The Last

by: Sarah Stodola

NOTE – This vignette happens… well, somewhere late in the second season, I think.

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THE LAST

It just hit me. Nearly all my life, I’ve heard it, I’ve known it. But suddenly, as I hear playful shouts and look out the kitchen window to see my cousins fighting with the hose and bucket they’ve been using to wash the farm pickup, it strikes me like lightning. They’re the only ones out there, the only ones for miles around. We’re the last of our clan.

Why it took me this long to comprehend, I don’t know. Maybe my twentieth birthday a couple of weeks ago made me realize that I have to grow up sometime. Maybe the fact that our Uncle Jesse took my jeep to visit a friend of his for the weekend, leaving us kids alone here, made me imagine life out from under his protective wing. Maybe the boys out there acting like children made me wonder how they would survive life on their own. Whatever the reason, the fact that we four, Jesse, Luke, Daisy, and Bo, are the only Dukes left just hit me hard.

How would we survive life on our own? It wouldn’t be easy at all to leave the island of familiar safety that this farm has always been to us. I know that someday we each will have to move away, get married and have children of our own, because we have to try to carry on Duke blood in the next generation. In our culture, family, bloodline, is everything. And we don’t have any left. But somehow I can’t imagine that life, can’t imagine having to take on that responsibility. I have to admit it — I’m scared. I don’t want to think about having to be a completely serious adult, having to start my own family. I don’t want to think about moving away. Someday I want to get married and have children, but not anytime soon. I’m still a kid myself! Aren’t I?

Biting my lip, I look out the window again to see Bo, my blond cousin just barely younger than I am, chase our older cousin Luke around the side of the pickup. They’ve left the water war, now that they’re both dripping wet, for the fun of chasing each other around. I have to smile. Somehow I think that they’re more kids than I am. At least they are when they’re with each other. I really love them both, those boys. But really, I guess being the last of our family line would be even harder for them than it is for me. To be honest, I don’t have a responsibility quite like they do, cause I’m a girl. I should try to keep our blood alive, if not our name. But the boys have to do both. And I know for a fact that neither of them is interested in getting married. They both like going to dances and flirting around, but when it comes to anything serious, they’re admittedly girl-shy. I think that at the root of it is the same problem I have — they’re scared of having to grow up and leave home.

Turning away from the window, I go out of the kitchen and to the living room. I was going to head for my bedroom, but I pause in front of the hearth to look at the framed photograph hanging there. It’s really a cute little picture; our uncle, Jesse, is standing behind three children, aged nine, nine, and eleven. That was just the year after I came to live at the farm. I hadn’t fit in at all for a while, but I’d learned, and the three Duke cousins became an inseparable team in very short order. We’d run through the woods together, galloped on horseback cross- country together. We’d gone swimming and fishing and hiking together. We’d even won a brief ‘war’ with a group of older boys once together. Nowadays, things haven’t changed a whole lot. We still hide in the woods, we still race each other on horseback, we still go fishing. We also tease the local law, we win every fast-paced road race in the county, and we have to rescue each other from the trouble we get into on a regular basis. And from the start, at the hub of it all, has always been and will always be Uncle Jesse.

He had been a widower with a farm to care for and no one to love. Then he took in the boys when their parents died, and then me, and we became a family. He was father and mother to us all. He made sure we all became best friends. He taught us about honor and loyalty and love. And we learned our lessons well. We love him the most of all. He’s been our protective hovering shadow, fierce like a mother hawk. We fight our own battles much of the time, but we know we can always run back to him when things get too rough, and we often do. It would be so hard not to have that leader figure in our lives. Our family structure is really very simple. Uncle Jesse is the head of the home and the one who approves all decisions, Luke devises most of the plans and is the main speaker for the family, and me and Bo are spies, actors, and getaway drivers, at the bottom but for the most part happy to be there because we feel safe that way. We make a good team as long as we all do what we’re expected to. And I don’t want that to change.

I’m scared of it changing.

Sitting down on the couch, I curl up in a corner and hug a pillow to my chest, looking around at this familiar room. It’s a part of my life, part of my world. I want it all to stay the same. I want my *life* to stay the same.

The front door opens, and I turn my head to watch the boys come in, soaked but at least no longer actually dripping. Luke heads straight for their bedroom, but Bo, always quick to pick up on emotional currents, glances at me, his grin fading as his dark blue eyes soften. “What’s the matter, Daisy?” he asks.

I muster a smile, meeting his gaze with one the same color. “Nothing really. Nothing in the here-and-now. I was just thinkin’ about something.”

He crouches on the floor next to me. “So? Tell.”

I take a deep breath, then let it out. “I was just thinking that we’re the last of our clan.”

He smiles again, as though he thinks I’m being kinda silly. “I know that. We all know that.”

I sit up, tossing the pillow aside. “But it’s not a game anymore, Bo! We’re growing up, and someday soon things are gonna have to change. We’re gonna have to leave here, have to try to keep our bloodline alive. But I don’t want things to change!”

“Why do they have to?” comes a third voice. Luke comes out of the boys’ room, now in dry jeans and tucking in a clean blue denim shirt.

“…Huh?” I blink and frown at him, not comprehending. “What do you mean?”

He leans against the wall casually, his fingers slid into his jean pockets and a slight smile quirking the corners of his mouth. “Daisy, you do have a point. We are the last of our line, and we do have somewhat of an obligation to continue it. But,” he holds up a hand as I open my mouth, “you and Bo, at least, are still kids. You just turned twenty. Don’t worry about life away from here yet; we won’t have to face that for a while.”

“Besides,” Bo picks up, and I turn to look at him, “Uncle Jesse says that what we want to do matters more. He says that we’re individuals, and we shouldn’t be forced into life if we’re not ready yet.”

“How do you know?” I finally manage to get a word in edgewise.

Luke speaks up again. “Cause we both had a talk with him about it only two days ago.”

I blink. That wasn’t what I’d expected him to say. “You did?”

My older cousin’s smile softens, and he comes over to sit down beside me. His light blue eyes capture mine, and he nods. “Did you think you were the only one who ever thought about having to leave home, Daisy? I thought about it a long time ago. I talked to Jesse then, and he said he wouldn’t make me go if I’d rather stay. Then, a couple days back, Bo comes up with the same worry, and talks to me about it. I told him what Uncle Jesse said to me, but the three of us had the conversation all over again too. Uncle Jesse said that neither of us boys have to feel like we should leave.”

“He even said he wants us to stay,” Bo pipes up, eyes bright and candid. “That he’d be lonely if we left.”

I find myself smiling just a little. “I guess the same applies to me.”

“Even more so!” Luke laughs. “You’re a girl; you couldn’t carry on family name!” Gently, he places a hand on my arm. “Don’t worry about it. Just cause you ain’t officially a teenager anymore don’t mean you can’t still be a kid. For as long as you wanna be.”

Feeling tears sting my eyes, I lean over to wrap my arms around him, closing my eyes and laying my head on his shoulder. I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be right now. Someday I want to grow up and get married, have a husband and children of my own, but not yet. Right now I want my older cousin, my big brother, to be the man I trust to take care of me. I’m not ready to grow up. And I don’t have to, the thought finally sinks in. I don’t have to. “I’m glad,” I whisper. “I don’t want to lose this farm, this home. Or Uncle Jesse. And I don’t want to lose you boys either.”

Luke chuckles, and hugs me briefly before leaning back to look at me with a seriousness belied by the teasing twinkle deep in his eyes. “I don’t wanna lose you either. I mean, who’d do my laundry?”

“Or the cooking,” Bo supplies helpfully with a grin.

I clench my fists in mock anger, fighting to keep from laughing. “Grr! Is that all I am to you?” Then, as the boys both jump to their feet and head off at high speed, “Hey, come back here, I’m talkin’ to ya!”

They don’t even pause, just keep on running into the kitchen, laughing as if daring me to chase them. After a moment, I do, leaping up to dash through the doorway and out the screen door after them.

“You fellas come back here! I’m gonna get you for that!”

But there’s not a sound in reply. I pause, glancing around. Where’d they go? They’re fast, but not that fast. They’re hiding somewhere. I turn slowly, my eyes tracking across our land. In the big oak… no. In the corral… only the horses, snorting and looking at me curiously. In the barn… could Luke and Bo have gotten that far? Nah. I don’t think so… maybe. I take a single step in that direction.

And then spin around just in time to duck sideways as Bo leaps out from around the side of the house. Stupid me, I forgot to look there! I yelp and start running, aiming for the oak. I can feel my cousin on my heels. I leap for the lowest branch and scramble up with a speed born of desperation. I thought *I* was chasing *them*; how did this happen? Bo’s right behind me, so I keep going. Finally I slide out to the end of a long, narrow branch, one that bends under me and that I know won’t hold his weight. He knows it too; he hesitates next to the trunk and scowls playfully at me.

“No fair, Daisy! I can’t get out there!”

I grin, unable to keep an impish tone from my voice. “Well, cuz, all’s fair in love, war, and tree-climbing!”

“Yep.” That’s Luke’s voice, and I spin in surprise to see him sitting on the branch directly below mine. I tense, eyes widening.

“Oh, no, you don’t!”

He grins, slowly, mischievously. “Oh no I don’t what?” Then he reaches up and grabs my leg, pulling hard. With a yell, I fall, right into the pile of hay underneath the branch. The boys leap in after me, and we get in a brief wrestling match before falling back to rest, breathing hard and not caring one bit about the hay in our hair and clothes.

I sigh and look up into the blue sky, still grinning like a little kid. I feel like one too… free, safe, with no cares. And I can stay that way for as long as I want to. So can young- hearted Bo, and even Luke. I know that now. And I love it.

We’re the last of our clan. That will never change. With us dies the bloodline. That will never change either. But we have years, many years, ahead of us in which to think that way. And to tell the truth, being the last has a strange pride to it. Almost as if we’re unique, different, special. That idea feels good, in a funny way. Right now, and for some time to come, all we have to be is ourselves. Us. The wild ones. The best drivers in the county. Ridge-runner Jesse’s kids. The Duke cousins. The Duke heirs.

The last.

END

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