Disclaimer: The characters and situations of the TV program "Big Valley" are the creations of Four Star/Republic Pictures and have been used without permission. No copyright infringement is intended by the author. The ideas expressed in this story are copyrighted to the author.
I thought, after hearing what a fine and compassionate women Victoria Barkley is, that she would be the least of my worries. I had hoped that she would be the first to believe me when I made my announcement.
Boy howdy was I wrong.
The one I least expected, Nick, was the first to consider the facts and give me the benefit of the doubt. Jarrod and Audra were joining him shortly there after.
We had, what they all call a 'family meeting' and discussed the meaning of what I had told them. In short, that I was Tom Barkley's bastard son.
Oh, I won't lie to ya and tell ya that Nick received me with open arms. He didn't, more like a closed fist. We fought, Nick yelled, I yelled, we fought some more and in the end, we both ended up bruised and battered and laughing our backsides off. He said one sentence to me that made me realize he had made his decision. He said, 'Boy, you fight just like our Father."
I'm sure Nick never actually fought Tom Barkley, but he had been witness to a few brawls.
I grinned and nodded my head. That's all he needed, Nick slung his arm around my neck, walked me into the house and pushed me into the bathroom to get cleaned up.
Once I had washed the dirt and blood off, Nick meet me in the hall to announce that we would have a family meeting to decide if I would be allowed to stay. I figured that this was just a formality. I knew that Mrs. Barkley had said very little to me, and was slow in giving me the small smile of reassurance that she bestowed on her 'real' children, but I also knew that I was a stranger to her and a terrible reminder of a time she would most likely like to forget.
So, back to the meeting. It started off as a polite talk with everyone explaining why I should be allowed to stay or be asked to go. Nick, Jarrod and Audra all were very positive and 'gave a good argument' as to why I should stay.
I tell ya, I think I've been around Jarrod to long, I'm beginning to sound like him.
The only real problem was Mrs. Barkley. She was visibly shaken that her children had taken a stand against her wishes and had voted to have me stay. It was three to one.
She was not pleased.
"You've all gone mad!" Victoria Barkley fumed at the decision of her children. I can't believe that you honestly think this young man is your father's son." Victoria looked at the faces of her children as saw, quit clearly, that they did in fact believe him.
"Mother, don't you think it's only fair to give him the benefit of the doubt. He has the same coloring as Audra, blond hair and blue eyes, he's the right age, Father did stay in Strawberry for quit a while, and I'm sure, even though neither you or he spoke of it, something happened that caused a rift between you two. You knew of the affair, and, I think, forgave Father. Would it not be possible that a child would have come from such an affair?" Jarrod spoke softly, not wanting to anger his Mother further.
"Jarrod, yes I did know of the affair and yes I did forgive Tom, but I cannot believe that, after twenty-four years, this is the first we have heard that a child was born from that union. Surely a women baring a child out of wedlock would have contacted the father of that child. She did not."
"So Mother, are you overturning our vote?" Jarrod asked with a hint of anger.
Victoria thought a moment, she had never over ruled a decision made as a family. Even if it wasn't unanimous. "I suppose not. I'll just have to except that I have been out voted, but I am not happy with the decision. I'm sorry Mr. Thomson, I just can't soil my husbands good name by accepting you as a member of this family. You may stay, but you will not take the Barkley name, you will not be allowed to do business as a Barkley, and you may not call me Mother. Is that understood?"
Heath was heart broken, he so wanted her approval. He respected her and what she stood for, if that's what she wanted, then he would give it to her. He wanted this chance to have a family, to have brothers and a sister to call his own. He'd been alone to long.
Holding back the tears of disappointment, he stood up and answered with a quiet, "Yes Ma'am."
"Mother, don't you think you're being to hard on the boy?" Nick spoke up, afraid to speak earlier because he didn't wanted to jeopardize Heath's position.
"No Nick, I think I'm being quit reasonable. I am letting him stay in the house."
"Mother, how can you be so cold?" Audra said between sobs.
"Audra, darling, I know you're kind heart and gentle soul, I know you believe he is your brother, but please see it from my point of view. I just can't accept it. Maybe in time, but not now."
"Ma'am?" Heath started
"If we're done here, I'd like to go to my room." Heath said not hiding the disappointment from his voice. He needed time to think.
"Heath, Silas will be bringing supper in soon." Nick spoke up before his mother could dismiss him.
"Yes, Mr. Thomson, it would do you no good to go to bed hungry. You should eat." Victoria was angry, but she wasn't a monster.
"I'm not hungry Ma'am." Heath answered.
"Very well then. Audra have Silas save Mr. Thomson a plate in case he's hungry later." Victoria spoke then watched as Audra left the room to find Silas. "Mr. Thomson, you may go if you wish."
"Thank you Ma'am." Heath said then left to confines of his small room.
Heath sat dejectedly in his room. He wanted to stay. For his mother he had to stay. He had promised her on her death bed that he would find his father's family and would not be alone. She died with a smile knowing that her precious little boy would not be alone.
"Mama, what do I do? I know you wanted me to find a family, someone to be there for me when I needed them. Rachel and Hannah were great, but I know they needed to go on with their own lives. I just don't know if I can do this knowing Mrs. Barkley hates the very thought of me. Please Mama, help me." Heath ran a loving finger down the old photo, though crinkled and worn, it still captured the beauty that was Leah Thomson. A strong determined women. The women that did her best to raise him. The Women he loved with all of his heart and soul. Her loss still aches in his chest.
Looking out the window, Heath decided to make the best of a bad situation. Even though he had no Mother, he did have a beautiful little sister, and two supportive big brothers. "Something I've never had before." He mused "I'll just have to make it a point to prove myself to Mrs. Barkley, she may never accept me as a Barkley, but I would like to be her friend."
A knock on his door brought him out of his thoughts, "Yes?"
"Heath, may I come in?" Nick's muffled voice sounded through the closed door.
The door opened and Nick strode in. Taking a set on the bed, he began, "Heath, I know Mother seems cold and unfeeling, she's just in shock. Once she thinks about it, I'm sure she'll see what we see and accept you. Just give her time. She really is a kind and forgiving person, this has just.....brought up some bad memories."
"I know, I guess I was a slap in the face. She doesn't deserve that. She's a very strong willed woman, her thoughts are her own. I wouldn't want to make her uncomfortable having me around." Heath answered looking to Nick for answers.
"If you're saying you want to leave then I'd say over my dead body. I've spent my whole life wishing for a little brother and I'll be damned if I let you take him away from me. Mother isn't the only strong willed person here." Seeing his younger brother smile, he continued, "I reckon that you hold that trait as much as the rest of us. That was Father's strong point too."
"If you say so." Heath grinned. "I wasn't planning on leaving anyway."
"Boy, one thing you're gonna have to learn around here is what I say, goes. No arguments. You are Tom Barkley's son, Mother will see it given time and you will be sportin' the Barkley name before you know it. In Jarrod, Audra and my hearts, you're Heath Barkley. All others be damned." Nick looked around and leaned over, "Just don't tell Mother I said that, okay?"
Heath laughed at that, the first real laugh in days, "Sure Nick, no problem."
Morning broke with a beauty that was, in Victoria's eyes, exclusive to the valley. The dawn light shining over dew kissed grass and trees. There was nothing more serene, more...inspiring.
Dressing, Victoria thought back to the night before, she knew she had been hard on the young man. Her emotions were a train wreck, so she took them out on Heath. In her mind she knew he didn't deserve the treatment she gave him, her heart, though was another matter. "Oh Tom, how I wish you were here." She felt a small tear snake its way down her cheek, "Am I wrong? Is he your son? I just don't know what to do."
Victoria finished dressing and swiped at her eyes. "With the sun comes a new day." One of Tom's favorite sayings. She would continue that attitude.
"Mother?" Audra said through the closed door, "Are you dressed, breakfast will be ready soon."
"Yes dear, come in." Victoria gave her only daughter a loving smile. "Don't you look lovely this morning."
"Thank you Mother," Audra paused then continued, "Mother, I'm sorry for what I said last night. I understand why you feel the way you feel, I just wish you'd give Heath a chance, he really is a nice, gentle man."
"Audra, please don't feel sorry for what you said, emotions got a little high last night. I can't fault you for how you feel. I'm sorry I reacted the way I did." Victoria hugged Audra, "I do love all my children and I respect your feelings, It's just......I need some time. I can see that Mr. Thomson....Heath is a kind man, I can also see that he wants to be a part of this family....not for the money but for other reasons only he knows. I can't promise you that I'll change the way I feel, but I will promise to try. I'll keep an open mind and heart. I know Tom would want that."
"Oh Mother, thank you.....I love you."
"I love you too, now, I do believe Silas will have breakfast just about on the table by the time we get down stairs."
Audra and Victoria meet Jarrod in the hall as they exited the room, "Well, good morning."
Jarrod received two kisses on the cheek and two hugs. "Good morning big brother."
"Good morning Jarrod, sleep well?"
"Just find Mother. You?"
"Quit well, thank you. Are the others down stairs already?"
"I believe I heard Heath leave at first light and Nick wasn't far behind him. They'd mentioned something about a fence in the south pasture needing a couple of minor repairs. They should be in for breakfast."
"Good. Shall we go."
With a bow, Jarrod presented his arms and escorted the ladies of the house to breakfast.
Walking through the doors to the dinning room, Jarrod saw that Nick was standing by his seat. "Well it's about time you three got here. I was beginning to wonder if I was gonna have to eat all this food by myself."
"Oh Nick." Audra giggled as she was seated.
"Where's Heath?" Jarrod asked.
"Nick just tell us." Jarrod pushed.
"He said he wasn't hungry, grabbed a slab of cake on his way out the door this morning. He told us to go ahead without him." Nick answered with a frown and a quick glance at his mother.
"Were is he?" Victoria asked, trying to keep her emotions under control.
"Checking out the stallion we brought in the other day."
Victoria put her napkin down and got up, "Please eat, I'll be right back."
"Mother...." Jarrod started.
"Don't worry Jarrod."
Victoria stopped on the porch and watched. Heath was in the coral doing what looked like talking to the powerful stallion. Shaking her head, she headed for the fence.
Heath didn't turn around, he knew someone was behind him, but he was trying to gentle the wonderful beast before him. Any distractions could mean certain doom. Giving the big black a carrot as a treat, he patted the mane and turned and slowly made his way to the fence.
"Mrs. Barkley." Heath said a little surprised.
"Mr. Thomson." She greeted. "Might I ask what you are doing out here?"
"Well Ma'am, I was gettin' to know that fine stallion Nick bought."
"I see that, but in the future, please remember that breakfast is served promptly at 7:00 a.m., lunch is served at noon and supper is served at 7:00 p.m. This is the second meal that you have missed in two days. I will not have anyone living under my roof skipping meals. Understood?"
"Yes Ma'am." Heath broke eye contact and looked at a rock at his feet. It wasn't particularly interesting, but it was handy.
Victoria saw the signs and knew the young man was uncomfortable. "Mr. Thomson, I'm sorry if I come across as unfeeling, but as I said last night, it will do you no good missing meals. I know that working on a ranch is hard work, and you have to eat to keep up your strength."
Heath looked up a little confused, that almost sounded like she was concerned about his welfare. "Yes Ma'am."
They stood in awkward silence for a moment. "Ma'am?"
"Can I ask you a question?"
"Well I was wondering, is it me you don't like, or is it who I say I am?"
This took Victoria by surprise. "I don't dislike you. You're a hard working young man, and you seem to have a way with animals." She said pointing toward the stallion in the coral, "I do dislike the fact that you have taken this family and have turned it upside down. We were very happy before you came. Now we are divided and for that reason, I am finding it hard to forgive you. I have many unanswered questions that I fear will remain unanswered. I fear for my children's safety and well being. I will fight to the death anyone who may cause them harm. Not that you would do that knowingly, but emotional harm is just as effective as physical harm, and sometimes harder to heal. Please think about what you're doing, think about what this is doing to this family. If you truly believe that you are Tom Barkley's son, then I can't change that, but if this is some kind of revenge against a man whom you think is your father, then I would advise you to think long and hard what you're getting into. I will find out the truth, and will accept it no matter what it is. If it turns out that you are in fact my husband's son, then so be it. You will be a member of this family and all it's bounty, but if you are not, then you will suffer the consequences of your actions."
Heath was a little angry at her words, but fought hard to keep them in check, "Mrs. Barkley, I promise you, I had no intention to cause a problem with your family. I would rather die than cause them harm. In the short time I've been here, they have shown me what a real family is suppose to be like. I've never had a little sister to protect, or big brothers to lean on. I've never had a nice home, or servants. I did have a loving mother, and I........." Heath couldn't continue, at the mention of his mother, the familiar hurt and emptiness took over.
"I'm sorry Ma'am. I mean no disrespect. If you really want me to leave, I'll go. I won't cause anymore problems with this family. Just answer me one more question."
"Deep down in your heart, can you honestly say, without a doubt, that I'm not who I say I am?" Heath waited a moment and watched Victoria closely. She wasn't expecting that, he could tell by the shock and quick look of sadness that flinted across her face.
Victoria stood, unable to answer. She had told Audra that she would keep an opened mind and heart, but to search her own raw feeling and dig deep into herself to find the answers she didn't want to find was more than she could do. She knew what she would find. She would see the spitting image of a young Tom Barkley standing before her, she would hear her husband's laugh. It was to much, not enough. She couldn't do that, she couldn't let that part of her out. That would be admitting.......what exactly? That she was wrong, that her husband had a son he didn't know he had? That there was a small fatherless child out there in desperate need of a man's guidance and love. No, anger was much easier to handle, but could she continue it? Could she let go of the anger and gain another son? A handsome, hardworking son? A son that any mother would be proud to have.
"Mrs. Barkley, do what you must. Investigate me, ask me questions, anything you think you need to do to ease your conscience. In the end, you know what you'll find and I think that scares you."
"You have no idea." Victoria answered with a shaky voice.
"I think I do." Heath quietly said. He waited a moment longer then turned and walked back to the stallion.
Victoria was deep in thought, breakfast forgotten, she walked slowly toward her prize rose garden and sat. This was one of the few places she felt she could be alone with her thoughts. She'd spent many a day and night here among her beautiful roses when Tom was killed.
Now, it held another purpose, to help her troubled heart deal with the bright young man in the coral.
"Mother, I know you came out here to be alone, but, if you don't mind a little company, I would be happy to lend you a shoulder." Jarrod said walking up quietly behind her.
Not at all, I need to speak to you. I'm glad you came.....were are Nick and Audra?"
"Audra's helping Silas, she said something about wanting to bake a apple pie for dessert this evening and Nick will be joining us in just a moment." Jarrod looked up and had noticed Nick making his way toward them.
"Mother, are you alright?" Nick asked worriedly.
"I'm fine dear, just a little.....shaken." She took a deep breathe and continued. "He's very strong willed, isn't he?"
"Yes, a fine trait if you ask me." Jarrod smiled, "He seems to know what he wants and is quit determined to get it. He's very passionate about his feelings and.....if you don't mind me saying so, really thinks a lot of his new family, including you."
Victoria looked up sharply at the last statement, "Yes, and all I've done is push him away." She finally answered with a tired smile.
"What would you like us to do, Mother. If having him in the house bothers you, maybe we can....." Nick couldn't finish. He was stuck between the mother he had known his whole life and the brother he's just meet. Having Heath move out was the last thing he wanted, but his mother was.....well....his mother. End of story.
"No Nick, I know what you're going to say and I can't do that. Not after I conceded to his staying in the house. I will not go against a family vote. Also, I trust your judgment. I'll admit that I was overly emotional last night and wasn't thinking clearly. I've had time to think about it and I feel it would be in everyone's best interest that he remains were he is." She paused to collect her thoughts, "I had a conversation with Heath and he's given me something to think about. He told me that we can ask question about his past, maybe to get to know him better, and I'd like to do just that. I would like to hold another family meeting this evening, between now and then, I'd like both of you to be thinking of questions you'd like to ask."
"Audra too?" Jarrod asked.
"Of course she'll be at the meeting, but as attached as she already is, I'm afraid she would feel this would be an invasion of his privacy. I don't think she would be willing to ask any questions that would pertain to the type of information we three know we want to hear."
"I'm not sure I can do it either."
"I know, Nick. If you don't want to participate, I'll understand, but please don't get upset if some of the questions I ask are a little.....personal. Please understand, I have to know the truth."
"I know, Mother, but please, just remember it's not Heath's fault. He's as much a victim as we are. More so really, he had no control over who his parents were. This is tearing him up inside." Nick said sounding so much like Jarrod.
Victoria grinned at her own comparison, "Yes dear, I'll try my best to remember that."
"Mother," Audra said walking toward the garden, "Could I join Heath in the coral, I've brought a nice apple to give to the stallion."
"Honey, that stallion isn't tamed yet, I'd rather you didn't get to close." Victoria answered gently.
"Yeah Audra, it may seem gentle, but it still has a wild streak, Heath seems to be the only one that can get close to it." Nick added.
"I'll be careful, I just want to give it an apple. Please?"
"Okay dear, but we'll come with you. If something should happen......" Victoria looked to Jarrod and Nick for support.
"You'll have three big strong brothers there to protect you." Jarrod finished for her smiling as his mother nodded her head in agreement.
"Oh thank you, Mother." Audra giggled and made her way to the coral.
Jarrod felt a sense of accomplishment, his mother didn't correct him, she just agreed. The wall around her heart was showing signs of weakness and with a little more effort, would crumble and fall to allow his new brother entrance.
"It's just a matter of time." He whispered to himself.
"You say something?" Nick asked.
"Nope, just thinking out loud."
"Well stop it, people's gonna think you're crazy or something."
"Noted." Jarrod laughed and continued on toward the coral.
"Heath." Audra spoke softly.
Heath turned around and smiled at his little sister, "Just a moment." He have the horse a final pat and walked to the fence.
"I brought the horse an apple, do you think I can feed him?"
"From the fence, I wouldn't want ya coming in here....it's just to dangerous."
"But he won't hurt me. I'll stay close to the gate."
"I'm sorry Audra, I just don't want ya getting hurt if something spooks him. It's safer here."
"Oh alright." She pouted "Can you get him to come over here?"
"Yeah, wait a minute."
Audra climbed to the top rung of the fence and sat waiting.
"Audra your dress!" Victoria scolded, "You should have at least changed before doing that."
"Oh Mother, it's an old dress anyways, and I'm not doing anything unlady like, I'm just setting on a fence."
Victoria heard Jarrod and Nick snicker, and, if she was correct, a faint laugh coming from the other side of the coral.
"You three boys shouldn't encourage her." She scolded gently.
Another chip, another crack........another feeling entering her heart.
"Here ya go Audra, now be careful, he spooks pretty easily." Heath walked the animal to were Audra was seated then moved back to the flank and patted it calmly.
"He's a beauty. What are you going to name him?" Audra asked holding the apple out and waiting for the animal to take it.
"I don't think it's my place to name him."
"Sure it is, you're the one taming him. You should be the one to name him."
"That's right little brother, you break him you name him." Nick added.
Heath looked to Victoria to see any objection. He saw none. "Well, I don't know, hadn't really thought of one."
"How about 'Beauty'?" Audra questioned.
"Beauty, don't that sound kinda sissified little sister." Heath grinned.
Audra grinned at the endearment and at the blush once Heath realized what he had said. "Yes, I think you're right, he's much to strong and sleek for such a girlie name." She teased.
Audra was stroking the soft mane when the horse took a step back, causing her to loose her balance and fall into the coral.
The sudden movement spooked the powerful animal, and in a heartbeat, he was rearing up. "Audra!" The three Barkley onlookers gasped. Nick and Jarrod were at the fence and climbing in record time.
Acting fast, Heath stepped between the frightened stallion and Audra in hopes that he could divert the powerful beast's attention long enough for Audra to get to safety.
He heard Audra scamper back in fear, Heath wanted to turn and make sure she was out of harms way, but didn't want to turn his back on the beast. "Audra, make your way to the fence slowly, Nick and Jarrod will help you out."
Heath tried to calm the animal, talking gently to it as he, himself back away. "We have her." Nick said from somewhere behind him.
Heath heard Audra's soft sobs and Victoria's gentle comfort and knew his sister was safe. With a sigh of relief, Heath inched his way to the fence, dodging hooves. Mere inches from safety, he was struck with a glancing blow. Heath felt the darkness encase him as he struggled to stay on his feet. It was no use.
Nick was by his side quickly and was able to catch him before he fell, with Jarrod's help, they were able to get him over the fence to safety followed closely by Nick.
"Let's get him inside." Nick yelled as he picked up Heath's legs.
Jarrod pick Heath up under his arms and they made there way as quickly as possible to the house. Two very distraught women following behind.
Jarrod and Nick placed there injured brother gently on his bed.
"Jarrod, please ask Silas to bring some towels and warm water, Nick go in town and get the doctor."
"Yes Mother." They said in unison and left to do their separate tasks.
Victoria sat on the edge of the bed and spoke gently the injured young man, "Heath, you saved my daughters life. For that I am truly grateful." She felt Audra's hand on her shoulder, "I'm......I'm so very sorry for the way I've acted toward you. So very sorry." A small sob caught in her throat and prevented her from continuing.
"Mother, will he be okay?" Audra asked with a shaky voice.
"I don't know, dear, he's strong......let's just wait for the doctor, shall we." Victoria took Audra's hand and squeezed gently. "I would like the doctor to check you out to, dear."
"I'm okay, Mother. Really I am."
"Still, I would like for him to confirm that." Silas brought the bowl of warm water and towels to the bedside table, "Thank you Silas."
"Your welcome, Ma'am."
Victoria grabbed and towel and dipped it into the water. Ringing it out, she began to gently clean the area just above his right eye.
"Mama?" Heath mumbled as he fought to wake up.
"Hold still, dear. I'm sorry if I'm hurting you."
"No, never again." Victoria whispered.
Jarrod silently came into the room and watched. His mother was treating Heath as her own. She may not realize it, but he thought, due to this unfortunate accident, she has come full circle and has unconsciously accepted Heath.
"Audra......she okay?" Heath asked.
"I'm fine big brother, thanks to you." Tears fell down Audra's cheeks as she grabbed his left hand in hers. "I'm so sorry Heath, this is all my fault."
"No.....accident. Don't...." Heath squeezed her hand to convey what he couldn't say.
"I'm gonna cook you a big supper when you get better." Audra said wiping her eyes.
"Feel...better...all....ready." Heath said trying to grin.
"Okay you two, no more talking. Heath, Dr. Merrer will be here soon. You need to try and stay awake. Can you do that for me?" Victoria asked remembering the doctor's instructions when Nick had a head injury last summer.
"Jarrod, help me turn the covers down and get Heath more comfortable. I'm sure there's a nightshirt in the dresser."
"No....just fine...where I....am."
"Nonsense, do as your told young man."
Jarrod coughed to hide a snicker and Audra grinned. Victoria looked up and realized what she'd done. "Oh dear." She looked back to Heath, who in return, was staring wide eyed at her.
Jarrod found the nightshirt and handed it to his mother. "Would you like me to do that, Mother, while you and Audra wait outside?
"Yes, just be careful. Don't move him around to much and DO NOT let him get up on his own." Victoria scolded.
Once the ladies left, Jarrod began to help Heath out of his clothes. "Let me get your boots." That done, he helped with the rest, and gently slipped the nightshirt over Heath's head. "Better?"
"I guess, I...don't usually....wear....these things."
"Good, let's get you under the covers and I'll get mother."
"Are you alright? I didn't hurt you did I?"
"No......Is your mother always so.......forceful?" Heath asked not wanting to anger his big brother.
Jarrod just laughed, "She is when one of her children is hurt."
"But....." Heath stopped as a small wave of nausea moved over him, "Jarrod, I think........oh"
Jarrod read the signs and grabbed the half empty bowl of water on the table getting it to Heath in the nick of time.
Victoria ran back into the room at the sound of wrenching. When Heath finished, she gently laid him back down and wiped his face with a dry towel.
"I'll get rid of this and get another bowl of water and a empty bowl.....just in case."
"I'm sorry you had to see that." Heath said embarrassed.
"You're not the first child I've had throw up in this house, and I'm sure you're not the last."
Finally, Nick and Dr. Merrer came through the door, "Mother, how is he." Nick asked noticing the pale complexion.
"Sick." She answered turning to the doctor. "Thank you for coming Dr. Merrer."
"You're welcome Victoria. So young man, Nick tells me you had a run in with a stallion." Dr. Merrer said as he opened his bag.
"Well, let me have a look. Hmmm, looks like he got you pretty good, how long was he unconscious?"
"About twenty minutes." Victoria answered.
"Did he seem coherent when he came to. Did he know were he was?"
"No, I don't think so."
"Son, can you tell me your name?"
Heath hesitated for a few seconds then answered, "Thomson."
"Good, good. Now, can you tell me where you are?"
"The Barkley ranch."
"Very good." The doctor checked his eyes and the area of the wound. "Although I'm sure Victoria did a fine job, I'm going to disinfect the wound and bandage it. Then I'm going to leave you some laudanum for pain. You're going to have a whopper of a headache, try not to take right now though, you really need to try and stay awake for a little while." Turning to Victoria he added, "Someone probably needs to stay with him to make sure there are no complications."
"Someone will be here, don't worry Doctor." Victoria answered matter of factly.
Dr. Merrer nodded then turned back to Heath, "You'll need to stay in bed a day or two. You'll probably have some bouts of nausea and dizziness so, if you need to move, do it slowly. Be sure you ask for help if you need to use the facilities." Seeing Heath agree, he went about disinfecting and bandaging the wound.
"All done, keep it clean and change that dressing when needed. Two or three times a day should do. Once you're up, you still need to take it easy. No roping or wrangling, no riding unless accompanied by another, and no long trips. I'll be out to check on you in a couple of days."
"When can I get back to work?" Heath asked not liking the no working or riding rules.
"I'd say, if all goes well, you can do light work in a week. That is, if you follow orders." The doctor said shaking his finger.
"Oh he'll follow orders, don't you worry." Nick said with a smirk.
"Bully." Heath said under his breath.
"Brat." Nick shot back.
"Boys, I swear, you act like brothers or something." The doctor grinned.
"We are." Nick answered with a proud smile.
Dr. Merrer looked confused, he looked to Victoria and Jarrod, who had just returned with the bowls, and then to Audra, who was patiently waiting at the foot of the bed, all were sporting huge smiles. "Brothers?"
"Dr. Merrer, it's a long story, but if you would like to stay for a cup of coffee, I would be more than happy to explain it to you." Victoria said feeling the weight of the last two days slowly ebb away.
"Coffee would be nice." Dr. Merrer answered.
"Oh, and before I forget, would you mind to look at Audra, she fell into the coral. She said she's fine, but I want to make sure, she was pretty shaken up." Victoria asked as they headed for the door.
"I don't mind a bit, I'll do it while we wait on the coffee. Audra, if you'll follow me."
"Yes Doctor." She answered frowning at her mother.
Laughing at the look Audra gave her mother, Dr. Merrer shook his head, "I'll tell ya, you four keep me busy enough, what am I gonna do with another Barkley."
"The same thing we're gonna do, take care of him." Victoria answered.
"You hear that little brother, Mother's coming around." Nick stated.
"Yes Heath, I do believe you have a place in that ladies heart." Jarrod added placing the bowls on the table.
"Boy howdy.....when she....changes her mind...."
"She's a force to be reckoned with." Nick laughed.
"You ain't lyin'."
Three days, that's how long it's been sense Heath's accident. Victoria went over the day in her mind. Heath was okay, a little shaky at times, but with the families help, he was definitely getting better. Audra was given a clean bill of health from Dr. Merrer, just a couple of small bruises that would fade. Dr. Merrer, on the other hand, was quit taken back by the information Victoria had given him. He gave her his support, told her that if she needed anything, to just let him know.
"It's gotten easier...." She thought, "In three days, I've grown to appreciate him for the special person he is." She looked toward the portrait hanging over the fireplace, "He really is a gift, isn't he? He's not a bitter reminder, he's a human being. One I should be thankful for. He saved our daughter, Tom. He risked his life to save Audra." Tonight, it was decided, would be the night of the family meeting. Heath was stronger, and was more than willing to clear the air. Although, in Victoria's eyes, he seemed a little uneasy at what that exactly entailed. "Let's meet after supper." She had told her children. All were in agreement.
The supper table was a somber setting to say the least. Audra played with her food, Nick tortured his and Jarrod just ate silently. Heath, feeling somewhat uncomfortable, ate very little, wanting to get the meeting over and done with.
Victoria felt that enough time had past, everyone seemed to be done with the meal, so she asked everyone to meet in the parlor. Once seated, she began, "I've asked for this meeting because I think that we need to discuss Heath." She started giving Heath a reassuring smile.
"Heath, the day of the accident, you told me that we could ask questions, well, that's what I would like to do."
"Yes Ma'm." Heath waited, his head had started to hurt again, but he was not going to deny them this.
"Heath, I would like to know about your childhood." Victoria stunned everyone with her first question.
"Well, there's not much to tell, I worked in the mines when I was 6, I was a fuse boy...." He heard Audra gasp and Nick mutter something under his breath, "I then worked in the livery stables when I was too big for the mines."
"How old where you?" Victoria asked trying but failing to hide her sadness.
"Eight, I think."
"I worked there off and on for a few years." Heath finished.
Audra spoke up, "Didn't you go to school?"
"No, Mama and Aunt Rachel thought it best if I didn't. I tried it once and.....well.....let's just say it was safer for me at home."
"Oh dear, you poor thing." Audra cried.
"I made it all right, I don't have a lot of book smarts, but I can read and write pretty well. My Aunt Rachel helped me best she could."
"What about later, when you were older. What did you do?" Jarrod asked.
"I joined the army."
"H-how old were you?"
"You joined the army at fifteen!" Nick yelled. "My God, you were just a boy. Who in there right mind would......."
"Nick! That is enough!" Victoria scolded.
Heath looked at his feet at the outburst.
"Heath, dear please continue." Victoria prodded.
"I was a sharpshooter, a few months after I joined......we...we were captured." This was the part he didn't want to explain. Especially with ladies present, but he knew they needed to know everything, including the bad parts.
"Captured, what happened." Nick was getting mad, even though the events he was about to hear had already taken place, he was fuming at the thought of his little brother in the hands of the enemy.
"They sent me to....Carterson."
The room fell silent. Audra was sobbing, Victoria silently crying for the torment he must of went through, Nick pacing and Jarrod staring in shock.
"Dear Lord, I didn't know." Victoria cried, "I didn't know."
"Ma'am, I'm fine, just a few scars and a nightmare here and there, but I walked out, with a little help, when it was liberated. One of the few who did."
"Heath, I was proud to call you brother before, but......" Jarrod stopped to gather his thoughts, "now I'm also honored to call you brother. You have been through some of the most unspeakable treatment one human being can enforce on another, I did read the reports on the liberation of Carterson, and came away from it a good and decent human being. You are one of the most noble of men and I commend you on it."
"Here, here." Nick agreed.
Heath blushed at that.
"Heath, I don't think we need to know anymore. I know this is hard on you." Victoria said wiping her eyes, "Jarrod's right, to come out of that place with your humanity in tacked...."
"Ma'am, I don't mind continuing, I'd rather skip questions on the injuries. I'd really don't want to think about that."
"Of course.......What did......what did you do after your recovery?" Victoria struggled to ask the right question.
"Well, I stayed in an army hospital for about a year, then I just kinda drifted here and there. When I was stronger, I worked a few ranches, worked Spanish camp, was a deputy. That's just about it. I got word my Mama was bad sick, so I made my way home. By the time I got there, she was in a bad way, she lived four more days. That's when I found out about who my father was. She told me his name on her death bed." Heath all but whispered the last part. "I promised her I would find you."
"I'm sorry son, I didn't mean to bring back bad memories. I just, I wanted to know what kind of childhood you had, how you grew up. I can see, now, that you are an honorable man. You would do nothing to harm this family." Victoria stood and walked to the still seated Heath. She knelt in front of him and spoke, "I know that I was upset when you told us who you were, it wasn't your fault, I'm also ashamed at the way I treated you. I would be proud to have you as a member of the Barkley family and as a son."
Jarrod, Nick and Audra all broke out in huge smiles.
Heath looked at Victoria, she was smiling. "I.....I don't know what to say."
Victoria took her thumbs and swiped the tears on her new sons cheeks. "Say 'thank you, Mother."
"Thank you........M-Mother." Heath was then enveloped in a motherly hug. "Thank you." He cried.
The family gathered around and hugged the two. There wasn't a dry eye in the house. Although, if you asked Nick, he'd tell you it was eye strain.
"Eye strain, Nick?" Jarrod teased once everyone's emotions were back in check. "Really, couldn't you think of something a little more believable.
"Okay, I got something in my eyes....better."
"Nope." Heath added.
"Nick, just admit it, you were as choked up as we were." Jarrod stated.
"Nope, big brothers don't cry."
"Jarrod did." Audra giggled.
"Ooookayy, little brothers don't cry." Nick said proudly thinking he'd out smarted them.
"I cried." Heath grinned.
"Well I.....Oh forget it. Okay, I may have cried.....a little."
"A lot." Victoria couldn't resist.
"Not you too. You can't win for loosing in this house." Nick stomped off mumbling.
"Heath my boy, you are gonna make a fine addition to this family." Jarrod said slinging his arm around his little brother.
"Thank you big brother."
"I second that." Audra said giving him a light kiss on the cheek.
"And I third it." Victoria said kissing his other cheek.
"Thank you......," Heath paused then smiled, "Mother."
"I fourth it." came the bellow from the stairway. "But I'm not kissin ya on the cheek Heath Barkley."
They all laughed. The family was complete, hearts were mended and walls torn down. From that point on, Victoria had four children, and loved everyone of them with all her HEART.