"You're not going to live with them, are you?" I asked James, after hearing that his grandparents had asked him to come live with them.
"I'll tell you all about it after school," James said, as he opened the door and headed toward his school entrance.
"Tell me now,!" I demanded.
"You're blocking the entrance," James yelled, as he hurried away.
I had no choice but to go on since the car behind me was indeed honking for me to go. My mind wasn't on school and even Rachel noticed.
"Mrs. Schaefer just asked you if you wanted green beans," Rachel said, as we went through the food line in the cafeteria for lunch.
"I'm sorry, yes, Mrs. Schaefer," I said.
"What's wrong with you?" Rachel asked, as we joined our group at our table. "You seem to be way out there, and you were that way in English."
"I'm upset about James," I admitted.
"What about James?" Seth, who was already at the table asked.
"His grandparents asked him to come live with them," I said.
"No shit?" Jon asked, with a surprised look.
"Is he going to go?" Seth asked.
"James isn't going anywhere," Rachel declared.
"I'm not so sure," I admitted.
I was a nervous wreck by the time the final bell rang to dismiss us for the day. I was out the door and in my vehicle before many of the others even left their classrooms. There was already a long line of parents waiting to pick up their kids when I arrived at the middle school. Normally this wouldn't have bothered me, but not today. I pulled into the church parking lot, and called James and asked him to meet me there.
"Why are you picking me up here?" James asked, as he tossed his book bag in the back seat.
"You're going to tell me about your grandparents asking you to go live with them."
"Oh, that..." James paused; I think just to irritate me.
"Yes, that!" I practically yelled.
"Well, Grandma said that I should come and live with them since we were blood related. But before I could answer, Uncle Justin went off on her."
"What did he say?"
"He said that she should be ashamed, and that she sounded like Grandma Retha. He said that I shouldn't be asked to make a decision, especially since the Turners had been kind enough to look them up so that I could get to know them. Grandpa then said that Uncle Justin was right and that they should be happy that they were getting to know me."
"What did Debra say?"
"Grandma hugged me and said that she was only offering me an option. I think she was serious about getting me to live with them, but Uncle Justin made her see that she was wrong."
"So, you're not going to live with them?"
"You're not getting rid of me that easily," he said with a grin. "I love my grandparents, but you, Mom, and Dad are my family. Please don't say anything to Mom and Dad. I don't want them to dislike Grandma because she asked me to live with them."
It was as if a dark ugly cloud had been lifted. I grabbed my brother and gave him a big hug.
"Hey, people will think we're gay," James joked.
"I am gay."
"I'm not," James laughed, then as if to apologize, said, "Not that it would matter anyway."
As the end of the school year was near Dad completed his cancer treatment. The wonderful news was that the doctors proclaimed him to be in complete remission. Each day Dad seemed to be gaining strength and getting back to his old self.
As Dad had promised, he was teaching James to drive. It was fun to watch the excitement as James got behind the wheel and drove away. He always had an ear-to-ear grin when he drove.
We began making final plans for our Grand Canyon vacation as Dad seemed to be feeling better than he did before he became ill. "Do you want me to ask Jon and Seth to do our chores while we're away?" I asked during one of our planning sessions.
"That won't be necessary," Dad grinned.
"Who will we get then?" James asked with concern.
"Boys, I have an announcement to make," Dad said. "I've bought Spencer Vance's insurance business and will be going into the insurance business. Your mother and I have decided to sell the hog operation."
"Dad, you can't do that," James yelled.
"I already have," Dad said. "I can't run two businesses at the same time."
"Craig and I could run the hog business," James reasoned.
"Son, Craig only has one more year of high school and then he'll be going off to college," Dad explained.
"I could do it by myself, then," James argued.
"James, you know how we feel about your education," Mom said. "Your education would suffer if you tried to do both."
"I'm sure you could," Dad agreed. "But the point is you're an honor student now, and we want you to graduate with honors the same as your brother will. When you complete your education, the farm will still be here and you can go back into the hog business."
"How will I earn money this summer?" James asked.
"Honey, there is money for yours and Craig's education put aside," Mom said.
"But I wanted to add to my savings account," James contended.
"James, the money we get when we sell the hogs will be split three ways," Dad said. "Yours and Craig's share will be several thousand dollars," Dad said.
"But I want to earn my own money," James argued.
"James, you and Craig earned every penny of it," Dad said. "If you boys hadn't worked so hard while I was sick, I would have had to sell off all the hogs. The market was down then, and we would have been lucky to make even a small profit."
"James, if you want to earn money, Rachel said that Dr. Schuler was opening a boarding kennel next to his vet clinic," I said. "She asked me if I wanted to work a few hours a week."
"Don't you want to do it?" James asked, as his interest seemed to peak.
"I tried that, but it didn't interest me," I said. "I'll find something else."
"Then why did you work there in the first place?" James asked.
"I thought I wanted to be a veterinarian, but I decided that wasn't for me," I explained.
"I'd love to be a veterinarian," James said, as he seemed to be less opposed to the sale of the hog business.
I'll admit that I was a little sad when Dad, James, and I hauled the last load of hogs to market. Dad had also decided to sell the cattle too. Although James and I rarely rode the horses, we decided to keep the four horses. Nicole seemed to enjoy riding much more than James or I did. Perhaps we would ride more often now that we would have more time.
Fortunately, James enjoyed working for Dr. Schuler. He loved animals and loved taking care of them. On the other hand, I was having trouble finding a job. It seemed that there were few jobs for teens in a small town. I had spent the most of one morning looking for a job and filling out applications to no avail. I decided to stop by Dad's office and invite him to lunch.
"May I help you?" The attractive young woman asked when I entered Dad's office.
"Is my dad in?" I asked.
"You must be Craig," she said. "I'm Tina."
"Yes," I said, and then it finally occurred to me that we hadn't met. "It's nice to meet you."
"He's in his office," she said. "He had Spencer come in to help him learn the business. They'll be breaking for lunch soon."
I took a seat and began going through the available magazines, but I found none of interest. "Would you like a cup of coffee?" Tina asked, when she saw that I was becoming bored.
"No, thank you," I said. "I thought I would see if Dad wanted to go to lunch and I'll get something then. I'm in town looking for a summer job."
"What type of job are you looking for?"
"In this town, any job will do."
"Why don't you come to work here? I'd like to take some time off to spend with my daughter. It would be nice to have some time off while she's out of school this summer."
"I'm not sure how good I'd be at running an office."
"If you can talk on the phone and use a computer you could do it."
"He could do what?" Dad asked, as he came out of his office with an older man that I assumed to be Spencer Vance.
"I was telling Craig that I wanted to take some time off this summer and that maybe you could hire him to fill in," Tina said.
"Sure, you can start training him tomorrow," Dad quickly agreed. "You two can agree on a schedule. Spencer will be covering for me while we're on vacation, Tina could you cover for Craig?"
"Sure, I could do that," Tina agreed. "I just wanted some time off to spend with Kaylee."
I spent the remainder of the week working with Tina. She was patient and a good teacher. By the end of the week she declared that I was ready to work alone. We agreed on a schedule where I would work Monday, Wednesday, and Friday one week and then Tuesday and Thursday the next.
My job was relatively easy, mostly filing and answering the phone. Occasionally, when Dad was busy, I used the computer to give a potential client an estimate for their insurance. I soon learned to bring a book to read to help pass time since there wasn't that much work to do.
"Dad, what made you decide to get out of the hog business and buy this insurance business?" I asked during one of the many slow periods.
"It seemed that I and the entire family were always tied down," Dad began. "With the insurance business I can get someone to cover for me if I need to be gone. Tina knows the business well enough to run it if I'm away."
"It just seems to me that there aren't a lot of clients."
"Yeah, Spencer admitted that it wasn't a big money maker."
"Do you know who owns this building?"
"I do know. Why do you ask?"
"It's an old building, the building next door has been restored to the original façade and it looks great. Also, the antique store in the other half of this building is more of a junk store. She even has junk on the sidewalk. Plus, look at this ugly gray carpet. As old as this building is, I'll bet there are wood floors under the carpet."
"If you were the owner, what would you do?"
"I'd find out who restored the building next door and get an estimate to have this one restored. I'd tell the owner of the junk store to either clean it up or I'd terminate the lease."
"I own the building, and you just may be on to something."
"I didn't know that you bought the building too."
"Spencer wouldn't sell the business alone. I would like to build the business enough to hire another agent."
"Dad, when we closed on the house with Dan, the closing company asked him about insurance. Maybe if you get a closing company to occupy the space where the so called antique store is now, you'd get new policies when buyers closed on their house. After all, yours would be the first insurance office that they'd see."
"Spencer said that Irene hadn't signed a new lease and was on a month-to-month arrangement now. I'll also ask Raymond who restored his building next door. I'll offer to help Irene find a new location and get her out. Regardless if I can get a closing company to take the location or not, she needs to be out."
Dad enthusiastically pursued the new project when he discovered that the restoration cost wasn't prohibitive. Dad asked the contractor to hold off on the restoration until after we returned from vacation. Irene willingly agreed to move out when Dad found a closed convenience store out on the highway at the edge of town. She was also pleased that the rent was less than she was currently paying.
The day finally arrived that we began our vacation. James and I took Jake and Jade to the boarding kennel. We asked that they be boarded together since they knew each other. We arrived in Topeka by 9:00 am, where Uncle Ryan had already picked up the rented nine passenger van. The van was much more than I expected. It had leather captain seats, a flat screen TV with a DVD player, and plenty of room.
The first day we only drove as far as Oklahoma City. Mom wanted to see the Oklahoma City Memorial that was dedicated to the victims of the Murrah Federal Building bombing. After arriving in Oklahoma City, we had a light lunch before checking into our hotel rooms. I was surprised that Oklahoma City was as large a city as it was. I expected it to be smaller than Topeka, but it appeared to be nearly as large as Kansas City.
We arrived at the Memorial excited and chatty; however, when we began the tour we felt a deep sense of reverence. It was sad to think that 168 people were killed, 19 of those were children, because of Timothy McVeigh's deep-seated hatred of the US government. After the tour, we were all quiet on our ride back to the hotel, each in our own thoughts.
Uncle Jason suggested that we go to Bricktown for dinner, an old warehouse district that had been converted into a restaurant and night club hot spot. There were several restaurants to choose from. Dad, forever the baseball fan, wanted to eat at Mickey Mantle's, even though he's a Kansas City Royals fan. Uncle Ryan used his blackberry to make reservations.
Although we had reservations, there was a short wait for our table. This gave us an opportunity to view the large amount of Mickey Mantle and New York Yankees' memorabilia.
"We don't have anything this fancy at home," Mom said, as she looked around the room after we were seated at our table.
"Nor this expensive," Dad added, as he looked at the menu.
"You suggested it," Mom smiled. "You get to pay."
"I'll pay," I said. "I offered to pay for the trip anyway."
"This is too expensive for one person to pay," Dan said. "Why don't we let one person pay and then we'll reimburse them later?"
"That's a great idea," Grandma agreed. "We should all treat ourselves to a nice meal out at times."
Although the food was expensive, it was also delicious. The service was also excellent, but as mom said, "It should be excellent, considering the tips that they likely make."
We took advantage of the free breakfast provided by the hotel the next morning. It was surprisingly good and a good selection of food. There were scrambled eggs, biscuits with gravy, waffles, toast, a variety of cereals, and plenty of coffee and juice.
"This is my kind of meal," Dad said. "FREE."
After breakfast, we were soon on the road with plans to spend the night in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We arrived in Albuquerque with time to settle in our rooms and rest for a while before dinner. We had decided on a nearby Mexican restaurant that the desk clerk had recommended. The food was authentic Mexican and, to Dad's delight, reasonably priced.
Although the hotel rooms were satisfactory, the free breakfast was skimpy. "Let's go to a restaurant where we can get a real breakfast," Dad broadcasted to the entire room. It was even more apparent that Dad was indeed well.
We settled on a Denny's that was on I-40. The food was acceptable, but the service was awful. Dad insisted that we leave no more than a five dollar tip. As we were leaving, the waiter saw the five dollar tip and gave us a dirty look. "That's more than you deserve, buddy," Dad said, loud enough for all to hear. The group at the next table applauded.
We arrived at Grand Canyon National Park with ample time to settle in our rooms before dinner. James and I decided to check out the pool and everyone but Grandma ended up joining us for a swim. We begged Grandma to join us, but she said, "I don't think anyone here wants to see an old lady like me in a swimsuit. I'll just sit here and enjoy the sun while you young people swim."
Following a good breakfast with great service, we went to the helipad for our helicopter tour of the canyon. We were all in awe of the beauty and immensity of the canyon. The helicopter landed in the floor of the canyon and we then went on a pontoon boat ride.
Even Grandma enjoyed the boat ride, which we all agreed was way too short. After the boat ride and a cowboy BBQ lunch, we had some free time to enjoy the canyon floor before the helicopter ride back to the canyon rim and our hotel.
The next day was a 'free day', as Uncle Ryan described it. "Hey, look at this," Uncle Jason said, when we were lounging around the pool. "We can take a train ride from Williams to the canyon rim."
We all quickly agreed that the train ride would be fun, but most were skeptical that we could get reservations. "I'll go see if the hotel concierge can help us," Uncle Jason said.
After about an hour, Uncle Jason returned with the news that the concierge was able to get tickets for us, but the only ones available were in first class. We all laughed when Nicole gave a little happy dance. Later, all of the adults, except for Dan, went back to their rooms. James was in the pool teaching Nicole to swim.
"You should enroll her in swimming lessons," I said.
"Do we even have those?" Dan asked. "It looks like James is doing a good job anyway."
"We do have swimming lessons," I said. "James couldn't swim until Mom got him into lessons. Besides, James is working and wouldn't have time to teach her."
"I'll get the information from Libby when we get home," Dan said. "You know I want to be a better dad for her than I was for you."
"You already are. But don't worry about the kind of dad you were to me. Just be a good dad to her and she will at least have had one good parent."
Dan put his hand on my shoulder and said, "Craig, I'm genuinely pleased that you've allowed me to be a part of your life and your family. Libby and Don truly love you and James. They and Margaret have accepted Nicole and me into the family - that goes for Ryan and Jason too."
"Dan, you can stop feeling guilty. We've had this discussion before, and we decided that mistakes were made, but that we'd put the past behind us."
"Daddy, Craig, look I'm swimming," Nicole yelled from the pool, James had his hands under her abdomen while she splashed across the pool.
The train ride the next day was as advertised. We all loved every minute of the excursion. We all enjoyed the recreation of the old fashioned shoot out and a train robbery. Needless to say, the scenery along the ride was breath taking.
After loading our possessions in the van the next day, we headed east to see the Painted Desert. We knew why it was called the Painted Desert immediately when we saw the multitude of colors ranging from lavenders to shades of gray with vibrant colors of red, orange, and pink.
"That was lovely," Grandma mused as we headed east on I-40 to Albuquerque where we would spend the night.
"It was," Mom agreed.
"Yeah, but it wasn't as much fun as the Grand Canyon," James added.
"Well, I liked both," Nicole said.
We decided to stay at the same hotel in Albuquerque that we stayed in on our way to the Grand Canyon. Uncle Jason suggested that we find a good steak house for dinner. The steaks were cooked to perfection and the service was great.
The next morning we went to a restaurant just off of the interstate for breakfast. After breakfast we loaded back into the van and were on our way. After about 45 minutes, I asked, "Uncle Jason, why are we exiting here?"
"Ask Don, this is the way he said for me to go," Uncle Jason said.
"Dad, where are we going?" I asked.
"We thought you kids might like to see the Carlsbad Caverns," Dad said.
"Yahoo!" James yelled. "I read about the caverns in National Geographic's, this is going to be fun."
"Do they have mules that we can ride?" Nicole asked.
"No, honey," Mom said, while suppressing a laugh. "Carlsbad Caverns is a very large cave."
"What if we get lost in there?" Nicole asked, with a great deal of concern.
"They have guides and the paths are lighted," Mom explained.
"Oh, that's good," Nicole said, with a sigh of relief.
"We'll get there in time to watch the bat flights," Dad said.
"Do they bite?" Nicole asked.
"No, sweetie," Dad said. "They're not that type of bats. These bats are beneficial because they catch millions of insects every night."
After checking into our hotel rooms, we had an early dinner at a Chinese restaurant. We then drove to the caverns. We arrived at the amphitheatre about 20 minutes before the park ranger began his program to explain the bat flight. We had a short wait after the program before the bat flight began at dusk. They give the impression of being one nonstop body, a cloud of black against the darkish sky.
"That was awesome," James said, as we left the amphitheater.
"James, I have to agree with you," Grandma said. "That was awesome, and I never thought I would say that about bats."
In spite of the excitement of the bat flight, Nicole was almost asleep by the time we arrived back at the hotel. Actually, most of us were ready for bed.
Following a big breakfast, we drove back to the caverns. Nicole seemed less apprehensive about going into the caverns after hearing the park ranger's explanation of the various options. We decided to take the Big Room Trail down into the cavern.
"I'll take the elevator down," Grandma said. "I'm afraid the hike down would be too much for this old body."
"I'll take the elevator down with you," Mom offered.
"You don't need to do that," Grandma said. "I'll get a cup of coffee in the snack bar down there and wait for you."
"It's chilly down here," Mom said. "I'm thankful that we brought jackets."
"It's big and pretty down here," Nicole said. "Do you think we'll see any bats?"
"Probably not," Dan said. "I don't think they like the lights and are in another part of the cavern."
As we stopped to admire the formations, I overheard James explaining them to Nicole. "One way to remember is that stalactites 'hang tight' to the ceiling and stalagmites 'might' reach the ceiling one day. I learned that in science," he explained.
Upon our entrance to the Big Room - the major portion of the cavern, we found Grandma at a table chatting with a lady about her age. "This is June Wellington," Grandma said. "She's waiting for her family too. June is from Ohio."
After we enjoyed drinks and light snacks, we toured the Big Room with Grandma. We all decided to ride the elevator with Grandma up to the entrance. The tour hadn't taken as long as we'd expected, so we drove on to Hobbs, New Mexico before stopping for lunch. We then drove to Amarillo, Texas to spend the night.
The next leg of our trip was to Pratt, so James could see his relatives there. Our plans were to drop James off at the Harrington's before checking into a hotel. However, Wendell and Debra insisted that we all stay with them.
"Do you realize how many there are of us?" Mom questioned.
"We have four bedrooms, and we have the motor home that is very comfortable," Debra said. "Justin will be here this evening, but he can sleep in the den. Decide who will sleep in the motor home and Wendell can unlock it for you."
"I'll sleep out there," James quickly offered.
"Ryan and I'll sleep there too," Uncle Jason said.
"Me too," I said.
"I just put clean linens out there this morning," Debra said. "And Wendell connected the water, so you could have showers and use the bathroom."
"Wow, this has everything," James proclaimed when Wendell showed us the motor home.
"Your grandma stocked the refrigerator with drinks," Wendell said. "There's a coffee maker, if any of you want coffee. There's a queen size bed in the bedroom, the couch makes into a bed, and this dinette also converts into a bed."
Dinner was a backyard cookout that was more like a feast. There was BBQ ribs, grilled chicken, burgers, hot dogs, and all sorts of trimmings. Amber and her husband Drew arrived with Dylan and Tyler just before Justin arrived. Amber brought a wonderful fruit salad. At the twins' request, Grandma Margaret made several batches of her cookies.
"Did you graduate from high school?" Justin asked me, as we enjoyed the food.
"No, I'll be a senior this fall," I said.
"What are your college plans?" Justin asked.
"I'm seriously thinking about medical school," I said.
"James said that you're an honor student," Justin said.
"I have good grades," I admitted. "Did James tell you that he's an honor student too?"
"No, he didn't," Debra said. "He just said that his grades were pretty good."
"His grades were average until he came to live with us," Mom said. "Since then he's learned to study and now he's an A student."
"James, what is your career choice?" Debra asked. "It appears that you can do most anything."
"Since I've been working at the vet clinic, I've thought seriously about becoming a veterinarian," James said.
"That's an excellent choice," Drew said.
"What are you studying at Wichita State?" I asked Justin.
"I'm in the Physician Assistant Program," Justin said. "I thought about medical school, but I wasn't sure I wanted to be in school that long. Now I wish I'd taken that path."
"You can still go," I pointed out.
"I'm not sure I could afford it now, and I'm not sure I want those big student loans," Justin said.
"It's too bad you're not Indian," I said. "Indian Health Service has a program that pays for your medical school, but you have to agree to work for them upon graduation. I found that information when I was looking for scholarships."
"I'm Cherokee," Justin said. "I have a Certified Degree of Indian Blood card. I'm only 1/32 degree, but I'm considered to be Cherokee. That's one thing I can thank Grandma for."
"I'll E-mail you the link for that program," I said.
"Thanks," Justin said. "What about you, do you have funds for college?"
"I do," I admitted, without going into details.
"What about James?" Justin asked.
"We have money set aside for his college education too," Dad said. "If he decides he wants to go to vet school, we'll provide for that too."
"We've never mentioned it before, but there's money for James' education," Debra said. "There was a settlement from Shawn's accident. We spent part of it remodeling this house, but we want James to have what's left. Right now there's about $26,000, and by the time he starts college the amount will have grown."
"That's your money," James said.
"No, it's yours," Debra said. "Your grandpa and I have already agreed that it should be for your education. We have everything we need. Our house is paid for and we have no bills except for utilities and such."
"Don, I understand that you have a really good financial advisor," Wendell said. "Maybe you could have him invest the money for James."
"If that's what you and James want," Dad said. "He already has the $11,000 he got in the settlement from our car wreck. I think he has earned just over $1,000 on that."
"If he keeps his grades up to the current level he should get a scholarship," Mom pointed out.
"Nicole, are you getting sleepy?" Grandma asked, when she noticed that Nicole was leaning against Dan.
"Yeah," Nicole nodded. "Where am I sleeping?"
"I thought you could share a room with Margaret," Debra said. "There are twin beds in that room. Do you want me to help you get ready for bed?"
"Yes, thank you," Nicole said.
"She's such a sweet little girl," Debra said, when she returned. "No wonder James calls her his sister."
"Grandma, can we spend the night with James?" One of the twins, I think Tyler, asked.
"Tyler, I think Grandma already has enough company for tonight," Amber answered. "You can spend the night when James and Craig come for a visit."
"Please let us stay," Dylan pleaded. "We promise we'll be good."
"Where do you think you'd sleep?" Drew pointed out.
"They can sleep with me," James offered.
"Oh, James, you don't know what you're offering with these two," Drew laughed.
"One of them could sleep with me," I offered.
"Alright, if it's okay with your grandma," Drew agreed.
"Yippee," both yelled, when Debra said yes.
Soon the rest of us were ready for bed and said our goodnights. "I'll send Wendell over to let you guys in the motor home know when breakfast is ready," Debra said.
"We'd planned to get breakfast in town before we left," Mom said. "There are too many of us for you to cook breakfast for."
"Nonsense," Debra said. "I have two egg and sausage breakfast casseroles already made. All I have to do is pop them in the oven."
"Okay, which one are you?" I asked one of the twins, as we got ready for bed.
"I'm Dylan," he said, and pointed to the freckle on his forehead.
"Are you awake?" Dylan asked, as I opened my eyes the next morning and saw two bright eyes staring at me.
"Yes," I said. "But I don't think James is. Why don't you wake him, but you'll have to jump on him to wake him."
"I heard that," James said, just as Dylan landed on top of him.
Soon both twins were wrestling with James and giggling when both Uncle Jason and Uncle Ryan emerged from the bedroom. "What's all this racket out here?" Uncle Jason asked in a very serious tone, as he grabbed one of the twins and Uncle Ryan grabbed the other. "What should we do about this?"
"I think we should flush them down the toilet," Uncle Ryan laughed.
"No, no," both boys giggled. "It was James, he started it," Tyler said.
"Alright, who needs to use the bathroom?" Uncle Ryan asked.
"I do," Tyler said.
"Me too," Dylan said.
"Well, hurry," Uncle Ryan said. "There are six men here and only one bathroom."
"Six?" Tyler asked, as he began to count. "Uh huh, there's four men and two boys."
"Sure, there're six men, it's just that two of them are little men," Uncle Ryan said.
"I'm a little man," Tyler said, as he ran toward the bathroom while holding himself.
"I'm a little man too," Dylan said, as he too ran toward the bathroom.
"Who wants the shower first?" Uncle Jason asked after we had all relieved ourselves.
"I do," Dylan and Tyler both said.
"Do you have clean clothes to put on?" Uncle Ryan asked.
"We always have clean clothes at Grandma's," Tyler said.
"I'll go get them while they shower," James offered.
After we'd all showered, we stripped the beds and took the dirty linen to the house to launder. The breakfast casserole was wonderful. After visiting over coffee, we decided that we should be on the road toward home.