Disclaimer: I don't own G.I. Joe, they belong to Marvel/Sunbow, Hasbro, and whomever else owns them. I own Ellie Cooper, Nik MacBride, Kaia Edler-MacBride and whomever else is original.
Summary: His daughter wonders about the past, and sheds light on everyone's favorite sniper.
***Call Him Cooper***
Ever wonder what would happen if previous generations were able to go back and change one thing? Do you ever think how that choice would impact you in the future? For example, if your grandfather could go back and change his decision to move to extreme Northwestern North Dakota, would you even be alive today, or if your grandmother baked two pies instead of one, would your own parents have met on Main Street and fallen in love?
These questions could potentially go on forever, and never really get answered.
One question, however, can unlock a past that has been bottled up for a long time . . .
"Who named you Cooper?" Fourteen-year-old Kaia Edler-MacBride cast her father a sidelong glance as she looked up from the teen magazine propped on her knees.
Cooper "Lowlight" MacBride quirked his brows together and shot a questioning look at the blue-eyed teen sitting shotgun in his faded blue Suburban. "What do you mean, 'who named me Cooper'? My mother did. It was her maiden name."
"Oh," Kaia replied. "I just wondered where your name came from." The teen tucked a toffee-colored curl behind her ear and went back to reading about Justin Bieber and Taylor Lautner.
Cooper took his eyes off the road long enough for another quick glance at Kaia, then gave a half-shrug, dismissing the question. After a few minutes of driving in silence, though, he looked back at her again."So...?" he prodded.
Kaia raised her eyes from the page. "So what?"
"Sew buttons," came the reply, "Damn it now you've got me curious."
"Curiosity killed the cat Dad." Kaia tossed the magazine up onto the wide dashboard and shifted in her seat, pulling her legs beneath her.
"I'm not a cat. Spill it kiddo: why the sudden want to know why my name is Cooper?"
From the way she rolled her eyes and huffed at him, Cooper got the idea that she didn't really have a reason. She just wanted to know.
"I dunno," she answered, "I never really knew before. I just thought I'd ask. You do realize that Cooper isn't really on the top ten lists for boys names. I would have thought you'd have a name like Lars, or Caleb, or Lukas. Something ethnic, like a lot of people from Crosby."
"Nope, my mother named me Cooper. Like I said, it was her maiden name. The explanation I got was that she wanted the Cooper name to be carried on somehow, and if she couldn't use it as a last name, then a first name would have to do. So, she called me Cooper Gavin MacBride. Gavin is for my uncle, my mother's brother, who was killed in action."
"Wasn't Grandma young when she had you?"
"Not much older than your momma was when she had you," Cooper said, "although, back in those days, it was shameful if a woman became pregnant before marriage. Today, not so much, for most of the world anyway. But I don't want to hear of you having kids before you're supposed to, you hear me? You've got high school and college to think of before any of that anyway."
"Eww Dad!" Kaia covered her ears and shivered. "I get it. Okay, so Grandma was what, seventeen when she had you? Were she and Grandpa married then?"
"Yes, they had just gotten married."
"Do you want to hear the story or not?" Cooper flicked his turn signal on and expertly moved the Suburban across two lanes of Interstate before he headed to the on-ramp to connect to the Highway that would take them from their current location, to Divide County North Dakota.
"Yes," Kaia agreed settling back in her seat.
Cooper puffed out a breath, and thought for a moment. With a glance at his teenage daughter, he began the story of his past.
Divide County, North Dakota
Pretty Ellie Cooper blew out a breath and bit her lip staring wide eyed at the doctor who stood in front of her. He had just confirmed what she'd suspected: Ellie was pregnant. Tears that had gathered in her big blue eyes threatened to tumble down her sun-kissed cheeks as she quietly thanked the doctor and gathered her things to leave. Her mother was waiting out in the lobby for her, and would want to know what was going on. Ellie didn't know what her mother would do, or say, but she had to tell her.
Helen Cooper stood when the door to the examination room opened and her blue-eyed daughter stepped out, her eyes red and puffy. Concern etched Helen's face, and she put a hand to her mouth when her Ellie gave her a small, shamed nod.
"Thank you Dr. Anderson." Helen shepherded her daughter out of the small clinic and into the family station wagon.
The ride back to the Cooper farm was quiet, Ellie sat sorrowfully in the passenger seat, not wanting to steal a glance at her mother. How could one night end up changing her entire future?
Ellie was a hard working, straight A student in school. She was an active member of the Student Activity Council, and a member of the Cheer Team. Her boyfriend, Nikolas MacBride was a carefree greaser who spent most of his time ditching school and fixing cars. The Coopers didn't like him much, but they let Ellie see him, as long as it made her happy. Not long ago, the Cooper's oldest child, a son named Gavin, was killed in action overseas. Life was starting to get back to a new normal when Ellie found out she was expecting.
"Eleanor, I am horrified at this," Helen blustered, "How could this happen? Your father and I have taught you and your brother right from wrong. Having relations before one is married is a sin in the eyes of the Lord. You are a sinner Eleanor. What is your father going to say? He was right about that MacBride boy being nothing but trash."
"Momma, Nik's a good guy," Ellie quietly defended. "He's just a little unruly."
"That boy is a hooligan! A hooligan who defiled my daughter."
"Momma, a hundred years ago, girls my age were havin' babies."
"They were married." Helen quickly pointed out. "Eleanor, you have just thrown away your future. You can forget the rest of high school. And your dream about going to college, that's gone too." Helen sighed in disappointment, and stared out the windshield at the road ahead of her. "Your father and I wanted you to make something of yourself."
"I can still do that," Ellie countered. "I can finish school."
"Not being a housewife you can't, Ellie, what were you thinking?" Helen huffed and stared straight ahead, quiet for the rest of the ride back to the farm.
Later that afternoon, Ellie sat forlornly at the kitchen table, her father sitting across from her, silent. She'd just finished telling him that she was expecting Nik MacBride's baby. He had reacted much like her mother had, telling her that she was a sinner, that she was wrong. Helen Cooper had phoned Claire MacBride and asked them to come over for a late supper, and to discuss what to do next.
An hour later, the MacBride's truck pulled into the driveway. Ellie was sitting on the porch swing and said a small hello to Nik's parents as they bustled into the house. Nik hung back on the porch, leaning against the rail.
"Is it true Elle? Are you really expecting?" Nik asked. He pulled out a cigarette from his shirt pocket and lit it. Taking a long drag, Nik reached out to touch Ellie's abdomen.
"Dr. Anderson says I'm about eight weeks along," Ellie replied softly.
"What are you going to do?" Nik took another drag from the cigarette.
"Me? What do you think we should do?" Ellie emphasized, "I didn't get this way by myself you know." Ellie glared at Nik. "Put that thing out, you know my mother doesn't like it when you smoke around here."
Nik snubbed out the cigarette and tossed the butt into the rose bushes that lined the porch.
Before either of them could say another word, the screen door opened and John Cooper stepped out.
"Eleanor, Nikolas, we would like to see you inside." John said. He gave the two a curt nod and went back inside.
Ellie took a seat at the table next to her mother, across from Nik's mother. Helen placed a hand on Ellie's arm and spoke.
"Your father and I have discussed this matter with the MacBride's and we have agreed that it will be in the best interest of you and Nikolas if you give this baby up for adoption once it is born. That way, you can return to school, and go on to pursue other things, without having to give up your childhood."
"Momma!" Ellie exclaimed, "That's like saying it never happened."
The teen couldn't believe what she was hearing, the adults had it all planned out, and didn't even ask her and Nik what they were thinking. She looked over at Nik, who was standing behind his father. His blue-eyes fixated on Ellie's, and he gave her a small grin.
"Eleanor, keep your voice down, please." Helen scolded.
Ellie ignored her mother. "You didn't even ask what Nik and I wanted to do," .
Helen folded her hands on the table and looked pointedly at her daughter.
"What do you want to do then?"
Ellie fumbled for her words, when Nik unexpectedly spoke up,"I want to marry Ellie. We'll raise the baby together."
All four adults turned to stare at Nik, who shifted uncomfortably and stared at the floor.
"Nik, you really want to get married?"
"Well, yeah. I love you Ellie," Nik replied. Ellie stepped over to him, and wrapped her arms around his chest.
"I love you too, Nik."
Three weeks later, in a quiet, and very private ceremony, Nikolas MacBride took Eleanor Cooper as his wife. Helen Cooper shook her head in disbelief that this marriage was actually taking place. Her daughter was only seventeen, and not ready for the pressures of being a wife and mother. But Helen kept her mouth shut, afraid of losing her daughter forever. The newlyweds pooled their money, and the generous gift that Nik's parents had given them, together and bought a small farm of their own, with a tiny fixer-upper house on the property.
Nik spent much of the summer fixing the house, and getting it ready for the oncoming fall and winter. Ellie spent the time tending to a garden, and chasing after the chickens a neighbor had given her.
"What do you think this baby will be like?" Ellie asked Nik one summer evening as they sat on the tailgate of Nik's truck. "Do you think he will grow up to be a doctor or something?"
"He will grow up to play football," Nik replied with a grin.
"Oh yeah," Ellie gave Nik a playful glance, "What if we have a girl?"
"She'll be a cheerleader like her momma. Just as pretty too."
Ellie laughed and punched Nik playfully on the chest.
Snuggling up close to Nik, Ellie spoke,"Your mom wants to take me to the church sale in Ambrose on Saturday. Maybe we can find things for the baby," She glanced over at Nik, "Do you want to come along?"
"I'm meeting with the guys on Saturday," Nik ran a hand down Ellie's arm, "You go with my mom, you'll have fun with her."
"Okay," Ellie shrugged. She was a little disheartened that Nik wasn't going along with her, she didn't know his mother very well and she was hoping Nik would show a little bit more interest in the upcoming arrival.
Saturday came quickly, and early in the morning Claire MacBride pulled up to the small home in her husband's pick-up. She smiled at Ellie as the young girl slid into the passenger seat.
"I see my son is staying behind, yes?" Claire, who was Norwegian, observed.
"Yeah, he's meeting with some friends to go fishing," Ellie replied.
Ellie and Claire picked out a few things at the Ambrose church sale for the baby. A woman in town gave Ellie a baby crib, and a playpen for nothing. The woman had been a young mother herself and took pity on Ellie. The woman and Claire loaded the gifts into the truck.
"I wish I could repay you." Ellie had told the woman before she and Claire left.
"Just be the best momma you can be to your baby," the woman said with a smile.
January 15, 1976
Ellie awoke with a start, what she had thought were mild cramps due to the Braxton-Hicks contractions she's been having for a few weeks now, was definitely something more. She began to panic. It had been snowing on and off for the past few days, with another round on its way from Canada Ellie knew that getting to the small hospital in town would be dangerous... or not even possible. As another wave of pain washed over her, she shook Nik awake.
"Ellie, what in the world . . . ?"
Ellie blew out a breath, "Get your mom. This baby wants to come out and play, and I don't think we'll make it to the hospital in time."
Nik's mother was a certified midwife, and had delivered her share of Crosby babies. She was smiling as she stepped into the tiny home thirty minutes later. Claire found Ellie on the bed, practicing her breathing. The older woman gave the teen a reassuring pat on the arm.
"We are going to bring a healthy baby into this world soon. Don't you worry. Everything will be just fine."
"Is my mom gonna come?"
"Robert and Nikolas went to get her and your father, they should be here shortly," Claire said as she bustled around the bedroom, getting things ready for the delivery. She set out a small, folded stacks of clean blankets, and a little pile of clean cloth diapers. "Do you have the clothes ready?"
"In the bottom drawer of the dresser," Ellie replied, "Aaahh!" A cry of pain escaped her lips. Claire was by Ellie's side in a second, whispering encouragement into the girl's ear. Ellie's water had broken, signaling that the baby was well on it's way.
Helen Cooper arrived, blowing in with the snow and cold. She gave Claire a chill smile and took her place at Ellie's side.
"Okay Elle, you are doing well. Your body will tell you when this baby is ready to make his or her entrance," Claire stated with a grin. "It won't be long now dear."
"Where's Nik?" Ellie asked between breaths, "I want him to be here."
"Nikolas is with your father and his, out in the barn. You don't want him around, honey, trust me." Helen said with a dark look in her eye. She made it clear that she didn't like Nik, and often stayed away from the MacBride farm, seeing Ellie only when the girl was in town.
Ellie rolled her eyes at her mother, "Please Momma, stop hatin' Nik. He's not the only one that made this baby, and I was a willing partner."
"Eleanor, that will be quite enough. I do not wish to go over this again."
"Momma, everything is not always about you!" Ellie blew out a breath and tried to settle her breathing as yet another contraction swept over her.
Claire checked the girl's progress, and instructed Ellie to begin pushing. Ellie screamed as wave after wave of pain rolled through her body.
"Push Ellie, push. The baby's right here." Claire grinned. "Lot's of blonde curls on this one."
"Ellie, the baby's nearly here, you're doing well honey," Helen said.
Ellie felt the tears of pain, and joy slip down her face, "It hurts momma." She tried to bite back a cry, but the wail escaped.
Helen smoothed her daughter's sweaty wisps of hair off her face, and gave Ellie's had a squeeze as the girl pushed one last time. The room fell silent for a moment, as Claire cleaned off the baby, turned it upside down and gave it a firm slap on the rear end. The baby let out a gusty wail. Ellie laughed and cried all at the same time as Claire placed the squalling newborn on her chest.
"It's a boy," Helen said as she placed a kiss on Ellie's forehead.
"He's a beautiful boy Ellie," Claire said, "Do you have a name for him?"
Seventeen-year-old Ellie MacBride looked down at the warm, wet bundle of the baby on her chest, and another cry escaped her throat. She was, for the rest of her life, somebody's mother.
"I want to call him Cooper," Ellie stated, "Cooper Gavin MacBride." She looked up at her mother, who had tears in her eyes.
"Gavin would be so proud of you honey," Helen spoke of her oldest child, her son Gavin who had been killed in action a few years before, "Let me go tell your father."
Helen left the room, leaving Claire to tend to Ellie and the new baby. A few minutes later, Nik came into the room the boyish grin on his face. Ellie smiled at him from the bed.
"Come and meet your son," she said softly.
Slowly, Nik walked over to the bed, and sat down on the edge. He peeked over as Ellie pulled the blanket away from the baby's face. Nik reached his weathered hand out to touch the baby's soft skin.
"Hi there, I'm your dad," He said, his voice a whisper. He looked up at Ellie, "What's his name?"
"Cooper Gavin MacBride." Ellie stated proudly. She looked down at her perfect little baby boy, and knew her life was never going to be the same.
"Grandma must have been so scared when she found out," Kaia remarked, "I wonder if my mom was scared to tell her parents. Do you think she was?"
"Probably," Cooper answered. He looked over at his daughter, "She was very young, and I had already shipped off to Basic."
Kaia guessed he was right, and she sighed, "I can't believe you were born at home too. Poor Grandma. She's gotta be one strong lady to have a natural childbirth. When I have kids, I think I want some pain relief. How much did you weigh when you were born?"
"Ten pounds even," Lowlight grinned at Kaia's pained expression, "So yeah my mother was a strong lady."
"I'll say. Ten pounds, yikes." Kaia grimaced again at the thought of birthing a child that big. She shook her head, clearing away the thoughts, and turned back to her father, "Okay what's the rest?"
Lowlight quietly gathered his thoughts, it had been so long since he had gone over any of his past. The only other person who knew about his past was Renee, and that was only because she had overheard something about the time Cooper had gotten lost as a child. "Well, as I heard it, I was a pretty low key baby. My mother seemed to be absorbed in the role of being a mom. My father didn't seem to like the idea of having a child, and I think he felt stuck. When I was two-and-a-half, my sister Una was born. It kind of threw a wrench into things and added extra stress into an already volitile situation."
***Three years later***
"Can't you keep them quiet? I'm trying to go over the books here!" Nik yelled over the noise in the house. Nervously, Ellie bounced six month old Una on her lap, trying in vain to get the teething baby girl to be quiet. Nearby, her three-year-old son Cooper played with his trucks and the Army men that he'd gotten for his birthday a few days before. He was making truck sounds, and scooting around the floor. "Damn it Cooper, I said be quiet!" Nik stood from the table, and swiped the trucks and Army men out of Cooper's hands, and threw them into the fireplace. The blue-eyed little boy with the head of blonde curls began to cry. He ran to his mother's side and hid behind her when Nik came towering over him.
"Leave him alone Nik. He's just a little boy." Ellie pleaded. She had one hand resting on Cooper's head, soothing him, while the other was wrapped tightly around baby Una on her hip. "He just wants to play." Ellie's blue-eyes spit fire at her husband, and she stared him down.
Nik ran a hand through his blonde hair, and muttered curses under his breath. Grabbing his jacket and truck keys, he stormed out of the tiny home and into the snowy dusk. He was going to the local bar, a place he frequented now days. Nik MacBride drank to escape the reality of being a husband and a father of two, all before his twenty-first birthday. The farm was all but gone, the only land they had left was the half acre that the house was sitting on, and if Nik didn't find work, real work soon, the house would be gone too.
Ellie's parents had sold their farm a year ago, and moved down to Bismark. Helen had pleaded with Ellie to move herself and the kids in with them. Ellie refused, telling her mother that she had taken vows to stay with Nik through hard times, and good times, sickness and health.
Nik nursed a beer, and thought about his Ellie. He admired her, because she was strong and didn't let most things bother her. Sure they didn't have much, but they were all together, and to her that was what mattered most. His constant drinking bothered her. She had told him more than once when he had come home drunk and in a fighting mode. Nik knew he had a questionable temper when he was sober, but when he was under the influence, his temper flared like a volcano, and erupted on whomever was in his vicinity at the time. Usually it was Ellie, or Cooper. He'd never physically attacked them, no, his weapon of choice was a verbal assault. Nik picked at his son's fears, and the boy had a lot of them.
Cooper was an unusual boy who preferred to sit quietly with a picture book, or play in his room with his toys. He wasn't much for the outdoors, animals scared him, and once he'd been stung by a bee. The entire experience was traumatizing enough to make the little boy afraid of bugs too. Ellie assured Nik that the fears Cooper had were just a phase, and he'd eventually grow out of it, but Nik wasn't convinced and berated his little boy about them all the time.
"Momma okay?" Cooper asked after Nik had left. The tow-headed boy cast a glance up at his mother. Ellie looked down at her boy, and nodded.
"Yes baby, I'm okay." Ellie set Una in the playpen, and scooped up her son. "How about you, are you okay?"
"Yep." Cooper replied. "See, I got two guys." He held up his hands, showing his mother that he had managed to rescue two of his green plastic men. One plastic man held a set of binoculars to his face, while the other one looked as if he was laying out, a sniper rifle in his hands. Cooper looked from one Army soldier to the other and grinned. "Mine," he said triumphantly. "Here, you have dis one." He handed over the sniper to his mother and tucked the other one in the pocket of his overalls.
"What do you want to be when you grow up Cooper?" Ellie asked.
Cooper lifted his small hands in the air, unsure of how to respond.
"You can be anything you want to be, Una too, you just have to work hard." Ellie kissed her boy and set him back on the ground. "Go get your pajamas, and I'll help you put them on out here where it's warm. Then we can read a book before bedtime okay?"
Cooper dashed to the room he shared with Una, and cringed when he noticed that the light was off. He turned back to Ellie for help.
"Light on." He begged, his eyes wide with fear.
"It's okay, you're a big brave boy now. You can try it, go ahead."
Quickly, Cooper flipped the light switch on and beamed at his mother. She gave him a smile and a thumbs up. Racing at top speed, Cooper fetched his footed pajamas from his bed, and ran back into the living room. He hated the dark, the dark scared him more than animals, and bugs combined. He relaxed in the comforting embrace of his mother's arms. Once cozy in his pajamas, he scrambled up next to his mother on the sofa, and thrust a book in her hand.
"Dis one," he stated, "Trucks and Trains."
Ellie, with Una on her lap, opened the worn picture book and began to read. Cooper, who had memorized the book, followed along and corrected Ellie when she skipped a word, or even a whole page. Ellie read with enthusiasm, creating voices for each of the characters in the story. Cooper loved it, and often would imitate the voices for Una as well, making the baby laugh.
Despite the problems that Ellie and Nik had, their children seemed to be happy and somewhat unaware of the turmoil around them. Ellie knew that the innocence wouldn't last long, soon Cooper would be old enough to really understand what his parents were fighting about. Soon, he'd jump to her defense, and that would make Nik even angrier.
After reading four books, and taking time to tuck Una into the old crib, Ellie pulled her sleeping boy off the sofa and tucked him into the hand-me-down bed they had received when Una came along. Ellie tucked Cooper's brown teddy bear Max into bed with him, knowing that the little boy would wake looking for his best friend. Dropping tender kisses on both of her children's foreheads, Ellie told them she loved them, and left their room leaving the door partially open so she could hear them if they cried. She straightened up the house, tucking Cooper's two Army guys safely into the back of his dresser drawer knowing that if Nik found them he'd destroy them, mostly out of spite, and drunkenness.
Ellie left the front door unlocked before checking on her children. Little Una was awake, most likely needing to be fed and changed. Quietly the young mother tiptoed into the room and pulled the baby from the crib.
"Hey baby girl, are you hungry?" Ellie whispered to the baby as she brought her up to feed. Ellie sat quietly in the rocking chair, knowing that her sweet boy would come shuffling into the living room within minutes. She would let him climb up on the sofa, and sit while she fed the baby. Then she'd take both sleepy children into bed with her. Nik wouldn't be back until early morning anyway. It was a nightly ritual since Nik had begun spending more and more time in the local bar than he did at home. It was hard on the young wife and mother, to be alone with the children all day, and keep her husband's temper at bay. Nik had his short comings, but Ellie loved him anyway and vowed to stay, hoping that someday he would return to the kindhearted young man that she had fallen in love with.
Cooper woke to Una patting his head happily. Ellie laughed at the exchange.
"Momma she's saying hello to me," Cooper giggled. He sat up in bed, "Where's Max?"
Ellie produced the teddy bear that had somehow ended up on top of her pillow, "He's right here." Cooper hugged his bear tight to his chest and smiled at his mother.
"I love you Momma," he said with a lopsided grin.
"I love you too, Cooper don't you forget that okay?" Ellie smoothed a hand over her son's bed-head curls smiling lovingly at him. "I will always, always love you no matter what."
Cooper looked at his mother with adoring eyes. As far as his three-year-old mind was concerned, she could do no wrong. She was his first best friend, his protector, the one he would run to first when he was scared or hurt. His father didn't seem to like him much, he was always picking on him, calling him names, hurting his feelings. Some of the boys on the playground would tease each other like Cooper's father teased him, and even though he was young, Cooper was smart enough to know that teasing wasn't right.
"He took your toys and melted them? Who does that?" Kaia's blue-eyes flashed angrily.
"It wasn't the first time. Remember, he thought I was too soft, and he wanted a boy who was rough and tumble."
"Still, he shouldn't have taken your Army guys and your trucks. It's kinda funny that you saved the sniper though, almost like a foreshadowing of your future."
Lowlight smiled at this, and turned his eye back to the road, Kaia kept up the chatter beside him. He was glad she was here with him, and talking about his childhood, letting someone else in on his past was settling in a way.
Lost in thought, Lowlight didn't hear Kaia calling his name and he startled when she poked his arm.
"Don't do that," He admonished.
"Are you going to finish the story? If not, I could always go back to reading about Twilight and The Biebs, which seeing as I've already read the whole magazine twice, it would be pretty boring. So please continue."
"Nik, please be careful," Ellie said once again as Nik loaded his shotgun and cooler full of beer into the back of the truck. Six-year-old Cooper ran excitedly around the truck, with his little sister giggling behind him.
"Yeah, yeah," Nik replied, "Cooper! Get in the truck!" Nik kissed Ellie on the cheek and swung into the driver's seat. "You comin' boy?"
"Yes!" Cooper grinned broadly and scrambled up into the truck. "Bye momma! Bye Una!"
"Bye!" Una waved.
The tow-headed little boy with the missing top teeth stared out the window excitedly as his father drove down the highway to the camp ground. Nik was going to teach Cooper how to hunt, if it killed him. In his opinion, his boy was too soft, and he'd be dammed if he had a boy who was soft.
"Are we going to be home before it gets dark?" Cooper asked.
"We're going huntin' boy." Nik answered.
"Hunting?" Cooper's eyes grew wide with fear.
Nik shook his head and let out an audible sigh. He lit a cigarette and blew out a puff in Cooper's face.
"Stop being a wuss Cooper." Nik grumbled, "Sometimes you make me ashamed to be your father."
Cooper slid in his seat forlorn and dejected. He didn't mean to make his father angry, he really wanted to hunt and fish like the other boys in town, but he was terrified of wild animals, and he didn't want to hurt them. He stole a look at his father, and felt the heat of the tears that pricked his eyes. His father looked so gruff and mad that Cooper turned away to look out the window. Crying made it worse.
Nik's truck stopped at the campground. He got out of the truck and slung his rifle over his shoulder and pulled the cooler out as well. He looked around the side of the truck to see if his boy was going to get out.
"Cooper!" Nik called out sharply, "Let's go."
The scared little boy slid out of the truck and shut the door behind him. Cooper's blue-eyes flicked over the landscape wildly. His father walked ahead, and Cooper ran to catch up.
"Wait for me." He called out.
Nik turned to look at his son, "You ever want to be a man Cooper, you've got to keep up."
They walked in silence for a little while before Nik stopped near the small tributary that ran into the small river. Cooper stood on one side of the tributary, cringing when he stepped into the water. His shoes became submerged and he didn't like the squishy feeling of the sodden Converse on his feet.
"My shoes are all wet," He said with a scowl.
Nik glared at his son, "Take them off if you don't like it." The twenty-five-year old flipped the tab on another beer and took a swig. He set the can down and picked up his rifle. He had sighted on a buck, and pulled the trigger on the rifle. The buck bounded out of the way, Nik had missed him. Cooper backed up, hands over his ears, and knocked the half full beer can over spilling the contents.
"Dammit Cooper! Watch where you're going boy, damn you, you spilled my beer." Nik crushed the can and left it on the ground, "Get me another one, and don't spill it this time."
Cooper sat warily watching his father pick off small game and try to take down another buck. He was scared, and he wanted to go home and be with his mother and sister. In the distance, dark clouds gathered and rumbles of thunder could be heard from miles away. The little boy shivered with fear each time the thunder rolled.
It was late when Nik was finally done killing off the small woodland creatures. He kicked several empty beer cans and slung his rifle back onto his shoulder.
"Cooper, get your ass back in the truck," Nik grumbled. Nik was buzzed, and he picked up his cooler and stumbled back to the truck. He wasn't aware that his young son was not trudging along behind him. He wasn't aware that hours earlier, Cooper had gotten seperated from him. Nik MacBride started the truck and headed off towards home, leaving his son alone in the woods.
Ellie ran the brush through Una's blonde hair, pulling the curly locks into neat, even pigtails. Una giggled when she looked in the mirror.
"There, you look pretty." Ellie said as she kissed the top of Una's head.
"Momma pitty too," Una replied happily.
Una was just four, and she was a typical little girl who loved pink and glitter. Ellie tried to indulge her little princess as much as possible, but with bills piling up, a growing boy, and hardly any money coming in, it was difficult.
Today, while her boys were away, Ellie and Una cleaned the small house, baked cookies and put on a little fashion show with Una's dolls and Cooper's teddy bear. It was now nearing supper time, and Ellie expected Nik and their son to return soon. Nik knew that Cooper was afraid of the dark, and though he taunted the boy about it constantly, he did promise Ellie to have their boy home before then.
As the sun began to set, Ellie began to worry a bit, Nik and Cooper still hadn't returned and the radio had said a storm was moving in. Hours later, after Una was in bed, Ellie paced in the living room. She jumped when she saw the headlights of Nik's truck in the driveway. Nik stumbled through the door, empty cooler in one hand, truck keys in the other. Cooper was not with him.
"Nik, where's Cooper?" Ellie demanded.
"We got separated while we were hunting, I searched for hours until the sun went down, I couldn't find him." Nik lied as he set the empty cooler on the table, and threw the keys next to it.
"What!" Ellie felt her heart leap into her throat, "What do you mean you got separated? Were you paying attention to him at all? We've got to call the police." Ellie picked up the phone, but she only heard phone line had been disconnected. The bill hadn't been paid again. She slammed the receiver down and lunged at Nik, punching him in the chest, "Our boy is out there alone, in the dark Nik, what if something happens to him? What if he's hurt, or worse?"
Nik's temper flared when Ellie punched him. She had never attempted to even raise a hand to him. Nik stepped back up into Ellie's face, "Dammit it Ellie, I'll go back and look in the morning. One night in the woods won't hurt him, he needs to buck up anyway. You treat him like he's going to break, you're too soft on him. 'Bout time that boy learns how to act like a man."
"That boy is our son Nikolas!" Ellie angrily shouted . "Get out! Get out and don't come back until you find our son." Ellie pushed Nik out of the house slamming and locking the door behind him.
Nik pounded on the door, shouting to be let back inside. Ellie took her frightened daughter into the bedroom and shut the door. She was trembling all over, and felt as if her world had been spun in the wrong direction.
Una, sensing that something was very wrong, snuggled up next to her mother in the big bed. The four-year-old felt her mother's arms wrap around her in a tight hug.
"Momma, where's Cooper?"
Ellie looked down at her sweet little princess, "I don't know baby," She said as she brushed a stray blonde curl out of Una's face. Ellie laid with her daughter until the girl had fallen asleep. The storm had begun to rumble off to the east, but Ellie knew she wouldn't sleep tonight, not with her little boy missing.
She wandered around the small house and wondered just how long Cooper had been seperated from Nik. Ellie peered out the window, and saw that Nik's truck was gone. Frustrated, Ellie kicked the table leg.
Tears flooded Ellie's vision and spilled down her cheeks, she couldn't believe Nik lost their son, couldn't believe that he was so nonchalant about it. She caught sight of Cooper's bear sitting on the sofa waiting for the boy to return, and her heart broke. She slid down the door frame as loud, shaking sobs overtook her body.
Little Cooper MacBride hugged his knees to his chest, wincing whenever the lightning flashed overhead. He had gotten separated from his father earlier in the day, and ended up wandering around the forest for hours. Finally he stopped wandering when the sun began to go down, and here he was, pressing himself against the tree almost as if he could become one with the tall oak. He squeezed his eyes shut, and clamped his hands over his ears as the thunder rolled overhead. Tears rolled down his cheeks, and he wished he was home with his mom and sister, safe in his bed with Max at his side. An owl hooted from the branch above him, and he looked up at the bird, screaming in terror.
"Momma! Dad!" His cries were carried off by the rain and wind. He pushed back into the tree and cried himself into a restless slumber.
"Oh Dad, how sad," Kaia whispered, her blue-eyes shimmered. She blinked the tears away, and shot her father a half grin.
"Kai, it's not that bad," Cooper replied with a nonchalant shrug, though he reached over and patted his daughter's arm.
Kaia's eyes went wide at her father's attitude about his time being lost. "Not that bad! Dad, you were alone in the woods, and you were six! I don't know what I would have done if I were you. How did you eat? How did you stay alive?"
Cooper shrugged and pulled out a cigarette from the pack on the console, "I had to learn not to be afraid."
"How long were you lost?"
"Just about three weeks," Lowlight answered.
"Three weeks! Dad, that's awful, I can't believe someone would just leave his child behind like that. Did he even search for you at all?"
"He was in jail. My grandparents, his parents, refused to bail him out and so did my mother's parents."
"Well that's understandable, Grandma's parents didn't like him," Kaia remarked, "What did you think when you were in the woods?"
"I thought about how I would get home."
Cooper awoke with a start, he dreamt that he was home in his bed with his best friend. Blinking sleepily, he realized that he was still in the woods. Disheartened, he sat up against the tree. He was cold and wet, and hungry, he hadn't eaten since lunchtime yesterday. He knew from books that his mother read to him, that people often ate bugs in the woods and the thought made him gag. Cooper hated bugs, and if he had to eat them, he had to touch them. Looking around him, he spotted a wiggly worm making its way across the leaf covered forest floor. With a gulp and a deep breath, Cooper reached out for the worm, pinching it between his thumb and forefinger. He raised it to his lips, feeling the bile rise up in his stomach. Before he could put the wiggling bug into his mouth, he threw up.
"Momma!" He called out loudly. Cooper jumped to his feet, and angrily kicked the dirt. He was beginning to hate his father, and thinking that his father had left him there on purpose. He tried again to eat a bug, and again he threw up. He was slightly proud of himself though for even touching bugs. Cooper wandered around for a little while, and found the tributary he had splashed reluctantly through the day before. He took a few sips of the clear water, and once more tried to eat a wiggly bug. This time, he squashed it, killing it before he attempted to eat it. This time, he was successful. He wished his mother could have been here to see him touching, and even eating a bug. She would be so proud of him. Thinking about his mother made him wish he was home with her, and wishing he was home with her made him sad. Tears pricked his blue-eyes and he wiped them away.
"I won't cry," He told himself, "Momma said I'm a big, brave boy, and I'm gonna be a big brave boy."
A bee buzzed by his blonde curls, and Cooper ducked and swatted at the offending insect, "Maybe later I'll be brave, when there's no bees."
"Ha ha ha, did you get stung when you swatted the bee?" Kaia's blue-eyes were mirthy, as she giggled at picturing her father swatting at a little bee.
"Yes I did, by a few bees," Lowlight replied, "It hurt."
Kaia giggled again, and looked expectantly at her father for the rest of the story.
Two and a half weeks went by with teams searching for the boy from dawn until darkness, and there had been no sign of him. The local sheriff's office wasn't sure if using man-power on finding the boy would be worth it. They had already searched the woods, rivers, and drainage ditches in the area. Ellie had to plead with them to continue the search. Nik hadn't returned to the house, he had been arrested on unrelated charges, and was sitting in jail.
Ellie's parents had wanted to come up and take Una back with them to Bismark, but Ellie had refused to let them take her. She wasn't going to let her little girl out of her sight, she didn't want to risk losing her too.
Ellie's days were filled with longing as she sat by the phone, waiting to hear something and hoping that someone had found her little boy. Cooper's bear was a constant companion to Ellie, even when she slept, held the bear tightly against her, inhaling the sweet smell of her son from the cotton stuffed brown animal. It was ironic really that Cooper had a bear as a best friend, but ever since he was a baby, Max had been by his side. Ellie had wished that Max had been with Cooper that morning when he and Nik left, but Nik made the boy leave the bear at home.
"Momma," Una queried one afternoon, "Is Cooper gonna come back soon?" The little girl looked up at her mother, "I drawed him this." Una held up a scribbly picture that featured herself, and Ellie inside the house, and Cooper and Nik outside the house.
"You did?" Ellie took the picture from her daughter and studied it.
"It's me and you Momma, we are in here, and Daddy and Cooper are out there," Una was proud of her artwork and grinned at her mother.
Ellie tried to hide the tears that unexpectedly sprang to her eyes. She missed her little boy so much that she ached inside. Her days were too quiet, and nights were even harder. Sure she still had her little girl, but the laughter that filled the house with the two of her kids, was gone, replaced by a deafening quiet. Una, the bubbly little girl, had become withdrawn and shy, as if she expected someone to take her out of the house and leave her somewhere like Daddy did with Cooper.
"Your picture is pretty sweetheart." Ellie picked her little girl up and held her close, "I love you so much my little Una."
"I love you too Momma," Una squeezed her mother around the neck and kissed her cheeks. "And I love Cooper too." The curly haired blonde jumped off her mother's lap and went off to color more pictures.
Ellie watched Una bounce away, and she smiled to herself. Her pretty girl was keeping Ellie from disappearing into the darkness of depression.
Ellie was reliving that day for what felt like the millionth time - that horrible day that had led to more pain than she could've ever imagined feeling - when the shrill ring of the telephone jolted her back to the present. She jumped and fumbled to pick up the receiver. "H-hello?" She stammered into the phone.
Oh, god...this was it. Equal measures of hope and dread filled her. "Yes?"
"This is Sheriff Sawyer from the Divide County Sheriff's office. We think we found your son."
Ellie's knees went weak, and she sank down into a nearby chair. "Is...is he okay?"
"We've taken him to Mercy Hospital. He's badly dehydrated and underweight. We can send a car to escort you to the hospital if you like."
"No...no, that won't be necessary. Thank you, Sheriff." Ellie hung up the phone and just sat there for a moment, letting out a breath she hadn't realised she'd been holding. She closed her eyes, silently thanking god that her little boy was safe. Then, with hands that shook from sheer relief, she dialed her parent's number in Bismark. Happily, she let them know that Cooper had been found.
After that, she called the MacBrides and told them the good news. Claire and Robert immediately came to pick Ellie up and take her to the hospital.
"Excuse me, they told me my son was here." Ellie blurted when she raced up to the desk in the lobby, "His name is Cooper Gavin MacBride and he is six-years-old."
"They took him up to a room a little while ago," The woman at the desk informed Ellie, "Take the elevator up to the second floor, and then go to the nurse's station. They will tell you where your son is."
"Thank you," Ellie raced to the bank of elevators. Claire and Robert followed with Una in tow. "He's upstairs," Ellie relayed happily.
Ellie stopped just outside her son's hospital room. She swiped at the tears that wet her cheeks and took a steadying breath before she walked into the room. Cooper was laying in bed, looking small. His blue eyes shone when he saw her. "Momma!" the little boy grinned. He jumped to his feet on the mattress and reached for Ellie.
Ellie was careful not to displace the I.V. line that snaked across Cooper's arm, giving him the fluids that his dehydrated body needed. She noticed that he had several scrapes and scratches on his arms and legs, and his eyes looked a bit sunken and hollow.
"Oh my sweet boy," Ellie enveloped her son in a fierce hug, holding him for a long while unitl Cooper started to wrigge a bit.. "I'm so glad you're okay. I've missed you so much!" She smoothed his curls back and kissed his forehead.
"I got lost Momma, and I was scared. I called and called for dad, but he didn't hear me." Cooper relayed. He smiled proudly, and his eyes grew wide with enthusiasm, "Momma, I touched bugs."
"You did?" Ellie marveled.
"Guess what Momma - I'm not scared of the dark anymore!" Cooper looked joyful. "Hey, you bringed Max."
"He's been lonely without you." Ellie handed the bear to her son, and hugged the boy again.
Ellie stayed with Cooper until he fell asleep, then she walked out into the waiting area to greet her parents and Nik's.
"It's so good to have him back." Ellie smiled as she hugged her mother.
Helen Cooper agreed and hugged her daughter tight.
Four days later, Cooper was released from the hospital and allowed to go home. That night, Ellie cooked his favorite meal - macaroni and cheese - and let him stay up later than usual. At bedtime, Ellie took both kids in with her. Una quickly fell asleep, worn out by the excitement of having her brother back. Ellie lay in the quiet room, the light from the hallway streamed into her room. Cooper was snuggled up next to her.
"I frew up when I tried to eat the worm, then I tried to eat a crawly bug, but it was too squiggly and it made me frow up again. Then, I squished a bug and ate it all up. I eated some more bugs and eated some berries and leaves too. I think I like macaroni and cheese bestest," Cooper stated.
Ellie grinned at her son, "I love you Cooper. And Una too."
"I love you too, Momma," Cooper answered, "I missed you lots when I was lost."
"I'm glad you're back home baby."
"Me too, Momma," Cooper agreed. He suddenly quirked his brows together and looked pointedly at his mother, "But, I'm not a baby anymore, I'm a big brave boy."
Ellie laughed and gave her son another kiss, "Yes you are love. You're a big brave boy."
"Did you see your father after you got home?" Kaia wondered.
Cooper thought for a few moments, "Not really. Mom kept Una and I away from him. And he didn't have any desire to keep up a relationship with us anyway."
"I'm glad that you're not like him," Kaia observed. She tilted her head, and sighed. "I'm glad you're my dad, even though you sometimes suck at it." She added a grin and a small chortle.
"Hey," Cooper said with mock indignance.
He went on to tell Kaia the rest of the story, up until he left for Basic Training.
"The Army? You want to enlist in the Army, Cooper what about going to college?" Ellie queried one afternoon when her son came home from town.
"Mom, it's something different, something that'll get me the hell outta Crosby," Cooper countered. "The recruiter said that I'd go through Basic, then go on from there. If I'm not good enough in Basic, they'll send me home, it's worth a shot."
"What about Renee? You're just going to leave her hanging here?"
"Renee and I talked about me going into the Army. She wants to wait for me to get settled, and if I make out in Basic then I'll work on getting her to come where ever I am."
Ellie was intrigued at her son's plans for his future. She looked up at him and smiled slyly, "You gonna marry her?"
Cooper sprayed the soda he was drinking all over the counter in the kitchen, "Where'd that come from?"
"Well, if you married her, she'd be able to live on base with you, and you'd have someone there for you all the time."
"I hadn't thought of that," Cooper responded, "I'll go through Basic first and then see what my plans are for the future. Renee might meet someone and forget about me anyway."
"That's unlikely. The way she follows you around, you'd think that girl was attached to your hip or something. I'm never gonna follow a boy like that. It's just stupid." Sixteen-year-old Una wrinkled her nose as she came into the kitchen.
Cooper playfully whacked his sister upside the head. "Aiden Townsend," he said, not quite covering up the name as a cough.
Una whirled around and glared at her brother, "Shut up Cooper!"
"Okay, the two of you knock it off. Go wash up for supper," Ellie admonished.
Both MacBride teens shoved and punched each other as they washed up for supper. The two had always been close, and in the years following Cooper's rescue, they had become even closer. They still lived in the tiny house, and still shared a room, something neither of them minded all that much. Their father had been in and out of their lives,- and in and out of prison - since that day Cooper disappeared. He and Ellie had formally divorced ten years ago.
Nik's parents sold their farm, and moved down to Florida to bask in the year round warmth. Ellie's mother and father were still down in Bismark and visited as often as they could.
Later that evening, after supper was finished and the dishes washed and put away, Cooper jumped into his sky blue Suburban and drove the fifteen minutes into town to visit his girlfriend, sixteen-year-old Renee Edler. They'd been together for two years, and had talked of marriage once she was finished with high-school.
Renee wanted a family, Cooper wasn't sold on the idea of kids, but if they looked like her, then he'd consider it. To him, Renee was a beautiful angel from heaven stuck on earth. She was tiny, standing barely five feet tall, and she had big grey eyes that were often hidden by her long brown hair. She was originally from Northern Minnesota, and had moved to Crosby six years before. She was Greek on her mother's side, and Irish, Scandinavian, Scottish and Welsh on her father's side. Her parents lived and worked in town, her father owned the hardware store, and her mother was the organist at the Lutheran church. Renee was sweet, and Cooper loved her.
"Hey, I've been waiting for ya," Renee grinned when Cooper stopped at the end of her driveway.
"Sorry, have you been waiting long?" Cooper wondered.
"Naw, just a bit. Where we goin'?" Renee playfully queried, "Wanna go to the quarry?"
Cooper nodded and turned his Suburban west toward the quarry. It was about a thirty minute drive and when they finally reached the abandoned quarry, Cooper parked his truck and shut the engine off. This particular spot was a favorite of Cooper and Renee's, it was quiet, and private.
"Come on," Cooper said to Renee as he hopped into the back of the truck. He playfully grinned at her from the backseat, "You wanna or not?"
"Cooper! In the back of your truck?" Renee squealed, and she crawled over the seat after him.
He kissed her hard. Her soft lips tasted like strawberry lip gloss and he moaned hungrily, flicking his tongue over them.
"I want you Renee," he breathed heavily.
She responded by tugging at the hem of his t-shirt, "Off. Take it off." Her hands ran slowly down his bare, firm chest.
Cooper pulled Renee's own t-shirt up over her head, and tossed it to the side. His hands cupped her breasts gently. He bent down to kiss the silky white skin, and felt Renee rise beneath him.
He kicked his jeans off, and helped Renee out of hers. He eased himself into her. Their pace was slow at first. Cooper was nervous at first, afraid of hurting Renee. She smiled at him, assuring him that this wasn't her first time.
"Oh god Cooper, don't stop, please don't stop." Renee spoke breathy kisses against Cooper's neck as he thrust into her. She pulled him closer and cried out in pleasure when she reached her peak. He followed moments later, forcing himself deeper inside of her, a rumbling moan rolling from his throat. He laid still on top of her for a minute, catching his breath. Renee heaved a contented sigh, "God Cooper, that was . . . " He touched his finger to her lips, and kissed her passionately.
"Shhh," He whispered to her.
They laid in the back of his truck for a little while longer, quiet and content. .
Kaia gaped at her father, and cast a glance into the back of the Suburban, "Dad, for the record, I seriously did not need to know, nor did I ever want to know that I was concieved in the back of this truck. It's just sick."
"You asked about my past Kiddo," Lowlight pointed out.
Kaia rolled her blue eyes, "Yes, but I didn't need to know about you and mom doing that! I think I'm going to be scarred for life on that one Dad, thanks alot."
Renee was the first to move, reaching over to pull on her t-shirt and jeans. She glanced back over her shoulder, and grinned at Cooper
Renee rested her head on Cooper's shoulder, tucking her head under his chin, "Do you love me Cooper?" She asked after a few minutes of quiet.
"That's a loaded question," He replied, pulling on his own jeans and shirt. "What do you think?"
"What do I think? I asked you the question, we've been together for two years, I think that you're scared."
Cooper scoffed. "Scared? Renee, I haven't been scared since I was six. I'm not scared." He wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her close. "You are the best thing, outside of my family, that has ever happened to me. God, I love you more than you know."
He pretended not to notice as she flicked a tear away. She blinked her grey eyes up at him. "Cooper, I had no idea. I love you too." They jumped back into the front seats, quietly enjoying one another. "Are you enlisting?"
"I talked to the recruiter before I came by. I ship out for Basic next week."
"So that's it?" Kaia asked, "What happens next? You can't leave me hanging."
"There really isn't much more," Lowlight answered, "Your mom and I talked for a bit longer that night, and I took her home. She was there when I shipped off to Basic. I told her I loved her, and I got on the bus."
"Yeah, but what about the talk of getting married, did you ever talk more about it after that?"
"No we didn't," Lowlight said, "It was hard to call home when I was in Basic and when I got to go back that summer, your mom wasn't around. Her and I just fell apart."
"Would you have married her if you knew she was pregnant?"
Lowlight nodded, "Hell yeah I would have married her. Renee was the best thing that had ever happened to me."
Kaia tucked a stray curl behind her ear, "She would say the same thing about you." The teen sat up straighter in her seat, "When I was little, she would talk about you sometimes. She never told me that you were my father, but she did talk about you." Kaia sighed, and picked at some imaginary fuzz on her jeans.
"Sometimes, the choices in life aren't always the best ones. Sometimes we make mistakes, and do things that we regret," Lowlight looked pointedly at Kaia, "You are not something I would ever regret."
Kaia's blue-eyes shimmered, "Aww Dad."
Lowlight patted Kaia's knee, and swung the truck off the highway and down Main Street. Several minutes later, he flicked his signal on and eased the Suburban onto a gravel road that led to a small ranch home that was set back from the road.
He stopped the truck behind a red pickup and looked up at the woman with greying hair who stood on the porch.
Kaia looked from the woman, and back to her father. "Where are we?" She asked.
"Home." He replied with a half grin.
A very special thanks to Tinks231 who helped me edit this from a large grammatical error, into what it is now. If you haven't read her stuff, please do it's awesome!
That's the end folks. I am brainstorming a sequel for this, or maybe a prequel. I hope everyone enjoyed this, and as always please read and review. Thanks!