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Authors: Debbie Macomber

Montana (4 page)

BOOK: Montana
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The last year had precious few happy memories for her and the boys. This was a new beginning for them all. A challenge, too—building a new life, a new home. Few people were given this kind of opportunity. Molly fully intended to make the best of it.

“Are we there yet?” Clay asked, his head bobbing in the rearview mirror.

“Clay,” his brother groaned. “We haven't even left California.”

“We haven't?”

“Unfortunately, no,” Molly concurred.

Clay's head disappeared as he sank down on the seat. His small shoulders slumped forward. “How long's it going to take?”

“Days,” Tom said grimly.

Molly resisted the urge to jab him. From the first, her older son's attitude about the move had been less than enthusiastic—although he'd approved of
visiting
Montana to go and see Gramps. But not to stay there forever, as he'd told her repeatedly this past week. He'd barely uttered a word from the time they started out a couple of hours earlier. As far as she could tell, he continued to blame her for making him repaint the gym wall. Molly didn't know why
she
should feel guilty when he was the one who'd sprayed it with gang symbols.

If she needed confirmation that she'd made the right decision, Tom had provided it. The mere thought of her son involved in a gang turned her blood cold. She was terrified of the attraction a gang might hold for him—for
any
confused angry fatherless boy. Gangs weren't an issue in Sweetgrass. The people were decent and hardworking, and she wouldn't need to worry about big-city influences.

“Did I tell you about the Broken Arrow?” she asked in an attempt at conversation. If she displayed a positive attitude, perhaps Tom would start to think that way himself.

“About a thousand times,” he muttered, his face turned away from her as he stared out the side window. The scenery rolled past, huge redwoods and lush green forests, so unlike the fertile river valley of Montana.

“There's horses, too,” Molly added. As she recalled, Gramps always had a number on hand. These were strong sturdy horses, kept for work, not pleasure or show.

Tom yawned. “How many?”

Molly lifted one shoulder, her gaze trained on the road.
Interest.
Even this little bit was more than Tom had shown from the moment she'd announced her plans.

“What about my report card?” Clay asked, launching himself against the front seat, thrusting his head between Molly and Tom.

“The school promised to mail it.” Molly decided not to remind her son that she'd answered the same question no less than ten times. They'd miss the last couple of weeks of school, but had finished all their assignments beforehand. Molly had feared even a two-week delay might be too long, considering her grandfather's condition.

“You could've asked if I wanted to move.” Tom leaned his head against the back of the seat and glared at her. Apparently holding his head up demanded more energy than he could muster.

“Yes,” Molly admitted reluctantly, “you're right, I should have.” This was a sore point with Tom. A transgression he seemed unwilling to forgive.

“But you
didn't
ask me.”

“No, I didn't. Gramps needs us right now and I didn't feel we could refuse.” Perhaps she'd made a mistake; it wasn't her first one and certainly wouldn't be her last. Molly felt she'd had few options. Besides removing Tom from involvement in a gang, she had to get to Gramps as soon as possible, to be with him during his remaining days. And since she would inherit the ranch, the more she learned about the management of it now, the better.

“You're taking us away from our friends.”

“Like Eddie Ries?”

It was clear to Molly that Tom needed a better class of companions. She worried incessantly about her son and wondered what had happened to the good-natured helpful boy he used to be. The transformation had come virtually overnight. He'd grown sullen, ill-tempered and moody.

In the beginning she feared he might have started using drugs. She'd gone so far as to call a drug hot line. She'd learned that the best way to figure out if her son was experimenting with illegal drugs wasn't to dig through his backpack or his room for evidence. Kids were experts at hiding paraphernalia, and even better at convincing family they were innocent of anything so dangerous or devious. She suspected that was because parents didn't want to believe their children were caught up in something so destructive and therefore chose to believe whatever the kids told them. Facing the truth was far too painful—and would demand action.

The true test, according to the pamphlet she'd read, was knowing your children's friends. One look at the type of friends your son or daughter associated with was usually enough.

Until last fall Tom's friends had been good kids, from good homes, who made good grades. She felt relatively reassured until he started hanging around with Eddie Ries. Even then it was difficult to gauge the truth.

According to Mr. Boone, the school principal, Tom's friendship with Eddie had been a recent development. Molly hoped that was true.

“Will Gramps teach me to ride?” Clay asked, straining forward in his seat.

“Probably not,” Molly said with a renewed sense of sadness. “Remember, he isn't well. I don't think he rides anymore.”

“This is gonna be a bust,” Clay said, slumping against the window.

Molly shook her head in wonder. “What in heaven's name is the matter with you two?”

“We don't have any friends in Montana,” Tom said sulkily.

“You'll make new ones.” That was one thing she could say about her boys. Not more than a week after moving into the apartment they'd met every kid within a five-block radius. Neither Tom nor Clay had any problem forming new friendships. The ranch kids would be eager to learn what they could about the big city, and before long Tom and Clay would be heroes.

“Let me tell you about the ranch,” she tried again.

“Yeah!” Clay said eagerly.

“I'm not interested,” Tom muttered.

One yes. One no. “What's it to be?” she asked cheerfully. “Do I get the deciding vote?”

“No fair!” Tom cried.

“Plug your ears,” Clay said, snickering.

Tom grumbled and looked away, wearing the mask of a tormented martyr. He had brooding down to an art form, one he practiced often. Molly couldn't remember her own adolescence being nearly this traumatic, and Tom was only fourteen. She hated to think of all the high-scale drama the coming years held in store.

“Originally the Broken Arrow was over 15,000 acres,” Molly began. She said this with pride, knowing how difficult it had been for Gramps to sell off portions of his land. All that remained of the original homestead was 2,500 acres.

“How come the ranch is named the Broken Arrow?” Clay asked.

“Because they found a broken arrow on it, stupid.”

“Tom!”

“Well, it's true, isn't it?”

“Yes, but it wasn't a stupid question. If I remember correctly, Tom, you asked me the same one.”

“Yeah, but that was when I was a little kid.”

“About Clay's age, as I recall.” She recalled no such thing, but it served him right for belittling his younger brother.

“What about his foreman?” Clay asked next.

Gramps's foreman. Molly had nothing to tell. All she knew about him was his name and the fact that he was apparently devoted to Gramps. Devoted enough to make sure she knew of Gramps's ill health.

She'd reviewed their short conversation a number of times in the two weeks since his phone call, afraid she might have missed something important. She wondered if there'd been something else he'd wanted to tell her, a hidden message beneath his words. She'd sensed his urgency, accepted the gravity of the situation. Yet when she'd phoned Gramps the next night, he'd sounded quite healthy. He'd been thrilled with her news, and she'd hung up equally excited.

Molly's thoughts turned from Sam Dakota to employment possibilities. Eventually she'd need to find a job in Sweetgrass. While there might not be much demand for a translator, she wondered if the high school needed a French or German teacher. If all else failed, she could try getting long-distance freelance assignments. Perhaps she could tutor or give private lessons. Several of the upmarket preschools in San Francisco were beginning to offer foreign-language lessons to their three-and four-year-old clients. Hey—she could start a trend in Montana!

Molly sighed. She didn't want to think about the dismal state of her finances. She'd sold everything she could—furniture, dishes, household appliances. She wasn't carting away fistfuls of dollars from her moving sale, but with her meager savings and her last paycheck, she'd have funds enough to see her through the next couple of months. After that—

“Mom,” Clay said, breaking into her thoughts, “I asked you about Gramps's foreman.”

“What about him?”

“Do you think he'll teach me to ride?”

“I…I don't know, sweetheart.”

“Why should he?” Tom asked, and rolled his eyes as if he could barely stand being in the same car with anyone so stupid.

“I can ask, can't I?” Clay whined.

“Of course,” Molly answered, attempting to divert a shouting match.

After repeated warnings, Clay finally secured his seat belt and fell asleep, his head cocked to one side. Because the car's air conditioner didn't work, Molly had hoped to avoid the heat as much as possible by leaving before six that morning. Already both boys were tired and cranky. Not long after Clay dozed off, Tom braced his head against the window and closed his eyes.

The silence was a blessed relief after two hours of almost continual bickering. Molly was grateful for the quiet, grateful for her grandfather—and grateful to Sam Dakota for calling her when he had.

She hadn't met the man and already he'd changed her life.

 

A cooling breeze came from the north. Walter Wheaton sat on his rocker on the front porch and enjoyed the fresh sweet morning air. He was weak, but even his bad heart couldn't curtail his excitement.

Molly and the boys were on their way. They'd been on the road two days and by his best estimate would arrive around noon. He was already imagining how they'd turn from the highway and onto the meandering dirt road that led to the ranch. When they did, he wanted to be sitting right here on the porch waiting for them. Damn, but it'd be good to see Molly again. Good to see those young ones of hers, too. She hadn't said so, but he knew she worried about being a good mother. The world was a different place now, compared to when he'd grown up, but love and discipline still worked wonders.

The older boy had a sassy mouth; Walt had heard it himself when he'd talked to her on the phone. And the younger one was like a puppy, making a mess wherever he went. In time they'd learn, though. Tom might require a little help adjusting his attitude, but Walt felt up to the task. What that boy needed was a man's influence, a man's guiding hand. That and a switch taken to his backside when he deserved it!

In the big city someone was liable to report him for suggesting the rod. Child abuse they'd call it and probably toss him in the clinker. Walt believed that child abuse was ignoring your children, neglecting them, not giving them guidance or a good example. Those things hurt kids far more than an occasional smack on the rear. What was the matter with people these days? he wondered.

A plume of dust showed at the end of the driveway. Molly. He hadn't expected her quite this early. His Molly and her boys.

Walter stood carefully, taking his time so as not to overtax his heart. My, oh my, he was looking forward to seeing his family. Thank goodness Molly had mailed all those pictures! Without them, he wouldn't recognize the boys.

His eyes weren't what they used to be and it took Walt far longer than it should have to realize it was a truck that barreled toward him and not a car pulling a trailer. Another minute passed before he recognized his neighbor, Ginny Dougherty. The woman didn't have the sense God gave a rock chuck.

Walt grunted in annoyance. Ginny was a damn fool. The widow simply didn't know her limitations; she was crazy trying to run a ranch on her own. Fred, her bachelor cousin—aged at least sixty—lived with her and helped out on the place. In Walt's opinion, the two of them were like the blind leading the blind. And he'd told her so, too. Frequently.

Ginny's truck squealed to a halt, kicking up dust. The door opened and she leaped out so fast you'd think the seat was on fire.

“Before you start shouting,” she began, “I suggest you hear me out.”

Walt didn't have the strength to yell much these days, but he wasn't letting Ginny know that. “What do you want this time?” he demanded. He wrapped his arm around the post and casually leaned against it, so she wouldn't realize how weak he was.

BOOK: Montana
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