Daniel McFadden hung up the phone silently. Everyone was outside which made it easier for him. He didn't have to answer any questions or hide his expression.
His life was complicated; much more complicated than the average nineteen year old. He had tremendous responsibilities and obligations. He understood that completely. And yet, he longed to be free. Looking out the front window, he could see them all. His brothers joking and laughing together. His sister-in-law smiling and talking to her eight year old niece. They had made some ice cream and sat around the porch eating it. The late September sun was still warm but there was a hint of coolness in the breeze.
His six brothers had been his whole world from that day ten years ago when a lonely trucker decided he could drive just a bit more before sleeping and dozing, crossed into the lane and the car that held his parents. If he closed his eyes, he could still see his oldest brother Adam's face as he told them that they would never see their parents again. He had been eight years old. They had clung tightly to one another, struggling to keep their parents dream alive: Circle Bar Seven.
Their greatest problem initially was that their parents had been killed just days before round up. They had an obligation to bring the cattle in, and ever determined Adam and Brian had made sure they had. They had all gone for they couldn't afford to leave anyone behind to watch the little guys, and so at eight Daniel found himself riding herd. He would never forget Adam's drive to fulfill their father's responsibility with Guthrie, just barely two, strapped to him, so he wouldn't fall off the horse. It had been horrible and wonderful all at the same time; they experienced a deep grief and an indescribable freedom.
They got stronger over time and managed to rebuild a life for themselves. Adam and Brian struggling to step in as parents. It was never easy and they struggled to stay together.
Then one Saturday, Adam came home with Hannah. He'd married her and not even brought her home once. Daniel had been stunned. He didn't think Adam capable of anything other than obsessively trying to maintain his father's wishes. And yet, he'd managed to find himself a girl brave enough to marry him.
And she changed everything.
It wasn't just that the house was clean and organized, or that she was a good cook. It was more than that. She brought out a softness, not only in Adam but in all of them. They tried to behave for her sake. There was less yelling; less cursing; more singing and more talking. He was still amazed that one woman could tip the scales against seven men.
Hannah made it a home again; a real one. The greatest evidence of it was Guthrie, who'd spent his whole life motherless. He had taken to her immediately and without the hesitation he and his brothers had. Daniel could remember, one night as they all sat around the living room, watching Guthrie rest his head on her shoulder. She hadn't even been with them a week at that point and he could see that she could give Guthrie something they never could; a mother's love. Seeing Guthrie so content made him ache for his own mother as though she had just left him yesterday. He had turned his face away, surprised by sudden tears. Only Crane had noticed, and later in their room had asked him about it.
"What was that?"
"Did you see Guthrie?" He'd asked him. Their voices drifting softly in the darkness.
"Yeah." Crane said.
"It made me think of Mom."
"He should have a mom. He deserves that." He wished he could see Crane's face.
"Yeah. And she's sweet." Crane said softly. "She's good to Guthrie. And she makes Adam . . ."
"He's a whole different person. Well, not different. He's the same but better. I can't explain it."
"He's happy." Crane explained. "We can't blow this for him. Besides," Crane confessed. "I like her."
Looking out the window he could see her now. Nearly eight months pregnant with twins. He couldn't look at her without smiling. He couldn't look at her without thinking how much he'd grown to love her. She was his only sister.
And now, all he wanted to do was leave her. He wanted to go away from her, from his brothers and from the ranch that his parents had struggled to build. He wanted to run
from all his obligations and abandon his oldest brother who sacrificed every dream he had to raise him.
It was supposedly the best day of his life. He had just had the best phone call in all his nineteen years. And he was miserable.