Summary: A prequel. Nick is 16, Heath is 12 and Audra is 7. Heath has been with the Barkleys for two months. Jarrod is away at college. Even though Jarrod’s middle name on the show was Thomas, I have chosen to have Heath’s middle name be Thomas also. As for Eugene, in my Barkley fantasy world I chose to completely ignore the fact that he ever existed. Oh, and Silas has the day off.
Category: The Big Valley
Word Count: 1846
“Come on sweetheart, I’ll go with you. Just remember that your father’s bark is a lot worse than his bite, kind of like Nick.” She glanced at Nick and saw a mischievous twinkle in his steel blue eyes. She had an eerie feeling it was not in response to her comment. Normally Heath was shy about accepting her comfort but he gratefully did so this time.
Walking into the closed off kitchen Victoria had to cover her nose with her hand. The stench was overpowering. While they had spent the morning in church and the afternoon at the picnic social apparently Lady, Heath’s mixed breed dog, had thoroughly enjoyed her free run of the kitchen. Dogs were not allowed in the house and, since this had been emphasized to Heath, Tom was fuming. There were piles of feces and puddles of urine all over the tiled kitchen floor and to make matters worse she had managed to get into some scraps and had developed diarrhea. It was apparent by the boxes blocking access to the back stairs she had been let in intentionally. Tom’s gaze bored into his youngest son.
“What do you have to say for yourself, young man?” Victoria had learned in the short time she had known Heath that he always owned up to any wrongdoing and apologized but this time he said nothing. She knew he was not responsible for the dog being in the house and had a very good idea who was but had no proof. She found herself becoming angry at Heath’s refusal to even defend himself. The child had enough courage to admit his guilt so why wouldn’t he proclaim his innocence as well? Heath continued to hold her hand tightly but said not a word. His silence irritated Tom further. He grabbed Lady and pushed her out the door.
“Come along.” Tom gripped Heath’s upper arm and escorted him out to the main staircase. Nick and Audra were still standing in the foyer. Tom turned Heath to face him at the bottom of the stairs.
“Get up to your room, change your clothes and then you get in the kitchen and scrub those floors clean, do I make myself clear?” Heath nodded his head, still refusing to meet his father’s eyes.
“And remember our agreement, Lady will have to go.” Heath’s head snapped up and tears began to swim in his eyes. Victoria did not miss Nick’s gleeful expression turn to horror and regret. Her second born was a notorious prankster and she was certain his hand was sunk to the shoulder in this whole mess. She watched his mouth open to speak but he slowly closed it without admitting the truth. Tom sent Heath packing up the stairs with a firm but painless swat on the rear end. Victoria followed in his wake, disappointed with how both of her boys were handling the situation. She turned to look at her husband when he spoke.
“Victoria, I know how soft hearted you are concerning Heath but I have to request that you do not help him clean the kitchen. He has to learn to obey the rules.” Under normal conditions she couldn’t agree more but this was anything but normal. She decided to let Nick’s conscience work on him until he coughed up the truth but Heath needed to be urged and prodded to take the correct path. She nodded her head to Tom and ascended the staircase. Heath’s tear stained face turned toward her when she entered his room. Surprisingly he continued to change his clothes.
“Heath I know you are an intelligent and well behaved boy. There is no way I will ever believe you did this. You are smart enough that if you had you would have been the first in the house so that you could get Lady out before we found her. Sweetheart, why won’t you tell your father it wasn’t you who let her in?” His hands were shaking so badly he wasn’t even able to button his pants. Tom was right, when it came to the child standing before her she was very soft hearted. Heath was just a lost and confused little boy who needed to be loved more than anything. She walked to him, buttoned his pants and helped him put on his shirt.
“I’m responsible because she’s my dog.”
“But you are not responsible for what happened today, whether she is your dog or not.” Victoria was exasperated by his failure to comprehend what she was trying to tell him.
“Heath if you won’t fight for yourself then at least fight for Lady. She is completely loyal to you and deserves the same in return. I know she was a gift from your mother and the only connection to your life in Strawberry.” Heath ran out of the room.
Victoria could only hope and pray her words would get through to Heath and that Nick’s sense of justice would lead to an unveiling of the truth.
Nick spent the next fifteen minutes in turmoil, going back and forth on what he should do. As much as he hated being disciplined, and he knew that would be the consequences for this stunt, that was not what kept him from speaking up. He had been very rough on Heath when he first arrived but over the past two months he had come to enjoy having a little brother and had learned to love Heath deeply. He was afraid his parents would think he had acted out of vengeance and spite instead of the harmless prank he had intended it to be. And he had known nothing about the agreement that if Heath broke the rule about dogs in the house Lady would be given away. Finally he decided the least he could do was help Heath clean the kitchen until he made up his mind how to approach his father with the truth.
Nick made it as far as the kitchen door before the sight of his little brother on his knees, stoically scrubbing the floor sent him searching for his father.
As Nick turned away Tom entered the house through the kitchen door and stared at Heath. The words he was about to say caused his heart to break but he was a firm believer that all of his children had to learn to accept responsibility for their actions.
“Son, Mr. Scott stopped by and, since he needs a good watch dog, he will be taking Lady with him. You can go say goodbye if you wish.” With Victoria’s words reverberating in his head Heath jumped to his feet and through his tears he fought for his little Lady.
“Please don’t Papa. I swear….I swear on my Mama’s grave that I didn’t leave her inside. You gotta believe me, I’m not a liar. Please Papa, she’s all I got left of Mama.” Tom struggled with his emotions. If he sensed anything about Heath it was that the child was painfully honest and truthful but who else would have let the animal into the house? A voice behind him answered his silent question.
“He’s telling you the truth, Father. I was the one who left Lady inside. I just meant it for fun. I had no idea she would make such a mess or that you would send her away. Heath knew nothing about it so please don’t punish him by giving her to Mr. Scott.” Nick could tell by his father’s face he was in for some major punishment but he felt so much better having told the truth. Tom continued to glare at Nick while directing his next statement to Heath.
“Son, go get your dog. Tell Mr. Scott I made a mistake and apologize to him for me. We need to talk after I’m through dealing with Nick so don’t wander off.” Heath, ever the sensitive little boy, addressed his father before running outside.
“Please don’t be too hard on Nick, Papa. He was just having some fun.” Tom watched his youngest boy run out the door to retrieve his best friend.
“Nick, I know you were just having fun but what has me so angry is you allowing Heath to take the blame. I would like for you to explain why.”
“I acted so mean to Heath and Lady when they came to live with us that I was afraid you would think I did this to hurt the both of them but that is the furthest thing from the truth. I…..I love Heath and would never do anything to hurt him knowingly.” Tom patted Nick’s shoulder.
“I have eyes, Nick, and can see that for myself. However, you will still have to be disciplined, so why don’t you start where your brother left off and we’ll discuss your other punishment later.”
Tom exited the house and found Heath joyfully playing with Lady by the barn. They walked to the porch swing and took a seat. Tom noticed the distance Heath placed between them so he scooted over until their hips were touching and placed an arm around the boy’s shoulders.
“Heath I owe you an apology and I believe you owe me an explanation. I am very sorry for assuming you were responsible and accusing you so harshly but I would like know why you didn’t deny letting Lady in the house?” Heath finally answered after several moments of careful consideration.
“I just thought it would be best to take the punishment because I was scared you would think I was a liar if I tried to tell you.” Heath dropped his head. “I don’t want you to be ashamed of me.”
“Heath, I never have and never will be ashamed of any of my children. And for the rest of your life I want you to know you not only have the right but an obligation to be honest and defend yourself, no matter what the outcome may be.” Heath hugged his father’s waist and watched Lady bark at the chickens.
Victoria and Tom were both worried about how the whole incident would affect the relationship between Heath and Nick but their worries were laid to rest when they heard the laughter of both of their sons coming from the kitchen. Standing in the doorway they watched and listened as Heath and Nick traded jokes and finished cleaning the floor together. They were grateful that the trouble caused by one little Lady only served to solidify the bond between the two brothers.