Summary: Missing Scene From The Episode Lost Treasure
Category: The Big Valley
Word Count: 6500
Heath stood in front of his family. He hadn’t even said the words yet, and already his heart was breaking in two. “When I first came here I was no better than a tumbleweed blowing in the wind. I had no roots, and no place anywhere, and I went from odd job to odd job. A cheap hotel room was about the best I could afford. But I……I wanted a home, and a name,…….a name that could be respected.
Then I found out about my mother and Tom Barkley. I didn’t lie to you that day I came here. I believed Tom Barkley was my father, and that I was entitled to my share of everything the Barkleys owned.”
Victoria wasn’t sure what Heath was trying to tell them, but since the morning one week earlier when he’d told her he needed to go to Strawberry on personal business, she knew he’d been deeply troubled about something. The woman urged Heath to reveal what was on his mind.
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that I’m not,……I’m not a Barkley. I’m a Sawyer. Charlie Sawyer is my father.”*
*The above dialogue was taken from the aired episode.
The front door closed behind Heath. His family stood in stunned silence, they couldn’t believe they hadn’t been able to talk him out of leaving.
A gasping sob was torn from Victoria’s throat. Moments earlier she’d been so angry with him. Reminding him as she yelled that there were many definitions of the word family and that it didn’t matter how far he went or what he called himself, he would always be a Barkley to her.
Now the woman was as heartbroken as she’d be if one of the sons she birthed had just walked out the door with no intention of ever coming back.
Nick was at her side in seconds.
“Mother, don’t. Don’t cry. Jarrod and I will go after him.”
Jarrod was holding the sobbing Audra. He pressed her blond head against his chest.
“Shssssh. Shssssh, honey, don’t cry. Like Nick said, we’ll go after him. We’ll give him a head start, then trail him.”
Victoria dried her tears and stepped away from Nick. “But if you couldn’t convince him to stay five minutes ago, what makes you think anything will change two hours from now?”
“Because we won’t take no for an answer this time,” Nick said. “If he refuses to come with us, we’ll just keep riding with him. Eventually he’ll get tired of us and give in.”
Victoria arched an eyebrow. “You’re sure of that, are you? Have you forgotten that Heath is as stubborn as any two Barkleys put together?”
“It’s a good thing that both Jarrod and I are going after him then.” Nick’s mouth turned up in a slight smile. “It might just take twoBarkleys to hog tie him and bring him back.”
The white-haired woman paced the foyer. “I don’t understand it. What proof did Heath have that convinced him this man,…..this Charlie Sawyer, is his father?”
“I don’t know,” Jarrod released his sister. “But whatever it is, or whatever this Sawyer has told him, evidently has Heath upset to the point that he’s not thinking clearly.”
“What do you mean?” Audra asked.
“As I tried to tell Heath when Nick and I were in his bedroom a few minutes ago, there’s a number of things we can do to verify Sawyer’s story. The first place to start would be by searching the county records. If the man was married to his mother there should be a marriage license on file.”
“Perhaps that’s what Mr. Sawyer showed Heath,” Victoria suggested.
“Perhaps. But I know the name Charlie Sawyer. The man’s a crook and a thief, wanted in practically every state in the union for fraud. Believe me, his word holds about as much truth as a sieve holds water.”
Nick leaned against the stair railing, his brows knit in thought. “Heath said he and Sawyer went to see Hannah. He said Hannah knew who the man was. What’s your take on that, Mother? You’ve met Hannah. What do you think?”
“I think Hannah’s very old and her mind isn’t what it used to be. It’s hard to say if any of what she confirmed to Heath is true. Certainly she wouldn’t intentionally lie to him, but how many actual facts she remembers about Heath’s mother is anyone’s guess. Nonetheless, she took care of Heath when he was a boy. She was one of his mother’s closest friends. He loves her very much and therefore would be inclined to believe what she tells him.”
What about Heath’s birth certificate, Jarrod?” Audra asked. “If one was filed wouldn’t that list his father?”
Jarrod and Victoria exchanged glances.
“What?” Nick looked from his mother to Jarrod. “What are you two keeping from me and Audra?”
Jarrod let his mother offer the explanation.
“When Heath first came to us,……..when he first told us who he was, I asked Jarrod to see if the doctor in Strawberry had filed a birth certificate for him.”
Nick nodded his understanding. “You wanted to see if Father was listed on it.”
“Yes,” Jarrod agreed, “we did. Therefore, with Heath’s permission, I did get the certificate. As a matter of fact Mother has it in the strong box with the rest of ours. But no, Father isn’t listed on it. No father’s name is listed.”
Audra looked at her mother. “But you talked to Hannah. She remembered Father. She gave you the letter Father had written Heath’s mother. She told you……,” Audra paused a moment in deference to the delicate subject, “Hannah told you Heath was Father’s child.”
“Yes, she did,” Victoria acknowledged. “Just like she’s evidently telling Heath now that he’s Charlie Sawyer’s child.”
“Or at least that’s what Heath perceived her to say,” Jarrod pointed out. “With as upset as he is over this I wish he would have come to me first. If nothing else Nick and I could have ridden to Strawberry with him. We might have heard what Hannah really said.”
“What do you mean?” Audra asked.
“What if all Hannah did was acknowledge that Sawyer was married to Heath’s mother? That certainly doesn’t mean the man is his father. There’s just too many ‘what ifs’ for anyone, including Heath, to come to conclusions at this time.”
Victoria worried her lower lip and spoke as if her children weren’t in the room. “I should have told him. I should have told him long ago. I just didn’t know how he’d accept it.”
“You should have told who what?” Nick asked.
“Heath.” The woman looked up at her children. “I should have told Heath all the things I see in him that are Barkley.”
“Yes,” Jarrod gave a slow nod. “We all should have told him those things.”
“So the three of you have noticed them, too?”
“Yes,” Audra confirmed, “but we never wanted to hurt you by bringing them up. Or hurt Heath either.”
Victoria thought a long time before answering. “Maybe we hurt him more by keeping quiet.”
Nick plunged right in with his contribution. “He carries himself like Father. He has Father’s walk.”
“His smile. That’s the thing I noticed right away,” Audra said. “He has Father’s smile. That sort of shy, half grin that endeared Father to everyone.”
“His laugh,” Jarrod stated. “When he laughs he sounds just like Father.”
“I’ve noticed those things as well,” Victoria agreed. “And though you, Jarrod, favor your father the strongest when it comes to features and build, Heath looks just like your Grandpa Barkley. I realize none of you knew him very well. And, Audra, I doubt you or Gene even remember him. The last time he visited us before he died you were four. Eugene had just turned three.
“I met your Grandpa for the first time when I seven years old. As you know I was a schoolmate of your father’s sisters. I used to play at the Barkley house quite frequently. Back then Grandpa wouldn’t have been much older than Heath is now. When Heath first rode onto this ranch I spent two days wondering why he looked so familiar to me. I about drove myself crazy trying to figure out who he reminded me of. Then he told us who he was and I knew. I remember thinking, ‘My Lord, he looks just like Tom’s father. This young man is the spitting image of Theodore Barkley.’ “
“Which was why you so readily accepted his story,” Nick said. “I’ve often wondered about that. Back in those early days with Heath I knew there had to be something you saw that the rest of us were missing.”
“That was it. It was like seeing your Grandpa as a young man all over again right down to his height and weight. And his nose. That straight nose that’s just a little flat on the end. That’s your grandfather’s nose. No one else in the family, other than your Uncle Thor and Heath, have inherited that nose. But I’ve never told Heath. I’ve never told him how strongly he resembles Grandpa, or about the things you’ve each mentioned that make you think of your father.”
Nick grabbed his hat off the table and headed for the door. “Well, I guarantee you Jarrod and I will give you that opportunity just as soon we catch up to him.”
Jarrod kissed his mother as he passed. “Don’t worry. We’ll bring him back.”
“Tell him,……just tell him I love him.” Tears stung Victoria’s eyes. “Tell Heath I love him and that there’s things I need to talk to him about.”
Jarrod shot his mother and sister a reassuring smile. “You can tell him yourself when he rides back in here with us.”
When the door closed behind her sons Victoria started to cry again. Audra crossed the room and hugged her mother. With a confidence she wasn’t feeling in her heart the young woman assured, “They’ll bring him back, Mother. Jarrod and Nick will bring him back.”
Audra said a silent prayer as tears ran down her own cheeks.
Please, Lord, he has to come back. Our family wouldn’t be the same without him. Please bring him back to us.
Three hours after Jarrod and Nick rode off the ranch they returned with Heath and a mortally wounded Charlie Sawyer. Before the man died he admitted that, though he had been married to Heath’s mother, he’d left the woman two years prior to Heath’s birth.
Heath paid for Charlie Sawyer’s burial in the Stockton graveyard. Aside from the minister, the Barkley family were the only mourners in attendance. The service was brief for the man who had made his life defrauding the innocent and vulnerable. In some ways Heath thought Charlie got in death far more than he deserved, but in other ways he simply felt sorry for the portly con artist who had gone through life with no one at his side.
A week had passed since Charlie’s funeral and Heath was still having trouble sleeping at night. It had been a long time since the blond man had questioned who he was, and if he was worthy of the acceptance and love the Barkleys gave him.
Heath got out of bed, careful to keep his steps light. He exchanged his loose fitting cotton sleeping pants for a pair of tan jeans and socks. He slipped into the clothing, then entered the hallway. It was two-fifteen in the morning. The house was dark and quiet as Heath silently traversed the stairs.
The blond man entered the big study off the foyer. Guided by the light of the full moon shining in through the windows he walked over to the massive desk. He opened a drawer and retrieved a matchstick. He crossed to the fireplace and with the aid of some outdated newspapers started the logs burning.
Heath tossed the spent match in the fire then sat down on the wide stone hearth. The heat felt good on his bare back and arms. He hadn’t expected the house to be this chilly when he’d left his room without putting on a shirt.
The man half turned so he could look into the flames. Whatever answers he was seeking would not be found there, but for seven nights now he’d been trying.
Twenty minutes later Heath was startled by a soft voice that spoke from a mere four feet away.
“I thought you might need this. You look cold.”
Heath glanced up to see Victoria Barkley holding out one of his shirts. He took it from her and slipped it on, fastening all but the top three buttons.
“I’m sorry if I woke you.”
“You didn’t wake me. I wasn’t sleeping.”
Heath raised an eyebrow at the woman, but when he got no reply he left his question unvoiced.
“Do you mind if I sit down?”
“No. But I doubt it’s the most comfortable spot in the house.”
“That’s all right. It doesn’t bother me.”
The woman gathered her pink satin robe around her tiny body and sat. She fell silent for a few minutes, content to listen to the crackle of the fire with the man she thought of as one of her own sons. When she spoke she said the first thing that came to mind.
“When Nick was a baby and he’d wake up fussing in the middle of the night this is the exact place I’d bring him to. I don’t know if it was the warmth of the fire, or simply the quiet of the house, but whatever it was in a few minutes time he’d stop his wailing and fall back to sleep in my arms.”
Heath smiled. “Knowing Nick the way I do would lead me to guess you spent a lot of nights down here with him.”
Victoria chuckled. “More than I didn’t during his first year of life, that’s for certain. He was the only one of my babies whose infancy was far more of a trial than it was a pleasure. He had a horrid temper even back then and colic to go right along with it.” Victoria turned from the flames to look into Heath’s face. “What about you, Heath? Do you recall your mother ever saying what kind of a baby you were?”
Heath was silent so long Victoria regretted asking the question. She knew the subject of his mother was a difficult one for him.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked.”
“No, that’s okay. I was just,…….remembering.” Heath gave his head a slight shake and focused on the woman before him. “She told me I was happy. That I was a happy baby. Happy and content.”
“That doesn’t surprise me.”
“No,” Victoria smiled. “Not at all as a matter of fact.”
The woman could easily picture a rosy cheeked baby with soft golden hair and bright blue eyes. A little boy full of playful mischief until he was old enough to understand the stigma that came with being an illegitimate child in a small, narrow-minded town.
Following a lengthy pause the woman changed the subject. “You haven’t been sleeping well since Charlie’s funeral, have you.”
It wasn’t phrased as a question leading Heath to believe Victoria was well aware of his night time sojourns to this room.
Heath threw the woman a teasing grin. It wasn’t often he could get the best of her.
“Actually, I haven’t been sleeping well since the day he arrived.”
“I can imagine that’s quite true. Which brings me to another subject. Why didn’t you tell us about Charlie and the things he claimed before you left with him for Strawberry?”
“I had to find out for myself. It wasn’t something I wanted any of you to be involved in.”
“Why not? Because you were afraid you’d discover you weren’t a Barkley?”
“That was a,…….large part of it.”
“And the other part?”
“I,……..” Heath looked from Victoria to the dancing flames. “My mother,……from the day my mother was born she had more than her fair share of heartaches. My grandmother died giving birth to her. The only sibling she had was her brother Matt who was six years older than her. From the day Mother was born until the day she died Uncle Matt blamed her for my grandmother’s death. When they were children he was mean and spiteful to her. When they grew to be adults,…..well as you know nothing changed then either.
“When Mother was eight her father died. She’d worshipped the ground he walked on and in turn he treated her like princess. Or as much of a princess as he could on a miner’s salary. After my grandfather passed way Mother and Matt were sent to live with my grandfather’s brother and his wife. They had a big family. Thirteen children of their own. From what little I was ever told I got the impression Mother and Matt were lost in the shuffle of all those kids. Were thought of as more of a burden than anything else and treated as such. Matt ran away within a year after they were sent there. My mother, well she stayed until she was sixteen. But during that time she was,……..abused by one of her male cousins.”
“Yes.” Heath’s eyes met Victoria’s. “The first time he raped her was the night she arrived. The last time was the night she left.”
“Heath,…….I’m so sorry.”
Heath went on talking as though Victoria hadn’t spoken. “Mother’s friend Rachel told me about it after Mother died. I,…….for a long time I wanted to track down her cousin and kill him. Probably the only thing that stopped me from doing just that was Rachel and Hannah. They told me Mother wouldn’t want me to hurt the man.”
“I’m sure they were correct. No woman wants to see her son commit murder, no matter what the cause.”
“I suppose not. Regardless, I never did it and a few years after that I found out the man was already dead. He’d been killed because he got caught doing the same thing to another little girl. Her father beat him to death with an ax handle. Which truthfully, I thought was too good for him.”
Victoria simply nodded her head. She could quite imagine how her own sons would feel had they discovered she’d suffered the same type of abuse Leah Thomson had endured as a child.
“Until Charlie Sawyer showed up here I was unaware that my mother had ever been married. When he claimed to be my father, and when Hannah confirmed it,………”
“She didn’t confirm it,” Victoria reminded. After Charlie died and things had calmed down Jarrod had Heath repeat word for word what Hannah had told him. “All she said was that Charlie and your mother had been married.”
“You’re right. That’s all she said,” Heath acknowledged. “But at the time that’s not what I heard.”
“That’s understandable. You were very upset. Which is why you should have taken one of us, any one of us, with you. Whoever you would have been most comfortable sharing this with, Heath. You know perfectly well that neither Jarrod, nor Nick, nor Audra, nor myself, would have broken your confidence by sharing Charlie’s story with the others.”
“I know. It’s just that,…….”
“I wanted to protect my mother’s memory. I didn’t want any of you thinking less of her than you already do.”
“Heath Barkley, what in the world makes you say something like that?”
Heath couldn’t maintain eye contact with the venerable lady.
“She….she was an unmarried woman who had an,……..affair with your husband. No matter how brief it was, or the reasons behind it, we might as well call a spade a spade. If Charlie’s story had been true and he was my father that would have made me around a year old when my mother and Tom Barkley,……..well anyway, in all my growing up years I never saw my mother with another man. She never dated anyone, never invited anyone over for dinner, never even made eyes at anyone. I just didn’t want all of you to think that she was some kind of……loose woman who would be engaging in an affair within a year of her husband’s death and with a baby in the house.”
“Heath, I’ve never thought of your mother in those terms and neither have your brothers or sister. What happened between your mother and Tom,…….well I’ll tell you now the same thing I told my children within a few days after you first arrived here. What happened between your mother and Tom is not your concern. How I feel about it, how I accept, whether it’s altered my feelings for my husband in any way, is no one else’s business but mine. Yes, Heath Barkley, you are the product of that affair. But never, never once have I blamed you for that. And never once have I thought ill of your mother because of it.”
“How could you not have?”
“What would have been the purpose? By the time all this came to light your mother and Tom were dead. We couldn’t hear their sides of the story so to judge them would have been unfair. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’ve been good and furious with Tom over this issue a time or two since you arrived. I’ve even raised my fist to his picture and shouted out my anger. But as far as your mother goes,…..when Hannah gave me the letter Tom wrote your mother we found out she didn’t know he was married. How could I blame her for something she was unaware of?”
“Because it hurt you so deeply, that’s how. You never spoke of it, but I could tell. For a long time I was sorry I came here. I,….I was so angry for so many years that I never thought of anyone else. The day I rode on this ranch I never considered how the news I was bringing was going to hurt you, or hurt Jarrod, Nick, Gene, and Audra.”
“And if someone had told you how it would hurt us?”
Heath couldn’t help but smile. “At the time it wouldn’t have changed my mind. I was so furious that I wouldn’t have listened.”
“No, you wouldn’t have. And do you know what?”
Victoria wrapped an arm through Heath’s and leaned into him. “I’m glad you came to us. You have no idea how you’ve completed this family.”
Heath didn’t have to say anything for Victoria to sense his puzzlement. She pulled away from him, but not before clasping his hand with hers.
“Heath, the day you walked out of this house because you thought you weren’t a Barkley was the day I knew I’d made a dreadful mistake.”
“What kind of a mistake?”
“There are things I’ve never told you because I wasn’t sure how you’d accept them. Because I didn’t know if you were ready to hear them. Quite frankly, I’m still not certain.”
“Traits and features you have that make you Tom Barkley’s son.” Victoria squeezed Heath’s hand while looking into the face shadowed by the fire. “Would you like to know what they are?”
A long moment passed before Heath gave a slight nod of his head.
“To begin with you’re the spitting image of your Grandfather Barkley to the extent it’s like seeing him again as a young man. I was just a little girl when I first met him, he wasn’t much older than you are now. You’re the only one of Tom’s children who look like Grandpa Ted, as the family began calling him when the grandchildren started to arrive. It wasn’t until Audra was born that we had a child with Ted Barkley’s Scottish coloring. Tom was so proud of that. Had he lived to meet you he would have been thrilled to discover he has a son who so strongly resembles his father. Tom loved that man very much. It took him a long time to get over his death.”
“I thought Nick was the one who was most like the Barkleys. Or at least that’s what I’ve heard you say.”
“Nick is the one who acts the most like the Barkleys. Though actually he has very few of Tom’s personality traits. In that respect Nick’s more like his grandfather, and like Tom’s younger brother Theodore Junior, whom you’ve undoubtedly heard my children refer to as ‘Uncle Thor’. Nick’s got their hot temper, aggressive nature, voice that rarely falls below a shout, sense of humor,…. there’s no doubt Nick belongs to his Grandpa Barkley in that sense. But in looks Nick takes after my side of the family. Now Jarrod is the one who favors Tom the strongest when it comes to his features and personality. Tom looked like his mother by the way. The only one of his siblings who did actually. And then there’s Audra. She gets her looks from the Barkleys as well. All Tom’s sisters were beautiful young women with golden hair and blue eyes. And Eugene,……well Tom used to tease me by saying Eugene must belong to one of the ranch hands because we never could figure out who he looked like. It wasn’t until he got older that I began to see a little bit of my side of the family in some of his features and little bit of Tom’s side in others. And just like I can see shades of Tom in each one of my children, I see shades of him in you as well. Your brothers and sister have noticed these same things, too.”
Victoria reached up and placed a hand under Heath’s chin. She turned his head so she was looking into his face.
“You carry yourself like your father, Heath. As Nick said, you have his walk. And your smile, when you smile it’s like seeing Tom smile again. And most importantly, the way you laugh when something really tickles your funny bone. For so long that joyous laugh was missing from this household. Without ever realizing it you brought it back to us. That laugh that’s so infectious it makes everyone around you laugh. That’s your father’s laugh, Heath.”
Heath turned away from the woman, but she still saw the tears running down his cheeks. When he didn’t speak she filled the night with quiet words.
“And I know from your mother you must have gotten your kind heart and gentle soul. She was a woman of honor, Heath. I’ve never thought anything but that. If she hadn’t been she would have showed up on this door step years ago with you in tow, demanding money in exchange for her silence. And because you are Tom Barkley’s son she would have deserved anything she asked for. But she didn’t do that. Instead she chose to raise you by herself on very little money out of respect for a woman she never even met.”
Heath turned. “You?”
“Yes, me. Why else wouldn’t she have listed Tom’s name on your birth certificate? Why else did she go to her grave without telling you who your father was? She did it out of respect for my marriage, and I’m sure out of respect for herself, too. Once she found out your father was married she decided she wasn’t going to beg him for his affection. Though quite often, for your sake, I wish she would have.”
“She never would have done that. She had too much pride. She,…..she wasn’t ashamed of me, though maybe she should have been.”
“Heath, no woman who is a loving mother is ever ashamed of a baby who was born from circumstances he had no control over.”
“Hannah,……” Heath stared down at the floor, “Hannah told me I was my mother’s joy.”
“Hannah told me that, too, the one time I met her. And I have no doubt it’s true. Can you guess how I know that?”
Heath shook his head no.
“Do you remember what you said to us last week right before you walked out of this house?”
Heath thought back to the words he could barely push out without crying.
More than anybody knows I……I appreciate what you all have done for me. And for making me a part of this family. You gave me a lot more than I deserved. But I’m sorry, anything I took now would be charity.
“Do you remember?”
“Well, you were wrong about one thing, Heath. We’ve never given you more than you deserved. Nor has any of it come from charity. It’s all come from love. And the reason it’s come from love is because of the love you so readily give right back to us. That’s how I know you were your mother’s joy.”
Heath made no reply to Victoria’s words, but then the lump in his throat would have prevented him from saying anything had he wanted to. Victoria sat with him until the fire burned low. When the room began to grow cool she rose and kissed the top of his head.
“Don’t stay down here all night. You need to get some sleep.”
The man nodded.
“And there’s one more thing I’d like you to think about. On behalf of all of us Jarrod has been wanting to propose it to you for a long time now. This incident with Charlie Sawyer has brought it to the forefront of our minds again. I was going to leave it up to Jarrod to speak to you when the time was right but perhaps, in light of our conversation, the right time is now.”
“Speak to me about what?”
“Would you like Jarrod to draw up the papers that would legally change your last name to Barkley?”
The blond man’s legal name on his birth certificate was Heath Morgan Thomson. His mother christened him Heath because in Old English it meant ‘sturdy man of honor.’ A strong name for a strong man she had often told him. He also suspected she knew he’d need a strong name to help him get through life. Morgan had been his maternal grandfather’s first name, and of course Thomson had been his mother’s last name all her life except for those eighteen months she was married to Charlie Sawyer. From the day this family had accepted him into their fold Heath had gone by the last name of Barkley, though legally he was still Heath Thomson.
When no answer was forthcoming Victoria offered the man a gentle smile. “You won’t hurt any of us if you say no, Heath. Your mother’s memory is very dear to you. We understand that. We’re not asking you to forget her, or to give up her name if you choose not to.”
The woman bent and placed another kiss in the thick hair. “You think it over as long as you like. There’s no need to give Jarrod an answer now. This is something he can do at any time.”
Victoria was almost to the foyer when Heath spoke.
“I,…….I’d like Jarrod to do that for me. To legally change my last name. Can you,…..will you tell him I said it was okay?”
Victoria nodded. In some ways she was surprised Heath wasn’t going to make that request of Jarrod himself. The two men had grown close in the months since Heath arrived, there was no reason why he should feel uncomfortable discussing the issue with his older brother. On the other hand, Victoria could easily guess that Heath was emotionally spent where this subject was concerned. Maybe he just needed to put it to rest for a while.
“Yes, I can tell him you said it was okay. When would you like it done?”
“As,….as soon as possible.”
“All right. And if you change your mind all you have to do is let Jarrod know.”
“I won’t change my mind.”
“I’m certain. Though I imagine I get a fair dose of my stubbornness from my mother, I would also guess I come by a fair dose of it from my father.”
Victoria smiled. This was the first time she’d heard Heath refer to Tom as ‘my father’ since he’d come to them.
“I can assure you, Heath, that you do,” the woman said as she left the room. “You most certainly do.”
Audra scampered from the foyer to the dining room. “They’re coming! They’re coming!”
Jarrod struck a match and lit the candle on the cake. Victoria gave the elegantly set table one last check. Everything was in its place right down to Heath’s favorite main course, roast duck. The woman linked arms with Eugene. Without Heath’s knowledge they’d even managed to get Victoria’s youngest child home from college for this occasion.
They could hear Nick’s voice as the front door opened.
“I’ve got to admit that bull I let you talk me into buying is proving to be one of our most lucrative sires.”
“Which just goes to show, you should listen to me more often.”
“No, it just goes to show me you have the Barkley eye for cattle.”
Heath stopped short as the two men rounded the corner into the dining room. Nick smiled at the open confusion on Heath’s face when the blond man spotted Eugene. The dark headed cowboy walked over to join his family standing together at one corner of the table.
When everyone continued to look at Heath with big grins on their faces he realized they were all in on something he hadn’t been told of.
“What’s all this about?”
“All this,” Jarrod said, “is about your birthday.”
“But it’s not my birthday.”
Jarrod reached in his jacket pocket and pulled out a thick document folded in thirds. “As your lawyer, sir, I beg to differ. While it is not the official day of your birth, as you just pointed out to those in attendance, it is the first day you are legally known as Heath Barkley.”
Heath took the document Jarrod handed him and slowly unfolded it. He scanned the paragraphs announcing his name change. Written in fancy calligraphy in heavy black ink at the bottom, with the official seal of the State of California next to them, were the words Heath Morgan Thomson Barkley.
It took Heath a long moment to gather his emotions. Six weeks earlier, when he’d asked Victoria to request Jarrod legally change his name, he had expected Thomson to be dropped. Instead Jarrod had left it in place. Anyone looking at the document who didn’t know Heath’s history would simply assume he was given two middle names at birth.
Jarrod’s eyes darted from Nick, to Audra, to Eugene, and then to their mother as Heath’s silence lengthened. Maybe it hadn’t been a good idea to surprise Heath like this. Maybe Jarrod should have talked to him about it prior to sending the papers to the district judge.
The lawyer finally broke the silence. “If something’s wrong with it, Heath, I can change it. Or if you’re not ready to,….”
“No.” Heath swallowed hard before looking up. His family could see the tears swimming in his eyes. “No,……there’s nothing wrong with it. I,….I appreciate the fact that you left my mother’s,……my mother’s name as part of mine.”
“It seemed only right,” Jarrod replied. “After all, your mother is a very important part of you. Legally joining this family doesn’t mean we want to take that away from you.”
Through his tears Heath took in the five people standing in front of him. “Thank you. Thank you all very much.”
Nick took charge of the emotional moment as only he could. “Hey, are we having a party here or what? Come on, Heath, blow the candle out on that cake before the wax melts all over it and ruins the icing.”
Jarrod rolled his eyes at his brother while Audra lamented, “Oh, Nick, you have all the sensitivity of a rock.”
“That’s because I’m hungry. After I’ve eaten I’ll work on being more sensitive if it will make you happy, baby sister.”
“Oh, I’ve seen how you work at being more sensitive when your stomach is full,” Eugene said. “Gee, Audra, if memory serves correctly wasn’t it usually after supper when Nick used to dunk us in the water trough on a regular basis.”
Victoria tuned out the teasing that continued to go on behind her. She walked over to Heath and took his face in her hands. She got up on her tip toes and placed a kiss on his mouth.
“Welcome to the family, son.”
Those five words were so simple, yet meant so much to Heath Morgan Thomson Barkley.
He allowed Victoria to lead him to the table. With the encouragement of his sister and brothers he blew out the burning candle.
Later that night when the dinner plates were empty and the family was still gathered at the table talking, Heath thought about all the treasures that had come his way in the past year and a half. The ones that meant the most had nothing to do with this big house, or Barkley money, or Barkley land, but rather had everything to do with the people who were sitting around the table with him.
Victoria must have sensed what he was feeling as only a mother can. She reached for his hand and gave it a squeeze. With a wink she said softly, “You deserve every good thing that’s comes your way, Heath Barkley.”
Heath smiled and squeezed her hand in return. “It wouldn’t do me any good to argue that point with you, would it?”
“Then I only have one thing to say in return.” Heath leaned sideways in his chair and kissed her on the cheek. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. You are very welcome.”
Much later that night, when Victoria Barkley’s children had retired to their individual beds, she laid awake listening. For the first time in weeks, she didn’t hear Heath get out of bed and wander the house. She smiled up at the ceiling. Right before she drifted off to sleep the woman whispered,
“Welcome home, Heath. Welcome home.”