Guthrie sat hunched over a blank piece of paper, a pencil in his fingers. He looked at the clock again. Stupid assignment! He thought angrily and tossing down the pencil he stormed downstairs. He wandered from room to room, restless. He finally ended up in the kitchen where Hannah was working on dinner.
He poured himself a glass of milk and stared absently out into the grey November sky.
"Something wrong?" She asked him, her soft hand resting lightly on his shoulder.
"No." He said glancing at her.
"Hmmm . . ." She said studying him thoughtfully. She coughed and turning to the sink to wash her hands, she asked, "Wanna peel potatoes for me?"
"Sure." He glanced toward his sister-in-law wondering, not for the first time, if she could read his thoughts. He sat down to work at the table. Hannah hummed as she worked and he found himself joining in, in spite of his grey mood. Music always made him feel better. So did Hannah.
Hannah paused looking across the wreckage they'd left behind. She sighed and forced herself up to tackle the dinner dishes. She tried to ignore the headache that pounded in her ears.
"Yeah, well, don't call me when it breaks down." Crane said to one of his brothers in the living room as he walked back into the kitchen. He immediately began to help clear the table.
"Wash or dry?" He asked his sister-in-law.
"I'll wash." She said with a smile squeezing his arm with her thanks.
"You feel okay?" He asked her. "You didn't eat much."
"Don't worry about me." She said. "Besides next to all of them, I never eat much!"
Crane laughed. "You should have seen Adam when he was thirteen! Poor Mom was hard-pressed to keep him fed." He smiled at the memory. Hannah leaned against the sink wearily, but lost in memories Crane didn't notice.
"I just wanna double-check." Adam said to Bryan as they walked into the kitchen.
"Honey, we're gonna go check on that steer. I don't like the way that leg . . ." He paused studying her. "You feel alright?"
"You look kind of pale." Brian said.
"Just a cold, I think." She said pushing Adam's hand away from her forehead. "I'm fine." Since, the miscarriage they had all become twice as protective - watching over her. She appreciated it and could feel all the love behind it, but it made her nervous and self-conscious too.
"Daniel!" Crane shouted. "Get in here!"
"What?" Daniel asked irritated.
"You wash. I'll dry." Crane demanded. Turning to Hannah he said. "You can go lie down. We got this, don't we, Daniel?"
"Yeah, sure." Daniel shrugged and took the sponge from Hannah. "Don't worry." He said to her.
"Thanks." She said and even her voice sounded tired. She turned to go upstairs and Adam watched her, worried.
"She works too hard." Brian said. "It's too soon."
Adam nodded but said nothing. "Come on. Let's go."
Guthrie hesitated just outside his oldest brother's room. He used to sleep there too but now that Adam was married, he slept downstairs with Brian in the living room. The door was open and he could hear Hannah coughing.
"You need something?" He asked quietly. "I'll bring you some water."
"Thank you." She said and then started coughing all over again. She lay in bed, her cheeks bright pink. He sighed worried and went downstairs.
"How's the homework, kid?" Crane asked.
"Hannah's really sick." He said as he poured a glass of water. "Her cough sounds bad."
He didn't stop to hear Crane's reaction but hurried upstairs with the glass.
"Here." He said handing it to her and sitting beside her on the bed.
"You take any aspirin?" Crane asked from the doorway. He was reading the label on a bottle of cough syrup.
"Before dinner." She said. Looking at their worried faces, she smiled and said, "Hey, fellas, it is just a cold. Quit looking so worried. I'll take some of that cough syrup and sleep." She reached out and ruffed Guthrie's hair. "Go finish your homework."
"Ok." He hesitated. "You holler if you need something." He said and walked down the hall.
She looked up at Crane. "Keep an eye on him. Something's bothering him. He's been mopey all day."
"Take the medicine." Crane said. "Just rest, would ya?"
She smiled at him and swallowed down the dosage. Closing her eyes wearily she said, "See if he won't talk to you, Crane. Or at least tell Adam. I got a bad feeling about it."
"He's probably just worried about you." Crane said softly. He turned out the lamp beside the bed and paused to study her. When Adam had arrived home just a little over a year ago with Hannah beside him, they had all been in shock.
"You got married?" He'd shouted at his older brother. "You didn't think to let us meet her first?"
They had been hard on her, mostly out of shock, but also out of genuine confusion. No woman had lived in the house in ten years. They hadn't known what to do or say around her - except for Guthrie. He'd loved her from the start, and it was partly watching her care for him with love and gentleness that had won them all over. Guthrie had always been a unifying factor for the brothers. He was everyone's baby. Just barely two, when their parents died, he'd cried for his mother night after night. It had been unbearable. But then ten years later, watching Guthrie lean against Hannah at the kitchen sink, as they washed dishes together, they all realized that she was exactly what their baby brother needed; what they all needed.
He closed the door and wandered down the hall. Ford was sitting on his bed reading and Evan was working on some math. Guthrie sat with a blank page in front of him staring out the window into the dark night.
"Need help, pal?" He asked him.
"No. Is she alright?" He asked worried. Evan and Ford looked up with questioning faces.
"Hannah's got a cold." He explained to them. "Don't worry, Guthrie. She's sleeping." He studied his youngest brother and then went downstairs.
Hannah awoke shivering. The room was pitch black and the bed beside her empty. She stirred.
"Hey. You feeling any better?" Adam sat down beside her his hand on her forehead. "You are burning up!"
"I'm alright." Her voice was raspy.
"Yeah, I can see that." He shook his head at her. "I'm calling the doctor."
"This late?" She asked. "Why don't you just throw our savings in the fire? I can wait til morning."
"Sweetheart . . ." Adam hesitated.
"We still got that hospital bill . . ." She whispered. "I just need another dose of medicine."
He studied her wanting to pick her up then and there and carry her to the hospital. Instead, he turned and handed her the medicine.
"I think we ought . . ."
"The morning is fine. It is just a bad cold, Adam. I'm alright." She swallowed the cough syrup and settled back into the pillows.
"You are one damn stubborn woman." He said. "If you die, I'll be mad as hell at you."
"I love you too." She said laughing and then launched into a powerful coughing fit that frightened him.
"Maybe we should . . ."
"No. " She said interrupting him. "Tomorrow's soon enough. Now, let me sleep." She lay back down and closed her eyes but reached for his hand. He sat beside her holding her soft fingers in his.
"I've been thinking about the essay I assigned." Mr. Whedon said to Guthrie as the classroom emptied out. "I don't think it is fair to require you to write it."
"Why not?" Guthrie asked angrily looking out past his teacher into the gathering storm clouds outside.
"Well, the topic might be painful and I wouldn't . . ." It was clear the English teacher was uncomfortable.
"I don't need special treatment. I got it nearly finished." Guthrie lied.
"Oh, alright then. I just wanted to make sure it wasn't too . . ."
"Don't worry." Guthrie said and strode out of the room."
"Bronchitis." Adam said to his brothers. "Pretty bad case of it. The doctor gave her some strong medicine and said she needs to rest. Her immune system is still pretty weak from . . ." He swallowed unable to finish.
"She'll be fine." Brian said resting a hand on his older brother's shoulder. "Why don't you go lie down too. I don't think you slept last night." Adam nodded and disappeared back upstairs with his wife.
"He's gonna get sick too." Crane said. "I don't know. It seems like maybe they both . . ."
"Give it time. It's only been six weeks. She just needs rest and she'll be fine." Brian sighed.
When their parents had died, he had been just sixteen and Adam eighteen. They had somehow managed to keep the family together - the two of them doing the best job they could. But the truth was, that in the end it was Adam who was really in charge and responsible. Brian could look to his older brother for guidance and help, but Adam had no one. He wondered sometimes what their lives would've been like, if that truck hadn't careened off the road and into their parent's car. Adam had been about to leave for college and was hoping on medical school, when everything changed and he'd been forced to put every dream on hold.
It seemed unfair that at twenty-seven, Adam had to bear the weight and responsibility of a forty year old. Marrying Hannah had helped so much, for now he had someone to share the load. And then they found out they were having a baby. Everyone had been overjoyed, but Adam seemed to de-age - as though all the hardened layers were stripped away, and he was the young man he had been before the responsibility of raising his brothers had fallen on him. Brian couldn't remember a time when his older brother had seemed so joyful; so carefree.
The crushing blow of the miscarriage had been cruel and unfair. Adam had already lost enough in his life. They had all been saddened, but they had mostly been worried about Hannah. She had nearly died and it was only Crane's quick thinking that had saved her life. He could still remember the sound of Adam weeping when the doctor told him that she would live. It had shook him to the core, and reminded him again, that life was a very fragile thing, and loving people the most dangerous choice of all.
Hannah had returned home from the hospital sad, and weak, but soon was taking over all her chores and cooking, cleaning and caring for all of them again. It was all too soon. Sometimes, when she thought no one was watching, Brian could see a sad look come across her face, and he wanted to go to her then, and say something. Now, though, he wondered if it wasn't Adam they should have worried over. As far as he knew, Adam had said almost nothing about the baby. He refused to talk about it, and Brian hoped that he at least talked to Hannah, but remembering how stoically he had handled their parents' deaths, he doubted it.
The door slammed shut and Ford, Evan and Guthrie rushed in.
"Hey, Hannah's trying to sleep." Brian said.
"What did the doctor say?" Guthrie asked clearly worried.
"Bronchitis. She'll be fine. She's resting and so is Adam, so you all keep it down." Brian turned to head back outside where he'd been working. "Somebody stir that stew every now and then."
Guthrie watched Brian leave. "I had that once didn't I?" He asked Ford.
"I dunno. Probably. You got sick every ten minutes is the way I remember it." Ford told him. "Go start your chores before you decide to be sick too."
Guthrie sighed, but he couldn't shake the sick feeling he had in his stomach. He didn't like it when Hannah was sick. The absolute worst had been seeing her in the hospital so sad and pale. He hadn't known what to say to her, and so he had stared at his shoes wishing he could change things.
The rain came down hard during the night and straight on through the morning. They trudged to the bus, trying to stay dry, but got soaked anyhow.
"Aww, hell!" Ford said. "I forgot my math work. I'm not going back out in the rain."
"The bus is here, anyway." Evan said.
"I don't want to go to school today." Guthrie said.
"Quit whining." Ford said. "Geez, you are such a baby sometimes."
"What's the matter?" Evan asked him.
"It's just this stupid essay . . ." Guthrie said softly.
"Come on!" Ford said and ran to the bus.
"Ford! Wait up!" Mike Robertson called as Ford ran to catch the bus home.
"What is it?" Ford paused watching for the bus out of the corner of his eye.
"I've got Guthrie's homework. Can you give it to him?" Mike asked.
"Did he leave it?" Ford asked confused.
"No. He wasn't in class. He was home sick." Mike said and ran off. Ford stood confused. "But he was . . ." Maybe he had gone home sick. Ford turned and climbed on the bus.
"Did you see Guthrie today?" He asked Evan.
"No. Where is he?" He looked all around.
"Mike said he wasn't in class. Did he go home sick?" Ford asked.
"I don't know." Evan said.
They found Hannah on the couch in the living room, Adam nearby. She was sitting up with a blanket tucked around her. Adam was handing her a cup of soup.
"Eat it all." He commanded.
"Don't be bossy." She said willful.
"Don't be stubborn." He said with a grin. "You look better already."
"I ought to! That medicine cost enough!" She said ever mindful of the bottom line.
"It's only money. We got tons of that." He said with a laugh tucking a wild curl behind her ear. They looked up at the boys who came into the room and sat around Hannah.
"You look better." Evan said smiling at her.
"Are you saying something about how I looked before?" She teased him. "Where's Guthrie?"
"He didn't come home sick today?" Ford asked. "They said he wasn't in class."
"No. He wasn't on the bus?" She asked frowning and they shook their heads. She set her soup down on the table beside the couch. She turned to her husband, "Adam, I told you something was wrong!" Hannah sat up and threw back the blanket that had been draped over her.
"Sit and finish that soup." Adam commanded. "Let's not panic just yet. Every McFadden in this house has cut school one time or another." He glanced up. "Except you Ford."
Ford smiled. "I like school."
"This isn't just cutting school. I knew I should have made him talk to me! Did he say anything to you boys?" Hannah asked. "He's been quiet for a week or so."
"Well, he worries over you." Ford answered.
"That's true." Evan said. "He has ever since . . .well, it scared him some."
Hannah looked down, quiet. Adam put a hand on her arm, and both Ford and Evan were sorry they had mentioned anything.
"He said he didn't want to go to school today. I think there was something about an assignment." Ford said remembering. "I was kind of impatient with him." He looked down ashamed and Hannah reached for his hand.
"You didn't know, Ford." She said reassuringly.
The phone rang and Adam answered it.
"Yes, that's me." They all watched the conversation.
"Oh, well, no. We just found out he didn't go. Oh. I see." Adam sighed leaning against the doorway. "No, don't feel bad. It just comes up sometimes when you least expect it. I will. No, thank you for calling." He hung up the phone.
"Who was it?" Hannah asked.
"Mr. Whedon, Guthrie's English teacher. He was worried when Guthrie didn't come to class today. There was an essay due."
"Oh, good grief!" Ford said. "He cut school because he never did his essay! I tell you what . . ."
"No, Ford. It was the heritage report. You remember that." Adam put a hand on Ford's shoulder.
"Oh." Ford looked down suddenly serious.
"What?" Hannah asked.
"Sixth grade, they make us do a stupid report on our heritage." Evan said softly.
"Most kids write about their parents, sometimes grandparents. It is a stupid assignment." Ford said angrily. "Why didn't he say anything?"
Hannah sighed and threw the covers back, standing. "The school should have said something."
"What do you think you are doing?" Adam asked.
"You think I'm gonna sit here, while he's out there somewhere?" She put a hand on her hip.
"Hannah . . ." He began, but realized that if he were in her place, there was no way anyone could prevent him from looking for Guthrie.
"Get some warm clothes on, and a hat." He said to her resigned. She turned and walked up the stairs. "Two pairs of socks! It is raining something terrible!" He hollered up after her.
"You two stay here. Ford, go talk to Brian, Crane and Daniel." Adam told his brother as he reached for his own coat.
"I should have known! He said something about an essay this morning and I just . . ." Ford looked down.
"Don't worry. He'll be alright." Adam said. "I need you two to stay here, in case he comes home, or calls, alright?" Adam looked at his brothers, and remembered how they had each struggled with the same assignment as sixth graders. He sighed thinking of Guthrie, but in his mind's eye, he wasn't twelve but still small with big eyes that always seemed to bore right through you. "We'll look up towards the north pasture and you can . . ."
"I know where he is." Hannah said coming downstairs pulling a wool hat over head.
"You do?" Adam asked.
"Yep. You do too. Think hard, Adam." She stood in front of him wearing one of his thermal shirts under one of her own t-shirts. She buttoned a cardigan over them both. He sighed briefly distracted that she could look beautiful even sick, even worried.
"What do you mean?" He asked her, and then he thought about it, and realized she was right. Where else would Guthrie go? He put his hands on her shoulders. "God, you're pretty when you're smart." He kissed her cheek, and then taking her hand he said, "We'll take the jeep." You boys wait here. We'll call if we don't find him." He said handing her a bright blue parka.
"We'll call when we do find him." She said and gave both boys a kiss, leaving them watching, surprised.
He stood alone soaked through, shivering and looking just about as miserable as anyone could look. There was no one else around which was understandable considering the weather. Adam pulled the jeep to a stop and sighed. The rain had let up a little, but still fell in steady waves.
"Hannah," He began. "How did you know?"
"I know Guthrie. You better let me go." She said looking at her husband's face. He ducked his head, hiding a tear. "I just wish that . . ." He said softly.
She let out a long sigh, and put a gentle hand to the side of his face, rubbing his cheek. "Ten years is a really long time, don't you think? I can shoulder it too, you know." Her voice was soft.
"He's my brother." He said mostly out of habit.
"What a lie." She said with a tender smile and he looked up at her perplexed.
"What does . . ." He began, but she shook her head at him, letting it go for now.
"He doesn't remember, honey. Not at all. And he can't tell you that because it would hurt you. I'll go." She kissed him and climbed out of the jeep. He watched her make her way past the tombstones, to where Guthrie stood alone next to their parents' graves.
"Hey, Guth." She said softly. He looked up surprised.
"You shouldn't be in the rain. You're sick." He said shocked.
"Seems to me, you are in more trouble than I am." She moved closer, but he stepped away.
"Okay." She said standing her ground. "Mr. Whedon called Adam. I wish you'd talked to me about it. I understand why talking to Adam would be hard, but I'd like to think you could talk to me."
"I can." He said.
"Good, then." She said smiling at him. "Guthrie, I'm sorry. I knew you were upset and I should have made you . . ."
He looked up at her then. "Don't be sorry on my account. Don't feel guilty, Hannah. I . . . I didn't think it would bother me, but then I tried to write it down. And I realized that I didn't remember one single thing, not one. Everything I know is a story someone told me, and every real memory I have was . . ."
She stepped closer to him, and this time he stood where he was, his head down. She reached out and put a hand on his arm. "You were two, Guthrie and just barely that. I don't remember anything about being two. It doesn't make you a bad son. People just can't usually remember that far back." She reached out and touched his face with gentle fingers.
"I should remember something, though. Ford does."
"He's older than you. He had more time." She reached out and brushed the hair away from his eyes. "Why don't we go home? You and Adam should talk, don't you think? Come on, hon, let's get out of this rain."
Guthrie looked up at her, his eyes filled with tears. "Hannah . . . I don't want too . . ." He hesitated. "He'll be disappointed." He said in a whisper. "And I . . ." but he couldn't say anything else.
She pulled him into her arms. "Oh, Guthrie. You are such a good son. Your mother and father would be proud of you. I didn't know them, but I know all their sons, and I know it to be true. They would be so proud. He won't be disappointed. He loves you so. You know that, Guthrie. C'mon. It is time to talk." She led him to the jeep where Adam stood waiting.
"Let's get home and dry, and then the three of us are gonna talk, alright?" She said as Adam pulled Guthrie into a hug.
"It's okay, buddy." He said and Guthrie nodded at him swallowing down tears. He climbed up into the jeep.
Adam turned to Hannah, helping her into the jeep and wondering at her, amazed.
"I know you are upset, but running away is no solution." Adam said. He paced in front of Guthrie who looked miserable. "She's sick, Guthrie! She was out in the rain . . .and you let poor, Hannah . . ." The three of them were together in Adam and Hannah's bedroom. Guthrie sat in the arm chair across from the bed. Hannah watched her husband and almost wanted to laugh. Adam never managed his emotions well, and when he was truly upset he fell back on anger.
"Hold on!" Hannah said stopping him. "Adam sit down." He studied his wife determining whether or not he could push back. He decided against it and sat across from Guthrie on the edge of the bed. Guthrie kept his head down.
"Guthrie, can you think of a time that I've done something I didn't want to? Can you think of a time when someone made me do anything?" Hannah said softly, standing just in front of his chair. She smiled at him, and he shook his head. "You've got no cause for guilt. You were upset. I'd go looking for you even if you were in a cave filled with rabid coyote, honey, you know that." She glanced at Adam. "Now, your brother here, didn't really have time to focus on feelings. I mean, he was eighteen years old, and had all of you. He just comes across angry because that's easier for him. You know that!" She nodded her head at Guthrie. "You understand all the things he isn't saying, don't you? He is worried and loves you. You know that. You know him better than anybody. He just gets grouchy because he's afraid." Guthrie looked up at her then with a hint of a smile on his face.
"What are you two talking about?" Adam said angrily, and Hannah and Guthrie smiled.
"Hush." She said to Adam and turned to Guthrie. "Go ahead, now."
"I . . ." He began but seeing Adam's eyes he looked down again.
She crossed to Guthrie and put a hand under his chin, lifting his face.
"Oh, sweetheart, you can say it. I can do it for you, but I know you can do it. He already knows, and any hurt it gives him, isn't your fault." She kissed his forehead.
"What?" Adam said coming to stand beside her, concern etched on his features. "You can tell me, Guthrie. What is it?" His voice was softer now.
It was one of the first things she'd noticed once she'd recovered from the shock of his six brothers; every single one of them spoke to Guthrie in a special soft tone. It had melted her. She squeezed Guthrie's shoulder and sat down beside him on the arm of the chair, one arm around him protectively.
"I don't remember them." Guthrie said very softly. "I don't remember anything at all."
"Oh, but Guthrie, you were just a baby! It isn't your fault! I can't remember being two! No one can, I imagine. They loved you though. You can believe me, can't you? They loved you so much! Mom, she used to sing to you every single night, and we'd all listen. You could hear how much she loved you in the way she formed the notes." He knelt in front of Guthrie. "Why couldn't you tell me that?"
"I thought, you'd be hurt, and it seemed like letting you down. And I. . ." Guthrie drew in a deep breath stifling his tears.
"Go ahead," Hannah encouraged, and Adam was amazed at her. It was as if she had some hidden key that could unlock Guthrie's secrets; could unlock his secrets for that matter. "It isn't disloyal, Guthrie. Adam will agree with me. Come on, now. Things only have power over us while they are secret - speak it out and you'll be set free, hon." He studied her face intently.
"I tried to write that stupid essay." He said. "That's when I realized that I couldn't remember anything and . . ."
"Well, . . ." Adam began but Hannah reached for his hand and shook her head at him.
"I mean I couldn't think of one single thing. Everything I tried to write was just a story someone told me." He sighed and they could hear all the pent up tears inside the sigh. "But then I did start writing. I told about that time when I broke my arm and was all the way up at the south pasture."
"I remember that. God that was awful. It must've took me six hours to find you." Adam said remembering.
"And I wrote about that time, I wanted that stupid race track for my birthday, and you sold that engine you'd been working on rebuilding to get it for me. And that Christmas when I was six, and how no one wanted to get a tree, but you did - in the middle of night, in a snowstorm. I wrote about how I can always count on you, and how you let me sleep in your room - even when I was eleven because you knew I had nightmares, and didn't want me to wake up alone." He said nothing for a long minute and Adam held tightly to Hannah's hand. She squeezed his fingers gently.
"Guthrie," Adam said very softly, understanding.
"Every story I wrote was about you." Guthrie said quietly. "I know it isn't right, and it sure isn't fair to them, but really you're the only father I can ever remember. There isn't anyone else. Just you." Guthrie looked at his older brother shly. Adam, who had been kneeling in front of Guthrie sat back on his heels, speechless. He looked to his wife, who sat beside Guthrie. She smiled at him, but she was crying and he realized that she had known what Guthrie had been going to say to him. She had known it before even Guthrie did. He felt overwhelmed with a swirl of emotions.
Adam swallowed down tears and said, "It isn't disloyal. Hannah's right, Guthrie. I think it would make them happy." Guthrie looked up surprised.
"You think so?"
"Oh, the only thing Mom ever wanted was for you to be loved and happy. If it couldn't be her and Dad . . ." He stopped unable to continue. "Thank you, Guthrie."
Guthrie smiled at Adam then and threw his arms around him. Adam kissed the side of his head. "I love you, Guthrie." He whispered softly.
"I love you too." Guthrie said. "You are a good father, and I'm sorry about that baby, Adam. I am so sorry. He would've been lucky."
Adam said nothing, shocked, and began to cry into his baby brother's shoulder, unable to stop himself. It took him a few minutes to regain his composure and then pushing Guthrie away from himself, he said gently. "That's not all of it, though is it? There's more for you to say, isn't there?" He smiled at Guthrie and nodded his head encouragingly.
Guthrie turned toward Hannah still in Adam's arms. "I wrote about how, even on that very first day, when you were completely in shock about all of us, you made sure I had that last piece of bread - even though you were hungry. And how you sat by my bed when I had the flu, and sang to me when I couldn't sleep. How you are so sweet and good to me. And the way you always seem to know how I feel or when I'm upset."
She had been sure, standing in the rain with Guthrie that she understood everything. That she understood how important a conversation this would be for Adam and Guthrie, but she didn't expect this. She knew that Guthrie loved her. She'd known it probably even before he did, but hearing it - him saying it - it overwhelmed her.
She nodded, crying and said softly, "Oh, Guthrie."
"I don't even know how to explain how glad I am that you came here." Guthrie said softly. "I've never, even had any other mother - least not that I can remember." He glanced at Adam, but his older brother just squeezed his shoulder, kissing his cheek again.
"That's fine, Guth. Mama wouldn't mind it."
Hannah opened her mouth to speak, but hesitated and then said very softly. "After the baby, I was so sad." She glanced at Adam. "I was excited to be a mother, and then . . .but then I saw you there, at the hospital, Guthrie - you were so sad and worried; all I could think about was how to make things better for you. And I realized, I was a mother already." Guthrie nodded. "I mean I know I'm not really a mother, and I'm not her, but . . . I couldn't love you more than I already do, Guthrie. And I'm sorry I missed your first eleven years. I wish I'd been here all along to take care of you."
"I never knew what it was like so I didn't think I missed it not until you came. A mother is the one thing I've never had. I've always had a father, but . . . and now. Hannah, you are so good to me, and I could never be alright without you here. I was afraid at first, about the baby, that you would love it more than me, and then I felt bad - like all those bad feelings I had made bad things happen. I was jealous. But then I thought too, how lucky that baby would be - he would know you from his very first day. He wouldn't have to wait eleven years for you. I'm sorry I was jealous."
Hannah pulled Guthrie close to her crying. "Guthrie, you will always be my very first son. Always." And he wept until completely exhaused he rested there in her arms, finally at peace. Adam wrapped his arms around them both. It took them both awhile to realize that he had fallen asleep. Adam lifted him up then and carried him downstairs. Tucking him into bed.
"All worked out?" Brian asked him.
"Yeah. He just . . . he can't remember them." Adam explained sitting beside his brother on the couch and sighing. He was suddenly tired.
"He was too little." Brian said. He sighed. "It always come back to this, doesn't it? Just when you think that we got it all behind us." He sighed sounding much older than his twenty-five years. "I know I'm grown, but sometimes I still wish they were here. I wish I could come home and find her smiling at me, or even yelling at me to get my dirty boots off her kitchedn floor."
"Me too." Adam said.
"She would've loved Hannah." Brian said looking at his older brother. "They would've got along just fine."
"They would have." Adam said quietly. "Brian, thanks for taking over for a bit after the baby and . . . I was pretty wrecked." Brian smiled. This was a close as Adam ever came to talking about the things that bothered him.
"Can you imagine them grandparents? Mom would've gone nuts! You'll have kids of your own, Adam. It just . . .I'm really sorry. I hate to see her hurt, and you."
"Mom would've spoiled any grandkids. I wouldn't have stood a chance. She would've taken Hannah's side in any fight we ever had." Adam said.
"Adam, everyone would take Hannah's side. You are stupid to ever fight with that girl." Brian said laughing.
"I am." Adam agreed and smiling at his brother, he went upstairs. She had climbed into bed, and he crawled in next to her suddenly exhausted. He thought she might be asleep, but she wrapped her arms around him.
"That's what you meant when you said it was a lie, isn't it?" He asked softly and she nodded her head.
"He's your son, more than any of the others." She said resting her head on his shoulder. Her cheek felt warm against his cool skin reminding him that she was still sick and ought to be asleep.
"How did you know?" He asked.
"Oh, I guess it's because I'm an outsider looking in." She explained.
"You aren't an outsider." He protested.
"No, not that kind of outsider. I just mean, I wasn't here, for all that came before. It has to do with the way you look at Guthrie and the sound of your voice when you speak to him. Anyone can see it. And he loves you so. It is just a million tiny things you would never really notice."
"I never thought about it." He said softly.
"You've never had time to think about anything. I bet you spent most of those first days thinking of your brothers, and making sure they were alright. You've never even grieved properly. I wish I'd known you, even then. I'd have pitched a fit until you sat down and told me how you felt."
"I felt lost." He said truthfully. "I felt overwhelmed. He looked down at her. "I just wanted it not to be true - I wanted them to walk in the door and make things right. But then I looked around and could see all of them, and how much they needed someone to make things right. And there was no one to do it but me, so I just set everything else aside, and didn't look up for ten years."
"You are a good man, Adam McFadden." She said. "Your folks did right by you, and you've done more than right by them." He said nothing and she knew he was crying. She stayed silent her arms strong around him.
"Why did you stay? Why didn't you run off?" He asked her after a time. His voice still held the sound of tears. "I lied to you at the start."
"You didn't really lie." She said quietly. "And I loved you so; love you still. I dunno. I was shocked and hurt. I did feel like I'd been tricked, but talking about six brothers, and looking them in the eyes are two different things. You were all so wild and obnoxious, but I could see how much they loved you. They wanted me to stay just for your sake. They were just afraid at first and unsure. You could see it in all of them, that they wanted you to be happy, and how could I not love them when I could see how they loved you? And Guthrie - I guess he was the one that sort of trapped me. Those big eyes of his, and he so clearly wanted a mother. All of them, they seemed like they needed me."
"We all do. I didn't even understand how much. You are so good to us. I'll never forget you standing in the rain comforting my baby brother. Hannah, you are such a good mother." His voice was soft.
"Oh," Hannah said quietly unable to speak.
"You'll hold a baby in your arms, Hannah. The doctor even said so. God wouldn't have made you such a good mother, and deny you, your own child. I am so sorry, sweetheart, and I'm sorry I've been so . . ." He sighed wishing that words were easier for him.
"I'm sorry too." She said softly. "I felt like I let everyone down."
"It wasn't your fault." He said.
"I understand that." She said. "But understanding and feelings are two different things. And I felt sort of alone because you didn't want to talk about it. I know it hurts you, and I understand why you shy away from things that pain you, but it still felt lonely."
"I'm real sorry."
"I understand it, Adam. You are like a horse that's been through a trauma - if it senses anything that causes it pain, it shies away. You're the same."
"I don't like feeling helpless. It is like standing in the hospital telling all my brothers that their world has been destroyed all over again. I couldn't do anything to help then, and I couldn't do anything to help you either."
"You do help. You help me the same way, you've helped all of them. You love us. That's enough, Adam. I can endure most things if I know you love me."
"I do, Hannah. I thought I loved you the day I married you, but it is nothing compared to how I feel now. And every day it just seems to grow." He turned towards her and kissed her, and pulled her in tight to his chest. "Now, you better get some sleep. You and me can talk for the rest of our days, but you are still sick and it is late." She nestled against him and fell quickly to sleep, but he sat up a long time lost in memories - recent ones with Hannah, and many from a time long ago when he was still just a carefree boy.
"I'm sorry for cutting class, yesterday." Guthrie said to Mr. Whedon before school the next day.
"I'm the one who should apologize. I knew it was a mistake, and should have contacted your brother sooner."
"No, I'm glad you gave me the assignment. It was hard, and it did upset me, but it made me think about some things I should've thought about a long time ago. Anyway, here's my essay." He handed him a paper. "I changed the topic, as you can see." Guthrie smiled at his English teacher.
Mr. Whedon glanced down at the paper and read the title, smiling. "Thank you, Guthrie. Your brother must be very proud of you. He's raised you well."
"He has." Guthrie agreed with a grin. "I'll see you in class." He said and hurried to make it to math before the first bell.
No Orphans Live Here
By Guthrie McFadden
It was in the third grade that I noticed it. I guess I hadn't been paying attention until then. But it says it right on my school paper work: Guthrie McFadden, Orphan, parents deceased. It kind of shocked me, which is dumb because I've known they were dead my whole life.
They died when I was two, so I don't remember them. My brothers have told me stories my whole life. I know from what they told me that my parents loved me and that my mother spoiled me. I was her last baby. For a long time, I got caught up in that one word: orphan. I mean it was so sad, pathetic really. I didn't notice the other things in my file - the very next line which said Guardian: Adam McFadden.
My brother Adam has always taken care of me. Always. I sometimes forget that he was just eighteen when it all happened. That's pretty young to try and keep a family of seven together. I know I can go to him when trouble comes.
Once when I was eight, I'd gone out riding and fell. I broke my arm, and couldn't get back up on my horse. So I had to start walking but it was far and it took forever. My horse ran off, and Adam saw it - my horse without me. I was so hurt and tired, and when I saw him ride over the hill towards me, I cried like a baby. He picked me up and told me everything would be alright. He made me feel better. He even pointed out that he cried too, when he found me, and I didn't think he was baby, did I?
The year I was nine, I really, really wanted this stupid race track set. We didn't have a lot of money. It had been kind of a tough year, but I was young and didn't think about that kind of stuff. I just knew I wanted that race track. And I got it. Later I found out Adam had sold this engine, he'd been working on. He was gonna drop it in this old chevy my Dad and him bought ages ago. He's always talking about fixing that car up, but never has time. And then he sold the engine, so I could have a plastic racetrack with loop. I still have it. I keep the loop up on a shelf because every time I see it, it reminds me.
I'm not an orphan. Orphans don't have parents. I do. My father, is also my brother, which sound like some crazy soap opera thing, but it is true. My father died when I was two years old, but he left behind someone to look after me, love me and care for me. I've never been without a dad.
I can't really end this without mentioning something else. Last year, my brother brought home a wife. Just like that too. He didn't tell us about her ahead of time - just came home on a Saturday afternoon with her; married. We were shocked. No one knew what to say or do. I can understand it better now. Adam had spent ten years of his life, setting himself aside, and putting all of us first, and then he met Hannah. He knew it would be too much to ask anyone to take on six brothers, but he loved her so, he couldn't walk away from her. If you met Hannah, you'd understand it. She's beautiful, but not just to look at. She's sweet and as soon as I saw her, I realized I'd been missing something all along and didn't even know it.
She's headstrong, smart, beautiful and when she sings everyone stops to listen. She always seems to understand what I'm thinking and feeling, sometimes when I don't even understand myself. I think she knew that Adam was my father before I even did. I love her, and don't hardly mind chores if she asks me to do them. She's a really good mother, and I'm proud that she loves me just as she would her very own son.
When I saw those words on file in third grade, it really upset me. I didn't like being reminded that I'm different than my friends. It was bad enough to bring your older brother to the Mother's Day Tea, I didn't need a label on my file too. But now, instead of focusing on the first few lines, I like to think about the second part: Guardians - Adam McFadden, Hannah McFadden.
No orphans live in our house.