"What's the matter, Mikey?" Ben, Mike's nine year-old brother, asked. "Are you crying?"
"A little, I guess," Mike answered, giving Ben a hug. "I'm just overwhelmed by the generosity of everybody."
"You mean that's a good thing?"
"Yes, Benny, it's a good thing," Mike said. Wiping his eyes, Mike turned to us, "How can I ever thank you for all you have done for me. I can never repay the kindness that you have shown to me, and the gifts are just too much. Thank you is all I can say."
"Mike, it is you that I need to thank," Donald said. "You have given me a happy, normal daughter. You have done what some of the highest paid professionals were unable to do. You are going to be sorely missed when you leave for the university. You must come and visit whenever your schedule will allow. Otherwise," Donald grinned, "Lenore and I will come and kidnap you." That brought a chuckle from everybody.
"You're part of the family," I said. "What Donald said goes for us, too."
"Joel, you're going to have to help me move all my stuff from that old computer to this new one," Mike said.
"Can we do it now?" Joel said.
"I think that can wait until our guests have gone home," I said.
"Darn, I've been wanting to get my hands on that thing since the day we ordered it," Joel responded, reluctantly.
"Spoken like a true nerd," Jimmy laughed, dodging a playful punch from Joel.
"I'll get you for that," Joel said.
"Speaking of leaving," Bill said, "Jill and I need to be heading out. Thank you all for inviting us. I think I speak for the four of us, we had a great time."
"Absolutely," Jake added. "Mike, we'll see you at the condo on Monday."
Becky and Jill gave Mike a hug before they headed out with their boyfriends. I went with them and saw them out.
When I returned to the living room, Keith and Gloria were hugging Mike. "Crane, we need to leave, also. We're going to early church in the morning," Keith said, shaking my hand.
All of us followed the Potters to their SUV. Before Gloria got in, she gave both Donald and I hugs and kisses on both our cheeks.
As we were walking back into the house, Hildy said, "I think there are three little girls that need to get into bed. I don't want them to fall asleep in church. I assume that Lenore is spending the night with our girls."
"Doesn't she always," Donald said, resigned to the fact his daughter would be staying with her friends.
"She's no trouble and Jeanie and Ginny love to have her stay," Hildy said.
Joel, Jimmy and Mike were following us back into the house. I heard Joel say, "All we have to do is take the hard drive out of your old computer and hook it to a spare slot on the new one and then copy all the data files to the new one. The new computer probably has all the programs that your old one had, but if it doesn't, we'll have to reinstall them from scratch."
"See, brother, I told you he was a nerd," Jimmy said, and took off running.
"Just for that, you can carry the computer up to Mike's room by yourself," Joel shouted after him.
I sent my younger boys upstairs to shower and get ready for bed. Donald did the same for William. "We'll be up to tuck you in after while," I said.
"It looks like there is just enough wine left in this bottle for two small glasses," Donald said, holding up the bottle.
He poured the wine and we sat down on the couch and turned on the TV to the Weather Channel. They were giving the weather forecast for the southwest part of the country which included Las Vegas.
"A slow moving low pressure system, currently centered over the Baja peninsula, will bring heavy rains to southern California, Nevada and Arizona beginning Monday afternoon and continuing for several days. This system is a 'cut off' low. That means it is not being steered by the jet stream and as a result it will move slowly across the region. Rain totals could reach 5 to 6 inches or more as the system moves slowly eastward. A flash flood watch has been issued for the areas indicated on the map from noon Monday through Wednesday midnight. Air traffic delays are expected from Los Angeles to Phoenix due to the heavy rains."
"Doesn't look good," Donald said. "I think I had better call my pilot."
He went off to call the pilot and I went to check on the boys. I found TJ sitting on his bed reading a story to Peter and William, who were lying on their stomachs on his bed, when I entered their bedroom. They had finished their showers and were dressed in their pajamas.
"Hi, dad," TJ said, when he saw me standing in the door to their room. "I only have a couple more pages to read before I'm done."
"That's fine, son. I'll sit here and listen."
He went back to reading. When he was finished, Peter and William gave him a hug and then climbed into their beds. I gave each of them a kiss and straightened their covers before leaving the room. Donald was still on the phone. I could hear him talking as I walked toward the three musketeers' bedroom.
Chris was sitting in front of the computer with the pajama-clad twins standing behind him urging him on and offering advice as he played one of their computer games. "Hi, dad," Larry said when he saw me enter their bedroom.
"Do we have to go to bed right now?" Lenny asked. "We haven't got to play our turns."
"How long before you all get your turns?"
He looked at the clock on the desk and thought for a moment before answering, "Maybe 30 or 40 minutes."
"Okay, let's say 45 minutes for good measure, but when those 45 minutes are up, I want the three of you in bed. Is that understood?"
"Yeah, dad. Thanks!" Larry said.
I gave each of them a hug from the back and kissed the top of their head before leaving the room. Donald was hanging up the phone as I returned.
"Not good news," he said, as he turned toward me.
"A replacement part for the navigational system didn't arrive yesterday as promised. It's now supposed to arrive on Monday. By the time it gets installed and checked out it's going to be late in the day. If everything checks out and we left immediately, that would put our arrival in Las Vegas during the rains they are forecasting. That could mean a pretty rough flight, particularly if there are thunderstorms in the area."
"I don't like the idea of a bumpy ride. My sons and I, except for Peter, have been through one emergency landing and I'm not looking forward to a possible second one. I think it would be better if we postponed the trip until later in the week. We might have to cut the trip short. I know the boys will be disappointed, but I'd rather see them safe than risk their safety on going ahead as scheduled," I said.
"I'm with you on that," Donald said. "Ron is one of the best pilots around and I don't think he would fly if he thought there was any danger. We'll need to watch the weather forecasts to see when it would be possible to make the trip."
The boys were disappointed at breakfast Sunday morning when we told them that we had to postpone the trip to Las Vegas, but they were marginally satisfied when we told them that we would most likely be going later in the week. Later when Donald thought that Fenton would be awake, he called him to let him know of our change of plans. Fenton said he would reset our appointments for later in the week as soon as he knew of our new arrival date.
When Joel and Jimmy finished breakfast, they followed Mike upstairs to help him start carrying his boxes down to his car. The elevator came in very handy when it came to moving the multiple boxes.
"Dad," Joel said, after he had made a couple of trips to the garage, "would it be okay if I helped move Mike's stuff in the BMW? It's bigger than Jimmy's and a whole lot more reliable. Mike can't get all the stuff into his car."
I took a deep breath before I answered. "Yes, I guess that would be okay. Just be careful. The traffic in Austin is terrible and a lot of the streets around the university are very narrow."
"Have you got enough gas in the car?"
"There's a little over half a tank," Joel said.
"That'll probably get you there, but you had better fill up before you start home." Reaching into my back pocket, I took out my wallet and handed him my MasterCard. "Here, use this to get the gas."
"I've got money, dad."
"I know you do, but use this anyway."
"When are you guys planning on taking off?" I asked.
"Mike said we would leave as soon as he cleaned up his rooms and Hildy comes home from church. He wants to say goodbye to her and to the girls."
"Tell him not to bother with the cleaning. The housekeeping staff will be here tomorrow and they'll take care of it. That's what I hired them to do."
"Okay, dad, I'll tell him."
Mike came down shortly. "I think I've gotten all my junk packed and in the cars. I'm really going to miss all of you. You have made my stay here so much more than I could have imagined last spring."
"It doesn't seem like it was that long ago that you came to live with us. We all want you to think of this as your second, or is it your third, home. You know that you are always welcome," I said to him.
"Thanks, although I have a large family, I feel that everyone here is part of a new larger family."
We were interrupted by Hildy and Manfred preceded by three excited girls coming in through the door leading from the garage. "We were afraid you would be gone before we got here," Hildy said. "You would have thought those three had ants in their pants as fidgety as they were in church."
Mike was surrounded by the three girls giving him hugs which he returned. Shortly he was sufficiently free of their entanglement to walk over to Hildy. He wrapped his arms around her and planted a kiss on her cheek. "You're my special angel. If you hadn't spoken to my mother about this job, I would probably still be living with those jocks and hating every minute of it. You've been like a second mother to me."
"Believe me, son, the pleasure has been all mine," she said, returning a kiss to his cheek.
After a few more goodbyes, the 16 of us headed out to the cars to watch them load up. With another round of hugs for Mike and the three girls, Joel and Jimmy in one car and Mike in the other they drove off.
"Is Mike gonna come back?" Lenore asked, as the cars drove through the gate.
"He'll come visit us some times," Donald answered.
"When?" she asked.
"Honey, Mike has to go to school. You have to go to school in a couple of weeks, just like Mike," Donald said, knowing he had not answered her question. I think he was hoping it would satisfy her, at least for a while. "Why don't we fix something to eat and them maybe we can go ride the horses. How's that sound?"
"Okay," she said, and went to join Jeanie and Ginny.
"There's a spiral-cut ham in the refrigerator. You can make sandwiches. There're also carrot and celery sticks as well as chips," Hildy offered, when she heard Donald mention fixing something to eat.
"Hildy, why don't you bring the girls along? Even if they don't ride, I'm sure they would enjoy playing with the Smith's baby. Maybe you could go riding with the boys," I said, with a grin.
"Maybe I will," she answered, "and you can take care of the girls while I do."
"This I must see," Manfred said.
After a quick lunch and a call to the ranch to let them know we were coming, we loaded up and headed for the ranch. The three girls did ride for a while, but they were more interested in playing with Carrie Louise. She was growing up, even pulling up and walking around things holding on to something. She was not yet confident enough or stable enough to walk on her own.
Hildy did ride one of the horses, but only for a few minutes. "There," she said to Manfred, "are you satisfied?"
"That's my girl," Manfred replied, helping her down from the horse and kissing her cheek.
After riding for a while, Donald and I joined Hildy and Rosie in the back yard. "Where's Bert today?" I asked.
"He's found a girl and they went to some sort of activity in San Antonio this afternoon," Rosie said. "He was kind of vague about what they were going to do. It's his first girlfriend, so I didn't press the matter. He'll probably tell me about it when he gets home."
As Donald and I were sitting there, Charlie and Tracy rode up on two of the quarter horses. "Hi, guys," Charlie said. "I tried to call you a little while ago. One of the mares delivered a colt a little over an hour ago. I thought the boys might be interested in seeing it."
"That's great," I said. "I see you found a good vet to assist in the delivery."
"Yeah," Charlie said, "he was the best I could find on short notice."
"Well, it was a good thing I was around to help out the dumb, hick farmer," Tracy retorted.
"Be nice, boys," Rosie told them. "Why don't one of you go round up everyone? I'm sure they would all like to have a look at the new arrival."
"Yes, boss," Tracy said, and took off for the back pasture where the boys were riding.
"Charlie, where's Jessica?" I asked.
"She's not feeling all that good. The doctor has her staying off her feet as much as possible. She sure is going to be happy when that little fellow is born," Charlie said.
"So it's going to be a boy?" Donald asked.
"Yeah," Charlie said with a broad grin. "We haven't agreed on a name yet. We still have about six weeks to go before he's supposed to be born, so we have time to work it out."
We all looked up when we heard the thundering herd approaching from the back of the pasture. The horses and riders skidded to a halt and the riders jumped off and quickly tied their mounts to the fence.
"Can we go see the new baby horse now?" Peter asked. "Please?"
"Yeah, can we, dad?" William begged.
"Yes, you all may. But, I think it would be better if only a few of you went into the stable area at a time so you won't upset the mother horse," I said. Charlie nodded in agreement.
The entire group walked over to Charlie's place and down to the stables. On the way we decided that TJ, Peter and William would be first to see the colt. Charlie would accompany each group. Next, Hildy, Jeanie, Ginny and Lenore went into the stables. Larry, Lenny and Chris were the last of the kids to see the new colt. Donald, Rosie, carrying Carrie Louise, Manfred and I were the last to go in. The colt was a beautiful specimen of a quarter horse. He was a deep chestnut color that would get even darker as he grew older.
"What are we going to name him?" Chris asked me, when I came out of the stable.
"We'll have to think on that," I said. "He'll have to be registered with the American Quarter Horse Association. That probably means he will have a fancy name, but we can give him a nickname. Why don't you guys put your heads together and come up with a name you would like to call him. Remember, there will be another foal born in the near future," I said.
"Is it gonna be a boy or a girl?" Larry asked.
I shrugged my shoulders and looked to Charlie and Tracy. "We haven't tried to determine that," Tracy responded. "We should know in about three weeks when it's born."
As we were walking back to the ranch after seeing the new colt, I asked Rosie, "Is Bert going to be going to college full time when the fall semester begins?"
"Yes, he has his classes set up so that all but one are on Monday-Wednesday-Friday. The other one meets for two hours on both Tuesday and Thursday. It will work out fairly well. I think we will be able to take care of the horses without much trouble," she said.
"I know we increased your workload when we add more horses. It worked out fine when Bert was here full time and even when he was taking summer classes. I'm worried that it's going to be too much for you to do and care for Carrie Louise. Maybe we can get someone to come help out a couple of days a week."
"I think I might know of someone that could do that," Rosie said.
"Charlie, can you come here a minute?" Rosie called to him.
"Sure, whacha need?"
"What's your little brother doing since he graduated from high school?" Rosie asked.
"He's just hanging around home driving my mom and dad crazy. He hasn't been able to find a job. Why?"
"Do you think he might be interested in helping out around here two or three days a week?"
"I think so. He always liked the farm before we had to move to town. He could always live with Jessica and me and help me out as well with the farming. I'd thought about seeing if he would like to come live with us. I know mom and dad would be happy to see him doing something other than annoying them," Charlie laughed.
"Why don't you call him and see if he's interested? It sounds as if he would be available right away," I said.
"I'll go call him right now. If he's home, I should be able to let you know before you leave, if not I'll call you as soon as I can get in touch with him."
"Great, the boys are going for another ride, so we won't be leaving for an hour or so," I said.
"I'm thirsty, dad," Chris said. "Can we get the stuff out of the van?"
"Sure, get your brothers to help," I said. It didn't take them long to retrieve the coolers and start passing out the cold drinks and brownies.
"I swear those six are human vacuum cleaners when it comes to brownies. I think they were gone in one bite," Donald said, referring to the boys.
"The girls didn't do a bad job of it either," Hildy added.
"By the way, Hildy, when is Gilda due in tomorrow?" I asked.
"Her plane is supposed to arrive shortly after one. I talked to her daughter, Celia, last night. Gilda is thinking about selling her house, according to Celia. It seems that Gilda's best friend just moved to Florida to be with her kids. I think she has more of an incentive to move now."
"Well, if anyone can convince her to move, it's you," I said. That got no response.
"Crane," Charlie said, as he approached. "I just got hold of my little brother, Jason. He's interested in the job. He doesn't have a car, so he's going to get on the bus tomorrow morning. The bus gets into San Antonio around eight tomorrow night. I'll pick him up and bring him here. Do you want me to bring him to your house so you can talk to him?"
"I'll give you a call tomorrow morning. If the boys want to come riding again, then I can talk to him here. If we don't ride, then you might bring him to the house."
"Jason never did very well in school, but he's a hard worker. I'm sure he'll do a good job for you," Charlie said.
Later as I was getting ready to round up the boys, I asked Donald if I could borrow his cell phone. "Joel took my phone with him to Austin. I want to call him to see when he plans to be home."
Donald handed me his phone and I dialed my cell phone number. It rang three times before it was answered. "Hello." I could tell it was not Joel's voice.
"This is Crane, may I speak to Joel?"
"Hi, Mr. J, this is Jimmy. Joel went downstairs to bring up the last of the stuff from his car. This place is neat. I almost wish I was going to go to UT so I could live here."
I could hear in the background Mike say, "Not on your life, little brother."
"Mike said he'd love to have me live here with him," Jimmy laughed. "Oh, Joel just came in. Joel, your dad's on the phone."
"Hi, dad, what do you need?"
"I was just wondering when you were going to start home. I would rather you not drive after dark."
"We've got everything unloaded and Mike's been putting things away as we brought the boxes up. We would have been done sooner, but we stopped and had lunch at this really neat taco place. It's supposed to be really famous. The food was great and there was a lot of it. We had to rest our stomachs after all we ate. I think we'll start home in about half an hour. That should let me get there before dark."
"Okay, son, drive safely. I think we are going to stop for pizza on our way home from the ranch. Do you want me to bring you and Jimmy one? We'll probably be getting home about the same time that you guys do."
"Let me ask Jimmy." ... "Jimmy says he can stay for pizza. Get us a large pepperoni, sausage and mushroom with extra cheese."
"I'll see you guys in about an hour and a half," I said. I pushed the off button and handed the phone back to Donald. "Thanks."
I retrieved my wallet and handed Donald a card from it. "Would you call this place and see if they can arrange seating for the 15 of us? I'll go get the kids and see that the horses are taken care of." With Tracy, Charlie, Manfred and me all working to brush down the horses, we were finished in no time. We smelled like horses, but the best we could do was to wash our hands in water from a hose.
"The pizza place said they would have a table big enough for all of us in about 15 minutes. If we hurry, we can just about make it. I ordered an assortment of five pizzas, some salad and bread sticks. That way we can get in and out in a minimum amount of time," Donald said.
We said our goodbyes to the Smiths and Charlie and were on our way. It took us 17 minutes to get to the restaurant, but our table was still waiting for us. The place was not very busy is probably the reason that they could arrange a table big enough for all of us. A waiter had just taken our drink orders when another one brought out the salads and bread sticks. I was surprised how quickly the salads disappeared, but not so surprised at the sudden disappearance of the bread sticks.
The pizzas arrived shortly and everybody filled their plates with a variety of slices. I caught the waiter's attention and gave him the order for the takeout pizza for Joel and Jimmy. I figured it would be ready about the time we finished with our pizzas.
"Are we gonna have dessert?" Chris asked.
"You can have some ice cream when you get home," I said, shaking my head. I am forever surprised that the boys are not fat from all the food they put away, but I guess they are active enough to burn up all those calories.
We settled the bill, took the takeout pizza and were walking to the van when Donald's cell phone rang.
"Hello." ... "Yes, were on our way to the house. Do you want to speak to your dad? Okay, just a moment. It's Joel," Donald said, handing me the phone.
"Hi, Joel, are you guys on your way home?"
"Dad ... I ... I wrecked the car."