The First Hello

by: Sarah Stodola

NOTE — This is an alt-universe story that happens before Daisy comes to the farm. It does not happen in the “Cousins” universe either, but in one all its own. It’s also based in its entirety on a song. I wrote out the chorus, but if you tend to listen to country music, I suggest you pay attention to the verses, too. (1st verse – Bo, 2nd verse – Luke.) A little disclaimer – the song’s by Kenny Chesney; I claim no rights to it whatsoever!

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**THE FIRST HELLO**

You had me from hello
I felt love start to grow
The moment that I looked into your eyes
You owned me
It was over from the start
You completely stole my heart
And now you won’t let go
I never even had a chance, you know
You had me from hello

*******************

I was sitting on the front porch the first time I saw him. I was whittling, with my brand-new knife Uncle Jesse had given me for my eighth birthday four days ago, carving out what would be a car once I sanded and painted it. But first I had to shape it roughly, and that was what I was doing at the moment. I set my work down and straightened as my uncle’s familiar white pickup pulled into the yard and up to the house.

He had gone to Atlanta to pick up someone. I wouldn’t be alone here anymore. He was four years older than me, but it didn’t matter, in my opinion. He was another kid, another boy. We could go fishing and swimming together, and talk and run and play. We could share a room and talk late into the night. He could maybe even help me with my math homework. I was terrible at math, and Uncle Jesse and I had to struggle through it every evening after supper. My older cousin could be like my big brother, Uncle Jesse had said. I’d been unhappy for a bit about the thought of having to share him, and the farm, with anybody, but after thinking on it a bit, I’d decided I was dang-blasted *happy*! Now I couldn’t wait to meet my cousin. I hoped he’d be as glad to meet me.

Uncle Jesse was the first out of the truck. I sat still on the porch for only a couple of seconds, then I couldn’t stand it any longer and jumped up to greet our new arrival. “Steady, there,” Uncle Jesse chuckled at me, coming over and putting hands on my shoulders. “He’s been injured, remember. He won’t want you climbin’ on him.”

Oh. Yeah. Uncle Jesse had said that he and his family had been in a train wreck. He had been one of the very few survivors. His parents hadn’t been. He was an orphan now, like me. “Oh, okay,” I sighed, wanting so badly to run over to that truck.

Uncle Jesse motioned for me to stay put, and I sank back down on the steps with my chin in my hands, sighing again and blowing my too-long bangs out of my eyes. Oh, darn. I’d forgotten I couldn’t play with him right away. He had to have time to heal. I just hoped he wouldn’t be too grumpy because he was hurt. Sometimes I got like that, like the time I broke my leg and couldn’t move around much for a week. I guessed I’d have to tone down my normal energy and activity level for a while.

Then the door opened and he jumped down. At first his back was to me, but then he turned to shut the door with the arm that wasn’t in a sling, and glanced over at me. Our eyes met for the first time, and strangely, something about him grabbed me from that very moment. I wasn’t quite sure why… but I liked him.

“Bo,” Uncle Jesse was saying, “this is your cousin Luke. He’s twelve. Luke, this is Bo, and he’s eight. He’s lived here since he was four; I bet he’d show you around. Probably even if you don’t ask him to,” he chuckled. “He’s pretty energetic. Ain’t that right, Bo?” I nodded vaguely, but I was too busy just looking to really answer.

His eyes were ice blue. The kind of color that you just don’t see in people’s eyes, only in coloring pencils, a real contrast to my own almost midnight blue. They were also wary, cautious, and I couldn’t help but smile, to try to make him feel better. A few seconds passed, then an answering smile slowly flickered through his eyes. His face didn’t move at all, but I could see the smile nonetheless. It made my heart leap, though again I wasn’t sure why.

Then I somehow managed to tear my eyes away from his and stand up, to glance over the rest of what he looked like. City clothes concealed a build that wasn’t near as light as mine. He was either muscular or stocky. But I didn’t care which at the moment. He was my cousin. And hopefully my friend. He had dark hair that was combed, obviously with water, on top, but around his ears and neck it showed its true nature in curls that looked as though nothing could quite tame them. The only evidence that he’d been in an accident was a square bandage over his left eye, and the sling his right arm was in. He held himself with a defiant confidence that in itself betrayed his uncertainty, but I knew that once he’d settled in, he would be much more the leader than I. Somehow, I didn’t mind at all. I would love to follow him, anywhere.

I finally brought my eyes back to his, to find him studying me with as little manners and as much curiosity. Smiling a little, I turned a little away, toward the house, and tilted my head enough sideways so that I could peek out at him, feeling almost shy, from under the tousled thatch of blond hair that predictably fell downward. I could feel his eyes on me, seeing my rough, somewhat dirty jeans and oversized shirt, proof of a rough farm life. “Hi, Luke,” I finally spoke up. “Welcome to Hazzard.” And to my life, I thought happily.

He just stood still for a few seconds, then a real smile slowly slid across his face, and the ice in his eyes softened incredibly. “Hello.”

His voice was soft. Not the same way mine was, not quiet, and lower pitched than mine too. It was soft in a different way, a way I couldn’t quite explain. *Hello.* With that single word, I knew I’d found a friend for always. “Come on,” I greeted my cousin, going over to put my hand on the screen door handle. I looked back at him and smiled widely. “Why don’t we go inside?”

I took one of his suitcases and he took the other, and Uncle Jesse followed us into the kitchen. I watched Luke as he looked around, eyes open with interest. “I… I’ve never been on a farm,” he admitted. “This is nice.”

I leaned against the kitchen wall, still grinning like an idiot. “Well, you’ll love it! It’s a whole lot of fun. I like to play in the hayloft and the open fields, and fish and go swimmin’ and…” I trailed off and shrugged. “I can’t wait to show you everything!”

He smiled briefly at me again. “Okay. That’d be nice.”

He talked city. Not as casual and improper as I and Uncle Jesse did. But I was sure that would change soon. “Okay,” I finally echoed. “Wanna see where you’re gonna sleep?”

He shrugged. “Sure.”

“C’mon.” With a quick grin at Uncle Jesse, I carried the suitcase I’d taken into the house through the living room and down the short hall to my room. I hesitated in front of the door. “I thought you wouldn’t mind sharing with me… we do have another room, if you’d like-”

“No,” he interrupted me. “It might be neat to share a room. I don’t really want to be alone.”

“I guess I understand that. I hate being alone for a long time too.” I shoved the door open with my foot and led the way in. Uncle Jesse and I had taken the top bunk off of the bunk beds, and all my junk off it, and made it up into a real bed, across a short space from my own. I’d even cleaned up the closet and everything, to make room. I’d been excited about having a cousin living here from the day I’d first found out he was coming. I turned to look at him. He was gazing around at everything. “So, what’d’ya think?”

“Nice.” His serious eyes flicked across mine, then he put down his suitcase and went over to look out the window. “Which bed is mine?”

“This one,” I gestured. “As for nice,” I added mischievously, “it probably won’t last. I cleaned the room before you came.”

“So you’re a bit of a… well, not slob but…” He groped for words.

“Casual?” I supplied, grinning.

“Yeah.”

“Uh-huh. Uncle Jesse says too much. But…” I shrugged my lack of care about that. “So, want any help unpacking?”

“No…” he replied, “but thanks. I guess I’d just like some time to think, okay?”

I paused a minute, then nodded. “Okay.” Heading for the door, I gestured around. “This side of the closet and the bottom drawers of the dresser are yours.”

“Right.” I waited for him to say something else, but he didn’t, so I finally just started out into the hall. But then he spoke. “Bo?”

I spun around, maybe too eagerly, I realized after the fact. He didn’t seem to notice, though. “Yeah?”

He smiled, slightly. “Thanks. Cousin.”

My grin could have lit up the town. “Sure thing.”

I turned again and headed back to the kitchen to talk to Uncle Jesse, heart more light than I’d felt in as long as I could remember. I didn’t see him at first, but then, as I turned around, frowning, I noticed a red cap outside on the porch, and followed the beacon it was. Only Uncle Jesse had that hat.

He turned and looked at me as I came outside. “Luke gettin’ settled?” he asked.

I nodded and skipped across the porch to land on the steps next to him. “Yep. He wanted some time alone. I guess to sort things out. He’s just so serious!”

He nodded, looking out across the yard again and nibbling on a piece of straw. “He has a lot to sort out. Suddenly orphaned at twelve…” He shook his head. “It was real hard on him. Still is. Don’t expect too much all at once, Bo.”

“I won’t,” I promised. I could wait forever to gain his friendship. It would be worth it to me.

Then Uncle Jesse looked at me again, and I saw something in his eyes, something that bored right through into my soul, laying all my feelings bare. “You like him a lot, don’t you?”

I nodded. “He’s my cousin… and even more, he’s nice. We’re gonna have so much fun…” I grinned honestly. We would, I was sure. Having another boy around to play with would be a dream come true. “And there’s somethin’ special about him… I just want to be his friend so bad…”

Uncle Jesse stood, and held out his arms to me. “I know, Bo, you’ve wanted a friend for a long, long time, haven’t you?”

“Uh-huh.” I came forward into a hug, then stepped back, lower lip between my teeth thoughtfully. “Uncle Jesse?”

“Yes?”

“When do you think Luke will be normal, stop hurtin’ so much? Could I do somethin’ to help?”

“Give him time, Bo. Just give him time. What he needs right now is gentleness, understanding. Okay?”

I nodded vigorously. “Sure thing!”

“Then just let him relax, get over his grief and shock. He’ll be your friend. Just give him a chance and a reason. Now,” he smiled, “why don’t you go back in there and tell Luke dinner’ll be ready in a few minutes.”

I nodded again. “Sure thing, Uncle Jesse. And… thanks.”

“Thanks?”

I hugged him. “Just for lovin’ me so much.”

“Oh, Bo, I couldn’t ever do anything but. You’re my little boy.” He hugged me back, then shooed me off with a light slap on the rear. “Now go.”

I went back into the house, then wandered down the hall to my — no, our — room, not only to carry the dinner message, but also to see what Luke was doing.

I hesitated outside the door, frowning. I almost thought I heard something… I knocked lightly. No answer. I knocked again.

“Luke?” I called softly. “You okay?” When I still got no answer, I turned the knob. I knew I was supposed to leave him alone, but… it was my room too, after all. A moment later, compassion almost overwhelmed me. Without thinking twice, I ran in and knelt down beside my cousin’s bed, putting a hand on his shoulder. “Luke?”

He threw an arm over his eyes, just barely too late, not wanting me to see his tears. The movement belied just how fragile he was right now, at least emotionally, despite his show of stubborn strength. “Go ‘way,” he mumbled, turning over to face the wall and curling up even tighter.

“No.” I stubbornly got up and sat on the bed beside him. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

“What’s wrong?!” He flipped over so fast that I jumped. I saw a mix of pain and confusion and fury burning in his eyes, so hot it almost scared me. “You wanna know what’s wrong?!”

Swallowing, I lifted my chin and nodded. That look unnerved me… but I felt I had to stick this out.

Luke sat up, swiping angrily, embarrassedly, at his eyes. I guess he thought he shouldn’t cry in front of me or something. “My mom and dad are gone. Gone forever! Ain’t that enough reason?”

I looked at the floor and bit my lip. “I lost my parents too,” I whispered.

“But you were so little! You probably didn’t even know what happened, did you?”

I shrugged, determined to bear the onslaught and reach the hurting boy underneath. “I knew my mommy and daddy weren’t there any more. I knew I was being taken in by somebody else. When I came here, I was kinda scared and hurt, and I didn’t want nobody but my mom, not even Uncle Jesse. But I’ve learned to love him so much, and the farm, and now I wouldn’t trade my life for nothin’.”

“I would!” he snapped fiercely. “I would do anything to have my parents and my life back.”

I frowned. “Once you get to know this place, and Uncle Jesse, you wouldn’t.”

“Would too!” He drew his knees up under his chin and hugged them close, squeezing his eyes shut. Tears leaked out of the corners despite himself.

I hesitated. I had an incredible urge to reach out, to show him that life could be special here, but I was afraid to. He had so many barriers up against the outside world… I didn’t know if he’d push me away. But then I looked at my cousin, curled into himself, quivering with the fight to not cry, and I couldn’t not do anything. I put a hand on his shoulder, and he tensed, but before he could pull back and scowl again, I leaned forward and put my arms around him in a hug.

The position was awkward, but the act felt so right. I wanted to be here, with him, for always. I wanted him to always be there, as my friend, my brother… I barely even knew him, yet I felt this so strongly! It almost scared me.

“I want to be your friend, Luke,” I whispered. “Won’t you let me? Please?”

He didn’t move for a bit, but then, slowly, he unwrapped his arms, even the injured one, from around his knees and slid them around my shoulders. Sighing, I leaned my head on his shoulder and let him cry, constantly murmuring words of understanding, of friendship. It felt weird, acting suddenly so… adult. I was surprised when he finally answered me, his voice rough and shaky. “Why, Bo? Why?”

I sat back, smiling, and touched a hand to his eyes to wipe away the tears. Surprise and a slight amount of awe was directed toward me right now in those eyes. “Because I care about you. Because you’re my cousin. We’re gonna live together and play together, and I wanna be your friend. Maybe even your best friend. That’s why.”

“Me? You don’t even know me.”

I gave him one of my looks, the one that Uncle Jesse said made me seem older than I was, but in a gentle way, not a superior one. “I want to. Please?”

“But…” He suddenly tensed and jerked away, shoving my shoulder and hiding his face behind his arms. “Go away, Bo! I don’t need a little cousin to tell me what’s wrong with me!”

“I’m not,” I whispered. “I just want you to talk to me. I can keep a secret, even from Uncle Jesse, if you’d like.”

Luke peeked out, slowly. “Why?” he half-demanded. Yet, behind the rough, defiant tone, I could sense that he really wanted to believe me. “Why’d you do that for me?”

“Because I care,” I said again. “Because everybody has to have somebody to talk to. And,” I added with a quirk of humor, “I think we two are stuck with each other.”

Our eyes locked, and we just sat there for what seemed like forever. Finally he cleared his throat and reached out one hand. It was a small gesture, but one that I knew meant I had made some progress. “Th… thanks.”

I only smiled back, and squeezed the hand given to me between both of mine. “Uncle Jesse’s going to have dinner ready real soon,” I suggested. “Why don’t we go eat?”

He nodded, slowly. “Okay.” Then a miracle happened. He smiled. It was slow, uncertain, vulnerable, but it made my heart sing. I couldn’t help but throw my arms around him the moment he stood up, and hug tight. He froze and tensed for a second, but then slowly brought his arms up to hug me, too. I couldn’t hold back my happy grin even if I’d wanted to.

Uncle Jesse eyed us as we came into the kitchen, almost close enough to touch, but he said nothing besides, “Hey there, boys, why don’t you set the table?”

I looked to Luke, eyebrows up, for confirmation. His eyes widened. “What?”

“You’re older,” I said, as though that explained everything. I knew it didn’t really, but I still wanted him to be the leader.

He sighed, but finally looked at Uncle Jesse and forced a smile. “Sure thing.” We went to the job side-by-side, with a will born of working together. I guess he could feel my eyes on him, because he turned around a couple of times and smiled.

After dinner and a dishwashing detail, Luke took off to our room again. I started to follow, but Uncle Jesse stopped me halfway through the living room with a quiet, “Bo.”

I turned and gave a questioning look, walking back toward him. “Yes, sir?”

He set his paper down, then took his reading glasses off and looked at me from his chair. “Bo, you remember the talk we had earlier?”

I didn’t understand. “Yeah.”

“You remember I told you to lay off of Luke?”

“Yes, sir.” I looked him in the eye. “But he needs a best friend, Uncle Jesse. Somebody to always be there for him.”

“Is he having trouble? I know he hardly said a word the whole way here from Atlanta.”

“Well, he talks to me,” I shrugged. I thought a bit, then added, “Maybe he’s not scared by me cause I’m littler than him.”

“Smaller, Bo, not littler.”

I shrugged. I didn’t care about grammar, but Uncle Jesse expected me to try to stick to some of the rules at least some of the time. “Smaller, then. But you know what I mean.”

He just looked at me for a while, then slowly smiled and held out his arms. “Hug?”

I grinned and leapt forward to land in his lap and into his arms. “I think I love him, Uncle Jesse,” I confided. “Like a brother. A big brother.”

“I’m glad you two get along… but you didn’t answer my question,” he sobered. “Is he having trouble?”

“Sorta,” I admitted, twisting around to sit sideways in his lap and looking up into his eyes, as dark blue as my own. “It hurts him a whole whole lot, his mom and dad being gone. More than it hurt me.”

“Well,” Uncle Jesse sighed, “he’s a whole lot older than you were, too. You hardly even remember your parents, do you?”

“Not much anymore. Some. But mostly I remember you.” I smiled up at him with all the love in my heart.

He smiled in return, and rubbed my back. “I love you too, Bo,” he understood what I hadn’t even said. “And I care about Luke, too. He’s going to need some time to heal, maybe more emotionally even than physically.”

“Yeah. I can tell that.”

“He’s gonna need a friend.”

I looked at my uncle again, who was so much more like my father than anything else, with a mixture of love and fervency. “That’s what I said. And I’m gonna be his friend. His best friend. Maybe even like his brother.”

“Yeah,” he slowly smiled. “Maybe his brother.” Then he seemed to shake himself out of a half-dreaming state and boosted me up out of his lap, sending me off toward my room with a pat on the back. “Good night, Bo.”

“Good night, Uncle Jesse.” I shot him one more grin and ran down the hall. I burst into the bedroom at high speed, and Luke jumped visibly, spinning around from where he’d been looking at something. One-armed, he tried vainly to hide it behind his back.

“What are you doing here?”

I pulled a silly face. “It’s my room too, you know.” Then I craned my neck, trying to see. “Whatcha got there?”

“None of your business.”

“Sure it is.” I darted around him and snatched the framed photograph away before he could guard it. I ignored his half-angry protest, studying what I’d found. It was a picture of a dark-haired couple, young and happy, with Luke in the middle, grinning up at the man. “This your family?”

He scowled and crossed his arms, as best as he could, anyway. “Yeah. So what?”

“I have a picture of my folks too. Wanna see it?”

He hadn’t been expecting that. He hesitated before answering, “Sure.”

I handed his photo back and crossed to the little table between our beds. From the shallow top drawer, I pulled out a picture and gave it to him. Luke studied it closely.

“What happened to them?” he finally asked.

“They were killed in a car accident.”

“A lot like my parents, huh? You were pretty little, though. You remember much about them?”

“Some. But I don’t think about it much.” I shrugged, sitting down on my bed and patting the space beside me invitingly. “I guess I love Uncle Jesse more than I do their memory.”

Luke looked at me with an unreadable expression for a few seconds, then slowly came over and settled beside me. “You really love Uncle Jesse a whole lot, don’t you?”

“Yeah. He loves me too much for me not to. He’d love you too, if you’d let him.” I hesitated before saying the next. “So would I.”

He met my eyes, visibly fighting to hide tears again. “You would?”

I nodded, slow and sure. “I bet you’d love him too, if you tried. He’s real easy to love.” Then, slowly, honestly, I told him, “I already love you, Lukas. And I ain’t lyin’.”

He swallowed, hard, and swiped the back of one hand across his nose. “Honest?”

I nodded, and dug into my pocket to hold out my handkerchief. “Honest, Lukas.”

He took it and wiped his eyes and nose, and blinked. “Why do you keep calling me that?”

“Cause I like it.” I tilted my head to better meet his eyes. “You mind?”

“Umm… from anybody else, I think I would. But for some reason, not from you.” He slowly started to smile. “You can call me that, Bo. But just you. I… I kinda like you, too. Really, I do. You’re somethin’ kinda special, little cousin. Different… but special.”

I couldn’t hold back the thrilled laugh that burst out of me. I leaped to my feet and clapped my hands in sheer joy, then leaned forward and grabbed his shoulders in my hands. “Promise?” I demanded ecstatically. “Promise me we’ll be together forever?” For some reason, I wanted to stay by his side for the rest of my days. I wasn’t going to try anymore to figure out why, though; just enjoy this.

Grinning for the first time since I’d met him, he nodded. “Forever, Bo. I promise.”

I couldn’t hold back any longer. Landing heavily on the bed, knocking him backwards, I flung my arms around him and held on tight, burying my face in his shirt. After a brief, startled moment, he also wrapped his arms around me, and with everything that was in me I whispered a promise that I would keep until the day I died. “Forever, Lukas. We’ll be best friends forever. I swear.”

And I knew we always would. Somehow… I just knew.

THE BEGINNING…

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