Christmas, a time of good cheer, a time of seasons greetings, a time to be thankful for all you have been blessed with. Christmas, a time for sharing, a time for giving, a time to not look down upon your fellow man. To look at your neighbor and not see his color or his nationality or his handicap or whether he is rich or poor. God created man in his own image. God doesn't care who you are or what you are or how you came to be. We are all the same in his eyes. When you can look at another human being and not judge him but accept him for what he is then the Christmas spirit will be truly alive and remain so.
Victoria and Audra Barkley were hard at work, decorating the grand house, Christmas was a week away. The boys were out getting a tree, they were expected back in time for lunch. Silas was in the kitchen, baking cookies, cakes, pies, bread and preparing lunch for the family. The house smelled of cinnamon and other spices, flowers, holly leaves and pine. The pine smell would be even stronger when the boys got home with the tree.
“Oh mother,” exclaimed Audra, “this has got to be the best Christmas we’ve ever had, don't you think?”
“Audra, I do believe you say that every year,” smiled Victoria as she looked at her daughter.
“Do I? Well I just know this year will be the best ever.”
“And why is that?”
“This will be the first Christmas we'll be having with Heath,” stated Audra.
“Well then in that case you are right Dear, for that reason, this will be the best Christmas,” answered Victoria, smiling tenderly.
Audra saw the smile on her mother’s face and gave her a hug. The ladies went back to their decorating. Mother and daughter were lost in what they were doing and they didn't notice the time. The boys came home with the tree and the first indication the ladies had of the boys arrival was the greeting, delivered at the top of Nick Barkley’s considerable voice. “MOTHER, AUDRA, WE’RE HOME!”
“Nicholas, please stop that shouting,” groaned Victoria as she and Audra went to welcome the boys home.
“Boy Howdy Nick, I think I went deaf,” Heath grinned as he rubbed his ears. “How ‘bout ya Jarrod?”
“What? Did you say something Heath?” Jarrod cupped his ears, grinning broadly.
“Funny, you both are really funny,” said a sarcastic Nick. “HA, HA.”
“Well it was funny,” said the youngest of the siblings, Gene.
Jarrod and Heath slapped Nick on the back.
“Don't worry Nick, we'll still keep you around. Our ears drums might break one day and the windows in this house might shatter, but we still want you around,” teased Jarrod.
Thanks Jarrod...I think,” said Nick.
“We still can get a few laughs from him,”Jarrod said to Heath leaning towards him.
“I heard that,” laughed Nick.
Heath chuckled, Victoria and Audra tried to hold their laughter in, while Gene laughed out loud.
“Come on boys, get washed up for lunch, it will be ready shortly. You can bring the tree in after you eat,” said Victoria.
"Sounds good enough to me, I'm starving,” said Nick. “I get to wash up first.”
“When are you not starving Nick? Even after eating two full course meals, you’d still be starving,” laughed Heath.
“Watch that mouth Boy! I told you once before, you are not funny,” shouted Nick as he went upstairs.
Jarrod, Heath and Gene laughed, gave their mother a kiss and went upstairs to get ready for lunch.
After lunch the boys brought the tree in and set it up.
“We'll let it set overnight and decorate it tomorrow,” said Victoria.
The family was sitting around the parlor, Nick was pouring drinks for everyone, sherry for the ladies and whiskey for the men.
“I can't wait to start on the tree,” said an excited Audra. “Oh Heath, this Christmas is special and it’s because you are here.” Audra wrapped her arms around Heath who was sitting next to her.
“Thank you Audra,” said an embarrassed Heath, his face getting red.
Heath’s mind started wandering back to the Christmas he had when he was five years old.
“Just think Heath, this will be your first Christmas with us,” remarked Audra.
With his mind elsewhere, Heath said without thinking, “This is not my first Christmas with ya all.”
“What?” Audra and Jarrod had spoken in unison.
Huh?” Gene was equally puzzled.
“Say that again,” demanded Nick.
Victoria just sat there, staring at Heath waiting for him to explain himself.
Heath looked at his family members and saw the shocked expression on their faces. He couldn't look at them any more, so he turned his face away.
“Umm...nothing... I...” Heath didn't know what to say.
“Oh no you don't Boy, you don't say something like that and not explain it to us,”stated Nick.
Heath glanced at his mother and saw she was staring at him, hastily, he turned his eyes away from her, unable to look at her any longer.
“It's nothing,” snapped Heath getting angry. “Just forget I said it.” Heath started to leave the room, but he stopped when a voice whispered his name.
Heath turned but couldn't look at his mother.
Victoria stood staring at Heath. It can't be, she thought, but knew in her heart that he was indeed the same five-year-old boy she had once met. ‘How could I not remember?’ she asked herself.
“Hello my name is Victoria and these are my sons, Jarrod and Nick.”
“Hello I'm Leah and this is my son Heath.”
“Please, why don't you and your son spend the night at our place, my husband is away and I could use the company. I'm coming back later tonight with my sons and you and your son can come back with us to see the sights. It will be a beautiful sight to see. Please say yes.”
“Please Mama, Mister Harmon can stay with his family and take us back to Strawberry tomorrow.”
“Well, if you’re sure it will be ok.”
“Of course it will be ok.”
“Then if Mister Harmon said he'll stay, then I will go with you.”
Victoria’s horrified mind returned to the present, How could I not have connected this man to that five year old boy. My God, and his mother, I had my husband’s mistress in my house. Heath happened to look at his mother, just at the moment when Victoria realized who it was she had invited into her house. Heath saw the anger and the fire in her eyes. He was heartbroken.
“I'm sorry Mother, I never wanted you to know. I...I...didn't want you to remember,” Heath cried. “I'm sorry!” He ran up the stairs to his room and shut the door.
“What the devil was that about?” Demanded Nick.
Audra and Gene looked at Nick and shrugged their shoulders. Jarrod sat where he was, thinking on something. Victoria was standing in the doorway still watching the stairs long after Heath had shut his bedroom door. Jarrod got up and walked over to his mother, he put his hands on her shoulders and turned her towards him.
“I was about thirteen, Nick was about nine, when we showed a five year old child and his mother the sights of Stockton that Christmas year, you invited them to spend the night. That was Heath and his mother wasn't it? Jarrod asked his mother.
Victoria looked up at Jarrod, an appalled expression in her hazel eyes, “oh God Jarrod I invited the woman your father...laid with to my home and his son by that woman.”
Jarrod’s voice was gentle, “you didn't know Mother, you gave a little boy a good Christmas. Knowing now that little boy was actually Heath and we know that he didn't have many good Christmases, you gave him at least one Christmas with a happy memory. You do remember that look on his face when we took him to Stockton that night, don’t you?”
Victoria went back through time in her mind, she could see the excitement on that five year old’s face as he took in the sights of Stockton that night. She remembered the smile that lit up his face every time he saw something new, the tender smile on Leah’s face and the tears in her eyes when she saw how the simplest things made her son laugh with delight. Seeing the sights of Stockton that year though the eyes of that five year old had made Victoria realize how she took all that was around her for granted. That five year old made her see the beauty of it all again, something that she had stopped seeing years ago. Thinking back on it now her anguished expression softened.
Jarrod saw the change in his mother’s face. “Mother, are you all right?”
Victoria smiled up at Jarrod, “I'm fine Jarrod, I remember how happy Heath was that year and I wouldn't change a thing. Given a chance to do it all again, knowing what I know now, I would still invite them.
Jarrod smiled lovingly down at her, his immense pride in her reflected in his vivid eyes, “I know you would lovely lady.” The lawyer took his mother by the arm and gently sat her down on the sofa.
Audra sat next to her mother. “Mother was Heath really here when he was five?”
“Yes Dear he was. You were a baby then, about four months old I believe. Gene, you weren't born then. Nick, you were nine years old, you should remember what happened back then.”
A reminiscent smile lit Nick’s face. “He came to the house and he didn't have any boots on, I offered him one of my old pairs that was too small for me. He didn't want to take it because he didn't have the money to pay for it, and he said he didn't accept charity. God he was only five years old and he already wanted to pay for things. Man, I tell you he was old before his time.” Nick’s voice was soft and sad as he remembered that long ago year.
“Did he take the boots Nick?”
Tears sprang to Audra’s eyes as she pictured the five year old with no shoes on his feet.
A grin curved Nick’s handsome mouth. “Yeah, we traded for them.”
“Traded?” asked a puzzled Gene.
Nick smiled, “he had this piece of wood that he’d carved into a horse, at least he said it was a horse, I couldn't tell. He said he would trade me for the boots, and he took out that piece of wood and asked if I would trade the boots for that horse. To me it was a piece of wood but I saw the pride on his face and we made the deal.”
“Oh Nick, I'm glad you didn't hurt his feelings by saying something mean to him,” cried Audra.
I couldn't, one look at that face of his and I knew I could never hurt him like that. When he put those boots on, his face lit up with the biggest smile, it was contagious. I couldn't help but smile with him. I remember thinking that if he lived around here we could become friends and I would always try to keep a smile on his face. Even now his smile and his laughter are contagious and I would give anything to always keep him smiling and laughing, but there are too many sadnesses in his past, too many hurt feelings inside of him. He didn't have much laughter in his life growing up.”
“I know what you mean Nick, I too would love to hear him laugh more,” said Jarrrod. “If anyone can take away his pain and make him see life’s funny side, it’s you brother Nick.”
“I'm aiming to do just that Jarrod,” Nick said as he smiled at his brother.
All eyes went to their mother.
“I believe there was something else you gave to Heath that year.”
Nick turned to his mother in swift alarm, his hazel eyes were apprehensive and his face wore an almost comical expression of guilt.
“What was it Nick, what was it you gave him?” Audra wanted to know.
“Victoria looked at Audra and Gene, “why don't I tell you the story from the beginning? The first time we saw them, actually it was Nick who saw Heath first. he was ready to hit Heath.”
Audra and Gene turned to look at Nick with fire in their eyes.
“Whoa... wait one minute, I wasn't going to hit him.”
Jarrod crossed his arms and looked at Nick with a raised eyebrow.
“Well I wasn't!” Shouted Nick.
“Nicholas lower your voice, let me tell the story.”
“Please mother tell us,” begged Audra.
“Yeah,” said Gene, “start from the beginning and you’d better not have hit him Nick or you’ll be sorry!”
“Yes!” Audra agreed with Gene.
Jarrod tried to keep from laughing as Nick threw up his hands and their mother began to tell the story of that Christmas day.
Up stairs in his room Heath was looking around in his closet when he took something down from off the self. Many Christmases has come and gone since he receive this gift many years ago. The only thing his mother saved for him. She wouldn't let him sell it no matter how bad it was for them. They sold many things they had own at one time, he sold things he own, she sold things she owned, but she would never let him sell this gift he recieved when he was five years old. A gift that came from his brother before they even knew they were brothers. Heath sat on his bed and thought about that Christmas day and how they came to be in Stockton.
Leah decided to pick up Heath at the livery, without a doubt she knew that was where he would be. That is where he always was when he was not home. She had come home early and no one was there. She went to Rachel and Hannah’s place and they weren't there, she knew they must be cleaning houses for some of the mine owners and that they wouldn't be home until late. Heath was supposed to stay in the house until one of them came home, but he always went to the livery instead. She didn't mind, at least he was with someone. She hated it when he was home alone and she wanted him to stay away from her brother and his wife. He didn't care that he hurt her when he called Heath that hateful name. When she got to the livery Mr. Harmon was all she saw. She didn't see Heath she knew he was in the stall with one of the horses.
“Leah, it's a pleasure to see you. You came for Heath? Asked Mr.Harmon.
“Yes, is he here?”
Mr. Harmon laughed, “of course, where else would he be?”
Leah was laughing with him. “That boy spends more time here than he does at home.”
“Don't ya know it. That boy sure loves the horses, they in turn love him back, they seem to understand one another. That boy has a special way with horses.”
Leah started thinking of Heath’s father and the special fondness he had for horses.
“Yes, he sure does have a way with them,” she responded. She was going to thank Mr. Harmon for letting Heath hang around the livery when Heath came running from one of the stalls.
“Mama...Mama,” he cried running into her arms.
Leah picked him up and hugged him. “Heath are you here bothering Mr. Harmon again?”
Heath looked at Mr. Harmon with a worried frown. “I'm bothering ya Mr. Harmon?”
“No Son you are never a bother, you are a pleasure.”
“See Mama, I'm not a bother I'm a pleasure.”
Leah and Harmon both start laughing. “That you are son, that you are,” Leah said hugging Heath tightly to her.
“Mama, Mr. Harmon said I can come here tomorrow and be here all day and I can help him out.”
Leah looked at Mr. Harmon.
“I told the boy I’d ask you if it’s all right if he can help me out tomorrow and that I will pay him for his help,” explained Mr. Harmon.
“You don't have ta pay me Mr. Harmon, ya and the horses are my friends. Friends help each other right Mama?”
“Yes Dear they do.” Leah was so proud of her little boy.
“Bless you child,” said Mr. Harmon with tears in his eyes.
Mr. Harmon is going to Stocker the day after tomorrow,” Heath said to Leah.
“Stocker...” Leah asked puzzled.
“Stockton,” Mr. Harmon corrected. “I'm going to visit family in Stockton the day after tomorrow.”
“Oh really, that's nice.” Leah’s heart beat faster just thinking of Stockton knowing he was there.
“I was thinking Heath could help me with getting things in order here tomorrow before I leave if it's alright with ya.”
Leah didn't say anything her mind was somewhere else. Heath tugged on her dress.
“Mama can I?” No answer. “Mama!” Heath kept tugging on her dress.
Finally Leah acknowledged Heath. “What do you want Heath?”
“Can I help Mr. Harmon tomorrow?” Heath’s demand was accompanied by an angry flash of his usually soft blue eyes.
“Sure Matt wants me to come in early and I know Rachel and Hannah have lots of cleaning tomorrow, so this will be perfect. Thank you Mr.Harmon, you’ve solved my problem of what to do with Heath. I didn't want to take him near Matt,”said Leah.
“Good, I’d rather him be here than at the hotel,” he smiled up at her. She smiled back.
“I’d rather be here too,” said Heath.
“So what family do you have in Stockton?”
My sister and her family,she’s been wanting me to move in with her after my Emily passed away, but I like it here just fine.”
“I'm glad ‘cause I like ya here just fine too,” confided Heath guilelessly.
“I bet Stockton is pretty this time of year,” remarked Leah.
“I always go a week before Christmas, they have the decorations all up and someone comes along when it starts getting dark and lights the candles up, it is really a beauty at night. It's like a little star came from the heavens and lit up Stockton.”
Heath was listening to every word Mr. Harmon said. “Wow,” exclaimed Heath, “little stars from the heaven it sure must be pretty.”
“Ya son it is...I've got an idea. Leah why don't you and Heath come with me?”
What? I...,” said a surprised Leah.
“Sure you and the boy can come with me. You and Heath can see the sights of Stockton. I'll go visit my family and we can see Stockton when it is all lit up.”
“No Mr Harmon I can't, I got work...”
Heath interrupted her, “please Mama,” he begged. “I want to see the stars from heaven.
“Heath I can't,” she was afraid of running into Tom. She was afraid he would take one look at Heath and know who he was. She didn't want to think what would happen then.
Mr. Harmon thought he knew what she was thinking, Matt would fire her and he said, “Matt won't fired ya Leah, he can't get anyone else to work like a slave for him with the little money he pays ya. It'll be good for ya and the boy.”
Please Mama, please, please, please,” pleaded Heath. “This will be the best Christmas ever for me and ya Mama. Can we go Mama pleeassssss?”
Mr. Harmon looked down at Heath then up at Leah. “How can ya say no to that?” His eyes pleaded with her as eloquently as her little son’s words had done.
Leah looked down at Heath she knew he would be working in the mines next year, Matt had been after her about Heath earning his way. She didn't want Heath working the mines but she also knew that money was getting harder to come by.. If only Mr. Harmon could afford to hire Heath, but Leah knew he couldn’t. Some of the mine owners were starting to sell their mines and get out of Strawberry while they still could. They could see that the mines weren’t going to last long here. Leah thought, maybe I can give him one more happy Christmas, before he loses his innocence. Once those evil people get at him, without a doubt they will teach him the meaning of the words bastard and whore.
“Alright, if you’re sure you want us along Mr.Harmon.”
Heath looked at Mr. Harmon.
“I'm sure,” he said.
Heath looked at Leah.
“Alright then I guess we can go with you.”
“YA,” screamed Heath, “I can see the stars from heaven thank ya Mama thank ya Mister Harmon. C'mon Mama I wanna tell Aunt Rachel and Hannah about the stars from heaven and Stocker!”
“Stockton,” Leah and Mr. Harmon said together.
“Ya, that’s what I said, c'mon Mama, I'll see ya tomorrow Mr. Harmon,”Heath called back as he ran out the door.
Leah shrugged her shoulders, said thanks to Mr. Harmon and followed Heath out the door.
Mr. Harmon stood watching them until they were out of sight. “That boy is sure special,” he said to himself. “I sure hope this town don't destroy him.” He went back to take care of the horses.
Heath’s excitement could not be contained. He was up late that night as he couldn't sleep for thinking about being someplace other than Strawberry. Leah walked into Heath’s bedroom and found him still awake.
“Heath you should be sleeping.”
“I'm trying Mama.”
“I know you’re excited,” Leah smiled at him, “but you have to go to bed, you need your sleep.”
“I know mama, I just can't sleep. We’re gonna leave Strawberry! Even if it is for just one day. Stocker’s got to be better than dumb old Strawberry.”
“Why do you say that Son?” Leah was curious, so much so, she didn't bother to correct Heath on how he said Stockton. “You’ve never been any place, how could you say anywhere is better than Strawberry when you’ve never been anywhere else?”
“Because Mama, only Strawberry got uncle Matt, no other place got him, so all places has got to be better than Strawberry. I'm sorry Mama I know you don't want me to say mean things, but you asked me and I know you don't want me to lie.”
Leah pulled him into her arms and hugged him. “That’s alright Dear, I did ask.” Leah laid Heath back down and pulled the blanket up over him. Why don't you scoot over and I'll lay down with you until you fall to sleep.”
Heath moved over and Leah lay down next to him and pulled him into her arms wishing she could keep all the ugliness and evil (Matt included) away from her son. An hour later, both mother and son were sound asleep.
Heath was up before dawn, fetching water and washing up, he just got finished dressing as Leah woke up. She washed, dressed and both ate breakfast. Heath could barely sit still wanting to get to the livery. Leah dropped him off and went to Matt to start her day’s work. For the rest of the day Heath helped Mister Harmon getting the livery into order. All day he was constantly asking Mister Harmon about Stockton, wanting to know how long it was going to take to get there, does it have a sign like Strawberry does with Stockton’s name on it, does it have lots of mines? Mister Harmon was patient with Heath answering all of his questions. Heath finally ran out of questions and stayed in the stall with the horses telling them everything he knew about Stockton. All too soon, Leah came to pick her son up.
“Hi Leah,” Mister Harmon greeted Leah as she walked in.
“Hi did you get everything done that you wanted to get done?”
“Oh yeah, that boy of yours, he sure works hard, he never runs out of energy! He never stopped working all day, never stopped pelting me with questions either,” said Harmon, laughing indulgently.
“I hope he wasn't a handful for you.”
“No, not at all, I really enjoy having him here. I really want Stockton to be special for him, something he can remember with fondness for years to come. Speaking of Stockton did you tell Matt.”
Leah took a deep breath before she answered, not realizing Heath was listening.
“Yeah, I told him, to say he wasn't happy is putting it mildly! He started in about me needing to make money, about running all over God's creation, about me having to put the hotel first, because if he don't keep the hotel running, then I am out of a job!” Leah hung her head down, she wouldn't look at Mister Harmon.
Mister Harmon looked at Leah and knew Matt had said more. “Leah what else did Matt say?”
She wouldn't answer him, “Leah, what else did he say, look at me and tell me,” said Harmon gently.
Leah raised her head to look up at him and she had tears in her eyes. “He said I better not come back with a ...” She couldn't finish the sentence and dropped her gaze again.
Mister Harmon came from around the counter and took Leah into his arms. He held her close. “Tell me Child, what did that awful man say?”
Leah took another deep breath and spoke rapidly. “He said I’d better not come back with another bas...bastard.”
“Why that son of a ... I'm gonna go over there and have a man to man talk with that no account excuse of a man!”
“No,” cried Leah, “it won't do no good, beside I slapped him and told him I quit.”
“Good for you! What did he do after that?”
“He just told me I better be in early when I get back.”
Harmon took her chin in his hand, “are ya all right?”
Leah nodded her head yes. “I just wish he would stop saying that about Heath.”
Harmon kissed Leah on the cheek and went behind the counter. He had grown deeply fond of Leah and Heath. Never having any children with his wife, Leah and Heath filled that void inside of him, the need of wanting to be a father. Damn Matt for his evilness. He would like nothing more than to go over to the hotel and punch him out, but being an old man he knew he was no match for the drunken bully. Damn him to hell, he thought.
Heath listened to what his mama said. He went back into the stall and wrapped his arms around the horse that was there.
“I hate Uncle Matt,” Heath told the horse, “don't go telling my Mama I said that, she won't like it. She would say it’s not nice to hate. I don't care, I still hate him.” Tears rolled down Heath’s little face. “He made Mama cry but I don’t care if he called me that name, I don't even know what it means. “Do you know horse?” The horse just shook its head and pawed the ground. “I know it’s something bad, I want to ask Mama, but she would start crying.”
Heath heard his Mama calling for him to hurry up. He took his arms from the horse, wiped his face, patted the horse one more time and went to his mother. Heath knew how to hold his feelings in. He knew his mother got sad if he showed his feeling about the things his uncle said to him. Heath had swiftly learned to keep his feelings to himself, not letting anyone see them, especially his Mama. The only person who could read Heath was Hannah. Hannah seemed always to know when Heath was hurting. Sometimes Hannah was able to get him to open up and he would tell her things knowing she would never tell anyone not even his mother. Sometimes though, there were things he couldn’t even tell her,things that he would always keep a secret. When he came out of the stall, he was the happy little boy that he was when he first came in. He ran into his mother’s open arms and hugged her extra hard.
“My son, what was that for? Leah asked him when he released her.
“For us going to Stocker tomorrow. We are still going aren't we?” Heath asked pretending he didn't hear what was said between his mother and Mister Harmon.
“Sure son, we're going and it’s Stockton not Stocker ok.?”
“Stockton,” repeated Heath.
“That’s right Son, we’d better get home, we have to get to bed so we can be up early in the morning and be ready for Mister Harmon.”
“I'll be up,” said Heath eagerly, “I can come over real early and help ya some more Mister Harmon if ya need me.”
“No Son, I have someone coming over ta be here while I'm gone. Thank you anyways. I will be over at the crack of dawn ta pick you both up.”
“That’s good, I have some eggs I can fix, we can have that and coffee before we leave.”
“That would be fine, see ya tomorrow.”
They both said their goodbyes and left to go home. Heath was so excited he barely slept that night, but he was up and ready when Mister Harmon came to pick them up. They all had their eggs and coffee (water for Heath) and were soon on the road to Stockton and a Christmas Heath would never forget.
“Heath, wake up son, it's lunch time. Come on, wake up.”
Leah noticed Heath didn't have his shoes on, but that he was wearing two pair of socks. Heath sat up stretching and yawned.
“Are we there yet?”
“No we’ve got a couple of hours yet. I wanted you to eat something. Mister Harmon is building a fire so him and I can have some coffee. Now get up, and Heath where are your shoes?”
Heath looked away from his mother and didn't answer her right away.
“Heath.?” Leah questioned her little son gently.
“I took them off.”
“They hurt my feet, they too small Mama.”
“I told you that you have to wear them.”
“I know and I will put them on when we get ta Stocker...I mean Stockton,” he flashed her his winning smile.
She smiled back at him. “Ok, but aren't your feet cold?”
“No, Mister Harmon gave me these (Pointing to the socks on his feet) and I got my other two socks on.”
“You’re wearing three pair of socks?”
Heath nodded his head yes.
Leah took a deep breath. “Ok, get up and eat some lunch.”
Leah started walking away, but stopped when Heath called her.
“I have to go.”
“Oh...well there's a small stream over by those trees,” she said as she pointed to some trees.
“Go behind them, do your business then go to the stream and wash up, then come eat a sandwich. Mister Harmon wants to get back on the road, so we can reach Stockton while it’s still light.”
“Ok Mama, I'll hurry.”
She gave him a big smile and went to help Mister Harmon. Heath jumped down from the back of the wagon, went behind the trees and went to the stream to wash up. He put his hands in the water wincing at its biting coldness. He just dipped his hands briefly in the water and wiped them on his pants. He started walking away when he noticed a piece of wood laying near the stream, he picked it up and examined it closely. He ran to where his Mama was spreading out a blanket.
“The water’s cold Mama!”
“I know Dear, but did you clean your hands?”
“Yes Ma’am. Mama, can I ask Mister Harmon if I can borrow his knife, the one he keeps in his pocket?”
Heath showed his mother the piece of wood he’d found.
“I want to make a horse out of this wood and I need a knife.”
Leah knew how much Heath loved to make things with his hands and she let him craft things out of wood. She had little wooden things he had made, horses, birds, a barn, she even had one that was supposed to be her, Rachel, Hannah and Heath. You couldn't tell what they were, but to her they were priceless. Every time Heath wanted to carve something, there was always someone there to keep an eye on him, but Heath was always careful with almost everything he did. So she wasn't afraid of Heath using a knife.
“You may ask him, but Heath if he says no you are not to bother him by pleading with him,” she said knowing how Heath liked to put on the charm to get his way.
“No Mama, I won't, thanks,” he yelled back as he ran to where Mister Harmon was feeding the horses.
“Can I help ya Mister Harmon?”
“No thank you Heath, I've got it.”
Heath stood and watched as Mister Harmon led the horses to water and then tied them down so they could eat. Mister Harmon turned and saw Heath watching him.
“Something I can do for ya son?”
“Yes sir, I want to ask ya if I can borrow your knife.”
“And what would ya like to borrow it for?”
Heath showed Mister Harmon the wood, “I would like to make a horse out of this.”
Mister Harmon took the wood and look it over carefully.
“Well this looks like a fine piece of wood.” Looking back at Heath, “I can see a fine horse out of this wood. What does your mama say?”
“She says I can ask ya, but if you say no, that I was not to bother ya.”
He looked at Heath with a raised eyebrow. “Heath, I told ya that ya were not a bother.”
“I know sir, but I think Mama keeps forgetting. She always thinks that I bother ya. Ya might have to mind her that I'm a pleasure not a bother.”
Mister Harmon laughed out loud. “Ya mean remind her.”
“Yes sir, that's what I said, remind her.”
Mister Harmon shook his head and laughed, he took Heath’s hand and led him back to Leah. Heath sat down on the blanket, Leah gave him a sandwich and some water and Mister Harmon gave him the knife. Heath ate his lunch and started on the carving.
“Don't let me go ta sleep again. I want ta see everything. You can't see nothing when ya sleeping.”
“Well you were tired, you didn't get much sleep in the last two days.”
“Yeah I know, but don't let me sleep. I want ta remember everything so I can tell Aunt Rachel and Hannah everything.”
“Ok, I’ll try to keep you awake.”
Heath was still working on the piece of wood. After a little bit he put the wood down and looked over at Leah.
“When I'm all grown up, I'm gonna go all over the world and I’m gonna find the best place ta live at and I'm gonna build us a big place and have enough room for you Aunt Rachel and Hannah and Mister Harmon if he wants ta to live in and I'm gonna take care of everyone and you and Aunt Rachel and Hannah and Mister Harmon will never have ta work again and best of all Mama we will never have ta see Uncle Matt and Aunt Martha again.”
Mister Harmon had to swallow a lump in his throat. He decided then that he was gonna get Heath his very own knife for Christmas.
Leah had to force back her tears, if Heath only knew it, he could have all that. Why didn’t she tell him? Why didn’t she tell Tom about him? Heath’s life would be so much better. He wouldn’t have to work the mines when he turned six, he could go to school, he could have it all, so why not just tell Tom? She knew why. She was selfish. Heath was her only link to the only man she would ever love, as long as she had Heath she would always have Tom with her. Is she being fair to Heath? No and she knows she will never tell Tom about Heath. She knows Heath will pay the price, but she hopes her love and caring will ease any pain he may suffer and that life will not be too hard on him.
An hour later they were back on the road to Stockton. Just before they reached Stockton Heath was finished with his carving, he handed it to his mother.
“Look Mama, it’s finished.”