"Five short stories from the Heath-Meg series"


Logline: "Mother Versus Son", "The First Letter Home", "Expectant Parents", "Children and Grandchildren" and "Not Best Friends"

"Mother Versus Son"

1872 ~ Pre-Cate and Meg

Heath demonstrates his anger in a way totally unexpected from the reserved young man.

Heath woke up bored. Bored of the ceiling he had been looking up at during the past fortnight, bored at the dull wallpaper that graced the four walls of his room, bored at the one single view afforded from his bedroom window and the temptation of freedom it offered to other worlds. Bored, bored, bored, BOOOORED!!!

An attentive son, not one to rock the boat, happy to go along with things, he had listened to his mother, and to his brothers and to the good Doctor Merar's advice, and he had stayed in bed during his convalescence and now he felt fine. Absolutely fine! Got it? Absolutely fine! And yes, today? TODAY he was getting up!

"Well get up then Heath Barkley," he admonished himself. "Quit talking about it and do it!" he continued, wondering what he was waiting for.

Throwing the covers back, he attempted to jump out of bed to demonstrate his fitness and instead found himself sadly lacking in energy and having to ease himself out of bed. "God damnit!" He exclaimed, reverting through temper to a quick succession of army-learned expletives which he would not dare to utter in his mother's or any other lady's presence but which found home now as he discovered his undressed state.

"Mother!" he hissed out, realizing who was responsible. With or without clothes, he was determined to get up and cautiously he shifted his weight to stand up. That accomplished, he walked a little unsteadily towards the closet to retrieve a set of pants with which to make himself decent again. A sense of indescribable defeat hit him when he saw that his mother had emptied his closet too. He was still staring at the empty chamber when he heard the door open and turned to see his brother Nick come into the room. Unable to mouth any words he just pointed towards the cupboard and left Nick to figure out the rest.

Deeply embarrassed for his brother, Nick coughed and mumbled apologetically, "I was going to tell you about that, Heath. She took them out yesterday when you mentioned something about getting up."

"It's down right embarrassing!" Heath protested. "A grown man's mother confiscating his clothes. What am I expected to do? Walk around buck-naked!"

"Well I think the idea is that you will get back into bed and accept defeat," Nick tried explained, raking a hand through his unruly hair and not really wanting to have this conversation right now. Silently he agreed with Heath, but what could he do? This was their mother they were talking about.

"Hell, Nick. I'm twenty years old!"

"Nearly twenty." Nick corrected.

"Nineteen or twenty I don't need my mother to dress and undress me like a baby!"

"Makes no odds. You're just wastin' your time, Heath. Mother has her way of doing things and it just doesn't pay to buck them, not in the long-run. She'll only return your clothes when she reckons you're fit enough to wear them."

"She doesn't do it to you and Jarrod!" Heath protested.

"Well, I reckon that's because we know better than to get up before we are feeling better."

"Which for me is now!" Heath protested.

Nick crossed his arms and regarded his brother's state of health for a moment. "Well I don't know, Heath. You still look a little gray. Maybe it wouldn't hurt to heed mother's advice and stay in bed for a couple of more days. It can't hurt?"

Heath was having none of it. He headed for the door.

"Where are you going?" Nick exclaimed feeling himself unceremoniously pushed away.

"You've got clothes, haven't you? I'm going to get me a set of yours."

"Now wait just one minute here. I'm not lending you my clothes!" Nick objected. "You got a rebellion of one going on here, brother, don't rope me into it."

Standing in the corridor that led to all the bedrooms Heath couldn't believe his brother's ears. "You won't lend me your clothes!" he said incredulously, sure he had misheard.. "You're serious?"

Nick hated letting his little brother down but facing Heath's wrath for a few days was a darned sight easier than facing his mother's. "That's about the size of it," he replied. He really, really didn't want to be having this conversation right now. Suddenly, he felt himself pushed out of the way a second time and turned to see Heath heading down the stairs, a hand pressed on the banister to avoid a fall on still shaky legs. "Heath you can't go downstairs like that!" he called after him.

"Oh no! Just watch me!" Heath shot back defiantly, determined on getting his clothes back along with them some self-respect. If they kept him naked he would walk around naked, didn't matter to him. He no longer cared.

"Morning big brother," Audra smiled awkwardly and blushing as she passed him on the stairs, her eyes not knowing where to look. Catapulting a "do something look," to her older brother, she begged him to intervene.

Nick simply shrugged his shoulders as if to say: 'What can I do?"

"Mornin'" Heath drawled angrily, continuing down the stairs, his anger far from abating and growing steadily worse with each second. Reaching the foyer, he passed Silas who was holding out a tray as he walked towards the door. "For Mother?" Heath asked, barely stopping to wait for an answer as he took the silver tray from the faithful retainer.

"Yes'm Mister Heath. But Mister Heath, your mother, she....." Silas called after the naked man, the back of whom he saw disappearing out on to verandah holding the tray aloft.

He waited with Nick and Audra for the inevitable gasps emanating from the verandah as the middle-aged ladies of the Stockton Sewing Guild found a new way to make the acquaintance of Heath Barkley. "Your tea mother!" Heath uttered, his voice not bothering to hide his anger and annoyance, his anger blinding him to the other ladies presence.

But his mother was a cool customer and had the measure of Heath in more ways than one. Pouring a cup of tea and careful to keep her face straight she informed him graciously, "How nice of you to join us Heath. Perhaps now that you are here I can introduce you to Mrs. Van Meyer, Ruby's mother? She's been looking forward to meet you. Although, she may feel as I do, that you may be a little undressed for the occasion."

She watched as the volcanic anger of her son slowly ebbed away to be replaced with such bashful embarrassment that Heath crippled by its force was unable to turn around to face the mother of his girlfriend of just a week!

"Tea, Heath?" Victoria asked enjoying every moment.

Heath nodded, his brain no longer able to function, his body unable to move from its fixed spot. Victoria let out the smile she had been withholding as she reached for the sugar bowl. "Good. Will that be one lump or two?"

"The First Letter Home"

1880 - Heath and Meg have been married three months

The Barkley Ranch, Stockton, California

Dearest Mother,

Finally, I pick up the courage to put pen to paper and write to you, pausing even now as I write these words, wondering how you will receive my letter and what you must think of your errant and until now silent daughter; your daughter who ran off into the night to get married and left the next morning with a husband she barely knew.

Given our previous closeness, you may wonder why it was courage that I needed to write to you when I have always been able to come to you with my problems and concerns. Only not this time, Mother. This time I could not talk to you. This time I was consumed by shame and fear so paralyzing that I could not come to you, indeed I could not even look you in the eye for fear that you would see into the very depths of my soul and the shame I had brought on the family.

As you sit in your sitting room at your writing desk, for I know that is where you will be reading my words, I picture you now sitting back in your chair, a hand to your mouth, worry lines creasing your face and deeply hurt by these words. I do not want to hurt you, mother. I do not want to hurt anybody and yet by my actions I did.

It wasn't as if I was some slip of a girl, naive to the world and its ways. I certainly was old enough to know better and yet thinking I was in love, I chose to give myself to a man who in the end did not prove worthy and who left me as soon as he knew I was with child. I did not think I could ever describe or ever come to terms with the feelings of abandonment and complete isolation I felt at that moment; it scarred me and the wounds, Mother, are still so raw and so ready to bleed when I am reminded of the desperation I felt. It was as if I had learned nothing in all my twenty-five years; I simply could not function or think straight.

What was I going to do? I had some fanciful notion of running away, like some fallen heroine from a dreadful penny romance. What I was going to do or how I was going to survive I had no idea. I just knew that I had to get away. I asked Heath to help me. You must not be angry with him. He is not deserving of that anger only gratitude and respect. Instead of helping me to run away he offered to marry me and give my child a name, his protection and love. And that he has done Mother, true to his word and to the man he is.

He is such a good man. Honest, hardworking, principled and kind. But then, you knew all those things about him, didn't you? You saw those qualities before any of us I think and perhaps even silently hoped for a match between us both. But, perhaps not this way. Not with an elopement intended to avoid scandal and your daughter carrying another man's child. No, not that way.

I am so heartfully sorry for the deep distress I have caused you and father. I cannot count the number of nights and days I have cried alone with the shame of what I have brought you both and my worries and fears for the baby's and my own future. Had Heath not discovered the cause of my sadness, I do not know what I would have done, and thank God, I was not tested to find out. I fear without Heath's support I would have been found wanting.

I am smiling now because even though thousands of miles away from you, I can still see those worry lines creasing your face. Your concern, I know is for Heath as well as myself. I know you are fond of him and worry that in our marriage we both may have sacrificed love with someone else; circumstances forcing us together in a loveless marriage, held together by children and friendship but not love.

Oh Mother! You could not be more wrong. For that is the wonderful thing that has happened. Heath and I have found love together. This wonderful man has captured my heart and holds it for all time.

I hear you mother. You think I love Heath out of gratitude. It is true, that I will be forever grateful to Heath for how he rescued me from my despair, but this love I feel is not gratitude. It's all consuming and goes far beyond how we feel about each other. It has found root in the life we share together here, good and bad, his children and in never wanting to be anywhere else but by his side.

I know now that life is not all rosy. I have smelt the coffee. I have woken up from my cozy protected world. But I also realize my experiences were not for nothing. They led to me Heath and the life and love we now share. He has helped me to grow up.

Who, a year ago, would have thought me a rancher's wife, or mother to three little ones? Oh Mother! They are adorable and so readily accepting of me as their new mother. I feel incredibly privileged. They give their love so freely and so trustingly it's humbling.

The twins Sean and Thomas are just five years old and look just like Heath. They have shocks of gloriously sun-kissed blond hair, blue eyes and perfectly formed button noses. They crawl up on to my lap and snuggle up for a cuddle and my heart just melts. And they are such little gentlemen and so full of life. You can't help but be pulled into their happy world.

Little Cate looks like her father, but I can see her mother in her too, adding a blend of the two. She is an individual with a temper and impatience to match. The person she reminds me of most is her Uncle Nick. It is funny to see the two of them together. Often there is a stand-off between them, neither one willing to give way. But in that way I have only ever seen Nick act with Heath, he takes a step back and smiles and the little madam gets her way.

Mother, I am happier than I deserve to be. Gifted with a wonderful, loving husband who I love very much and a small family who need me as much as I need them. I thank God for my blessings and need more than anything now to make my peace with you, so that you too can be a part of this; a part of me once again.

I enclose a photograph of us as a family, hoping it will grace your writing desk and that you will think us of often and with love. Love Heath as a son; he will make you proud, just as he does Aunt Victoria.

Embrace, Sean, Thomas and Cate as your grandchildren; they enclose pictures they want to send you with this letter and are eager to meet you. You will not be sorry to let them into your world.

The baby will be due soon, your first grandchild. My heartfelt wish is that you will be with me when the time comes; to guide me into motherhood as I always hoped you would. Grant my wish, Mother. I miss and love you and need to know that I have your forgiveness and love.

Your loving daughter,


"Expectant Parents"


Heath and Meg are about to become parents

"Heath, you are going to have start wearing night clothes." Meg sighed as she shifted her heavy weight in the bed, trying to get comfortable. Somehow she just couldn't settle and part of her exasperation escaped into her tone.

Heath continued getting into bed. "You don't usually complain," he answered, settling himself under the covers.

"Well, with me about to give birth any day, there is no knowing who will be coming into the room or when. You ought to be wearing some nightwear just in case. Gosh I'm so warm. The heat tonight is unbearable."

Heath leaned across, "Want some iced water?"

Meg shook her head. Heath had spent the last ten minutes trying to make her comfortable, opening all the windows to let in any air. She knew he was tired and he looked it too, barely able to keep awake through dinner, having been working out on the north range all day.

Heath gave her a sympathetic smile.

It was only a week since Doctor Merar had confirmed that the young couple could be expecting twins. He couldn't be sure but he thought he had detected two heartbeats on his last examination of Meg. Heath sported a delighted look on his face at the news, but quickly showed concern and understanding when Meg's own face showed fear.

"Oh Heath!" she declared, "I can't! I just cant!"

Squeezing her hand, he responded, "You can.... We can."

"Can we?" She asked, looking to him for much needed reassurance.

He nodded and gave her a proud smile. "You bet."

"But you've done this before with Cate!" Meg had protested, invoking his late wife's name in her own defense.

"And I remember she was just as scared. And so was I." He reassured her, rubbing the trembling small hand that he held, feeling it slowly calm under his gentle ministrations.

"You were?"

"Sure was."

Slowly the fear left her face and a question replaced it. "What did you feel when Sean and Thomas were put into your arms, Heath?"

Heath grew thoughtful, drawing his next words deep from his heart. "Instant and overpowering love. I'd never experienced such love before and I couldn't believe Cate and I had produced these two wonderful beings. It was humbling. I mean they were so tiny and helpless and yet also strong because they had fought their way into this world. I don't think I spoke for a full five minutes afterwards. I just kept staring at them in my arms and I remember I silently vowed that I would love and look after them until the day that I died. I reckon I had a permanent smile on my face for a whole week and I well remember Nick getting so sick of my goofy look and behaviour, he once threw a pail of water all over me!"

"Did it have the desired affect?"

"Nope," Heath replied with a big cheeky grin on his face, remembering Nick's frustration with him at the time. "It was still there."

Meg laughed a real laugh and then grew serious again. "Oh Heath, I so want you to have that same look and feelings when these two little ones are born," she said wistfully, gently patting her swollen front, reminding herself sadly that the babies were not Heath's and so wishing they were. Theirs' had not been a conventional marriage but she loved him utterly and she knew he loved her.

Heath caught her wistful look. Ignoring the presence of the discreet Doctor Merar who was still in attendance, Heath knelt down by Meg's chair and spoke honestly to the woman who had captured his heart. "When these two are born, Meg, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind whose children they are. They are ours. Yours and mine. And I feel the same love for them as I do for the twins and Cate. Already, I love them and I can't wait for us to be a family."

Meg said nothing. She simply cried tears of happiness into Heath's arms.

That was a week ago and as Meg listened to Heath snoring as he slept on his front, the covers thrown back off them both in an attempt to shake off the night heat, she gently shook him awake to tell him the babies who had first brought them together were at last coming. "Heath, you better get Victoria and Mother."

Heath was on his knees instantly. Robbed of speech he used his hands and face to try and articulate what he wanted to say, finally finding voice to gulp, "Are you sure?"

Meg nodded, surprisingly calm. Now it was Heath's turn to fluster as he not only forgot how to talk but seemingly how to move as well.

"Heath," she said again, amused at her wonderfully calm husband's sudden attack of panic, "I need Mother and Victoria. Go ask them to come, will you?"

Heath nodded, still wondering what he needed to do to try to regain speech of more than three words. Blind panic took over and he got out of bed and headed for the door.

"Heath!" Meg shouted after him. "I think your mother and my mother would appreciate it if you put some clothes on first!"

"Children and Grandchildren"


A continuation of Expectant Parents

Victoria regarded her youngest son with an indulgent, mother's smile. He was sprawled on her best sofa, his blue shirt hanging unceremoniously out of his pants and revealing a slim midriff bronzed by the sun and toned by hard work. His arms were wrapped around a cushion which he had pillowed beneath his head, his sandy blond hair stood to attention having been tousled so many times in congratulations by his brother Nick, and a twenty-four hour stubble brought shadows to his normally clean-shaven face. Completing the picture, Heath's large-sized feet hung in mid-air over the sofa arm with one boot off and one boot on, and a happy smile graced his handsome face; a smile that hadn't left him since the twins had been born some six hours before. Sleep had finally claimed the young father and there was no way, best sofa or not, Victoria was going to wake him now.

"Mista Heath been asleep an hour, Mz. Barkley." Silas said, entering the room and carrying a blanket with which to cover the young man.

Victoria nodded approvingly. She took the blanket from Silas and placed it gently over her youngest son, careful not to disturb him.

"Sure is nice to see the house fillin' with children," Silas sang.

"Isn't it?" Victoria beamed back with a grandmother's pride. She had just left Meg upstairs, nursing the newborns with her mother (Victoria's sister) in attendance to help if needed, mindful to allow mother and daughter some time on their own.

Now she wanted to attend to her youngest son, the proud father, who had spent private time with Meg before being ushered out of the room by his mother and mother-in-law, and directed to celebrate with his brothers, who in traditional style had plied him with whisky and cigars.

It had been a long night and day and Meg though now very tired had done wonderfully well. Victoria was proud of her niece.

A son and daughter delivered in that order and marveled over by their besotted parents, who stared wondrously at the babies perfect features fingers and toes, and who both breathed a silent prayer of thanks that the twins had been born healthy and sound.

Contemplating Heath, Victoria thought how young he looked, especially as he slept. Too young to be a father of five, she thought and yet here he was, the first of her children to get married and the first to give her grandchildren.

It was a special relationship that she had with Heath and one that was different to the one she had with her own sons. Heath had a vulnerability about him that Jarrod and Nick did not have, having been brought up together. More than any of them, Heath needed a family.

A family centered him, gave him purpose and established badly needed roots for a boy who had drifted for far too long, the loss of his mother and the absence of a father affecting him deep. Gentle, reserved and shy, he could be slow to let people in, but once he did, you were never disappointed in the love that you got back.

Victoria loved to see the closeness her sons had formed with their youngest brother. They joked and teased, each trying to get a rise out of the other and succeeding in making Heath truly relax.

Jarrod and Heath shared a dry humor and often conspired to direct it at Nick, but Nick usually helped by leaving the barn door open too many times.

As brothers they complimented each other nicely, all physically different, and yet immediately recognizable as brothers and as Tom's sons. And pleasing to Victoria was that as befit older brothers, Jarrod and Nick were protective of Heath; Jarrod's way subtle and hidden, Nick's bull-headed and undisguised.

She knew that Heath appreciated he could go to either brother any time; something that meant a great deal to a boy brought up without male influence and missing a father he never knew and never would. To Heath, Jarrod and Nick now fulfilled that role.

And what of herself? Against all expectations she had gifted Heath with her mother's love and been gifted with a son's love in return. Yes, it was a special relationship, made stronger with every year. She was inordinately proud of Heath and the way he was bringing up his family. She had loved Cate, his first wife and grieved with him when she had died. She had been his staunchest supporter when at the tender age of twenty he had announced that he and Cate wanted to get married. He had been with the family but two years and like indignant fathers both Jarrod and Nick had declared him far too young.

Victoria had just sat back, observing the young man, sitting there listening to his brothers tell him he was too young and that they knew better. Heath had said nothing. He had simply looked to his mother and she had given him her blessing, seeing that he knew his own heart. She had not regretted her decision, nor her support of his second marriage to Meg.

Unable to stop herself, she placed a concerned hand to his forehead. Feeling him cool to the touch, she smiled. "We'll let him sleep another hour, Silas," she announced, knowing that Heath would be wanting to get back to Meg.

"Yes'm Mz. Barkley. I'll be sure to keep a check on him and wake him up at the required time."

"Thank you Silas," Victoria said gratefully.

"Youz want me to do the same with Mista Jarrod and Mista Nick?"

Victoria looked surprised. "Why where are they?" she asked.

Silas led her out onto the verandah where she discovered Jarrod curled up on the wooden seat, his hands protecting a whisky glass only inches away from his mouth and Nick, suspended precariously on a hammock, the position of his half-turned body threatening to send him immediately to the floor.

Victoria crossed her arms and gave a despairing look. "We better wake them up, Silas. They've got a double shift of "Uncle duty" tonight!"

"Not Best Friends"

A leap forward to 1899 and the reappearance of Little Nicholas and Little Heath

Heath looked up from his paperwork and regarded his son for the fourth time since he had picked up his pen to start doing the ranch accounts. Something was bothering his normally happy son whose heart simply wasn't in the painting he was trying to do on his father's study floor, all the time trying to be quiet whilst his father did his important work. Heath watched Nicholas shuffle around, sink his chin in his hand, stare out of the window, bite his bottom lip and scratch his head, sending his mother's brushing of his hair that morning into shots of blond disarray. There was no way Heath could let this go on and so he quietly put his pen down and got up from his chair, then walked over to join his son on the floor.

Unless discussing or conducting business Heath never stopped his children from coming into his study as Nicholas had done some fifteen minutes before. A balanced parent, Heath was somewhat different from the typical Victoria parent who preferred a more formal and disciplined approach. But then Heath had never been a typical Victorian parent. His human condition alone was such that he could only find pleasure in having his children nearby. Teamed with his own solitary upbringing, there was never any doubt that Heath was going to be an involved parent from the moment the children started coming along. Oh, he wasn't perfect. Not by any means. He could lose his patience, get angry and express the wrong word, but he tried and was sincere in wanting to be a good father to his children.

"Son, you look like you've lost a dollar and found a dime. How about telling your Pa what's troublin' you and letting me see if I can help?" Heath asked Nicholas, making sure to give him a reassuring smile.

Nicholas lifted his head and Heath could see for the first time finger marks of paint pressed against his son's left cheek. "Looks like you've made yourself part of the painting," Heath joked, reaching into his pocket for a freshly laundered handkerchief with which to best clean up his son.

Nicholas remained silent as his father cleaned his hands and face.

"Don't walk to talk about it, huh?" Heath queried as he finished.

Nicholas shook his head but stood up and came and stood by his father. Heath placed a comforting arm around his son's waist, pulled him close and in return Nicholas dropped his cheek next to that of his father's in a gesture which brought them both comfort.

"C'mon," Heath encouraged as he brought Nicholas round to sit on his lap and face him.

Nicholas let out a big sigh the warm air of which rippled across his father's face. Little tears threatened to spill from blue eyes on to waiting, paint mottled cheeks. Heath rubbed the small of his son's back in a final gesture of encouragement and it did the trick.

"Papa! Little Heath doesn't want me as his best friend any more." Nicholas sniffed, his little body trembling in his father's arms as he let his pent up hurt flow.

Heath took in a deep breath and sighed, "So that's it." He felt Nicholas nod his head into his chest and the little boy's tears trickle on to his skin through the open neck of his shirt.

"Since Charlie, I mean Charlotte came to live with Uncle Nick and Aunt Jenny, Little Heath spends more time with her than with me. He doesn't want to play with me any more," Nicholas moaned.

The sniffles continued, tears and nose all getting wet and smearing Heath's blue shirt.

Heath was oblivious, only concerned about how he could help his son see that he hadn't lost Little Heath as a friend. He thought back to how Nicholas' relationship with Little Heath had begun.

Little Heath had been born on Nicholas' birthday and from that moment Nicholas thought that Little Heath was meant for him and promptly adopted him as his best friend. Little Heath had no say in the matter, nor did the proud father, his Uncle Nick. It was a done deal.

The family had smiled, none of them articulating the thoughts that they each held about the situation, but thinking them all the same; that this friendship mirrored the one between Big Nick and Big Heath who unlike the boys did not have the chance to grow up together as these two little tykes would. It secretly pleased them all that over the years Little Nick and Little Heath gravitated towards each other as friends.

But part of the nature of children is to be jealous without fully understanding the reasons why and it was jealously that Nicholas was now feeling towards the little orphan Nick and Jenny Barkley had adopted. The little girl had only been with them a few weeks and was still finding things strange. Unused to having brothers and sisters and somewhat overwhelmed by all that had happened to her, she had latched on to Little Heath and the two often played together, leaving Nicholas out in the cold.

Of course, they hadn't really left Nicholas out deliberately and it was only natural that Little Heath would like playing with Charlotte who was willing to spend time with him, unlike his older sisters who felt they were too old to play with a three year old child. For all their closeness, there were times when Nicholas could not be around Little Heath. During the day for instance when he went to school, or at home when he had chores to do or liked spending time with his brothers to whom he was also close. But much as he loved his brothers and liked playing with them, Little Heath was Nicholas' best friend and that was a status Little Nicholas fiercely protected. He'd sworn their friendship on the verandah steps, even though Little Heath was too little to understand. 'Boy Howdy' Heath thought. 'How to explain?'

'Nicholas. What makes you think you and Little Heath are no longer best friends?" he began. "Do you no longer want to be friends with him?"

The question surprised Nicholas who lifted his head from his father's chest and unceremoniously wiped his nose on the back of his hand before answering. "I still like him," Nicholas sniffed and protested at the same time. "I've not fallen out of friends with him. I ask him to come play but he just plays with Charlotte all the time. It's not fair. After all, it's me who is his best friend!"

"Well that doesn't have to change," Heath tried to explain. "You see Charlotte is his sister now, just like Mary and Laura and Helen. Now you don't mind Little Heath playing with them, do you?"

"But they don't! They're much older. They don't play with us. All they do is tell us to run away!"

"They do, huh?" Heath sighed, momentarily defeated before attempting a different tack. "You know Nicholas, Charlotte's had a hard life. It's my bet she's feeling mighty strange being in a new family now with a brother and sisters she never had before. It's my bet that she's just learning how to be friends, not having had them before. Now, you remember that awkward feeling you had when you started your first day of school and you didn't know anybody. Do you remember how you felt?"

Nicholas nodded. "I didn't like it, until recess and I could play with my brothers."

Heath pressed on. "And then what happened?"

"I met Davey and Jethro and we became friends."

"And did becoming friends with Davey and Jethro spoil the friendship you had with Little Heath?"

Nicholas shook his head vigorously. "No, he's my best friend!"

"So you found you could be friends with others and yet still be best friends with Little Heath, is that right?"

"I guess so," answered Nicholas, squirming on his father's lap, "But..Charlotte..well she doesn't like me," he continued, still not convinced. "I can tell."

"Are you sure about that? Have you given her a proper chance to get to know you?"

"But Papa!" Nicholas protested, immediately silencing on seeing his father's face. His father was using that face that he used when he wanted to know the truth. Nicholas thought long and hard, biting his lip with his two front teeth several times in his earnestness. "I guess not," he finally admitted.

"I see," his father said, "And do you think that's fair?"

Nicholas stared into his father's eyes, as blue as his own, and couldn't tell a lie. "No," he said shaking his head sadly. "I guess not."

Heath ruffled his son's hair, trying to ease his son's pain, for there was no doubt his son was hurting and feeling left out despite his admission of not offering friendship to his new young cousin.

"Nicholas, you know your Uncle Nick and I are best friends?"

Nicholas nodded.

"Well, the fact that we are such close friends doesn't stop us letting other people in. Ya see, a heart's big enough and generous enough to allow us to share and still have that special friendship which is important to us. Hold a thing too close, son and it can't breathe. But give it some freedom and it will come back again of its own accord."

"It will?" Nicholas said incredulously.

"You bet!" Heath smiled back. "Next time you see Little Heath and Charlotte is with him, make a special effort to be friends with her too. She's your cousin now as much as Little Heath and it could be that you and she could become good friends."

"Not my best friend though, Papa" Nicholas piped up defensively, still showing his childish possessiveness of Little Heath.

"Well no," Heath stood corrected. "Maybe not your best friend," he continued, realizing this lesson in life wasn't going to be learned in one day. "But it's a start."

Neither father and son could imagine on that warm summer's day in 1899 that on an equally warm summer's day in August of 1920, Little Nicholas and the girl he thought was stealing his best friend would eventually become man and wife. But then that's another story and yet to be told. Maybe you'd like to hear it one day.


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