Castle Roland

Dreams Don't Grow On Trees

by Owen Hudson

In Progres

Chapter 17

Posted: 28 May 15

Dreams Don't Grow on Trees

Copyright © 2011 - 2012 Owen Hudson

The next several days after Ranger's death were difficult for Adam. He had spread Ranger's ashes around the farm, mixed with his own tears. Even his best friend Justin couldn't cheer him up. Any suggestion of getting another dog was immediately rejected by Adam. "There'll never be another Ranger," Adam argued.

"I agree, but I bet there's a dog out there somewhere that needs you as much as you need it," Haden explained.

"I said I don't want another dog," Adam yelled and stormed out the door.

"We need to keep an eye on him," Amy said. "He may try to run away."

"I doubt he'd try that," Darrell said. "This is his family and home. Nevertheless, I agree we should keep an eye on him."

"I know he'd be better off if he had another pet," Amy said.

"I had Rita talk to a counselor at work about this," Darrell said. "The counselor said to let him decide when he's ready. I know he'd want one, if he saw the right one."

"Dad, Don and David are volunteers with the SPCA," Haden said. "If there was some way we could get Adam out to the SPCA kennel, maybe he'd see one he'd want."

"Adam isn't going to agree to go there," Amy pointed out.

"I'm afraid you're right," Darrell agreed.

"I'll call them, maybe they'll have a suggestion," Haden said.

"While you do that, I'll go check on Adam," Darrell said.

"I just saw him riding his bike past the window," Amy said.

"I'm sure riding is therapy for him," Darrell reflected.

"David said to give him a day or two and he'll see what he can do," Haden said, after completing the phone call. "He'll bring one home from the kennel and have us over for a cookout. He said we could tell Adam that it's one he's fostering for a few days until they find a home for it. He has one in mind; he thinks she's a Lab and Australian Cattle Dog mix."

"That's a great plan," Darrell said.

"David also said they'll invite the regular gang over, so Adam won't become suspicious," Haden explained.

"How old is she?" Amy asked.

"He believes she's about six months old," Haden explained. "She's already been spayed."

"You sound like a used car salesman," Darrell laughed. "But I guess we do have to make a sale to Adam."

"What are you reading?" Haden asked Adam as he undressed for bed that evening.

"Where the Red Fern Grows," Adam answered.

"You read that one already," Haden said, not sure that Adam should be reading a book about a boy whose dogs die. "You shouldn't read very long, remember you have school tomorrow."

"I won't," Adam said as he bookmarked his page before turning off his lamp.

"I don't want to go to school," Adam said the next morning when Haden woke him.

"Are you ill?"

"No, I just don't want to go."

"I don't think Dad will let you miss school. He's pretty strict about attendance."

"Alright, I'll go."

"Good morning, boys," Darrell said as he removed a pan of hot biscuits from the oven. "I thought this would be a good morning for biscuits and sausage gravy."

"Every morning's a good one for biscuits and sausage gravy," Haden said.

"Son, you'd better get a move on or you'll be late for school," Darrell said when Adam took longer than normal to eat his breakfast.

"Alright," Adam said, taking his plate to put in the dishwasher.

"I may have to make an appointment with a counselor if he doesn't snap out of it soon," Darrell said when Adam went to brush his teeth and dress for school.

"Why don't we see what happens with the SPCA dog first," Amy suggested.

"I suppose we should do that," Darrell agreed.

"Adam, where's your book bag?" Amy questioned when Adam returned dressed for school.

"I forgot," Adam responded and returned to get his book bag.

Adam was in a heated discussion with Will when Haden picked him up at school that afternoon and apparently didn't see Haden. Haden honked his horn to get Adam's attention. Will saw Haden and quickly disappeared.

"What was that about?" Haden questioned while Adam and Justin buckled their seatbelts.

"Will wanted to fight me," Adam explained. "But I told him not on campus. I told him my dad would restrict me for the rest of my life if I did, but if I ever saw him off campus, I'd kick his ass like you did Kevin's."

"Yeah, he really backed down then," Justin excitedly explained. "We found out today that Kevin and Will are cousins."

"Really?" Haden chuckled.

"Hey, you just drove past my house," Justin yelled.

"I know," Haden acknowledged. "Your Mom called and said she has to work late. She said she would pick you up at our house when she gets off work, so I invited your family to have dinner with us. I also invited Rita."

"Goody!" Adam exclaimed.

"Could you go back to my house and get my bike?" Justin asked.

"Alright, but you're not going to have much riding time," Haden explained.

"We don't care," Adam admitted.

Haden was pleased that Justin was spending time with his brother. Adam seemed to be more his old self when around Justin.

"You boys stay in the yard while I finish dinner," Haden instructed as he unloaded Justin's bike.

"Could we at least ride around the barn too?" Adam pleaded.

"I suppose that would be alright," Haden agreed.

"What are you making?" Haden asked Amy when he went in to finish dinner.

"A peach cobbler," Amy replied. "I found your note that Betty's family will be here for dinner. And Don called and said they have the dog. We're to go there for dinner tomorrow."

"What do we need to take?"

"Don said they have everything, to just bring our appetites."

"By the way, Adam may have settled his problem with Will."

"How'd he do that?"

"Well, Will wanted to fight Adam. Wisely, Adam told him not on campus. But he'd kick his ass like I did his cousin Kevin's anywhere else."

"What did Will do?"

"He ran like a scared rabbit."

Of course the boys had to repeat the story over dinner, and there were animations to go along with the story.

"You were smart to avoid a fight at school," Darrell said, while doing a poor job of suppressing a smile.

"I wasn't going to fight at school and get suspended," Adam said. "But I figured out that Will's a bully and also a coward."

"Don's out back getting the grill ready," David said, when the Harringtons arrived the next evening.

"Did you get Buddy a playmate?" Haden asked, when the two dogs came to greet the Harringtons, although he knew the answer.

"No, we're fostering her until she can be adopted," Don explained.

Unfortunately, Adam showed no interest in the dog and tried to ignore her. But she wasn't having his lack of attention and followed him everywhere. In spite of himself, Adam ended up giving her a few pats. "What's her name?" he finally asked.

"The name given her at the kennel is Brandy, but the person who adopts her can give her a different name, if they want," Don said.

"Brandy sounds like a good name for her to me," Adam said.

When it was time to go home, Brandy followed Adam to the gate, when David said, "Brandy, you can't go. Adam's going home now."

"Dad, could we adopt her?" Adam asked.

"Of course we can," Darrell smiled. "How much is the adoption fee?"

"We'll take care of it," Don said. "She's already been spayed and has her shots."

"Dad, can Brandy sleep in my room tonight?" Adam asked upon arriving home.

"I suppose she can tonight," Darrell agreed. "But remember, she's mostly an outside dog. For now you can't let her roam free like Ranger did. She has to stay in the pen at the barn until we can install an electronic fence."


"Ranger never left the place, but we don't know about Brandy. We sell electronic fences at the store. I'll have the guys come out and install one Monday and she can have more freedom to roam."

"What's an electronic fence?"

"We'll bury a wire around the area where she's allowed to go. She'll wear a collar that will give her a shock when she gets near the line."

"Will it hurt her?"

"It'll hurt just enough to teach her where she can't go. Her collar will beep when she gets near the underground wire, and she'll learn to not go any nearer when she hears the beep or she'll get a shock."

"I don't want her to get shocked."

"I know, but it's better than letting her get on the highway and hit by a car."

"I guess so."

"Ranger liked it around the barn; can Brandy be allowed to go there too?"

"Yes, but we need to make sure she can't get into the pasture."

"Why not, Ranger played in the pasture?"

"Brandy is part cow dog," Darrell explained. "It's part of her breeding to herd cattle, and I don't think Ray Reed would appreciate her herding his cows."

Brandy was a dose of exactly what Adam needed and she quickly learned the boundaries of the electronic fence. She waited each day at the end of the driveway for Adam to arrive home from school and gave him a warm greeting as soon as he exited the vehicle.

"Pull over, pull over," Haden yelled as he and Kyle drove home from classes a few days later.

"What's wrong?" A puzzled Kyle asked, while pulling onto the shoulder of the highway.

"There's a poor dog scavenging and it will be killed, if we don't do something."

As Haden tried to approach the skinny dog, it backed away from the remnants of what appeared to be bits of a road kill rabbit. "He's starving," Haden said as he tried to coach the dog closer. "Do you have any food in your car?"

"I have some dog biscuits I just bought for Roscoe."

"Get me some, then give me your belt."

"Are you trying to get me undressed right here on the highway?"

"Shut up and get the dog biscuits, doofus, I want to put the belt around his neck so he doesn't get away."

After much coaching with dog biscuits, Haden finally had the belt around the dog's neck and loaded into the car.

"What are you going to do with him now that you've captured him?"

"I'm taking him home."

"What if he belongs to someone?"

"Too bad if he does. He doesn't have a collar, and if someone owns him, they don't deserve him."

"What if he runs away?"

"I'll call Dad and have him bring another collar like Brandy's, and I'll take him to the vet tomorrow."

Haden was feeding the dog when Darrell and Adam arrived home. "Where did you get the dog?" Adam immediately wanted to know.

"He was scavenging a road kill on the side of the highway," Haden explained. "He's lucky he wasn't hit by a car."

"Are you going to keep him?"

"If you and Brandy approve, I will."

"We approve, don't we Brandy?" Brandy's wagging tail seemed to give her approval.

"Dad, did you remember the collar?"

"I did. Adam, would you get that bag out of the truck for us?"

"What are you going to name him?" Adam asked, when he returned with the collar.

"Why don't you help me think of a name?"

"Well, you said he's lucky that he wasn't hit by a car... why don't you name him Lucky?"

"I think that'd be a perfect name for him."

"Where's he going to sleep?"

"I hadn't had time to think about that."

"I did," Darrell joined in. "I brought a doghouse home from the store."

"Okay, Adam, do you want to help me get some straw from the barn for Lucky's doghouse?" Haden asked.

"Sure," Adam quickly agreed. "But let me take my backpack inside first."

"I'll take it," Darrell said. "I'm going in to start dinner. I think Amy has stew in the crock pot... Rita's having dinner with us."

The two dogs followed the boys to the barn and back. Apparently Lucky had decided this was home, and Brandy had immediately accepted Lucky into her domain.

"I think Brandy likes Lucky," Adam said as he helped spread the straw in the doghouse.

"It appears so."

"Amy's home," Adam remarked, when his sister arrived home.

"Where'd the mutt come from?" Amy asked on her way into the house.

"He's no mutt, he's Lucky," Adam countered.

"I found him scavenging on the highway," Haden explained.

"I'm sure he'll look great once he gets some meat on his bones," Amy observed. "I'm going inside to finish dinner."

"Dad's already doing it," Adam said.

"Dad invited Rita to join us for dinner," Haden added.

"Oh my, and I only made stew," Amy said.

"You worry too much," Haden said. "I'm sure she'll be happy with stew."

"Do you think Dad and Rita will get married?" Adam asked, after Amy went inside.

"It wouldn't surprise me. Would you be okay with it?"

"Sure, I like Rita."

"Me too."

"Why can't I go with you to take Lucky to the vet?" Adam asked, after Lucky was loaded into the Explorer the next morning.

"Because you have school," Haden explained.

"Well, you could take me to school after he's finished at the vet's.

"Dad would ground both of us if we did that."

"Stop!" Adam suddenly yelled as they drove down the driveway.

"What?" Haden questioned as he came to a complete halt.

"Lucky still has his collar on; when you drive over the wire he could get a shock."

"I didn't think of that. Reach back and remove it, after we cross over you can put it back on him."

"Don't forget to take it off when you take him home or he could get a shock when you drive over the wire."

Dr. Ramsey, Ranger's vet, said, "I'll worm him and give him his shots today. I'd neuter him also, but he's probably eaten."

"Not since last evening," Haden said.

"Then let's get it done now. He appears to be somewhat malnourished, but otherwise healthy. You can pick him up this afternoon."

"I'll pick him up when I pick my little brother up at school."

"I didn't know you had a little brother."

"His mother abandoned him and he showed up at our house, sort of like Lucky here. He was hungry, malnourished, and dirty like Lucky too. Dad fostered and later adopted him."

"Why is Lucky still in your Explorer and why is he just lying there," Adam wanted to know when Haden picked him up after school.

"He had his surgery today?"

"What surgery?"

"Dr. Ramsey neutered him."

"Does that mean he got his balls cut off?"

"They're called testicles, and yes, they were removed."

"Why did he have to do that?"

"Well, it keeps male dogs from roaming, and they also live longer. If you recall, Ranger was neutered."

"I thought he was that way when he came to you."

"No, Dad insisted that he be neutered if I kept him. He's the same about Lucky. You couldn't keep Brady if she weren't spayed."

By the next day, Lucky was running and playing with Brandy as if he'd never had surgery. Although the family would miss Ranger, Brandy and Lucky helped fill the void left by his death.

The Harrington family were soon pretty much back to normal. Adam had learned to accept Ranger's death, and although never mentioned, Adam seemed to take ownership of both dogs - he took on the responsibility of taking care of them.

"Why would anyone buy a dog when they can get great ones like Brandy and Lucky?" Adam questioned, when both dogs waited to greet him as he arrived home from school.

"I've wondered the same thing," Haden agreed.

"Good morning, I'm Amy; I'm the student nurse who will be helping take care of you," Amy said as she began taking the vital signs of an elderly patient. "I understand you had gallbladder surgery yesterday."

"That's right, I'm one of the about five percent that laparoscopic surgery didn't work and had to be opened up," the patient chuckled as she placed a pillow over her abdomen to help relieve the pain.

"I'm sure you will be up and about in a few days," Amy said as she continued with the vital signs. "I understand most are laparoscopic surgeries and there's less pain. It's too bad that didn't work for you."

"Yes, that's what my surgeon said. Oh, what I wouldn't give for a cup of coffee right now."

"When I finish your vitals, I'll go check if you can have a cup of coffee."

"Thank you, Honey. Amy, you look a lot like someone I once knew. Where're you from?"

"I'm from Sparks."

"Are you Amy Harrington?" The patient asked in a quavering voice.

"I am," Amy answered in surprise.

"Honey, I'm your grandma," the patient stated as tears flowed.

"My grandma?"

"Yes, I'm Brenda's mother. How is Brenda?"

"I'm sorry, but I don't know. She and Dad are divorced, and I've heard that Mom moved to Texas."

"I'm not surprised they're divorced. Brenda always wanted more than we could provide, and I'm sure it was the same with Darrell. I never met your dad, but I heard he was a good man and loved Perry just like ... "

"Grandma, I know about Perry, and yes, Dad loves him the same as Haden, Adam, and me."

"I knew about you and Perry, but I didn't know about Haden and Adam."

"Haden is a year younger than I am, and Dad recently adopted Adam. Perry's in the army and recently got married."

"Oh goodness, Walter will be happy to meet you and your brothers."


"Your grandpa, I had to make him, your Uncle Scott, and Aunt Julie go home and get some rest."

"Uncle Scott and Aunt Julie?"

"Yes, Scott has an insurance agency here in Covington and his wife Carol works with him. Julie is biology professor at the university and her husband Carl is an engineer. You also have three cousins... they're a little younger than you though."

"Would Aunt Julie be Dr. Hunter?"

"Yes, that's your aunt, do you know her?"

"She was my microbiology professor this past summer. She was tough, but I managed to make an A. I'll go check on getting you a cup of coffee now."

"You're smart if you made an A in Julie's class."

"I worked hard to have good grades."

"Our family knows about hard work."

"I'll be right back."

"It looks like your breakfast tray is here," Amy said upon returning. "The good news is you get coffee, but the bad news is you're on a bland diet."

"I can survive a bland diet for a few days, but I'm addicted to my morning coffee."

"Grandma, I have another patient to see about, but I'll check in on you every chance I get."

"Oh, please do. The rest of the family will be here and I want you to meet them."

"I'd like that, and I want the rest of my family to meet you when you feel up to company. Remember, I've already met Aunt Julie."

"I should be discharged tomorrow. Julie plans to stay at my house for a few days to take care of me. Walter and I could manage, but she wouldn't hear of it. Oh selfish me, I could keep you here all day. I'd better let you go."

Amy could hardly wait for the end of her shift, so she could see her grandma again. She right away loved her newly found family. She couldn't understand her own mother dissociating herself from this wonderful family. However, Brenda had now done the same with her own family. Amy learned that her grandpa had given up sharecropping when he found a job with the university as a grounds keeper. The income allowed the family to buy an old farmhouse and a few acres outside of Covington. Grandpa Walter's employment at the university also allowed Scott and Julie to attend college at reduced rate tuition.

Grandma Grace worked as a cook for Covington Public Schools; and her reputation as a great cook soon after employment gained her a head cook position. She and Walter planned to retire in five years.

"You'll never guess who I met today," Amy excitedly said upon arriving home.

"Max Thieriot," Haden joked, naming Amy's favorite actor.

"No, silly," Amy objected. "I met Grandma and Grandpa Aiken, as well as Uncle Scott and Aunt Julie."

"How did you manage that?" Darrell asked. "I've never even met them."

"Grandma was one of my patients today," Amy said. "She had gallbladder surgery and is going home tomorrow. She wants us to all come and visit Saturday."

"I'd love to meet them," Darrell proclaimed.

"So would I," Haden agreed.

"I don't want to go," Adam declared. "I'll go to Justin's."

"No, you'll go with us," Darrell decreed.

"Why do I have to go?" Adam questioned. "They aren't my grandparents."

"Aren't Perry, Amy, and Haden your siblings?" Darrell asked.

"What are siblings?"

"Brothers and sisters are siblings."

"Yeah, they are, because you adopted me."

"Then their relatives are your relatives."

"I'd still rather go to Justin's."

"No, you'll go with us, end of discussion."

"But Dad ... "

"No buts, you're going."

Adam had learned not to argue with his dad, and accepted that he would be going with the family.

"How could they not like you?" Haden asked. "If they don't like you, I won't like them."

"Alright, alright I'm going," Adam giggled.

"That's what I said," Darrell laughed.

"Perry and Lacey are meeting us at the church where we turn off the highway," Amy explained on the drive to visit the grandparents.

"There they are," Adam exclaimed when they arrived at the turnoff.

"Grandpa said it was about a mile down this road and that it was an old farmhouse," Amy said. "He said it's the first house on the right, after we cross over the bridge."

"This must be it," Darrell said as he turned into the drive, followed by Perry and Lacey.

"It isn't what I expected," Haden declared. "I guess I expected a rundown old farmhouse, but this is nice."

"Yes, it is," Darrell agreed.

"Come in," Julie said when she answered the door. "Mom's been anxiously waiting for you to get here."

"My goodness, what a handsome family you are," Grace said when she saw the Harringtons enter the living room. "You must be Perry, and this lovely young lady must be your wife Lacey. And you have to be Haden, so this other good looking young man must be Adam. And Darrell, I'm pleased to finally get to meet you."

"The pleasure is all mine," Darrell said. "I'm sorry I didn't get to meet you sooner."

"Brenda was always ashamed that we lived in a shack with no indoor plumbing," Walter said.

"You certainly have a nice place now," Lacey said.

"It was really run down when we bought it," Grace said.

"That's right," Walter agreed. "We had just $1,000 for a down payment. Fortunately, the previous owners accepted the down payment and let us make payments. Over the years we made improvements as we could afford them. Poor people have poor ways."

"I can understand that," Darrell agreed. "Haden and I recently converted part of our back porch into a third bedroom."

"It turned out pretty nice too," Amy added.

"If you'll excuse me, I need to get back to the kitchen," Julie said. "I'm making chicken and dumplings. I hope everyone likes them."

"We all love them," Amy said. "I tried to make them, but they turned out terrible."

"Come with me and I'll show you how Mom taught me," Julie said.

"I'd love to learn too," Lacey said.

"Adam, the other grandkids will be here soon and you'll have someone your age," Grace said.

"Other grandkids?" Adam questioned.

"Oh, I hope you don't mind if I consider you a grandchild too," Grace smiled.

"No, I don't," Adam beamed. "What do I call you?"

"The other kids call us grandma and grandpa," Grace said.

"Okay, Grandma," Adam said.

"Adam, Amy said you love animals," Walter said.

"Yeah, we have two dogs," Adam said. "Their names are Brandy and Lucky."

"Come with me, then, I have something to show you," Walter said. "You guys are welcome to come too."

"You have a donkey!" Adam exclaimed when Walter took him to the pasture in back.

"Actually, it's a mule," Walter explained.

"What's a mule?"

"A mule's a cross between a donkey and a horse."

"What do you do with it, do you ride it?"

"I don't ride him, but the other grandkids sometimes do. I use him to plow the garden."

"Haden and I use a tiller."

"I'm old fashioned. We couldn't afford tractors when I farmed, so we used teams of mules."

"What's his name?"


"You have goats too!"

"Yes, I like to keep them to keep the brush and weeds from taking over the place."

"What's that black thing in your barn?"

"That's a buggy. I bought it and a horse from an Amish man a few years ago. When the other grandkids get here, we'll hitch Jasper to it and take you for a ride. Would you like that?"

"Oh yeah, that'd be fun. Where's the horse?"

"He's around here somewhere. I see your cousins are here... let's go inside so you can meet them."

"Adam, come in and meet your cousins," Grace called out when she heard the group come inside. "This is Ethan and his sister Hanna. They belong to Scott and Carol. Ethan is your age and Hanna is six. And this is Wade, he's eight and belongs to Julie and Carl."

The meal served was delicious. Besides the chicken and dumplings, there was slaw and stir fried squash - yellow squash and zucchini sauted with onions in olive oil and butter. For dessert, there was a choice of pecan or apple pie served a la mode.

"Grandpa, will you take us on a buggy ride now?" Ethan asked, as soon as he'd finished his pie.

"Let me finish my coffee first," Walter insisted.

"I'll go harness Jasper and hitch him to the buggy," Scott offered.

"I'll help," Haden offered.

"I can manage, but come along and keep me company," Scott said.

"I've never seen a horse being harnessed," Haden admitted.

"There isn't much to it, once you've done it a few times. I understand you're a college student."

"Technically, I'm still a high school student. I only needed Senior English to graduate, so I'm taking advance placement English and get both college and high school credit."

"Julie was the smart one of our family. I understand you and Amy are honor students."

"Perry and Adam are smart too, but Perry was more interested in sports than grades. He's taking college classes now and makes good grades. Did you go to college?"

"Yes, I have a business degree, but I wasn't an A student. I had a C or two mixed with As and Bs. Now, hop on the buggy and we'll drive around front. I'm sure the grandkids have Dad out front waiting for us."

Scott was correct; Walter was waiting out front with his young grandchildren clamoring around him. Adam was among his newfound cousins anticipating the ride.

"That was fun, Grandpa," Adam said, when he hopped off of the buggy. "Thank you."

"We'll go for a ride again next time you come for a visit," Walter said."

"Cool," Adam grinned.

"I see that Dad's back with the kids," Scott said. "I'll go un-harness Jasper, so Dad can come inside and warm up. It seems to be getting colder out."

"I'll go help," Haden offered.

"I'll go too," Perry offered.

"Why don't you feed the animals for your dad while you're out there?" Grace asked.

"Dad, take the kids inside and warm up," Scott advised. "We'll take care of Jasper and feed the animals."

"Uncle Scott, I didn't want to ask in front of Grandma, but what was Mom like when you were growing up?" Haden questioned.

"Yeah, I'd like to know too," Perry added.

"Brenda was never very happy, as I recall," Scott began. "Mom and Dad never had much, but they loved us... that was never enough for Brenda. I worked in the fields with Mom and Dad as far back as I can remember. Brenda was left with the housework responsibilities. Julie being the youngest had chores, but not to the extent that we did. Brenda seemed to blame Mom and Dad because we were poor. Frankly, I was happy when she and Darrell got married and she left home. Julie ended up with the housework, but she and I knew that Mom and Dad loved us."

"I was happy to see her go myself," Haden admitted.

"She's the reason I joined the army to get away from home," Perry confessed.

"I'm surprised she and Darrell ever got married," Scott said. "He seems like a really great guy."

"Mom was pregnant with me when Dad married her, although he isn't my biological dad," Perry declared.

"You know that?" Scott asked.

"I found out when I was home on leave after basic training," Perry said. "But Dad's the only dad I've known."

"Yeah, she went off on Perry and bellowed it out," Haden said.

"And you had no clue?" Scott questioned.

"I didn't, Dad treated me no different than he did Haden and Amy," Perry stated in a trembling voice.

"I'm pissed that we grew up not knowing Grandma and Grandpa as well as you and Aunt Julie," Haden said.

"I know; we missed out too," Scott agreed. "Mom tried to keep track of her, but soon after Amy was born we moved to another farm near here. Mom tried to see Brenda and her family, but Brenda wouldn't allow it. She wouldn't even take her phone calls. Eventually, Mom just gave up. We thought we were rich when Dad went to work at the university. And when Mom went to work for the school, we thought we were really living high."

"Grandma and Grandpa have a nice place here," Perry observed.

"You should have seen it when they first bought it," Scott remarked. "Many of the windows were broken out, the roof leaked, and the plumbing and electrical had to be redone. We managed to get it livable and moved in. Little by little, we made improvement as we could afford them. What you see are the results."

"We need to get back home," Darrell said when the three came back inside.

"Can't you stay longer?" Walter asked.

"We need to get home, so Adam can take care of the dogs," Darrell responded.

"Please come back for a visit soon," Grace said. "We have a lot of catching up to do."

"Yes, we do," Darrell agreed. "I realize now that I should have put my foot down and saw that my kids got to know their family."

"Adam, when you come back on a warmer day, we'll let you ride Jack or Jasper," Walter offered.

"Neat," Adam said.

"Neat is his new word," Darrell laughed.

"Dad, I had fun," Adam said on the drive back home. "I'm glad you made me go. I like my cousins too."

"They weren't what I expected," Haden remarked.

"What did you expect?" Darrell asked.

"I don't know, I guess I expected them to be more like hillbillies," Haden said.

"Grace said she and Walter got married right after they graduated from high school," Darrell said. "They couldn't find employment, so Walter went to work for a farmer and they became sharecroppers. Once they had kids, they couldn't seem to get ahead to get out of the rut they were in. They were poor, but not uneducated."

"I hope we get to go back soon," Adam said.

"We're invited back for Thanksgiving," Darrell said. "Grace wants to meet Rita too."

"She knows about Rita?" Amy asked.

"Yes, she asked if I was seeing anyone, so I told her about Rita," Darrell explained.

"Kids, sit down," Darrell said in a serious tone when he arrived home from work a few days after the visit with the grandparents. "We need to have a family talk."

"This sounds serious," Haden said.

"It is, Paul came by the store today and said he's selling the store," Darrell said.

"What?" Amy and Haden both questioned.

"Yes, it's pretty much a done deal already," Darrell said.

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