Castle Roland

Ten Steps Down

by Owen Hudson


Chapter 17

Posted: 11 Dec 14

The house seemed empty with James away. He was my little brother and could be a nuisance at times.

However, in addition to becoming my little brother, he was my best friend. I even noticed that Mom had tears in her eyes as James and Justin drove away.

I went to the den to keep Dad company, but he was napping. I then went to the kitchen where Mom and Grandma were busy planning menus for the week and making a grocery list. "It sure is quiet here with James being away," I commented.

"I know, Honey," Mom said. "We miss him too. But he needs to get to know his other family."

"I know," I agreed. "Do you think they'll try to get James to go live with them?"

"They're good people," Mom said. "I doubt they'd do that."

"James loves this family," Grandma said. "He also loves his grandparents, but this is his family."

"You're right, Margaret," Mom said. "Honey, Margaret and I are going grocery shopping. I'm sure your dad would enjoy your company."

"You don't have to worry, Mom," I said. "If Dad needs anything I'll take care of him."

I went to my room and got the book I was currently reading before joining Dad in the den. I wasn't surprised that he was still napping. I quietly entered the room and opened the book to my bookmark. I read a couple of paragraphs before I became drowsy. I guess it was the combination of the cozy fire in the fireplace and the rhythmic ticking of the mantel clock, but I soon fell asleep.

When I woke, Dad was awake and smiling at me. "I thought I was the only one that napped in here," he said.

"I came in here to read, but I got warm and comfortable and fell asleep," I said. "I'm going to make myself a cup of tea. Would you like something?"

"A cup of tea does sound good," Dad said. "Where's your mom?"

"She and Grandma went grocery shopping. I'll be right back with our tea."

"No wonder it's quiet around here, with your mom and James both gone," Dad said, when I returned with the tea.

"Dad, do you think they'll try to talk James into staying with them?"

"No, I don't. They seem like good people."

"That's exactly what Mom said. But what if they did?"

"It would break my heart to let James go. We want him to know his grandparents and other relatives, but James is our son and your brother. I hope we never have to make the decision to let him go."

"This is some tea that Grandma brought. I'm going to ask Mom to get some."

"This is good tea. I don't think I've had it before."

"Dad, did you worry about letting James go visit his grandparents?"

"I don't know if it was worry or the fact that he would be away for a few days. You know when Dan came back into your life we worried that you would decide to go live with him. After all, he is your biological dad. It would have been easier for him to take you than it would for James' grandparents to take him. Since we have officially adopted both of you, you're our sons."

"I would never have volunteered to go live with Dan. He gave up all rights to be my dad when he left when I was eight. I know he has regrets for what he did, but you and Mom are my parents now."

"Libby and I consider ourselves to be very lucky to have the two great sons that we now have. You boys have never required discipline.

"You took us in and gave us a safe loving home. I hear Mom and Grandma. I'd better go help carry in the groceries."

"You boys give us more than we can ever give you, and you've just proved my point."

"Hi, Mom and Grandma," I said. "Are there more groceries to bring in?"

"Yes, Dear, there're three or four more," Mom said. "Is your dad awake?"

"Yes, we were having a nice chat," I said, as I went to the garage to get the remaining bags of groceries.

"So, what were you two chatting about?" Mom asked, when I returned with the bags.

"I was worried about James' grandparents trying to talk him into staying," I admitted.

"James would never leave this family," Grandma said. "He loves all of you."

"Honey, James is our son and your brother," Mom said. "Nothing will change that. We want him to know and love his grandparents, but he's our son. You're worrying too much. We've already had this conversation."

"Yeah, that's what Dad said," I admitted.

"Now, do me a favor and check the basement bathroom," Mom said. "Your uncles will be here anytime."

"I didn't know that they were coming this weekend," I said.

"They didn't want James to know," Mom said. "They thought he might decide that he should stay home rather than go visit his grandparents. Did James call yet? I asked him to call when they arrived there."

"No, he hasn't called," I said. "But they may not be there yet."

"I'm sure they would stop and eat on the way," Grandma said.

"That was James," Mom said, as she hung up the phone when I returned. "They arrived safely. He said to remind you to feed Jake."

"I guess I'll go do that now," I said

Jake must have been hungry since he came running when he saw me with his food bowl. His ear perked up when I said, "James went to see his grandparents, so I'll be feeding you this week."

I talked to Jake while he ate, and each time I mentioned James he stopped eating and wagged his tail. I wasn't sure how he knew James' name, or if he really did know it, but he seemed to. Suddenly Jake stopped eating and ran toward the driveway, as Uncle Jason and Uncle Ryan drove up. Jake greeted each before circling the car a couple of times.

"What's with Jake?" Uncle Ryan asked.

"He misses James and he must think that James might be in the car," I said.

When I mentioned James, Jake stopped and looked at me as if to ask, "Where is he?"

"I think you're right," Uncle Jason laughed. "But, I doubt he is the only one around here that misses him."

"Yeah, I know that I do," I admitted.

"Look who's here," I said, when we entered the house.

"Hi, guys," Dad said. "Sit down and have a cup of tea with me. I was surprised to see Dad at the kitchen table with a cup of tea.

"Don, I thought you were a coffee man," Uncle Jason said.

"I am, but Craig made me a cup of tea that Margret brought over," Dad said. "It's really good."

"I put on some water for the tea and it should be ready soon," Grandma said. "This is some tea that one of my neighbors introduced me to."

"I bought some when Margaret and I went to the store today," Mom said.

"Wow, this is good tea," Uncle Ryan said.

"Will Dan be coming over?" Uncle Jason asked.

"Yes, I called and invited him and Nicole over for dinner," Mom said.

"Good," Uncle Jason said. "Craig, when he gets here we need to discuss the probate of the house. You will officially take ownership Monday. I have a purchase agreement for Dan to sign. Since you're a minor, Libby and Don will sign for you. Dan has already arranged financing, and it shouldn't take long before we close. I've already explained everything to Dan when I called him earlier."

"I see that Dan and Nicole are here now," Mom said, as the doorbell rang.

"What do you plan to do with all of that money?" Uncle Ryan asked, after everybody said their hellos.

"I'm going to let Dad invest it for me," I said. "I would like to keep out enough to take us all on a family vacation."

"Son, I think I can afford to pay for a family vacation," Dad said.

"I know, Dad," I said. "But this is something that I want to do. I've been thinking about this for a long time."

"Where would you like to go?" Uncle Jason asked.

"I'd like to see the Grand Canyon," I said. "I know that James wants to see it too."

"If you like, I'll have our travel agent check everything for you," Uncle Ryan said. "Who will be going?"

"The entire family," I said. "That would be the four of us, you and Uncle Jason, Dan and Nicole, and Grandma. I think that would be nine of us."

"When would you want to go?" Uncle Ryan asked.

"Sometime after school is out and when Dad is feeling well enough to go," I said. "Maybe mid-July would be good."

"Son, I'm not going to let you pay for everything," Dad said. "We'll all contribute."

"Don, I agree with you," Grandma said. "I still have all that insurance money from when my house was burned. I'll pay my own way."

"We'll pay our own way too," Uncle Jason added.

"I can afford to pay for Nicole and myself," Dan added. "You need to let Don invest that money for you."

"This is something that I want to do," I argued.

"Craig, if you insist why don't you pay for the transportation and let everybody else pay for their own lodging and meals?" Mom asked.

"That sounds like an excellent idea to me," Grandma said.

"I suspect it would still be a substantial amount of money just for transportation," Dan said.

"You'll be paying me a substantial amount for the house," I smiled.

"Why don't we rent a nine passenger van and just drive," Dad said. "I'm sure that would be less than $1,000. We certainly couldn't fly us all there for that."

"I'll check out all the options and then we can decide," Uncle Ryan said.

"Find out if we can ride the mules into the canyon," I said. "I saw them on TV and I'll bet that would be fun."

"Count me out on that," Grandma protested. "I'm too old to be riding a mule."

"Grandma, you just think you're old," I laughed. "You're still young."

"Maybe so, but I'm not getting on a mule to ride down into that canyon," Grandma said.

"I'm not either," Mom added.

"Come on, be a sport," I teased.

"Forget it," Mom laughed. "I'd have trouble staying on a horse these days. No telling what would happen if I were on a mule going down the side of a canyon wall."

"I'd ride a mule," Nicole announced.

"I don't think they'd let you," Dan said.

"Why not?" Nicole asked in disappointment.

"I think you're too young," Dan explained.

"I'll check out all of the options," Uncle Ryan said. "We'll come back next weekend when James is here, and then we'll come to some agreement."

"Now everybody out of my kitchen, so that Margaret and I can cook dinner," Mom ordered.

"I told James that I would feed Jake," Nicole said, as we all began to disperse from the kitchen.

"I've already fed him," I said. "But you can feed him Monday."

"Could I bring Jade to keep him company?" Nicole asked.

"I think Jake would enjoy her company," I chuckled.

"Good morning, you're up early," Mom said, when I went to the kitchen the next morning.

"I guess I'm just used to getting up early for school," I said.

"You miss him, don't you?" Grandma asked, as she handed me a cup of coffee.

"Yeah, I do," I admitted.

"You don't have to worry, he'll be coming back home," Mom said, as she walked over and gave me a hug.

"I know," I said. "But I can't help worrying. Is Dad awake yet?"

"He's in the shower," Mom said.

"Mom, I read online that patients on radiation did better with some exercise," I said.

"The doctor didn't mention anything about that," Mom said. "Print that for me and we'll show it to the doctor."

"Good morning everybody," Uncle Ryan said, as he came into the kitchen and poured himself a cup of coffee before Grandma could.

"Where is my lazy brother?" Mom joked.

"He's in the shower," Uncle Ryan said, as he began going through the refrigerator and commenced taking items out. "How do omelets sound for breakfast?"

"Ryan, I'll make breakfast," Mom protested. "Sit down and enjoy your coffee."

"No, let someone else do for you for a change," Uncle Ryan said.

"Margaret is the one that keeps things going around here," Mom said. "I don't know how I would have managed without her help."

"It's the least I could do after all this family has done for me," Grandma said.

"That smells good," Dad said, as he came into the kitchen.

"Uncle Ryan is making omelets for breakfast," I said, as I gave Dad his cup of coffee.

"Thanks, Son," Dad said. "Is Jason still sleeping?"

"No, he isn't," Uncle Jason laughed, as he came around the corner and into the kitchen.

"This is really good, Uncle Ryan," I said, as I began to devour my omelet.

"It sure is," Dad said, as he too seemed to be enjoying his omelet.

"I think I'll go get the chores done," I said, shortly after breakfast.

"I'll go help you," Uncle Jason offered. "I used to help Don some before you and James came along."

"I'll take what help I can get," I joked.

"I'd better clean up my mess here or Libby won't let me cook in her kitchen again," Uncle Ryan said.

"I can clean up," Mom said.

"Nope, I made the mess and I'll clean it up," Uncle Ryan maintained.

Uncle Jason did know what needed to be done and helped me make quick work of the chores. "I'll help you again tomorrow when we get back from the court house," Uncle Jason said, as he filled the automatic feeder.

"Oh, I thought you would be going back to Topeka today," I said.

"No, remember I said that we had to go to the court house tomorrow," Uncle Jason said.

"You didn't tell me," I said.

"Didn't I? I thought I did," Uncle Jason said. "One of us must be getting forgetful. Anyway, you, Libby, and I will be going to the court house. Ryan will be driving Don for his treatment."

"Why do Mom and I need to go to the court house?" I asked.

"You're still a minor, and one of your parents may need to sign some court documents," Uncle Jason explained. "It's just routine crap. Probate isn't something that I do, however this is pretty routine since you're the only surviving next of kin."

Dan dropped Nicole and Jade off as we were departing for the courthouse. Jade was out of the car, as soon as Nicole opened the door, and ran to greet Jake. After the typical 'doggy greeting' Jake ran toward the pasture with Jade chasing after him. They were still playing 'tag' as we drove away.

Uncle Jason was right about the probate being routine. We were in and out of the courthouse in no time. I was now the legal owner of the house where Dan and Nicole lived. It would soon be Dan's.

"We're not in a hurry to get back are we?" Mom asked, as we walked toward the parking lot.

"No, Sis, what did you have in mind?" Uncle Jason asked.

"I want to buy something for Margaret," Mom said. "I want to get something that she wouldn't buy herself. She would never take money, but I want her to know how much we appreciate her."

"What did you have in mind?" Uncle Jason asked.

"Maybe something from the jewelry store," Mom said, but she didn't sound all that sure.

"Mom, you know how Grandma is," I said. "She isn't into jewelry, and she hardly every wears what she has."

"I guess you're right," Mom admitted.

"I noticed that they've opened a new spa here in town," Uncle Jason said. "Have you thought about a gift certificate for that?"

"That's a wonderful suggestion," Mom said. "Several people that have been there raved about it."

After Mom bought the gift certificate for Grandma and we were walking toward the car, I quietly said to Uncle Jason, "Keep Mom occupied. I'm going to get her a gift certificate too."

"It was for $500.00," Uncle Jason said. "Do you need some money?"

"No, I have my debit card," I said.

"What are you two up to?" Mom asked.

"Craig has to pee," Uncle Jason quickly answered. "We'll wait in the car while he goes back inside to pee."

"Can't you hold it until we get home?" Mom asked, sounding somewhat annoyed.

"I'm sorry, Mom," I said, as I gave a little pretend dance.

"Well, hurry then," Mom said. "I don't want to leave all of the house work for Margaret to do."

"I want to get the same gift certificate for my mom that she just bought for my grandma," I said, when I went back inside.

"Well, that was for $500.00," the woman said in a sarcastic tone. "Do you have $500.00?"

"No, I thought I could use Monopoly money," I shot back.

I heard a giggle from another woman who approached us and said, "Lisa, I'll help him."

"Wise ass," Lisa mumbled, as she walked away.

"Bitch," I said, loud enough for Lisa to hear.

"I'm sorry about that," the other woman said. "I'm Sheila Walker, the owner. I may need to let her go."

"You don't need to on my account," I said. "She does need some training on dealing with the public."

"I'll certainly do that," Sheila said. "Now let's get you taken care of. I assume you're mom doesn't know why you came back in here."

"She doesn't," I admitted. "I want the same that she bought for Grandma."

Grandma was very surprised that Mom purchased the spa gift certificate for her. "Now, Libby, you know that this wasn't necessary," she argued.

"It's the least I could do after all you've done for our family lately," Mom countered. "You certainly do deserve it."

"And so do you," I said, as I handed Mom her gift certificate.

"Craig, you sneak," Mom said. "I should have known you were up to something when you went back inside. But you take this and get your money back."

"No, Mom," I said. "You deserve it too. Besides, I'm sure Grandma would like company when she goes."

"I can pay for it myself," Mom argued.

"But you wouldn't," I responded.

"Now you two stop arguing and sit down for lunch," Grandma laughed.

After lunch, Uncle Jason and I did the chores and were back in the den when Dad and Uncle Ryan returned from Dad's treatments. Dad seemed in good spirits and wasn't as fatigued as he normally was following his treatments. "Craig, I showed that paper about exercise to the doctor and he said that he would research it more," Dad said. "He said that it made sense and that he would let me know tomorrow after he talked to some of his colleagues."

"Tell them the best news," Uncle Ryan excitedly said.

"He also said that my cancer was responding to the treatments," Dad said.

"Wow, that's great," I said, as I gave Dad a big hug.

"Grandma said that you men would probably be ready for some freshly baked cookies that we made," Nicole said, as she brought in a plate of cookies. She was obviously enjoying the adult role.

"Who wants tea and who wants coffee?" Mom asked, as she placed a tray with carafes of tea and coffee on the coffee table.

It was a festive like atmosphere as we enjoyed our cookies and hot beverages. Most of all we were all pleased with Dad's good news.

Shortly after dinner, Uncle Ryan and Uncle Jason departed for Topeka. The house still felt empty with James gone. Quietness settled in like a fog into a valley. Dad soon announced that he was tired and going to bed. Although I wasn't tired, I too decided to go to bed. Even though I wasn't tired I fell asleep rather quickly.

I awoke the next morning to the aroma of bacon cooking. After using the bathroom, I went to the kitchen expecting to find Grandma. Instead it was Mom cooking breakfast, and Dad was drinking coffee.

"Good morning, you're up early," Mom said. "Breakfast will be ready soon."

"Good morning," I said. "You're both up early too."

"We woke up early," Mom said. "I guess it was because we all went to bed early."

"Good morning," Grandma said, as she joined us. "Libby, why didn't you wake me?"

"Margaret, you already do too much around her," Mom argued.

"Here's your coffee," I said, before Grandma could disagree with Mom.

"Craig, I'm going to leave my credit card and I want you to take James' car to be serviced," Dad said during breakfast. "I'm going to start teaching him to drive. While you're there, have them put new tires on it too. I noticed that the ones on it were rather well worn."

"James will be ecstatic when he hears that he gets to learn to drive," I said.

"Please don't tell him," Dad said. "He gets overly excited about things like that."

"That's for sure," Grandma laughed.

I had about half the chores done when Mom and Dad arrived home from his treatment. Dad joined me with a smile. "The doctor said that doing some light exercise would be good for me," Dad said.

"Remember that he said 'light' exercise," Mom said. "Craig, don't let him over do it."

"You both are pigheaded," I laughed. "You two can settle this argument without my interference."

"Speaking of pigs, let's get started," Dad quickly said, as Mom was shaking her head while walking toward the house.

"Dad, what made you decide to raise hogs rather than cattle?" I asked, as we worked. "I know that you have a small herd of cows, but it's mostly hogs."

"Cattle prices were fluctuating," Dad began. "When the prices dropped it seemed to take too long for them to recover. When hog prices drop, it doesn't take so long."

"Why's that?"

"Hogs are ready to breed at about six months old, but cattle at about two years. You see, Son, when prices drop it takes about three years for cattle to adjust, however, with hogs it takes a little less than a year."

"That makes sense, but it seems to me that hogs require more labor."

"That's because we only have a few cows. The automatic feeders and waterier system saves a lot of labor."

"Dad, when do you want James and me to start planting?"

"I've leased the land to Cal Melton. I don't want you and James to miss any school putting in the crops."

"We can manage."

"I have no doubt about that, but I want you boys to enjoy your teenage years, and not be like hired hands."

"Dad, we're all finished and you didn't even stop to rest."

"I'm a little tired, but it felt good to be out here again," Dad said, as we entered the house.

"You'd better sit down and rest before dinner," Mom ordered.

"Libby, I'm fine," Dad said. "It was good to be able to do a little work again. Anyway, Craig had most of it already done."

"James will be home Saturday and he'll be able to help Craig," Mom said.

"Oh, my goodness!" Grandma exclaimed. "James called this morning while everybody was out. I don't know how I could forget that."

"What did he have to say?" I asked.

"They were on their way to Oklahoma City," Grandma said. "He said something about going to the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. They are also going to the Science Museum, and a few other places. He seemed excited about it and is having a good time."

The week seemed to drag on forever with James away. Dad seemed to be gaining strength since he had increased his activity level. The entire family was looking forward to James' visit with his grandparents to be over.

"What have you found out about the Grand Canyon vacation?" I asked Uncle Ryan, as soon as he and Uncle Jason arrived Friday evening.

"Let's wait until James is here and we'll only have to go over it once," Uncle Ryan said.

"Can't you tell me about some of it?" I impatiently asked.

"Craig, be patient and wait until James is here," Mom said.

"What time will they be here tomorrow?" I asked.

"I talked to Debra earlier, and they plan to leave Pratt at about 8:30 tomorrow morning," Mom said.

"It's about a four and a half hour drive," Dad said. "They should be here around one or so."

"I want to be here when James gets here," Nicole said.

"You're more than welcome to be here," Mom smiled. "We'll have a light lunch and then a big family dinner tomorrow evening."

"So that's why Grandma has been busy baking all week," Nicole said.

"I enjoy baking," Grandma said, as she gave Nicole a grandmotherly hug.

James arrived with the Herringtons at about one, as Dad had predicted. We all took turns hugging him and welcoming his grandparents as soon as he was out of the car. Jake and Jade came running from the pasture where they had been exploring. Both gave him a big doggy kiss.

"I'm glad Jade came to visit me," James said.

We all laughed when Nicole said, "She came to visit Jake."

"Come on inside for some lunch," Mom said, while trying to round everybody up.

"This looks wonderful," Debra said when she saw the table with trays of sandwiches, vegetable trays, and fruit trays.

"James, we're going to the Grand Canyon," Nicole said, between bites of her sandwich.

"I don't think we were supposed to say anything yet," Dan said.

"Who's going?" James asked

"We all are," Nicole said, as she looked at Dan as if to say 'the cat is already out of the bag.'

"When?" James asked.

"We haven't really decided yet," Uncle Ryan said. "We were going to have a meeting this weekend to decide."

"Oh, James, you'll love it," Debra said.

"Would you and Wendell like to go too?" Mom asked.

"Thank you for asking, but we went last year," Debra said. "We'd be happy to help you with your planning."

"We'll do that after we finish lunch," Uncle Ryan said. "James, why don't you tell us about your visit with your grandparents?"

"We went to Dodge City, and I got to see Boot Hill," James said. "I thought that was just on TV. We also went to Oklahoma City, and saw the Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. It was really cool. We went to see the Science Museum, and it was really cool too. You're not going to believe this, but Uncle Justin got tickets to the Oklahoma City Thunder NBA basketball game. That was really a lot of fun."

"It sounds like you had a great time," Mom said.

"I did," James admitted.

"We hope you'll let him come back for a visit this summer," Debra said. "Craig, we want you to come too."

"Of course they may go," Mom said.

After James, Nicole and I cleared the table, Uncle Ryan put several brochures on the table. "It looks like Don was right about renting a van," Uncle Ryan began. "We can get a nice van for about $900. If we fly there it would be around $500 per person. You can easily see the savings, if we drive."

"Can we ride the mules down into the canyon?" James asked.

"We're too late for that," Uncle Ryan said. "Reservations have to be made at least nine months in advance. However, we can take the helicopter tour. The cost of that is about $250.00 a person."

"We took that tour," Debra said. "It was fabulous. There's also a pontoon boat ride, but I didn't go on that. I watched the twins so that everybody else could go."

"It was a lot of fun," Wendell said.

"I sure wish we could ride the mules," James said.

"You'll still have fun," Wendell said.

"I know, Grandpa," James said. "But it would still be fun."

Wendell and Debra gave helpful input as we discussed our vacation plans. The consensus was that we would go shortly after the fourth of July.

"I wasn't sure you would be coming back home," I said, as James and I drove to school Monday morning.

My heart sank when James said, "Grandma and Grandpa did say that they would like for me to come and live with them."

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