A Pain in the Ass

Margaret tucked herself into John's chair in the den and pulled her mother's old quilt around her. Her class work was prepped, Hannah was keeping Charlie and Oliver busy, and the laundry wasn't completely taking over the living room. She planned to spend the rest of her Saturday afternoon studying the photo book Jack had bought her Christmas.

A muffled cry drew her attention. She sighed and glanced out the window and did a double take. George and Lucas were holding a ladder against the shed while Jack scrambled up and onto the roof.

"The bloody hell," Margaret yelped, jumping to her feet.

"Mommy!" Hannah's voice tore through the house. "Mom, Nick is stuck on the shed!"

Margaret sprinted outside, pressed a hand over her mouth when she saw nine-year-old Nick straddling the roof of the shed, almost thirty feet in the air.

"Nicholas Richard Thornton, get off that bloody roof before you fall and break your neck," Margaret tried to keep her voice calm.

Nick glanced down and waved.

"Jack, what is he doing up there?" Margaret demanded, breathless.

"I'll get him, Mom."

"No, get down this instant. It's not safe."

"He can't move, Mom. His leg went through the roof and it's stuck. I have to—"

"I'll do it," Margaret kicked off her shoes, her hands trembling on the ladder. Her stomach pitched at the thought of what she was about to do. "Go inside and call your father."

Jack hesitated, his eyes flashing.

"I don't want you up there," Margaret said, her voice hardening. "Now, Jack."

"No," He set his jaw and turned his focus back to Nick.

"John Seamus Thornton," Margaret shouted. "Obey me and get off that roof."

He continued to ignored her, and looked down at Lucas, "Go call Dad."

"Mom told you to do it."

"And I'm telling you," Jack glared at him until Lucas rolled his eyes and ran for the house.

"Dad's going to beat your ass, Jack," George called.

"Not if I do it first," Margaret snapped, her hands still on the ladder. She couldn't make Jack come down, and adding her weight to the old roof would only make things worse. "Nick, darling, how did you get up there?"

"I climbed over from the tree house," Nick pointed to the old oak that held a sprawling wooden structure the boys were always tinkering with. Several thick branches snaked from the tree over the top of the shed. Nick must have crawled out along one of those branches and dropped several feet down onto the shed roof.

"Sod it all," Margaret swallowed, keeping her eyes on Jack as he carefully crawled up the side of the roof, testing his weight as he went.

"Be careful," she called.

Lucas came running back, breathing hard. "He didn't answer," he gasped.

Margaret's heart pounded in her ears. Where the hell was John? A dull snap pulled her attention back to the roof, "Jack!"

"I'm fine." He scrambled to the side. Jack was crouched low, trying to distribute his weight across the roof as evenly as possible. "This whole damn thing is rotten."

"Hold this, Lucas," George said, letting go of the ladder.

Margaret stopped him, "Where are you going?"

"To call Dad."

"But Lucas said his mobile—"

"I know where he is."

Margaret frowned. She'd always been curious where John went on the rare occasion he disappeared, but he never said. He deserved an hour or two to himself every now and then, and she never bothered to ask.

"Go," Margaret nodded to George. "And for heavens sake, tell him to hurry."

Jack had reached Nick and they were arguing about how to extract his leg from the roof without breaking their necks.

"Damn it, Nick, just do what I said."

"I want Dad—"

"Dad's not here," Jack barked, running a hand through his hair. "I am."

"Nick, you have to trust him, darling," Margaret called. "Jack won't let anything happen to you."

Jack threw a glance over his shoulder, and she nodded. She was going to make his life a living hell when this was over, but right now, Nick needed to listen to Jack or they'd both be injured. George jogged back into the yard and resumed his post at the ladder.

"Dad's on his way," he called. "Ten minutes."

The roof let out a groan and something snapped.

"Jack," Margaret felt her stomach churning. "Hurry."

"Stay on your butt," Jack said, linking an arm around Nick's waist, "and don't move. Let me pull you out."

Margaret pressed a hand over her mouth as Jack slowly eased Nick away from the hole. Jack lowered himself onto his stomach and wedged his arm in the hole.

"Okay, hold onto me and slide down, on your stomach, until you reach the ladder. Don't stand. George will help you."

Nick obeyed, keeping firm hold of Jack, inching himself down the roof. Margaret took the ladder and George scrambled up, grabbing Nick's ankles and pulling him the rest of the way down.

"Don't do that again, dumbass," George said, ruffling Nick's hair. He set him on the ground.

Margaret's hands were trembling as she pulled Nick into a hug, kissing his face, "Are you injured?"

"Just a little," Nick twisted his leg from side to side. "Whoa, look at that cut, Mom." He glanced up, smiling. "It'll make a great scar. Like a pirate."

"Hush," Margaret scolded. "Go inside and get the kit. Hannah, please take the twins and help him find it."

She watched Jack shimmy down the roof and clamber down the ladder. She felt herself breathe easier when her son's feet hit the ground.

"George, Lucas, put that ladder away. And you," she pierced Jack with a cold stare and pointed to the house, "go to your room."

The truck spit gravel as John thundered down their driveway. George, Lucas, Hannah, Charlie, and Oliver sprinted from the house to meet him. Everyone started talking at once, before he could even get out of the cab.

"One at a time," John barked, slamming the truck door. "Is Nick off the roof?"

"Yeah, he's a little scraped up but he's fine," George said.

"Where's your mom?"

"Yelling at Jack." This came from Lucas.

John sighed and banged through the screen door, pitching his hat, keys, and wallet on the front table. Margaret rushed around the corner and gave him an angry hug.

"Your children are going to be the death of me, John Thornton."

"Nobody died."

"Are you going to kill Jack?" Charlie asked.

"Hannah said you would," Oliver added.

"I did not!"

"Everybody out," John said, pointing. "Go to your rooms."

"George, fetch your father a cup of coffee," Margaret said, her voice weary.

John drank his coffee and let her tell him what happen, her temper and worry flaring in spite of her best efforts to remain calm. John finished his drink, swirling the dregs, and chewing on the grounds.

"Where's Jack?"

"In his room."

John paused at the top of the stairs. George was waiting for him.

"What is it, kid?"

"It wasn't his fault," George said, shoving his hands in his pockets. "He didn't want Mom on the roof, Dad. It's rotten as shit. I wouldn't have listened to her either. So if you're going to punish him, you should punish both of us."

"Me too," Lucas poked his head out of his bedroom.

"Nice try," John held back a grin, and pushed open Jack's bedroom door.

Jack was lying flat on his back, staring at the ceiling, hands laced behind his head. John leaned on the doorframe, studying his oldest son. Jack could've been his twin, in looks and personality. The kid was already over six feet, all angles and limbs, with sharp features, and a sharper temper. He had more energy than John or Margaret knew what to do with, and he could work as hard as John when he put his mind to it.

Sometimes John wished his own mother were still alive just so he could ask her what the hell he should do with his own John Thornton.

"How long am I grounded?" Jack didn't look at him.

"You're not."

Jack sat up, giving him a puzzled look, "Really?"

"Really." John walked over and sat on the bed.

Jack rubbed his arm, frowning. John reached over and took his wrist, studying several angry red splinters jammed under the skin.

"Every time I leave the house, I tell you boys two things. What are they?"

"Take care of Mom and do what she says."

John nodded, and set Jack's arm down, "That's why you're not grounded."


"If you remember anything I tell you, remember those two things, Jack." John held up a finger, "First, take care of your mom and then do what she says. Just like you did today. I'm not going to ground you for doing exactly what I would've done. "

"Can you tell that to Mom?'

"No," John chuckled. "She thinks I'm up here handing your ass to you on a silver platter.

"I wouldn't be mad if you did," Jack said, suddenly serious. "I know I'm a pain in the ass, Dad. I try not to be."

"You come by it honestly," John said, scratching his beard. "I think I was in my twenties before I realized how much of an asshole I could be."

"You're alright."

"Thanks," John couldn't help the grin that cracked his face. "I love you, Jack."

"What's not to love?"

"Shut up," John shoved him. "Go apologize to your mother and get those splinters out of your arm."

"Hold very still and tell me if I hurt you."

"Stop, Mom," Jack scowled. "I'm not five."

"Sixteen, or no, you'll always be five to me, darling. Which is why I don't want you crawling around on roofs." Margaret scolded, digging carefully at the splinters in his arm. "Why didn't you tell me you hurt yourself?"

"You were shouting at me," Jack winced, and gave her a wide crooked grin, "I didn't want to interrupt."

"Smart ass," Margaret snapped.

"Your fault, not mine."

She looked up and smacked his head, "Your father can say those things to me, but you may not."

"Sorry, Mom," Jack said, blushing. "I know I scared you, but—"

"I know why you did it," she interrupted, taking his face in her hands. "You're not named John Thornton for nothing, darling." She kissed his forehead. "And I love you for it, even if you are a pain in the ass."