Saturday, June 4th, 1983

Sunlight filtered in the second story window of the Carter mansion. The light shone into John's eyes brightly, begging him to wake up. He stirred slightly, then moaned and rolled over. He rubbed his eyes, and slowly opened them to look at the clock. It was 9:30. He stretched slowly, then rolled back over. He silently wondered what day it was. Saturday, that was it. Not that it mattered. School was out, he was free... Saturday? There was something special about that day that he just couldn't put his finger on. Suddenly it struck him, and he leapt out of bed, his weariness suddenly gone. Once in the hall, he could hear the sound of dishes clinking downstairs and of his Grandparents laughing and talking. He stumbled down the stairs and reached the dinning room in record time.

"Ah, good morning John!" his Grandfather said with a pleasant smile. "We'd almost thought you'd forgotten."

"Almost did," John said, running his hand through his dark curls.

Gamma patted the seat next to her. "Come here, have some breakfast," she said.

John decided that sounded nice, and before long the cook was serving him with a full meal. It was good as always, but John was anxious to get on with the day. It was a well known fact that birthday's always brought about big surprises in the Carter household, and especially monumental ones such as becoming a teenager. That thought made John smile a little. He was a teenager, though he didn't really look or feel any different. It just officially made him no longer a little boy.

"So," John began.

His Grandfather looked up from reading the paper. "So?" he asked, playing dumb.

"Come on Gramps!" John pleaded. "When do I get to get it.... you know, my present?"

His Grandparents exchanged mischievous glances. Gamma finally sighed, "Oh come on now. Just let him get his present."

"I want to wait until his parents are here," John Sr. said. The irritation in Gamma's face was clear, and it was obvious that she was on the verge of another of her famous rants.

"That's ok ," John quickly said. "I can wait."

John Sr. smiled. "See, already he's turning into such a good gentleman."

"Indeed," a cheerful voice said from the other side of the room. John turned to see Nell. "Hey Scrub, Happy 13th Birthday!" she said, handing him a decorated bag.

"Hey, thanks Nell!" John said happily.

"Go ahead, open it!" Nell urged him.

John looked to Gamma, who nodded, then proceeded to open the package. He took the paper from the top of the sack out, and peered inside. His face showed confusion when he saw what was inside. He slowly reached in, and pulled out a bag of carrots. "Thanks Nell," he said, perplexed. Nell just laughed. "What?" he asked.

"Oh, you'll find out," she said with a grin.

A surprise. John hated waiting for surprises. He spent the next 20 minutes waiting for his parents to arrive. It seemed like he had been waiting forever when his parents entered the kitchen.

"Happy Birthday, son," Jack said, with a bright smile. He handed John a small box. He quickly opened it, to reveal an expensive watch.

"Thanks," John said, trying not to sound too disappointed. There was a pause, in which the entire family exchanged secretive looks. "What?" John asked, suspiciously.

Gamma sighed. "All right, he's waited long enough now," she said.

"Right," Jack said. "Come on, there's one more present."

Jack lead the entire procession who, except for Eleanor who was in a perpetual state of apathy, were practically overflowing with excitement. The group headed outside, to the old barn which hadn't been in use since before John was born. Jack stopped at the entrance, and so did everyone else.

"Well, aren't you going to go in?" John Sr. asked.

John looked to his father, who nodded his approval. John slowly crept into the barn, with his family watching behind him. As soon as he entered, he noticed a movement in the corner. He froze. "Hello?" he said, feeling a bit foolish. There was another movement, then the sunlight streaming in through the open door illuminated John's gift. It was a horse. Not just any horse, either. A beautiful thoroughbred mare, with a rich chestnut coat and a long jet mane and tail. When she saw John, she stopped.

"Hey, shhhhh. It's ok," John said softly, not wanting to scare the horse. He turned his head slowly toward his father, who grinned at him.

"She's all yours," Jack said. "Top of the line. Wonderful bloodlines."

John turned back to the horse, and noticed that she had a halter on. For the first time, he saw Elliot standing in the shadows holding the lead rope. "Can I bring her out?" John asked. Elliot nodded, handing John the rope. Slowly, the entire group, including the horse, stepped out into the pasture. John reached up and stroked the mare's neck. "What's her name?" he asked.

"She doesn't have one," Jack said.

"Her Sire was named Infinite Sky," John Sr. added.

John bit his lower lip thoughtfully. He knew a little about horses, but he wasn't sure what a good name for a horse would be. He desperately scanned the scenery around him, until his eye landed on a patch of bright yellow and orange flowers. "Marigold," he said. "That's what I'll name her."

"Infinite Sky's Marigold," Nell said, testing it out. She smiled. "I like it."

"Hey, now I get what the carrots were for..." John said as realization dawned on him.

"Here," Nell pulled two carrots out of her pocket, and handed one to John.

John held it in front of Marigold, and she quickly accepted it. He grinned, and Nell stepped up slowly next to him. "Go ahead," he said. Nell fed Marigold the other carrot, and ran a hand down her side.

"She's beautiful," Nell said softly.

"Yeah," John replied. He turned around, seeing his Grandfather, Gamma, and his Father all smiling broadly. His mother's lips even entertained a small smile. "This is the best present ever," he said. "Thank you."

"Would you like to ride her?" Jack asked.

John looked down to notice for the first time that he was still in his pajamas. "In this? That's ok, I'll give her some time to get used to it here."

"Well," Gamma said happily. "It's getting fairly warm out here. Who would like to go inside for some tea?" Everyone murmured their assent, and began to head inside. Gamma paused, and looked back at her grandson who was, along with Elliot, brushing out Marigold's coat. "John, just come in when you're ready," she said. He waved, and nodded, then turned his attention back to Marigold.

John eventually came inside, but after dinner he headed back out to the barn. That's where Nell found him. John saw his sister enter, and smiled. "Hey Nell," he said cheerfully.

Nell's face remained solemn. She slowly walked over to where John was standing next to Marigold. John handed her the brush, and she began to smooth the thoroughbred's coat. She drew in a deep breath, and slowly let it out. She didn't know how to say what she was about to say. John waited silently. "I got a call from the family in Switzerland," she said.

"Cool. What'd they say?" John asked.

"They said that I can come stay with them and they'd love to help me learn Swiss and French before I start school," she paused. "I leave tonight," she had finally said it, but she kept her eyes glued on the animal in front of her, not wanting to look at her brother.

There was a long silence. John was stunned. Nell was 18, and that was usually the age when people started to set out on their own. But Switzerland. It was so far away. The family would hardly ever see her again, and of course that was why she was going there. John had known about it for a while, but he wasn't sure whether or not she would go through with it. Apparently she was.

Nell continued, "My cab to the airport is going to be here in about half an hour." John just nodded slowly, but didn't look up. "Now let's go inside." The two of them walked to the house in silence. They entered through the front door, to find the whole family waiting in the entryway. Eleanor gave her daughter a cool gaze, then turned and walked off.

"Well," Jack said. "Good luck." He enveloped his daughter in a hug, which she returned. Jack was a good man, he just allowed himself to get sucked into things. Her grandfather also gave her a hug and wished her the best. Then she came to Gamma.

"You're going to make a great architect," Gamma said. "Now you just behave yourself. And call me if you ever need advice on men," she said with a grin and a wink.

Nell couldn't help but laugh. "Of course I will," she said, giving Gamma a hug.

John had been biting his lip the whole time to keep from crying. He was a teenager now, and he didn't want anyone to think he couldn't handle whatever life threw his way. He was stubborn like that. He finally mustered up the courage to look at his sister. Nell grinned, and ruffled his hair like she always did.

"You stay out of trouble, Scrub," she said.

"I'll try," John responded.

There was a pause, then Nell pulled her brother into a hug. They hugged for a few moments, then Nell pulled back. A tear ran down her face as she said, "I'm going to miss you."

"I'll miss you too," John said, as he started to cry. Suddenly, bright headlights shone in through the front window, and a car pulled up to the drive.

"Well," Nell said, wiping her tears away. "That's my cab." Elliot opened the door for her, and started loading her bags into the trunk. When everything was loaded up, he opened the back door for Nell. She put one foot in, then stopped, and turned toward the house. "Good-bye everyone," she called.

"Good-bye Nell!" John Sr. called back, with a wave.

"Good-bye," Gamma said, with a melancholy smile. She was glad her granddaughter was escaping her parents, but she was sad to see her go. And on some level, she was upset that Nell was running away from her problems, instead of facing them. After all, the family had done her a lot of good, too, and would continue to do so by supplying her with fund for college. But she and Nell had had all these discussions already, and Gamma's policy was always to let people make their own decisions, good or bad.

"Bye," John said quietly.

"Good-bye John," Nell called back, with sorrow in her voice. She stood looking at the house for a moment. The house she had grown up in. Through good times and bad. The people that were once her family. Some of them who never had any right to call themselves her family, who were never there. And there were her grandparents, who meant well, but would never abandon their aristocratic life. Finally, she took one last look at her brother, and realized it might be years before she saw him again. What would he be like? Would he still have the same obstinate determination, or would the oppressive Carter family drain it from him? Nell thought, and hoped, that he would someday escape the family. All he had to do was hang on for another 4 years, and then he would be out of high school and he could go wherever he wanted, become a doctor. He would make a great doctor. He was smart, hard-working, and caring. He was going to make it. She felt bad leaving him, but she knew that he would make it. Just 4 more years, she told herself. He'll leave then for sure. As she climbed into the cab, and drove away, she felt assured that John would be ok. What she didn't know was that, stubborn as he was, he was in danger of his caring side getting the best of him, and getting himself dragged into the family problems. The cab pulled out of the drive, and carried another person out of the Carter family oppression. But it left behind a scared and confused 13-year-old boy.