Darcie and I started for the door just as Carol arrived with our sandwiches from the deli. "Call Mel and tell him I'm on my way to the hospital with Darcie. The baby may be on its way."
"Sure," Carol said. "Is there anything else I can do? Have you got in touch with her doctor?"
"Yes, Darcie called him first thing. He'll meet us at the hospital. Just handle things until Paul gets back. Tell him what's going on. I'll keep you informed as things happen." All this was said as we made our way to my car with Carol lending a hand to help Darcie.
Securely buckled up, we took off for the twenty minute ride to the hospital. "Are you having contractions?"
"Yes," Darcie said. "I haven't timed them, but they seem to be about three minutes apart."
"I hope we make it to the hospital. I don't think I'm prepared to be a midwife on the freeway or anyplace else, for that matter."
It was a tense ride, but I made the twenty minute drive to the hospital in less than fifteen. I drove up to the emergency room doors, put the car in park and went inside to grab an orderly. When I didn't see one, I rushed to the desk to talk to the ER nurse. I explained what was going on as quickly as I could. She immediately dialed a few numbers on her phone and told me an orderly would be here in just a few minutes. It seemed like an hour, but in reality it was less than two minutes when an orderly arrived with a wheelchair and followed me to the car.
The orderly wheeled Darcie into the hospital and I drove the car to the hospital parking lot. When I arrived back at the emergency room, Darcie was no place in sight. I made my way to the ER nurse's desk. She was talking to a man who appeared to have some sort of wound to his left shoulder. His shirt was covered with blood. From their conversation, I learned that he had been shot and that he had driven himself to the hospital. He was quickly whisked away to an examination room.
The nurse was unable to give me much information other than Darcie's doctor, Dr. Mellon, had arrived and had taken charge. She didn't know where Darcie had been taken, but suggested that I go to the main desk and ask them if Darcie had been assigned a room. I took her advice and left to find the main desk.
At first I tried to follow the color coded lines on the floor that were supposed to lead you efficiently to any number of places in the hospital, but I was soon completely confused and lost. Breaking a male tradition, I stopped an older man in the hallway wearing a volunteer nametag and asked directions. He laughed when I told him I had been trying to follow the colored lines. He told me to follow him and he would take me there.
As we came within sight of the main desk, I thanked him and told him I thought I could find it on my own from here. He gave another hearty laugh and left. The lady at the desk looked up when I approached. "Do you have a room number for a Darcie Glenn?" I asked.
She looked at her computer screen and typed in something on the keyboard before she looked back at me. "I'm sorry. I don't show anyone by that name in the system. When did Ms. Glenn check in?"
"I dropped her off at the emergency room about ten minutes ago. She should be in the maternity ward."
"That explains it. The system hasn't been updated yet. You might check with the head nurse in maternity. Just follow the blue painted line on the floor and it will get you there."
I could hardly keep a straight face when I thanked her and turned to follow the blue line.
"Crane," I heard the breathless voice of Mel coming from behind me. "Where is she? Is she all right? What about the baby? Am I too late?"
"Slow down and catch your breath. I was just on my way to the maternity ward to see what was going on. She was fine a few minutes ago when I left her in the ER. Her doctor was with her, so everything should be fine. Let's go find the maternity ward," I said and took off to follow the blue line. Thankfully, I saw the same volunteer who had escorted me earlier and I asked him for directions.
We made it to the maternity ward in record time thanks to Kevin, the helpful volunteer. The nurse at the desk could have passed as a dominatrix in a house of S & M from her appearance. Mel wasn't fazed.
"Where can I find Darcie Glenn?" he asked.
After looking both of us up and down, she answered in the softest and kindest voice, "She's in the delivery room. Are you the husband?" I stood there with my mouth open not expecting that voice coming from such a hard looking woman.
"Yes, is she okay?" Mel asked.
"I'm sure she is doing fine. Dr. Mellon is with her. If you'll follow me, I'll get you gowned up and you can see her. You," she said, pointing at me, "can wait in the waiting room over there."
I did as the nurse indicated, while Mel followed her down the hall. I had barely seated myself when my cell phone rang. It was Carol wanting to know how Darcie was. I related what I knew, which was very little.
"Crane, what are we going to do about the family that Darcie was going to interview this afternoon? They're from out of town and due in about an hour. Paul wasn't planning on being here for the interview and I'm not able to get him on his cell phone."
"Well, I'm probably not going to be of any help here. I'll get back to the office as soon as I can. Please have the files ready for me to read when I arrive. Thanks, Carol, I'll see you in about twenty or thirty minutes.
The rest of the afternoon went without anymore interruptions. I was impressed with the couple I interviewed and the background check Jack's organization had done on them. I told the couple we would be getting back to them in the next week or two with our decision.
By quitting time, we had not heard anything from the hospital. I debated trying to call Eric. I figured he would be at the hospital. In the end, I decided to wait until later this evening to try to make contact.
On the way home it dawned on me that Harold Nicholas was to come by this evening after supper to look at the house plans. I liked the work that Harold had done on the old house and hope that he might consider doing the new one. His attention to detail and quality workmanship had impressed me.
The boys had arrived home a couple of minutes ahead of me and were playing with their dogs as they made their way to our temporary home. They must have heard the gate opening behind them, because they turned around and ran to meet me. I stopped the car and got out to give and receive hugs with all of them. Even a couple of the dogs got into the act.
"Hey, guys, go get your clothes changed and see what Hildy has fixed for your snack. We need to have a little talk," I said, getting back into the car. They took off on a run and I followed slowly behind them in the car.
With their school clothes changed and assembled at the table, Hildy started dishing out the mixed fruit compote she had fixed for their snack. I got their attention and told them that Darcie might be having her baby today. With the exception of Joel, they shrugged and gave me a 'so what' look and went back to their snack.
"I didn't think she was supposed to have the baby until next month," Joel said.
"That's what I thought," Hildy agreed.
"Well, I guess the baby decided that it was time to be born. I took Darcie to the hospital a little after noon. Her due date wasn't for another four or five weeks, but her water broke, so I rushed her to the hospital. Mel was with her when I left and had to get back to the office. I haven't heard anything since I left."
"Do you think Eric would have any news?" Hildy asked. I could tell from the tone of her question that she was worried about Darcie.
"I thought I'd call him when I thought he'd be home. I'm not sure that he tries to make it home when JR gets home from school since Bran is old enough to take care of JR." I looked at my watch and wondered if the time had come.
I waited another twenty minutes and then made the call to Eric. He answered on the first ring. I guess he thought it might be Mel calling from the hospital. Eric hadn't heard anything either, so he assumed that Darcie was still in labor. He said he would call as soon as he heard anything.
After supper I sent the boys to their rooms to do their homework. I was hoping they would be finished by the time Harold and his son Joey arrived. I knew there would be no more homework accomplished by TJ once Joey got here.
I was checking the first batch of homework when I heard the gate buzzer. I looked at the clock and it was exactly 7:30. I punched the button to open the gate and went outside to greet the Nicholas'. TJ bumped into me as I opened the door. He gave me a questioning look. I nodded and he took off to open the car door for Joey.
I shook hands with Harold and invited him into our less than luxurious accommodations. We walked into the kitchen so that we could use the large table to spread out the house plans. Hildy was finishing the clean-up after our supper and making preparations for the boys' evening snack and getting an early start on some things for breakfast. She offered us coffee, which we both accepted, before I rolled out the plans.
Harold studied the plans for several minutes before he spoke. "This is going to be some house you have planned. Have you sited it yet?"
"Yes," I said. "The architect laid it out on the hill behind where the old house stood. It takes advantage of a great view of the lake."
"That makes sense," he said, almost to himself as he studied the plans again for a minute. "The floor plans are excellent. This will be a great home. Has the architect provided the engineering plans? You know, the structural details such as ceiling heights, any slab specification, all that builder stuff that I would need to estimate the cost to build and the time it would take?"
"His office is preparing those as we speak. He has promised them by the end of next week," I answered. "Are you interested in bidding on the project then?"
"Yes, I am. It would be by far the largest house I've built, but it would be a pleasure to build something this beautiful."
"What's your gut feel as to what it would cost to build the house?" I asked. "I'm not asking for a formal bid. That will come when you get the structural data."
He pondered over the plans for a few more minutes before answering, "Off the top of my head, I think it could be built for somewhere around 1.5 million. A lot will depend on the materials used and any custom details not specified on the plans."
"That seems to be in line with what my architect thinks as well. I will be asking two other builders in the area to look at the plans also. When I get the engineering specs, I'll give you a copy and ask that you prepare a formal estimate of costs and timing. The other builders will get the same. Once I have all the estimates, I'll sit down and evaluate them. My decision will not be made solely on cost. I'm interested in a quality product. I know the kind of work you do so I don't have any hesitation in that respect."
"Thanks, I won't do a job if someone wants it done on the cheap."
We adjourned to the living room with another cup of coffee and chatted for another half an hour before he indicated that he needed to get Joey home and in bed. We found TJ and Joey playing a video game on the new PlayStation in TJ's room. It took a little fatherly prodding before Joey was willing to give up the heated video contest.
After I got the boys put to bed, I sat down in the living room and picked up a book I had been trying to read for the past several weeks with little success. It seemed like every time I started reading it, I was interrupted. Tonight was no exception. I hadn't read more that five pages when the telephone rang. This time I didn't mind the interruption. It was Eric.
"Crane, I just called to let you know I'm a proud new uncle."
"Give my congratulations to Darcie and Mel. Have they decided on a name for her yet?"
"Yes. They are going to name her Rebecca Louise."
"That's pretty. It's sort of an old fashioned name. How did they come up with it?"
"By as strange coincidence, both Mel's mother and our mom's middle names were Louise. I guess Rebecca was a name that both of them liked."
"If they call her Becky Lou, I'll fire Darcie," I chuckled.
"I wouldn't blame you. I hate that double name crap that so many Texans saddle their daughters with."
"And their sons also," I added. "How's the baby doing? I was a little concerned with it coming early."
"Mel said she was tiny, just four pounds two ounces, but she had a set of lungs on her. He said the doctor was not too concerned about her, but they were going to keep her in an incubator for a couple of days. She may or may not get to go home the same time as Darcie."
"Well, let Mel and Darcie know if there is anything they need, all they have to do is ask. I mean that."
"Thanks, Crane, I'll tell them. I think everything is being taken care of. By the way, how is the new house coming along?"
"Agonizingly slow. I wish there was some magic to make the process go faster. It looks like we'll still be living in these temporary quarters this time next year. We'll make it, but it's not going to be like our old home."
My day was beginning to catch up with me and as much as I wanted to continue talking with Eric, my better judgment got the better of me and I wound up our call and got ready for bed. I looked in on the boys before I climbed into my bed.
Saturday, I took the boys shopping for baby presents for Rebecca Louise Glenn. Joel was the only one who was enthusiastic about shopping for the baby. The others were more interested in shopping for themselves. We did end up getting some very nice presents to give to Darcie and Mel when the baby came home from the hospital.
Darcie's doctor released both her and Rebecca from the hospital on Monday. When we heard the news at the office, Carol couldn't wait to call Darcie at home. The call went on for some thirty minutes. When Carol was through talking, I spoke to Darcie for a couple of minutes and asked her when we could come see the baby. She thought it would be fine if I brought the boys by on Saturday or Sunday. I told her I would get back to her on when we would be coming by.
I was packing up my things preparing to go home for the day, when Carlos Martinez called to tell me he had received a counter offer from the owners of the land we were negotiating to buy. The counter was about what I expected, so I told Carlos to go ahead with the purchase and just let me know when I needed to sign the papers.
By the time Saturday rolled around, Dirk had called to ask if he could take Jamie to the farm to go horseback riding. When the boys heard, they wanted to go as well. It seemed as though they had taken a liking to Jamie. I called Darcie and told her we would come by their house on Sunday afternoon to see the baby. Hildy and Manfred decided to visit the baby Saturday afternoon after they took Gilda to the airport. She had decided to spend some time with her daughter, Celia Berger, in Houston before going back to Kansas City.
Dirk and Jamie were at the farm when we arrived. They were standing by the fence watching Tracy saddle up the horses. We joined them while the rest of the horses were saddled. I hadn't seen Marie or Ricky, but when I heard his characteristic giggle behind us, I knew they had come as well.
I turned around and saw Ricky running at full speed toward Joel. Just as he got to Joel he propelled himself, as best as he could off his one leg, into Joel's outstretched arms. I knew what was coming next.
"Hi," Ricky said, giving Joel a kiss on the cheek.
"Hi, yourself," Joel responded, swinging the three year-old around. "Are you going to ride a horse today?"
A rapid nodding of his head served as his answer.
Rosie and Marie followed Ricky out of the house and walked to where the rest of us had gathered. "Marie, are you going to ride today?" I asked.
"I don't think so. Thanks anyway," she said. "I think I'll stay here with Rosie. I hope you don't mind taking Ricky for a ride."
"No, of course not, it's my pleasure. I know he loves going for a ride."
"Okay, fellows," Tracy said. "Everything is ready. It's time to mount up."
He didn't have to tell the boys twice. They walked quickly to the horses they had ridden last week so as not to frighten the horses. Tracy helped TJ onto his mount and then started to help the twins. They didn't wait for him. They grabbed the saddle horns and although they couldn't reach the stirrups to put their left feet in, by jumping and pulling on the saddle horns were able to mount their horses. It wasn't a perfect mount, but they ended up in the saddles and that was all that mattered.
Dirk helped Jamie mount his horse before he climbed onto his own. I had been holding Ricky all this time. Tracy came over to me and took Ricky from my arms and that allowed me to get into the saddle. When I was settled, he handed Ricky up to me and I set him in front of me. He immediately grabbed onto the saddle horn and began to giggle.
By the time Ricky and I were settled in, the boys had taken off for the back of the pasture. Jamie was right at home with them as they rode away.
"Go fast," Ricky commanded.
"Okay, munchkin," I chuckled, as I prodded my horse into a slow trot.
A few minutes later we caught up with the boys, which made Ricky happy. We rode around the back pasture until we came to the field where the Longhorns were. I don't remember if Ricky and I had ridden by them last week, but from his reaction I didn't think that we had.
"Cows," he said, clapping his hands and wiggling in the saddle.
His clapping caught the attention of the bull. He trotted over to the fence and stood looking at us. When he snorted a couple of times at us, I decided it was time to move on. Ricky wasn't pleased, but even though Tracy had the fence repaired, I wasn't about to take any chances of the bull testing it.
Joel rode up beside us. "Dad, can Ricky ride with me?"
"Do you think you can handle him? He can be a wiggle worm."
"Sure, I'll hold on tight to him."
"Okay, but don't ride too fast with him," I said, before lifting Ricky from in front of me and handed him over to Joel. Ricky thought it was fun.
"Let's go munchkin," Joel said, as he rode off. I stayed close by them, but I needn't have worried. Joel was very careful with his precious cargo.
"He looks like he's having fun," Dirk said. I hadn't noticed him approaching. My concentration had been on Joel and Ricky. "Look, Crane, you were so hospitable last week to invite us to your place for supper, I'd like to reciprocate and invite you and your sons to dine with us this evening. I thought we might go for pizza or Mexican."
"That's very kind of you, but are you sure you're ready for seven rowdy boys?"
"You forget I've seen your sons in restaurants. They're always very well behaved. And besides, they're a good influence on Jamie. They boost his ego because they don't make fun of his weight. He's just a regular kid with them. He even told me he wanted to lose some weight since he's been around them."
"We accept your invitation. We were going to eat out anyway this evening. Hildy is visiting a friend of ours who just had a baby," I said. "I'm glad that the boys are good to Jamie. I would be very disappointed with them if they weren't. Coming from their background, I'm continually amazed at how well behaved they are and how much empathy they show for others. They make me very proud."
"You have every right to be proud of them. I don't know the whole story behind you adopting them. Marie has told me some of it. Some day I would like to hear the entire story," Dirk said.
Dirk and I dismounted and stood on a hill overlooking the pasture where the boys were riding and watched them while our horses grazed. We had been there chatting maybe twenty-five minutes or so before Joel rode up with Ricky. "Dad," he said. "Ricky has to go to the bathroom. Can you take him?"
I laughed and reached up to grab him. I put him astraddle of my left hip, put my foot in the stirrup and swung up onto the saddle. I settled Ricky into his usual place and took off for the house. I just hoped that we made it in time. I wanted to get there as quickly as I could, but I didn't want to gallop either. I was afraid that the jarring of a quickly moving horse just might cause Ricky's bladder to release its load.
We made it, but just barely. I had no sooner lifted Ricky off the horse than he wet his pants. I gave a big sigh of relief and handed him to his mother. Marie shook her head and took off for the house. I hoped that she had brought along another change of clothes if we were going to eat out tonight.
My protective instincts kicked in as I rode over the hill to where the boys were riding. Despite my admonitions to them not to gallop their horses until they had more experience, they were doing just that. I watched in semi-horror as they were playing a game of follow the leader. Joel was in the lead followed by Chris, Jamie and then the twins. TJ on his smaller horse was bringing up the rear. I was about to stop their game and scold them, but something stopped me. The boys had been riding for several months and were very capable of handling their mounts. I guess I had been over protective of them. I was concerned with Jamie since this was only the second time he had ridden a horse, but he was sitting it like a veteran. Once I got over my shock, I could see that they were really not going that fast.
Joel had a sheepish look on his face when the game ended and he saw me watching. "I'm sorry, dad. It was my fault. I started the game."
I leaned over and gave him a hug. "Sometimes your dad is a little too cautious."
"Thanks, dad, I didn't want you to be mad at me."
"Why don't you round up your brothers? I don't know about you, but I'm getting thirsty. You get them and I'll get the drinks out of the van."
Ricky was running around in a dry pair of underwear when we got back to the house. Marie and Rosie had rinsed out his outer clothes and they were now in the dryer. He saw the boys coming back to the stables and ran to the fence to try to climb through the rails. Marie caught him and dragged him back before he got more than his head through. He put up a fuss, but Marie held him so he could watch the boys as they brushed the horses and led them into the stable.
They were ready for the drinks by the time they had finished with the horses. Hildy had packed some oatmeal cookies to go along with the soft drinks.
Although we all smelled like horse, we decided to go straight to the pizza restaurant instead of going home and getting cleaned up. Tracy and Rosie agreed to come with us. Fortunately, the pizza place was not very crowded when we got there. I guess we didn't offend too many people, unless the exuberance of the boys did. Their chatter and laughter sometimes got a little loud.
We left the restaurant and headed for the van. Jamie and the boys were still having an animated conversation. Ricky was half asleep in Dirk's arms. As Dirk unlocked the Mercedes and opened the back door, the boys each gave a surprised Jamie a hug. Joel reached in the car after Dirk had Ricky secured in the car seat, gave Ricky a hug and mussed his hair. Even half asleep, Ricky giggled and planted a sloppy kiss on Joel's cheek.
As soon as we got back home, I sent the boys to get their showers taken. I had enough horse smell. I did the same. After we were cleaned up, I turned on the TV so we could watch a special on the wild horses on government lands in the west.
Sunday I noticed that Joel was antsy and hung around me. That was a little unusual. I finally asked, "Is there something wrong, son? Is there something you want to say? You've been acting strangely all day."
"Well... I... I guess I just wanted to know if we were going to see Darcie and Mel's baby."
"Of course we're going. I told Darcie we would be there around two o'clock."
At half past one, Joel rounded up his brothers and stood beside my chair where I was trying again to read my book. When I looked up, he looked at his watch and then back at me. "I guess it's time to go," I said.
We got to Darcie and Mel's house a few minutes before two. Joel was the first one out of the van. It was all he could do to wait on the rest of us to get out. I had never seen him act like this before.
Mel greeted us shortly after I had rung the doorbell and invited us into the house. Darcie was in the kitchen fixing a plate of cookies and juice. She knew my boys well.
"Where's your baby?" Joel asked, as Darcie came back into the living room.
"She's in her crib," Darcie said.
"Joel, where are your manners? You haven't even said hello to Darcie," I chided.
"I'm sorry, dad. I guess I wanted to see the baby so bad, I forgot my manners."
"That's all right, honey," Darcie said, giving Joel a hug. "That baby is pretty important to us, too."
Darcie went down the hall and soon returned with a small bundle wrapped in a pink and white blanket. She sat down on the couch and folded back the blanket so that we could see Rebecca Louise. The boys crowded around trying to get a better look.
"She's so tiny," Joel said softly. He gently stroked the baby's hand with one of his fingers. She grabbed his finger with her fingers that looked to be no larger than a match stick. Joel sat down be side Darcie and stared at Rebecca.
"Would you like to hold her?" Darcie asked him.
"I won't hurt her, will I?"
"No, just remember to support her head. Her neck is not very strong yet. You'll do fine." Darcie carefully shifted her precious bundle onto Joel's lap.
I had never seen the look of such absolute joy, wonder and love in Joel's eyes as he held Rebecca. He very carefully leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. When he looked up there were tears forming in his eyes. "Isn't she beautiful, dad?"
"Yes, son, she is."
"I wish we had a baby."