“Do it again, Gus! Do it again!” Rachel shouted, excitedly.
Gus looked over the top of his newspaper. He used his tongue to push his bottom dentures out of place until they rested on his lower lip. Rachel giggled and jumped up and down, clapping her hands. Gus popped his teeth back in place and went back to reading the paper.
“Stop bugging Gus!” Jeremiah scolded, “And pick up that mess!” He was referring to the crayons and coloring book Rachel had abandoned on the carpet in front of the television.
“Okay, Jeremiah.” Rachel picked up the coloring supplies and placed them on the desk.
“She’s not bothering me,” Gus said, laying down the paper. “I love to hear her laugh.”
“She needs to behave properly,” Jeremiah insisted. “She can’t go around annoying people.”
Daniel was working on a jigsaw puzzle Gus had given him. It was a picture of a farm with a big red barn and lots of animals. Occasionally little squeaking sounds came from Daniel and his head jerked. “Go sweep the front porch,” Jeremiah told him in a harsh tone. “You’ve gotta pull your weight around here.”
“The dust on the front porch can wait,” Gus smiled at Jeremiah. “Let your brother finish his puzzle.”
“We don’t expect something for nothing!” Jeremiah said forcefully. “Our parents raised us to pay our own way. As soon as I can get a job, I’m gonna pay you back every cent you spent on us.”
“I’ve told you, Jeremiah, that you don’t owe me anything. I’m happy to help you kids. You’ve been taking care of Rachel and Daniel on your own and you’ve done your best. There’s no shame in accepting help. Besides, having you around brightens up my life. You’re paying me back just by being here.”
Before the forest fire, Jeremiah had been living with his brother and sister in a little lean-to he had built in the woods. He fished and trapped to feed them. After Spike discovered their hiding place, he began bringing them food. When the fire changed directions and headed toward their lean-to, Spike and his friends hiked into the forest at night and rescued Daniel and Rachel who were alone because Jeremiah had gone into town.
The story of the Cole children was a sad one. Three years ago, their mother died of cancer. Their father, Charles Cole, moved the family to Harrison, a small mining town south of Bluesky. He rented a tiny house and they were getting settled in their new home. Charles enrolled the boys in school. Rachel was only four, so he found a neighbor to care for her while he worked in the copper mine. Jeremiah adjusted quickly to the new school, but Daniel struggled. Some of the children teased him, and the teachers complained because he was disruptive. Charles tried to explain that the jerky movements and noises Daniel made were due to a condition called Tourette’s syndrome. There was nothing Daniel could do to control the movements or the sounds. Putting him under stress only made them worse. The teachers seemed sympathetic, but said they had other children to consider. Daniel had to remain quiet or he would be removed from the classroom. Daniel continued to have problems, so when Charles was offered a job as a wrangler on the Morgan ranch, he took it. Mr. Morgan gave them a little cabin to live in. Like the Morgan children, Jeremiah and Daniel were enrolled in an internet school since the nearest town was too far away. When she turned five, Rachel started kindergarten, going with her brothers to the big house every day to work on the computers. School was going well for all of them. It seemed that everything was looking up and then tragedy struck again. While riding the fence line, Charles was thrown from his horse. It was a day later when he was discovered. By that time, it was too late to save him.
Mr. Morgan didn’t want to, but he knew he had to let the authorities know about the children. Jeremiah was sure they would be placed in foster homes, and probably separated. That would be bad enough for him and Rachel, but he knew Daniel would never survive it. They had to leave the ranch. His only hope was to hide out with Daniel and Rachel. When he turned eighteen in nine months, he could get a job and raise his brother and sister himself. The night before someone from Child Protective Services was coming to the ranch, Jeremiah packed up his brother and sister and ran away.
The Handy Helpers series is available on amazon