by Denise Keppel
Disclaimer: Sam and Tom Guthrie belong to Marvel. This story belongs to me and is a background story for any series I've written. Please ask before putting on your page. Feedback would be loved.
Samuel Guthrie hated the dark. Hated driving in it too. And while he was at it, he hated the fact he had taken the family car without his mother knowing. But what he hated the most was Billy Ray's boasting about the stray that he had picked up on the side of the road.
Not that he minded a guy getting a dog now. If his dad hadn't put his foot down, he and his mom would have adopted every stray that came around their farm. It was what Billy Ray was doing to Daffy that had gotten Sam's temper up. That-that-(there were no allowable words in Sam's vocabulary to describe him)- really mean jerk was torturing the animal.
Fourteen-year-old Sam had done everything he could to rescue the animal. First, he had told his teacher. But when the teacher told him that he had misunderstood Billy Ray's comments, Sam had offered to buy the dog. Billy Ray tossed Sam's hard earned money in his face. Finally, Sam tried to tell the boy's parents what the youth had boasted about. Billy Ray's father had just laughed and said that it was up to his son to treat his animals any way that he wanted to.
Sam came home from that confrontation literally ready to tear somebody apart that night. His every breath seemed to be radiating steam as he stomped his way up the stairs. "Sam?"
Sam turned to face his father, half-surprised to see the expression on his face. "Sir?" he asked carefully. His father looked at him through eyes that just didn't seem to belong to him. They were too sad, too desperate to be his father's.
And then Sam focused outward, taking in everything about his Daddy slowly. His jaw was clenched as he held back tears. Grim lines had appeared on his face. His dad was so silent, so still that it was scaring him. And worse of all, his left hand held on to an envelope bearing a set of human lungs with whitened knuckles. His daddy's lung doctor's emblem, the youth remembered with a shock. "What did she say?" the teenager whispered.
Sam's father looked back at his son. Sam had always been a serious, quiet child, not one given to emotional outburst. He thrust the letter in his back pocket, knowing that the family would have several years to deal with the implications of the report but he would only have this moment to help his son. "We'll discuss it later," he dismissed it. This man had systematically sold off parts of the land that his family had held for years, seen his platoon slaughtered in Vietnam and, on a cold December morning, discovered Sam's twin sister dead in her crib. He could set this news aside for a moment. "What happened after practice?"
One of the barn cat's babies, a demanding calico, made its way up to the porch and started to weave in and out of Sam's legs when he sat down on the stairs. Without thinking about it, Sam picked up the kitten and started to scratch behind her ears as he explained, "Billy Ray Cooper found a puppy..." he started. His dad waited, expectantly. "And the other day, he boasted about shootin' BB's at it. And yesterday, he said that he was going to burn it... and Ah don't think he's kiddin'."
The elder man turned towards him, and sighed. The twenty-year difference in their ages seemed so great at moments like this. No one would have bragged about hurting an animal when he was a kid. What a time to raise children, when people turned blind eyes to red flags. Knowing that this wasn't what his boy needed to hear, he waited again.
Sam picked up his whittling knife and started to cut on the stick, trying to channel his anger. Insulted at the lack of attention, the kitten jumped out of his lap and strolled away. A few deep cuts later, Sam looked up. "What if... what if that dog disappeared from his place?" The words were said quietly, and Sam didn't know how his father would react to the idea. It was legally wrong, against his father's firm 'no more critters' policy, meant more work, and was the best solution he could find.
Sam's dad sighed and looked at his son. He knew that some day, his son would look back and realize that this moment, more than any other, would set him on the road to being a man, and the choice he made now would affect him for the rest of his life. It was an honor that Sam came to his father for help. And he searched and prayed that the words he would give Sam would help him, not only that night but for the nights he wasn't going to be around. The Lord knew how many they would be.
"Some would say that the law's right, son. The dog is Billy Ray's." Sam looked startled, he had expected better from his father. "And others would say that the dog needed rescuin'." That was something the teenager would agree with. "And Ah say-if ya do something, ya've got ta see it through... if that dog disappears, will ya make things right for it? Will ya help it ta trust again? Keep it fed? Or if it's too deeply hurt, will ya put it out of its misery?" The boy sat back, trying to think things though.
"There's a difference between a showy right and a truly right, son. Many people will do the quick feel-good fix. A man goes in and knows he'll see it through or he won't go in," Sam's father said firmly.
Sam slipped his knife and stick in a can and slid back into its hiding place. "See it through..." he repeated quietly.
His father nodded. "Ya have ta make a choice, son. Will ya sleep tonight knowing that the dog is hurtin'? Or will ya be willing ta go ta jail ta defend an innocent?"
The last was said in a tone of voice that chilled the boy. His father knew what he was talking about. When did the older man make a choice like that, Sam wondered to himself. Would he ever find out? It stunned him to think that he didn't know the man his father was that well.
Sam stared at him for a long moment, and was surprised to see that the way that he saw his father was different-or maybe it was the first time he really saw the man. There were faint wrinkles around the older man's face, signs of gray at the temples. Strong muscles led to rough and callused hands, mute evidence of a man who did what it took to provide for his family.
"Smith is giving me a ride to work," explained the older man as a car pulled up. Twelve-hour shifts were the norm for the man who scratched out a living above and below the earth. He tossed the keys to his son. "Make sure ya hang them up when ya get done with them," he instructed the boy.
Sam looked at the keys, sitting on the railing and at his father. "Ah'll-Ah'll do it," he promised.
In an uncharacteristic gesture, his dad hugged him. "Always do what is right," the man whispered. "And Ah'll be proud of ya-now and forever."
It was a cold Sunday morning when Tom came home after a bone-numbing night's work in the mines. Traces of stubborn dirt hung on him, and he couldn't get the chemical smell of the mine out of his nose. Tired beyond the ability to think, he nearly stumbled over his own son, sleeping in the yard.
Tom looked from Sam to the dog that was tied up a safe distance from the sleeping bag and back again. It took time and effort to regain a dog's trust. Sam was going to do what it took for the animal to learn that some people could be counted on and trusted. Even if it meant forsaking the nice warm bed he had inside the house to scrunch up under a thin quilt.
And then Tom smiled, knelt down, and brushed the blond hair off of his son's face. No matter how old his sons and daughters got, they always looked like children when they slept. He fought off an urge to wake up the young man, knowing that Sam had to learn that following through had its consequences. One day, the man would be able to enjoy the animal's trust, and he would know he bought it with nights like this one. Instead, Tom slipped off his thick jacket and wrapped it around him.
In a few hours, they would be leaving for church. And after that, he and his wife would sit down and break the news to his kids that he had Black Lung, the incurable dread of all miners. But in a moment like this, Thomas Zebulon Guthrie knew he would live on in the man that his son had started to become.
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