“He’s beautiful,” Jesse whispered, holding the baby in his arms. The little character staring up at him was white and chubby, with a few wisps of ice blond hair on his head and two wide blue eyes that stared up at him silently. He was a healthy boy, nine pounds when he was born and ten tiny toes and ten short, soft fingers.
“Isn’t he though?” Mary said, smiling at her brother-in-law.
Jesse nodded. “Absolutely gorgeous.” When the baby in his arms started shifting restlessly within the confines of the blanket, Jesse quietly shushed him, stroking the short nose with his finger. The eyes blinked once, framed by long blond lashes, then slowly drifted shut. He made a contented noise, reaching out a chubby fist to hold onto the edge of Jesse’s shirt.
“When are y’all leaving?” Jesse asked, taking his gaze off his new nephew to look at his brother and sister-in-law.
“Tomorrow. We’ll only be gone for a day or two.”
“You heard Uncle Jesse. Thirty minutes after we eat, then you can go in.”
Bo sat moodily on the edge of the bank, staring at the cool water longingly. He shot a pleading look to his eighteen-year old cousin who lounged contentedly in the shade, but Luke remained stern.
“No. Take a nap and when we wake up, we can go in, all right?” Luke said, hoping to entice the twelve-year old to stillness. He had been running around and laughing and climbing trees until Luke felt his eyes nearly cross with the effort of watching him. The trip to the stream had been an inspired idea from yesterday, when the sun beat down mercilessly on them while they worked, but he was beginning to regret the decision to eat lunch on the banks.
“But I’m not tired,” Bo complained, tossing himself on the ground and folding his hands up behind him. He waited a moment, then pulled himself up and started walking around the oak tree where Luke was.
The older cousin waited a moment, then sighed. “Come here.”
Bo walked over, collapsing onto the ground beside him and staring at him with big blue eyes. Luke rolled him over until his back was facing him, then threw an arm protectively around his waist.
“Now go to sleep.”
He closed his eyes deliberately. Bo shifted. He let out a loud sigh, then twitched. Luke tightened his arm warningly. “Bo…”
“I’m not sleepy,” Bo said again, trying to roll over, but being prevented by the heavy arm across him. Luke yawned and reached up one hand to cradle Bo’s chin—his thumb gently stroked the length of Bo’s nose, and slowly the body curled up beside his relaxed, and the breaths slowed evenly.
“Thank goodness,” he whispered when he was sure Bo was asleep. He closed his eyes and listened to the cool water beside him, concentrating on the warmth of the sun on the ground, and drifted to sleep.
“C’mon, Rosco, he’s just a kid,” Luke begged. Rosco shook his head.
“I’m sorry, but I warned him twice, and I told him that this would happen the third time I caught him fishing out there.”
Jesse scowled, knowing the Sheriff was right. He had fished out there a few times himself, back when he was younger, and he knew that it was illegal. It was one of the reasons he had never discouraged Bo from going out there, though he never expected his nephew to get caught. That, and he didn’t count on crops doing so badly they would not be able to pay the fine.
“Now, Rosco, he’s fifteen, surely—”
Rosco sighed. “Now, Jesse, I warned him and he’s got to learn.” His face softened as he looked at Jesse’s disappointed face. “It’s only for one night, and I’ll be here the whole time.”
“But Rosco—” Luke began, but Jesse cut him off with a wave of his hand.
“No, I reckon he’s right. It’s all fair and just. Rosco’s just doing his job.”
He turned to Bo, who sat there with all the bravado of a teenager, staring up at him and affecting a bored expression. Jesse put a hand on his shoulder.
“You call if you need anything, all right?” He looked at Rosco, who nodded his assent.
“I know, Uncle Jesse. I ain’t scared,” Bo said, though his eyes flickered to his cousins for reassurance. Daisy gave him a broad grin and a wink, and Luke smiled. He nodded.
“I’ll be fine.”
“All right. We’ll be by in the morning to pick you up.”
Rosco led him to the small gray cell and opened the door. Bo glanced up at him, eyes lit up and dancing, then gave a lopsided grin and flopped down onto the cot. “See ya, Rosco.”
The sheriff smiled, locking the door and turning back to the office, where the rest of the Duke clan waited. Instantly, he was bombarded with all of them talking at once, and his head spun as he tried to listen to them all.
“Make sure he has a blanket tonight,” Jesse shook his finger at him. “And check up on him every now and then just to make sure he’s all right.”
“He better get a good hot meal, too.” That was Daisy.
“And if he’s having trouble sleeping, just stroke his nose and he’ll drift right off,” Luke added helpfully.
“And call if you need anything.”
“We’ll be by in the morning.”
“Yes, yes,” he assured them all, waving them out the door. “I got it all.”
They all quieted down, then Jesse nodded. “Well, all right then.” He grabbed his red hat, slapping it onto his head and leading the way out the door. Daisy and Luke trudged along after him, both casting looks over their shoulder, as if they could see the small jail cell from the upstairs room.
That night, when the lights were off except for the dim lamp on his desk as he shuffled through papers, signing here and initialing there and wading through the mess, he heard a small sound. He glanced up, but there was only silence. The clock on his wall read 11:43. He rubbed his eyes, fighting back another yawn as he sipped at his coffee.
Rosco’s head suddenly jerked up. What was that? He pushed his chair back from his desk, heels clicking on the floor as he walked around searching for the source. It was a hitching sound, almost like a gasp, but muffled.
A quick check out the window revealed nothing, and when he heard it again, the sound emanated from downstairs. Suddenly realizing what it was, he let out an exhausted sigh and headed down to the cell.
There was a huddle of blankets facing the wall, and a blond face buried into the thin pillow. The blankets moved when another sound was released.
Giving a paternal wince, Rosco unlocked the cell and kneeled by the cot, placing a hand on where Bo’s shoulder should be. “Bo?” he said, watching for a reaction. There was no answer.
“Bo?” Another hitching sound, and he rolled the body over, staring into red-rimmed eyes and a runny nose. “Are you all right?”
The light from a lamp he left on in the corner shone on his face, making the wet glisten and the red in his face shine. “I want Daisy or Luke or Uncle Jesse.” Daisy to give him a hug and rub his back and tell him everything was fine; Luke to ruffle his hair and pretend like nothing was wrong, then cheer him up by taking him for a ride in the car; Uncle Jesse to sit him down and impart to him some wise piece of advice that inevitably made him feel better.
“I know, I know,” Rosco said, his heart going out to the boy. “But you gotta learn the rules.”
“I know,” Bo replied miserably. That was the worst part; he did know better. Uncle Jesse had never warned him specifically, but he knew that it was illegal, and he had gone and done it anyway. The thought that this was his entire fault in the first place did little to ease his depression.
Rosco patted his shoulder. “Just go to sleep. It’ll be better in the morning.”
There was a silence, then Bo sighed. “I can’t. It’s too quiet.”
Luke’s voice from earlier in the day came back to mind, and Rosco tucked the blankets around the boy tighter. With one finger crooked, he stroked Bo’s nose. Blue eyes flashed open to look at him in surprise, then the lids slowly started to droop until he was fast asleep on the cot. Rosco leaned back on his heels, watching him sleep for a moment.
“Well, I’ll be darned,” he muttered. “It worked.”
“I remember when you were just a kid and Luke could put you to sleep like it was nothin’.”
Bo rolled his eyes, ignoring Cooter as he rambled on while Bo checked the underside of the car. He frowned suddenly, using the wrench to tighten a bolt that was trying to come loose.
“He’d just stroke your nose and wham! You’d be sound asleep in a few minutes.”
Rolling out from under the car, Bo looked up at Cooter. “Are you going to help, or just talk all day?”
Cooter grinned and squatted down beside him. “A little bit of both.” He jerked his head towards the car. “What’s it look like?”
“It looks like it’s time for you to be home because your family’s been worried sick about you,” Luke’s voice suddenly interrupted. Bo looked up guiltily, hearing the anger in his older cousin’s tone. His eyes suddenly adjusted, and he blinked when he realized how dark it was. Cooter and him had started the car early in the afternoon, and though they had to put up a bright light to see after a while, he had not realized quite how late it was. A surreptitious glance at his watch told him it was 12:04. When he had promised to be home by 9:30. Uncle Jesse was going to kill him.
“Uh,” he said intelligently, hastily getting up and wiping his greasy hands on a cloth Cooter passed him. “I was just—”
“No excuses. Uncle Jesse’s mad at enough as it is. You told us you were going to the store,” Luke said accusingly. Bo shifted, and Cooter did his best to fade into the background.
“I was, I just got distracted and—”
“Don’t even start. Get in the car, we’re going home.”
Bo considered asking if he could drive, but knowing Luke’s mood, he decided against it. Sliding past his irate cousin, he beat it to the car. Cooter preoccupied himself with the car, tinkering half-heartedly under its hood while Luke glared at him.
“What were you thinking?” Luke demanded. “It’s midnight! You knew he had to be home.”
“Aww, c’mon, Luke, he’s sixteen, I just thought—”
“And you never answered my calls on the CB.”
Cooter tightened his mouth, wincing when he realized that he had shut the door to the small room where the CB was. The constant calls were annoying when they were trying to work.
Luke sighed. “I gotta get Bo home. I’ll talk to you later.”
Luke walked out of the small garage, heading towards the car where Bo was already sitting in the passenger’s side. He slid in, starting the engine and gripping the steering wheel tightly as he drove back home. Bo remained silent, shooting him anxious glances every now and then before turning back to stare out the window.
Finally, he spoke up.
“Are you mad at me?”
Luke kept his eyes on the road. “Yes.”
There was a pause, then, “I’m sorry.”
And just like that, the anger and worry started to fade, and Luke sighed. “I know you are, Bo, but we were all worried sick when you didn’t get home, and no one knew where you were…Uncle Jesse and I were looking all over town for you, and Daisy was at home, in case you got there.”
“I didn’t think—”
“You never do, Bo,” Luke said, looking at his cousin. “That’s why Uncle Jesse gets so mad at you sometimes. You have to start thinking about things before you do ’em.”
The silence in the car returned, and Luke turned off onto Drover Road before Bo spoke up again.
“How mad is Uncle Jesse?”
“Mad enough that I’d just say yessir a lot and nod and do exactly what he says for the next week.”
“Oh,” Bo said quietly, leaning his head against the window. Luke reached over with a crooked finger and drew it down his cousin’s nose in an affectionate gesture. Bo gave a surprised laugh.
“Oh, Cooter was just sayin’ something about that.”
“About what?” Luke gave him a quizzical glance.
“About that.” Bo mimicked the gesture. “He was saying you used to put me to sleep like that.”
Luke shrugged, obviously not having thought about it. “I remember having to do that for you to get to sleep at nights. You’d drive me crazy tossing and turning all night long. Or when you were working with me and Cooter at the garage and kept insisting you weren’t tired when you were.” He grinned at Bo. “You were very annoying.”
Bo returned the grin, knowing his cousin was just joking. “Same to you, cousin, same to you.”
Luke turned onto the road to their home, stopping the car and turning off the headlights when they got there. He turned to Bo before he could slide out of the car and gave him a half-smile. “Time to face the music, kiddo.”
“Yeah.” Bo looked down, reluctant to leave the comforting presence of his older cousin.
“It’ll be fine,” Luke said softly. He ruffled Bo’s hair. “C’mon.”
Together they climbed up the stairs of the porch and went to face Uncle Jesse’s long, but loving, lecture.