All of sudden, three whistle blows resonated to inform the travelers that the train is about to leave. Heath jumped, and immediately Nick was by his side. “Are you alright?”
“Yeah, Nick, I didn’t expect that, that’s all.”
“I’ve got the tickets, come on, the train won’t wait for us.” Jarrod informed his brothers on the platform.
Heath remained quiet throughout the travel; he just looked out the window, leaving the conversation to his brothers. Three days had passed since their departure, and now the town of Stockton was in view.
At the thought of seeing his step-Mother again, Heath felt a knot in his stomach. His mouth was dry and his hands were sweaty. Although his brothers had told him that their mother regretted her words, Heath was not convinced about it. He knew Mrs. Barkley for more than a year, and he knew that that woman used to say what she thought, angry or not. "Stay calm and breathe, at least now you know her feelings about you." He said to himself.
Once the train stopped, Jarrod and Nick stood up from their seat to take their hand baggage, and encouraged Heath to do the same. The young man did what his brothers asked him to do, and he headed for the car door without a word.
“Heath, wait!” Nick asked, worried about his brother's behavior since their departure from Virginia City.
“I’ll take care of ole Willy, he…he’s not used to having strangers close to him. I’ll wait for you outside.” With that, Heath got off the train.
“I know, Nick. I know. I think he’s scared, you know how he is when he’s upset, he prefers to be with horses than humans.”
At that, Nick sighed. “Maybe it’s because no horse has ever caused him any harm, unlike humans.”
“Touched, Brother Nick.”
“Oh, Jarrod, I’m sorry. I’m worried and…”
“Let’s go, everybody out.” The station agent yelled, putting an end to the discussion.
Jarrod had sent a wire to Victoria to tell her the day of their arrival. However, he had asked her expressly to not wait to the station, but rather to stay at home, what she had done; to his great relief.
After renting two horses for Jarrod and him, Nick went out of the barn and headed for his two siblings. “Are you ready to go home?”
“My body is ready for a soft bed, Brother Nick.” Jarrod replied with a touch of humor. “Are you ready for a soft bed, Brother Heath?”
In response to Jarrod’s question, Heath shrugged. “I don’t care; I’m used to being homeless.” With that, Heath urged ole Willy to go ahead.
Nick watched his brother’s back, and then he turned to Jarrod. “I don’t know if he’ll be able to forgive Mother. That boy, he’s not the same anymore.”
“Don’t forget that Mother is a tenacious woman.” Jarrod replied. “All we can do is keep faith.”
“Maybe that will be not enough, Pappy. Her words deeply hurt him.” Nick responded while mounting his horse.
“I know, I know.” Jarrod repeated while imitating his brother.
Once settled on their mounts, the two brothers managed to catch the young man, and all three, they headed for home. On the way, Heath stopped on the edge of a hill that dominated the ranch, the view was wonderful, however he felt his heart plummet into his stomach, and all of the sudden he felt sick. Without warning, Heath got down from his horse, took a few steps towards the bushes, and threw up the content of his stomach. Immediately, his two brothers were by his sides to support him, and ease his pain. After catching his breath, Heath thanked his siblings and after a few minutes, he was ready to get back on his horse, and face to…maybe his destiny.
When the three brothers got into the yard, Heath's face was pale, and sweat-drops were running on his face. The young man had never felt like this before, it was as if he was numb. Even after his stay in Carterson camp, the prison led by for Confederates during the Civil War, where he had lived hell on earth during seven months due to physical and psychological abuses from the guards; his emotional feeling had never been greater. He had trust and faith in that woman to the point of calling her "Mother", and she...she had broken his heart without regret. "I'd ask you to stay in your place." Those words still resonated in his ears, even after two months. From now on, he would not call her “Mother” anymore, that name will be reserved only to his own mama.
Slowly he dismounted and waited for his brothers to do the same. A few minutes later, the three brothers were in front of the frontdoor, Jarrod was the first to put his hand on the handle of the door, however instead of opening it, he turned to Heath. "Are you ready, brother?"
"No, but for both of you I'll do it." It was the only frank answer that Heath was able to give him right now.
Nick didn’t like his brother’s answer, but nevertheless he understood it. “Thanks little brother.”
At that, Heath nodded, and Jarrod opened the door and said. “Knock, knock, anyone home?”
Audra who was upstairs came running down, excited and breathless. "Oh, you're at home, I'm so happy." She then turned to Heath, and her smile faded. "Heath, I'm very happy to see you. I know it's difficult to you to believe me, especially after my behavior towards you the last time, but...I'm so sorry. You were right about that young man, and I was wrong to not listen to you. I know I deeply hurt you, and..."
"Oh, you're there, are you injured?" Victoria asked while rushing towards her sons.
"No, Mother. We're alright." Nick replied, kissing his mother's cheek.
"As just said Brother Nick, we're alright, Mother." Jarrod answered, as he also gave her a kiss.
“Heath, are you injured?”
“No, Ma’am. I’m fine.” Heath replied, keeping his distance.
Victoria winced when she heard the word "Ma'am", but she didn't say a word about it. "I've deserved it, I deeply hurt him." she said to herself.
Despite the gulf that separated them now, Victoria approached the young man, and made a desperate reconciliation attempt, she kissed him on his cheek. Heath took a step backward, and he looked her right in the eyes without returning her kiss. "Excuse me, Ma'am. Right now, I can't do that."
“Oh Heath, I…”
Before his mother goes too far into her remark, Nick went to her. “Mother, I don’t know about my brothers but I’m starving. Could we have something to eat, please?”
“Oh, darling, I’m so happy to see you all three that I didn’t think about that. Go take a bath and I'll fix you something to eat."
"Thanks Lovely Lady." Jarrod whispered in his mother's ear while walking past her so as to climb the big stairs.
“Heath, come on.” Nick said, taking his brother’s forearm in his.
For a moment, Victoria looked at her three sons climbing the stairs, and she made a prayer. "Lord, give me the strength to penetrate in Heath's heart once again."
“Mother, are you coming?”
“Yes, Audra, give me just a moment, please.” Victoria entered the living room and looked at his husband’s portrait. “Help me, Tom. Help your son. Oh, darling what did I do?”