by Purple Lacey

Alternate Universe One Big Happy Family

Disclaimer: Not mine, no money made, yada, yada,yada.

This is a story set in my OBHF AU so you might want to read One Big Happy Family? first to avoid any confusion. I´m writing this story because so many of you wrote and asked for it. So for all the kind people who sent such wonderful (and ego- feeding) feedback, this one´s for you.

This is an open AU.

It was the quiet that first caught his attention. Although his nephew, Josiah, was often introspective, the quiet that surrounded the fourteen year old at the moment seemed more troubled than was usual.

Chris Larabee glanced at the youth standing beside him holding the posthole diggers Chris had just handed him. He could see the boy´s attention was not fully on the repair job they were doing on the barbed wire fence. The boy was staring into the hole Chris had just dug to replace the rotten fence pole, too distracted to notice he was being scrutinized. Chris reached into his back pocket and pulled the crumpled blue bandana out and wiped the sweat from his face as he watched the teenager.

In the two weeks that had passed since Chris and his wife Mary, and Ezra and Inez Standish had moved into their nephews´ home as stipulated by Eileen and Cody Larabee´s will, Chris had come to know his nephew´s habits and idiosyncrasies a little better. There was something bothering the boy and Chris knew if it wasn´t exposed and dealt with as soon as possible it might push the teen into another drinking binge.

“You got something on your mind, Josiah?” Chris asked.

Josiah started as his attention was jerked back into the present by his uncle´s voice. Josiah looked up and found Chris watching him, and felt embarrassed to be caught lost in his thoughts.

“No, not really, Uncle Chris,” Josiah hurried to deny.

“Sure looked like something was bothering you,” Chris replied.

Josiah was torn between asking the question he wanted to ask and possibly upsetting this man that meant so much to him, or just keeping his mouth shut and letting his curiosity eat him alive. He gave a silent sigh of relief when Chris took the decision away from him.

“Come on. Let´s get a drink of water and talk awhile,” Chris said.

Josiah dropped the digger beside the wooden post lying on the ground waiting to be set in place, and followed his uncle to the open tail gate of the pickup they were using to haul the replacement fence posts. Both males took a seat on the tail gate and Chris reached behind him and took two bottles of water from the ice chest they had tossed into the back of the pickup that morning. He handed one to Josiah and twisted the cap off his own. Lifting it to his lips he let the chilled water pour into his mouth and down his throat and drank half the bottle in two swallows, all the while keeping his eyes on the young man seating next to him. Josiah opened his bottle and took a few sips but avoided his uncle´s eyes. Finally Josiah looked up at his uncle and drew a deep breath.

“Why do you and Uncle Ezra dislike each other?” Josiah asked hesitantly.

Chris was caught by surprise. He had not really expected any of the four boys to pick up on the strained relationship that he and Ezra shared. They both took pains to control their actions and tongues around the boys. That Josiah had not only noticed it but was worried about it, shook him.

Chris sat watching the teen silently for a moment. He thought about denying the statement but realized he would be doing irreparable damage to his relationship with Josiah if he lied. He was suddenly certain Josiah would know it if he told a lie. He didn´t know how he knew this, but was sure it was true. If he wanted to keep Josiah´s trust then the truth was his only option. Looking into the blue eyes that watched his so seriously, Chris chose his words carefully.

“I wouldn´t say we dislike each other exactly, Josiah,” Chris began. “It would be more accurate to say we resent each other.”

“But…why?” Josiah asked.

Chris sighed deeply, and took another drink of water before answering.

“It goes back to when we were teenagers,” Chris replied.

He glanced over at Josiah and saw the teen watching him. The youth´s full attention was focused on him, and Chris inwardly squirmed a little, not really wanting to recall this bit of his past, but not knowing how to get out of it and still give Josiah the answers he so obviously needed.

Chris turned his gaze to the rolling green hills in front of them and spoke quietly, “It was all because of a misunderstanding.”

Josiah remained silent and waited for Chris to continue. He was afraid if he said anything his uncle might change his mind and not tell him what he wanted to know.

After a minute Chris continued, “You know the Larabees and the Standishes have been neighbors for over a hundred years, right?” Chris glanced at the teen, who nodded his head in agreement. “Our families have been friends for that long too. Ezra and I grew up together. He was a couple of years younger than me, but out here on the ranch there weren´t too many other kids close to our age to play with so we became best friends. We were almost inseparable from the time Ezra learned to walk,” Chris´ voice trailed off softly and an amused smile crossed his face as memories of the adventures he and Ezra had shared as boys flooded his mind.

“We knew each other better than anyone else did, including our parents, and we looked out for one another… just like our fathers before us. My father and Ezra´s grew up together and were best friends too. They were also partners in some business ventures.”

Chris looked at Josiah and asked him, “Did your Daddy ever tell you about your Grandpa Larabee?”

“He told me he got hurt and had to mostly stay in bed for several years because he had an accident,” Josiah answered.

“Yeah, that´s right,” Chris returned, “he did get hurt, very badly hurt. He had almost every bone in his body crushed and suffered brain damage that caused him to have seizures for the rest of his life.” Chris stopped and faced Josiah again, “Did your Daddy tell you that your Grandpa Standish was killed in the same accident?”

Josiah looked at Chris in surprise and said, “No! No one ever told me that. What happened?”

Chris took another drink of water then started rolling the bottle between his hands, stalling for time. The memories that swamped his mind were still as fresh and painful as the day they had happened twenty years ago. The white hot, searing pain flash-burned Chris´ soul once more just as it had the day he had stood outside the intensive care unit of the hospital as the attending physician had told him his father might never wake from his coma, and if he did regain consciousness would never walk on his own again. He mentally shied away from reliving those memories, and it took him a few minutes to get his emotions under control before he continued.

“You know, my mom died when I was only five, and your father was ten. Did your father ever tell you that?”

Josiah looked at Chris in confusion at this change in subject but answered, “Yes. I think he did tell me that once.”

Chris nodded and scratched at the label of his water bottle with his thumbnail.

“My dad loved my mom and grieved for her for many years. He never went out with another woman… just never seemed to be interested in them anymore. Then one day Ezra´s father, Alexander, came to my dad and told him about this new business deal he had come across and asked my dad if he wanted a piece of it. Well, Dad was interested but wanted to meet the other business partners and hear more about the deal from them before he committed himself to anything, so Alexander introduced him to Faith and Larry Greenwood.

The Greenwoods were brother and sister and were pretty well known on the East coast for their business savvy, and ability to put together profitable deals. My father took one look at Faith Greenwood and completely lost his head over her. He started taking her out and buying her presents, and generally started acting like a kid with his first girlfriend.

I was sixteen at the time, and had gotten used to my father being at home evenings so at first I had a little trouble dealing with him dating, but he seemed happy so I came to accept it. Alexander, I think, was amused at first, then concerned with the way my father was behaving. I overheard a conversation between them during that time, and Alexander was trying to warn my dad to slow down, think things through before he did something he might regret later. He kept asking him what he really knew about Faith. My dad just got mad and told him to stay out of his business. That he knew what he was doing.

My dad should have listened to Alexander. It turned out Faith was playing him for a sucker. She planned to marry him and then clean him out in a divorce. Alexander found out about it and went to my dad with proof to back up his allegations. My dad didn´t want to believe Faith would do that to him, and ran out and jumped into his car to go find Faith. This was in the middle of a thunderstorm and the rain was coming down in buckets. Alexander wasn´t about to let him go alone and managed to get into the car before Dad took off. They both confronted Faith and she admitted her plans and laughed at my father for being stupid enough to think she could ever be interested in someone like him.

Well, naturally, my dad was devastated. This was the only woman besides my mom that he had ever loved and not only had she rejected him, but had done so in the cruelest and most humiliating way. I think for a little while he went crazy. He shouldn´t have been driving in the shape he was in, especially with the weather as bad as it was, but Alexander couldn´t talk him out of it. He was driving back to the ranch, way over the speed limit, when they had the accident. My dad tried to pass a car on a blind curve but someone came around the curve from the other direction. Dad tried to avoid a head on collision by swerving to the shoulder, but lost control of the car and went off the road. The car rolled several times before crashing into a tree.”

Chris had to stop and blink back the tears that tried to gather in his eyes, and clear the lump from his throat before he could continue. Josiah patiently waited for him to go on without saying anything.

“Alexander died on the scene from internal injuries and a skull fracture. My dad survived, but was in a coma for 3 weeks. He was never the same after that, physically or mentally. He never got over the fact that Alexander died because of him,” Chris stopped speaking, but continued to pull bits of label from the bottle in his hand.

“But what did that have to do with you and Uncle Ezra resenting each other?” Josiah asked in confusion.

Chris gave a deep, regretful sigh before continuing, “Nobody knew what happened until after my father woke up from his coma. No one knew what the two of them were doing out together on a night like that. No one knew… but plenty speculated.

It was two days after the accident, and Cody had just thrown me out of the ICU and told me to go home and get some sleep. I´d been with Dad ever since they brought him in and after two days without sleep I was really punchy. I was already on emotional overload what with Dad being in a coma and them not knowing if he would ever wake up. Add my emotional state to the lack of sleep and I was a bomb looking for a place to explode. It was the nurses that lit the fuse.

As I was leaving, I overheard two nurses gossiping about what my dad and Alexander had been doing before the accident. One nurse expressed her opinion that they must have been there because of one of Alexander´s notorious business deals. She had no idea what she was saying… no idea what the truth was, but because of the state I was in, I latched on to the idea and it became the truth for me. It gave me someone to blame… someone to take my anger and my grief out on. Alexander was dead, so was beyond by reach… but Ezra wasn´t. That nurse never realized it, but she painted a target right on Ezra´s chest with her words, and I zeroed in on him like a guided missile.

I left the hospital and drove to Ezra´s private spot. I knew that´s where he´d be, because I knew he´d want to be alone, away from Maude. He was surprised to see me when I showed up. At first he must have thought I´d come to tell him I was sorry about his father. He was just opening his mouth to say something, but I´ll never know what it was because … I punched him in the face first.”

Chris hung his head as the bad memories continued to fill his mind.

“I can still remember the look on his face as he lay on the ground staring up at me in bewilderment as I screamed my rage out at him--accusing his father, the father he had buried that very afternoon, of putting my father in the hospital and ruining his life.

Ezra was Ezra though, he didn´t stay bewildered long. His face closed up into this grim mask and he picked himself up off the ground and brushed dirt off his trousers, never taking his eyes off of me. He told me I was a liar and that it was my father´s fault that his father was dead. That was like throwing gasoline on a fire. Pretty soon we were both throwing punches and wrestling in the dirt. We were pretty evenly matched. I had more weight and a longer reach, but Ezra was agile, and fast… and sneaky,” Chris finished this with a little grin.

Josiah thought he saw admiration and respect in Chris´ smile as he spoke.

“I don´t know how long we would have gone at each other, but one of the ranch hands heard us and came and broke it up. I went home, patched myself up and went to bed. After a good night´s sleep I started to think a little and was ashamed of how I´d treated Ezra. I had planned to apologize and make it up to him as soon as I could, but I underestimated Ezra. He decided to take his own revenge.

I told you how we had been best friends, well, that meant that Ezra knew a lot of my secrets including the one about this girl I had a serious crush on back then. To get even with me, Ezra made up a lot of things about this girl and told her I had said them. Needless to say, she never spoke to me again except to tell me exactly what she thought of me. This stab in the back not only hurt my feelings but hurt my pride too so instead of thinking up ways to apologize to Ezra, I started thinking up ways to get even. Things snowballed from there, each of us trying to outdo the other. By the time my father came out of his coma and I found out the truth, it was too late. We´d already done too much to each other to go back to the way things were. We´d gone past the point where a simple apology would do any good.”

Chris stopped speaking and finished his water, throwing the now empty bottle back into the truck bed. “That´s pretty much all there is to it. We´ve been poking at each other´s underbelly ever since.”

Josiah sat for a moment, reflecting on what he had just learned, then asked, “Do you regret it happened?”

“Oh, yes… more than I can say. Looking back, I can see it was one of the biggest mistakes I ever made in my life. I had something very rare, a true friend, and I threw him away… drove him away. All it would have taken to keep him was those two little words -- I´m sorry… but instead of giving them to him, I let my pride get in the way, and gave him scorn and humiliation. He returned them in kind.”

“Would you change it if you could? Maybe you could…” Josiah started only to be interrupted.

“Josiah, I know you´d like to help, but, please, just leave it … alright? There´s a lot of years worth of bad feelings, and too much wounded pride lying between us. That´s not something either one of us can forget in a day or two. It takes time. Believe it or not things have gotten better than they used to be. Maybe one day we can find a way back to an easier relationship, but this is something that the only the two of us can work out. So there´s nothing here for you to worry about. We´ll work it out in our own time, in our own way, alright?” Chris stared into the teen´s eyes as he spoke.

Josiah looked at Chris and saw how serious he was. As much as Josiah would like to help his uncles, he realized that Chris was right – this was something they had to do for themselves. Josiah felt better just knowing Chris was at least trying. The teenager nodded in response to Chris´s question and finished his own water. He threw the empty plastic container back into the truck and hopped down off the tail gate.

“We´d better finish up here. It´ll be time for dinner soon, and we don´t want Nettie to get mad at us for being late again,” Josiah grinned.

Chris laughed and followed him saying, “Heaven forbid we show up late again. That woman would skin us alive.”

“You just don´t know her that well yet, Uncle Chris,” Josiah teased, “all you´ve got to do is….”

Laughing and teasing one another, the two went back to work.

The End

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