just up and abandoned the pregnant women.
But on the other hand...if James had abandoned his family, why show up now? Why disrupt JD’s life like this, just when it was going so well? What could James possibly have to gain?
And going to college in New York was a very tempting offer.
Like he told Josiah, that was what his mother wanted for him. It was her dream for him. She never wanted anything for herself, just for him.
JD remembered when he was a kid, and his mother was still well. She always told him that he would be the successful one in the family, that he would break free from the life of a stable boy. She was so proud that her son would be the one to go to college.
When she got sick, they never really talked about it as much. They had so little money, and as she died, JD felt as if her dream was dying with her. He felt like a failure.
To know his father. That was something he had always wanted. His father was his dream, and now he was here.
And if JD went to New York, he would certainly get to know him. Get to know all about him.
But at the expense of his adopted family? He wasn’t sure if he could do that to them, or himself.
But on the other hand, it was only four years. He’d come back afterwards, really.
But on the other hand...a lot could happen in four years. A lot. People could die in four years. Especially out here. Especially in their line of work.
JD groaned and buried his head in the pillow. It was just too hard.
Now wasn’t the time to think about this. He could think about it tomorrow. Right now he needed his sleep.
Before JD finally succumbed to the sleep that was calling him, he vowed to get the real story of James and his mother.
The sooner the better.
As JD struggled with his demons, Buck was fighting a few of his own.
He hadn’t gotten a chance to talk to JD alone since the previous day in the livery, when JD had seemed so scared and confused.
Buck ached for him. He knew it was a tough decision for JD to make.
Oh, of course he knew that JD loved him and the others like brothers, but James was his blood, his real father. JD had once confided to him that he had always wanted to know his father, and it had pained Buck to even hear him say that. But it pained him even more to see his father actually here, waiting for JD with open arms.
JD also had this crazy idea that he had failed his mother by not going to college. Buck knew that this was completely ridiculous, but no matter how hard he tried, JD always had that nagging at his conscience.
Hell, Buck even wanted JD to go to college. Just not...now.
There was something about James that wasn’t quite right. He seemed to be hiding something, and Buck didn’t fully trust the guy.
And what was that scene with Chris all about? And what was with Chris leaving on some mysterious mission?
Things just didn’t fit. And James had all of the answers.
Well, tomorrow Buck would just have to have a talk with the man.
Meanwhile, James himself was having his own problems sleeping.
After his drink in the saloon, he had made a stop in the telegraph office, where a telegraph was waiting for him.
Since only a few people knew he was here, this was a decidedly a bad sign.
When he read that Moraritti wanted him to perform a Type A in Jefferson, he thought he would be sick.
Moraritti knew he was here to visit his son, not to do work.
**How dare he!** James thought angrily.
Especially a Type A! Why, he’d be lucky if he’d be able to do it successfully, on such short notice. What was Moraritti thinking? But orders were orders, and tomorrow he had to make a trip to Jefferson, when he should be spending time with JD.
**However...I could just ask JD to come with me. It’d give us a chance to be alone, without the prying eyes of his friends. I could slip away for a few minutes to do business without JD suspecting anything. Hmm...interesting.**
It was an entirely possible idea indeed.