Victoria Barkley could not have been happier even though, for the last week, the house had been in a complete upheaval. For the first Christmas in several years, she'd had all of her children home. All of her children, the thought brought a smile to her face, and for not the first time. If someone had told her a year ago that she would learn that her husband had not only fathered a child by someone else, but, that she would welcome that child into her home and accept him as her own she'd have not only called them a liar, but likely had one of her sons run them off. How was it then, that neither of those things had happened, despite those being the very acts that Nick had wanted to do? What was it about this young man that had won them over so quickly?
From the very first time she had seen the young man there had been something about him that set him apart from the nameless cowhands that routinely showed up looking for work. Maybe it had to do with his signing on as simply a ranchhand on that first day instead of immediately demanding what so many others would claim was their birthright. He was of course entitled to exactly that, she wouldn't deny him that. Even though all she had was a single newspaper clipping his mother had tucked into her bible, and the memories of an old woman. There were little things though that she couldn't ignore, small similarities in his personality to Tom's, larger ones in his appearance that became all too evident when he was near Audra and Eugene. In many ways though he was so different from her children, and she couldn't help wondering if those were the result of all he'd been through as a child or due to experiences he'd encountered on his rush into manhood. In the few short months Heath had been with them, she'd begun noticing changes in him, but, there was so much more to him that was a mystery and she couldn't help wondering if those secrets would ever reveal themselves.
The house was quiet now, even Silas had retired to his room, and if not for the ticking of the grandfather clock there'd be no sound save her footsteps as she made her rounds. She considered this her time, it was a habit she'd started when the children were small, the time after Tom had fallen asleep, when she would rise to check on each one. It was a habit too many years in the making for her to break even now that they were grown, and truth be told, she doubted she'd sleep until she knew they were all safe in their beds. She'd learned so much about her children as they grew, but, often their sleep habits had opened up the door to their talking about those things they'd for whatever reason kept to themselves.
Making her rounds of the rooms, it was easy to look past their ages and see them simply as she'd always seen them. Entering Nick's room first, she automatically picked up the clothes he'd abandoned to the floor. He was her wild child, the one who had always been the easiest to anger, and not surprisingly the first to step up in defense of the others. As she reflected on her second son's traits, she found herself wondering how long it would take for him to fully accept Heath. It was a question she knew he too likely had no answer for, but it was conversation that she'd postponed long enough. As she straightened his covers her decision was finalized, it was a talk they would need to have before the week was over.
From Nick's room she went to Jarrod's, the eldest of her children, he had slipped into the role of father to the younger ones without her even asking. She wondered sometimes if he had resented the responsibility that had come with his decision, but if he had, it was something he'd never shown. Even now, with Heath, he had done what Tom likely would have done, he had accepted the young man, trusting his instinct, trusting his heart.
It was more difficult to predict how Eugene would react, he was still too young, too easily swayed by emotion. On any situation he could go either way, today he might stand with Nick, tomorrow with Jarrod, one day, he'd find his own way, like Heath seemed to have done. She eased the door closed on her youngest son's door and turned to her daughter's.
Audra, of all of her children, perhaps her daughter was the most challenging of them all. While she might look the part of the innocent female in need of protecting, there were times when she was as head-strong and as Nick. Audra, she and Heath would be almost the same age, within months at the very longest. So, while she was carrying her daughter, enjoying the doting attentions of her husband, of, the expectant father, his mother was left to face her pregnancy alone. Easing the door to her daughter's room closed, she hesitated outside the one they had given Heath, did she dare intrude on his privacy as she did her own children's?
The question needn't have been one she asked herself, for as she put her hand on the knob, the door swung open and she found the bed empty, the bed abandoned, as was the room.
"Heath?" She spoke his name quietly, as if he were hiding in the shadows and the sound of her voice would be enough to make him visible again. When her call was met with nothing but silence she stepped back into the hallway, closing the door behind her. Where would he have gone? If he were one of her children she'd at least have a clue where he might go if he couldn't sleep, but he wasn't hers, so, where did she start? Perhaps the better question was, what did she say to him if she found him?
The question was one that lingered as she made her way down the staircase and into the foyer. She could only imagine what was going through his head. What had he said? It had barely been a month since he'd buried his mother, how was he supposed to grieve her loss and face all of this at the same time? She was just in the process of deciding where to look next when she caught the drift of a shadow in the study, that had to be him.
"Heath?" She called his name as she moved to the doorway and stopped.
"Ma'am?" His voice was quiet, and had he not stepped closer as he answered, she was sure she would not have seen him.
"You can't sleep?" Were he one of hers she would have one right to him, but, she sensed that the better decision would be to allow him to make the first move.
"No, ma'am." He was within a few feet of her now, close enough that she could read the strain on his face.
"Heath, I know how difficult this must be for you, but, there's no hurry, you don't have to prove anything." Victoria studied the face of the young man in front of her. Would she ever be able to read him the way she read her own children?
"Tell that to Nick. He's not too set on this riding on one little newspaper clipping." Heath took a swallow from the glass he held, the glass she hadn't even noticed until just that moment.
"Heath, you listen to me, and you listen good, this is my house, and I decide who stays and who goes. If I say there's no hurry, there's no hurry. So, as far as I'm concerned, we've the rest of time to find out, haven't we?” The Barkley Matriarch locked her eyes on his until she received his answering nod.
"Good, now, it's late, I think I'm going to go to my room, will you walk me up?"
Muse: Heath Barkley
Fandom: The Big Valley