Author's Note: Sorry all for the impossibly slow update this time around. Work and school have been kicking my butt. That having been said, I'll be getting back on a more regular updating schedule again now.
Thanks to all who have read and all who have reviewed!
To my guest reviewer, to whom I cannot reply in PM: Yes, Cooter is fifteen/sixteen here. Thanks for your kind words!
When they were still kids, no more than knee-high to a grasshopper, him and J.D. used to walk past the Simon house with their mouths propped open. Building took up half a block by itself, sprawling and white, and they never made it more than two steps past it before they'd take to grinning at each other, dreaming of the days when they'd have enough to afford such a place for themselves. Just two dirt-poor little boys with wild dreams and big heads and mixed-up priorities.
Jesse, at least, is grown up now, knows there are more important things than how much money you got to line your pockets with. Can't, if he's being honest, rightly imagine ever wanting a house any bigger than the one that was handed down to him: even without the family history that's poured into every inch of the place, reminding him of them that's gone before, there is the upkeep to consider. What his mama and then his Lavinia had always kept running clean and smooth and perfect, it takes all him and all three of his kids to do now, and the job's only about half as good, too.
J.D., though - J.D. is a different story. Same little boy greed, not tempered at all by a grown man conscience, but then, he sure does know how to spin a good tale. Has about half the town believing he'd done old Widow Simon a favor by evicting her, like moving her in with her distant kin in Tennessee she hadn't seen in going on five years was something she'd wanted. Never mind that she'd never been more than a couple miles outside of Hazzard her whole life; never mind that J.D. had moved himself into her home - lock, stock, and barrel - before the dust of the bus taking her to her new life had even properly settled behind her.
Jesse slaps the gate closed on his way out with enough force that it bounces back open again. Levels at a frown at it as it glides to a stop just outside his reach, eyebrows drawing together - but that's silly, downright foolish, because the gate has no say in the matter, can't stop sassing him even if it knew it was. He steps back and pulls it shut again, gentler this time. Gives it an apologetic pat.
Lord help him.
He really needs to find them kids.
He's back to his truck, back on the road, when he sees him: Cletus Hogg, standing across the square in front of the Davenport garage. His mama's pitiful-looking sedan is parked right there next to the gas pumps, but he's planted himself next to a loaner car, peering at the "Closed" sign still in place across the garage doors.
Jesse whips across the square, dodging a slow-moving driver and earning a horn for his trouble. Throws the truck into reverse and hooks it in next to Cletus, already talking through the open window. "Cletus!"
The boy near about jumps out of his skin. "Uncle Jesse!" He exclaims. Blinks at him, all wide eyes and slow thoughts, and then asks, "Ain't you supposed to be in jail?"
"Just never you mind that. And," He grumbles as he climbs out of his trunk. "I ain't your uncle Jesse." It's a matter of principle: his kids don't have much that's only theirs, not even mamas and daddies anymore, and there ain't much of anything at all that he can do about it. All he can give them is their name and their craft, but that's been enough for all the Dukes before them, and it's got to be enough for them, too. "Ain't you supposed to be back home with your mama and my kids?"
Another uncomprehending look, and then a mournful toss of his head. "No sir," Cletus says. "I'm supposed to be right here. So's Cooter."
"Cooter?" It's a slippery slope, asking questions, and he knows it, but he can't quite help himself. "You thought Cooter Davenport was going to get to this here garage on a Monday morning? Before his daddy?"
Cletus actually has the gumption to look offended. "Well, he's got to, Uncle Jesse, because how else are we gonna - ?" But then Cletus catches himself. Catches, too, the hand that's come out from his pocket to wave around a set of keys that ain't his mama's. He puts the keys back away, frowns at the garage door. "He oughta be here."
Jesse ain't blind and he ain't stupid. What he is, though, is raising three kids with Duke blood in them, and he knew he was better off not asking questions he doesn't care to know the answer to. Especially when he's got one right there he does wanna know the answer to: "And Daisy and the boys?" He asks.
"What about them? I ain't been watching them," Cletus grumbles. Then, in nearly a holler: "Dang it! Why ain't he here?"
Temper tantrums Jesse knows how to deal with; and it plain must run in the family, because he might have expected the same kind of high-pitched sass from a certain other Hogg. But, "Cletus," With J.D., he don't have quite as surefire a threat. "If you're figuring you ain't got to pay me mind because you're too big to whip, you've got another thing coming."
Cletus freezes, eyes widening even further, looking at Jesse like he's just seeing him for the first time. Steps away, angles his body so his backside ain't so easy a target, and Jesse nearly snorts in spite of himself. Luke's just as likely to bring up his chin and dig in his heels after a warning like that these days; he tries not to think what it's going to be like when his oldest gets just a little older.
And anyhow, he's got his reassurance that he can still bring someone to fumbling repentance easily. "Yes sir, Uncle Jesse," Cletus stutters out. "I didn't mean nothing, I swear. But I don't know where they are, sir."
"J.D. said he left them with you and your mama," Jesse says, his brow furrowing.
"Yes sir, he did, and I brought them here with me to the garage on Friday, and then I - I - " If anything, Cletus goes more white.
"You what?" Jesse demands.
"Well," Shifting now, fidgeting. Cletus rubs sweaty palms on his pant legs. "I just - I mean, they was up in the loft, see? So I just - I just - me and Cooter were talking, and when I left, I must have," His confession, in a whisper: "I musta forgot 'em."
"You forgot them?" It comes out in a roar, loud enough to make Cletus take another step back. "For three whole days?"
"Well - I mean, I mean, it ain't like they're wandering around alone!" Cletus defends. "They was here! With Cooter! I'm sure he didn't - I mean, I'm sure he took them home with him."
What it was with Hoggs and not understanding what could be interpreted as good news and what could not, Jesse doesn't know. Cooter Davenport wasn't even full grown, but he was already spending half his time drunk and all his time a darned fool. "You're sure - " He sputters. Stops. Count ten, he tells himself, and then says instead, "I just ain't - forgot them! Three whole people! With Cooter!"
"If - if you wanna wait here with me," Cletus stutters. "I mean, I'm sure Cooter won't be too much longer, Uncle Jesse, sir, and - "
Jesse don't reckon he'll ever have the patience to deal with this. He is already halfway back in the truck.
"Or you can go out there yourself," Cletus amends. "That's a good idea."
Jesse slams the door to his truck closed, hard. Shifts gear. Casts a glance upward, a silent eye roll of a prayer for patience and self-control and the will to tolerate this foolishness.
"Hey, uh, Uncle Jesse. When you see Cooter," Cletus pipes. "Can you tell him I'm waiting on him?"
No getting around it: it's going to be a long day.
Cooter's house was one of Bo's favorite places in all of Hazzard.
School days were awful and endless, wasting hours and hours going over things that didn't hardly matter to a Duke, names and places and numbers that had nothing to do with driving or running 'shine or even farming. Just him in a classroom without Luke or Daisy, being told to watch his mouth and his temper and his manners even though he'd never once punched anyone who didn't deserve it.
Summer was different, though. Summer was him and Luke filling up every spare minute fishing and swimming and flopped on their bellies planning escape routes from revenuers, racing cars with their fingers. And this year, Uncle Jesse had been letting them do plenty more: whole days spent in the abandoned shell of Shoveltown or up in the Indian Caves, pedaling as far and as fast as their bikes could carry them. Aunt Lavinia had always been more picky, wanting to know where they was going to be every minute; but they was old enough now, finally, that Uncle Jesse only needed them to get their chores done and be home in time for dinner.
They'd added in stops to wherever Cooter was, at his daddy's garage or what was left of the Davenport farm, because in the summer there was no one around to tell them they ought to be separated by age or size, and it didn't matter that Cooter was older than them. Of course, Uncle Jesse said their place couldn't really be called a farm, at least not since the first Model T rolled off the line and into Hazzard, but Bo liked it better out here: this was where Cooter and his daddy both kept their projects, cars they was working on restoring that they'd hauled back from the scrapyard. Cooter was easy to get along with, too, never once acting like Bo was too little or like one Duke boy should be left out where the other one was welcomed. Bo had it figured the same way.
And: "You get donuts for dinner?"
"Well," Cooter's smile was big and toothy. "This here is actually my breakfast for tomorrow." He set the greasy box down on the table, flipped open the cover. "But mi donuts are su donuts."
"Who's Sue?" Bo asked distractedly, his attention already on the donuts.
Luke kicked him under the table, hard; but before he had a chance to do much more than shift a glare up towards him, Daisy was saying, "We're much obliged to you, Cooter, but we couldn't take your breakfast."
"We couldn't?" Bo turned the frown towards Daisy instead. His girl-cousin could speak for herself.
"Ain't nothing to worry about there, Miss Daisy," Cooter replied, dropping into a chair and spreading out his hands. "Y'all are welcome to it. Besides," He scraped his fingers thoughtfully over the wispy hair on his chin. "There ain't anything else here ready for y'all to eat."
"What'll you have tomorrow, then?" Luke asked dryly. He had their suitcase sandwiched between him and the table, even though even trying such a thing at home would have gotten him sent away without any dinner at all.
Why worry about tomorrow when they were hungry right now? Bo slid forward in his chair, stretching until his toes touched the floor. "He can eat with us tomorrow. At home. Uncle Jesse won't mind."
Luke and Daisy looked at each other, those kind of looks they got sometimes that meant Bo doesn't get it and we're older, so we know better and, in Daisy's case, ain't he sweet? Made him foot-stomping mad, only he knew better: Uncle Jesse didn't say things like mind your temper or watch your mouth like his teacher did at school, gentle like he couldn't help that he wasn't obeying, swayed from carrying out any threats if he smiled at her just right. Their uncle always meant business, and he always seemed to know just what they were up to, even if he wasn't there.
"Maybe I could cook something for us," Daisy finally offered, like Bo hadn't spoken at all. "You got fixings?"
"There are some," Cooter said around a frown. "But there ain't exactly any clean dishes."
"There ain't any - " Daisy was sitting, but her hands still had room to find her hips. "Cooter Davenport!" She exclaimed. "Your mama is coming home in less than two days!"
"I know," He agreed. "That's when she's gonna wash 'em."
Daisy liked to think she was just like Aunt Lavinia, same way Luke always figured he had the same kind of authority as Uncle Jesse because he could sometimes get his voice to dip low on the right words. Just excuses from both of them to boss Bo around more often, but Daisy was always slipping up: she couldn't keep her unhappy in, always letting out big and dramatic huffs like the ones she was letting out now. Aunt Lavinia had always gotten quieter when she got mad.
Luke moved in quick, before Daisy could move on into her scalding lecture. "Cooter," He said. "You reckon if we help you with them dishes, we could stay the night?"
"Well, y'all are welcome to..." Cooter started, tilting his chair backwards off its front legs. But then he faltered, eyes shifting from Luke to Daisy and then back again. Like he could somehow be part of the private talking they sometimes did over Bo's head, and the thought was enough to make Bo's blood boil. Cooter wasn't even a Duke. "Well, now, what I mean to say is, uh, I reckon that'd be fine, Luke."
"Great," Luke said. There wasn't even an edge to his voice, just relief; and, scooting back just a little, he eased their suitcase out and put it on the floor. "Well, we might as well get to it then."
"Well, I ain't!" Bo interjected. "Not until we eat first!"
"Bo," Luke was back to calling him a fool with just his name. "We just got done saying - there ain't nothing to eat."
Luke was the real fool, though, because, "Yes, there is," Bo reminded him. "The donuts."
"Bo," Daisy this time, tag-teaming him.
"Hey, look, y'all," Cooter put in. He brought his chair back down with a thump. "We might as well have the donuts now, and then Miss Daisy here can make breakfast in the morning. No rush." And then, as though the matter was decided, he reached into the box and pulled one out.
Yup, Bo thought, happy to ignore Luke's frown and Daisy's glower as he grabbed a donut for himself.
He'd like staying with Cooter just fine.
Beverly Hibbs was the most beautiful girl inside three counties.
Grocery shopping wasn't high on Cooter's to-do list, but one thing he was learning from having this younger generation of Dukes around was that they could all be just as stubborn and intimidating as their uncle Jesse when they wanted to be. He still wasn't sure how he'd been roped into joining their dish washing assembly line last night, Daisy washing, Bo rinsing, Luke drying, him putting away; and, while he'd slept through the breakfast preparations and the egg gathering this morning, he'd still been faced with Daisy's hands on her hips after he'd eaten, telling him if he planned on her making them lunch, he was going to have to let her come to town and pick up some food.
The truth was that he hadn't been planning much on coming into town today, seeing as how he had guests now and not much to do at the garage worth doing, seeing as how he wasn't supposed to work on cars or run the tow truck or do anything except man the gas pumps. And he hadn't wanted to look at Cletus's mama's sedan, sitting there all sad and pitiful at the side of the garage, reminding him of the shuck and jive they were gonna have to pull off to convince his daddy that Cletus had just happened to crack the oil pan right there in front of the very place it could get fixing. Not, of course, that it was hard to believe with the kind of driving Cletus was known for - or at least, Cooter hoped. But it had been the best meal he'd had since his folks had gone out of town and, truth be told, he hadn't spent much of the money they'd left for him for food, mostly spending his evenings filling up on peanuts and sneaking sips of his friends' beers - and, well, he couldn't very well tell Bo and Luke and Daisy that, not seeing as how he valued his hide and had a plenty healthy respect for the man who'd be coming to pick them up. So he'd just nodded like the thought of lunch had already been on his mind and gone after his keys.
Turned out to not be so bad, in spite of the groaning the announcement met with from Bo and Luke. Sure, Daisy had already spent fifteen minutes trying to pick between the only two types of flour Mr. Rhuebottom carried with no clear sign of being any closer to a decision; but on the other hand, Beverly had walked in five of them minutes ago, and she was wearing her brown hair down, loose around her shoulders.
" - do you think, Cooter?"
He thought he'd never seen anything more beautiful in his entire life, including the racing engine they'd pulled out of that trashed car last week after the boys from the circuit had left behind, and him and Daddy had marveled over that for nearly two whole hours before they'd even tried -
Cooter blinked, looked back at Daisy. "Say what again, Daisy?"
Daisy's hands were planted firmly on her hips again. "You're just as bad as Bo and Luke," She declared. "Ugh! Would it kill you to pay attention to a woman for five minutes? Give me that!" Her hands closed around the basket he'd been holding for her, still completely empty. "Go on."
"Go on?" Cooter repeated, dumbfounded.
"To wherever Bo and Luke got off to," Daisy replied. It was the same long-suffering air about her that Mama had whenever she headed into the store alone, like she ever wanted help when she was shopping for groceries. He wondered if all women came knowing how to use that there voice.
Well, maybe not all women: Beverly Hibbs had noticed him, and she was smiling. Smiling. At him. "Um," His palms were suddenly sweaty. "If you think you'll be all right."
"I reckon I'll be just fine," She said, with a weary huff.
"Just," He brushed his hands against his jeans, found it was a little more effective at getting sweat off than oil. "Uh, come and find me when you're all ready to go."
She waved him away with one hand, already leaning back over to examine the flour labels again.
It was both the longest and shortest walk down an aisle of Rhuebottom's Cooter had ever taken, getting over to Beverly and her soft smile and deep laugh. In fact, the way her hand went flat against his chest made him forget everything else he had ever known up until that point.
Including, until he was driving her back from the Hazzard Pond three hours later, that same hand intertwined in his on the seat between them, the Dukes.