GHOSTS

Amanda watched as Josiah slowly walked towards Cemetery Hill. For the last two weeks he had been losing his enthusiasm for publishing. Amanda had caught him several times just sitting and staring into space with a sad look on his face.

Amanda grabbed her shawl and closed the door to the Statesman’s office behind her. With a determined look on her face, she walked towards the Ambrosia Club. When she entered, she saw Clay standing behind the bar with a bored expression on his face as he listened to Cleese.

“And they say Louis Pasteur, even as we speak, is developing a cure for anthrax,” the young doctor said enthusiastically. “Think about it. A cure for hoof and mouth disease.” He saw Clay look past him and turned his head.

“Whatever it is, Amanda, I’m not interested,” Clay scowled. Clay’s eyebrows rose. He expected Mandy to bare her claws as Amanda approached. Instead the cat merely yawned as Amanda picked her up.

“Not that I care, but why are you taking it to Josiah?” Clay asked in annoyance.

“Because Josiah loves and needs this cat,” Amanda announced. Without a further word, she turned around and left.

Clay stared at the door for a moment then shook his head. Women and cats, he decided, were rarely worth the trouble they caused.

------------------------

Caroline stared up appreciatively at the blue Montana sky. The autumn air had started turning the leaves in the nearby trees into bright red, yellow, and orange. The contrast against the deep blue sky was one of the most beautiful sights Caroline had ever seen.

She had always found solace and peace in cemeteries. Sitting with her back against Hannah Call’s tombstone, Caroline was so lost in thought she didn’t hear anyone approaching until the last moment. Startled, she started to stand up.

“Oh, God, Hannah!” Josiah, seeing someone rising from behind Hannah’s tombstone, stumbled backwards.

“Mr. Peale!” Caroline rushed to his side. “It’s me...Caroline.” She knelt beside Josiah frightened by the stunned look on his face. She reached out and began rubbing his hands. “Mr. Peale!”

Slowly Josiah’s eyes focused on Caroline. He looked slowly at her then at Hannah’s tombstone. “I thought...” he mumbled.

“I’m so sorry,” Caroline apologized. “I heard someone coming and stood up too quickly.”

“I thought...” Josiah repeated his voice drifting off his eyes becoming unfocused.

“Mr. Peale?” Caroline put her hands on either side of his face. “Are you alright?”

Josiah blinked and looked back at Caroline. “Yes,” he said slowly. “I’m sorry I frightened you, Caroline.” Josiah tried to force a smile. “You mustn’t tell Austin. He’d be very angry with me.”

“No, he wouldn’t,” Caroline assured Josiah. “It’s all my fault anyway. Anyone would have been startled to see me suddenly standing up like that.”

Josiah slowly got to his feet. “Yesterday was her birthday,” he said quietly looking at Hannah’s tombstone.

“Really?” Caroline took hold of Josiah’s arm. “I didn’t know. In fact, I don’t even know when Austin’s birthday is.”

“Tomorrow,” Josiah said his voice sounding very far away.

“Then we need to get busy,” Caroline said firmly tugging on Josiah’s arm.

“For what?” Josiah looked at her blankly.

“Austin’s birthday,” Caroline stressed. “We should have a party for him.”

“I don’t think so,” Josiah shook his head.

“I do,” Caroline said firmly. “Everyone needs a birthday celebration.” She glanced at him. “When’s your birthday?”

Josiah glanced at Caroline sharply. “Too late for mine, I’m afraid.”

Caroline relaxed a little seeing Josiah looking more like himself. “Too bad,” she smiled. “But I’d really like your help in doing something special for Austin.”

“Today’s All Hallow’s Eve,” Josiah said looking back over his shoulder at Hannah’s grave. “The night when they say spirits walk the earth.”

Caroline repressed a shiver. “Well, I’m sure any spirit looking for you would be a pleasant one,” she said after a moment. “I think you and the spirit of Ben Franklin would get along. Don’t you?”

Josiah looked at Caroline blankly for a moment. “Who?” he asked. “Oh, Franklin...perhaps so.” He shook his head slightly. “Don’t mind me. I suppose I’ve just been a little depressed what with yesterday being Hannah’s birthday.”

“Then the party should snap you out of it,” Caroline urged.

“What party?” Josiah asked with a frown.

“Austin’s birthday party,” Caroline reminded him hesitantly.

“Oh, of course,” Josiah nodded. “But don’t go to any trouble, Caroline. I’m sure Austin would prefer to ignore it.”

“Then he’ll just have to indulge me,” Caroline forced a smile. “I’ll let you know tomorrow morning when the dinner will be.”

-----------------------------

Austin glanced through the window of the newspaper office. He frowned as he saw his father sitting in a chair staring at the wall. Mosby’s cat, Mandy, lay curled up on the desk apparently asleep. Softly he knocked on the door. When Josiah didn’t move, he opened the door. “Father?” he asked quietly.

Josiah jerked and looked over his shoulder. “Austin!” he relaxed. “I didn’t hear you come in.”

“Are you alright?” Austin asked closing the door behind him.

“Why do you ask?” Josiah reached out to stroke Mandy’s neck. The cat lazily opened her eyes.

“Just wondered,” Austin evaded. “You haven’t been yourself the last couple of days.”

“Haven’t I?” Josiah mused. “Perhaps not, son.” He sat up straight and looked at Austin. “But there’s nothing to worry about.” He reached around the cat for some papers and began reading.

“Good night, Father,” Austin frowned slightly as he turned to leave.

“Good night,” Josiah watched as Austin walked away. He tossed the papers to one side and sighed.

Mandy blinked twice staring at him.

“I can’t imagine why Clay doesn’t like you,” Josiah shook his head as he picked up the cat. “Well, Newt doesn’t either, I guess.” He locked the door of the office and picked up the lamp. “But I like you, Mandy, so you’ll always have a home here.”

Mandy glanced up at him and licked her lips as Josiah carried her upstairs. When Josiah put her down, she ran towards the window. Jumping up on a nearby chair, she looked outside, her tail flicking rapidly back and forth.

Curiously, Josiah walked to the window. He saw fog slowly rolling down the street. “That’s odd,” he murmured shaking his head. “I hope the weather stays nice.” He walked away slowly undressing. “There’s something happening tomorrow, I think.”

Mandy turned her head to watch him for a moment then looked back out the window.

“Your son’s birthday,” Josiah heard a voice tell him.

“That’s right,” Josiah nodded unbuttoning his shirt. Then he looked around. When he didn’t see anyone, he walked to the top of the stairs. “Is someone there?” he called down.

“Behind you,” a girl’s voice came from behind him

Josiah spun around in confusion. He saw no one.

“Down here, Josiah,” the girl’s voice said patiently.

Josiah glanced down to see Mandy looking up at him. He stepped around the cat and looked around the room.

“Josiah!” the girl’s voice was impatient.

“Where are you?” Josiah asked.

Mandy jumped onto Josiah’s bed, her back arched. She hissed and angrily flipped her tail. “On the bed, you idiot!”

Josiah turned and stared at the cat. “Mandy?” he asked.

“Only that idiot, Mosby, would give me that name,” Mandy’s eyes glittered. “He wouldn’t think that I’d like a name all my own.”

“Mandy?” Josiah took a step forward his eyes wide.

“Yes, Josiah,” Mandy said patiently. The cat stretched out on the bed and eyed Josiah.

“I have lost my mind,” Josiah said softly almost in wonder. “Just like they said.”

Mandy hissed. “You haven’t lost your mind,” she said. “And, with the possible exception of Ephraim, no one in this mudhole has the ability to determine that anyway.”

“But, Mandy,” Josiah said slowly. “Cats can’t talk.”

“Then how am I conversing with you?” Mandy asked reasonably.

“You’re not,” Josiah shook his head. “I’m dreaming, of course.”

“Dreams,” Mandy reflected. “Amazing things, dreams.” She arched her back stretching. “But you’re not dreaming, Josiah.”

“If I’m not crazy and I’m not dreaming,” Josiah reasoned. “Then what am I doing?”

“Talking with me,” Mandy’s voice was amused.

Josiah sat down and shook his head.

“It’s All Hallows Eve,” Mandy pointed out. “You said it yourself. The night when spirits walk the earth.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Josiah said quickly.

“Really?” Mandy’s eyes widened. “How do you know?”

Josiah opened his mouth then closed it. “Whose spirit are you?” he finally asked fearfully.

“Mine,” Mandy’s tail began flicking irritably again. “All sorts of spirits walk the earth at different times, Josiah.”

“Why haven’t you...spoken before?” Josiah asked.

“Maybe I didn’t have anything to say!” Mandy snapped. She jumped to the floor and walked around the bed towards him. “Well...actually, I couldn’t until tonight. It’s All Hallows Eve.”

Josiah glanced out the window at the ever increasing fog. “Are other spirits walking tonight?” he asked quietly.

“Probably,” Mandy admitted. “But not for you.”

“Why not?” Josiah demanded. “Assuming I believe this is more than a dream, of course,” he added after a moment.

“I don’t know,” Mandy glared at him from narrowed eyes. “What am I? The Oracle of Delphi? All I know is that I’m the only spirit communicating with you tonight.”

“What are you supposed to tell me?” Josiah asked after a few moments.

“That you should think more about your living child than your dead one,” Mandy snapped.

Josiah angrily stood. “How dare you?” he demanded.

“You forgot about his birthday,” Mandy pointed out. “And don’t you get huffy all with me, Josiah Peale! I’m not blind. I’ve been watching what’s going on around me.”

“Austin and I...we’ve drifted apart somewhat,” Josiah admitted after a moment. “But I love him. He’s my son.”

“True,” Mandy jumped back up on the bed and curled up on the pillow. “And this distance between you is partially his fault, too. But that doesn’t excuse your actions, you know.”

Josiah looked at Mandy with annoyance. “I do not intend to stand here and be lectured by a cat!” he decided huffily.

“Then sit down,” Mandy suggested.

Josiah stared at Mandy for a moment, then smiled. He sat down and leaned back in the chair. “I am dreaming,” he said. “I know that.”

“Fine,” Mandy shrugged. “You’re dreaming. I’m not talking. Whatever works.”

“Is that all you have to tell me?” Josiah prodded.

“What else do you want to know?” Mandy blinked. “Would you like to know that if you keep at it that the Statesman will become a very respected newspaper not only in Montana but throughout the west? Would you like to know how many grandchildren you may or may not have? Would you like to know...”

“No!” Josiah shouted. “I don’t want to know anything like that!”

“Good,” Mandy closed her eyes. “Because I’m not a fortune teller. I don’t know the future.”

Josiah stared at Mandy in irritation then shook his head. “May I go to sleep now?” he asked.

Mandy reluctantly curled up at the foot of the bed. “Be my guest,” she offered.

“I’m just dreaming,” he whispered. He told himself the sound Mandy made at that moment meant she was coughing up a hairball. It wasn’t a snort of derision, he told himself. He leaned back in his chair and thought for several hours.

------------------------

Mosby stepped out onto his balcony a bottle of Scotch in one hand and a glass in the other. For some reason, not many people were out tonight. Business was so slow in the bar that he’d left the bartender in charge and come upstairs.

As he sat down he shivered slightly as damp cool fog rose up from the street. He frowned as he poured some of the whiskey into his glass. Offhand, he couldn’t remember ever seeing fog in Curtis Wells.

He smiled as he suddenly remembered how he and Robert had often played in the fog that rose up by the river close to Hatton Willows. Two young boys luring Clay’s sister into the woods by making sounds like a hurt puppy. Elisabeth had never been able to resist small cuddly animals. Then they jumped out of the fog at her laughing as she ran screaming back to the house. They didn’t laugh later, however, when they were standing in front of Clay’s angry father.

Clay leaned back in his chair. He didn’t like fog any more. He’d seen it used far too successfully during the war. Fog concealed the enemy hiding him until he was almost upon you. Idly he watched as someone walked down the street causing the fog to swirl upwards. The man’s form slowly disappeared into the fog. In a few seconds it was as though he’d never existed.

Never existed...Clay mused at how simple that seemed. A person was born, lived, and died...hopefully leaving some sort of legacy to be remembered by. Hatton Willows had been a legacy once. Now it too was gone as though it never existed.

“John Lewis...George Stone...Lee Miller,” Clay murmured recalling friends from his childhood. Friends who had died during the war before they could leave a legacy. Their homes gone, their families scattered...as though they never existed. Very few left to remember they even lived...ever had dreams and ambitions.

“Keith Rice... Josh Wallace...Jimmy Edwards,” Clay closed his eyes remembering how Jimmy had died in Robert’s arms in that filthy prison camp in Maryland. Robert had refused to let him go during the final hours of Jimmy’s life holding him as he coughed up blood and moaned that he didn’t want to die. They weren’t even able to bury him in Virginia soil. Now who was left to remember Jimmy? His parents were dead and his younger brother had been killed during the siege of Atlanta.

Wearily, Clay leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. Only he and Robert were left. They were the only ones left to remember the dead. So many dead....Clay slowly began whispering their names.

--------------------------

Hellbitch was acting strangely. The horse refused to stand still as Call brushed and curried her. He murmured softly patting her side.

“Still a good lookin’ horse, son,” someone said from behind Call.

Startled, Call spun around dropping the brush and reaching for his gun. He froze staring in shock at the man sitting on the bench.

The man shook his head and smiled ruefully. “You’ve gotten quick, boy,” he remarked.

Call took a few steps closer and stared intently at the man. “Mr. Gus?” he finally squeaked. “Can’t be...can’t...” He shook his head and looked away.

Gus grinned. “You look like Woodrow,” he remarked. He grinned wider when Call’s head snapped up and he glared. “Hell, you could be Woodrow as a young pup.”

“Don’t know who you are, but I know who you ain’t,” Call said stubbornly.

“That’s fine, Newt,” Gus shrugged. He narrowed his eyes and peered at him. “Glad to see you stopped that bounty huntin’. Shouldn’t ever done that, boy.”

Despite himself, Call flushed. “Up to me to do what I want,” he said stubbornly.

Gus grinned. “Now that sounds just like Woodrow,” he admitted. “You Calls never did like admittin’ you’re wrong.” He stood and stretched. “And you’re all awfully damn stupid ‘bout it, too.”

Call backed off a few steps his hand hovering over his gun.

“Now don’t get all riled up, boy,” Gus scoffed. “Ain’t here to cause you any trouble.”

“Then why are you here?” Call asked after a moment. He couldn’t get over how much this stranger looked and acted like Mr. Gus.

“Don’t suppose you seen Woodrow any?” Gus asked.

If possible, Call stiffened even more. “Don’t have much reason to go out the Captain’s way,” he answered coldly. “Guess he don’t have much reason to come this way.”

Gus shook his head half chuckling. “Damn, but you Calls are a sight,” he admitted. His eyes twinkled as he glanced at Call’s expression. “Each of you’s the only kin the other’s got but you’re just too stubborn to admit it.”

“I admit it,” Call’s voice grated unevenly. When Gus looked at him, he glanced away.

“Just cause Woodrow acted like a jackass ain’t no reason for you to do the same,” Gus said evenly. When Call refused to look at him, he shook his head. “Boy, you are Woodrow Call made over.”

Call grimaced then frowned as the man laughed at him.

“Listen up, boy,” Gus became serious. “Time you stopped frettin’ ‘bout what happened in the past. That’s done and over with. Woodrow ain’t no spring chicken. If’n you plan on you and him bein’ more than strangers, you best git on with it.”

“Ain’t none of your concern,” Call muttered stubbornly.

Gus saw the hint of a flush in Call’s cheeks and grinned. “Newt, you got a lot of Woodrow in you,” he pointed out. “Ain’t all that good.” He shook his head ruefully. “None of us knows how much life we’re gonna get. Don’t do no good frettin’ ‘bout what we can’t have or what’s lost. You gotta look to what you got here and now.”

Call gritted his teeth and turned away. “Don’t need nobody tellin’ me what I need to be doin’,” he muttered. “If the Captain sent you..” he angrily turned around to find himself alone. He automatically drew his gun and peered into the shadows. He drew several deep breaths then hurriedly saddled Hellbitch.

“Weren’t Mr. Gus,” he told himself. “It weren’t.”

-----------------------

Mattie looked up and down the street outside the Dove. “Never seen fog like this here,” she told Luther as he closed the door behind them.

Luther peered into the fog. “Me neither,” he admitted. He took Mattie’s arm protectively. “I’ll walk you home,” he said.

“It’s ok, Luther,” Mattie smiled a little nervously. “I’ll be fine.”

Luther shook his head a little nervous himself. “This ain’t natural,” he finally commented. “Ain’t gonna let you walk back by yourself.”

They had just started to cross the street when they heard the sound of a horse being ridden hard. Luther instinctively pulled Mattie behind him. Seconds later they saw Call on Hellbitch racing down the street.

“Call!” Luther shouted half angry. “Dammit, Call!” he yelled again when Call raced past them without saying a word.

“Wonder what’s wrong?” Mattie asked her eyes wide.

Luther kept a tight hold on Mattie’s hand as he walked her across the street. “Call knows better than that,” he muttered angrily. “He coulda hurt somebody.”

“He had a strange look on his face, Luther,” Mattie pointed out. “Like something spooked him.”

Luther snorted. “Call ain’t the type to get spooked, Mattie,” he disagreed. He glanced around as they reached the gunshop. “You be okay by yourself tonight?”

Mattie smiled as Luther suddenly flushed realizing his words could be taken the wrong way. “Of course,” she patted his arm reassuringly. “Nothin’ but fog out here.”

“Yeah,” Luther nodded seeing shadows in Mattie’s eyes. “Thanks for eatin’ with me, Mattie.” He watched as Mattie locked the door behind her. He carefully looked before crossing the street again. Leaning against the front of a vacant store, he watched until Mattie’s upstairs light was extinguished.

Cautiously, he walked to the rear of the gunshop. Carefully, he worked the door open wincing as the door splintered slightly. Then he shrugged. It would be easy to fix tomorrow. Silently, he placed a chair against the wall and sat down to keep vigil. He didn’t want Mattie alone tonight. Things just weren’t right, he told himself.

Upstairs in the dark, Mattie lay curled in her bed. It would be a long night, she realized. She turned and stared out the window as fog curled against the glass. She’d never liked fog. She preferred to have things clear and bright. No shadows. She forced her eyes to close and bit her lip.

--------------------------

Mosby heard a horse galloping out of town. By the time he’d opened his eyes, the rider was gone...as though he’d never been there. Mosby ironically raised his glass to the darkness and fog. It seemed fitting there should be a ghost calvary riding tonight to keep company with the ghosts of his friends long dead...friends who, like Mosby, had thought war was a game easily and cheaply won.

-----------------

Austin watched Call as he disappeared into the fog wondering what the hell had gotten into him. He shook his head absently rubbing his chest. He frowned when he realized what he was doing. The action was beginning to be a bad habit that got on his nerves.

Slowly he walked back towards the Dove. He glanced up and frowned as he saw a light in Josiah’s room across the street. He hesitated wondering if he should see if anything was wrong. He’d taken a step into the street when he saw his father appear at the window. Austin wasn’t sure if he could be seen but he stepped back into the fog. Josiah had a lost look on his face, and Austin just didn’t want to deal with that now. It was late...he was tired.

Austin slipped into the suite that he and Caroline occupied. Quietly he undressed not wanting to awaken his wife. Sleepily, she curled into his arms as he settled into bed. Austin held her gently staring at the ceiling....remembering the look on his father’s face.

----------------------------

Call wasn’t sure how far he’d ridden. Hellbitch finally slowed down showing she had more sense than her rider. Call breathed deeply telling himself he’d been seeing things...that he’d been daydreaming...anything but what his brain told him he’d seen.

Mr. Gus had always treated him fairly, he remembered. And Call knew it had been Gus’ prodding that finally had gotten the Captain to acknowledge him as his son. It had seemed so very important to him then.

Call broke out of his reverie when he saw the flickering of a nearby campfire. Curious, he turned Hellbitch towards the glow. He cautiously approached the lone figure sitting by the campfire. “Enona?” he murmured in confusion.

Enona turned to look up at him seeming not at all surprised to see him. She watched as he silently dismounted and knelt by the campfire. She saw him staring at the braided bracelet in her hands. “All I got left of my brother,” she explained softly.

“You’re lucky to have something,” Call answered his voice equally soft. When he raised his eyes to hers, he saw his ghosts mirroring hers. Slowly he sat across the campfire and closed his eyes.

-----------------------

Dawn brought strong sunlight that hit Mosby directly in the face. He jerked and blinked then looked around in confusion. He found himself sitting on his balcony slumped in the chair with a glass on his lap. The bottle of Scotch sat on the floor next to him.

A little disturbed, Mosby quickly sat up and retrieved the bottle. He scowled to find it almost full. Remembering his thoughts from the previous evening, he angrily stood and looked around. He relaxed a little when he saw no one on the street who might have seen him. He stomped back inside his room slamming the door behind him. He could just imagine what would have been said if he’d been observed like that...maudlinly musing over people dead for well over a decade.

Mosby set the bottle on the table then poured water in the basin. He splashed his face with water but avoided looking in the mirror.

---------------------------

Mattie walked into the gunshop to find Luther slouched in a chair dozing. She smiled fondly realizing he’d spent the night keeping watch for her. Quietly, she walked back up the steps. Taking a deep breath, she deliberately kicked her foot hard against the upstairs door. “Damn!” she yelled hopping around. She hadn’t meant to hit herself that hard.

Luther jerked awake his hand on the gun at his side. He relaxed as he heard Mattie moving around upstairs. He guiltily saw it was past dawn. Quickly he put the chair back in its place. As he left out the back door, he grimaced. He’d have to fix the door before eating breakfast.

When Mattie came down in a few minutes, she saw Luther was gone. She heard someone at the back door and curiously looked around the corner. “Luther, what are you doing?” she asked.

Luther looked up. “Uh...saw the door wasn’t hangin’ right, Mattie,” he stammered. “Thought I’d fix it.”

“That’s awfully sweet of you, Luther,” Mattie eyed the door. It had been fine the day before. “Can’t imagine how it got that way.”

“Wood warped...probably,” Luther began hammering to avoid conversation. When he glanced up, Mattie was gone. He breathed easier. Mattie wasn’t a fool, and he couldn’t lie if she kept questioning him.

He got the door rehung and stared at it proudly. “You know, Mattie, you really need to get a better lock for this door,” he called inside.

“I’ll do that,” Mattie called back. “Could you come here for a minute?”

When Luther walked into the front of the gunshop he saw breakfast on the counter and two chairs nearby. He looked at her in confusion.

“You were good enough to fix my door,” Mattie explained suddenly awkward. “Least I could do is fix you breakfast.”

-------------------------

Josiah squinted in the bright sunlight as he stepped into the doorway of the Statesman. Letting his eyes get accustomed to the light, he looked down at Mandy who was playing around his feet. Reaching down, he scratched her back. “Just don’t go talking again, all right?” he asked plaintively.

Mandy looked at him and hawked up a hairball.

-----------------------

Caroline saw Call and Enona riding towards the stable later that afternoon. She hurried after them looking over her shoulder to make sure Austin didn’t see her.

Call glanced up curiously as he unsaddled Hellbitch. Caroline had practically run inside the stable half closing the door behind her. Enona glanced at Call with the same look of confusion.

“Sheriff Call, I’m glad you’re back,” Caroline said quickly. “Did you know today is Austin’s birthday?”

“Nope,” Call finally answered. “Why?”

“I’m having a surprise dinner for him this evening,” Caroline explained. “I’d like for you and Enona to both be there.”

“Thank you,” Enona replied coolly. “I’d like that.”

Call glanced at Enona in exasperation. He started to decline then remembered Gus’ words about looking at what you did have. “Guess so,” he finally answered.

“That’s wonderful!” Caroline gave him a quick hug. Call stared at her in bemusement. “At the Dove at eight tonight. Please don’t tell Austin.”

“You figure Austin ain’t gonna plan on eatin’ before then?” Call asked in amusement.

Caroline flushed. Call waited for an answer. Enona grinned as Caroline got even redder. “I think it’ll work out,” she looked meaningfully at Call...who stared back at her.

“Thank you,” Caroline murmured gratefully to Enona as she quickly fled.

Call stared at Caroline’s retreating back then looked at Enona for an explanation. Enona sighed. “You’ll figure it out,” she replied before turning back to her horse.

------------------------

“I suppose we could still get something from the kitchen,” Austin admitted to Caroline watching as she combed her hair. “To be honest, I’m really not hungry for food,” he said teasingly.

Caroline flushed as she glanced over her shoulder. “Well, I am,” she finally managed to retort.

Austin laughed as he buttoned his shirt. “Then I guess we’ll see if we can get a late dinner downstairs,” he said.

At the door, he gave Caroline a hug. “Thanks for remembering my birthday,” he said softly. “I honestly hadn’t thought about it. It’s been years since...”

Caroline frowned as his voice trailed off. “My mother said you should always remember your birthday even if no one else does,” she said lightly. “And you should always give yourself a present.”

“Really?” Austin’s eyes twinkled as he locked the door behind them.

“And you should always give yourself a party,” Caroline teased. “That way everyone can admit how lucky they are to know you.”

“Interesting philosophy,” Austin grunted as he took Caroline’s arm. Looking up, Caroline could see a frown starting.

The frown turned to a look of confusion as they entered the dining room to see a large table gayly decorated. He stared at the people who were waiting on them.

“Happy Birthday, Austin,”Caroline murmured standing on tiptoe to kiss his cheek.

“What?” Austin looked at Caroline in shock.

“It’s a birthday party, Austin,” Josiah walked over and hugged his son.

Austin stared at his father in surprise then took a deep breath. “You planned this?” he finally asked.

“Actually, Caroline planned the whole thing,” Josiah admitted. “All we had to do was simply show up.”

“Come on, Austin,” Luther urged. “Let’s eat.”

“Luther!” Mattie hissed glaring at him.

“I’m hungry, Mattie,” Luther muttered. “I haven’t had anything since you fixed me breakfast.”

“Hush!” Mattie hissed at him with a second glare.

Austin slowly walked to the table very surprised to see Call. He saw Caroline give Call a grateful look and smiled to himself. Not even Call was completely immune.

Josiah raised a glass. “To my son,” he said softly. “May you have many more happy birthdays.”

THE END

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