Once again another chapter is waiting to be written as soon as I finish the warning and disclaimer. With that in mind, here goes.
All you young whippersnappers under the age of your majority leave. The law says you shouldn't be reading these stories and for once I am tempted to agree. Reading these stories is such a waste when you could be out doing. Doing is much more fun than reading, especially when it comes to sex. Of course, if you are too old for sex you may be down to reading. I hope no one falls into that category.
As for those people who fly off the handle when confronted with stories describing gay sex, whoopee. You really need to relax and quit worrying about what other people do. My guess is that most of those doing all the worrying and complaining are only do so because they don't get enough and are jealous.
Complaining about laws prohibiting the reading of this and other stories is fine as long as you back it up with action to try to get the laws changed. Otherwise you might as well save your breath and slink around while hiding the fact you are secretly reading this.
Fiction comes in many forms, but it is all the same in that it never happened. If you insist that the characters and events in this story are real, I can only pity you. You are singularly lacking in intelligence if you believe that.
This story is posted for you enjoyment, that is provided you enjoy it. If not, read something else. Anyhow, please accord me the respect which the law says you owe any author, which means crediting me for any quotes from the story and not using it in a commercial manner without first contacting me and working out a fair sharing of the loot. I might add, if there is no loot, you don't have to share it.
Once again Don has been busy making the story better. His work makes this story much easier to read.
As usual, send any complaints, question, suggestions, or comments to the usual address of "email@example.com" and be sure to put "I Love Corey" in the subject line so I don't delete it. Also, if you wish to be notified of chapter postings, drop me a line at that same address and request to be added to the chapter notification list. Unless you ask, I will not include you on it. With that said, I hope you enjoy the following chapter. Fritz
I Love Corey, Chapter Ninety-five
I didn't want to wake up. Corey's hair smelled so good that I would have been happy to stay in bed, sniffing the whole day through, but the giggle boxes would not allow that. I got all kinds of complaints from Kevin for not being behind him and hugging his back, but he slowly gave up on them when I convinced him that he had to leave me enough room to do so. Mind you, he wasn't happy, but he did quit complaining.
By the time everyone was through the shower and dressed, I could tell Kath was in the kitchen fixing breakfast. When I made it there and looked, she was being assisted by Sarah and Aunt Sandy. At least the coffee was made so I soon had a cup and was sitting there, trying to get my mind going. When they made a little more progress in the cooking department, I sent the giggle boxes off to wake sleeping boys.
Conversation was on the slim side since we'd all been up fairly late, but Kath was starting to get enthused with the idea of a new house. So far she hadn't seen where I wanted to build, that is if I decided to build, so we would need to drive out there sometime today and correct that. At least she wasn't against it, so I didn't have to worry about that should I agree to build a new house.
By the time breakfast was over Uncle Matt was starting to get wound up over tractor buying. His enthusiasm had progressed as he ate, beginning about the middle of breakfast. Maybe he needed some calories to get his mind going, or maybe he needed time to wake up. No matter which it was, by the time we had eaten he was chomping at the bit, ready to go get rid of his money. He was acting almost as bad as the giggle boxes did when waiting to open their presents at Christmas. That was something I couldn't understand since I'd never had any real urges to spend money. Sure, I bought things, but most of them took a lot of thought. I still wasn't convinced he needed a tractor, but it was his money and it would be handy after we were living there. So as soon as he could he dragged Bruno and I out to the pickup and off to Redding we went.
They were just opening the door when we got there, so Uncle Matt's urging had spurred me on just enough to where we were the first ones through the door. Uncle Matt started right in and that was when he discovered his first problem. Simply put, they didn't think there was any way they could take one of the tractors in stock and prep it for delivery as quickly as Uncle Matt wanted it. The concept of having something for sale but not being able to immediately deliver it was one which Uncle Matt had a hard time understanding, so after listening to the salesman and Uncle Matt discuss it for a while I wandered over and was admiring the smaller tractors I'd looked at before. As I compared the various John Deere and Kubota models, the salesman I'd talked with came up and started answering questions again. As we discussed the various models I made a mistake. My comment that the prices seemed quite high for what I needed a tractor for was taken seriously and the next thing I knew I was looking at a used BX 2230 which had 257 hours on it. It had a front-end loader and a belly mount mower. Not only that, it also had a trailer to haul it and the price was less than a new tractor without the trailer.
I knew something had gone badly wrong when I got out my billfold and handed the salesman my credit card. He even gave me a trade-in on my old riding mower for as much as I'd paid for it and he hadn't even seen it. So there I was, the owner of a tractor and I had only been looking. I was assured that it would only take a short while to change the wiring to where the trailer would hook up to the pickup. The only drawback was the trailer was bigger than needed for the Kubota, but depending on what Uncle Matt ended up with, it might be big enough for his. It definitely would be big enough for the ones he had been looking at, but that didn't mean he would end up buying one of those. He and Bruno had been talking about maybe they needed to look at something slightly bigger.
There were a few scratches on the tractor, but overall it appeared in excellent shape. The dealership had changed all the fluids and the tires looked almost new, although I was assured they were the originals. As the salesman was filling out the paperwork, and the shop was putting a new plug on the trailer wiring, I could only stand there and wonder what I was thinking of. I certainly didn't need a tractor that big for my present property and I was still not willing to commit to building a new house.
About then Uncle Matt and Bruno walked up to me. Uncle Matt was complaining about it would be tomorrow before he could expect delivery of his new tractor since the dealer still needed to go over it and make sure everything was properly adjusted and serviced. He had even gone so far as to pay and was now ready to go home. His surprise was evident when I explained it would be a little while before we could leave because of my purchase, but his eyes lit up with the thoughts of being able to use my tractor.
That meant it went from bad enough to worse. Suddenly I needed a brush mower, at least according to Uncle Matt. When I tried to suggest that we could wait a day for his to arrive, that was brushed aside with the statement that we needed to be able to mow down enough brush to get in the barn. His logic was that I needed to be able to park the tractor in the barn so it wouldn't get rained on, and only by having a mower would we be able to do that. That struck me as strange since I'd been planning on taking the tractor home and parking it in my shop. Non-the-less, a four-foot brush mower was soon added and about a half hour later we were headed home. I was still in shock over my actions. I certainly hadn't planned on buying a tractor and still could not figure out when I had changed my mind. It was obvious that the salesman had been much smarter than I was. Thank God he wasn't selling bridges.
The day went from bad to worse and the boys wanted to clear brush on my new tractor. I could see a big battle looming over who would get to operate it, but figured the boys would wear Uncle Matt down. Then there was the fact that Kath needed to see the property and soon a picnic lunch was prepared and we were off to declare war on the brush.
Jeez, they wouldn't even let me drive my new tractor off of the trailer. Amid much complaining from the boys, Uncle Matt got that honor and soon he was trying to clear brush in front of the barn. Since he and the boys were occupied, I took Kath and showed her the building site.
"Oh God yes, I can just see a log house there," were her first words upon seeing it. `Where exactly were you going to put it?"
"That depends on where you want your house to be," I answered. "If you want to be on the same level, right over here, but if you prefer that little bench down there, then I'll move it over that way," I said while pointing. "If we put both of them on the same level we could have a big garage between them which would allow either of us to visit the other's home without getting wet. With the barn down there I don't need a shop and can store the travel trailer and the tractor in it."
We continued to walk around, trying to picture how everything would fit and look under both scenarios. It soon became apparent that Kath liked the idea of having both houses attached to a garage between them. I was coming around to that idea also because it would make it easy for either of us to keep tabs on the other's family should either of us have to be gone for some reason. If we heated the garage it would even be easy to run back in forth in bathrobes if that was required. There was another way to solve that and it would only require a heated passageway between the two homes even if we didn't go for the garage idea, so the idea of both on the same level was looking good. That made the idea of building a new house more appealing since, as it now was, Kath had to walk a couple of hundred yards to get to my house from her house, and while the weather had been pretty decent, there were always storms during the winter and I was pretty sure that walk would be miserable under storm conditions. While she could use her car and escape the rain, it seemed rather silly to drive when it was such a short walk.
We decided it was time to go back and see how the tractor operators were doing. While we could see the barn from the site, they were working on the other side and only occasionally was it possible to get a glimpse of my new tractor.
As we sauntered back down I noticed that Kath was walking much better. Apparently a few days with less pressure had allowed her to rest up and her leg was no longer bothering her as much. When I commented on that, she mentioned that Aunt Sandy's help with cooking had also contributed to her improvement, something I hadn't thought of.
It appeared that Kath and Aunt Sandy were becoming good friends. I wasn't sure that was such a good idea since the two of them would be better able to browbeat Uncle Matt and me. Still, there were a bunch of boys to help us poor males, so perhaps we could survive. I already knew that Uncle Matt had little to say about things in his home and wondered if I would wind up the same way with Kath telling me what needed to be done. Uncle Matt and Aunt Sandy had worked out what each was responsible for so I hoped that Kath and I could do the same. If it got too bad I was in a better position than Uncle Matt because I wasn't married to Kath, but when I thought about it, most men allowed women to control the homes. Then the thought went through my mind that I would not have to pick out any new curtains and my whole day brightened. I really hated shopping for that sort of thing.
David was snickering while he watched Uncle Matt do a whole bunch of driving back and forth and accomplish little.
"What's he doing wrong?" I asked.
"He needs to drive into them head first and then put the bucket down and back up," David replied. "With the bucket pointed down it acts like a blade."
I watched for a couple of minutes and could see that David might be onto something. Uncle Matt was trying to pick the brush mower up and back into the berry vines and brush and mow it off, but the brush was too high. That might have worked with a much bigger tractor, but my tractor was far too small and low to the ground to make it a practical way to approach the problem.
"Come on," I said. "Let's go kick him off and you can show him how to do it."
"But I can't," he whined.
"Sure you can," I answered.
"My hand's gone and I can't work the control."
"You mean you can't reach across and work it?" I said incredulously. Look David, you may be a little slow but I'll bet you won't have any problem with it. The tractor is hydrostatic and your feet work that control, so all you have to do with your hand is steer and work the bucket control. You can let go of the steering wheel long enough to work the bucket. Come on, you'll do fine."
Needless to say there were a bunch of jealous boys when I told Uncle Matt he was done for a while. I don't think they were as upset as Uncle Matt, but it was my tractor and much as he wanted to continue, he was forced to relinquish control. Not only that, Bruno was about to jump clear out of his skin with eagerness to have his turn at tractor driving. I wondered if I would ever get a chance to try out my tractor. From the looks of things it wouldn't be today, and depending on the dealer, perhaps not tomorrow. Even Andrea was chomping at the bit and awaiting her turn. Looking around I probably should have bought a dozen tractors. That way everyone who wanted to drive one could have a chance.
It didn't take long to convince me, and everyone else, that David had a much better idea of what he was doing than any of us. He raised the bucket on the front-end loader as high as it would go and then drove into the first clump of brush. Then he tipped the bucket clear down, lowered it, and backed up. He kept repeating that and soon was up to the door to the barn. He'd accomplished more in twenty minutes than Uncle Matt had in forty-five minutes, and had he had both hands it would have gone even faster.
I could see the grin on David's face as he turned around and backed into the path he had now roughed out. When he got the mower close to the door, he lowered it and engaged it and started forward. The bucket had cut part of the brush off and what was left the mower made short work of.
"Let's go eat lunch," Uncle Matt said.
"What's the matter?" I asked. "Can't stand being upstaged up by a boy?"
At first Uncle Matt got a rather sour look on his face, and then he grinned. "You nailed it," he said.
For once in my life I was shocked. Food took second place to the tractor. Boys ignored food for their turn on the tractor and the rest of us were left giggling and wondering how long their love affair with the tractor would last. I suspected it would last until they were told they had to do some work with it. Still, there was some competition to operate my riding mower so maybe it was being able to drive something which was the great attraction.
It was fun to watch the kids learn to operate the tractor. At first they would do everything real slow, with pauses while they tried to remember which way they wanted to work the bucket control. After only a few minutes on it there were fewer pauses and by the time it was the next kid's turn, they were charging back and forth on it like they had been doing it all their lives.
I looked around and David had finally come over and was eyeing the food. There wasn't anything fancy, only sandwiches, potato salad from last night, and cold beans which were also from last night. I sauntered over his way.
"Ready for some food?" I asked.
As usual I got a nod instead of an answer. It was time to try to do something about that.
"David, you've seen the rest of the boys and they don't wait and ask for food. You're just as good and important as they are so you don't have to wait and ask either. Just grab a plate and take what you want, or if you need help, come ask."
When I'd started talking, David had lowered his gaze to the ground in front of him. He sort of tried to shrink in on himself and acted like he was afraid I was mad at him. I wasn't sure how to handle that, but needed to do something.
"Come on," I said, handing him a plate. "Let's see what we can find."
While there was plenty to eat, there wasn't that much variety. The women had fixed two kinds of sandwiches, tuna salad and salami and cheese, and there were the remains of last night's dinner, the potato salad and the beans. Before long I had David's plate heaped up and mine was almost as full. The trailer appeared about the best place to sit so I guided him that way. Once we were seated, we started eating.
"You sure showed the rest of us how to run the tractor," I commented as he was starting on his second sandwich. He sort of froze up and hunched down as if expecting a blow. "Good job," I added and reached over and patted his back. "Maybe with you to help us we can all learn enough to get by. Are you willing to help us learn?"
David's head swiveled around and he looked at me as though trying to see if I was serious or not.
"Of course it'll be a lot easier for you to show us when you get your prosthesis, but I thought you did a good job. Who taught you to run a tractor?" I finished up.
After a few seconds he answered, "My neighbor Kenny."
When he didn't say anymore I decided it was my turn. "Well, it looks like Kenny did a good job and that you know a lot more about operating tractors than any of us." With that said I resumed eating. After a short while David also went back to eating.
We were almost done eating when the giggle boxes came bounding up. Talk about mad, they had just been informed that they were too young to drive the tractor and they were complaining bitterly. David and I had to hear how mean Uncle Matt and Aunt Sandy were and it didn't take the giggle boxes long to fill us in on that subject. When they finally ran down it was my turn.
"You know, if you are old enough to run the tractor then you have to do your share of all the work, like cook and clean and do the laundry. Are you ready to take your turn cooking dinner or doing all the laundry?" I asked them.
That conversation went on for a while but eventually I convinced them that in a few years they would be big enough and old enough to run the tractor. As it was, I argued, neither Kevin nor Kristen could sit on the seat and reach the foot controls for the hydrostat so even if we were willing to let them, they were incapable of running the tractor. Naturally I didn't mention that they probably could run it by standing instead of sitting on the seat, but as long as they hadn't thought of that I wasn't willing to give them any ammunition for their arguments about how unfair their parents were. We just left it at they weren't big enough to work all the controls yet. They weren't particularly happy over that, but I assured them that in a few years they would be big enough and with that they were off to grab another sandwich. In fact they told me they needed to eat more so they could grow big enough to operate the tractor. I was softly snickering while they ran over to the cooler and started digging through it.
By the time David and I had finished eating, the boys had cleared most of the brush and vines from in front of the doors to the barn. I got out some pruning shears and a shovel and Uncle Matt and I cleared out the place where the doors would slide against the building. It was now time to see if the rollers would still roll and if we could get the doors open.
The doors rolled quite easily and we only had to dig out a couple of blackberry roots to get clearance for them. I think the kids were disappointed that there wasn't much in the barn, but I thought it was great. There were another set of doors at the other end and the whole middle was like a big driveway through it. There were some stall like areas along the right side and the left side had a long workbench and there were the remains of an old tractor, which was in two pieces. I could see that there would be plenty of room for the travel trailer and both tractors and probably anything else we wanted to store. The stall things looked to be perfect for a few horses so that answered that question. Clear on the back on the left side was a room and I wondered what was in it, but first the giggle boxes were tugging on me to go upstairs and see what was up there. I was quite sure they would find only the old storage place for hay, but allowed them to drag me up the stairs. I was right, and there were even a few old moldy bales still up there. While there wasn't much up there as far as hay, I can't say the same about spiders, or more specifically cobwebs. Everywhere you moved you were constantly running into them. It looked to me as if we needed to use some kind of bug killer and then spend some time sweeping all the cobwebs down so they didn't get all over us. The giggle boxes were really complaining over them, but it was better when we came back down from the loft.
I hadn't noticed it before, but there was also a room on the back right side of the barn. Some investigation showed us that the room on the left side had been a storage room for tools and supplies, and the one on the right side appeared to have been for taking care of milk. Suddenly Uncle Matt was talking about a cow and how great it would be to have all the fresh milk we could drink.
"The idea of a cow seems great," I said. "But who's going to milk it. Cows have to be milked every day, and someone would need to be here to do that."
"They need to be milked twice a day," David said hesitantly.
"Oh, I hadn't thought of that," Uncle Matt responded. "Maybe we could hire someone."
I left them talking over the idea of a cow while I further checked out the barn. After looking it all over I wandered back to where everyone was still discussing the cow. Uncle Matt still wasn't willing to give up on the idea, but no one else seemed to be in favor of it. I could tell Aunt Sandy was about to tell him that if he wanted a cow, he could take care of the milk.
"Not to change the subject, but do you think we should have a concrete floor poured?" I asked. "If the building is sound enough I think it would be nice to have a good floor. We also need to think about some lights. It looks like there were only a few wires strung and a few lights. I don't think there are any in the loft, and there are only a few down here."
At least that stopped Aunt Sandy from having to kill Uncle Matt over the cow idea. Immediately Uncle Matt and Bruno were busy checking out the main timbers which went into the ground. A little scratching around and we discovered that the timbers were set in concrete. A building inspector could tell us if they were still sound and we all agreed that a nice concrete floor would be the way to go.
Part of the boys were still outside running the tractor and I decided it was time to check on them so I wandered back outside. They were changing places as I got there and had now started clearing along the north side of the barn. Andrea was now operating the tractor and her first pass at the berry vines didn't work as she hit something with the bucket. A little more scratching around and we discovered the remains of another old car. If it hadn't been so rusty we might have seen it sooner, but it hadn't hurt the tractor so no one was worried about it. She was doing as well as the boys and they were all having fun so I stood back and watched. By the time they had worked their way along the north wall, they had found two old cars and one old pickup. We were going to have to haul a lot of old cars away. The ones we were finding appeared to be from the fifties and sixties if I was any judge, but upon thinking about it I decided we probably needed someone to look at them and tell us if they were of any value. I decided to call Jim's Auto Wrecking, the place where I'd bought Corey's mother a car, and see if he would look things over and see if any of the old cars had any value. That didn't include the Duesenberg, which I already knew was valuable, but some of the others might be worth something for parts. Jim had a good reputation and he had always treated me fairly. Besides, Jim was the one who would haul them off and scrap them anyway, so I needed to talk with him about that.
Watching the kids fight over whose turn it was on the tractor was funny, but it was even better to watch Uncle Matt and Bruno. They were worse than the kids, and had it not been for them not wanting to appear selfish, I doubt that the kids would have even able to touch the tractor. I couldn't help but needle them a little over the fact that the kids all seemed to be better at operating the tractor than either of them. Even David was faster once he quit worrying about steering while he worked the bucket control. He looked a little awkward reaching for the control with his left hand while holding the steering wheel with his left leg, but Uncle Matt and Bruno agreed that he was the best operator there. He wasn't quite as fast as the rest of the kids, but he accomplished more on each pass than they did.
I dug out the towrope I had stashed in the pickup and we hooked on to the first old car and tried to drag it out of the way. Since that didn't work, we had to hold a conference to see what ideas we could come up with. David suggested we needed to break it out of the ground. Upon looking, he was right and the wheels had settled into the ground, meaning that the tractor would have to pull hard enough to lift the car several inches. Trying to lift the car with the bucket was unsuccessful, and all that happened was the back of the tractor raised off the ground. I finally looked in the manual and discovered that the bucket was only rated to lift 460 pounds. It was supposed to have 950 pounds of breakout force, so we talked it over and decided to see if by working on one corner, we could curl the bucket and lift that corner enough to fill the hole where the wheel had been. That worked, but the turf tires didn't offer much traction and we had real problems trying to drag the old car. Once the first one was out of the way, we started on the second one. That one went much better. It helped that we had figured out what we wanted to do, but the wheels turned on the second one and the tractor had no problem dragging it over close to the first one. The old pickup started out to be stubborn, but once we had it moving first one, then two, and then three wheels were turning, and by the time we had it close to the others all wheels were turning.
It was now Bruno's turn and while he was busy trying to match the kid's performance, Uncle Matt's cell phone rang. It was the tractor dealer and their shop had managed to complete the checks and service quicker than they thought they could. They offered to bring it out today and wanted to know if we were willing to accept it today. That was a silly question, but I figured the person calling hadn't talked with Uncle Matt this morning. Had he done so, he wouldn't have asked and instead would have told him what time they could be here with it. They would also pick up my riding mower to take back.
Since there wasn't much way to give them directions on where we wanted it delivered, I agreed to meet them in town and lead them out. After agreeing on a meeting place, I realized that they had the tractor loaded and were ready to start. That was just right since it would take me almost as long to get to town as it would them. None of the older kids wanted to go with me, but the ladies were tired of watching all the kids, both young and old, operate the tractor. Kevin and Kristen were also tired of watching so I had a pickup load as I headed for town. As it turned out, I dropped everyone off at my house and only had to wait five minutes for the delivery truck, which was a truck with a trailer on behind which had the tractor on it. Most of the attachments were on the truck bed and the tractor only had the front-end loader and the backhoe thingy on it.
Uncle Matt was almost jumping by the time we got there. He was definitely excited. He and Bruno were right in the middle of things as the driver tried to get them out of the way long enough so he could unload everything. Then he had to show them how to remove the backhoe and how everything else hooked up. By the time he managed to escape he was going to be late getting back to town and he still had to pick up my mower.
I'd been thinking about that and I finally called the dealer while the driver was picking up the last of his tie down chains. I couldn't bear to part with my old mower. It had done such a good job and it could get into smaller places than the Kubota. I ended up buying it back for half of what they had given me on trade for it. I handed the driver a check and he took off for Redding. From the look on his face I think he was glad to get away from Uncle Matt and all his questions.
Poor Uncle Matt. There he was with a brand new tractor and it was getting late. He could either operate his tractor or he could move all the attachments into the barn. The forecast called for rain so he was forced to move the attachments. By the time we got them all inside, the boys were getting tired and it was close to dinnertime. We parked my tractor right beside Uncle Matt's and I was surprised that his wasn't that much bigger than mine. It had much bigger tires and stood higher, but the rest of the tractor wasn't that much bigger, and it was only the difference in tire size that made his look much bigger. At least Uncle Matt had operated his tractor while moving all the attachments, but that was little consolation to him. On the way to town he was talking about going back out and seeing how well the headlights worked, but we talked him out of it. He finally agreed that not knowing what else might be buried in the brush made working at night dangerous.
The women had decided we needed to eat out. They hadn't decided where, but they ordered us to get cleaned up and ready, so off to the showers we went. That going to the shower part saved my sanity I think. When Corey and I got in the shower, it only took a few sucks and I had my dessert for the evening. It didn't take him any longer to get his. Had it not been for people waiting we would have spent the rest of the evening in the shower or in bed, but we had to hurry after our little dalliance and I was busy scrubbing him while he was scrubbing me. I'll be glad when the giggle boxes think they are too old to sleep with me, yet I know I'll miss it.
I had to redo the bandages on David's arm because the plastic bag, which I'd put on it so he could take a shower, had leaked slightly, but all in all it didn't take us long to get cleaned up and headed out the door. I don't know why we hurried so much because we still hadn't decided where to eat and we were busily discussing that as I closed the door. There we stood beside the various vehicles, debating where everyone wanted to eat. By the time that was settled there would have been ample time for Corey and me to have a second round in the shower, and believe me, we were well capable of a second round after having the giggle boxes in bed with us for over a week. However, I did learn one thing and that is the next time something like this occurs I'm going to brush my teeth first so the toothpaste doesn't destroy the taste of Corey.
We lucked out in that it was late enough to where the big rush was past, and it only took a few minutes to be seated at Italian Surprise. It isn't a big restaurant and with all of us together we filled almost half of the dinning room. Kevin and Kristen had been stubborn and their desire for pizza had won out. All the kids except for Corey elected to have pizzas, but the boys had learned their lesson and only ordered the individual sized ones. The adults all picked out various dinners and my Porchetta Rustica, which was a pork roast, was excellent. The giggle boxes eyes about fell out of their heads when they were served, and I knew that one individual pizza would have been more than ample for both of them, but they each had selected different toppings after much gentle questioning for the waitress. I wasn't worried about any of their meals going to waste as I was sure that Dog would get part and I was fairly confident that the boys and Andrea would be more than happy to help them finish the leftovers off. In fact I was willing to bet there would be some trips to the refrigerator in the middle of the night and that by morning all that would be left were some empty boxes. By the time everyone had finished, no one wanted dessert. Perhaps that isn't quite true, more like no one could find any room for dessert. We headed home with everyone having their own doggy bag and for some of us it was ample for another meal.
We'd no more than collapsed in various chairs when it dawned on Uncle Matt that the architect was coming in the morning and he wouldn't be able to operate his new tractor. That put an end to him asking me if he could borrow my raincoat. He looked as forlorn as a kid who didn't get the toy he wanted at Christmas, but I suggested that as soon as the architect left he would get his chance and he brightened up a little. He looked so pathetic that even Aunt Sandy had to chuckle at him, which caused the giggle boxes to ask what was funny. Uncle Matt got the last laugh because she had no luck trying to explain to Kevin and Kristen why she was laughing.
"Cheer up," I told him. "The property isn't going anyplace and neither is the tractor. You'll have lots of time to run it."
"Yeah, but I have to go home Sunday so the kids can go to school," he replied. "Maybe I can get free next weekend."
"What are you planning on doing? Drive down every weekend?" I asked.
"Maybe not every weekend, but enough so I can get the brush knocked down. We also need to prune the orchard some if we're going to have much of a crop."
I thought about that a few seconds before asking, "What do you know about an orchard?"
"Nothing except you prune it and spray it. Maybe I can find a book on orchards."
"There ought to be a county agent," Bruno offered.
"What's a county agent, and where did you hear of them?" Uncle Matt asked.
"They're people in the government who help farmers with their crops, and I heard about them in Texas. Our neighbor's son is a county agent down there," Bruno replied.
I could see David wanted to say something, but he was too shy to do so.
"What is it David?" I asked.
He blushed and after a little coaxing offered that there were also county agents in Oklahoma and he thought Uncle Matt could get all the help he needed from one. With that knowledge I got out the phone book and started looking.
"All I can find is a listing for a Shasta County Extension Office," I told them. "I wonder if that's what we're looking for. There's also one listed in Hayfork, but Redding's a lot closer."
"That sounds like it. I'll give them a call Monday and see," Bruno said. "If that isn't what we're looking for I'll bet they can tell us where to go."
We continued visiting for a while and Aunt Sandy and Corey finally put the giggle boxes to bed. He read to them for a short while, but they soon fell asleep. After reporting that, he disappeared and soon other kids were straggling off to bed with Mark teasing Kyle because he'd gotten to run my tractor and Kyle hadn't. I could tell we were going to get wet tomorrow since Kyle wanted his turn, and Uncle Matt would not be happy until he had tried his tractor. Since I could now hear the wind and rain, perhaps it would slack off some in the afternoon. If it didn't, Uncle Matt and Kyle were going to get wet.
The architect, a Mr. Ali Hassanzadeh, showed up when he said he would. While we were getting acquainted I learned his family had fled Iran when the Shah was deposed and he was ten at the time. His family had come to America and settled in Los Angeles and he was a graduate of UCLA. He still had a very slight accent, but unless you listened closely you wouldn't notice it.
Once all the getting acquainted was over, it was down to business. Ali asked all kinds of questions about what we wanted and how much we were willing to spend. He spent some time with each group learning what they wanted for size and so on, and finally it was my turn. I called Kath over and told him what we had in mind. He started asking how many spare bedrooms we each needed, and then stopped. Instead he suggested that perhaps the best way to handle it would be to have several spare bedrooms over the garage and either of us could use them. He had tons of floor plans and sketches for us to look at and choose between for the various rooms. I showed him my bathroom and told him the boys all wanted one like it and he made a couple of quick sketches of it, along with a few measurements. He kept moving among the various groups, or families, and we were all so busy looking and trying to decide what we wanted that it didn't seem like he had been there very long when it was time for lunch. Since we had all been so busy, none of us had cooked anything and we agreed to go to Flo's for lunch. Ali laughed and said it had taken him some time to become used to American cooking, but now he enjoyed it. His eyes sparkled as he said that was a good thing because his wife had known nothing about Iranian cuisine when he married her and only now was getting good at cooking it.
After lunch he said he needed to see the sites before he could draw the plans. The rain had tapered off to showers by that time and soon Uncle Matt, Bruno, and I found ourselves showing him the property and where we had picked for our homes. He took a bunch of pictures with his digital camera, asking about what kind of landscaping we wanted, how soon we would need plans, and in what order they needed to be completed. Bruno's home would need to be done first, Uncle Matt's second, and mine and Kath's third. The recreation building could be last since it wasn't necessary. It was getting late and it had showered on us a couple of times before he was satisfied that he had enough information to start, so Uncle Matt was going to have to run his tractor tomorrow, either that or do it with the use of his headlights and we'd already decided that wasn't a good idea.
By the time we got back to the house the women had decided on a few changes already. Ali had left some floor plans and they had spent the afternoon looking at them. My boys, along with Danny and Andrea had taken off for the mall, complaining that they had looked at all the house plans they ever needed to see, so that meant that only the younger ones were around and they were complaining that there was nothing to do. I got no answer when I asked Kevin why he thought there was nothing to do when he had the controller for the Play Station in his hand. I guess it didn't count.
Ali said that as soon as he had some preliminary sketches completed he would email them to us and we could look them over and discuss them. Then we could tell him what we liked and disliked. That sounded like a good idea to me, so we furnished him our email addresses and he went home after he promised we'd hear from him soon.
I was somewhat surprised that David had gone with the boys, but hoped it was a sign he was starting to fit in and feel more comfortable. I still had hope that being exposed to them would help him overcome part of his problems and perhaps the new shrink would help when he arrived. I had a lot of faith in Dr. Logan's advice and if he thought the psychiatrist was good, he likely was.
That got me to thinking about the other boys and wondering if they needed any help along that line. So far they appeared to be coming around quite nicely, but that didn't mean there weren't lingering problems. Jason had taken the longest to come out of his depression so maybe he could use some help and advice, and I wasn't sure if Corey didn't need some. I was still worried about Kyle not having many friends, but I wasn't sure what to do about that.
About then Uncle Matt told me he needed to check his email. He'd been gazing out the window with a wistful expression on his face, and I guess he had decided that the rain was not going to let up enough to allow him to run his tractor. He headed into my office and I headed for the kitchen. It was time to see what was in the house to cook.
There wasn't anything so I decided I needed to make a trip to Downie's. Just as I was putting my jacket on Uncle Matt yelled at me. When I got to my office, he was grinning like a fool.
"Sammy, we've got two companies bidding against each other and the five million I promised you is now up to ten and could go higher. If Microsoft decides to enter the bidding, it could go a lot higher."
I didn't know what to say. I'd been feeling sort of poor ever since Uncle Matt had insisted that I tell the architect that I was willing to spend a million on mine and Kath's new homes. It wasn't like that was going to create any problems, but it seemed like a lot of money and that worried me. In fact I was still feeling poor over spending almost thirteen thousand dollars on a tractor and the rest of the stuff, like the trailer and attachments. The blown up Gator had been my first new car, and while my house was big, it wasn't very fancy. It had wallboard which was painted, and inexpensive carpeting and it wasn't even paid for. I'd only spent money on my bathroom, the hot tub, and the kitchen before the boys showed up and since then it seemed like every time I turned around I was throwing money all over. Yet between my salary and the money from the state, I hadn't had to spend much of my own for most things. An extra two thousand a month on top of my salary had allowed me to only tap my investments for big things like the Gator, and the pickup and travel trailer. I wasn't used to spending money like that and it made me uncomfortable.
"Ah, that's good," I responded weakly.
"Man, I thought it was a good investment when we entered into it, but this one looks like a home run," Uncle Matt replied.
"When will we know anything?" I asked.
"I don't know. It will probably take six months before everything is completed, but we should have some idea in a few weeks. I need to make some phone calls. I thought you might like to hear the good news before I made them." With that Uncle Matt spun around and picked up the phone. He was busy dialing when I left and headed for Downie's.
I wasn't sure what to think. Surely it couldn't be that easy. Most people struggled all their lives just to make a living and here I was with more money than I knew what to do with. That seemed so unfair, but then I remembered what Uncle Matt had said about using the talents we'd been given. It was Uncle Matt's talent to make money and he wanted me to share with him in that money. In many ways Uncle Matt had been watching over me for as long as I could remember and if helping me made him happy, then I knew I shouldn't complain. Yet the thoughts of all that money made me nervous. I certainly didn't want people to be envious of me because of money. I'd much rather they envied me because they thought I was a good person and tried hard to do what was right.
Mrs. Downie nailed me when I walked into the store.
"I hear you're a gentleman farmer," she said as a way of greeting.
"Huh?" was the best I could do in answer to that.
"The boys stopped in and told me all about the tractor," she said while laughing. "They also bought a bunch of candy bars before they left."
"So what, the candy won't last long. I need to find something to fill them up."
Ellen laughed. "We've got some nice broiled chickens that are just finished. There might even be enough of them to fill your gang up."
"Fat chance," I laughed. "Unless you haul them in by the truck load there can't be enough. I suppose you're planning on expanding the deli so you can keep up with us."
"We are planning on expanding, but not just for you. Carl's been thrilled with the amount of business it's generating.
"I see you've got a new one. What happened to his hand?" Ellen continued.
"He hasn't said, but from what we've figured out his step-father beat him and broke his wrist. Then he didn't take him to the doctor and an infection set in. Then he abandoned him. By the time someone found him, the doctors had to cut it off to save his life." Just telling Ellen about David made me mad all over again. I wondered how that man would like it if I beat him and abandoned him, but knew I couldn't do something like that no matter how much the person deserved it. Still, it gave me a strange sense of pleasure to think about it.
"He abandoned him? What kind of animal would do something like that?"
We continued chatting while I looked over what was available. I wasn't having any luck until I noticed there was a nice supply of cod in the seafood case. Needless to say there wasn't much left by the time I had selected enough for dinner, but that wasn't my problem. As we continued chatting I decided to invite Carl and Ellen to dinner. Her eyes lit up and she accepted, telling me she needed to go tell Carl. I told her about when dinner should be ready and continued my shopping. A big package of hazelnuts was added because I wanted to try something I'd read about. I was going to run the nuts through the food processor and use them for breading on the cod. I took the last two cases of oranges and a few other things and by the time I got to the checkout counter I had two carts full. If I could figure out a way to quit buying groceries I wouldn't need to touch my investment accounts ever.
I was putting the groceries in the pickup when the kids showed up. Eight kids plus me pretty well filled the crew cab up. At least I had all the assistance I needed to carry the groceries into the house. Andrea was teasing the boys over beating them at some game at the arcade, and they were complaining that she cheated. Unless she knew something I didn't, I had no idea how she could cheat, so I laughed and asked LT what he meant. I found out she giggled at him right when he was at the crucial point and broke his concentration. The boys appeared in good humor and it was nice to see Andrea was fitting right in.
I started by making a huge batch of scalloped potatoes. When they were in the oven, it was time to work on a vegetable. I diced up some ham and some red onions and sautéed them. Then I added a lot of cream and let it simmer until the cream thickened slightly. While that was cooking I diced a gob of tomatoes and English cucumbers and thinly sliced a red onion. A dressing of sour cream and mayonnaise, along with a couple of big cloves of garlic and a little lemon juice should do for a salad. Corey processed the nuts, after they were toasted, to about a coarse corn meal type texture and I took some mayonnaise, added some lemon juice, some chopped fresh basil, some lemon zest, and lemon juice and mixed them together. Some more chopped basil was stirred into the nuts. I took a couple of cookie sheets and coated them lightly with olive oil. Then I dried the fish, salted and peppered it and arranged it on the cookie sheets. A light coat of the mayonnaise mixture was then applied, and I put some of the nut mixture on top to form a crust. Since I used rimmed cookie sheets, they would keep the juices from running all over the oven. I cranked the second oven up to 450 and finished the salad. When the Downies showed up I would put the fish in the oven.
My cooking would have gone faster if Kath, Aunt Sandy, and Sarah hadn't been busy giving me a hard time. I kept getting teased over my cooking, but dang it all, I liked good food. Add in that the giggle boxes kept getting in the way and I'm surprised I managed to get anything prepared without ruining it. Had I had more time I might have prepared a dessert, but ice cream would have to do if anyone needed some.
When Carl and Ellen showed up, Corey fixed all the adults a drink. He even brought me one while I was putting the fish in the oven. That should work about right since it would take close to twenty minutes to cook the fish and one drink would take about that long to drink. The reason it would take twenty minutes for the fish is because the fillets were nice and thick. I heated the cream mixture back up and added three packages of frozen peas and put the lid on. Peas don't take long to cook and by the time the cream came back to temperature there should be just enough time to cook them by the time the fish was finished.
I had about every small chair I owned set up so everyone had a place to sit. There were four around the card table and more along the island. I really needed a bigger dinning table, but I wasn't sure but what I needed was two tables. I'd never seen one big enough to handle twenty people at once so I needed to check that out. Perhaps two tables, end to end would work. Mine was supposed to seat twelve with all the leaves in, and by putting two of them end to end that would only remove one from each table so that would leave twenty-two. Then again, maybe a wider one with room for two or three across each end and long enough for six or eight on each side would be better. There must be custom furniture makers who could build one. It would have been worse, but the two highchairs didn't take up as much room as regular chairs.
The fish was excellent. Most of it was due to the fact that it was very fresh, but the topping added to it. I had seen that recipe in a magazine and I was going to have to add it to my keeper list. Most recipes were fine, but not ones I added to my collection, but the toasting of the nuts had really improved it over the few times I'd had other peoples' attempts at using hazelnuts for breading. Not a single person wanted ice cream, not even the giggle boxes.
We sat around and visited until Carl and Ellen said they had to leave and help close the store. I did learn that the building was being added on to so there would be room for the expanded deli section. What was now the deli would be used for sales, but the cooking would take place behind it in the addition instead of the little area they now used. I also learned that Carl was thinking of expanding the smoker business and supplying some of the sausages to other markets. He had built the smoker much bigger than needed with that in mind. Rob now had an apprentice and they were looking for another, plus Lee was working part time. The business had really taken off since the storm and the Downies were all smiles over it. They weren't always the cheapest place to shop, but the quality was always tops.
After the Downies left, we talked a little more about what Ali had showed us. Some of his floor plans were different and others were quite standard. While we were comparing notes on what we had selected, I learned that all of us had gone for the bigger kitchens. We got to talking about ranges and I told them I was happy with my propane range and that got Sandy and Sarah to thinking. If I could have propane, so could they. Nothing would do but they wanted to send Ali and email and let him know about that. Right in the middle of the conversation Uncle Matt brought up a different subject.
"What are we going to do about the Duesenberg?" he asked.
"I don't know. Are you any good at restoring cars?" I countered.
"No, but we can hire someone to do that. I wonder what it takes to get the title for it."
"You can get it declared abandoned property and the state will issue a new one," Bruno said. "The state will contact the last registered owner and if they don't take care of it, then it's yours. You're also entitled to storage fees for it from the registered owners so in most cases no one contests it. Your lawyer can take care of it for you."
"That doesn't solve the problem of getting it out of what's left of the building," I commented. "How do you think we should go about that?"
"We'll look it over better tomorrow and see. Maybe we can reach far enough with my backhoe to do it," Uncle Matt said.
"How would that work?" I asked.
"Didn't you pay any attention? It has one of those extra things on the bucket to clamp rocks and stuff. That ought to work to lift chunks of the roof off."
Truthfully I hadn't paid any attention. I'd gotten interested in smaller tractors and quit looking at what Uncle Matt was buying. In fact I'd gotten too interested and now had a Kubota to prove it, a Kubota I really didn't need.
"I'm glad you got a trailer to haul them around," Uncle Matt said. "That saves me buying one and yours is plenty big."
And so the conversation went. We jumped from one subject to another without settling anything. The last subject we covered, before going to bed, was that we needed to have a tank put in for diesel for the tractors. Otherwise we were going to be constantly hauling it out in five-gallon cans. That reminded me that my tractor would need some diesel, so I went and dug out a couple of fuel cans and we could stop and fill them in the morning. That would work for a while, but next week I needed to call the fuel distributor and see what was involved in getting a tank set up by the barn. Uncle Matt told me to ask about a gasoline tank also, and suggested it might be cheaper to buy it from the distributor than at a station. So far I had quite a list of things I needed to do. I needed to check on diesel, have the barn checked to make sure the structure was sound, contact Wally if it was and have him get someone to put a new roof on the barn and someone to pour a concrete floor, check to see if any of the other cars were worth anything and arrange to have them removed, contact Russ about the Duesenberg title, and find out who would rebuild it if we got title to it. I was sure there were things I was forgetting, but that was all I could remember right then, that is until I was going around and closing the house up. I'd forgotten to take David to get a bike. I felt bad, but he was asleep and there was nothing I could do about it right then. I put that at the head of my list, but I was pretty sure the bike shops were closed on Sundays so it looked like I would be headed for Redding Monday morning. As I was standing there looking at him, it suddenly occurred to me he wouldn't be able to work all the controls on a bike until he got his prosthesis. I needed to talk with him and let him decide whether or not to get a bike right away or wait until he could work it, and perhaps have some of the controls moved or changed to make it easier for him to operate them.
Everyone was in their usual places so at least my place was open. After brushing my teeth and the usual pit stop, it was my turn to climb into bed. Kevin squirmed around until he was against me, but much as I loved him it wasn't the same as having Corey there. I couldn't wait for tomorrow night when Corey and I would be alone. Even with our sojourn in the shower and a couple of solo hand jobs in the bathroom, I was so horny I was about ready to jump clear out of my skin.
At least the rain had stopped when Kevin woke me up at an ungodly hour. Everyone else was still sawing logs, but he couldn't sleep anymore. He kept squirming around and whispering questions, and I was having a hard time keeping my mind awake enough to answer him. Finally I gave up and got out of bed. I started the coffee and fixed Kevin some coco while it perked. The newspaper showed up so when my coffee was done I gathered Kevin up, along with his coco and slipped into the family room. Once we were comfortable in my recliner I started reading the comics to him. That wasn't necessary because Sandy had worked with him since he was four and he was capable of reading them himself, although he needed occasional help with new words, but he liked having someone read to him. He finished his coco and soon dozed back off, but I wasn't so lucky. Now that he had me awake, all kinds of things were going through my mind. I desperately needed to find time to talk more with David. If he didn't open up soon I was going to have to tell him what I had learned about him, but I still had hopes he would volunteer the information. Judy was supposed to return this evening and I wasn't sure whether she would stop over tonight or wait until tomorrow, but either way it was going to come out that we knew who he was.
When I was sure Kevin was sleeping sound enough, I tucked him back in bed. He never even quivered as I packed him into my room. After that I went downstairs and stood at David's door, watching him by the aid of the nightlight. I couldn't see much, but he appeared to be sleeping peacefully. About then Bruno padded out on his way to the bathroom.
"Can't sleep?" he asked softly.
"Kev woke me up and then went back to sleep. Now I'm worrying about David and can't get back to sleep myself," I whispered back.
Bruno continued on to the bathroom and I continued to stare at David. If only he would talk to me I was sure we could help him, but until he was willing to trust me I didn't know what to do. Most of the time he wouldn't say anything and the few times he did he acted like he was afraid someone was going to hit him. Around the boys he was a little better, but even with them he was too quiet. Yet he had gone downtown with them yesterday, so maybe he was beginning to relax a little. That was the first time he had left the house of his own accord and perhaps that was a step forward.
"Go back to bed," Bruno said as he returned from the bathroom. "You can't do anything when he's asleep."
Bruno was right, but I felt helpless. David needed help, but only when he was willing to accept it would I be able to give him any. I went back to my bedroom and took off my robe. Once again Kevin shifted around and plastered himself against me. Maybe I could get another hour of sleep before everyone woke up.
To be continued...
Cooking will be short. I'm only going to cover the fish because if you don't know how to fix scalloped potatoes, you'll have to find a recipe.
Toasting the hazelnuts brings out a more nutty quality. I know that sounds strange, but trust me on this. For a couple of pounds of fish you will need about a cup of nuts. If you happen to have a hot air corn popper, that will work, but otherwise spread them on a cookie sheet and toast at 375 until they start to change color, five to seven minutes or so. Be sure to watch them because you don't want to burn them. You can toast them at 400, or even hotter, but you need to watch them more carefully. When they are toasted, pour them on a clean bath towel and fold it over and rub them vigorously. You want to remove all of the brown skin that you can, but you don't need to spend a lot of time getting that last little bit of it. Let them cool, but you don't have to wait until they are cold. They need to be cool enough to handle. Put them in the food processor and pulse until they achieve a texture between small rice grains and Cream of Wheat before it is cooked.
To that you need to add a couple of tablespoons of your favorite fresh herb. I like basil, but you can use parsley or dill and I suppose several others. Just pick one you think would taste good with fish and chop it until very finely chopped. For this you need fresh herbs, not dried. Mix the basil with the nuts and set aside.
You'll need about three tablespoons of mayonnaise, a couple of cloves of garlic run through a garlic press, a teaspoon of lemon zest, the juice of a lemon, and another couple tablespoons of your herb finely chopped, in my case basil. Mix them together and set aside.
You can use whatever you wish to cook the fish in. If cooking for a crowd I use rimmed cookie sheets, but if only a few pieces I use a small cake pan. Lightly oil it. Pat your fish dry with paper towels, salt and pepper it and place on the cookie sheet. For this recipe you need pieces of fish which are fairly thick. If you wish to use a thin fish, fold it in two so it is at least an inch thick, and I like about an inch and a half. Once your fish is in the pan, spread a light coat of the mayonnaise mixture on top and divide the hazelnut mixture among the pieces of fish. Pat it down firmly and put the fish in a 450-degree oven.
Cooking time will vary depending on how thick the fish is, but for me it takes just under twenty minutes if my fish pieces are about an inch and a half thick. When the fish starts to flake in the middle of the piece, serve. A few lemon wedges, for those who like to add a little lemon juice, are nice but not necessary. Well, I like to add a little lemon juice so for me they are necessary. This recipe will work nicely with a lot of different fish. With salmon I use dill, and most white fish get basil. A friend of mine likes and uses cilantro. For white fish I normally buy either ling cod or snapper, but if I happen to see a good buy on halibut, that works well also. Most sole are too thin. Try to get fish that is all the same thickness so it will cook evenly. If you have to double over your fish to make it thick enough, score it with a knife, fold it, and stick a few toothpicks in it to keep it in one piece. If you are feeling ambitious and want to be really nice, take a pair of pliers and pull all those little pin bones. Your guests will love you for it. I really hate those little bones. They are such a pain to remove.
Hazelnuts were often called filberts where I live. In recent years the name hazelnuts has been more widely used because the growers of Oregon wanted to appeal to global markets. There is a difference between filberts and hazelnuts, but the ones grown where I live have always been hazelnuts and were incorrectly called filberts. They are very similar and I doubt anyone except an expert could tell them apart. My maternal grand folks had about an acre of hazelnuts, but never sold them commercially. I've spent many hours shelling them. If you toast them and remove the bitter skin, they are wonderful in fudge or cakes or most things which calls for nuts. I like hazelnut brittle much better than peanut brittle. The grand folks are now dead and the old place has been sold so I no longer have a source of unlimited hazelnuts.
One last thing that might be of interest to some people is, as I finished this chapter it is late fall and the elk have just finished mating. I live just outside a town in a somewhat rural area. It is a quiet night and I can hear the elk bugling as they claim their cows and issue challenges to the other bulls. The local heard numbers somewhere around fifty and can pretty well destroy your lawn if you let them. I spent one fall and winter convincing them to stay off my property. Elk are pretty smart, and once they got it through their heads that they weren't welcome, I've never had any problems since and that was over twenty years ago. The lead cow apparently lets the rest of the herd know where they shouldn't go and they pass that knowledge on. My neighbor wasn't willing to stick with it and convince them to keep off of his property and he frequently has to patch the holes in his lawn where they have stomped through. The elk will walk up the road in front of my house and not bother me, but they think nothing of stepping off the road onto his property. It only took me something like three boxes of shotgun shells to convince them and I had to be careful not to injure them, but I finally won. I even had a permit from the state allowing me to drive them off my property with the shotgun. I tried to talk the state into allowing me to kill a few and eat them, but no deal. You have to be careful not to use too big a sized shot because the object is not to damage them, only sting them, but you can chase them off far enough to where the shot won't penetrate before you shoot. If you've never heard an elk bugle, here is a site which has a bunch of clips of their sounds. http://www.elkheaven.com/elk_sounds.htm For such big animals they have a high pitched, almost whistle sounding call. If you scroll down to "young 6X6, amazing sound" you will hear about what one of the bulls I am listening to sounds like. Why they are bugling at eleven P.M. I have no idea, but I'm about ready to go to bed. Maybe they well also and we can all get some sleep. The only other thing I will add is that in my area we have Roosevelt Elk. In more inland areas they have mostly Rocky Mountain Elk which are slightly smaller than the Roosevelt or Olympic Elk as they are sometimes called. Roosevelt Elk are found on in the western parts of Washington, Oregon, and California and have recently been transplanted into Alaska.