This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

This story is copyright by Owen Hudson, all rights reserved. Distribution, including but not limited to: posting on internet sites, newsgroups, or message boards, or in book form (either as a whole or part of a compilation), or on CD, DVD or any other electronic media, is expressly prohibited without the author's written consent.

Ten Steps Down

© 2010 Owen Hudson

Chapter 8

What was Dan asking me to do for Nicole? Was she seriously ill and needed a bone marrow transplant or one of my kidneys? Giving some of my bone marrow was one thing, but to give up a kidney was another. All sorts of thoughts were spinning through my head. I hardly knew my sister, but I quickly decided that I would give her one of my kidneys if she needed it.

"Craig, are you still there?" Dan asked as I contemplated what he was asking me to do.

"I'm still here," I said as I realized he was still on the phone with me.

"Look Craig, I know that I have no right to ask any favors of you after the way I abandoned you. But, I'm asking this for Nicole. I want to give her a future that I never gave you."

"What do you want Dan?" My question came out more detached than I intended.

"I have been offered a chance for a promotion," Dan said. "It would be a strictly a day job with no weekends."

"That's great," I said with complete sincerity. "You need to be home with Nicole."

"The problem is that to get the position I'll have to go to Denver for five days of training," Dan said. "I don't have anyone to leave Nicole with."

"What about her mother?" I asked.

"She and her boyfriend were arrested for manufacturing meth with the intent to sell," Dan said. "She is in jail, but she isn't allowed to be alone with Nicole anyway. I was hopeful that you could come here to Junction City and stay with her while I'm gone. I had made arrangements with Nicole's babysitter, but her father had a heart attack and she is going to be with him."

"I'm helping Dad build a new farrowing barn," I said. "We have sows that will be giving birth soon and it has to be completed soon."

"Do you think she could stay there for a week?" Dan asked in a voice that almost seemed childlike.

"I don't know," I admitted. "Grandma Cochran is here recovering from surgery. I'll ask Mom and Dad and call you later."

"Ask mom and dad what?" Mom asked as she walked by while I was on the phone.

"Hold on Dan," I said as I covered the mouthpiece of the phone. "Dan wants to know if Nicole can stay with us for a week while he is in Denver for training. It is required for his promotion."

"Of course she can," Mom quickly agreed. "Let me talk to him though. We will need a signed form allowing us to take her for medical care if needed."

"I'll sleep in the basement bedroom and Nicole can have my room," I said during dinner when we were discussing Nicole's visit.

"No, I want to sleep down there," James said. "I've never slept there."

"I'm well enough to take care of myself," Grandma said. "I'll go back home and she can have my room."

"No, you're not well enough to go home," Mom said. "Both of the boys have offered to sleep in the basement bedroom. It is a comfortable room."

"I'm going to take the basement bedroom," James said as he stuck out his tongue at me.

"Be my guest then," I said as I suppressed a smile.

"When will she be here?" James asked.

"Tomorrow," Mom said.

"I'll start moving my things there tonight," James said.

"Don't move everything down there," Mom cautioned James. "Just take enough clothes for a week. You should clean out a drawer for Nicole's things."

"I will," James agreed. "I'll change the sheets on my bed too. Who will watch Nicole while we're working with Dad?"

"She will keep Margaret and me company," Mom said.

"I want you boys to go over tomorrow and mow Margaret's lawn while I go purchase additional supplies for the farrowing barn," Dad said.

"That won't be necessary," Grandma said. "I can hire the lawn service to do it. I've been paying them in the past."

"We'll do it and you can save your money," James quickly said.

"Then I'll pay you boys," Grandma said.

"We can't take your money," I said. "You're family."

"Are you sure it is safe for the boys to be next door to Sharon and that pervert that she has living with her?" Mom asked.

"Craig can beat the shit out of him," James said.

"James!" Mom scolded him.

"Oops, sorry Mom and Grandma," James said.

"Do you guys talk like that out at the barns?" Mom asked as she and Grandma laughed.

"Boys, let's clear the table and clean the kitchen for your mom," Dad said in an effort to change the subject.

"You go ahead and butter me up, but you're still on my list," Mom laughed.

"Your shit list?" James asked before he realized what he had just said. "Oops, sorry again," he said as he ran from the room."

We all burst in to laughter when we heard his bedroom door close.

Later a very timid James returned and said, "Mom, I'm sorry. Are you mad at me?"

"No James, I'm not mad at you," Mom said. "But you do need to learn not to use that language. I know you guys talk that way when working on the farm, but let's leave it there."

"Okay Mom," James said as he kissed her on the cheek.

"I moved my things to the basement and changed the sheets on my bed," James said mostly to change the subject.

"Nicole won't be here until tomorrow," Mom said.

"I know," James admitted. "But, I wanted to sleep down there tonight."

"There is no TV down there," I mentioned, knowing that James like to watch TV.

"I know, but I'm reading that book that I got at the library the other day," James said.

"What book are you reading?" Grandma asked.

"The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton," James said. "It is really good."

"I loved that movie," Mom said.

"I didn't know it was a movie too," James said.

"Oh yes," Mom said. "There were a lot of young actors that are now very famous. "Tom Cruse and several others that I can't remember were in it. After you finish the book we'll rent the movie."

"Cool," James said.

The next morning James and I loaded the mower and weed eater on Dad's truck and went to mow Grandma's lawn. The neighborhood where I once lived appeared almost alien to me. Sharon's lawn was overgrown and unkempt. Neal's truck was in the driveway and this made me a little nervous. It wasn't that I was afraid of him, but I didn't care to have another encounter with him.

James used the mower and I ran the weed eater. We had been mowing for about twenty minutes when Neal came out of the house yelling for us to stop the goddamn noise.

"Go away and leave us alone," James yelled back. "My brother will kick your ass again."

Before I could say anything, I heard Dad say, "Hey, get your ass away from my boys and stay away." I hadn't seen dad drive up. "If you come near my boys again I'll blow your fucking head off," Dad yelled as he made a pretend pistol with his hand and pointed at Neal.

I could see the fear in Neal's face. I wasn't sure that dad meant what he said, but I know Neal believed him as he turned and nearly ran into the house.

"Dad, what are you doing here?" James asked.

"I noticed that you boys left your ice chest of cold drinks and I brought them to you," Dad explained. "I should never have sent you here with that fool next door. I'm glad that I came by. I'm staying right here until you're finished."

"Dad, we'll be fine," I said. "I can't go around being afraid of that jerk. Eventually Grandma will be coming back home and James and I will be coming to visit her."

"He's right Dad," James said. "We'll be fine. That idiot just about shit his pants when he saw you." It was obvious that James was enjoying using the word without Mom around.

"I'll help you finish and then we're all out of here," Dad offered.

"No, you'll get all sweaty," James said.

"Yeah, we're almost finished anyway," I said. "Besides we only have the one mower and one weed eater."

After we finished mowing we loaded the equipment on Dad's truck while Dad waited for us before he would leave. We drove home and Dad went to take care of his business in town.

"Do you think Nicole is here yet?" James questioned as we turned into our driveway.

"Probably not," I said. "Dan's flight out of Kansas City is late this afternoon.

When we arrived home Mom had lunch ready for us. Grandma tried to pay James and me for mowing, but neither of us would take her money. We finally came to an agreement that she would donate the money to CASA.

"Mom, you should have seen Dad," James excitedly said as he took a bite of his sandwich. "He scared the sh... pants off of Neal," James quickly corrected himself.

"What happened?" Mom asked as her expression changed from a smile to one of concern.

"He came out and yelled at James because we were making too much noise mowing," I explained.

"That bastard," Grandma said in disgust.

"Yeah," James said. "Dad came by to bring our drinks and told that old Neal that he would blow his head off if he didn't leave his boys alone. Neal almost ran back into the house."

I was pleased that James didn't use the F word that Dad had used.

"I'm going to talk to Jason about him," Mom said. "Every time he sees you he causes trouble."

"I think you should before Dad does something foolish," I said. "He was really angry."

James and I decided to do our chores early so that Dad wouldn't have to help. We were almost finished when Dad arrived home. "You boys didn't have to do this," Dad said. "You could have waited until I got home."

"We wanted to get everything done early," James said. "We only have this one farrowing pen to wash and sanitize."

"I don't know how I managed before you boys came here to live," Dad said. "You both work harder than any man I've ever hired. I'm proud of both of you."

"You do pay us," I said, feeling a little guilty about taking pay when Mom and Dad provided a great place for me to live.

"Don't get that look, Craig," Dad said.

"What look?" I asked.

"The look that you think you owe Libby and me something," Dad said. "We took you boys in because you needed us. As it turned out we needed you too. You've made our lives full again."

We were enjoying a glass of ice tea when Don and Nicole arrived. After showing Nicole her room, Mom questioned Dan about Nicole's likes, dislikes, allergies, and medical history. "I'll also need a number where I can reach you if there is an emergency," Mom said.

"My cell phone number is on the medical form I gave you," Dan said.

"I'll also need your hotel number too," Mom insisted. "Cell phones aren't entirely reliable."

"I'll call and give you the hotel number when I arrive," Dan said. "I'll write down my company phone number for you. They can always locate me. I would like to call Nicole each evening if you don't mind."

"Oh I'm sure she would be disappointed if you didn't," Mom said.

"I need to go," Dan said. "My flight is at 7:30."

"Bye Daddy," Nicole said as she kissed Dan on the cheek.

"Bye Honey," Dan said. "You be a good girl for Mrs. Turner."

"I will Daddy," Nicole promised.

"Come Nicole, let's go get you unpacked and put your things away," Mom said after Dan left.

Later in the evening James and Nicole were watching some silly program on TV that I didn't care for, and I went to the kitchen to see if Mom needed help.

"Thank you Honey," Mom said when I asked if she needed help. "You can set the table for me if you like. As I was saying, Margaret," Mom continued her conversation with Grandma. "That poor little girl needs some new clothes. Most of what she brought is too small for her and something a little girl normally doesn't wear."

"Are you going to tell Dan?" Grandma asked.

"I'm going to take her into town tomorrow and get her some decent clothes," Mom said. "Even if he doesn't pay me back, she needs some decent clothes. Nicole can't start school this fall with those clothes either."

"I have some money I can give you," I offered.

"No Honey," Mom said. "I'll get the money from Dan. I think he just doesn't know any better. I'll just get her some play clothes for now. I'll talk to Dan about her school clothes later. She also needs new underwear and some comfortable play shoes."

"This is really good food," Nicole said during dinner. "My daddy can't cook very good."

"I couldn't cook very well either when Don and I first got married," Mom said.

"I never know when to use good or well," Nicole said when she noticed that Mom used the word well.

"I bought James a handy little book that he uses a lot for grammar," Mom said. "We'll get you one tomorrow when we go shopping. I'll also put together some easy recipes for your dad."

I'm not sure who was enjoying Nicole's visit more, Mom or Nicole. Mom had never had a girl to buy for. When Dad, James and I came in for lunch Nichole excitedly showed us her new clothes. "I've never had this many new clothes at one time," she said. "Aunt Libby helped me pick them out."

"We decided that I could be her aunt," Mom said. "Margaret agreed to be her grandma too."

 Even Grandma was enjoying spending time with Nicole, and helped her make a purse from an old pair of Dad's blue jeans. It was obvious that Nicole was enjoying the attention she was receiving from the entire family. She proved to be a sweet loving little girl. However, I felt she may not have been abused, but she lacked loving attention.

"Mom, I'm worried that Dan really doesn't have the knowledge to care for Nicole," I said when I had a private moment with her. "She craves attention, and you saw the clothes he brought for her. Do you think I should talk to him about her?"

"Why don't we both talk to him?" Mom asked. "He seems to love Nicole, but I think you may be right that he doesn't have the knowledge to care for her. If he really cares for her he will appreciate the advice."

Nicole's visit with us ended too soon for me. I felt I was just getting to know my sister, but the day that Dan was to arrive to pick her up came too soon. Dan's flight from Denver was a late evening flight and it was almost 10:00 pm when he arrived at our farm.

Nicole was happy to see Dan and had to tell him about how much fun she had on the farm with us. After visiting for a while Dan said, "Nicole we should get going we will be getting home late."

"It is late and you may as well spend the night here," Mom said. "Nicole is about to fall asleep. There is an extra bed in the basement if you don't mind that."

"I don't mind at all," Dan said.

"I'll show you the bed," James offered. "It's in the game room."

"I hope Nicole wasn't too much trouble for you," Dan said after he had tucked her into bed and went with James to see where he would sleep.

"She was no trouble at all," Mom said. "She is a sweet little girl. I took her and bought her some new clothes. When you packed her clothes you packed the ones that were too small for her."

"I guess I hadn't noticed that her clothes were that small," Dan said. "I'll write you a check for the clothes you bought. I know so little about buying clothes for a little girl."

"Would you like for me to help you select her clothes for school?" Mom asked.

"That would be great," Dan said. "I failed miserably being a good dad to Craig; I don't want to do the same with Nicole."

The despise I had for Dan faded a little. "Dan, isn't there some sort of class you could take to learn how to be a good single parent?" I asked.

"There are parenting classes available," Mom said. "I think Craig is right that you might want to consider taking one. Nicole also said that you couldn't cook. I put together a notebook with some easy recipes for you."

"She's right, I'm not a very good cook," Dan admitted with a laugh. "Thank you for the recipes. Margaret, I want to thank you for helping Nicole make the purse. She showed it to me and said you made it for her."

"I was happy to do it," Grandma said. "She is a sweet girl."

"You were probably the only stable person in Craig's life when he was a kid," Dan said. "I want to thank you for that."

"Craig has been a joy to me," Grandma said. "Now I have James too, and I hope you'll let Nicole be a part of my life too."

"Of course I will," Dan said. "Now if you don't mind I think I'll go to bed. It has been a long exhausting day."

"Did James show you the bathroom down there?" Dad asked. "Our family has grown so much lately that we decided to have one installed down in the basement."

"Yes, he did," Dan said. "He even showed me where the towels are."

"I even gave it a good cleaning," James said.

"Yes, it was spotless," Dan said.

The night was a restless sleep for me. My mind was racing from my past to the present. One minute I was angry at Dan and the next I saw that he was trying to be a good dad to Nicole. Finally after tossing and turning until five am I got out of bed and made my way to the kitchen. I was pouring myself a glass of milk when I heard Mom say, "I thought I heard somebody up. Are you okay?"

"Yes Mom, I'm fine," I said. "I couldn't sleep so I decided to just get up."

"Did you have a rough night?"

"I guess you could say that."

"Do you want to talk about it?"

"Mom, I want to hate him. I remember how he drove away when I was eight. He didn't even look back or say goodbye. He never bothered to come and see me. That is difficult to take. I hated him until we had Nicole for a week. I saw that he loves her and is trying to be a good dad."

"Why don't you talk to him about your feelings? Get it off your chest."

"Mom, I'm not sure I know what to say to him. He is almost like a stranger to me now."

"Tell him what you've told me."

"I guess you're right. I'll talk to him before he and Nicole go home."

"I think I heard your dad flush the toilet. I'll start the coffee and then breakfast when everybody is awake."

Soon the entire family was up and ready for breakfast. James and I helped Mom prepare breakfast. I was glad that everyone had something to say and didn't notice that I was quiet. In my mind I was going over what I wanted to say to Dan.

After breakfast Mom said, "Craig why don't you and Dan take your coffee out on the deck while Nicole, James and I clean up the kitchen."

Dan had a confused look, but he followed me to the back deck anyway. "This is planned, isn't it," he said.

"As a matter of fact it was," I admitted. Suddenly everything I had rehearsed in my mind was gone.

"What did you want to talk to me about?"

"I wanted to talk to about how I hated you after you drove away and left me when I was eight," I declared.

"I know how you feel about that. You said that before. I wish I could make it up to you for what I've done."

"Dan, I used to cry at night wanting you to come and rescue me. At first I wondered what I had done wrong. As I grew older, I began to hate you."

"I can't say that I blame you. I hope one day you can forgive me."

"I see how you try to do the best for Nicole. I can't say that I still hate you, but I do want to be a part of Nicole's life. I'll never understand how you could just leave me and never bother to see me. But that is the past. I'm happy where I am now. As I told you before, I want you to be the dad for Nicole you weren't for me. I want us to be on friendly bases for Nicole."

"I want that too. She was elated to learn that she had a big brother. When she is older I'll tell her what I did to you. It is something that I'm ashamed of, but she has the right to know why you were adopted by the Turners. I know that Don and Libby love you. You're lucky to have them."

"Yes, and I'm lucky to have my brother James."

"He has been very kind to me. He seems like a good kid. I'm not sure he would if he knew how horrible I was to you."

"James is very forgiving."

"I'm not sure he would be in this case. He admires his big brother."

"He has had a rough life until he came here. He was beaten so bad that he had deep scars on his back that required surgery to fix. This is his first real family. You do know that he even considers Nicole to be his sister too?"

"I gathered that. I talked to her about that and she likes the idea of having two big brothers. How did Sharon treat you before you came to live with the Turners?"

"Grandma Cochran was the only stable person in my life. Other than her I was pretty much on my own. It was worse when she took up with Neal and he was always trying to molest me."

"He what?"

"Yes, he was always after me and I afraid to go to sleep in my bed because I never knew when he would come into my room. I began to feel safe after I found the hidden room and more or less lived there."

"Why didn't you tell Sharon?"

"I tried to, but she wouldn't listen, so I just gave up."

"I should go whip Neal's ass."

"I already did that when he attacked me."

"You have bulked up a lot. Do you work out?"

"I take martial arts classes and help Dad here on the farm."

"You know Craig, it used to bother me to hear you call Don Dad. But, he really is a good dad to you and James. I hope you and I can at least be friends."

"I never thought I would say this, but yes I think we can. I will always be angry about what you did, but I no longer hate you."

"That is more than I hoped for. I would like for you to come to Junction City to visit Nicole and me, and bring James too."

"I think I would like that. And, one more thing, please consider taking the parenting class."

"I promise I'll do that."

We all missed having Nicole around after she and Dan went back home. However, there were more visits than in the past. Grandma too moved back home as her "new" knee was healing quite well. James decided to move into her old room to have his own bathroom.

James and I came to a realization that our summer was soon ending when Mom announced one evening that we would be going shopping for school clothes the next day. Our summer had been so busy that I had hardly seen my friends.

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