Why Me?

Chapter Sixty-Eight

I could tell that Mike was still steaming on the way home, so I just kept quiet until he was ready to talk about it. When we got home, he was still tight-lipped, as we went in to change our clothes. I decided to take a chance, to get him to talk about what was bothering him.

"How about some coffee, before we got to Mama Rosa's?"

He turned to me with an anguished look on his face and grabbed me in a tight hug.

"Why, Davie? Why? It's not as if we were bothering them! They just act as if we didn't have a right to exist!" He buried his face in my shoulder, his big body wracked with sobs. I felt helpless, but I held him and stroked his back until he finally quieted down. He lifted his head and wiped his eyes and his cheeks on his sleeve.

"I don't understand it, Davie, I just don't understand it."

"Mike, I don't know why they're like that, but there are people who just automatically hate anyone who's not just like them. They can't tolerate, much less accept, differences. It's just one of the less attractive features of human nature."

He sighed and turned to finish changing his clothes. "To answer your question, yes, I could really use a cup of coffee right now, and then I'd like to go to Mama Rosa's for dinner. I wasn't kidding. That encounter with that guy really left a bad taste in my mouth."

We went out to the kitchen. I dumped what was left of the breakfast coffee and started a new pot. Mike sat down at the table, and I reached across and took his hands in mine. We just sat there without talking, until the burbling of the coffeepot signaled that coffee was ready. Mike got up and pulled two cups from the cupboard. He filled them and brought them to the table, giving me a rather sad smile. When we finished our coffee, I got up and turned off the pot. Mike joined me and we headed for the Bella Roma.

Mama Rosa was looking a bit tense, as she greeted us. We decided on the lasagna, and she went out to the kitchen. Suddenly we heard her shouting at Mario, and there was a crashing of plates—four of them this time. Mike just shook his head.

"I guess we weren't the only ones having a bad day, today." He gave me a grin. "At least, we didn't have to clean up broken dishes."

When we got home, we found a forlorn Peter sitting on our front steps with his face buried in Murphy's fur. He brightened up when he saw Uncle Mike coming toward him. "Hi, Uncle Mike, Uncle Davie. I know you said not to come over if your car wasn't here, but I thought you'd be home soon, and Murphy and I have just had it with all those girls!"

I opened the door, and Mike scooped Peter up in his arms, giving him a big hug. "I know, little guy. Those girls can really get on your nerves, can't they?"

Peter wrapped his arms around Mike's neck and clung like a barnacle. "Do I have to go home? Can't I just stay here with you and Uncle Davie?"

"Don't you think that Mommy and Daddy would miss their boy?"

"No, they've got Terry and Jody, and the babies are always crying and pooping. They don't have any time for a boy." I caught Mike's eye. We needed to have a long talk with Mom and with Milo and Trisha.

We went in the house, and I called Trisha to let her know where her wandering boy was. I wasn't happy, finding out that she hadn't even missed him yet. I told her that we would keep him for a while and bring him home later. She sounded relieved. Peter and Jody had been squabbling all afternoon, and Terry was hiding in the bedroom.

When I hung up from the call, I found Mike in the living room, sitting on the couch with Peter on his lap. Murphy was curled up at Mike's feet, and Peter was regaling Uncle Mike with the latest adventures of Murphy the Wonder Dog.

"Would anyone be interested in a glass of milk and a cookie?" Two faces brightened immediately. I went out to the kitchen, got out a package of cookies and poured a glass of milk for Peter. There was still almost a full pot of coffee left from before, so I heated two cups in the microwave and set them on the table. Then I poured some milk in a little bowl and set it on the floor for Murphy. He wandered over, sniffed the bowl, and lapped up the milk quickly.

Mike carried Peter into the kitchen and set him on his knee. The two of them dived into the cookies, and the only sounds were satisfied crunching. I sat down with my coffee and just enjoyed watching the two kids with their cookies. Murphy curled up next to Mike's chair and went back to sleep.

When they finished their snack (and, incidentally, a whole package of cookies!), we set out across the lawn to take Peter home. Murphy trotted along behind us, tail wagging.

Trisha looked up from what she was doing at the stove, as we came into the house. "So, here's my wandering boy back! Honey, you should have told me you were going over to Uncle Mike's house, before you left."

"I was gonna, but you were busy with the babies, and you didn't hear me." His look was uncertain; he wasn't sure if he was in trouble with his Mom.

Mike spoke up. "Peter, you should always tell your Mom, if you're coming over to our house, and you know the rule about checking to see if the car is there, but you're always welcome, any time you need some 'guy time.' He gave Peter a warm smile, and Peter looked a lot happier. 'Guy time.' That's what he needed, and Uncle Mike just said he could come over any time for 'guy time.'

Terry appeared just then and rushed over to me, wrapping her arms around my waist.

"Hi, Uncle Davie! I'm so glad to see you!"

I picked her up and held her close in a hug. "I'm glad to see you, too, honey. We were just talking to Mommy about Peter coming over to our house to see us. Would you like to come over sometimes, too?"

I thought she might choke me to death with the stranglehold she had around my neck.

"Oh, yes! Yes, yes, yes! Could I really come over sometimes to see you?"

Trisha smiled at her. "Of course, you can, honey. I'm sure that Uncle Davie and Uncle Mike would be glad to see you."

Jody had come into the room, and she stood, looking thoughtfully at Peter in Uncle Mike's arms and Terry in mine. I was surprised that she didn't seem the least bit jealous of either of them. There was something going on in that little head, and I would really like to have known what it was. But she just smiled at us.

"Hi, Uncle Mike, hi Uncle Davie." Then she turned and went back into the living room. I looked over at Mike, but he seemed as mystified by Jody's behavior as I was. I decided that I really needed to talk to Mom. If anyone knew what was going on here, she would.

When we got back home, I called her. I told her that I had a question about the kids that was bothering me, and I didn't understand what was going on. I could almost hear her smile over the phone.

"Why don't you and Mike come over for a cup of coffee. I imagine that he is as confused about this as you are."

"Yeah, he is. I've never seen Jody act like that before, and I just don't understand it."

"Well, I'm putting the coffee pot on now, so just come over when you can." She hung up with her usual abruptness. I turned to Mike.

"We're invited over to Mom's for coffee. I'm really confused about what's going on with Jody."

"Me, too. So, let's go!" We locked the front door and walked over to Mom's house. When we walked in, there were three cups on the table, and Mom was just setting out a plate of cookies.

"Uh, Mom, Mike doesn't really need any cookies. He and Peter just wiped out a brand new package of cookies, less than an hour ago."

She grinned at me. "Yes, but those were 'store bought' cookies. These are the real thing, baked just this afternoon." I looked at Mike; he was practically drooling. I just shook my head. "Some kids just never grow up."

Mom chuckled. "Well, this one never has, at least where cookies are concerned." She poured coffee, and we sat down at the table. Mike gave me a defiant look and grabbed a cookie from the plate. I just shook my head, as he bit into it with a look of pure bliss. Mom just smiled at him. That's her boy!

Then she turned to me. "What's going on? There's a problem with the kids?"

"I'm not sure, Mom." I told her about our visit to Trisha, and Jody's reaction to seeing us holding the other two. Mom just smiled.

"Jody is a 'middle child.' She has to compete with an older sister and a younger brother for her parents' attention. And now there are the babies. What surprises me is that she hasn't registered any hostility toward them yet. But, maybe when they're older,...." She paused and took a sip of her coffee.

"But what can we do about the situation?"

"You're doing exactly the right thing, right now. By inviting Peter and Terry to spend time with you, you give Jody time to spend with her parents—just her, alone, with no competition for their attention. She needs that time."

"Well, we'll just have to make sure that we find, or make, time to spend with the other two." I looked over at Mike, and he nodded. Mom smiled.

"I'm sure you two will do what's best for all three of the kids. Now, finish your coffee and get out of here. This old lady needs her rest."

As we stood to leave, Mike grabbed two more cookies from the plate. "These are great, Mom." She patted him on the cheek and all but pushed us out the door.

As we walked back down the street, I couldn't resist teasing Mike just a little. "No kids, huh? Looks as if we've got two now, and who knows how many more to come."

He growled something and shoved the last cookie into his mouth. I kept my eyes straight forward; I knew if I looked at him I'd start laughing. We were silent the rest of the way home. He had a mouthful of cookie, and I wanted to go on living.

Over the next few weeks our lives began to form a pattern. When we were at home, we usually had one, or both, of the kids there. They welcomed the attention, and we enjoyed their company. If we had to go out, or if we needed time by ourselves, we would just tell them to go home, and they went without a fuss. Peter was practically glued to his Uncle Mike, and Terry followed me around, chatting happily. I was a little surprised to find that she had a very mature outlook on things for her age. She helped me with the housework, and we had good times just sitting in front of the TV, laughing at some silly sitcom.

Trisha reported to us that Jody was happier now, too. She didn't get into arguments with her sister and brother as often as before, and she seemed to blossom in the added attention she got from her parents. It looked as if we had found a happy solution to the problem for everyone concerned.

Things were better at work, too. Mike and Tom had interviewed the possible candidates for the opening, and they were very happy with the man they selected. He learned the job quickly, and he was doing it well. Milo was working out even better than we had hoped. He and Will had reorganized the stockroom to make it more convenient to grab parts when they were needed on the floor.

I noticed that Will was spending his breaks in Marty's office. They seemed to be getting a lot closer. So I wasn't really surprised when Marty came into my office one morning. "Guess what's happening!" She was casually waving her left hand around, and the light glinting off the diamond nearly blinded me. That was one big stone!

I couldn't resist. "What's happening, Marty?" She shoved her hand practically into my face. Her face was glowing with happiness.

"Will asked me to marry him last night!"

"And what did you tell him?" For a second or two I thought she might slap me. Then she laughed. "I told him no, but he'd already paid for the ring and it didn't fit him, so..."

"Oh, Marty, I'm so happy for you, and for Will, too. I hope he realizes what a treasure he's getting."

She blushed. "I don't know about the 'treasure' part, but I do know that I'm going to do everything I can to make him happy. Oh, Dave, he's such a wonderful man!"

"I guess I'll have to take your word on that, because I really don't know him that well. Have you told Steve yet?"

"Oh, yes! I called him as soon as Will left last night. He and Rob are really happy for us."

"Well, so am I. I just hate the thoughts of losing you here. You have done so much to improve the system, I don't know how we'll get along without you."

"You don't have to worry about that for a couple of years, at least. We've been talking about the possibility for a while, and neither of us wants to have kids right away. We want to have the time to develop a really good relationship before we start having a family."

"That sounds sensible. It's a shame more people don't think that way."

"The accent there should be on the word 'think.' It seems that too many people don't think at all about what they're doing, until everything crashes, and then it's too late."

"Marty, you never cease to amaze me. Is there any way I can convince you to tell this Will person to go away? I don't want to lose you here—ever!"

"Uh, in a word, no! I've got something good going here, and I'm not about to let it go."

"Well, it was worth a try. Now, would you get out of my office, so I can finish these reports for Jim Wheeler? That gaudy diamond is blinding me, so I can't even see to write."

She gave me a glare. "Hmmph!" Then she turned and strode majestically out of my office and into her own. She sat down at the desk and booted up her computer. I noticed, though, that she paused to look at her ring every now and then. I couldn't help smiling a little.

Things moved along smoothly for the next couple of months. Marty and Will were married. It was a small, private ceremony, because Will had only his parents and his grandfather, and Steve and Marty had no one else.

Steve and Rob came in for the wedding, and Will's parents brought his grandfather. He was a delightful old guy, with a rather bawdy sense of humor. I had never seen Will blush before, but his face was red for most of the afternoon. Marty thought it was funny, which didn't help him much, and she just loved Granddad.

Annie and Mark offered their living room as a place to hold the wedding, so they were there, along with Jimmy and Peter. We were all thankful that Mickey decided to sleep through the whole thing, although Peter had volunteered to take care of her, if she woke up. Will's pastor, the local Presbyterian minister, performed the service, and then Mike and I took the whole wedding party out for dinner at a nice restaurant. (Mike did remind me beforehand that we were wealthy and could easily afford it!)

The newlyweds had already decided to just take a weekend honeymoon trip and have a real honeymoon later. I just couldn't get over how much thought and planning the two of them had put into all of this. Well, I suppose they had to talk about something on their coffee breaks!

After they left, Steve and Rob stayed to have coffee with us and to fill us in on what was happening in their lives. We had met Rob briefly at the bar, but we found that he is a really funny guy. He is very proud of his sporting goods store, and he seemed very happy with what Steve had done so far to organize the business end.

We sat and talked until almost midnight. When the guys got up to leave, we all exchanged hugs. It had been a long and exhausting day, and they wanted to get home and get to bed. When they left, we closed down the house and went to bed.

The ringing of the phone dragged me out of a nice dream about Mike. I looked at the clock. It was 2:38 in the morning. I staggered out of bed and managed to pick up the phone.

The voice on the other end sounded panicky. "Davie, it's Steve. We had just left your house and were headed out of town, and a drunk driver swerved and took the side off our car. I'm OK, a little shaken up and bruised, but Rob..." His voice broke, and I could hear his sobs. "Rob was hurt really bad. They've brought us to the hospital. I guess I'm OK, but Rob..." His voice broke again. "They won't tell me anything, Davie, and I'm so scared!" He broke down completely.

I finally got his attention. "Steve, we'll be there as soon as we can get there. Just hang in there, Buddy; it's going to be all right." I hoped that I sounded more sure of that than I felt.

I hung up the phone. "MIKE!" He was awake and out of bed before I got into the bedroom. I told him what had happened, as we threw on some clothes and headed out to the hospital. Mike parked close to the emergency entrance, and we rushed inside.

I found Steve, collapsed in a chair and sobbing. I knelt beside him and pulled him into a hug. "We're here, now, Steve. Everything's going to be OK." Oh, God, I hope I'm not lying to him!

Mike had gone to the desk and was talking to the nurse on duty. I decided it would be better for me to stay and comfort Steve and let Mike deal with her. He has a way with stubborn women. This one didn't look as if she wanted to tell us anything.

A doctor came out and looked around. "Is the family here?" Mike rushed over to him. "We're as close to family as he has, Doctor. This is his partner. He worked for me and my partner," waving toward me, "at Allied Machine Shop. Is there any chance we could see him?"

The doctor smiled sympathetically and shook his head. "We have induced a coma to reduce his pain until we can determine the extent of his injuries. His left arm and leg are both broken, and he has possible neck injuries, as well as a rather severe concussion. We will be keeping him comatose until we can determine whether there are other internal injuries. I would suggest that you take your friend home and give him a couple of really stiff drinks, so he can get some sleep. Call here after ten in the morning, and we will probably have a full report for you." He fished in his pocket and pulled out a business card. He scribbled a phone number on the back and handed the card to Mike.

"Thank you, Doctor. We really appreciate your candor. We'll be calling in the morning."

"I won't be on duty then, but if you have any problems getting information, just call the number on the back of the card. I'll see that you find out what's going on." He patted Mike on the shoulder and turned to go back into the other room.

Mike came over to where we were sitting. Steve seemed a little calmer now, but he was still pretty tense. Mike patted him on the shoulder. "I don't know if you heard everything the doctor said. They're still doing tests, but we can call after ten in the morning to find out the results. So, we might as well go home now."

We got Steve into the car and drove home. When we got there, Mike got out the rum and poured a stiff rum and coke for Steve. We had milder drinks. When we finished our drinks, Steve looked at me with the saddest expression. "I'm not sure I can get to sleep. I'm not used to sleeping by myself any more."

Mike grinned. "Well, we can fix that." He pulled Steve into the bedroom, and I followed. We all stripped down to our shorts and Mike slipped into bed, sliding clear to the other side and pulling Steve in with him. I crawled in and snuggled up to Steve from behind, so that we had him sandwiched between us. Gradually, we all relaxed and fell asleep.

Editor's Notes:

Darn, Arli, I think I can safely assume that this chapter ended in a cliffhanger. I'll get you for that!

I am glad to see that the kids are happier, It is a very well known situation that occurres with Middle kids. They are acutally torn between the bookends of the other kids in the family; too old to be cuddled like their younger siblings and yet still too young to be trusted with much responsibility. It is one totally unpleasant situation to be in, but, it looks as if Mike and Davie have managed to help Jody along a bit, and she seems to appreciate it.

It looks as if Marty's situation is improving rapidly, as well, Married life is going to be good for her, too.

I do hope that Rob will be O.K. I am worried, but I guess all we can do is hope.

I am ready for the next chapter.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher