A Gathering of Brothers
With the stragglers down for breakfast and the kitchen clean up beginning, Anne took herself upstairs to gather up towels and washcloths for the laundry. It was the strong smell of cigarette smoke that caused her to open the door to Colinís room.
"Colin, what are you doing up here by yourself, for goodness sake open that window and let some of this smoke out of here."
"Oh sorry, Mama." Colin got off his bed and opened the window.
"I never complained about smoke because your Dad smoked, but this room positively stinks I donít know how you sit in here. Why arenít you downstairs with the rest?"
"I donít know, guess I wanted some time to think, some time alone you know?"
"Do I need to leave you alone then?"
Anne pulled the bedspread up on Richieís bed and sat down, "Whatís bothering you, Colin?"
"Oh, nothing really, justÖthinking."
"Must be something important take that many cigarettes, look at that ashtray."
"Thatís not all mine, Richieís smoking."
"I worry about you, Colin, every day of my life. I donít know why you have such a hard time. I wish there was something I could do."
"Ah donít worry, Mama, Iím all right."
Anne looked at him until he looked away, "Uh huh, I see you are. Ever since you had your troubles I keep hoping youíd come home, get a fresh start. Come back where somebody knows you and cares about you. Thereís nothing wrong with that, Colin, you can stay here as long as you want to, or until you get something going for yourself."
"Well thanks, Mama, but Iím a little old to be living at home."
"Nonsense. You remember that old tomcat we had, Bruno was his name, he used to go off for weeks at a time, come home all tore up, heíd stay home until he got well. What Iím trying to say isÖ"
"I know what youíre saying."
"Well then you know he had sense enough to come home where somebody could tend to his wounds and make him well again, get his strength back, fill his belly up, store up some petting before he took off again. Donít go back to California, Colin."
Colin had his arm laying over his eyes, Anne watched the rise and fall of his chest until she saw it chug a few times and moved over and sat beside where he lay on his bed, she rubbed his arms, "Colin, itís all right son."
Colin sat up and put his arms around his mother and she held him rocking a little back and forth. Tears ran down her face dripping onto his hair, but she held him tightly.
Sam, Michael and Mikey had some help this morning building the best fort in the world. Jeff had been brought in to engineer a roof. They found an old piece of tin roofing in the barn and Jeff was adding a little height to the fort before attaching the roof.
"Nail," he requested and a nail was passed to him by Michael, the nail person.
Mikey was in charge of finding like boards they could use and Sam was the measuring person.
"I think youíre gonna need a saw, Uncle Jeff, these boards donít all match." Mikey had his hands on his hips.
"Go up to the house and get somebody to find a saw." Jeff watched Mikey run off to the house and smiled; he was a mini John.
"Okay, how much taller does it need to be?" Jeff turned to Sam.
Sam pulled Michael over to the wall and pulled the tape measure out he measured Michael and added.
"Uh we need one foot and a smidgen," he grinned.
John came back with Mikey and a saw with Joey running alongside. "What are you building down here anyway?"
"Itís a fort, Uncle John," Michael answered.
"I see that,"
Joey went inside the fort and was promptly pushed back out by Mikey.
"Hey now, you donít be pushing him out."
"Itís a construction zone, heís too young."
John giggled. "Construction zone, eh, whereís your yellow tape, orange cones?
"We couldnít find any," Michael answered.
"I see youíve got this well under control, Jeff, Iíll leave you to it, come on Joey."
"No I wanna play."
John picked him up. "Wait till itís finished."
"You can come back Joey" Jeff called out to him.
John easily carried his kicking and flailing four-year-old back to the house.
Ben settled on the front porch, his feet propped up on the railing and leaning back in a rocking chair smoking one of his cigars. He was at rest, at ease in his surroundings.
Cal opened the front door and joined him finding a seat in the porch swing.
"A man could get used to this, idling away his time."
"Yeah, itís a nice break."
"Youíre doing some high powered writiní, I take your paper and keep up with whatís on your mind."
"Do you? I just report I donít editorialize."
"You did a piece of work on Collins, you think that was wise?"
"I reckon I did, people had the right to know who they elected."
"It was you that got him elected wasnít it?"
"I helped, worked as his campaign manager."
"Too bad you found his clay feet; itís my opinion there ainít no honest politicians anymore if there ever was."
Cal smiled, "How about your senator, heís your man right?"
"Bought and paid for"
"Howís it going out there in your little Arizona empire?"
"Empire?" Ben raised a brow, "cattle ranch pays for itself."
"I donít buy groceries much but I imagine the price of beef must be through the roof?"
"Just spit it out Cal."
"Pays good for lobbyist, especially for mining rights, eh?"
"I wouldnít know."
"Oh I think you do, man like you keeps tabs on where his money goes."
"A man like me tends to his own business."
Cal pushed the swing setting it in motion, "You know the government is gonna take that strip of land, some kind of lizard has been discovered, probably only two or three in existence anymore."
"If I find the son of a bitches there wonít be any left."
Cal chuckled, "Now, now, Ben, that would upset the whole course of the universe."
"A man has got to have some rights on his own fuckiní land. I damn well know whatís beneath the surface, it ainít gonna happen, they ainít takiní my land. You can write that in your fuckiní paper."
"I just stick to the facts, Ben. I think Iíll hold off on that."
"They come on my land theyíll be leaving feet first, fuck Ďem."
Cal got up "Now that I would write about," he passed by Ben grinning broadly and stepped off the porch.
"You bastard, spoiled my whole morning." Ben called after him. Son of a bitch, he fumed. Cal had always been able to do that to him, get him all riled up over something and walk off like heíd done nothing. He could look at most any man and the man would drop his eyes but not Cal. The thing he knew was that Cal was smart, the thing he feared was that Cal was smarter.
He got up and went into the house looking for Delia, he needed something sweet to take away the sour taste in his mouth.
Arranging his face before he walked into the kitchen, "Um something smells good, Delia, you cookiní, darliní ?"
"I thought I Ďd get something started with so many to feed. I donít know how your mother did it all those years."
"Sheíd cook till about eleven in the morning and then she was done for the day. Set it all out on the stove top and we helped ourselves when we got hungry."
"You didnít sit down to meals?"
"Only on Sunday after church, we had fried chicken every Sunday."
"Uh oh, itís Sunday today and Iím making chili."
"I donít think anybody would mind a bowl of your chili on a Sunday."
Donna had been up in the attic room gathering sheets, Joey had wet the bed again, she came down the attic stairs and passed by Colinís room the door was partly open and she saw Anne with Colin in her arms comforting him and she frowned and quietly walked to the steps. She would ask John later what was wrong with Colin, heíd probably know.
She came into the kitchen and went to the alcove near the pantry where the washer and dryer were installed.
"Washiní on Sunday Donna?" Ben smiled leaning against the kitchen counter.
"Wet sheets, canít let them sit."
"You got a bed wetter."
"Joey, I think itís because heís sleeping in a different place, heís quit this at home." She started the washer. "Anything I can do Delia that smells good."
"No, Iíve got this under control itís only chili."
"Oh well then Iíll just get out of your way," Donna hunched her shoulders and passed between them and went out the back door. There seemed to be a lot of activity in the barn and she walked down to see what was going on.
"We donít have anything to haul this stuff to the dump with, Iím with Steve, letís have a big bonfire." John added to the growing pile in the middle of the barn floor.
"I think you have to have some kind of burn permit to have a fire the size weíre talking about." Richie said tossing a box of magazines down from the loft.
"Well letís get one, I canít believe the stuff she kept, how did she haul it out of the house?"
"Bit by bit over the years, Zack."
"What are you guys doing?" Donna stood in the barn door opening.
"Cleaning out a rat hole sweetheart," John answered.
"Did you ask her before you started this?"
"No because she would have wanted to go through every damn box, every bag of old worn out clothes, itís best we do it this way, once itís gone itís gone."
"And besides, Donna, everything out here is covered in years of dirt so she hasnít been out here looking for anything." Steve said.
"I doubt seriously if she knows whatís out here." Richie stopped and wiped his brow.
Cal came up behind Donna and let out a low whistle. "You boys are gonna be in trouÖble"
"Well make sure you run and tell on us.," Richie grinned.
"You know how she is about her stuff."
"Well this ainít her stuff and I say this bag of clothes I wore when I was about ten can go." Steve tossed another plastic bag on the pile.
Donnaís hand went to her mouth. "Did she really keep your old clothes."
"Yes and weíre talking OLD CLOTHES here, hand-me-downs from Cal on down, whoever could fit into it wore it." John pushed his hair back behind his ears.
"Is Joey out here?"
"Yeah heís back here we found a box of old broken toys," Richie answered her.
Donna stepped around the pile and found Joey in one of the stalls with exactly what Richie had said playing quietly.
"Look Mama, a bear but no eyes."
"I see heís missing his eyes and part of an ear."
"He canít see?"
"Aw maybe we could make him some eyes so he could see."
"Okay," Joey stood up with the old bear. Donna led him out of the barn and back to the house to find some "eyes."
Anne wiped her eyes on Colinís sheet, heíd gone to the bathroom. She hurt for him so bad, heíd broke down and told her everything about what heíd been doing and about Zack. She had suspected as much and now there it was out in the open. She didnít blame Zack, he had a job to do but she intended to talk to him and she meant to keep Colin here at home. Heíd agreed to stay for a little while until he could get himself straightened out. She didnít wonder anymore why Colin wanted Richie to bunk with him, the boy came home looking for help.
She reckoned they all knew but her, thatís the way of them, keep something amongst themselves and donít tell Mama, donít worry Mama, well sheíd had enough of that and intended to let them know it too. If something was wrong, somebody hurting, she wanted to know. Rotten rascals, she thought as she gathered up the towels from the floor and went downstairs.
It was unfortunate that Donna came in with Joey and the blind bear as Anne came through the kitchen with the load of towels. "Oh is somebody washing already."
"Itís Joeyís sheets, Mama, Iíll take them out if you have something."
"No, no, just towels they can wait." She dumped them in a basket in front of the washer and pushed her hair back walking over to the stove, "Chili that will be good today."
"Hey Joey sweetie what have you got there?"
"Bear but he canít see Mamaís going to find some eyes."
"Oh my goodness youíve been in the barn, this was your Uncle Colinís bear, he drug that thing around for years. How did he find this?" she looked at Donna.
"Well, theyíre cleaning out the barn?"
"Um John, Richie, Zack and Steve," she smiled slightly.
"Huh," Anne opened the back door and walked down to the barn.
"Uh oh, Mamaís coming," John warned.
"Just what do you think youíre doing out here?"
"Mama, this stuff needs to go, thereís years of junk out here just feeding mice, probably rats too."
"Who gave you permission to throw my things away."
"Well Mama theyíre not all yours, my old clothes, you donít need this stuff."
"Iíll have you know each one of those boxes youíve destroyed was packed away with memories. I know every hole in your old jeans Steve and how it got there. Youíve no right to come in here and start throwing things away, no right."
"Itís a fire hazard, Mama, all these old magazines and stuff, rotten old clothes." John tried.
"It was our lives I packed away, year after year I had the boxes numbered. This is what you wore that year, this is what magazines you read, it donít mean nothing to you but it did to me."
"Mama," Richie tried to take her arm and she jerked it away.
"We saw all this stuff the other night when we were out here and thought weíd help out and clean the barn for you, really, Mama, you ought to look at what weíre throwing away, itís junk, of no use to anybody but rats." John tried again.
She turned and started to leave and came back, "Burn it, go ahead and burn it all. Itís best there be no trace of us when weíre all gone."
"Mama, donít be mad, nobody was trying to hurt you, nobody." Richie said finally getting his arm around her.
"Iíve got something else to say to at least four of you while you are here. Itís about Colin, heís told me everything I reckon and, Zack, I want to talk to you later, but this business of keeping me in the dark is going to stop. Youíve been doing this to me for years and I never liked it. Iím your mama for goodness sake if you canít tell it to me you have no business sharing it among yourselves. Iím talking about when something is wrong with one of youÖyou better tell me."
Richie raised his eyes to the loft and met Zackís, he wondered if he was thinking about Ben too. There was no way he was going to say anything to his Mama about Ben.
Richie walked his mother back to the house and came in and made her a cup of tea. He sat down at the table across from her. "Sorry Mama, I guess we took too much upon ourselves."
"Well itís done, I guess it donít matter now, I reckon Iím a little crazy hanging on to the past."
"No, youíre a long way from crazy besides all those memories you packed away youíve still got them."
Anne smiled a little. "I guess I do, but little things you know can spark a memory like that bear Joey found. That was Colinís bear, I donít know how many buttons I sewed on for eyes and he pulled on them until they fell off and then come crying for more. But all thatís over now, look at you with a son of your own, where have all the years gone?"
"I donít know Mama but packing them away in boxes and bags ainít gonna bring them back. They were good years all of them."
"Youíre right they were. Iíd like to think youíre making good memories for your son, theyíre only little once and once that timeís gone you canít go back and insert something that wasnít there."
She always had a way of going right to his soul like she could see into it. Heíd failed miserably as a father and he knew it, it hadnít been important to him and now he wasnít going to get the chance to make it up. He looked across the kitchen, his lips slightly parted.
"I know itís hard for you right now, Richie, itís gonna get harder thereís no way around it. One of these days itís going to hit you and itís going to hurt. You make good use of what time you have with that son of yours heís a fine little man."
"I have to go to court next week, I guess Iíll find out then."
"Do whatís best for him and if thereís any way he can come next summer Iíd love to have him here."
"Iíll see if I can work that out."
"What about you, Richie, what are you working out for you?"
"All I do is work, Iím waiting on the results of my bar exam and Iím sure I passed it. I got a big case goiní right now, itís taking up a lot of my time."
"Donít take this the wrong way but youíve put everything in front of your family and now youíre about to lose that. I donít want to see you hurt. It looks like your career is going great and if thatís what is most important to you I wish you well, just donít forget that little boy out there in the fort."
"No, I wonít forget him, I promise you that, whatever happens next weekÖlike you said Iíll try and make some good memories with him, when I have him."
"You know what, Richie?"
"Somebody loves you."
Richie smiled, "I know, somebody loves you too. Is it all right if I go help finish what we started in the barn?"
"Yeah go ahead, clean it out," Anne got up and went to stir the big pot of chili.
Richie walked back to the barn, "Weíve got the go ahead, burn it all."
"All right, Mama okay?" John asked.
"Yeah, sheís okay now, what happened to Steve he bail out?"
"He found another piece of tin and took it down to the fort, heís helping build that now."
Richie looked at Zack, "Listen, Zack, I know what she said about telling her everything, I donít know what you know but I sense you know something, donít tell her anything about Ben."
"I wasnít going to."
"Okay somebody tell me cause I ainít talking either." John put his rake down and walked over.
"This is just between us three okay?" Zack warned. "I donít know it all because the investigation was halted claiming not enough evidence. The man Ben got his money and his land from was trafficking in dope and human cargo, spirited over from Mexico, you know his land borders. The man died in peculiar circumstances, it was ruled accidental death in the end. There is nothing to connect Ben with his death, but he was there. Any way a few years after the man died all that stopped. Ben comes out owner of everything the man had. All this was in a report I happened on one day."
"You think he killed him?"
"I have no idea John, Iíd like to think he didnít."
"All I got is a hunch, Iíve met his type before, smooth, charming, above suspicion in his daily life but underneath, poison. I think heíd pull a trigger in a heartbeat."
"The man wasnít shot, Richie it seems he fell on a pitchfork."
"How the hell is that an accident?"
"I wasnít on the case John I donít know, probably somebody was bought off."
"When did all this happen?"
"About ten years ago maybe more."
"About the time Colin went and stayed with him for awhile? Colin is afraid of him. I said something to him about going to Ben and he went white and told me he couldnít do that."
"I talked to him this morning, John, he told me he wasnít going to Ben and I told him I was glad. Said he might go to Mexico."
"I doubt that now that Mama has hold of him."
"It was after that Colin got done for car theft. Thatís all I know, I donít have the details in front of me and I donít think you need them anyway."
"So youíre not after Ben?" John asked.
"No, no reason to be he hasnít broken the law that anybody can point to. Heís smart, whatever heís up to Iíd bet itís not strictly legal. Heís got way too much money to be selling cattle."
"We donít know what heís got, a hired limo doesnít mean shit." Richie patted his pockets for a cigarette.
"He came in on his own plane, I know cause I asked him about his flight." John stared at Zack."
"Well until he breaks the law thereís nothing anybody can do. And Iím hoping he doesnít." Zack kicked a box. "Letís get this mess cleaned up."
The next morning Richie and John went off to town to see about getting a burn permit. Anne was making up her bed when Zack appeared in her doorway.
"Mama, you said you wanted to talk to me yesterday is now a good time?"
"As good a time as any, Zack, let me get my bedspread off this chair and you can have a seat."
"I want you to know about Colin, I am trying not to bring him in."
"You donít have to worry about that, heís going to stay here, but Iíll tell you now if somebody shows up at my door looking for him, theyíll have to go through me. Heís had a hard time, Zack, and I know most of it is his own making but he deserves a chance and he wants a chance to straighten out his life. Iíll do what I can to help get him on the right track."
"So will I, heís got brothers that want to help him too."
"I wouldnít have doubted that, but keeping secrets like that from me donít wash, Zack."
"Iíll remember that."
She tidied up her spread and sat down on the side of her bead, "Now tell me about you."
"Me, not much to tell. Sam and me you know."
"Nobody else in your life?"
"Iím seeing somebody, the, uh, stewardess that was involved when Sam was kidnapped."
"Oh, I remember you telling me something about her. Iím glad, Zack itís time you found somebody, Samís all right with her cause thatís important."
"Oh yeah, I think heís in love." Zack grinned.
"Youíve come a long way with him. I worried so about the two of you I hate it took what it did to bring you to your senses."
"Yeah me too, a lot of time wasted there."
"I hope youíll let him come again next summer, I think Michael might be coming if Richie can arrange it."
"Theyíd have a blast, yeah he can come if his school work is up to par."
She walked over and hugged him, "Youíre a good man, Zack."
"I had a good Mama and Daddy."
"Whoa look at this." Colin grinned at Jeff and Steve, "You boys still playing fort?"
"Hey, Colin, just helping out the kids." Steve jumped down from the top edge.
"The short ones." Jeff replied with a grin.
"Where are they?"
"Gone for supplies, you remember supplies, gotta have duct tape, a flash light, can of pork and beans."
"Yeah, Steve I remember." Colin chuckled. "We had pocket knives too but I donít guess thatís allowed anymore."
"Nah, to dangerous now. I wonder why that is?"
"Dunno, Jeff, maybe because we were taught different and if you got a cut you put a band aid on it and went on."
"Great kids though all of them."
"Yeah they are."
"Colin, you doiní alright today?"
"Yeah. Iím good, Steve."
"Iím glad to hear it." He tossed the hammer in the tool box. "Got my roofing job done, Jeff."
"Contract labor, he thinks heís done now."
"What else is there to do?"
"Need to clean it out."
"Jeez, leave something for the kids to doÖor are you planning on playing with them?"
Jeff crawled out of the fort. "Nope, my job here is done." He grinned.
"I thought I might ride into town, anybody want to go?"
"Yeah, Colin, I would I need to change clothes can you wait?"
"Yeah Steve, Iím in no hurry."
"I think I need a shower." Jeff brushed his jeans off and dusted his hands.
"Well I ainít waitingí all day, you coming too?"
"No, Iíll hang around here, thanks. Hey, Colin, Iím glad youíre gonna stay, Steve told me."
"Yeah, for awhile anyway." They started walking toward the house.
"Maybe youíll get over to my place, Iíll cook dinner one night."
"Yeah, well a manís gotta eat you know."
Anne walked into the kitchen to see Richie, Cal, John and Zack with an old scrabble game on the table along with a dictionary. She laughed and went to the fridge for a glass of tea. "Whoís winning?"
"Do you have to ask?"
"You were ahead there for a while, John." Cal smiled and completed another word.
"For about five seconds."
"You can always tell whoís losing by whoís whining." Zack added.
"Itís neck and neck, Mama, Cal and Richie."
Anne smiled and looked over Richieís shoulder. "Good luck with that lot."
"Donít say that, Mama." Richie covered his tray of letters.
The weather had been perfect for four days and now the rain had come. Anne stopped by a window and looked out at the gray skies. Jeff, Colin and Steve went over to Jeffís apartment. The boys were upstairs playing and Donna and Joey were curled up on the loveseat watching a movie with Ben and Delia.
Ben was actually asleep. Heíd only meant to close his eyes for a moment but here at home in his Mamaís house he relaxed to the point heíd drifted off. Delia noticed his head getting heavier on her shoulder and looked down at him and smiled.
John came in and leaned over the loveseat and kissed Donna on the cheek, "What are you watching?"
"I mean what movie?"
"Does it matter, Clintís in it?" she laughed.
John made a face. "Whereís Mama?"
"I think she went into her bedroom."
John pushed her door open she hadnít shut it, "You okay, Mama?"
"Yes, John, Iím just fine. Come in for a minute. Iíve just been standing here looking out at the rain. You finish your game?"
"Oh I was finished a long time ago. Itís a death match now between Richie and Cal. I canít compete with them. Theyíre too smart."
"Theyíre no smarter than you are. Are you okay up in Alaska? I swear I donít know how much farther you could have moved away."
"Weíre doing good. Itís a small little town but we do all right there. I know itís a long way from home." He went over and hugged her for a moment. How about you here all by yourself?"
"I do all right too and Jeffís in town if I need him."
"Guess Colin will be here too. Iím glad heís staying."
"Well I think he came home looking for us to help him, John. Iíll do what I can for him. If he can find some work around here heíll be fine. Itís not easy for him to come home feeling like heís a failure. I love him just like I do the rest of you. Donít matter to me whether youíre on top of the pile and making lots of money or king of the road. Heís my boy too.
"I want you to know Iím proud of you and Donna. Youíve got a good marriage and two of the sweetest little boys. I just wish I could spend more time with them."
"Thanks, Mama. I wish you could too but itís a long haul down here. Weíll try and get home more often."
"Iíd like it if you could but I know itís expensive to fly four of you down here. Maybe I can get up there one day."
"Well youíd better come in summer."
Anne laughed. "Thatís right cause I donít have boots tall enough for winter."
"Iíd better go check on the boys. Theyíre awfully quiet up there in the attic."
John came through the den and just for the heck of it thumped sleeping Ben on the head. By the time he opened his eyes John was up the stairs.
Delia chuckled. "You werenít asleep were you?"
"NoÖno just resting my eyes." He sat up and realized where he was and smiled. "I need something to drink."
"Want me to get it?"
"I can pour a glass of tea, Delia." He rose and went into the kitchen glancing at the nearly full scrabble board.
"I suppose Cal is winning?" He leaned on the counter with his glass.
"Richieís ahead." Cal was concentrating.
Richie glanced up with a little smile.
"Iíd think a man whose livelihood was words would have it aced."
"You want to call it?" Richie asked.
Richie sighed and sat back in his chair, "You only got two letters left."
"I know how many damn letters I got." Cal spat back. "Yaíll shut up."
Ben grinned and sipped his tea. He thought these two brothers were a good match when it came to book smarts. Heíd always thought Cal was the smartest of the bunch but maybe that was because he was the oldest. He always seemed to know everything about everything but Richie was sharp as a tack. It bothered him a little that Colin was sharing a room with him. Colin would keep his mouth shut.
Cal made his move.
Richie chuckled. "What the hell is that?"
"Itís a word. Look it up." Cal leaned on his elbows watching Richie look through the dictionary.
"A fuckiní bird? How did you know that?"
"Iím a smartass."
Ben leaned over Richieís shoulder, "pewit?" He left the kitchen laughing. Cal had won.
Ben walked to the front door and opened it stepping out onto the porch. It was still raining and cold but it felt good to him. It woke him up from the warm fuzzy fug heíd been enjoying in the house. He wondered why he hadnít been home before this, why had he waited so long? This was one place he could come to and relax. Heíd been feeling the tension drain out of him for the past few days. Of course it would be nicer to be here without his brothers but still it was good to see them too. He tried to keep up with Colin and Zack but the rest of them had gone their own ways and created their own lives. Zack and Colin were blood and that meant something to him. Blood would always be thicker as far as he was concerned.
"I thought I heard somebody come out here." Anne came around the side porch and joined him.
"What are you doiní out here in the cold, Mama?"
"Itís not so bad and this old sweater keeps me warm. Iím so glad you came, Ben, and Delia is so nice and pretty. Iím glad you found her."
"Me too." He smiled. "Just goes to show thereís somebody out there for everybody."
"Iím beginning to wonder about that. Be nice to have a few more grandchildren before I go."
"You ainít goiní nowhere no time soon. There will probably be some more."
"You seem to be doing all right for yourself. Quite an entrance you made."
"Was it too much?"
Anne smiled a little, "Yeah, it was, Ben. No sense in showing off."
"Well when I left here I left on foot and I always said if I ever come back it would be in style. I finally got there. Mama, if there is anything in the world you want or need I can do it for you."
"I just want everybody to be happy and safe. I donít want no trouble to find any of you and thatís something money canít buy. I appreciate it though."
Ben finished his tea and dumped the ice out in the yard. "I think my troubles are behind me. Itís been a long road. I had to kick a lot of rocks on the way but Iím sitting on top right now with Delia and nothingís gonna happen to mess that up."
"I hope not. You were a wild one, Ben. I tried my best with you but youíd do what you wanted."
"Iím a lot older now, Mama, and I ainít so wild anymore. Iím just tryiní to hold onto what I got. I wanna say that just because I ainít been home donít mean I didnít think about you and this place. You were always in the back of my mind."
"Iíve got something I want to give you." She led him around the porch to the door to her bedroom. From her jewelry box she pulled out a bracelet.
"This was your mamaís. It belonged to our mother and she give it to her. I want you to have it for Delia. Itís not much but it is gold."
Ben took the bracelet and sat down on the end of her bed. "Itís been a long time since I thought about her."
"You remember her?"
"She was pretty and had long hair, dark hair." He fingered the bracelet. "I remember her. I hated her for a long time cause she went and got herself killed. She couldnít help it but I was young and stupid."
"You were a very angry little boy but youíve grown up to be a fine man."
Ben felt his eyes sting. If only she knew. But heíd never let her down, not ever. "Thank you, Mama, Delia will wear this proudly. Thatís how she is. He looked up at Anne and she put her arms around him and hugged him.
They heard a car pull up and it was Jeff with Steve and Colin. They came in carrying a load of pizza boxes.
"We brought dinner." Jeff called out.
"Oh my word," Anne exclaimed, "that must have set you back a dollar or two."
"Steve and Jeff paid for them." Colin put his boxes down. "Weíre celebrating, Mama, I got a job."
"Already? That is something to celebrate."
"We went by the shop and talked to Jones and he put him on. Itís not much but itís a start. Always easier to find a job if youíve got one." Jeff explained.
Richie and Cal cleared the table off putting away the scrabble game.
"Hey, címon we got pizza." Steve called out.
Zack was halfway down the stairs and went back up to get John and the boys.
"I thought since it was our last night here Iíd do the cooking." Jeff kissed his mamaís cheek.
"Youíre right handy to have around, Jeff." Anne laughed.
The next morning was total chaos with everyone running around trying not to forget anything. John and Donna were the first to leave to hop, skip and jump across the country trying to get home. By 6:00 that afternoon theyíd all gone except Colin and Jeff whoíd been sitting at the kitchen table talking. Anne went in to make a pot of coffee.
"Mama, Jeff and Iíve been talking and since Iím going to be working with him it might be a good idea if I stay with him for awhile. Heís got room."
"You donít have but one bed, Jeff."
"Well we thought weíd come out here this weekend and take Colinís old bed and set it up in my spare room if thatís okay with you. He can sleep on the couch till then."
Anne sighed, no need to hang onto things. "Yes, thatís fine with me and you might as well take his dresser too."
"Thanks, Mama." Colin smiled.
Soon Jeff and Colin left and Anne waved from the front porch. The last of them gone now the dust would settle and sheíd get to the beds upstairs and wash the sheets and towels eventually. She looked down as her furry friend settled by her leg.
"Down to me and you, Pepper." His tail beat on the porch floor.
How quiet the house was now and how glad she was sheíd held onto it after her husband died. They all had a place to come to and she had a houseful of memories to keep her company.