Just when I was sure things couldn't get any worse, I heard a commotion behind us. I turned around just in time to see Pieter slip through the grasp of one of the deputies and bolt out of the courtroom. Carl started after his new son but was cut off by the same officer.
Cindy and I were exchanging worried glances when we heard his high-pitched scream from the hallway. "Calm down, no one will hurt you," came big Ronnie's voice. "Quit squirming, I don't want to drop you!" he pleaded. We looked back toward the door as he stepped into the room, with an armload of frightened kid. Pieter buried his face in the man's shoulder when he saw the cops.
Edwardo and Ruben, completely white-faced were right behind being escorted by Mary. The already huge knot in my gut tightened and grew when three more deputy sheriffs came into view right behind them.
"Would someone care to tell me what I going on here?" Rodriguez again asked.
"We've had a security breach," one of the new cops answered. "These people tried to smuggle a weapon into the building, and hidden in a kid's clothing," he continued as he held out what I was sure was Mark's gavel. "Two of them ran on us, but we'll find them."
"The brat claimed some judge told him to bring it to court," a tall, overweight female officer sneered. "Sure, that's why he ran on us."
I saw red when Mary snarled, "He ran because you slapped him! And as I told you, Judge Rodriguez did, , ,"
I didn't realize I was lunging toward the big cop until Rodriguez face appeared an inch or so from mine. "Doctor! Doctor, control yourself!" he barked. I started to push him out of the way until I saw his gigantic bailiff and two more cops right behind him.
"You hit my s, , ," I began.
"Did you strike Mark? You struck a twelve year-old boy?" the judge cut me off.
"I did not! He lunged to get his weapon back and ran into my hand. And that other brat kicked me, and tried to bite me! And that brat, , ," the big women began, pointing at johnny began.
"You struck him, and his mouth is bleeding," Mary thundered.
"She did Dad, she hit Mark right in the mouth!" Johnny cut her off as he pushed under my arm. "She was gonna hit him with that thing too she was!" he added, pointing a mace can on her gun-belt.
"Judge, I need to, talk to you in your chambers immediately," I proclaimed, handing Johnny off to Cindy.
"Doctor Owens, I'm afraid, , ,"
"NOW! It's an emergency!" I barked as I pushed past the bailiffs. A little to my surprise the judge followed behind me.
"Mark, Ronnie, please come here," I began after the two of us entered the office. I ignored Rodriguez questioning look and tried, "Just Judge Rodriguez and I are here, it's okay. Please Mark, I understand you are hurt."
A couple of seconds later I was about to try again when we saw the chair behind the judge's desk moved slightly, then slowly rolled away from the desk. After a tense second or so a small amount of golden blond hair appeared behind the desk. It ever so slowly grew until a pair of frightened, almost animal-like eyes appeared and glanced around the room, then quickly disappeared.
"Come on guys, it's Pop, it's okay, I promise," I risked.
I was trying to decide if I should walk behind the desk when two crops of hair appeared. Very slowly the tufts of hair grew into a pair of identical faces, then the rest of my sons. Mark whimpered something I couldn't understand and pushed even more tightly against his brother when I started toward them. I gasp when I saw a red spot on his cheek.
"Come here guys, everything is alright, I promise," I risked, extending my arms toward them. They reluctantly shuffled to me, but fell into my grasp as I pulled them into a hug. "It's okay, Dad's here, everything is going to be okay," I whispered to the top of their heads.
A minute or so later I ushered them to a nearby chair and sat down. I tried to guide Mark to stand between my legs so I could examine his face and mouth, but ended up with a lapful of him instead. I stroked his back and shoulders for the better part of a minute before I finally managed to pry his pixie little face off my chest enough to have a look.
I had just convinced him to open his mouth when Rodriguez' voice distracted me. "Is he injured? Should we summon he paramedics?"
My eyes bugged slightly when I looked over to answer. Ronnie's back was tightly pressed against the old man's stomach, the majority of his body buried in the man's judge's robe. Rodriguez was clutching the boy's thin chest with both hands as affectionately as the most loving grandfather would.
I took a second to look inside Mark's mouth before answering, "He's okay, his braces cut the inside of his cheek slightly. Do you have a first-aid kit? I just need a couple of gauze pads." The old man gave Ronnie a quick squeeze before rushing to a nearby filing cabinet.
"Do you have any wax?" I asked my sons after I pushed a piece of gauze between Mark's cheek and appliances. "Braces wax?" When they both shook their heads that they did not I added, "Ronnie, go see if any of the other kids have any."
"Is that urgent?" Rodriguez asked. When I looked he had resumed his cuddle with Ronnie. "Mark, did the deputy strike you?" Mark's only response was a whimper as stuffed his face into my chest and shoulder.
"She did!" Ronnie declared. "She smacked him and told him to shut up and she was gonna do it again!"
Rodriguez' dark, Hispanic facial complexion turned ghost white and I could have sworn I saw heat waves coming off the top of his head. "Please go tell everyone that your brother is okay, and try to locate what your father requests," he told his snuggle partner, his voice very professional even though it seemed to lower the room's temperature several degrees.
"Wax, remember?" I answered Ronnie's lost expression. He darted out into the courtroom, Rodriguez right behind.
"Bailiff!" the judge thundered, so loud I'm sure the horses heard it. "Contact the Sheriff and asked him to come here immediately," I heard him say in a quieter voice. "Tell him if he's not here in ten minutes I will issue a Bench Warrant on him. And get that bull dike out of my courtroom, find her a holding cell." He didn't wait for an answer, slammed the door and walked to Mark and I.
"Should we continue the hearing, or do you think he can go forward?" he asked me. "Can you, and the other parties, do you think everyone is up to going forward?" he added before I could answer.
"Do you want to go home?" I asked the back of my second skin's blond hair.
"You may, but I think your friends would like to get new parents today, it would provide an excellent beginning to the weekend. However, I cannot go forward without your help." I bit my lip when I saw the old judge holding a gavel out.
"It's up to you son, but I think you should look at someone and answer them when they address, talk to you."
Mark's face was priceless as he reluctantly looked up. His mouth dropped onto his chin before he snatched the gavel and pulled it against his chest. My chin dropped when the judge leaned over and kissed the top of the boy's head and retrieved the gavel. "Go wash your face and fix your clothes, I must polish this before you use it," he instructed.
Once the hearing finally got underway everything moved along surprisingly quickly. Right after Mark hammered the court into session and we did a few seconds of formalities, Rodriguez and Ronnie disappeared into the judge's chambers. A couple of minutes later the boy came back into the courtroom and assumed his traditional role, escorting the other kids in one at a time in, then standing guard at the door between the chambers and courtroom. He was so precious I had to wipe my eyes when he escorted Pieter, despite his all but panicked complaints, inside the office to see the judge and reappeared, smiling, a second later.
Rodriguez came into the courtroom a few minutes later with Pieter tucked under his arm. He nodded at my eldest son, who led the other kids into chambers, tucking Pieter under his arm on the way. The judge pushed a chair in front of our table and motioned the state's attorney to move to our table.
"I have one concern regarding the Sanchez case," he began, making my throat sink into my stomach and Cindy stiffen so quickly the table shook. "This petition requests that Doctor Julio Sanchez be named guardian of the minor children Edwardo and Ruben, with the intention to adopt same. According to Doctor Owens' pre-adoption investigation, Doctor Sanchez and his brother Ronald live together both here and in Virginia, as they have all of their adult lives, that they intend to share the parental responsibilities of these children. Is this correct?"
The tension in the room was so thick it was hard to breathe as all of us tried to figure where he was going. "Yes sir," Cindy finally answered almost in a whisper.
"Doctor Owens further states that Mister Ronald Sanchez has moved to San Antonio, but Doctor Sanchez is currently commuting to Virginia, and will continue to do so until he can dissolve his professional commitments there. May I ask how long this will take?"
I could feel several pair of eyes drilling into my skull. I somewhat wished they would penetrate and take me out of my misery as began to realize I had screwed up probably the most important evaluation I had ever written.
"I would estimate about three months, sir," Jay said. "However, after a month or so, I will be spending only one or two days a week away."
Rodriguez grunted in acknowledgment, then scanned a couple of documents before him. "It is the court's opinion this sort of situation would not be in the best interest of the children, I'm a little disappointed Doctor Owens recommended it," he stated. My heart sank down to my toes as he slid the decree back to Cindy.
"Mister Sanchez, you have expressed a willingness to assume a moral obligation regarding the children's rearing, would you be willing to accept a legal commitment?" he asked toward Ronnie.
"Yes sir, I would be honored to."
"Does either council have any objection to having Doctor Sanchez named the children's guardian, and Mister Sanchez being granted a managing conservatorship of them?"
Both lawyers quickly agreed. "So ordered, petitioner will draft, submission by close of business." I was trying to interrupt what he had said when he continued.
"Now, on to other business to save the court's time. In regards to the minor child Pieter, the court has a petition before it to remove this child from INS custody, and name him a ward of this court such that adoption proceedings can begin. After speaking with the child, I, , ," he stopped in mid-sentence, his face flushing with anger. "Bailiff, I ordered this courtroom sealed, what is that man doing in here?" he roared.
When I turned to follow his gaze I saw a man with a huge gold badge on his almost gaudy western style shirt, along with somewhere between a cannon and a pistol on his hip, standing just inside the door. "Sheriff Zapata, you sent for me sir," the man boomed, flashing a politician's smile that would have made Jimmy Carter spend hours in front of the mirror refining his.
"You will seat yourself in the hall until I summon you! Bailiff, remove this man immediately!" the judge thundered. I felt a little sorry for the big bailiff as he hustled what I was sure was his boss out of the room. I almost felt sorry for the sheriff when Rodriguez turned to me and snarled, "Rest assured I will deal with the incident involving Mark.
"Please excuse the interruption," he continued, cutting a glare toward his bailiff. "Regarding Pieter, after speaking with him, he is either going to be adopted or end up in one of Doctor Owens' rubber rooms. Further Doctor Owens investigation completely justifies adoption as the best interest of Pieter. Is there any reason for us to conduct two hearings, that I should not grant Doctor and Mrs Roberts guardianship while we are here?"
The state's attorney immediately agreed. When Cindy didn't reply I glanced at her; she was staring into space with her mouth agape. "Councilor?" the judge asked.
"No sir, of course not," Cindy gasp. "Ah, I, ah took the liberty of preparing such a decree," she stuttered as she dug in her portfolio.
The elderly judge scanned the document she handed him for a brief second before his usually stoic face broke into a gin, then wide smile. He seemed to start to say something to us, but broke into laughter, almost gagging as he tried to calm down. "I am very tempted to sign this!" he finally stammered between chuckles. He glanced back down at the document, shook his head and tossed it to me.
I felt Cindy lean over and push against my arm as I turned the papers over and looked down at them. "I'm very sorry, your honor, I, that is the wrong one, I prepared it as a, joke!" she cried.
She began riffling through the stack of papers so frantically I was distracted from reading whatever I had be given. "I apologize, your honor, this the correct one," she sheepishly offered.
It was my turn to gasp, then chuckle when I finally looked down at the document - 'Adoption Decree, en re the minor horse, Ginger Owens' it read. "If Ginger, or Johnny get wind of this you might not have any choice but to sign it!" I snorted.
As the boys filed back into the courtroom a couple minutes later Mark flashed a slight grin and waved his gavel toward me as he started toward the Judge's high desk. He froze briefly, bugged his eyes and paled slightly when Rodriguez called him over. His face quickly developed an impish grin when he old man bent over and whispered something to him, then scampered up behind the desk.
Johnny and Ronnie slipped under my arms as the other boys lined up in front of their new parents, Junior and Jennifer tucking next to Cindy and Carl.
"I have said this before, but hearings like this are what make my job such a joy," the judge began. "Some more than others," he grinned, looking at Johnny and I.
"Edwardo, Ruben, do you understand enough about the laws in this country to understand what we are doing here? That if I order it, Ronald Sanchez and Julio, Jay Sanchez are your parents, that you have to love and obey?" earned him a pair of bashful yes sirs. "So ordered," he said, nodding his head slightly as he glanced over his shoulder. Mark flashed an almost blinding smile slammed his gavel down.
Rodriguez held his hand up when the brothers started to giggle and turn toward their new parents. "Pieter, do you understand this, what I just asked the other boys?" The boy whimpered something I couldn't understand, but seem to satisfy the judge. "Your new mother will explain the change of plans to you, but it is the order of this court, well congratulations, you are now legally a member of the Roberts family. Now Mark!"
The youngster struck the desk so hard I thought he might have broken his hammer, then dove off the front of the high desk and slammed into a group hug with his brothers and I. The bailiff started to call for order, but gave up when Rodriguez rushed forward, shaking hands with all the adults and hugging all the kids. As he shook my hand and thanked me for my assistance I didn't notice he had picked up Ginger's paperwork until he stuffed it inside his robes and snickered, "I think I'll hang onto this, I might frame it." His eyes lit up slightly before he added, "And, one never knows when one might get in a signing mood."
'This sucks!' I told myself a few minutes later, as I drove in the middle of our little caravan toward the ranch. 'Come on woman! Seventy-five miles-per-hour, give me a break! I'd like to get home before morning!' I groaned as we began to leave the city behind and traffic thinned. I had to back off the accelerator pedal as I realized I was very closely tailgating Cindy's Suburban, unthinkingly try to prod her to increase her speed.
'Pass the bitch, get ,me out of this shit!' my neck demanded when I turned my head slightly to look in the rear view mirror and my starched shirt scratched it. I considered its request for an instant and was about to swerve around her and give my big cat her legs when Cindy's brake lights made me push on my brake pedal. Bitch! I thought. Oh well, I thought a few seconds later as we passed a state trooper running radar.
Although I didn't count them, what appeared to be all sixteen horses were waiting for us at the fence, and began snorting and neighing as we waited for the gate to open, a chorus cheering and hooting kids answering as they hung out the windows of our vehicles. To my surprise the boys waved at their mounts as they bailed out of the car, but then rushed into the house instead of going to the pasture gate.
'No, this place is NOT normal', I told myself as I watched Ginger. At first she gave her boy a dirty look, but when Johnny stopped and looked at her for a split second she shifted her legs and twisted her neck side to side quickly before she turned toward the other animals and snorted. A couple of the other steeds shook their neck, and a few of them bristled their hackles and manes. 'I agree, get me out of this shit!' my neck complained.
The kids were just starting to filter downstairs, everyone in their tight Levis, when I went back into the family room after jumping into a pair of well worn jeans and tee shirt. After ravaging the sizable stack of cookies Mary had laid out, along with absorbing what had to be a couple of gallons of milk like NASA grade sponges, they were heading out the patio door when Cindy called Pieter back.
"Wear it a couple of hours, you must start getting used to it," she told him, holding out a plastic pouch. The youngster blushed as he accepted the bag and pulled a headgear out. After looking around rather sheepishly he wrestled with its facebow for a second or so before finally connecting it to his back teeth and began stretching its straps around his head.
"Look Ruben, his new mom is making him wear a bridle!" Edwardo proclaimed. Pieter's little face flared so red the steel sticking out of his mouth seemed to turn almost the color of Johnny's hair as he shot his friend what was nothing less than a death glare, then lunged toward him. "They made me say it Karl! They did!" Edwardo cried as he dodged his attacker.
Johnny's loud giggle, followed by Junior and Mark's, distracted both of them. "Johnny! I'm gonna kill you!" Pieter declared as he charged toward his foe. Everyone broke out in laughter as we watched a red streak of light blast out the door and toward the pasture, a platinum lightning bolt in hot pursuit.
"Well, Bridle Boy, aren't you going to go save your brother?" I teased Junior, cupping his bony shoulders from behind.
"From your new brother?" Cindy injected. "Headgear boys, and get Johnny's for him." Junior, Mark and Ronnie rushed upstairs still giggling. "I can't believe how far he has come," she added toward me as we watched Johnny darting between the horses, Pieter still in right on his tail.
"What did I miss?" Jay asked a second later as the other boys left to ride. Jay and his mate looked away and took deep breaths almost in unison as we explained how, innocently from lack of culture when he first visited the ranch, Johnny earnestly thought Junior's orthodontic appliance was a controlling bridle like the horses are fitted with. I too took a deep breath as I remembered the collars and restraints an FBI agent had shown me what seemed like a hundred years ago.
"I'm ready for a cold beer!" I announced. No one objected as I started toward the bar.
"Doctor Owens, paging Doctor Owens," I heard Jay say with a rather poor imitation of an electronic voice as I was getting our drinks. "Paging Doctor Owens, you have a patient waiting at gate one," he continued.
I convulsed slightly trying to contain my laughter when I rejoined them with our drinks and saw Zeus, now saddled, staring, or better put snarling at the patio door. "Yes, Doctor, this is serious," I stammered. After a long swallow of beer I answered, "I think you better scrub Doctor." Turning to Miguel and Carl I added, "You too Doctors, time to go to work. We will probably need a Dietitian, and never leave home without your Lawyer. Let's saddle up people, there is work to be done!" I released my pony tail, downed most of the rest of my beer and started toward the pasture without waiting for a response.
Zeus galloped at full speed for the better part of an hour before he began to calm down. I was having such a good time feeling the wind in my face and exhilaration of speed and considered prodding him to run more, but decided go see what the kids were up to. When we joined them and the other riders cruising the pasture, Miguel and his sons were with the boys, now dressed in jeans but no Cindy. Jay informed me that she had stated she had some work to do.
A few minutes later big Ronnie excused himself, saying he and Mary were working on a project, and I decided to ride with him back to the house. None to my surprise the pit was bellowing smoke. When I glanced a huge brisket was all but smiling back at me.
Cindy met us at the door with a smile so wide I wondered if she was about to tear her lips. "Look, they are here, both of them! He signed them and they just faxed them!" she all but screamed, thrusting a stack of papers toward us.
I scanned the documents, then Cindy's face. 'Yeah, why not!' I decided. "Go get in a pair of jeans, we need to go for a ride." I told her. Without waiting for an answer I turned to Ronnie. "Ask Mary to join us for a ride. Please it is important, you can put your meal on hold. Then go saddle horses for Mary and Cindy."
I ignored his questioning glare, rushed to my study and dialed open my safe. After a quick trip to my bedroom closet for a backpack I stopped behind the bar for a few things.
I ignored the other adults questioning glares as we rode to meet the kids and other riders a few minutes later. "Hi guys, please follow me," I asked.
Mary and Miguel groaned and muttered a little as they endured the steep climb up to my mountain, but settled a little as the land leveled and rode behind me toward the summit. I chuckled as Zoe snorted in response to my mimicking salute to her FBI trouser flag and she gave me a knowing glance. 'I've got to work with Johnny, and learn to speak horse!' I thought. 'Are you losing it?' I wondered.
"Welcome to my little piece of heaven," I began as everyone followed my lead and dismounted. "Mary, Cindy, would you mind?" I asked, handing them my backpack. I paused for a minute or so, as everyone absorbed the vista of beauty below of us, the mid afternoon Texas sun performing its magic on what seemed like most of south Texas below us.
Jay and Carl gave me questioning looks as I handed them small packages. I cupped Johnny and Pieter's shoulders and began, "This is a very special place to me, and I have only shared it with a few special friends. But now, it's for family."
I pulled the Sharks teeth for my sons from my package and held them out before continuing, "I would like to give you boys these, as a token representing our new family, and our new life together." All the kids looked at each other's necks as we fastened the charms around their necks.
"Are these from Sufuentez the, , , how do you say, the jewel maker?" Edwardo gasp, looking wide eyed at his brother's necklace.
"Jeweler, and yes they are," Miguel answered.
"We cannot wear these, only the, the most very wealthy people would dare to enter his shop! It is impossible for us to ever own something from Sufuentez! This must be an, an error!" the boy exclaimed.
Seven dollars each? That's wealth? I asked myself. "But you are very wealthy now," I countered. I reached over and pulled Edwardo next to me before continuing. "You now have a family, that loves you completely, and an extended family that loves you as much as your new parents do. How could you be any wealthier?"
He looked up at me with tears welling in his saucer sized eyes. "But, Doctor, , , I, , ," He buried his face in my chest without finishing his statement. I held him against me and stroked his back and shoulders for several seconds. "I love you Doctor, Doctor Pappa," he whispered.
"I love you, I love all of you," I answered. Ruben, then Pieter and the other boys pushed into a group hug as I kissed the top of Edwardo's head.
"Here boys, everyone take a cup, but do not drink it yet," big Ronnie interrupted as he, Mary and Cindy began passing out small plastic glasses to everyone. A couple of the kids giggled as they sniffed their drink and bubbles popped into their noses.
"To our new family, and to our new life together," I toasted, raising my cup.
"Here, here," Miguel answered, joining in the other adults comments.
"Wonderful, this is superb stock," our guest chef commented after taking a second sip. He stepped over to the backpack and pulled the bottle most of the way out of the ice chilling it. "You have excellent tastes, Adam. Roederer, and of this vintage, is an extremely rare find. I wish we could offer it, even in our best locations!"
Miguel coughed trying to keep from choking. "Louis Roederer?" he coughed.
"1969!" Ronnie answered, offering the bottle toward his father.
The usually reserved elder physician gawked somewhat as he looked at the label. He glanced back at his cup, then roared out a deep guttural laugh. "Only in Texas!" he snorted, trying to compose himself. "We traveled on horseback up a God-awful mule trail, to be served six-hundred dollar a bottle champagne, chilled in a camping pack and served in plastic cups?" He took a deep breath before raising his cup. "Here, here, indeed to a new life!" he toasted.
Six Hundred Dollars a Bottle?!? I silently gasp. Six-hundred dollars for that bottle? I thought for a second or so, but decided not to tell them I hated champagne, that I had been given that bottle as a gift when I graduated from Medical School, and assumed it was a bottle of ten-dollar crap from some grocery store.
"I am glad we can enjoy it together," I answered, trying to keep from groaning.
After spending a few more minutes enjoying each other's company and the view, Mary and big Ronnie announced they had to return to the house and tend to the pit. The boys split off into a couple of groups as all the other adults mounted their animals and made our way down the mountain.
"May I ride with you into town tomorrow morning for your rounds?" Jay asked as we approached the pasture gate. "John now has several of our patients at Central Baptist, and I would like for you to evaluate the site Dad and I are proposing for our new clinic."
"Of course, but I leave fairly early, I would like to leave by about seven-thirty," I answered.
"Are horses awake that early?" he asked. I was trying to figure out what he was asking when he added, "Ronnie is right, it is splendid to ride the animals between our houses, I would imagine an early morning ride would be fantastic!"
"I see we have been able to drain at least some of the Yankee out of you Doctor!" I teased. "Twenty year or so of intense training, and we might be able to turn you into a Texan! Well, maybe a Texas immigrant."
"Ignore him, Doctor," Carl countered. "Any proper Texan would chill Roederer in his saddlebag, never in a backpack." We all broke into laughter when Zeus replied by letting out a soft neigh and wiggled his haunches in protest.
A presence, more than anything else, disturbed my slumber the next morning. I was still trying to force my eyes to focus when I heard a soft, high pitched whisper I could not understand, but from somewhere in my bedroom. "Please Buddy, you must. He will not be angry with you," it added a second later. The muffled sounds of kids playing in the pool made me begin to wake up a little more.
"I won't be angry with you either," I mumbled. "Come here, I don't bite." I sleepily extended an arm, still trying to decide if the voice was Pieter's or Ruben's. Instantly I had a face full of black nose and wet tongue attacking me. "Good morning Buddy," I chuckled. "And good morning to you too!" I said toward the patch of platinum hair and red faced kid standing next to my bed. "Come here, is anything wrong? Why are you up so early?" I asked as gestured toward my bed.
He hesitated, then jumped into my arm and hugged my neck. "I was frightened that, , , I mean, well, Doctor Sanch, , , Doctor Jay and Doctor Grande have already arrived, and I was frightened you would not have to time to swim. Will you go swim with me, please Pappa?"
"I don't know," I answered. I let him stew an instant as I felt his shoulders tighten. "This hug feels so good, I might just keep you here all day!" I told him, scratching his naked back. He giggled softly and cuddled more tightly against me, pushing his forehead into my neck.
"I love you Pappa," he whispered.
"I love you Pieter, I love you a bunch." I enjoyed his snuggle for a minute or so. "You go jump in, let me go to the bathroom and I will join you."
He seemed to tense again. "You must bathe? You will bathe before we may swim?"
"No son, I must go to the, , , I must toilet first," I tried.
I felt his forehead warm I'm sure from it turning red. "I am sorry. My English is not perfect sir," he whimpered.
'No, I'm the one that needs to learn to speak English, instead of American', I thought, cupping his head and cuddling it. "Your English is excellent. Go jump in the pool, I will be right there I told him." He hugged me briefly then hopped out of bed and rushed toward the patio door, Buddy right behind.
I was enjoying watching his tight little Speedo clad backside run across the bedroom so much I didn't realize he was wearing his new headgear until he was out to door. "Pieter, take, , ," I didn't bother finishing when I heard a splash from the patio. 'He is definitely, or officially Junior's brother! I chuckled as I hurried into the restroom.
The site Miguel and Jay showed me after we finished at the hospital was indeed ideal. Formerly a combination photographic studio and wholesale film processing plant, much of the building was already plumbed and wired in a way that would make it easy to remodel into treatment and examination rooms. I was equally impressed with its location, much closer to the edge of town and our ranches than my current office, little more that a stone's throw from Cornerstone Academy, but with easy access to Central Baptist Hospital. Jay already had a set of plans for the remodeling that seemed ideal with plenty of room for expansion.
"Let's do it," I said as we concluded our tour. "But, can we add a stable and corral out back?" I teased. I found myself wondering what they had up their sleeves as Jay and his dad exchanged wily grins. The two continued their stares with seemingly the same mental telepathy Ginger and Johnny have. After what seemed an eternity, I finally broke the silence. "Well, are you two going to say something or am I going have to guess at what you have decided?"
Miguel broke out into a belly laugh and Jay was fighting to keep from doing the same. Miguel composed himself and spoke. "I think your idea of building a stable is a wonderful idea, but not here. I would like to reduce the amount of land you purchase from me by about 25 acres or so. In addition to the stable and corral, I would like to build a clinic there also."
"Ah, Miguel," I stammered trying to digest his statement. "I have a clinic already, I don't picture one at the ranch. Besides, there's enough nut cases, both two and four legged out there already, I don't want my patients there!"
Then it was Jay's turn to cut loose with laughter. "No Adam," Jay started. "I think you misunderstood what my father was referring to. The clinic isn't for people, it's for animals. We have been discussing the idea of having our other brother moving out here so he could care for all our animals as well as starting a new veterinary practice."
"We haven't said anything, because if my grandson, well now I guess I should say the grandson in Virginia found out, Jay and Ronnie would have their nephew living with them tonight!" Miguel injected.
"Hey, Steven could give us family discount." Jay quipped.
"Family discount? I got that with the kids braces. They bumped the fees up fifteen percent, then gave me ten percent off," I teased. "That sounds like a great plan. How long will it take for him to get his things in order back home?"
"We're not sure," Jay answered. "Angel is handling those details. We can keep you posted on what we learn from her."
"Actually, we might find out more shortly," Miguel injected. "I forgot to tell you she called while you were on rounds, Steven and Angel are on the way here, they should arrive later in the morning."
We had made our way out of in-town traffic, and I was beginning to give my big cat her legs and think about getting home to the ranch and my favorite water jet when I noticed in the rear view mirror that Miguel had answered his cell phone. "Adam, Angel and Steven are about to land, would you mind picking them up before we return to your ranch?" he asked.
"If he can land this thing," Jay retorted. When I glanced at him his eyes were glued to the instrument panel.
"Not a problem, eighty-five is just below takeoff speed!" I tittered. "If time is tight, I could make a U-turn instead of slowing down." I ignored my new colleague's scowl as I backed off the accelerator pedal and steered toward the next freeway exit.
I don't think anyone was surprised when not only Steven and his wife were waiting for us, but also Stevie, dressed in his best fitting Levis. After a quick round of hugs we were loading their luggage into the car when the youngster pushed against me. "Where are Ronnie, and Junior?" he quietly asked. "And everyone."
"They have been attending school. Your new cousins too," Miguel answered for me. The devious gleam in his eye told me not to interrupt. "Texas has some fantastic private schools," the old doctor added. He turned his attention back toward helping us fit the suitcases into the trunk and very casually continued, more toward the baggage then anyone, "Texas schools offer excellent boarding facilities, much better than Virginia. I am so impressed that I will insist any of my grandchildren that live in Texas attend one of these private schools." he told one of the bags. "Jay, Adam, do you know when Cornerstone Academy releases their students for their next vacations at home?"
I had to clinch my jaw as I digested Miguel's monologue, and the now petrified little statue, still pressed tightly against me's reaction to his grandfather's comments. Another glance at Grande told me how to answer.
"I'm not sure Miguel, I think for Christmas," I began. "But let me check," I offered. I made a show of opening my PDA and leaning it against Steve's motionless body before continuing, "I apologize, they, , ," I hoped my hesitation didn't show as I tried to keep a straight face. "I think they will be allowed to remain home from school for Thanksgiving Day, and perhaps through the weekend after."
"You were right, moving to Texas is going to be wonderful!" Angel chimed in. "Cornerstone Academy sounds like a perfect choice, and we will see you again soon, every two or three months!" she bubbled. I felt my stomach tighten with guilt as she ushered the ghostly, stick puppet remains of what a couple of minutes ago was her vibrant, excited son into the rear seat of my car.
It almost seemed as if the horses were playing into our practical joke when my white fence came into sight; the only animals to be seen were a couple of Jay and Ronnie's mares. Young Steve seemed to come back to life slightly, moving his neck side to side and scanning the pasture as I drove up the long driveway.
When we climbed out of the car, the youngster gave the pasture fence a longing look I'm sure looking for Raven. After a couple of seconds he shuffled behind us into the house. After he looked around briefly and found out no one else was about, I could almost see the last rays of hope leave the boy's thin body as he gazed out the patio door at my empty pasture.
I started to feel concerned that we had gone too far as I watched him stand motionless in front of the door for probably two minutes. " I think Raven is still here, why don't you go down and call her, she might come to you." He shrugged his bony shoulders ever so slightly, and after glancing at his mother more crawled than walked outside.
"You are an evil person, Miguel, evil through and through," I snickered as we watched the lad slowly shuffle down the hill, his chin dragging on the ground a couple of feet behind him.
"He deserves it, every bit of it," Angel answered. "He overheard Steven and I talking about moving here the other night, and has been driving us crazy, a world class brat ever since."
"My grandson, a brat? Never!" Miguel countered. "I will take care of this," he said. After pausing briefly for effect he added, "I will spoil him all weekend, then send him back to you as a new child, fully refreshed!" The gleam in his eye told us young Stevie was not the only one being picked on.
A bit of movement at the back of the pasture turned everyone's attention back outside. Stevie had just reached the pasture gate and had reached up to open it, but stood frozen as one, then several more mounted horses came into sight, galloping toward the house like they were in the home stretch of the Kentucky Derby. I couldn't resist, and stuck my head out the door and yelled, "Got'ch!"
The youngster jumped, then turned back toward the house. He twisted his thin neck between the us and the approaching animals a couple of time, each time casting us a harsher 'Up Yours!' look before he bolted through the gate and sprinted head long toward the herd of thundering steeds.
"This calls for a beer," I announced as he watched the mass reunion of hugs and high fives. "And I'm getting in the pool!"
"Actually, we need to meet for a few minutes, and then probably go for a ride," Angel informed me. 'Shit', I thought as I looked around and realized I was out voted in my own home. "Cindy should be here any minute. You might want to put on jeans," Angel added as I started toward my bedroom. 'Who's the fool that said a man's home is HIS castle?' I asked myself.
Angel's great meeting went quicker, and better than I had expected. Cindy and her husband had arrived when I joined the others on the pool deck after changing. I started to worry when I saw both ladies had portfolios next to them, but relaxed when I learned they contained the final documents regarding our land purchases.
Their final plan was perfect. They had cut out fifty acres near the highway for Angel and Steven's new home and his veterinary clinic, twenty-five from the land I was about to acquire, twenty-five from what Jay and Ronnie were about to. The land cooperative agreement was worded more perfectly than I could have hoped for, committing all of our lands not only to mutual use between the families, but to a deed restriction assuring all almost 2000 acres would remain rural for the next hundred years.
"Sign these, and it is a done deal," Cindy announced as she passed out documents to us.
"And I have these!" Angel bubbled, holding out a set of keys. "We have accepted possession of the property, let's go look at our land, and get rid of some gate locks!" I was signing the last of my paperwork when she added, "Site work on the Boys' Ranch is going to begin Monday, and in a few months we will have quite a few young men enjoying the fruits of our venture."
'I have to have a talk with her, and him', I thought, as I handed the last of the signed paperwork back to Cindy; several saddled but riderless horses were lined up at the pasture fence, and Ginger was rather pointed staring directly at me as she impatiently pawed the ground with her front hoof. 'A long talk, about reading my mind, and soon!' I thought when Zeus, then a couple more horses trotted out of the barn, now saddled.
I took the lead and told the boys that we had purchased some more land, and were going to look around it for a few minutes, as our mass group rode away. "I want you to be very careful, but you can ride here too now," I explained as we waited for Cindy to unlock and open the gate to our new communal properties.
"Wow! We can ride here now?" my Ronnie exclaimed as we trotted into the new property.
"Yea! This is neat we really can?" Mark hooted. I was about to respond when he added, "Yeah, now we can go to the cave, and the haunted shack whenever we want!"
"Yeah, and the skinny dippi, , , ah, swimming lake, ah I mean ah, , ," Junior began. When I looked over at him he was not only ghost white, but not breathing.
I understood why as I followed his frightened gaze to my Ronnie, firing death glares at him that made me want to steer Zeus out of the danger zone. 'On your few, and brief vacations from your new school, in Afghanistan', I silently answered.
To my surprise, Johnny seemed to recover first. "Well, we heard they was here," he whimpered. "Well we think they is, I mean are here, we read it at school sir!" he blushed as red as his hair. "Maybe, can we go riding sir, I mean Dad?" he tried.
"I feel so reassured that we are moving Steve and Angelina to such a well structured environment!" Angel quipped as the boys rode away.
"Yes, with all those degrees, Doctor Owens can handle any situation! Total control of the children under is care!" Cindy all but giggled.
'Don't you feel like a little exercise?' I silently begged my big stallion. 'Run boy, run!' I thought as Zeus bolted into a gallop.
The kids and several of the adults were already in the pool when I went back to the house an hour or so later. I didn't argue with their offer to join them and changed into my swim trunks in what had to be record time.
Young Steve swam over and sat next to me a split second after I settled back against my favorite water jet. "That was mean, I'm going to hate you forever!" he proclaimed a he leaned against my side.
"If you must, but hate is a very harsh word!" I answered. When he didn't answer I lifted him over my thigh, depositing him on my lap. "What about getting even with me instead?" I suggested, wrapping my arms around his thin tight torso and pulled his back against my stomach and chest.
His only answer was a soft giggle as he leaned against me, grasping my hands and pulling my arms more tightly into our cuddle. "I'm gonna," he almost whispered. "Well, but maybe laters. I love you Pop, it's gonna be totally awesome to live here!"
I didn't realize I, or we, had drifted off until the youngster started squirming in my lap. "Come on Doctor Pop, its yummy time!" he announced. When I looked around the picnic table had already been set, and a dozen or so hungry faces were glaring at me. The youngster squirmed more into my lap before adding, "Please, I'm hungry!"
"You mean you'd eat that boarding school food?" He answered with a soft squeal and pushed away, dashing toward the bank.
After the kids cleared the table their busy day and overstuffed bellies seemed to take their toll, and they decided to groom the horses instead of going for another ride. Shortly one or two at a time freshly scrubbed kids began reappearing from upstairs, each of them carrying double arm-loads of blankets and pillows.
Cindy and Carl excused themselves for the evening, and after enjoying a couple of rounds from a huge pitcher of Margaritas their brother magically appeared with, Angel and Steven hinted they were ready to leave. "Take the Hummer, we will ride home," Jay told them.
"After sharing what, a gallon of Margaritas, you are going to ride home on horseback, at night? There might be hope for you Doctor!" I quipped.
"Yes, but I want to watch him find the animal's headlight switch," Miguel quipped.
"I want to see what happens when he twists it! Does Texas have a RUI law?" Ronnie injected, holding his glass out to his mate.
"Just be sure Zeus doesn't see you mount one of his mares," I answered. I'm sure my face reddened in time with the hush that fell over the patio as I realized the other way my comment could be taken.
Everyone roared in laughter when Ronnie responded, "If he tries, Zeus will be the least of his worries!"
"I believe it is your serve, son!" Miguel chuckled, slapping Jay's knee.
We chatted and enjoyed a couple more drinks under the bright Texas night sky for the next hour or so. From the stillness through the patio door it was clear all our little ones had drifted into dreamland, and I excused myself, saying I was going to tuck everyone in. Jay and Ronnie joined me without asking as I started toward the door.
All three of us stood motionless for several seconds after we stepped inside. The bright Texas moon, softly filtering into the room, accented the row of hair tufts and foreheads peeking out of their long nest of blankets so perfectly that only God could have aimed it. I had to blink and gasp in a breath when Ronnie pointed at the coffee table, and the line of engraved Shark's teeth carefully arranged on it, grouped in pairs.
'And all this started with two little guys wanting to lay in bed and watch a movie, weekend visitors', I recalled. 'In a little rat-hole apartment'. I felt my stomach tighten as I remembered the paperwork I had signed earlier this evening. Shit, and they are talking about sixty boys living next door, at the new Boys Ranch? I thought. I glanced around the room briefly, then back down at my boys, all nine of them. Well, we could take out a wall I suppose, I decided.
END (of sorts. . .)
Notes from the Author:
This ends Patient John Doe, but not the adventures of the boys, their horses and the Owens/Sanchez clans. I would like to thank everyone for your support, and the over a thousand notes of praise and encouragement during this project (and yes, well over a thousand emails). I was 'running out of steam' toward the end, I hope it doesn't show too much in my work, but I shed more than a few tears as I wrote the conclusion. Thanks again, Gary