Challenge: Using prose or poetry, write something about Christmas.
It had been almost a year since tragedy struck this sleepy little town, when Ray and I were headed home on a night much like this one. Seeing her continue to mourn after nearly a year was almost too much for me to bear and made even worse a few days before Christmas in the Piney Woods of East Texas when a terrible ice storm blew in wreaking havoc on the entire town. Will I finally be able to see my family happy again, or will I see them in more despair than ever before? Drivers lost control of their vehicles by swerving to avoid felled trees and power lines, sliding off into the creeks and ditches. Most of the roads could not be safely travelled and the dirt roads impossible by auto.
The entire town was in a tizzy, fretting over whether or not we'd be having Christmas, with no power. The town square and Christmas tree were completely destroyed. There'd be no Christmas for all those orphans who lived in the shelter located in the basement of the courthouse. Where would they live now? They wondered.
Finally, Edna Hanson blurted out, "We could pack ém all up and send ém out to Orphan Annie's farm back there in the thicket. She's already got two younguns of her own and one on the way! Those kids are all gonna be heathens, because she doesn't even bother bringing them to church. What a disgrace!"
"Watch it, Edna! That's my wife, the mother of my children you're blabbing about! Of all the...If you and those 'society ladies' would take a good long look in the mirror, ya'll wouldn't dare say that my wife is a disgrace!" I screamed at her, but of course she couldn't hear me.
The other church ladies all nodded and agreed idly gossiping amongst themselves. My best friend, Raymond Bartlett overheard this and walked towards the ladies, "Well Edna, the way all you ole bitties treat her, no wonder she doesn't come to church. Do you think a decent mother wants her children to learn how to gossip and falsely accuse others?"
"Excuse me?" Edna asked indignantly.
"There is no excuse the way all ya'll stuck yer noses up in the air the last time she came to church! Her husband's body wasn't even cold in the grave yet, for God's sake. She came to church for the comfort of friends and loved ones and to hear the Word of God. What did she receive? Ya'll gossiped about her with your snide remarks, making sure she heard every word ya'll spit out! And ya'll call yerselves Christians. Ain't a one of ya anything more than daymn hypocrites! Every last one of ya should be ashamed of yerselves, but ya ain't. Ya'll think you're actions are justified. Just remember this ladies, everyone's bill comes due." Raymond bitterly scolded.
"Skit ém Ray! That's tellin ém!"
"Well, I never!" Edna sniffed.
Missy retorted, "I cannot believe that you just defended her! You're just like the rest of the men in this God-forsaken town. Actually, you're worse, because you moved that trailer out to the thicket, not a mile from her place. Truth be told, that kid she's carryin' is probably yours, and here her husband's hardly dead a year! It's you that should be ashamed, ya man-whore."
Raymond had already begun walking off, but when he heard such hateful lies come out of Missy's mouth, he turned on his heel, shaking his finger in her face, with a fury that made her tremble. I was ready to rip Missy's head off her shoulders, but how could I? She's a woman, for one thing and for another I am now only a restless spirit.
"By God, if you was a man, Melissa Ann Gillespie, I'd punch you right in that daymned smug hoity toity face of yers! How dare you say such hateful things about her? Huh? She has always loved you like a sister and defended you more times than anyone can count. He was my best friend and more like a brother, so she's family as far as I'm concerned. She's a good woman, who's already suffered more in this life than anyone should ever have to endure and she's not even thirty. Your jealousy wasn't attractive back then and it sure doesn't do anything for me now. Your problem is that you've always wanted what ya can't have. I thought once upon a time, that you were the only girl for me, but you had your heart set on Danny and then when you realized you couldn't have him, you chose to hate her and ran after that lawyer from Houston. She loved you like a sister and you betrayed her and yourself! Ever since I moved out there to keep an eye on her and those kids, you've decided to take an interest in me. Too little, too late! Grow up girl, or no decent man will ever want you!"
"Well thanks, Ray! I love you too, brother."
We're all guilty of talking about making things better, but all we want to do is waste precious time gossiping about stuff that we have no business talking about, because in all reality, we don't have a clue. Life is so damned short and I know this for a fact! If I could go back and be with my family again, there's no way on God's green earth that I'd waste one minute on such foolish things. I would make every single moment count and take all the best from that moment, so I could leave something even better in its place.
I know that Raymond didn't know how, but he had his mind and heart set to find a way out to the farm to make sure that she and the kids were okay. He knew that he could get there on horseback, but his horses were at the farm. Then, he remembered the gelding Angel'd been forced to sell to pay for my funeral.
She'd been given that horse by her Daddy before he and her Mama were taken in an ice storm just like this one, twenty years before, leaving her an orphan at seven years old. She would have been taken by the county to live in the courthouse basement, if not for a kindly Indian Elder who was an old family friend and helped run the farm. That old man had a way with horses and taught her to ride.
Everyone thought it strange and somewhat improper for a young girl to be raised by an old man, who was old enough to be her grandfather, wasn't even family and especially an Indian at that. But, at least the county wouldn't have to foot the bill for raising her and rumor had it that half the farm was left to her and half to old Hawk Eye, so he ended up raising her as his own and taught her how to take care of Choctaw, a buckskin line-back dun Mustang from Wyoming.
He was one of the best trail horses Raymond had ever seen, but no one was ever able to ride him, but Angel. Old man Spencer at the funeral home coveted that horse ever since Angel’s Daddy brought him to town. So, when I was killed and she didn't have the funds to pay for the funeral expenses Spencer offered to take the horse off her hands and call it, even. But, every time he even acted as if he was gonna go near Choctaw, he'd either get kicked at, rammed into the fence or bitten. Old man Spencer was always threatening to sell the horse for dog food.
Raymond took his truck over to Spencer's and traded it for the horse. Spencer snorted with a chuckle, "Good luck ridin that wild stang! I do believe I got the better end of the deal. Can't believe you're gettin rid of that nice truck to take this nasty piece of horse flesh out to that ole red headed gal, but to each his own."
Choctaw a nasty piece of horse flesh? Shoot! He's the best horse in the State. And, what do you mean, 'ole red headed gal? By god, if I could I'd be boxin them ears of yours!"
Angel could probably take care of herself and the kids after all; she was raised by a man. She could out-ride and shoot both Ray and myself growing up. We could never beat her at anything, unless she let us and she'd saved both of us too many times to count from certain death. But, she was near the end of her pregnancy and still in mourning. She still blamed herself for not being able to save me, even though she wasn't there.
Ray and I drove log trucks after we served four years in the Marine Corp. Ray also blamed himself for my death. We were trying to get the last loads to the paper mill and get home before the storm blew in. The roads were already icing over from the rain and sleet, but the Norther would be here, soon. It was already dark from the clouds rolling in and it was still early.
Ray crossed the old trellis bridge first and felt it creak a bit. He radioed me to take it slow and easy, because we were both loaded heavy and with the weight of the ice on the bridge, it may not hold up under it all.
"Roger that, mate" I answered.
Once Ray got across the bridge, he waited for me and I'm sure he was horrified at what he saw in the mirror. I was midway across the bridge and it began to give way under the tandems of the trailer. I felt that trailer being pulled down and all I could think of was gettin home to my Angel and the kids.
Ray saw it in the mirror and keyed the mic, "Hammer on it, Danny! Catch those gears like ya stole it!"
I didn't have time to radio back, because I was too busy shifting gears trying desperately to get off that bridge. It brought me down with and Ray could do nothing but watch! He ran from his truck to see my rig land on a piece of an old pier we used to fish off of.
"Danny, jump and swim your ass off!"
As soon as I opened the door, the truck and trailer shifted and down I went into the icy water. "Jesus! This water is cold!" I thought. It felt as though millions of needles were pricking my whole body as I fought to swim, but couldn't free my arm.
I know Ray's heart must have stopped as he raced towards the edge of the cliff and jumped right in after me, praying out loud, "Oh Lord, help me get to him in time! Angel will kill me if I don't bring him home for supper!"
We were both Marines and had been in worse situations; surely we would have a good story to tell.
He finally saw my legs kicking in the water so he swam even harder trying to get to me. When he finally reached me, he saw that my arm was trapped between two logs. He signaled to me to be still while he attempted to shift the logs. Ray fought frantically to move the logs out of the way, to no avail. Finally I motioned for Ray to cut off my arm. Ray shook his head, "No!"
But, I insisted. All I wanted was to get home to my family and the loss of an arm was a small sacrifice. So, Ray found a saw that had slipped from the trailer, knocked me out, began sawing off my arm and was halfway through the bone when the load shifted. He snatched me with all his might, swimming as hard as he could to the surface.
He'd already been under for far too long. I could always hold my breath under water longer than he could. Surely, Ray felt as if his lungs were about to explode, as we broke through the surface of the water and he drew in cold air. He'd still have to swim a good half mile with me to reach the bank, because all there was close by was the edge of the cliff.
He noticed I wasn't breathing and had no pulse, but knew he couldn't do anything yet, but maybe knock some of the water out of me and hope that I'd start breathing on my own. So, he pulled me up out of the water, far enough so he could hit me hard in the solar plexus, causing me to projectile all over him.
"Well thanks, buddy! At least it'll warsh off in this water," Ray teased.
He finally got me to the bank and started CPR. I regained consciousness pretty quickly, saying, "Ya better get us home, Ray or Angel's gonna kill us both!"
Ray laughed, "That's what I'm screamin!", as he lifted me over his shoulder, to carry me back to his log truck. He put me inside and dollied down the trailer, so he could bob-tail to the hospital.
"Just hold on, Danny. We're gonna get ya to the hospital and everything's gonna be alright. I'll call Angel and take my ass whoopin when she gets there."
Ray radioed the Sheriff's Department that he'd be bringing me into the ER and to control traffic and to notify the ER that we were en route. As soon as we arrived I was immediately taken into surgery to try to save my arm, but while on the table, I threw a clot and died. They fought to save me, but the doctor finally called it at 1800 hours.
"If only I'd let Danny cross the bridge first, he'd be home with his family, now. I would gladly go back and trade places with him, if I could." Ray thought.
I kept trying to get Ray to hear me telling him that I knew that he did everything he could to save me. "Dammit! Why can't I make you hear me? Just take care of our Angel and the kids for me! Please don't let anything happen to them. You and Hawk Eye are all she's got, now."
Ray snapped out of his memories of the past, because he knew he had to get out to the farm. "Okay Choctaw. You're lettin me lead you, so are ya gonna take me to our Angel? I need you and so does she."
Choctaw stomped his feet, tossed his head back and brayed as if to say, "Whatcha waitin for?"
So Ray looked at him cautiously, while he mounted and said, "Just don't throw me, okay?"
Choctaw was only about fourteen and a half hands tall, but was built like a Sherman tank and could run fast as a streak of lightnin. Before Ray's butt hit Choctaw's back, he was off quick as a hiccup for the farm!
"Daymn Choctaw! Watch those branches! I ain't as quick as Angel!"
Ray was an excellent horseman, but he rode western and Choctaw was an Indian pony. When they arrived at the farm, there was smoke coming from the chimney, but no one inside. He checked the barns and there was no one there, either. Choctaw was at the edge of the thicket, prancing and snorting, so Ray went to see what was up. He saw where horses had gone through the thicket on the icy pine needles and he saw tracks from wagon wheels.
"Okay, Choctaw. Let's go get ém buddy."
There's nothing in this world that I ever loved more than spending time with my family. I know it sounds like a really bad cliché, but they completed me. Family is the most important thing there is. They make you the person you are and make you want to be a better person for them. It is one of God's greatest gifts; second only to the gift of Salvation through His Son, Jesus. He is the ultimate parent and when we model ourselves after Him, we become better parents, ourselves. I feel so proud to see my beautiful wife, whom I adore with our children. I've never seen a better or more loving mother.
"Come on kids. Ya'll hurry up and help me get all the critters in the barns before this storm hits. Then, we'll get back inside by the fire and make some Christmas decorations before bed." Angel told our children.
"Okay, Mama!" Danny Ray and Savannah echoed, grinning from ear to ear.
The chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese and peacocks were easy. They'd already gone to roost in the henhouse, so Danny Ray closed the door, while Savannah slipped a noose round the neck of a nanny goat to lead her inside the barn. Angel opened the gate to the corral and whistled. Then she went after a cow to lead into the barn, while the horses followed. Once they had all the animals inside the barn and into their stalls, they covered each with a blanket, laid fresh straw and filled all the feed buckets, while Danny Ray filled all the water troughs.
The wind began to blow howling through the pine trees, as a red-tailed hawk flew above Angel's head. "Thank you, sister. Take shelter in the barn."
The hawk flew straight in and up to the loft to bed down for the night. She showed up a few years back with a broken wing and Angel wrapped it tight and fed her, until she healed. From that time on, the hawk would warn Angel of storms coming and would seek shelter in the barn.
Once they were safely back inside the cabin, with extra wood for the fire, Angel told the kids the story of the Baby Jesus, while she fixed supper and the kids tied pine boughs together, making garlands to hang round the cabin. She was always an awesome story teller and I attributed this to Hawk Eye's teachings. He always told us stories, until Angel had most of them memorized and then she began telling most of the stories.
"A very long time ago, in a town far away called Nazareth, there lived a young woman named, Mary who was engaged to marry a handsome man named, Joseph. Now, Joseph was a carpenter and he worked very hard and built beautiful things with his hands.
One day, while Mary busy doin her housekeepin, an angel suddenly appeared. Before Mary could say anything the angel told Mary that she was favored by God, and that God was with her.
Mary was surprised! She tried so hard not to be afraid because she’d never seen an angel before. She was, after all just a regular person, just like us. She wondered why this angel would be visiting her and what the angel wanted to talk to her for.
The angel understood that Mary was scared, so the angel quickly said, "Do not be afraid! God has found favor with you. You will have a baby boy, and are to give him the name Jesus."
Mary was confused because she wasn’t married to Joseph yet, so how could she have a baby? The angel knew that this concerned Mary so he said, "The Holy Spirit's gonna give you a miracle, and your baby will be called the Son of God."
The angel gave Mary even more surprising news: "Elizabeth, your cousin may be old, yet she will also have a son. No one thought that she could have children, but she is pregnant now. Nothing is impossible with God."
Mary couldn't believe it and she didn't know what to say! She knew she was trembling, so she knelt down. When she was finally able to say something she said, "I am the Lord's servant, and I hope everything you've told me will come true."
Then the angel left her alone.
Joseph soon found out that Mary was about to have a baby. Joseph was confused and very upset over this. But an angel came to him in a dream and said, "Joseph do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. The child Mary is going to have is God's son, and you are to give him the name Jesus."
When Joseph woke from his dream, he remembered what the angel had said. He knew that everything was gonna be okay and he had no reason to worry. Back then the government decided to count everyone that lived in those parts. So Joseph had to take Mary to his home town of Bethlehem to register.
It took Joseph and Mary a long time to get there, because they didn't have cars or trucks in those times. Mary was worn out by the time they got there, because she was about to have the baby, soon.
When they finally got there, all the hotels were filled up and there was no place for them to stay. Someone felt sorry for them and offered them a place to stay in their barn.
Jesus was the King of the Jews, yet He wasn't born in a fancy palace or even a hospital, like ya’ll was. But, His Mama and Joseph were thankful to at least have a place to lie down to rest after such a long journey. It was warm and there was plenty of hay to bed down in. That night, the most wonderful thing happened! Mary had her little baby Jesus and He wasn't just any baby. He was the Creator of the world and everything in it and through Him the world would be saved, if they would only believe."
Baby Jesus fell asleep in His Mama's arms and she wrapped Him up tight in blankets and laid Him down in a little trough, like our animals eat and drink out of."
I couldn't help but enjoy the story, like I always did. I just wished that I could have touched them and held them in my arms, just one more time.
Nearly everything in that tiny cabin was handmade, except for the iron pots, pans and kettles. The old house burned to the ground one summer during a draught and her Daddy had started building a new house before he and her Mama were killed, but they built the cabin to live in, until the big house was finished. Angel, Hawk Eye and I worked on it a little here and there until it was finished last year. We were going to move into it for Christmas, but since I left, Angel didn't have the heart to leave the cabin we had done so much livin and lovin in.
The cabin was built entirely of felled pine logs and cedar. The floorboards and walls were made from what was left of an old barn after a tornado destroyed it. Even the beds were made of pine branches. The mattresses were made from cotton ticking, which is the blue and white striped fabric that overalls are made out of and were filled with pine straw and feathers. The pillows were made the same. The table and chairs, sofa and rockers were all made from pine.
All the dishes were made by hand from Angel's pottery wheel. She'd learned from Hawk Eye how to make pottery and made them pretty colors with berries and vegetable juice. She had pine needle baskets of various sizes and shapes that she also learned from him. She made her own candles and bath products, which is how she made money to support the kids and herself. It didn't bother them in the least to have a power outage, for they often only had the fire and candles burnin of an evenin.
Even the blankets, quilts and other bedding was made by Angel and she had her Celtic crosses hanging over each end of the fireplace, with a huge mandella Hawk Eye made for her gracing the center. Dream catchers hung over each of the beds and the wooden canoe cradle that Hawk Eye carved for Angel before Danny Ray was born sittin in the corner by our bed. The frame was cut from pine logs and there was a dowel rod through the center, end to end, allowing it to rock back and forth. In the Spring and Summer, we carried it to the creek, so Danny Ray and later, Savannah could float in their canoe while we caught fish for supper.
They made holly and mistletoe balls and trimmed all the boughs with holly berries, gold ribbons and feathers collected from their poultry. She had pots of clover growing in the cabin, along with her herbs she used for cooking. The tree was covered in holly, pine cones, Irish lace, Scottish Tartan and feathers. Then, Angel opened a tin full of peppermint candy canes she let the kids hang on the tree.
The wind got up and blew open a few shutters and Angel had to go outside in the bitter cold to close them. The storm was raging outside, sleeting sheets of ice and hail peppered Angel before she got back inside.
She finished tellin the story of the Baby Jesus and started reading the traditional Christmas stories, Twas the Night Before Christmas, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman. Tomorrow, she would read The Nutcracker, for the kids had fallen asleep in our bed, like always, with little Savannah's head upon her big brother's shoulder. She covered them with the Christmas quilt at the foot of the bed, then added another log to the fire and began cleaning up the mess they'd made while making decorations.
She couldn't help but cry, thinking of me. This storm was too much like the one which took me not so very long ago and here she was about to give birth to our third child.
"I'm right here, darlin! I wish I could hold you, so you could feel my touch and you wouldn't cry anymore. I never could stand it when you cried. You didn't cry often, but when you did it ripped my heart out. I love you and I always will, but I need you to be happy. I need you to live for me. I can and will go on living through you."
"Little one, when will you decide to get here? It's nearly Christmas and I conceived you Valentine's Day morning, before your Daddy went to work. Now you'll just have to hold on until this storm passes. I can't be draggin your brother and sister out in this storm to go to the hospital. Where is your Uncle Ray? He should have been here by now. I swear that man will be late for his own funeral! He always caused your Daddy to be late and I'd be pissy with the both of ém. Of course, I couldn't stay mad at either of them for long, because your Daddy was such a love and your Uncle Ray was and still is such a silly flirt! I swear that man flirts with old ladies. "Honey this and Darlin that" and he's just a hoot to be around." she chuckled aloud.
Before she realized what she was saying, she said, "Danny, remember that time when we were kids, not more than ten or so and that old lady told us we weren't sposed to be in the back of the feed store because of the trucks comin and out and Raymond strutted over to her, like a little banty rooster and says, "Well, hello darlin! Don't you just look pretty of the morn?"
She waited for me to answer, in which I did, but she couldn't hear me and she laid down upon the sofa pulling my favorite quilt up over her and cried herself to sleep.
It was cloudy with a heavy fog rising up from the pine straw floor of the thicket. Everywhere she looked it was white from the snow, with icicles hanging everywhere. The Spanish moss hung from the trees, like giant tentacles reachin every which of a way as if to take captive whomever wandered into the thicket. There was no sound of crunching leaves or frozen pine straw under foot, as she led her horses through the forest. She came across Hawk Eye sittin inside the sweat lodge he'd built when she was a young girl.
"Grandfather, I need you to come home. I woke one mornin and you were gone! I've come here many a time looking for you and never found a trace of you and now, here you are."
"Yes, girl. You needed to grieve. It hurt me to leave you, but I could pray for you here, to give you strength. You needed to be alone with the children to work through your grief and to learn how to walk this path alone. You must go into town and gather the children to bring to the farm. They cannot stay in the courthouse basement with no heat or electricity. You will need to take blankets to wrap them in and bring them home. You can't drive on the roads, so you'll have to take the hay wagon. You'll have to go round the river to the rope bridge, by the old wooden bridge. Go slow, because it is old. I will meet you at the farm. Be quick, girl!"
Angel woke from her dream and knew she must make ready. It would take all day and most of the night to go into town for the kids and bring them back here. She packed scrambled egg sandwiches, blankets, oil for the lanterns, put fresh hay on the buckboard and then hitched up the horses.
She went inside to wake the children, get them dressed and told them to hurry and load up, because they had to make an emergency trip into town for the children and it would be a long hard day and night. Once they were settled, she clicked her teeth "Git on up, there!" she coaxed to get the horses movin.
The forest looked just as it did in her dream, but when she went by the sweat lodge, there was no sign of Hawk Eye. She went towards the river and came upon the old bridges, the one that took me and the rope bridge, that she would have to cross with the kids. She climbed down from the buckboard to test it, before crossing. She then led the horses across as she walked ahead of them. It seemed sturdy enough. After they were safely across, she climbed back up on the buckboard and went on towards town.
At the edge of the thicket, she saw a car turned over in the ditch. She noticed several cars in the ditches, but someone was crying inside this one. She got down and went to see Missy crying, "Please help me!"
"Okay, hold on, Missy and I'll get ya out. Can you unfasten your seatbelt?" Angel asked calmly.
"No!" cried Missy.
"Okay, calm down. I'll have to break the back window, so I can crawl in and cut your seatbelt. Are you hurt?"
"No. I just bit my lip when the car rolled, is all. But, I really gotta pee!" Missy yelled urgently.
"Okay Missy. Cover your face, because I'm gonna break the window and I don't want glass gettin in your face." Angel choked back a laugh as she busted the window with a nearby rock and then crawled into the back of the car to cut the seatbelt. "Missy, I need you to crawl over the back of the seat and out the window. Can you do that?"
"Yeah, I'm comin. Thank you for helpin me, Angel. I was so scared!"
"You're welcome, Missy. Now come on. We've gotta go get the kids at the courthouse. Now get on behind those trees and pee and then get up here on the buckboard. We're burnin daylight!"
"Okay, Annie...Umm I mean, Angel."
Angel had gotten used to the "Annie" nickname from the town folk. She was, after all an orphan, but her name was Angeliesha Rose and her Daddy called her his Wild Irish Rose, but Ray and I called her our Irish Angel, because she was always rescuing us from somethin.
When Missy had finished relieving herself, she climbed up next to Angel, while Angel wrapped a blanket round Missy's shoulders, before she put hers back round her own shoulders.
"Now, you should be warm in no time, Missy. Danny Ray, Savannah, say 'hello' to Missy."
The kids each spoke to Missy and she returned their smiles with one of her own and said to Angel, "They're so beautiful and you're really kind to be coming all this way in this weather and in your condition to get those kids that no one wants to take responsibility for and then to stop on the way to help me. I don't deserve your kindness and I'm so sorry I've been so unkind to you."
Angel reached over and took Missy's hand in hers and said, "I've missed you, Missy. You're the closest thing I've ever had to a sister. It's good to have you back." She grinned at Missy and noticed a tear roll down Missy's cheek. "You better stop that snivelling or you'll be havin icicles hangin out yer nose!" They all had a good laugh and Missy stopped her crying. She was also glad to have Angel back.
As they pulled up to the courthouse, they saw all the fire trucks and rescue workers trying to evacuate the kids from the basement to take them to the high school gym to stay until repairs could be made to the courthouse.
"Where's Raymond? I'm surprised he's not here workin this scene.” Angel queried.
Missy replied, "He was worried about ya'll, so he headed out to the farm."
Angel walked over to Chief Culley and said, "The gym is not an appropriate place for these kids. I've come to take them home with me."
Chief Culley snorted, "You can't take all these kids on a hay wagon all the way out to the thicket by yourself. It'll be dark long before you get there."
Missy spoke up, "She won't be by herself, because I'm going with."
"I don't have the man power to spare to babysit two women and all these orphans, plus your two and here you are about to pop out another one!"
"Thanks for reminding me, Chief and we don't need your help. Missy, start loading the kids and give each of them a blanket. Chief, how many kids are there?"
"Twenty-one" he said smugly.
Angel took a deep breath and said, "Well, they may have to share some of the blankets. Wrap ém up tight and let's get goin. We ain't goin to church here!"
I laughed, "You're in for it now, Culley! When my Angel sets her mind on somethin, there's no stoppin her."
Mike Saddler came running over when he saw Missy, yelling, "I'm goin with ya'll, to help you get home safely."
Mike had carried a torch for Missy their whole lives, but Missy hardly noticed him. She always wanted me or anyone that wasn't interested in her. She was really a good girl and her heart was in the right place, it was just how she went about things that caused her trouble. But, Mike wasn't about to give up hope. He'd rather spend his life alone, if he couldn't have the girl he wanted.
"Thanks Mike! We would appreciate your help." Angel smiled, trying to keep from giggling out loud, because everyone but Missy knew that he was crazy about her.
Angel prayed silently about crossing the old rope bridge. It was one thing to cross with only the weight of her and her children in the buckboard, but now there were three adults and a total of twenty-three children to get across that bridge. She debated if she should take them on down river another three miles to the old ferry barge, but it would be dark by the time they got home and she knew the coyotes would be on the prowl. She was really starting to hurt in her lower back and thought she'd be better off walking for a spell. She rubbed her lower back and stretched trying to work some of the stiffness out.
When they came to the bridge, Mike and Missy gasped.
Mike said, "Surely, we're not crossin that thing!"
Missy cried, "There's no way that thing will hold!"
Angel said simply, "We're gonna have to walk it a few at a time. It held us earlier, but now there's a good bit more ice on it weighing it down. Mike, you take two across and wait with them for Missy to cross with two more. Take an older child and a younger one with each trip, until we have all of us across. That way, if you get into trouble, you'll have an older one to help out. Now, get movin! We have to be across with the wagon before dark!"
That old bridge rocked and creaked with each step they took and I held my breath in fear that any one of them may fall.
They finally had all the kids across with no mishaps, now all that was left to do, was driving the buckboard across the bridge. Angel unhooked most of the harnesses, so she could easily free the horses, if she needed to. They could pull the wagon with only one line, since there were no passengers.
Angel walked beside the old mare and said, "Come on, ole girl. I know you'll get us across."
The kids, Mike and Missy watched anxiously from the other side as Angel led the horses across. Angel's foot went through a weak board and had she not been holding onto Molly's bridle, she probably would have fallen through the bridge. As it was, it pulled Molly off step and her back hoof went through a board. She quickly recovered as everyone on the bank watched in terror! Mike ran across the bridge with a rope he'd tied to a tree and to his waist, carrying another rope that he also tied to his waist and round Angel, to get her off that bridge. I was powerless to help her and could do nothing, but yell for Mike to hurry and even that was futile.
About the time he reached her, a cougar growled from behind the buckboard. He was crouched low, to pounce on the team. Molly and the bay gelding balked for a moment and then set off at a trot, pulling Angel and nearly knocking Mike off the bridge. Thankfully, Mike had tied the rope round Angel because another board gave way. Angel lost her grip on Molly's bridle and went through the floor of the bridge.
While pulling her back up Mike noticed the cat about to pounce on them, just before a bowie knife flew over his head and straight into the heart of the cougar. He turned to see Ray ridin Choctaw hell bent for leather up to the bridge, dismounting at a run to grab Angel, before she collapsed.
I would've died right then and there from a heart seizure, had I not already been dead!
"Mike, go calm those horses and get them kids loaded! I gotcha Baby. We're gonna get you home." He laid Angel in the back of the wagon and told Missy to watch her.
Missy screamed, "Oh my God! Ray, you're covered in blood!"
"Jesus, she's bleeding! We've got to get her home, quick! Missy, turn her on her left side, to slow the contractions and prop her feet up above her head on that bale of hay, to get her blood pressure up. Keep her covered. We'll be riding hard and fast. Let me know if her condition worsens, or if we need to stop." Ray ordered.
I kept screaming, "Ray, hurry!"
They made it the rest of the way to the farm and Hawk Eye had the big house lit up with candles, lanterns and smoke coming from the chimney. He knew the children wouldn't all fit in the cabin. He had supper cooking and had begun decorating the house for Christmas. When he saw Ray carrying Angel inside, he spread a quilt on the table for him to lay her down.
"There's too much blood and she's burnin up!" Ray announced to Hawk Eye.
"She'll be fine, son. You and Mike get the kids fed. There's a pot of stew and plenty of fry bread. Take them into the living room, while Missy and I take care of Angel. The phone lines are down, so we can't call for an ambulance. As soon as the kids are fed, take them upstairs and put them to bed. I may need your help, before the night is over." Hawk Eye, told Ray.
The house was plenty big enough, because we'd intended to use it as a bed and breakfast. There were three fireplaces down the wall dividing the living room and kitchen and they could be tended from either side. They were fully functional for heating and cooking. Hawk Eye had hung some pine boughs from the rafters and down the stair railing and the lights. But, of course there was a power outage, but they'd sure be pretty when they came back on.
Missy bathed Angel's forehead and then undressed her, being careful to not hurt her. Angel looked up at Missy. "Mike's in love with you and you're a fool if you don't see it! Have you not noticed how handsome he is and how he looks at you?"
"No, but I guess he is handsome and he's got money, too."
"Missy!" Angel scolded.
"I know! I'm sorry, Angel. I guess old habits die hard. Ray's in love with you, Angel. I was mean and falsely accused him of fathering your baby, because you're overdue."
"What?" Now that'll wake ya up of the mornin, to hear that your best friend, who's more of a brother is in love with your wife! But, I wanted nothing more than to see her happy again; to hear her sweet laughter and if Ray could make her happy, I'd be fine with that.
"What?" Angel demanded.
"I know, I was wrong and I'm sorry for that, too. I was just pissy, because neither he nor Danny was ever interested in me. They were both crazy about you."
"You're wrong, Missy. Ray was in love with you, until you broke his heart going after Danny and then that lawyer from Houston who let you believe you were gonna get married, until his wife showed up."
"Oh, Gawd, Angel! You saved me from a lot of trouble! I still can't believe you pretended to be me, by standing up to her and saying, "I'm so sorry! I never knew he was married!" That woman woulda killed me!"
"Be happy, Missy. Stop flirting with disaster. Settle down and have a family, or go back to law school. Or, both! Stop living off your Daddy, just because he's the judge."
"Daddy always wanted a son to be a lawyer, Angel."
"Well show him that you can do whatever you set your mind to. Oh Jesus! Grandfather! I feel like my body's being ripped into shreds!" Angel screamed.
Hawk Eye looked and said, "The baby's placenta has detached from the womb. I'm going to give you some herb tea which will make your contractions come harder so we can get this baby out and stop the bleeding."
Hawk Eye feared he'd have to take the baby by caesarean section, but he'd only done this with a few horses and cows and never a woman. He sure didn't want to have to do this procedure to Angel. He truly loved her as his own child.
Ray came running downstairs when he heard Angel scream and he heard what Hawk Eye said. He wanted to go for help, but didn't want to leave in case he had to help Hawk Eye. He'd been a corpsman in the Marines and assisted in the operating room.
When Mike came down, he asked him if he would ride into town and get the fire department to call life flight. He knew it was called the "fair weather ambulance service", but he knew that Charley Hubert (A-bear) was a fighter pilot and would fly anywhere he needed to go to get someone to safety or for appropriate medical care.
Mike was out the door like a shot, riding Choctaw into town through the dark forest. Thank God that horse knew his way around, because Mike couldn't see spit and all he could do was hold on after he told Choctaw they had to get into town to get help for Angel. At least it had quit snowing and sleeting for the time being.
He just gave Choctaw his head and held on tight as Choctaw took him on a short cut that only he seemed to know of. Choctaw jumped over felled trees and small buttes, taking hair turns round trees, running through the creek and scrambling up the steep sides of an embankment. Mike thought surely he was going to fall and was really glad that he could hardly see where they were going.
At least until Choctaw came to what appeared to be a small gulley when the clouds parted and Mike could see how steep a drop it was in the full moonlight. It looked to be a thousand feet deep, but that horse showed he was a true Mustang when he didn't even bother slowing down, but ran head long straight over that cliff, while Mike yelled, "Oh Sheittt! Ya gotta be kidding me! Choctawwwwwwwww!"
Once off the drop, Mike could clearly see the trail which forked onto the red dirt road leading into town.
Angel sipped her tea and within a short time her contractions came much harder, lasted longer and were only a few minutes apart.
Finally, they heard the chopper set down in the corral and they came in after her. Ray made sure not to let her out of his sight and was in that chopper before they could close the hatch.
By this time she was delirious from the pain and fever and was going into shock from loss of blood, so they started an IV en route. It only took a few minutes to arrive at the hospital by air and the surgeon was awaiting her arrival. Ray quickly scrubbed in and as soon as the doctor lifted our son from Angel's womb, he laid him in Ray's arms. Ray suctioned and cleaned him up, then held him until Angel came to. He then placed our son into her arms.
I was in tears. I was so happy to see our beautiful baby boy, yet at the same time, sad that I'd never be able to hold him in this life. And, I was so proud of Angel for going through all she had to bring our son into the world.
"Hello, Tommy Joe. It's so nice to finally be able to hold you." Angel cooed to our new son.
Raymond was shocked, "What?"
Angel replied, "Yes, Ray. Danny and I decided when we had Danny Ray that he'd be named after both of ya'll. Thomas Daniel and Joseph Raymond are yall's names and now we have Danny Ray and Tommy Joe."
Raymond lowered his head and then reached out to take her hand in both of his. He then looked into her eyes and said, "I know this may not be the right time, but there's somethin that needs sayin. I love you, Angel."
"I love you too, Ray."
"No, honey. Let me finish. I know we all grew up together and Danny was more of a brother to me than just a friend and we both loved you. He had the guts to make you his where I didn't. I'd make a joke of it and go on about my business. I was always happy for the two of you and ya'll made a beautiful family and still included me. Neither one of you ever treated me any differently after ya'll married. I wanted Missy back then, but she chose to chase Danny and then someone else. No one has ever wanted me and that's okay, because I've not wanted anyone else either until these past few months."
"Ray, what are you saying? I'm getting worried!"
"I'm in love with you, Angel. There's not a thing I wouldn't do for you and these kids and I think you know that. I never intended to feel this way when I bought the trailer and parked it up the road from the farm. My intentions were simply to be close by to help out if ya'll should ever need anything. I know you probably don't feel the same about me and I'm good with that. Danny hasn't been gone a year yet and you just brought his baby into the world. If you want me to leave, I will. But, I sure hope you'll let me stay at least until Christmas is over."
Angel noticed the tears in his eyes and she was also crying. She gently tugged at his arm and said sternly, "Look at me, Ray. You're not going anywhere! You belong here. I know you loved Danny and you risked your life trying to save him and you saved me and this baby. You've always been a part of this family and always will be. Only now you'll have a different role."
Ray started bawling, put his arms round her and laid his head upon her belly saying, "I was so afraid I wasn't gonna get to you in time and then get you home before something worse happened. I couldn't bear losing both you and Danny."
These were the hardest words I'd ever had to hear, but were also words that I welcomed, because I love both of them more than mere words could ever express and I wanted nothing more than my family to be happy and okay.
Angel ran her fingers through his hair while she sang Silent Night to the baby. When she was finished singing, she noticed that both her boys were sound asleep. Angel sighed happily and then joined them in dreamland.
That hospital bed was a bit crowded with all of us curled up on it, but they didn't feel me anyway. It felt better for me to be close to them.
Back at the farm, Missy, Mike and Hawk Eye spent most of the evening planning Christmas for all the kids.
Missy mentioned, "It's a shame we can't have Christmas on the Square. It's a tradition the whole town looks forward to each year."
Hawk Eye said, "Hmmm Yes, but there's no reason we can't have it here. Mike, get the boys together with the backhoes and fix the roads. We'll have it right here."
"But what do we do about a tree?" Missy pouted.
Hawk Eye chuckled, took her by the shoulders, turned her round and said, "See that big cedar tree in the front yard?"
"OHH!" Missy laughed and then continued, "We can decorate the barn real nice and have a barn dance. The local musicians can play and the kids from church can do the Christmas Pageant as planned. Everyone can bring a covered dish for Christmas Dinner."
Mike said, "Missy, you should be one of those party planners. You have a real knack for this sort of thing."
"You silly, truck drivin red-neck! It's not a 'party planner'. The proper term would be Event Coordinator."
She then flashed him that smile of hers which always made him go weak in the knees. Ha! I swear I saw the ole boy blushin!
The next morning, Mike rode Choctaw back into town and made the announcement that the whole town was invited to celebrate Christmas at the farm. Then, he gathered the boys to start fixing the roads. The electric company finally had the power restored and the phone lines would be repaired by noon.
Edna was a little taken aback when Mike relayed Missy's message that the dinner would be pot luck, covered dish and was up to Edna to coordinate the ladies on who would bring what to the Christmas Dinner, but she was happy to be in charge of something. Talking was Edna's specialty, so she had no trouble coordinating the church ladies. They would have plenty to gossip about considering the events from the past couple of days and speculations of the coming Christmas Pageant and Barn Dance.
Once the roads were clear, Mike drove to the farm to get Missy. They stopped in town for one of the big trucks and trailers and then drove to Houston.
"I can't believe you expect me to get in that thing!" Missy whined.
"Aww come on! It'll be an adventure!" Mike teased.
"Can't you get one of your drivers to do this?" Missy further complained.
"They may not get what you want and they're busy gettin ready for Christmas. You delegated tasks to everyone. So, it's just you and me, kid. Now git your cute behind on up in that truck." He winked as he gave her a pat on the bottom.
"Ooh!" she squealed in surprise.
On their shopping excursion, Missy bought every possible Christmas light and decoration that she could find, in keeping with their theme. Instead of the usual Christmas on the Square, it would now be A Piney Woods Christmas.
She then shopped for blankets, coats, clothes, shoes and toys. Every one of the orphans and our kids would have a whole new wardrobe and every child from town would go home with a new toy. Then, she stumbled upon a costume store, where she found new costumes for the kids to wear in the Christmas Pageant that would actually fit each child, as opposed to the old ones used year after year and had to choose the actors who would fit the costumes.
When she bought Angel and herself new evening gowns and shoes to wear for the dance, Mike started laughing.
"What?" Missy asked?
Mike explained, "Darlin, it's a barn dance. Those heels won't do and the trains on those dresses will be covered in muck and poo!"
"Oh! Well, we can save them for the New Year's Eve celebration and I can buy us some cute denim skirts and boots. That is, if we're able to have a New Year's Eve celebration with the storm damage and all."
Mike said sweetly, "You don't have to do all this, you know and I'm sure that we'll be able to have some sort of New Year's Eve celebration, even if it's a tail gate party."
"I know. But, Angel is the only one who loved me for me and not for being the Judge's daughter. When she needed me I was busy trying to fit in with the Ladies Society to make my Daddy proud. That didn't work and only made us both miserable. I'm happy to have my chosen family back and I'm gonna see to it they have a wonderful Christmas. And, we'd better not have some ole tail gate party!"
"They will have a wonderful Christmas Honey, because you'll be there and not because you're doing all of this. I don't think you realize that you're a good person. Missy, I've always loved you and I don't give a hoot in hell that your Daddy is the Judge. When you're like this; bein yourself and not trying to fit in with the busy-bodies you are an incredible woman."
He reached out and took her into his arms and held her tightly for a moment. Then, he took her by the hand and said all excited, "Come on, Missy! There's somethin ya gotta see!"
He took her to the ice skating rink inside the Galleria Mall. Neither one of them had ever ice skated before, but this was something they'd both often dreamed about doing one day. They skated and fell (mostly fell), until they finally got the hang of it. They learned to skate together and decided that this would be something that they would be doing on a regular basis.
Once they arrived back at the farm, all the toys were wrapped and the entire town came out with the food they'd prepared. Everyone helped decorate the big tree outside with lights and beautiful ornaments. The barn was decorated and lighted from the rafters down to the floor. All the stalls were cleaned and the guys built a hardwood floor and put saw dust down. The stage was set for the Christmas Play and the musicians. Everyone was excited to welcome Angel and her new baby home.
Old man Spencer drove Ray's truck to the hospital and handed the keys to Ray saying, "You'll be needing this to get Angel and the baby home."
"Thank you, Mr. Spencer!" Ray said in shock.
"Merry Christmas, Ray. I'll be seeing ya'll at the farm." He turned to walk away, then stopped and turned back to Ray, "For you to have been such an upstart growing up you've turned into a fine young man."
Ray nodded his thanks, as his heart filled with a newfound respect for Old man Spencer then he watched the man walk away.
Missy drove Mike's pickup truck to the hospital to drop off the baby's going home outfit and dressed him while Angel put on her new denim skirt, boots and red and green plaid blouse.
"Missy, thank you so much for everything! You didn't have to do all this, ya know."
Missy hugged Angel saying, "You deserve all this and so much more, Angel. I love you and want to see you happy and hear your laughter, again."
"I love you too, Missy."
Ray walked in laughing and shouted, "Where's all my hugs? Or is this a private party?"
The girls started laughing while Ray picked up Tommy Joe and reached out to him for a group hug.
The nurse walked in with the discharge papers and Missy excused herself saying, "I've got somewhere to be, so I'll see ya'll later." She winked at Ray and blew kisses to Angel and Tommy Joe. She made a mad dash back out to the farm in Mike's pickup.
While driving, she thought how oftentimes we spend so much time searching for something to make our lives complete and then notice that it's been right there all along. All one has to do is be happy with those who've been placed in their lives. She realized that she'd never been so happy, so she gave the truck a bit more gas to get on back to the farm where Mike was helping to put the finishing touches on the evening's festivities. When she felt the truck fishtail, it scared the bejeezus right out of her. "Oh, my goodness! I'd better slow down! Mike'll kill me if I hurt his truck!"
While she continued the drive out to the farm, she said to herself, “I should have learned to drive better, but was so used to having a personal driver. At least, Mike owns his own trucking company, so he can teach me to be a better driver. That will give me an excuse to spend even more time with him. I know I've only been gone a couple of hours, but I can't wait to see him, again.”
After Ray fastened Tommy Joe in his car seat and helped Angel into the truck, he climbed in and Angel asked, "Ray, how are we gonna get home in the truck?"
"Mike and the boys fixed the road. One ride in the chopper is enough!" he laughed.
"I'm so sorry. I'll try not to have a repeat performance. Seems the roles have reversed. I've always been the one doing the rescuin and you've rescued me twice in one day!” Angel joked.
"I hope I never have to rescue you again, but I'll spend my life lookin out for you, Baby."
"Why is the entire town deserted?"
"Huh? Oh! It is deserted! Wow! That's a good question. Right now, let's just get you and little man here home where it's warm. Danny Ray and Savannah can't wait to see their new baby brother."
It was already dark, but was only about four o'clock in the afternoon when they pulled up in the drive and all the trees on both sides were lit up. It was like driving through a tunnel of lights. Angel could hardly believe her eyes as she gasped in wonder.
As they neared the house, she saw the old cedar tree lit up with yard decorations all around, looking like a winter wonderland that folks pay to drive through. The house and barns were lit and decorated. Even the hay wagon was decorated, had fresh hay and the boys had hidden batteries inside to power the lights for the ride.
Angel could hardly believe her eyes! It was so beautiful and she was so filled with emotion she began laughing and crying at the same time. "Now I know why the whole town is deserted! Everyone is here!"
They were greeted and escorted by Missy, Hawk Eye, Mike, the children and the entire town folk into the barn to see all the lights. Even the animals had new Christmas blankets over their backs and Missy had the children to help her tie ribbons and bows round the necks of the chickens, geese and ducks.
Missy announced to Angel, "We have everyone set except for Mary and the Baby Jesus." She then walked Angel over to the new trough Hawk Eye made for the play and filled with fresh hay. They laid Tommy Joe down in it for his debut role as the Baby Jesus.
It turned out to be the most beautiful Christmas Pageant this town had ever seen. Then, they all went inside the main house to sit down for a wonderful Christmas Dinner. Pine branch tables lined the living room and kitchen and were trimmed with white table cloths, pine boughs, red ribbons and were covered with platters of turkeys, geese, dressing, all the sides, cobblers, cakes, apple cider and lovely yule log centerpieces with Angel's candles.
All the church ladies out did themselves. After Pastor Bradley and Hawk Eye blessed the food, they all enjoyed a bountiful Christmas Dinner before going back outside to enjoy the hay rides to tour the farm's Christmas Light Show set to music.
"I can't believe ya'll did all this so quickly and it is so beautiful!" Angel exclaimed.
"Oh, wait till the dance!" Missy replied.
Ray asked, "Angel, will you be my date for the evening. I don't have anyone to dance with and seeing as how Missy insisted I wear these new black jeans, shirt and bolo tie I may as well put ém to good use."
"I'll dance with you." Angel smiled as she cut her eyes at him, taking in how handsome he was.
During the dance, everyone was having a grand ole time showin off their fancy foot work. Some did a bit of Celtic step dancing, while others showed of their Indian Two-Step. All of a sudden, they heard a thump upon the roof and the band broke out in "Up on the housetop click, click, click. Down through the rafters with good Saint Nick!" When the band members pointed up, everyone was surprised to see Santa sliding down a rope in the center of the barn with a huge bag on his back! Trying so hard not to drop his bag of goodies, he lost his drawers exposing his Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer boxers all lit up and twinklin!
Old man Spencer...uh Santa muttered something under his breath that sounded something like, "I can't believe you ole bitties coerced me into doin this gig!"
Everyone laughed to see his shorts twinkling with his pants down around his boots. He dropped his sack, pulled his breetches up, and fastened his belt with a "Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!" He went to his chair and all the younguns lined up to have their turn sittin upon Santa's knee and tellin him what they wanted for Christmas.
Bob Stevens was there from Stevens Photography, so everyone had professional pictures with Santa as well as a special feature to be published in the Sunday Piney Woods Gazette. Not a single child was disappointed, because everything each child asked for, Santa was able to pull from his bag, just like magick. Missy did a fine job finding out what was on every kid’s wish list.
After all the presents were opened, the band broke out with Ladies Choice Dance. Missy grabbed Mike and had him up on the dance floor, before he knew what hit him, while Angel looked across the dance floor at Ray. He hoped she would ask him to dance, but instead she walked to the center of the floor never taking her eyes off him and she stopped.
For a moment Ray's heart stopped and he looked so disappointed, until she gave him her mischievous grin, pointed at him and then at the floor in front of her, "Come ére, Cowboy!"
The crowd cheered and some whispered things like, "Aww look at ém!" and "Don't they look like a cute couple?" The barn was filled with whoops and hollers when Ray threw his head back in relief.
He then ran to angel and gently scooped her up into his arms, grinned and said, "Ya know we're right under the mistletoe."
"Well shut up and kiss me!" Angel ordered.
"Yes Maam!" He replied, before claiming her lips.
Everyone cheered, while Angel and Ray kissed, then cheered again when Missy and Mike also found themselves under the mistletoe.
Mike looked into Missy's eyes as he leaned in to kiss her, "I've waited a long time for this."
Hawk Eye was overjoyed to see that his Angel was happy again and had found her way back from the darkness. He burned some sage and sweet grass, praying before everyone went home, "Great Spirit we thank you for the safety of everyone during this storm and for bringing another new life into my family and our community; a reminder that life is a circle filled with many lessons, mysteries and blessings. Thank you for bringing us all together to celebrate the birth of your Son and the birth of Angel's son. We ask that you keep everyone safe as they journey home and help us to all remember to be kind to one another and to walk in the spirit of love."
Everyone congratulated Angel once again and Edna gave her a tight hug and said in the most sincere manner, "Angel, I understand if you never step foot in church again after the horrid way that we treated you when Danny passed, but you and your family are most welcome anytime. Everyone, including myself treated you terribly when you needed love the most and I was so selfish to not be more concerned about the welfare of those innocent children. Yet, you risked your life, your unborn baby's life and the lives of your other children to do what no one else even considered, to bring these kids home and actually love them. You've taught this entire town a valuable lesson in humanity. A community is supposed to take care of each other, rather than keepin up with the Jonses and gossiping about those who don't conform to the prescribed standards of The Ladies Society. Thank you, Angel. I believe it is far past time to re-write the guidelines of the Ladies Society and believe that you should join us. You are the finest example of what a community leader should be."
After everyone was gone they turned off the lights in the barn and went back inside. The men helped Missy to clean up what was left and put the food away. They took the extra tables and chairs outside and Hawk Eye brewed a pot of coffee. They all enjoyed their time together after the children were nestled in their beds. Missy ran out to the truck to bring in all the stockings and stocking stuffers she'd bought for the kids. They stitched each child's name in their stockings and hung them across the mantle which ran the entire length of the massive fireplaces.
The stockings were filled with candy, crayons, coloring books, jacks and other small toys for younger children. The older teens would find movie tickets, perfume, after shave cologne and other such gifts. Not one of those kids would ever feel like orphans again. They would feel no less a part of this family than the three children Angel had given birth to.
Finally Angel said, "Thank ya'll so much for such a wonderful Christmas Eve, but I must feed Tommy Joe and lie down, while he allows. All the children will be up in a few hours and I'm spent. I love you all and goodnight."
Both Ray and Mike jumped up to help her off the sofa. Once she was standing, she kissed everyone and held her Grandfather tight.
"I'll be here when you wake up, girl." He kissed her head and nodded to Missy and Ray to walk her to her bedroom. Hawk Eye disappeared for a moment and then went to Angel's bedroom door. "Ray" he called.
Ray answered, "Yessir?" as he came out the door.
Hawk Eye simply shoved two blankets and pillows into Ray’s arms as he nodded towards the living room.
"But..." Ray began.
That big Indian stood in the doorway to Angel's room with his arms folded across his chest looking down at Ray, who stood six feet even "Yes?"
"Ah Nothin!" Ray muttered.
Ray stomped into the living room, tossing a blanket and pillow to Mike as he plopped himself down upon the couch. Hawk Eye couldn't help but chuckle to himself, because he knew that Ray loved Angel and would go through hell and back for her and all these kids.
Mike laughed so hard he fell off his couch, "Aww poor pitiful Ray Ray got booted outta Angel's bedroom! Ha! Ha! Ha! Oh man, you should see the look on your face right now! I bet that left a bad taste in your mouth gettin told by ole Hawk Eye to scoot!"
"Yeah, just like vinegar! Now would you shut up? You ain't gettin any closer to Missy than I am to Angel with Hawk Eye around! That old man sleeps with his eyes open and everything."
Hawk Eye came into the living room with his blanket wrapped round his shoulders. He took out his pipe, put some tobacco in it and lit it. Looking at each of the boys he said, "This is a sacred pipe and sacred tobacco. The words we speak here will be carried straight to Creator as the smoke rises. I'm a man of few words and only speak when something needs saying. I don't repeat myself, so listen well."
He took a long pull on the pipe and passed it to Ray as he continued, "Ray, I know you've always loved Angel. I saw how you and Danny both were with her as children. I know that your innocent childhood love has matured into a different kind of love and that is good. You've honored Danny, me, those children and Angel by looking out for them as you have. She is receptive to you and so I am giving you my blessings to court her properly and to ask for her hand in marriage, because I know that you will always love them and take care of them as Danny would had he not crossed over. Mike, I've also watched you and Missy for many years and I know that the two of you will be very happy together. So, I also give you my blessings to honor her by asking for her hand in marriage. You were right; she should be 'one of those party planners', so I suggest that you ask her to coordinate the New Year's Eve Bash. That is when you boys should propose, just before midnight."
Mike choked on the pipe and quickly handed it back to Hawk Eye, while Hawk Eye lost himself briefly and let out a chuckle.
Ray sat bolt upright and respectfully said, "Thank you, sir."
Hawk Eye simply nodded, packing his pipe back into the leather pouch saying, "I have spoken. Dream good dreams." He patted each of the boys on the shoulders as he walked past them into his bedroom, leaving the door open.
Mike looked at Ray, "Man, what do ya think of that?"
Ray ran his fingers through his hair and said, "I think that went better than I expected. I never wanna be on his bad side. He may be old, but he makes nearly two of me and I'm not a small boy. I may have been a Marine, but I'll never make the mistake of crossin that man!"
"I'm tellin ya!" Mike said, shaking his head, "So, are ya gonna ask Angel?"
"What do you think jughead? Are you gonna ask Missy?"
"Sure as hell am! You and me gotta go ring shoppin! We'll go to Houston, so no one knows what we're up to."
Ray let out a hoot, "Ha! Yeah, ole Edna'd be burnin those phone lines up and the whole daymn town would know what was up before we even got outta the jewelry store!"
They both laughed and decided to go the day after Christmas.
Meanwhile, Missy and Angel were in the bedroom talking while Angel put Tommy Joe to her breast to feed him.
"Angel, I've never been so scared as I was when you fell through that bridge! All the nasty things I've done to you, Danny and Ray came flooding back to me. Thank God Mike came with us. I don't even want to think what coulda happened if he hadn't tied that rope around you and had Ray not come charging through the woods on Choctaw's back like an Indian in a war party!"
Angel laughed, "Ya know, he is half Indian, but he was raised white because his Mom died when he was a baby. His dad was a rodeo cowboy, till he was gored by a bull. Then he bought a little ranch with some of his winnings to have a stable home environment for Ray. He never remarried, choosing to raise Ray by himself. I'm white, but was raised Indian and I can outride him and he can't stand it! I was surprised to see Choctaw take to both Ray and Mike like he did. That horse never let anyone ride him, but me."
"Ray told Choctaw that you needed them. You know he traded Old man Spencer his brand new red Dodge four wheel drive pickup for Choctaw, so he could ride out to the farm to check on you."
"No, he didn't!" Angel gasped.
"He sure did! He was that worried about ya'll."
"Oh my God! He must love me, because that man babies that truck!"
Missy squealed, "He does! I saw him washin and waxin it one day and nearly suggested he get a room."
Angel yelled, "Oh! Don't make me laugh, anymore! I'll be poppin these staples right outta my belly."
When Tommy Joe finished eating, Missy changed his diaper, kissed him and laid him down in his little canoe they'd brought from the cabin. "Now little Mama let's get you into the tub for a nice long soak."
"Oh, Missy! That sounds wonderful."
Missy drew a hot bath, put lavender and sea salt into the tub and turned on the Jacuzzi jets. Then, she walked Angel to the bathroom to help her get undressed and into the tub.
"You lay there and soak, while I find you something more comfortable to wear."
"Thanks, Missy." Angel smiled.
Angel always loved her long soaks in the tub. She was never a girly girl. She worked as hard as any man, and she always said that there's nothin wrong with gettin a little dirt under your nails, because when the work is done, there's always a tub of hot water and a bar of soap to set ya to rights, again.
I watched as her beautiful face relaxed and could tell it felt so good for her to lay in that hot tub of water after the events of the past few days.
Missy found her a gown, robe and slippers, and then went into the kitchen to fix her a cup of lavender and chamomile tea. Mike and Ray sat up and asked what she was doing. Missy informed them that she was getting Angel some tea to help her sleep and they should be asleep, because they would be needed to help with all the kids in the morning.
"Yeah" "Yeah" they both muttered.
Then Mike said, "Good night, Missy."
Ray said, "Missy, thanks for taking care of my Angel."
"Good night, boys." she blew a kiss to Mike as she left the room.
She went straight into Angel's bathroom and began washing Angel's long, auburn hair.
"That feels so good!" Angel mumbled.
"Well, it's time for us to take care of you. You've always taken care of everyone else."
Missy rinsed her hair, helped her out of the tub, wrapping a bath towel around her, while she dried, brushed and loosely braided her hair. She got Angel into bed with her cup of tea and then she took a quick bath, before running back into the bedroom, squealing like old times to jump into the bed. When she saw Angel brace herself, she realized she must get into bed gently and she eased down next to Angel. They sipped their tea and then snuggled down together like they did when they were young girls.
Next morning, they woke to the smells of Christmas Breakfast. Missy out Tommy Joe into Angel's arms to have his breakfast and went to brush her teeth. Instead of her usual routine of spending an hour in front of the mirror, she brushed out her long, blonde hair, pulled it back into a low pony tail, washed her face, put on some facial moisturizer and some Vaseline on her lips. She pulled on a pair of old jeans, boots and a sweat shirt.
Then she went to Angel's closet and took out one of her long skirts, ribbon shirts and a pair of her moccasin boots. While Angel slipped into her clothes, Missy dressed Tommy Joe. Angel brushed her teeth, washed her face, took her braid down and brushed her hair which flowed to her waist.
"You should leave your hair down, Angel. It is so pretty with the waves from where it was braided. You lost a lot of blood, so let's give you a bit of color. Shall we?"
So Missy applied some yellow concealer to cover up the dark circles under Angel's eyes, a touch of tinted moisturizer to her face, beige eye shadow to brighten her eyes and a hint of cinnamon blush and lip gloss for color. Angel was lovely and no one would be able to tell she was wearing makeup, because it was such a natural look, but she wouldn't look washed out either.
Missy carried Tommy Joe and they walked into the living room where Ray and Mike quickly stood at their presence into the room. Both of them were awe struck to see the girls looking so pretty.
Ray said, "Oh my! Well aren't you a pretty Angel of the morn?"
Angel smiled and took his hand.
Mike walked over to Missy and shook Tommy Joe's hand saying, "good Mornin, little dude. I don't believe I've ever seen your Auntie Missy lookin prettier than she does this morning." He leaned in for a kiss and Missy quickly stepped back.
"Uh uh! We ain't kissin mornin breath and whiskers!"
The two boys stole a sideways glance at each other, and then raced to the bathroom to clean up. The girls couldn't help but laugh because they were like two little boys trying to be the first to win a prize.
When they came out of the bathroom, all the kids started coming downstairs to find their stockings with their very own names on them: Aaron, Amya, Brandon, Cassandra, Chae, Christian, Danny Ray, Denver, Emily, Fiona, Garland, Isabel, Jade, Jaleana, Joseph, Marcus, Marissa, Patrick, Porche, Savannah, Will, Winston, Xzavier and even wee Tommy Joe had his stocking hung.
The entire downstairs was filled with excitement and the joyous laughter of the children as they discovered little surprises tucked inside their stockings. Then, Hawk Eye announced that breakfast was ready and they all gathered round the fire in the living room to eat.
They spent part of the day outside playing with the kids, to give them time to run off their extra energy from all the Christmas candy their Auntie Missy had bought for them. They built twenty four snowmen and women, dressing them up to look like each of the kids. Then, they decided they needed one for Grandfather, Angel, Missy, Mike and Ray. Once they were finished building the snow people, they played a game of football in the snow.
Finally, Angel said it was time to feed the children and have some story time. They brought out left overs from the Christmas Dinner the night before. Angel told a few stories while Grandfather played his flute. Then Grandfather told the children some old stories from when he was a young boy.
After story time was finished, they bathed all the kids and put them to bed. It took a while to get them all ready for bed, but the older kids were happy to help. They were good kids and no one knew better than Angel how it felt to grow up in a world with no blood kin.
The rest of the evening was spent planning the New Year's Eve Party. It would be held at the old Mansion on the Hill. Once upon a time, it had been a vinyard, but was now owned by the town and it was never used.
Mike said, "Missy, I bet we could buy it at a fair price and you could turn that into your event center."
"Oh! I know it will be perfect for weddings." Missy exclaimed.
Mike later told Ray that he would speak to the director of the Chamber of Commerce about buying it. That would be a great wedding gift for Missy.
After they had all the details sorted for the party Angel asked, "Is there any reason why we can't keep these children? They need a stable home to grow up in, rather than the basement of the courthouse, which at one time was the county jail."
Missy answered, "From my limited experience in law, I don't believe there's any reason why you can't keep them here. No one has been knocking the courthouse doors down trying to adopt them and the law allows for 'hard to place children', stating that suitable shelter and accommodations must be provided and adoptive parents must show that they are financially able to care for them. You've certainly got plenty of room for them with the boys in rooms separate from the girls and with two huge bathrooms upstairs, so the girls don't have to share a bathroom with the boys. I don't see a problem, but if you'd like I'll be happy to ask Daddy."
"Yes, Missy. I'm keeping these kids. I know how it feels to walk in their shoes and I'd have been raised in that courthouse too, if Grandfather hadn't raised me as his own. The very least I can do is to give these kids the love that I was given. I know that we will be a multi-racial and cultural family, but it will be wonderful for these kids to learn each other's cultures and to respect and appreciate cultural beliefs and traditions of other people. Blood alone does not make a family. It is the bonds of love that make a family and a home."
Ray couldn't imagine loving her more than he did in that very moment and neither could I. They all slept where they did the night before with Hawk Eye's bedroom door wide open, to be sure that neither of the boys tried to slip into Angel's room with her and Missy. They'd have to walk right past Hawk Eye's room and the creaking of the floorboards would tell on them.
The next morning the guys kissed the girls and drove to Houston to shop for rings, while the girls went shopping in Dallas for the New Year's Eve party. They took Tommy Joe with them and Grandfather stayed home with all twenty three kids.
The girls were so excited to be out shopping. It being the day after Christmas, they knew they'd catch some good sales. And that, they certainly did.
"Missy, how in God's name are we gonna get all this stuff home?"
"Oh, no worries. My boyfriend owns a trucking company. I'll just tell him to send a driver with a truck to pick it all up and deliver it to the Mansion on the Hill."
"Ha! Ha! Ha! Missy, you are too much! You ought to be ashamed!"
"Why? He knows I'm high maintenance. Besides, it's for the party."
"Oh okay! That's our story and we're stickin to it." Angel winked.
Both girls laughed again, while they continued their shopping.
The guys were in charge of bringing back fire works for the show, which was their cover story for going to Houston. They probably looked at a thousand rings before Mike found a two and a half carat Princess cut diamond, set in Platinum with baguettes on each side and the matching bands.
Ray chose a Claddaugh for Angel since she's Irish with a two carat heart shaped diamond for the center and emeralds on each side and in the crown. He also found a matching groom's Claddaugh. They had the inscription Mo grá fíor féin. Mo anam cara. (My own true love. My soul mate/friend) engraved inside each of the bands.
The theme of the New Year's Eve Party was New Beginnings. So much had happened in the past year that everyone needed something good to look forward to. Many times in this life things don't go as planned, or the way we think they should, but we can always look forward to second chances or new beginnings. To give up hope is to give up on life and I wanted my family to look forward to this new beginning.
The next morning Mike and Ray got up and headed into town to go see about buying the mansion and Ray had some honey-do's for Angel to get done. Mike told Ray that he thought the ground was ripe for planting again and that the vineyards should be more beautiful and lush now than ever.
"Mike, I'll tell ya who you outta ask and that's Old Hawk Eye. That man can grow anythin. He would be able to teach you all you need to know about farming."
"Ray, this is a vineyard, not a farm!" Mike laughed.
"Same difference! Plantin and harvestin are plantin and harvestin. I'm tellin ya the man can grow anythin! Go ask him."
Mike agreed to go talk with Hawk Eye after he asked about purchasing the property. Turned out there was an old deed to the place which stated that anyone who wished to live on the property must agree to run it as a vineyard and the price was pre-set at the original price of twelve and a half cents per acre. There were a thousand acres, so if Mike could cough up a grand total of one hundred and twenty five dollars and agree to replant the vineyard, he could purchase the land and use it as he wished.
Mike was stunned, but he reached into his wallet and pulled out the cash and received a bill of sale and was told that after the survey was completed he would receive the deed to the property. This process would take up to two weeks, but since it was to be a gift for the Judge's daughter, they would try to do it quickly.
The Mansion on the Hill was just that, an old mansion which at one time had been a vineyard owned by one of the wealthiest families in the district. It was acquired after the Texas Revolution by way of a Colonel in the United States Cavalry who had married a Mexican Senorita. It was a vineyard called the La Paloma Casa de Vinos, or The Dove House of Wines.
The Colonel and Senorita held some spectacular social gatherings on the old place each year for the harvest and grape stomping. They held annual barbeques and dances, in which the entire town was invited. Everyone was considered royalty at their shin digs.
After a severe draught during a heat lightning storm, the vineyards were lost due to fire ravishing all in its path, except the house which was built of Mexican stucco and adobe brick. It did receive a terrible scorching from the fire, but the vineyards were a total loss. The family never replanted, but later came into more fortune from oil and mineral rights.
The Colonel and the Senorita had three children; two boys and a girl. All died from an outbreak of cholera after a trip to San Antonio to visit some of the Senorita's relatives. This drove the Senorita mad and she took her own life. The colonel turned to the bottle and drank himself into the grave to join his family. With no living heirs, La Paloma Casa de los Vinos was left to the county. However it remained much the same as when the family perished and became known as the mansion on the hill.
He ran out to his truck and headed straight out to the farm to speak with Hawk Eye about planting and harvesting the old vineyard. I knew that it could be done and was happy for him and Missy. I also knew that the two of them would have a great life together. How did I know? I knew, because I could see the past, present and future. I was and am, after all a spirit.
The trouble with that was, I had not yet figured out what I was supposed to be doing there, except see my family move on without me. That really sucked, but all I wanted was for them to be happy and have the life that they deserved.
"No need to rush, Mike. Hawk Eye will be there when you get there. I'm really happy for you, buddy! I know you can't hear me. I guess I keep thinking that eventually, someone will hear me or at least sense my presence. Hey do you remember that time that we were all out at the creek when all the girls stole our shorts? We were swingin from the old rope swing...anyway, I remember we had to race back to the barn holdin our bidness, so we could get some overalls out of the tack room! That just tickles the shit outta me everytime I think about it!"
All of a sudden Mike started laughing hysterically and said, "Dammit! I forgot about that! Those were the good ole days! You shoulda seen the look on your face when Old Hawk Eye stepped out behind the barn to meet us!"
Then, Mike looked over at the passenger seat and realized there was no one there and turned white as the snow. Hahaha I laughed my ass off at him and he gave me that old proverbial deer in the headlight look and swerved the truck, hitting a tree with the passenger side rear quarter panel, turned the truck off and ran like a whooped pup, yellin and screamin like a banshee!
I spirited my way over to him and said, "Oh yeah? Well, you should see the look on yer face right now! Hey, now don't be like that. Can you actually hear me?"
He was on his haunches like a crab backing away as fast as he could, nodding his head sayin, "Uh huh! Yep!"
"Well I be daymned! I've been tryin like everythin to get someone to hear me and so far you are the only one. You obviously can't see me though the way you're looking all around like a scared rabbit. No need to fear, cause I ain't the angel of death. To be right honest, I'm not an angel at all. I'm not sure why I'm here, but it has been good to see my family. At least I have you to talk to while I'm here. It's so good to see ya, buddy!"
I reached over and slapped his shoulder like we always used to do to each other and he jumped like he was shot.
"Come on, Mike. Let's get on out to the farm and see Hawk Eye. He'll help us get the vineyard goin again. We've got lots of work to do before New Year's, so you can surprise Missy."
"Okay." Mike said cautiously.
We got back into the truck and BSed all the way out to the farm. Hawk Eye was sittin upon the porch whittlin a little dove outta a piece of wood.
When we got out of the truck and sat next to him, he reached out to hand the dove to Mike.
Mike looked at it and said, “Now that’s some fine whittlin, Hawk Eye.”
He handed the dove back over to Hawk Eye and Hawk Eye just shook his head no, looked at the dove, puckered his lips and tossed his head to Mike saying, “You will need that and this medicine bag. The things you put in here will help you on your journey in this life. Life is a big mystery and many things are hidden, but will be revealed to each of us, when we are ready. Think of each day of your journey as a lesson. There is always much to be learned from a single day. So, take what is offered to you each day, but always remember to leave something good in its place. The vineyards will flourish with care. All living things will wither and perish, without the proper care and respect. We are all connected to one another and to our Creator. We'll go out there and bless the land and the home before we set up for the New Year's Party. We must give thanks to Creator for this gift. Danny, did you tell Mike that this very farm was at one time part of the vineyard?"
Both Mike and I were shocked that Hawk Eye knew that I was there.
Mike asked, "How did you know he was here? He never said a word!"
"Yeah, I'd like to know the same thing! I've been trying for months to get someone to hear me. Why didn't you ever answer me when I spoke to you?"
Hawk Eye simply answered, "I have known from the start that you never crossed over, Danny. You will always be connected to us and us to you. I answered you, but you didn't hear me. You were trying to listen with your ears. You still have not learned to listen with your spirit. Even in death, we must follow the spirit. It is our guide in all things. I know you must speak to Angel and you've been trying to, but you must speak to her from your heart. The two of you were always very good at communicating without words. That is how you must speak to her now and she will hear you."
Ray came home about that time and I thought I'd give it a try and see if maybe he could hear me, too. Ray walked up and sat on the porch next to me and Hawk Eye. At least he didn't sit on top of me, so that was good. Ray had been running errands for Angel, since she was still recuperating from having Tommy Joe and he might as well get used to it now, since he would be marrying my wife before too much longer. I knew that he would always love her and take care of her.
I said, "Hey Ray. Bout time you showed up with diapers for Tommy Joe and Angel's feminine products! Hahaha Yep, ya always said there was no way on hell you'd be caught buyin that stuff and now look at ya!"
"Shut up, Danny! Ya know I can't punch you! Hell, my fist would go straight through air!" he laughed.
"What? You can hear me, too?"
"Yeah, I could always hear you. I have carried you with me every day of the world. There's many a time I would talk to you, because I didn't know what else to do. I was lost without you bein around and I was always afraid that I might let you down, because you made me promise to take care of them. Yeah, I heard you, brother."
I commenced to telling Mike about how the Mansion on the Hill is situated on the outskirts of town and that the trailheads that lead into town by way of the bridges and by way of the north fork cut straight through the old vineyards from the farm. This old farm was where the vintner lived with his family and was later bought by Angel's great-grandfather and his silent partner, Hawk Eye's grandfather.
Mike sighed, "It's a small world!" shaking his head.
"Yeah but it gets better. Ray's mother was Hawk Eye's niece. Ray is the whitest Indian there is! His dad didn't know anythin about Ray's Indian culture, so he raised him as best he could on the rodeo circuit, until he was hurt too bad to ride bulls anymore and then he bought a little spread here, to finish raising Ray. What little he knows of his culture, he learned from Hawk Eye by hanging around with me and Angel. So, we are more family than most people realize. We have a long history."
Ray stood up and said, "On that note, I think it's best I take Tommy Joe his diapers."
"Hey, don't forget to give my wife her products, jarhead!" I laughed.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah ya still ain’t nuthin but hot air!" Ray laughed in return.
We both sounded off.
I knew that I would have to talk privately with Ray as well as with Angel, but I wondered what I would say to her. I reckoned it would come to me when the time came.
Angel and Missy were inside with some of the younger children. Missy was washing some dishes and had a fresh batch of Angel's fry bread on the stove and some of my favorite cookies in the oven; peanut butter chocolate chip. I could smell it and I could hear my own stomach growling.
There was a fresh jar of honey sittin on the counter from where Hawk Eye had gathered honey that very mornin, Whew, man! How I loved to dip my fry bread in that fresh honey! I could feel my taste buds workin up, cause my mouth was waterin so much I was afraid that I was gonna start droolin all over the place. Mmm those cookies sure smelled good.
Ray handed the bag of diapers and a brown paper bag to Angel as he leaned over to kiss her on the cheek. She was so beautiful sittin in that old rocker with our son at her breast and that long auburn mane of hers draped over her right shoulder. I always loved to see her hair down, but she always wore it in a braid down her back. I swear she could use the thing for a weapon if she had to.
One of my fondest memories was of an evenin taking her hair down for her. I would untie the leather lacing and gently unwind her hair from the braid and then I would take her brush and slowly brush it out. After she took her bath and washed it, I would brush it again in front of the fire until it was dry. Her hair glowed so brightly it looked to be an extension of the fire, itself. This made her so sleepy she would usually fall asleep in my arms, but on occasion this would lead to...well, I was brushin her hair the mornin we conceived Tommy Joe.
"Oh good, Ray. Thank you for pickin these up for me. Sorry, I know that was not what you really wanted to be pickin up at the store for me, but it sure helped me out. Missy has been so busy helpin me here, and there seems there was no one else I could ask."
"You're welcome, Angel. You know I will do anythin you need." Ray answered.
"Ray, are you okay? Somethin's botherin ya. Spill it." Angel gave him the look that meant she wasn't about to let up till she had the what for's.
"Ah it's nuthin, honey. Just got a lot on my mind, tryin to get everythin done for the New Year's Eve shin dig, is all. No worries." He flashed her that grin that made most women start blushin and swoon over.
It didn't work with Angel. That's my girl! I thought and then I couldn't help but laugh out loud. I caught myself after a second, but not before Angel noticed.
"What was that?" She looked around the room, while Ray, Hawk Eye, Mike and I froze.
Missy asked, "What is it, honey?"
"I swear I heard Da...Ray..." She cleared her throat and then continued, "I've got to lay Tommy Joe down. I'm sorry. Will ya'll excuse me?"
She left the room rather quickly, while we guys were left wonderin if she actually caught on to my presence and Missy was wonderin what the hell just happened. She thought sure that Ray had done somethin to upset Angel and lit into him.
"Alright Buster, what the hell did I just miss? Have you done somethin to upset Angel? If you did, I'll have you know one thing...."
"No! No, Missy, I would never do anythin to upset Angel for any reason. She's just really tired and been through a lot these past months and it's finally startin to catch up to her."
Hawk Eye stepped in and said, "Missy, I agree with Ray. Angel has been under a lot of stress lately. Why don't you go check on her and see if she needs anything, while I fix her some tea?"
Hawk Eye managed to do two things: Angel would be seen to and he got rid of Missy, so we could decide what to do next.
As soon as Angel reached the bedroom, she laid Tommy Joe in his canoe and then went into the bathroom to put some cool water on her face. She was rather upset and had tears rolling down her cheeks,
Missy ran into the room behind her, "Angel? Are you okay? What just happened in there, honey?" She walked over to the canoe to change Tommy Joe's diaper, while she waited for Angel to answer.
Angel sniffed, "Yeah, I'll be fine. I'm just really tired and so much has happened lately. I just don't know if I can do all this! I'm sorry. Everyone has been so kind to look out for me and the kids and all...I just really miss Danny."
Missy suddenly realized how fast things were moving between Angel and Ray and replied, "Oh, honey. I just realized. Things are moving a bit fast between you and Ray. It will all be fine. Just give yourself time, because it hasn't even been a year, yet. Talk to Ray and tell him that you need to take things a bit slower. He will understand and will still be here when you are ready."
"Oh, Missy, I just don't want to hurt him! He's been so good to me and the kids and I do love him, but I'm not sure if I am ready to give my whole heart to anyone other than Danny. I think I just need some time alone, if you don't mind."
"Oh, that's not a problem, Angel. I will be here when you need me. Take all the time you need and don't worry about the kids. There are plenty of us to look out for them."
Missy hugged Angel and kissed her cheek before she left the room. She walked back into the living room and announced that she was really worried about Angel and that she had asked for some time alone. Ray got up and headed for the bedroom and Missy took him by the arm and shook her head.
"Give her some time, Ray. She'll be alright and will call us when she's ready."
Ray was really upset and began pacing back and forth while running his fingers through his hair. Hawk Eye reached out and put his hand on his shoulder and said, "Let's go for a ride, son. Get a couple of horses ready and I'll meet you out back."
Mike asked with a mischievous grin, "Missy, would you like to go ice skating, again?"
"What, now?" she asked in surprise.
"Well, why not? Angel will be fine and will call if she needs anything. Hawk Eye and Ray will be close by and all the teenagers will be here to help with the wee ones. Come on! It'll be an adventure. Ya know ya wanna!" he winked.
"Oh alright, since you put it that way." she smiled.
They all left, giving me time to spend with my wife. This was the moment that I'd been waiting for and I was absolutely terrified. I could already feel myself trembling. I know spirits are not supposed to feel all these things that I was feeling, but I did. I wanted to hold her in my arms and was always afraid that she wouldn't feel me, but Mike felt me slap him on the shoulder, so maybe it was possible after all.
I finally worked up the courage to go into the bedroom. I looked all around and saw that it was the way that I'd always imagined it would look once we moved in. She had the Irish lace curtains hanging over the bay window, with a beaded buckskin valance draped over the top, a dream catcher hanging from the canopy over the bed and one hanging over Tommy Joe's bed. The bed was covered with one of her beautiful patchwork star quilts with eagles dancing on it. The Indian doll quilt was draped over the side of Tommy Joe's canoe cradle.
The room even smelled of her lavender, sage and lemongrass. She always made the best smelling bath products and of course she burned sage and sweet grass when she prayed.
As I stood over his canoe watching him, he looked straight into my eyes and smiled. I was filled with such emotion just then, knowing that my son recognized me even through the veil. Hawk Eye always said that babies and small children can see things that we soon outgrow, because their spirits have not yet lost their innocence. When we are grown, we lose our faith and begin to believe negativity instead of light. Tommy Joe cooed at me while I told him how much I love him and that I will always be watching over him.
Angel heard the baby cooing and she came out of the bathroom to check on him. She still had tears streaming down her face, but quickly wiped them off before she approached his bed. "Hi, little man. What are you so happy about? Huh? Ya wanna share some of that happy with your Mama?" she smiled as she picked him up in her arms.
He continued looking over at me and smiling and Angel asked, "Tommy Joe? What do you see that I don't see?"
Tommy Joe looked back at her and smiled, while I put my arms around them both and held them close, while I spoke with my heart, rather than my voice. "I'm here, Baby. It was me who was laughing earlier. You feel my touch now and you hear my words deep in your spirit. I've been with you all this time. I had to see you and our kids and I was with you when Tommy Joe was born."
"I feel you and I hear you, Danny. Why did you have to leave? I need you here. I can't do this without you." she cried.
"Shhh shhh shhh Honey, you do not need me the way that you think you do. I will be with you always, or as long as you remember me. I need you to be happy. The kids need you to be happy. But I need you to be happy for yourself. When will you learn to look after Angel? You've spent your life looking after everyone but yourself. You cannot possibly take care of twenty four kids if you don't take care of your own needs. It begins with you allowing yourself time to have fun. You've grieved long enough. I will go on living in this realm and I have accepted that. All I ask is for you to live for me."
"Even though you've been gone all this time, I still can't see life without you. We've always been together, Danny! And, I thought that we always would be! Now Ray is in love with me and I don't know what to do."
"You know what to do, Baby. Be happy. You have two best friends; one is here where he can give you the life that you deserve and me on this side of the veil. I can't make you happy now, but you can make yourself happy by opening your heart to receive the love that Ray is offering you. I can't imagine you with anyone but him. I love both of you and want both of you to be happy. Now lay Tommy Joe down to sleep."
I took her by the shoulders and helped her to sit upon the bed while I unbraided her hair and then I ran my fingers through it. I talked to her until she fell asleep in my arms. I knew I needed to speak with Ray, but I didn't have the heart to leave her. I had to feel her wake in my arms the next morning.
It was almost like old times when she woke in my arms. She looked through those sleepy eyes of hers directly into my eyes and said with a smile, "Good mornin, Handsome." and snuggled closer.
"Good mornin, Beautiful" I said aloud and then I kissed her sweet lips,
The hardest thing I would ever have to do, would be to watch her marry Ray, but it would also bring me the most joy. At least I would know that the people I love the most would be truly happy.
"Danny, you always called me, 'Beautiful' first thing of the mornin."
"Of course, because that is when you are the most beautiful, with the fire dancing in your hair all over the pillow, rosy cheeks from being snuggled down under the covers and your blue eyes shinin."
"I need to get dressed, Danny. There is so much to do to help prepare for the New Year's Eve Party."
"No honey. I told you, you are going to learn to take care of yourself and have fun! Missy will have everything under control. Who do you think pulled of the Christmas celebration? Missy did it. I think she's finally found her niche in this world and I am happy for her and for Mike. They will be very happy together, just like you and Ray will be as soon as you find the will to not hold back. You were never one to hold back, Angel. You were always all or nothin and gave everyone else the spark to do their best. The problem yesterday was that he felt uncomfortable kissing you in front of me, I'm going to talk to him and let him know that he has my blessings. Now, get dressed. Tommy Joe will be hungry soon."
I left the room after I saw her go into the bathroom and remove her robe. She was still the most beautiful woman in the universe to me. Not that I had seen a lot of women. She was my first and only love. I followed the smell of fresh bacon and blueberry muffins wafting from the kitchen. Ray was having a cup of black coffee and I could tell that he'd been up all night crying. He had black circles under his eyes and razor stubble.
He said without thinking, "There's a fresh pot brewin and it'll be done in a minute."
"Thanks, Ray. I'd love a cup, but how am I sposed to drink it, brother?" I laughed.
Ray sort of chuckled and said with a bit of sarcasm, "Asshole!"
Hawk Eye walked outside saying something about gathering the mornin eggs, which left me alone with Ray.
I sat down next to him saying, "Ya know you coulda kissed Angel proper, yesterday. I know you were uncomfortable doin it in front of me, but don't worry about my feelins. Yeah, it hurts that I'm not here, now...well, at least like I was so I can actually be with Angel and all ya'll and have things the way they were before, but I need to see ya'll happy, brother."
"Yeah, I was frettin over that. I just don't want to be disrespectful to you, Danny. I never meant to fall in love with Angel, it just sort of happened. I had originally intended to just honor my promise to take care of her and the kids for you, and..."
Ray got choked up and used the excuse that he needed a pinch of sugar to cut the bitter in his coffee. We always did have some strong coffee, because Hawk Eye worked at the port in Beaumont for a while and would bring home the Seaport coffee that was made right there by the port. That was the best coffee in the world; robust, yet went down smooth.
"Ray, it's okay." I said as I placed my hand on his shoulder.
"How do I fill your boots, brother? How do I make her happy like you did? I'm afraid that I will fail both of you and I can't bear the thought of puttin her through more hurt than she's already suffered."
"You don't try to fill my boots. Yours are enough to fill. Just look at the size of those things! I know, bad timin. But, what I'm sayin is you won't fail if you just live for the two of ya'll and those kids. I should not even be a concern. You make her happy by bein the man you've always been with her. She loves you, Ray. Soon, she will be in love with you, too. Ya'll are best friends and that's what ya need to base your relationship on. Draw from that and let it be what it is and it will grow into somethin more beautiful than you've ever known."
"Okay, Danny. I'm gonna miss you when you leave for good."
"I'll always be with you, brother...in your heart. Ooh-rah!"
Hawk Eye walked in and began scramblin eggs for all the younguns. Man, I never dreamed there'd be so many runnin around there. It felt good to have all of them about and to know that all those kids now had a home and family who would love them for their whole lives.
In bounced Missy and following behind was Mike. They had gone ice skatin at the Galleria, again and spent the night at the hotel there. Hawk Eye gave them his disapproving stare and asked why they didn't bother comin home last night and they tried to assure him that they slept in separate rooms, to which he just grunted.
Angel came into the kitchen with our little Tommy Joe dressed and ready for the day. His Auntie Missy quickly took him from Angel so she could sit down to some coffee and breakfast. Most of the kids were up and about runnin hither and yon throughout the house. Missy tip toed to kiss Grandfather Hawk Eye and then leaned over to kiss Ray.
He reached out and put an arm round her waist and gently sat her down on his lap sayin, "Good Mornin, sweet thang."
Angel giggled, "Good mornin, my Indian cowboy."
She gave him another peck on the lips, just like she'd be doin it every day of the world for the rest of her life. Then, she had a blueberry muffin, some eggs and bacon and two cups of that Seaport coffee. Dang that girl could always put away some grub without ever gainin an ounce.
This is an unfinished work and needs editing. I do plan on keeping the traditional Texas grammar in the story. I'm currently working on chapter fifteen and will be adding more to this post as it is completed. I hope you enjoy and I welcome any comments or suggestions that will improve this story. ~Éilísh