By Waddie Greywolf

Chapter 42

It was a welcome surprise, to find my dad was still awake and ready to go.  I secretly wondered if my memory played tricks on me.  Was my old man as really good in the sack as I remembered him to be?  I had several more sexual encounters with other men since I’d left home.  While I never consciously tried to compare them, there was always one standard I set above all others.  I know it’s vain to compare, because each man brings his own knowledge and strength to the experience, and it’s particularly unfair when you love the one you’re comparing them with above all others. To answer my own question,— my old man still had it!  Master Waddie was so right, I belonged to my dad.

After we finished, I cleaned us and we lay together talking quietly. I decided to let dad talk about whatever he wanted.  I didn’t try to move our conversation one way or the other.  We talked a lot about how we’d missed each other and the situation with Bart and Brent.  We decided to do whatever we could to help them. It was like Bart and Brent was sent to run interference for me and dad.  Their plight seemed to re-bond and unite us without having to face the temporary gulf that lay between us. Any problems we might have,  paled in comparison.  Their problem was so much larger.  I was beginning to wonder who was sent to help whom.  Thinking back on my experiences, it was a no brainer,— Master Waddie and I was sent to help each other; why not Bart to help me as well?

I guess dad saw I wasn’t going to force him to talk about something that was potentially uncomfortable for him.  He began to talk about people and things on the periphery of our Mount Everest.  He seemed comfortable talking about incidents he heard about without talking directly about my granddad specifically.  It was hard for him, but I understood that.  I was going to let him ask me about granddad, and if he didn’t, I wasn’t going to push.  I knew my dad so well, I knew his curiosity and compassion would eventually cause him to talk about it, but it had to be his time and his way.  That was fine by me. After a long pause in our conversation he spoke softly to me,

“No matter who you’ve met or what’s occurred on your journey,— I will never stop loving you.”

“I know that, Dad.  I wouldn’t have had the courage to go if’n I didn’t know that.  I’m made of the same stuff you are.  You taught me to be a man.  You taught me the cowboy way and to be my own man.  My journey has been one of discovery and revelation.  I’ve come to see things for myself; however, I’ll tell you the same.  No matter who I’ve met, who I’ve loved, or what  I’ve experience on my journey,— you’re my dad,— you’re number one in my life,— I will always love you,— I belong to you.  You have Master Waddie to thank for that bit of education.”

“Master Waddie?  You mean Waddie Claymore?”  he asked.

“The same.”  I replied gently.

“Humm,— I always did like that man even if he did always beat us at rope’n.”

“Bet he cain’t no more.”  I smiled at him.

“Ya’ think,— ?” he perked up a bit.

“I’d bet the ranch on it.”

Dad laughed at me. He got my double meaning without commenting.

“You’re gonna’ make this hard on me,— ain’t chew?”  he asked seriously.

“On the contrary,— I plan to make it as easy on you as possible.  Jes’ ‘cause I ain’t doing my usual routine of spill’n my guts to you about things, don’t mean I’m afraid to talk with you about it. I done learned that about chu’ when us boys was going up against the Colonel; however, since that time, I’ve jes’ learned to let a man set his own pace.  Even though it may be part of the ‘cowboy way,’ I didn’t learn that from you.  I learned it from a big red pony I love very much.”

“Then it’s true what them men told me about chu’ developing gifts like yore’ little brother?”

“Yes, Sir.  Dwayne and I learned from him.  I learned more from a giant man,— half-man, half-Grizzly bear,— on a big ranch in Tucson.  My first impression was, he was the ugliest man I ever met in my life; however, when I got to know him,— he was the most thoughtful, gentle, kind, humble man I ever met.  Suddenly,  he wasn’t ugly no more.  I think on him now as one of the sexiest, finest looking men I know.  Other than you, he’s become my mentor, advisor, confident and beloved friend.  I’ve hear’d it said he has a direct line to the Almighty.”

“He sounds like a good man to know, Son”

“He is, Dad.  I hope someday you get to meet him.  I know you’d love him.”

We kissed goodnight, and I turned my back to him so he could spoon me.  I don’t think he let me go all night until the wee hours of the morning when I felt my plug being removed.  The sweetest fucks are always the early morning ones.  It sets the tone for your entire day. I knew tomorrow was going to be a good one.

* * * * * * *

Dad and I were already up and fixing breakfast when Bart and Brent came downstairs.  Brent ran to dad and threw his arms around his waist.  Dad chuckled, stopped what he was doing to pick him up and steal a kiss.  Brent wasn’t shy with his affection either.

“Did ju’ sleep well, cowboy?”  Dad asked him.

“Yes, Sir.  It’s a bigger bed than we got at home,  and daddy didn’t roll over on me.”  Brent giggled.  We all laughed.

“That’s a great bed, gentlemen.  I slept like a baby.”  allowed his dad.  “Can I do some’um to help?”  

Dad sat some bread in front of him and pointed to the toaster.  Bart started making toast and buttering it.  It didn’t take long, and we sat down to eat; however, first, we joined hands and dad said grace.  It made us feel like family.  I know Bart and Brent appreciated it. We heard a truck pull up out front.  Dad looked at me and smiled.

“It’s your little brother.  I invited him to stop by for breakfast before he started his day.”  Dad said.

“Good, I need to talk with him anyway.”

“You have a brother, Casey?”

“Yeah, you met him last night,— Mr. Wainright’s son, Logan.”

Bart smiled and nodded.  He understood.  Logan hollered as he came through the screen door.

“Dad,— Casey,— ”

“In the kitchen, Son.”  Dad hollered back.

Logan came in, gave dad a hugged and a kiss on the cheek.  He did the same with me; except I hugged him and made over him a little more than I usually did.  I got him laughing.  He turned to Bart and offered his hand.  Bart took it and shook Longan’s hand.

“Good to see you again, Mr. Conners.”

“Call me ‘Bart,’ Mr. Wainright.”

“I will if’n you call me ‘Logan,’ Sir.”

“It’s a deal, Logan.  I never see’d me no men what hugged each other like you men do.  My old man never touched me in my life.  So where’s my hug?”

“I never hug a man on the first handshake, Bart; however, since I done shook your hand last night, I suppose it’ud be all right.”  Logan laughed and hugged Bart.

“I wanna’ hug, too.”  said Brent as he came running to Logan.  Logan picked Brent up, hugged him and stole a kiss.

“Of course, you can have a hug,— you’re the best look’n cowpoke in this kitchen.”   We all laughed and Brent giggled.

“You got a busy day, little brother?”  I asked Logan.

“Not really.  Today’s Sunday.  I don’t have any more classes for the holidays; however, I’ve got some research to do at the library.  I wanna’ get it out of the way,  and after that I have to get some lab work done for Chemistry.  I should be through by early afternoon, and then, I won’t have to worry about it over the holiday.”

“My little brother’s been staying with my dad while I’ve been away playing cowboy, Bart.  He’s going to med school in San Diego during the day and assisting my dad in the evenings.  He and my brother Dwayne are my best buds.  We done grew’d up together.”  I laughed as I knowingly butchered the King’s English.

“How was it, staying in your old room last night?”  I joked with Logan.

“Lord,— I never remembered my room being so big or so empty.  I thought I never would get to sleep.” he laughed.  “When ju’ say you was going back, brother?”  He asked laughing.  Dad and I laughed at him.  We got his message.
After breakfast, Bart called the Children’s Hospital, and they told him not to bring Brent until the next morning between nine and eleven; that was their admission hours.  Dad reassured him that was fine.  They could stay the night and we’d take him and Brent to the Hospital early the following morning.  He was so grateful.  Maybe he shouldn’t have been grateful so soon.  My dad put us to work with Bodey and Flynn, and we worked all day.

It was just what Bart needed to get his mind off his problems for a while.  Even he admitted it felt good being back in the saddle and doing some work.  It went a long way to making him feel like he was making an effort to pay his way and gave him an additional sense of belonging.  There was no doubt to any of us, Bart was a capable hand and knew what he was doing.  He even impressed ole hard-nose Bodey.

Our littlest cowboy was with my dad.  My old man had a way with kids.  Brent rode in the saddle with dad almost all day; however, after lunch, in the early afternoon he began to tire, and dad took him back to the house to rest.  Bart didn’t seem too worried.  He acted like he trusted dad completely.  After we finished work and put the ponies away, we said goodbye to Bodey and Flynn and walked to the house.

We walked into the living room and there was Brent laying with his head in my dad’s lap, and dad was reading him one of my old children’s books from years ago.  He put them away and kept about twenty of my favorites.  I was touched he did that.  Now, here he was reading “Horton Hears a Who” to our little buckaroo.  He must have read that book to me hundreds of times.  It was one of my favorites, and hearing him reading it to Brent, made me recall the warmth and love he so patiently and unconditionally gave me all those years.  It made me think about giving him grandchildren, and a sudden pain of emptiness hit me.  I had to think about that.

“Oh, Lord,” I spoke softly to Bart, “I hope you weren’t real attached to yore’ boy?”  I laughed.  Bart laughed, too.

“He’s needed someone beside me to be with him a bit.  I don’t think my dad knows how to deal with him.  Brent don’t really know what it’s like to have a granddad.  He’s tried to get close to my dad, but he jes’ don’t seem to be interested.  Of course,  my ma is always right there to keep him away from my dad.  He’s a different kid after he’s been around folks like you and your dad.  He talks about new things and interests, and he’s more loving to me.  I stop being the big, bad dad for a while and become his buddy.

I know there has to be a separation for discipline purposes, but I hate it.  I ain’t never had me no buddy,  and I wanna’ be his buddy.  This ‘daddy’ thing ain’t what I thought it was gonna’ be.  Of course, I didn’t count on having to raise him on my own.  I thought that’s what a wife and mother was for. I had this idea in my head, she would take care of him, and I would be his buddy.

Since my wife, Lillie, died, I have to be everything to him, and I’ll be honest with ya,’ Casey, I run scared most of the time.  I ain’t only big and dumb, I don’t know nothing ‘bout being no parent.  I’m fly’n blind by the seat of my pants, cowboy. He didn’t come with no parts list, maintenance schedule, or instruction manual.  I make it up as I go along, and I’m so afeard I’m a’ gonna’ fuck it up.”

“That’ll change as he gits older.  The more you live the more you learn. You apply one situation to another.  You build a knowledge base of dealing with him.  You need to sit down and talk with my old man.  He found himself in the same position you’re in.  We lost my mom when I was fourteen, and he had to take over being everything for me. My dad was always firm with me.  He sat boundaries and limits.  They weren’t nothing unreasonable; however, I knew if I wanted my life to run smoothly, I better not step over the line.

I only did it once when I was about ten years old, but I never made that mistake again.  He didn’t physically punish me, but I didn’t see no T.V. for six months, and I didn’t get no allowance for damn near three years to pay back for what I done.”  I laughed.  “My dad became my best friend and buddy about the time I went through puberty and he still is. You can tell my old man the secrets of your soul, but he’ll never turn you away or stop caring about you.  I’m living proof of his love.”

“I admire the relationship you’n your dad have, Casey.  I wish’t my relationship with my dad was as easy.  I always thought I’s missing something in my life.  I wanted to love my dad, but I didn’t know how.  I sometimes think he’s disappointed with me because I weren’t smart enough to do much else in life but be a cowboy.  I tried hard in school, but I jes’ couldn’t seem to learn much. I was great at sports and football.  I could rodeo purtty good.  I didn’t think I’s dumb, but I guess I was.  I never made more’n “C’s” and “D’s” all the way through school.”  

“Your relationship with your dad might change, Bart, as time goes on.”

“I hope so. I know he loves me, but I jes’ get the feeling he’s ashamed of me.”

“J’ever talk with him about it?”

“Naw, my old man ain’t a man you kin talk to.  He don’t talk much about nothing.  He’s real quiet, and jes’ keeps everything bottled up inside.  He’s a good man.  He was a good husband to my mom, a great dad to me and my little sister, and a decent provider for our family.  We jes’ never went to him for very much.  Mom was always the one what decided everything.  She gave up on me early on and decided I wouldn’t amount to much.  She used to tell me that all the time.  She’d tell me I’s jes’ like my dad.

I guess dad agreed with her.  He’d hear her talking, and scolding me. He’d get a sad look on his face, shake his head and walk away; but, he’d never say nothing.  He done taught me to be a cowboy.  I guess he thought I could do that purtty good.  My little sister was the smart one.  She went on to college and become a teacher.  They kept me back a year.  We was in the same grade. She used to try’n help me with my homework, but finally,— she give up on me, too.  She told me I’s plumb dumb as a box a’ rocks.”   Bart laughed, but I could tell he felt a lot of pain.

“Humm,— perhaps,  yore’ dad needed you as much or maybe even more than you needed him all these years.  Maybe yore’ mom wouldn’t let him get close to you and yore’ sister.  If she ran the house and made all the rules, maybe she jes’ left him out of the picture so much, he jes’ gave up.”

“Never thought of it that way, Casey.  You jes’ might be right.  Thanks, I’ll think on ‘nat.”

We sat down to listened to dad finish reading his story to Brent.  The kid was enraptured with the story and my dad.  I noticed dad didn’t seem to be turning the pages and pretty much left the looking to Brent.  I laughed and Bart looked at me questioningly.  I leaned over and whispered to him.

“Notice yore’ boy’s looking at the pictures, but he ain’t turning the pages.”


“Dad’s reciting the story from memory.  He’s read it to me so many times he knows it by heart.”

Bart broke up laughing, but we were both amazed at dad’s ability to remember the complete book of “Horton Hears a Who.”  Dad finished the story, and we waited to see what Brent would say.  

“Thank you, Mr. Longhorn, for reading me that story.”

“You’re welcome, Son.  It brought back a lot of memories from when I used to read them stories to my boy.”

“You mean you read this story to Casey?”

“I sure did.  It was one of his favorites.”

“It still is.”  I interjected, and we all laughed.
Brent looked around at all of us for a moment then looked back into my dad's eyes.

“Mr. Longhorn,— am I gonna’ die?”

I thought my heart was going to come out of my body.  I heard Bart sigh like he was hit in the gut with a medicine ball.  Only my dad could’ve handled a question like that from a small child.  Brent asked the right man a question that was obviously weighing heavily on his young mind.  I don’t think it was unwitting either.  I think Brent sensed something deep within my dad,  a foundation of strength he needed to tap into to get him through his ordeal.  Dad neither registered shock nor dismay.  He simply took the boy’s question in stride like he was the strong voice of authority and Brent could rely on his answer as if it were chiseled in granite.

“No, Son,— I don’t think so.  You have some powerful men surrounding you who love you and will protect you.  I know what you’re facing may seem frightening to you, but jes’ remember,— when the time comes,— we’ll all be right there with you.  We won’t let nothing happen to you.  Why, you got four of the strongest men you could ever imagine by your side.  Three are right here in this room; yore’ daddy, Casey, and my other boy, Logan.  The other one is my boy, Dwayne.   The doctors will put chu’ to sleep, and you’ll dream beautiful dreams while the doctors repair yore’ heart.  You won’t know anything about it.  You won’t feel no pain.  When you wake up, it’ll all be over.  You’ll wake up and wonder when they're gonna’ do it.  You won’t even realize they already done it. It’ll be over,— ” dad snapped his fingers, “jes’ like ‘at,— before you know it, and you’ll be back here at the ranch with us riding my pony with me like you done today.”

“Will you be there with me, Mr. Longhorn?”  he asked pleadingly.

“If you want me to be,— I’ll be there, Son.  I’d be right proud to be there with you.”  Dad said firmly.

“I’d really like you to be there, Mr. Longhorn.  I’d feel safer if’n you was there, Sir.”

“Then, I promise,— I’ll be there.  Casey and I, both, will be there.”

Brent seemed satisfied and gave dad a big hug and a kiss.  How could any man say ‘no’ to the beautiful little boy.  I was so damn proud of my old man. That night as we all fixed dinner, Brent was right beside my dad everywhere he went.  It didn’t seem to bother dad a bit.  He just made sure he didn’t run over his little buddy.  Bart tried to pull Brent away a couple of times to give dad some space, but dad told him the boy was all right.  He needed to feel close to dad, and dad wasn’t going to deny him that.  He’d made Brent a promise he would see him through.

We got an early start to bed that night.  We wanted to be up and gone in plenty of time to get Bart and Brent to the hospital on time.  Before we went to sleep I asked dad how many of my children’s books he could recall from memory.

“A goodly number of ‘em.  I find myself reciting them to the cows when I’m out riding and get bored.  My pony probably thinks I’m daft.  He’s heard everything from “A Cat In A Hat” to “In The Night Kitchen.”  His favorite is “Goodnight, Mr. Moon.”  Dad laughed.

I laughed like I didn’t believe him.  Early in the morning, I felt my plug being removed.  You’ve never been properly fucked until you have to listen to a complete recitation of “Where The Wild Things Are” while you’re  getting fucked.  At first, I couldn’t stop giggling, but as he went on, I began to let go. I got caught up in the story, the fucking,  and the wonderful sound of my dad’s voice.  It dredged up memories from long ago; wonderful, comfortable memories I’d forgotten; however, they never really leave you. They’re there in the recesses of your mind filed away in a sub folder labeled  “comfort zone.”  As silly as it may sound, it was a wonderful fuck.  The story t’weren’t bad neither.

* * * * * * *

I walked out to the hen house the next morning to collect eggs.  I couldn’t tell whether the ladies were happy to see me or not.  I wasn’t about to try to get into their heads.  Logan tried one time and told me they thought in sights and smells only.  If it looked good or smelled good,— eat it.  Chickens can be so non-committal; however, if they don’t like something you’re doing, they have strong opinions and don’t mind letting you know about it.  I was glad to see Oreida Sue Orpington was still holding court.

Luckily, my girlfriends laid a bumper crop of proto-chicks that evening as we had guest for breakfast the next morning.  Dad invited Rance, Dwayne and Lamar for breakfast and unbeknownst to me, he also invited Sid, Sticker and my little brother.  Dad got me up early to help him with breakfast and told me to let our guest sleep a little longer.  We were about halfway through fixing breakfast when our family arrived,— all at the same time.  Six big men clomping up the front porch steps in cowboy boots onto a wooden porch was enough to wake the dead.

They came in and greetings were exchanged.  Everyone got coffee and my brothers were put to work helping.  Pretty soon Bart and Brent came downstairs to find our kitchen looking like a cowboy convention.  Brent was wowed when he saw his black buddy looking for all the world like another buckaroo.  He ran to Lamar who picked him up, hugged him and stole a kiss.  Bart was amazed to find these men here.

“Aww, we jes’ come to see you off and wish you and Brent well.  As it turns out, Vince invited us to go along so we’re all gonna’ travel up with ya’ll to L.A.  I jes’ think it was a sneaky way to git me to drive the wagon.”  Sticker boomed good heartedly.

“Great,— we can certainly use the support.  I appreciate you men caring enough to think about us.”

Logan did some investigation on the Internet and contacted several of his friends who provided him with some valuable information about the Children’s Hospital.  They provide small rooms for parents who need to stay over to be near their children during their treatment or operations.

There wasn’t enough chairs around the table for all of us.  We needed one more; however, that problem was quickly solved when Brent crawled up in dad’s lap.  Bart started to protest, but dad stopped him.

“It’s fine, Son.  He can eat off my plate.  There’s plenty food.  When we cook for this crew we have to kill the fatted calf.”

Everyone laughed as they began to pass the plates.  Brent ended up eating more than he probably would have eating alone.  He just felt comfortable with my dad and neither Logan nor I was opposed to sharing our dad with the little cowboy.  Talk was lively around the table, but the men purposely stayed away from talking about the hospital.  It was like they didn’t want to face the inevitable, so they just didn’t talk about it.  Then, too, it was because of their respect for Bart and his son.

We finished breakfast and quickly cleaned the kitchen.  Everyone was ready to go.  Bart packed only a few things for Brent and a couple of things for himself in a smaller overnight bag I loaned him.  He was going to leave the rest with us.  I assured him we would pick him and Brent up when the boy was released.   I jokingly asked him if he really thought my dad would desert his little buddy he made a promise to?   He agreed with me, he didn’t think he would.

We traveled to Los Angeles in Sticker’s ‘Canyonero’ and it was like a bobsled on wheels.  It may be the scariest monster of an eco-conservationalist’s worst nightmare, but it was smooth.  Brent sat in dad’s lap all the way to L.A.  Bart offered to take him several time, but dad wouldn’t hear of it.  Brent would get a scared look on his face, throw his little arms around dad’s neck and hold on for dear life.  I felt so sorry for him.  He was obviously afraid of what might happen to him, but he had found a rock in my dad to anchor him.  My old man affected a lot of folks that way.

Logan was riding navigator for Sticker.  He printed out maps on his computer and knew every freeway and off-ramp to take to get us to the hospital.   We arrived at eight-thirty in the morning and went in with them.  Imagine the scene of nine big cowboys, and one little cowboy entering a prestigious place like the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles.  We certainly turned a number of heads.  Kids were being moved in wheelchairs and some walked about in the lobby.  The all stopped to look.  They were fascinated by the cowboys.     

Bart checked Brent in and a nurse took him by the hand to take him away.  Bart was going with him, but Brent was afraid and turned to look at dad with a pleading look on his face.  Bart picked up on it and spoke to the nurse.

“Can his granddad come with us, Ma’am?”

“Certainly, Sir.”  she replied.  

Dad didn’t hesitate.  He smiled, winked at me and went to take Brent’s other hand.

We waited in the lobby for further word.  Bart came back in about thirty minutes, and told us we could visit for a while before we went back to the ranch.  We followed him into the room, and dad was sitting next to Brent’s bed talking quietly to him.  He was happy to see us all again.  He was in a nightgown and sitting up in bed.

“They told us they were going to run tests today and tomorrow.  The doctor’s will operate Wednesday morning at nine.  They said it will be about a four hour operation, but we should see some improvement in him almost immediately.”

We didn’t stay long.  Everyone had to have a hug and a kiss goodbye from the little cowboy.  I pulled Bart aside.

“Here, brother,— take this envelope and put it in yore’ pocket.  It has our address if you need it for any purpose.  It has my cell phone number, my little brother’s cell phone number, and our home number at the ranch.  There’s also a little note I wrote for you in there.  Just remember, you ain’t alone.  You and Brent have all our love and good thoughts with you.  You didn’t run into me by chance, cowboy.  Have faith and trust me,— it’ll all come out okay. If you need us we’re only a couple of hours away.  We’ll be here as soon as we can. Dad and I will be here for sure Wednesday morning early.”

Bart surprised me.  He opened his big arms to me, and I hugged him.  I thought he was going to cry, but he didn’t.  He also hugged every man there and thanked them for their kindness.  I was last to say goodbye to Brent.  I gently hugged and kissed him.  The others were talking among themselves and weren’t paying attention to us.

“Are you and Mr. Longhorn gonna’ be here for my operation, Casey?”

“Of course, we are, cowboy.  My dad don’t make no promises to a buckaroo he don’t keep.  You can count on it.  Beside I have to be here for my little brother, don’t I?”

He smiled real big.

“I’d like to be yore’ brother, Casey.”  he said quietly.

“You are my little brother, cowboy.  Don’t never doubt it.  Listen to me,— if’n you git really scared or frightened, you can think on me real hard, and I’ll come to you.  Now,— this has to be our secret.  You can’t tell your old man about it.”

“What da’ya’ mean, Casey?”

“Be quite for a minute, watch my face and listen for my voice.”

I touched him and asked in a small voice if I could enter his mind.

“Is that you, Casey?”  he spoke out loud.  I nodded.  “Sure,— ”  he said.

<< Can you hear me, cowboy? >> I smiled and winked at him.  His eyes got real big.
<< Wow,— yore’ lips ain’t moving, but I can hear you jes’ fine. Can you hear me? >>

<< Loud and clear, buckaroo.  Now,— not a word of this to yore’ daddy,— understand? >>

<< Our secret,— huh, big brother? >>

<< Our secret, sweetheart.  All ya’ gotta’ do is reach out for me, and I’ll hear you. >>

Tears started to well up in his eyes, and he started crying.  He held me tightly to him and whispered.

“Thank you, Casey,— oh, thank you.  I won’t be so afraid, now.  I’m proud to be yore’ little brother, Casey.  I already think on yore’ dad as my grampa.”

“He thinks on you as his grandson, cowboy.”  I whispered back.

Bart told Brent he was going to walk us out, but he’d be back in a minute.  We waved goodbye and left.  Bart walked us out to the truck.  He couldn’t thank us enough.  We all promised him we wouldn’t desert him and Brent.  We would see him through this.  I told him to call me later in the day to let us know how things were going.  He promised he would.  We took off and drove back to the ranch.  Their was a little conversation, but not a lot.  I think everyman in the truck was genuinely concerned for the little cowboy.

About half-way back I felt someone touch me.  I knew it was my new little brother.

<< I’m here, cowboy.  You testing me? >>

<< Sort of.  Daddy left to take his things to his room and said he’d be back in a while.  I jes’ wanted to thank you for your gift.  I won’t feel so alone now. Where are you? >>

<< Close yore’ eyes, lay back, and I’ll let chu’ see through my eyes,— okay? >>

<< Uh-huh. >>

I looked around the truck at everyone and came to my dad.  I felt a deep sigh from Brent.  E’aup,— he was a cowboy in love.  I looked out the window to show him the beautiful scenery of the mountains below Temecula on Interstate 15 headed South toward the “Rainbow Bridge.  It really looks like a giant concrete rainbow spanning the divide, over the Interstate, between two mountains.  I read in one of Dad's Triple A magazines it was designed by a woman.  It has to be one of the most beautiful pieces of freeway construction around.  They should have let her design a lot more.  As the bridge came into sight, I showed it to Brent.

<< Remember me pointing out the “Rainbow Bridge” on the way up, cowboy? >>

<< Yes, Sir.  I see it, Casey.  It’s beautiful from this view. >>

<< It sure is, honcho.  Jes’ think on your operation as that beautiful bridge.  You can see both sides of the bridge.  You’re on one side, but you can see the other side, too, from this distance.  The doctors will put you to sleep on one side of the bridge and carry you to the other side.  When you wake up you’ll be across on the other side of that beautiful bridge.  I always know when we come down through 'Rainbow Valley,' and I catch sight of the bridge, we’re about thirty minutes from home.  We’ll be to the ranch in a little while. >>

<< Okay, Casey,— that was beautiful.  Thanks for showing and  telling me about the “Rainbow Bridge.”  I’ll go now and let chu’ git on home.  I love you, Casey. >>

<< I love you, too, little brother.  Bye for now. >>

I gave him a mental hug and withdrew.  Logan looked at me and smiled.  He knew what I was up to, and I chuckled.

“You’re first time solo, brother?”  Logan asked quietly.  I laughed.

“Yeah, other’n the ponies,— I guess it is.”  

“Proud of you, brother.  Ya’ done the right thing.”  Logan put his hand on mine and squeezed it.

Dad looked at us and grinned.  I think he had some notion we were up to no good.  He was right.  There wasn’t much got by our old man.

* * * * * * *

The nurse showed Bart to his small room.  It was smaller than and average hospital room, but it was all he needed.  It had a single bed, a small dresser,  a desk and a color T.V. on the wall.  It had it’s own bath with a shower.  He was pleased and grateful. The nurse left him alone.  He told her he could find his way back to his son’s room.  He sat his bag down on the small dresser and withdrew the envelope from his pocket Casey gave him.

He sat on the bed, and tore the envelope open to read the note.   As he unfolded the letter he found five one hundred dollar bills inside.  He hung his head and cried.  He let out all of his pent up emotions he couldn’t let loose in front of his boy.  He didn’t want Brent to know he was almost as afraid as he was.  He got himself together and wondered at how good he felt having let go and had a good cry.  He opened Casey’s note and read;

“Dear brother,— this ain’t no loan.  This is a Christmas gift what done come early.  You need this right now, and God has been generous with me.  It’s meet and right, I should share a little of my good fortune with my brother. Christmas is right around the corner and you need a little something to play Santa for our little cowboy buddy.  Don’t you dare spend a penny of this on me or my dad.  What we do for you is because we want to, and because, it’s our gift to you and Brent.  Don’t take the joy of giving away from us think’n you have to get us gifts.  A simple handshake and ‘thanks’ will be sufficient.  May God’s love and his angels be with you and Brent.  Your cowboy brother, Casey.”

 Bart broke down again, but this time he didn’t try to get himself together. His tears were tears of release, joy and gratitude to God for the goodness of his fellow man.  'Surely  God must send his angels to us in human form sometimes,' he thought to himself.  How could he feel so close to these men in only a couple of days.  He’d never met anyone like them before.  He thought of Casey as his brother, and the way Brent responded to Mr. Longhorn, Bart couldn’t help think of him as his dad.  He secretly wished his dad was more like Vince Longhorn.  While Bart was made to feel dumb and worthless most of his life, he knew in his big heart he had good horse sense about people.  These were men he could trust and not be afraid to love.

He worried a little about why his dick dripped when he got a good look at Casey’s backside, but he didn’t dwell on it.  He quickly put those thoughts aside. ‘A man ain’t suppose to have thoughts like that.  Them thoughts was just plumb wrong.’ he told himself, ‘They was disrespectful of his new brother who he knew would never consider doing nothing like that.  Casey was a cowboy for crying out loud,— his cowboy brother.’

It only happened to him one time in high school with his football teammate and buddy Nickel Chambers.  Nick had such a sweet ass Bart would have to keep a towel around him in the locker room to keep Nick from seeing his dick getting hard.  One summer night, before their senior year, they got drunk together and ended up down by Windmill Creek in the back of Nick’s dad’s pickup truck.  Bart fucked his buddy until the cows came home.

Nick couldn’t seem to get enough of Bart’s big, cowboy dick and Bart couldn’t seem to give him enough.  Damn, he marveled how good his dick felt up Nick’s hot, tight cowboy ass.  When he came he shot the biggest load he could ever remember deep within Nick’s gut.  The next morning, as the sun woke them, Nick claimed to have been so drunk he couldn’t remember a thing.  Bart was afraid to tell him or admit he remembered and enjoyed it.  Nick might think he was queer. He claimed he couldn’t remember anything either.  Nothing more was ever said, but Bart carried a longing for Nick in his heart for years.  He asked Nick to be his best man at his wedding, and he was Nick’s best man at his.  Unbeknownst to him, Nick secretly carried a crush for Bart in his heart for as many years.    

Maybe Casey was right.  Maybe God was watching over him and Brent.  He stopped his crying, got down on his knees and thanked God for sending him men, who seemed like angels, as friends.  He prayed for the good Lord to be with him and his son in their hour of need. He prayed for forgiveness for his sinfully lustful thoughts about his good hearted and generous brother.  How could he have such base thoughts about a man who had been so good to him?  Bart felt like a huge hand was placed on his shoulder, and a weight was lifted from him he’d been carrying around for a good while.  He didn’t know how he knew, but he knew God forgave him and everything would be all right.

* * * * * * *

Dad and I returned to the ranch and the other men went home.  We spent the afternoon working around the ranch.  Dad wanted to get a couple of things done around the house in the late afternoon; he didn’t want to have to ask Bodey or Flynn to help him with.  It was our first evening alone since I got home.  I was really enjoying being with my old man again.  He had a glow about him I hadn’t seen in a while.  I knew the experience with Bart and Brent was bringing out the best in him.  I saw it happen to him when me and my brothers were going through bad times with the Colonel.

We fixed dinner together and talked about many things, but I never brought up my granddad; he didn’t either.  He would talk about everything else, but not his dad.  I brought granddad’s letter to give to him, but I thought I’d wait for the right time.  I wondered how I would recognize the ‘right’ time.  I knew I wasn’t going to give it to him right away, because I didn’t want it to possibly cast a cloud over what was turning out to be a joyous reunion at Christmas.

We were eating dinner when my cell phone vibrated in my pocket. It didn’t turn the ring on often ‘cause I got kidded a lot.  I had it programed to play the theme from “Bonanza.”

“Howdy, brother.”

“Howdy, yore’self, brother.” I said to Bart, “How’s our little buckaroo buddy doing?”

“He’s laying here in bed being a good boy.  He misses you and Mr. Longhorn.”

“We been talk’n about you and him a lot this evening.”

“Listen, Casey, I read yore’ note and all I can say is, ‘Thanks, brother,— thanks for everything.  You, yore’ dad, and your family of friends have renewed my faith in the world and people.  Brent and I can’t thank you enough.”

“You jes’ did, cowboy.  What chu’ jes’ said was enough.”

“Brent keeps asking me if I’m sure ya’ll plan on being here Wednesday?”

“We ain’t jes’ planning on it, we’ll be there.  I done told him we’d be there bright and early Wednesday morning.”     

“I know, but he worries a lot.  He done told me you told him something before you left today that helped him a lot.  He said he ain’t so afraid no more.”

“Yeah, I gave him a little pep talk; my standard, ‘cowboys ain’t never afeard as long as they got a good buddy, and I reminded him he’s got a number of good buddies watch’n over him.”

“He does at that.  Here, I’ll let chu’ talk with him for a minute.”

“Hi, Casey.”

“Howdy, buckaroo.   How’s my little brother?”

“I’m fine.  They poked me, X-rayed me, drew a lot of blood and run all kinds of test.  I remembered what you told me, and I wasn’t afraid.  How’s Mr. Longhorn?”

“He’s fine.  You wanna’ talk with him a minute?”

“I wouldn’t wanna’ bother him, Casey.”

“You ain’t no bother, cowboy.  We jes’ finished supper.  He’s sit’n right here listen to me talk to you.  Here,— tell him ‘hi.’”

I smile and handed the phone to dad.

“Howdy, Son.  You okay?”

“I’m fine, Mr. Longhorn.  Are you all right, Sir?”

“Fit as a fiddle, cowboy, and you don’t worry yore’self none,  we’ll be there Wednesday morning.”

“I won’t worry, Mr. Longhorn, I trust you and Casey.”

“You been in touch with my boy?”  Dad grinned and winked at me.

“Only once, Mr. Longhorn,— I don’t wanna’ bother him none.  You know about,— ?”
“Yes, Son,— he’s my boy.  I know everything about him. He didn’t say nothing, but I done figured you two had yore’ heads together on our way back.  You won’t bother him, cowboy.  I’m sure he told you to give him a holler if’n you’s scared or feel alone.”

“Yes, Sir,— Casey done told me that. It helped a lot.  He’s my brother, Mr. Longhorn.”

“That’s what he tells me, Son.”

“Daddy jes’ told me to give him the phone back.  I love you’n Casey, Mr. Longhorn.”

“We love you, too, Son.  See you Wednesday morning.”

Dad handed me the phone, I chatted with Bart a bit more, we said our ‘goodbyes’ and hung up.

* * * * * * *

“That was a nice thing you done for the boy, Son.  Was that what yore’ little brother was talk’n about yore first time ‘solo’?”  He grinned at me.

“Yes, Sir.  I jes’ figured he might need some reassurance, and h’it might comfort him to know someone’s right there if’n he needs ‘em.”

“You’d make one hell of a dad, Son.”  he said to me seriously. “You don’t realize it, but you done taught me how to be a dad.  I couldn’t a’ had me no better teacher, boy.”

“Thanks, Dad.  That’s about the nicest damn thing you’ve said to me in a while.  I really appreciate it.  Bart and Brent have opened my eyes to some new ideas.  I ain’t thought ‘em through yet, but when I do, I’d like to talk with you about ‘em.”    

“You know you can talk with me about anything, Casey.”

I wasn't about to say nothing about not being able to talk to him about my granddad,  I just looked at him and grinned.  He realized what he’d say and added, “Maybe even that,— jes,’— jes’ gimme’ some time, Son.”

I didn’t say a word.  I'd scored my point.  I certainly knew better that to push the subject.  We sat there in silence for a moment,— then, he added,

“I jes’ never considered,— ”  He paused like he was trying to make up his mind if he wanted to finish his sentence, “I never expected he might change.”  he said quietly.

I knew that was all he had to say about the matter. I knew better than to pursue it.  If dad wanted to talk more about it, he would, but I wasn’t about to drag it out of him.  I wasn’t trying to make it hard for him.  I was letting him take the news about my granddad at his own pace.  So far, it hadn’t seemed to do any damage to our relationship; it was still as sound as ever.  I would know in a minute if he was disappointed or upset with me.  At the very least, his statement opened the door just a crack; not enough for me to get my foot into, but just enough to see light coming through and give me a bit of hope.

* * * * * * *

That night I wanted him, and only him. I didn’t want him fucking me. Well,--- not for the first part of the evening, anyway.  I could always count on getting fucked sometime during the night.  I wanted to swallow as much of my dad’s essence as I could.  It was another one of those times when he knew what his boy needed, and he was damn sure going to see to it he got it.  I couldn’t get my old man’s cock down my throat far enough.  I fucked my face with his stiff penis for over half an hour until he threatened me with my young life if I didn’t get him off.

When he finally came he gushered so much cowboy spunk, I think some squirted out my ears.  It was running out the sides of my mouth and my nose.  Every time I took a deep breath I would breathe his male essence and it caused me to shoot my load again and again.   Fortunately, I put a towel under me to catch my come so I wouldn’t have to change the sheets.  I walked around with a fatuous grin on my face all morning the next day.  Bodey and Flynn laughed their cowboy ass’s off at me.

* * * * * * *

Dad and I got up early Wednesday morning.  We were on the road to L.A. by five-thirty.  I poured us a thermos of coffee and we drank some on the way.  We pulled into the parking lot of the Children’s Hospital at seven thirty-five.  We walked into Brent’s room and were surprised to find him still asleep.  Bart was sound asleep with his head resting on Brent’s bed.  Brent’s little arm was thrown around his daddy’s neck.  We weren’t there for a minute when Bart woke up.

“Hey,— you guys are here.”

He was groggy, but he stood to give us a hug.  Brent woke up about that time and got a big smile on his face.  He opened his arms to me, I hugged and kissed him.  Dad was next.  He held my dad a bit longer than he did me. He was so glad to see us. I poured Bart a cup of coffee from our thermos.

“We really appreciate you coming.  I know h’it’s a long drive and all.”

“H’it’ ain’t that far.” said dad,  “‘Side’s I didn’t have to drive.”  He winked at Bart and got a laugh. “They still taking Brent in at nine?”

“Yes, Sir, Mr. Longhorn.  They only let him have liquids last night for his dinner; some broth, juice and milk.  They said he cain’t have no breakfast.  They don’t want nothing on his stomach in case he might throw up.  They say it ain’t too likely to happen, but they don’t wanna’ take no chances.”

“How you hold’n up, cowboy?”  Dad spoke to Brent.

“I’m doing okay, Mr. Longhorn.  I’m a little nervous about it, but I’m better since you got here.  With you and Casey here, I know I’ll be all right.”

Bart looked at me and smiled.  He couldn’t believe the influence my dad had on his boy’s attitude.  He told me after they came to get Brent how happy he was Brent formed a bond with my dad.  Brent wanted dad to go into the operating room with him and hold his hand until they put him to sleep.  When my old man walked out he had tears running down his face.  My dad,— for all his cowboy gruff and masculine bravado was reduced to a bowl of Jello.  I almost laughed at him, but I knew better. That would’ve been really insensitive of me at that moment.  I settled for rolling my eyes and winking  at Bart.  I held him until he got it out of his system.

“I begged them to let me stay with him, but they wouldn’t.  I probably would’ve fainted at the first site of blood.  I saw a lot of men’s blood in Nam, but I don’t know’s I could a’ watched ‘um do that to my little buddy.”

“C’mon, Dad.  We got us about four hours to wait.  Let’s us take Bart down to the cafeteria for breakfast and come back to the waiting room.”

We went to the cafeteria and had breakfast.  It wasn’t great, but it was filling.  We went back to the waiting room, and I got comfortable in a large overstuffed chair.  Dad and Bart were talking when I heard a small signal touch my mind.  Could it be?

<< I’s ‘zat you, cowboy? >> I asked.

<< It’s me, Casey.  It’s dark, and I’m scared. >>

<< You wanna’ stay with me for a while? >>

<< Can I?  You won’t mind? >>

<< What’d I tell you, honcho? >> I heard a little giggle.

<< I’m sorry,  Casey.  I jes’ didn’t wanna’ be no bother.  Where am I? >>

<< Remember the ‘Rainbow Bridge’? >>

<< Yeah, it’s beautiful. >>

<< Well, that’s where you are right now.  You’re asleep and they got chu’ on that bridge, and they’s carry’n you across.  You’ll be done in no time and good as new. >>

I wasn’t aware dad and Bart stopped talking and were looking at me.  Dad told me later my eyes were glazed over, and I had a funny smile on my face. He knew immediately were I was and what I was doing.  I guess he figured if Bart and Brent were going to be family he’d learn soon enough about me.

“Don’t be alarmed, Son.  Ain’t nothing wrong with him.  He’ll come around in a bit.  Casey’s got a gift.  He didn’t discover it until his little brother taught him and his other brother how to use their gifts.  He’s with yore’ boy right now.”

“What’da’ ya’ mean, Mr. Longhorn.”

“He taught Brent how to reach out with his mind and talk to him if’n he’s  scared or afraid.  Brent talked to him some on our way back to the ranch the other day.  H’it’s Casey’s first time help’n somebody like that.  He only done it between his brothers and a big giant man in Tucson; oh, yes, and the ponies at the ranch.”

“Wait a minute.  You’re tell’n me Casey can talk mind to mind with my boy and ponies?”  He grinned like he thought my dad was blowing smoke up his butt.  

 “Look,— I had the same reaction when Sticker and Sid told me about them boys.  They kept it secret from us adults for a number of years.  Then some pert-damn miraculous shit started to happen we didn’t have no answers for.  Sid was the first to know about it, because his boy developed his gift early on in life.  From the time he was Brent’s age or younger, Logan was hear’n voices from ever’ wheres.  He was so confused most of the time, he thought he was going crazy.  Then, Sid found Sticker Wiggins to ride herd on Logan and be his trainer.  Sticker knew about Logan’s gift and helped him develop it.  Sid had no idea for many years just how powerful a gift his boy had.”

“Why ain’t no one said nothing to me about it?”

“I didn’t know until day before yesterday Casey taught Brent how to holler at him.  Casey ain’t never tried to touch anybody’s mind on his own before.  I know my boy.  He jes’ didn’t want to frighten you.  I can guaran-damn-tee-ya’ yore’ boy is curled up safe in my boy’s arms inside his brain right now.”

Bart spoke to me, and I heard him like a distant voice calling.  I held my hand up for him to wait for a minute.

<< Yore’ daddy’s talk’n to me, sweet baby.  You stay right here.  Don’t chu’ go nowheres,— I’ll be right back,— okay? >>

<< Okay, Casey. >>

“Sorry, Bart, I hear’d what dad told ju’ and he’s right.  My little buddy got frightened, and he’s here with me.  I’m keeping him company while he’s on the bridge.”

“Bridge?  What bridge?”

“He’ll tell you about it when he comes to.  Right now,— I gotta’ get back to him.”

Dad said Bart looked amazed and bemused, but watched as my face glazed over again.  I remembered watching my little brother when he was with Dwayne while the Colonel was beating and abusing him.  I must have looked every bit as strange as Logan did that day; except, I wasn’t about to come in my Waranglers.  I stayed with Brent until I heard a doctor come to the waiting room to tell Bart the operation was a compete success. He told Bart he wouldn’t recognize his boy, because Brent looks so good, and they would be bringing him back to his room in a minute.

<< Did ju’ hear that, pod’na’? >>

<< Yeah, I did.  Am I on the other side of the bridge now, Casey? >>

<< All the way on the other side.  They’s bring’n you back to your room right now.  I’ll stay with you ‘til they wake you up, then I’ll come see you.  Most likely you’re gonna’ feel some pain in yore’ chest, but they’ll give you something for that to make it go away.  Then they’ll probably let chu’ go back to sleep for a while to rest.  You can gimme’ a holler then if’n you like. >>

Brent started to cry.

<< You all right, cowboy? >>

<< Yeah, Casey.  I’m jes’ so happy you and Mr. Longhorn are with me. I love you, Casey. >>

<< Well,— I shore’ ‘nuff love you, too, little brother.  See you in yore’ room. >>  

I shook my head like I’d been asleep for hours.  In a way, I guess I had.  They had Brent back in his bed bringing him around by the time we got there.   Bart went to him, held him and cried.  After he recovered a bit,  Brent’s first words were,

“Casey,— Casey?  Where’s Casey, Daddy?”

I went to him, he put his arms around me and hugged my neck.

“Am I on the other side of the bridge now, Casey?”

“All the way, sweet cowboy.”

“Thanks for help’n me, brother.”  he said weakly.  He was drifting off to sleep again.

“You’re so welcome, pod’na.”  I let him lay back, looked at Bart and winked.  He smiled, but I could tell he was concerned.  The doctor was right. Brent looked completely different.  His cheeks were rosey and his lips were a bright red color.  He looked beautiful.  Bart started crying and turned into my dad’s arms.

“Shuu,— cowboy.  H’it’s all over now.  Look at him,— he’s gonna’ be jes’ fine.”  

Bart got himself together and we stayed  with them for several hours. Bart looked at me and grinned.

“He knew about the bridge.”  was all he said.

“Yeah,— I’ll let him tell you about it.”

“Thanks, brother.  You done come through for us again.  I don’t have no more doubts about our meeting.”

“‘At was my first time out, as my brother called it.  Ain’t never tried nothing like ‘at before, Bart.  I hope I didn’t scare ya’ none.  I jes’ wanted to be there for him if’n he needed me.”

We stayed until Brent woke up again.  I was going out to get food for us as they brought a tray for Brent.  I saw a hamburger joint down the street and bought three cheeseburgers with the works and fries.  While I was waiting I heard a small voice in my head.

<< Casey? >>

<< I’m here, cowboy. >>

<< I cain’t eat what they brung me. >>

<< What da’ ya’ won’t, little brother? >>

<< A big ‘nilla milk shake. >>

<< You got it, tiger.  One large ‘nilla milk shake come’n right up! Be back in a minute. >>

“Son, ya’ gotta’ eat some’um to get stronger.”  Bart pleaded with his son.

“I will, daddy, I jes’ cain’t eat none a’ this.  Casey’s bringing me some’um back with him.”

Dad looked at Bart, smiled and shook his head.

“What’s he bringing you, Son?”

“A big ‘nilla milk shake.”  he smiled

A few minutes later I arrived and passed out the food. Lastly, I gave my cowboy buddy his big ‘nilla shake.  Bart’s mouth dropped open, and it wasn’t from taking a bite of his burger.

“I’ll be damned.” he said softly. Dad patted him on the back and laughed.

Brent drank almost all of his shake.  The nurse came in to get his tray and saw him drinking it.  She smiled, raised an eyebrow,  but she didn’t say anything.  I took the rap, I apologize for giving it to him.

“If he drinks the shake, ‘at’s all we care about.  It’s food.  That’s what he needs right now.  I had a feeling he wouldn’t eat fried chicken and mashed potatoes.  Those hospital food people don’t know squat about kids;  what they will eat and what they won’t.  I could a’ told ‘em he wouldn’t eat this. You did the right thing. He’ll feel better enough by this evening, he’ll eat a bit of his dinner.  If not, dad,— you march your cowboy butt to the corner and buy that boy another shake.”  She winked at Bart.  We all laughed. She was smart and funny.

We stayed around for a while longer, said our goodbyes and told them we’d be in touch.  I told Brent since our secret wasn’t a secret any longer for him to give me a holler if he needed me.  He promised he would.  While we were there he told his daddy about the ‘Rainbow Bridge’ and how his buddy Casey helped him from one side of the bridge to the other.  Bart had tears running down his cheeks before Brent finished his story.  He was so happy his boy was better and going to be all right.  Bart thanked us and thanked us again as he walked us out to dad’s truck. We told him if he needed anything to call.  I told him to call anyway to let us know how things were going and how Brent was progressing.

That evening Bart called his parents.  His mother answered the phone.

“Hi, Ma,— H’it’s me, Bart.”

“Bart,— oh, Son,— it’s so good to hear from you.  Hank!” she hollered, “Bart’s on the phone!  How’s my baby grandson?”  she asked.

“The operation’s over and he’s doing fine, Ma.  The doctor’s say he came though without a hitch, and they should only have to keep him here for about five more days.  He looks great, Ma.  You wouldn’t recognize him, he looks like a new cowboy.”

“Praise the Lord!”  His mother exclaimed, “How are you hold’n up, Bart?”

“I couldn’t be better or happier.  I feel like I’ve had a great weight lifted off my shoulders.  I didn’t git though it alone, Ma.  God sent us a couple of angels to help us.  One was with Brent the whole time he was being operated on. He done told me all about it.”

“I didn’t think you were a believer, Son.”

“I never was very much, but I am now.  I’ve seen ‘um with my own eyes and talked with ‘um, Ma, but they ain’t like what you might think.  They don't have no wings.  Well,— maybe they do, but I didn’t see none.  They looked jes’ like they’s jes’ ordinary cowboys to me, Ma.”

There was a pause on the other end of the line.  Bart knew his mother was a believer, but for her ‘dumb’ son to see angels when she never had was too much for her to wrap her hypocritical, fundamentalist mind around.

“That’s nice, Son,— I’m glad you had that experience.  We’ll talk more about it when you git home.”  she said coldly.  Which, to Bart, freely translated from the mother tongue meant, she’d straighten him out later.

“Lemme’ talk with dad, Ma?”  Bart demanded somewhat exasperated with her.

“You wanna’ talk with your dad?”  Helen Conners didn’t try to hide her surprise.  Thanks to her, Bart always went out of his way to ignore his dad.

“Yeah, Ma,— I wanna’ talk with dad.”  he stated flatly.

“Hank,— Bart wants to talk with you.”  Bart hear his mother holler to his dad rather coldly.  Pretty soon he heard his dad’s voice.

“Hello, Son.”

“Howdy, Dad.  I had to tell you, Dad,— I done had an angel what visited me, and he told me to talk with you.  He told me to tell you, my boy, yore’ grandson, is gonna’ be jes’ fine.”  Bart paused for a moment and could swear he heard his old man crying softly on the other end. “He also done told me to tell you what a fool I’ve been all these years for not coming to you about things what I needed to talk about.  I always let ma push you out of the way.  He told me you needed me as much as I needed you all them years, but I guess ma was right, I’s jes’ too damn dumb to realize it.

Ain’t gonna’ be that a’ way no more between us when we gits home, Dad.  I been need’n me a dad for a long time now and my boy needs his granddad, but h’it never occurred to me you been need’n us, Dad.  What I’m try’n to say is, I love you, Dad.  You’re my old man, and I wanna’ thank you for being there for me all these years.  I wouldn’t a made it if’n it had’na been for you.”  Bart paused for a moment and then he was sure he could hear his dad quietly weeping.  In a choked voice he heard him say,

“Y’ain’t dumb, Son. You never was dumb.  I love you, too, boy.  You’re right about me need’n ya’ll.  I do need you and Brent. Thank yore’ angel for me, Son,— he’s a good’un.”

“I will, Daddy.  We’ll be home before you know it.  Then you and yore’ boys is gonna’ go fish’n without no women folk.”

“I’ll look forward to that, Bart,— I surely will.  Come home safe to us, Son.”

“We will, Dad. We got us some purtty powerful angels watch’n over us.  Best news is,— I done got me a job.  I’m gonna’ be work’n for the Lazy 8.”

“Really, Son?  ‘At’s a fine outfit to work for.  You’ll make a good hand for ‘um.”

“Thanks, Dad.  See ya’ soon.  Bye for now,— love you, Dad.”

“Love you and Brent, Son.  Bye.”   He hung up the phone.

Bart set back and let out a sigh.  He knew in his heart Casey was right.  All these years his dad needed Bart as much as Bart needed him.  He made up his mind, he wasn’t going to let his ma come between them again. He got a smug smile on his face and thought to himself,

‘I didn’t lie none about them angels, neither.’

* * * * * * *

We returned to the ranch in good time and spent the rest of the day picking out a Christmas tree for the living room.  Dad always insisted on having a tree every year.  As I got older it seemed to become a nuisance and a lot of trouble for just him and I; however, this year,  for some reason, I got into the mood, and I became a little boy again.  Dad allowed his little boy to come out to play, and we had a great time picking out just the right tree and pulling out all the decorations.  Sid and Sticker had their tree up all ready, and it was professionally decorated.  It was stunning but my little brother declared it was a bit sterile for his taste.  He always got into the mood with me and dad and helped us decorate our tree.

It was only two days ‘til Christmas and I hadn’t bought a present.  Dwayne, Logan and I always went shopping together every year and this year was no exception. It had become a Christmas tradition.  We planned on going the next day.

Dad decided we’d invite everyone over that evening to trim the tree.  Our family decided it would be potluck.  Everyone brought something and dad and I provided the meat.  We decided we’d barbeque chicken as the weather was warmer and we could be outdoors for a while in the evenings without freezing our hinders off.  That’s what I loved about California.  There never seems to be seasons like they have in the Midwest or Texas.  In California you go from cool to warm to hot, then back to cool.  It’s never a bone chilling cold and the hottest afternoons usually cool down by five or six o’clock at the latest.  There can be a twenty degree drop in temperature between  day and night.

We invited Bodey and Flynn to join us.  Frank Mayhew, and Curtis came. The Winchester’s were there.  The sheriff and his family came.  Of course, Rance, Dwayne and Lamar were there.  Finally, my little brother, Sid and Sticker arrived and they had all kinds of food and drink.  It was a mishmash of taste treats.  Donna and Lee Bard’s wife brought desserts and they were wonderful.  Donna made an eggnog cake made with bourbon that was unbelievably good.    

With all the help, our tree was decorated in no time, and with a giant in your family, there’s no problem getting the angel to the highest point on the tree.  Our ceilings were twelve feet in our old house and the top of the tree stopped short about a foot.  Lamar didn’t even have to stretch getting the angel on top. We all laughed with him.  He was such a joy to have around.  Of course, he was easy to look at, too.  He had become my black angel who came to my rescue with a terribly swift sword.  His bonded mate, my brother became more handsome by the year. They made a fine couple and no one who was ever around them could doubt their love for each other.

“Now that’s a Christmas tree.” declared my little brother obviously proud of our accomplishment.

“Are you implying ours ain’t, Son?”  grinned Sidney.

“Oh, sweet Jesus!”  Sticker exclaimed, slapped his knee, and laughed.

“No dad, ours is jes’ fine.  It’s the very best money can buy.”

Logan rolled his eyes at Dwayne and I.  We broke up laughing at him.  Our little brother’s tongue was lethal up to fifty paces.  He could kill with a glance.  Sticker pointed a finger at Sid and hooted with laugher.

“When will you learn, brother?  You know better’n ‘nat! You never give that boy an opening like that.  He done set chu’ up and shot chu’ down again.”

Sticker had us all laughing.  Even Sid started laughing. He had no comeback for the truth.  Logan went to his dad, hugged and kissed him on the cheek.  Sid blushed and caused everyone to laugh again.  Secretly,  he was proud of his boy for seeing the beauty in things of the heart and not the false beauty money might provide.  He was a lot more attentive to his son the rest of the evening.

I wanted to get dad a new saddle for Christmas.  His rodeo saddle was on its last legs.  I remember he bought it from a saddle maker in the next town and he loved it.  He had it for as long as I could remember.  I called the man to ask if he might happen to have a saddle for sale.  He said he had one he custom made for a man who paid him a deposit for it, but he never came to pick it up or pay him the rest of his money.  He tried to contact the man to no avail and told me he’d sell it to me for the same price. He needed the money for Christmas.  I jumped at it, and my brothers drove me over to pick it up.  It was a handsome saddle, finely tooled but not too fancy.  I knew dad would love it.

Dwayne and I spent the next two days shopping for gifts for folks we loved. Sometimes we went in together to get a large gift for someone.  We always bought the Winchester’s a gift from the three of us. Most times we tried to get what we thought would be practical gifts.  Sometimes the simplest of gifts will become the most meaningful to someone if they use it a lot.  While shopping we walked into a toy store where all the toys were other than mass manufactured.  Everything in the store was handmade by artisans and craftsmen.  They were wonderful toys, but one caught my eye above all the others.

It was an unusual teddy bear dressed in an authentic old time cowboy Western costume complete with small, handmade, tall buckaroo boots, chinks and gun belt with a six-shooter.  He wasn’t short and squat like most teddy bears you see.  This bear was tall, lean and mean looking; broad at the shoulders and narrow at the hips.  In a way, he reminded me of my dad or Bart. He almost reminded me of Griz, but he wasn’t quite ugly enough.  He was wearing a full length black duster and had an outrageously large black felt hat that made him look meaner than a cornered bobcat.

He was authentic from his large bandanna to a tiny Skol can in the hip pocket of his Wranglers.  Yes, they were genuine Wranglers and had the trademark in them.  He had one cheek a little puffed out like he had a pinch of snuff or tobacco in his mouth. It was a masterpiece of parody and wit; however, the very best part was,— he had deep violet eyes. Dwayne and Logan saw me staring in awe at it and walked up next to me to look.  They were as awestruck as I was.

“That’s incredible!” exclaimed Dwayne softly “For yore’ cowboy buddy, Case?”  he asked.

“Perfect!”  allowed my little brother.

It was all handmade by a lady who was a Western artist. I had to buy it for my buddy.  I didn’t know when I’d get to see Brent again, but when I did I was going to take it to him.  I was surprised when Dwayne and Logan picked out a gift for him.  I wondered how we would get all the stuff back to Texas, but Sid told me he was flying us back, right into Chapel Creek this time.  He was going to make arrangements with Gip to pick us up without a lot of fanfare.  Yeah, right!  Everything with Gip Claymore was brass bands and fireworks.   Thank, God!!  I loved every inch of his bravado.

* * * * * * *

I was in contact with my granddad several times during the holidays.  I bought him his own cell phone.  At first, he didn’t see any need for it, but as time passed he began to see it as a useful tool.

“Besides,” he told me later, “it’s always nice during a boring day of punching cattle to get a call from your grandson to make your day a little brighter.”

I told him what was going on in my life, with Bart and Brent.  He told me if I thought Bart was a good buckaroo, that was enough for him; he’d hire him immediately.  I told my granddad about what dad and I was doing and what I bought him for Christmas;  I hadn’t given his letter to him yet, but I planned to before I came back to the ranch;  I was looking for the right time.  I told him I missed him and O.C. and I loved him.  He assured me he felt the same.  He wished me a Merry Christmas.

I sent long e-mails back to little Gip and Waddie Buck telling them about all that happened, and we had a new cowboy for the Lazy 8.  I knew they’d print it out and let the rest of the family read it.  I sent almost the same to Vince and Seth Quee.  I knew they’d let their dad read it.  Finally, I sent a separate e-mail to O.C. that was a bit more personal.  I wanted him to know I missed him and hadn’t forgotten about him.  He told me to give his love to his brother for him.  I let dad read his e-mail, and he got tears in his eyes when he read that part.

* * * * * * *

Christmas eve arrived.  Dad and I felt bad for Bart and Brent being in the hospital for Christmas; however, the greatest gift Bart could give his son was to save his life and insure Brent has a good, normal, long life. They would have many more happy Christmas’ together.

 Our family got together early for a light supper at our place.  We were getting together for Christmas dinner at Sid and Sticker’s place.   For several years Sidney threw a big Christmas dinner party.  He had the best chefs and a staff of people to cook and see to his guest.  Everything was taken care of, and all his guest had to do was eat and make merry.

Christmas eve there were presents exchanged at our place and more exchanged the next day at Sid and Sticker’s.  Everyone had a drink and stood around talking.  There didn’t seem to be much enthusiasm for moving to the living room to open presents.  In fact, there seemed to be a damper on everyone there.   Logan commented on it, and Rance backed him up.

“Well,— h’it’s simple.” stated Sticker, “Here we are without a care in the world and two men we’ve all come to care about are spending Christmas eve  by themselves in a hospital.”

“Yeah,— what’s the difference where we are as long as we’re together this evening?”  Sidney backed Sticker up.

“What chu’ got in mind, Dad?”  Logan asked.

“We got a plane sitting at the airport on standby.  One call from me, and they can pick us up at our local landing strip. We fly to Burbank, I’ll rent a limo.  We can be there and back in a couple of hours.”

“I’m game.”  said my dad.

“Me, too,— count me in.” said Cousin Rance.

Everyone ran to grab their presents for Brent and a couple for Bart.

“Hold it!”  my dad hollered, “We’re gonna’ be overdoing.  One present for each.  The rest they can open when Brent gits out of the hospital.  We’ll keep our tree up through New Years any how. We’ll all git together and have a second Christmas.  I think Casey has a purtty good present for the boy, and Sticker’s got a nice present for Bart.”

Everyone agreed and we all climbed in the ‘Canyonero’ and headed for our local airstrip.   The plane was waiting for us.   Twelve cowboys boarded Sidney’s jet, he gave instructions to the pilot.  We strapped ourselves in and we were airborne in minutes.  It was about a thirty minute flight to Burbank and my friend Jeremy served us drinks.  He was wearing a Santa hat that drooped over and had a white plastic ball on the end that flashed different colors.  It was a nice touch and his enthusiasm got us all in the Christmas mood.  I told him what we were doing and where we were going.  He knew Bart and Brent, and asked Sidney if he could tag along with us to the hospital.   Sidney told him it would be fine, we’d be glad to have him come along.  The pilots got wind Jeremy was going along and they wanted to come, too.

We landed, and the stretch limo was waiting. The driver drove us to the hospital.  We were there within an hour of leaving home.  I joked with Sidney about the expense for a momentary whim.

“It’s more’n a whim.  We’re spreading a bit of Christmas cheer.  Besides it’s a business deduction.  I had to fly to L.A. for a board meeting with stock holders.  Since you three boy’s corporation and Sticker are the major holders of stock in the Lazy 8, we had our meeting on the way,— right?”

“Right, Sir.  Nice meeting, Mr. Wainright.”  I laughed and everyone  laughed with us.

We got to the hospital.  Logan called ahead before we decided to leave to make sure we would be still within visiting hours.  They told him they extended the visiting hours due to Christmas eve.  Bart and Brent were in awe when twelve cowboy, two pilots , and our steward, Jeremy, came into Brent’s room.  Bart was in tears and Brent was beside himself with joy.

“See dad,— I told ju’ they would come.” Brent told his dad.

“He’s been tell’n me all day you guys were coming this evening, and I told him I didn’t think so.  I owe my boy an apology.  We’re so grateful you thought enough to come.”

“We can’t stay too long.  We jes’ flew up to wish you two a Merry Christmas.  We have to get back, but we didn’t want you  to think we forgot about you” said Sticker as he handed Bart a present from him and Sidney. It was a pair of hand tooled buckaroo spurs that had an authentic antique look to them.  They looked like they should be worn by an old time cowpoke on a big cattle drive.  Bart was speechless.  He hugged each man and thanked them for their kindness.  I took a picture of our Christmans tree on my cell phone before we left, and I showed it to Brent.

“Santa Clause done stopped off at our ranch for you, little brother.  We’re gonna’ keep our tree up ‘til you git out of here and can come open your presents.  In the meantime, I brought you a present from yore’ big brother.”  

I handed him the finely wrapped box.  His eyes got big as saucers.  Every eye in the room was on him as he ripped the paper from the box.  Brent slowly opened the box, and a big smile crossed his face.  I took a picture of him smiling and holding up his cowboy bear for everyone to see.  Everyone applauded quietly.

“Oh, Casey,— he’s wonderful.  Look, daddy,— he’s got eyes jes’ like Casey’s.  Same color and ever’ thing.”  I laughed.  “Since Casey’s ma’brother, I knows what I’m gonna’ name ‘em.  I’m a’ gonna’ call him, ‘Bubba Longhorn.’” Brent declared.

Everyone laughed and declared it looked just like me.  We visited for about an hour, said our goodbyes and left.  Bart saw us out to the limo and thanked us again and again.  I told him to keep in touch.  Let us know when Brent can come home and for him not to worry, Sid was going to fly us back to Chapel Creek the day after New Years.  He broke down and cried in my arms.

We got home within three hours of having left the house.  It was a great trip and everyone had a good time.  We had drinks on the way back so everyone was a bit mellow by the time we arrived back at the ranch.  We were in much greater spirits than earlier in the evening and everyone was more in the mood to open presents.  I nominated Lamar to play Santa Clause and pass out the presents.  It was a unanimous vote and Lamar smiled real big.

He came to the biggest present under the tree and read out my dad’s name. Dad looked at me suspiciously, but I don’t think he had a clue what was in the box.  When he opened it, his face lit up almost as bright at the Christmas tree.  He smiled from ear to ear.  He pulled his new saddle out of the box to everyone’s ooohs and awwhs.  Then everyone applauded for him.  He turned a bright red color.  I laughed at him.  He came to me, hugged and kissed me right on the mouth in front of our friends.  I didn’t hold back, I figured it was Christmas.

“‘At’s a fine saddle, boy.  I know jes’ from look’n at it who made it.  I’ll ride in it with pride, Son.”

After a while everyone left.  Some wanted to go to midnight services at our small, local Episcopal church.  Dad decided he wanted to go.  He felt like he had a lot to be thankful for,  and he wanted to pray for the well being of our new little buddy and his dad.  I drove through the clear crisp evening on our blacktop farm road into our small town.  There was hardly a car or truck to be seen on the road.  Everyone was home with their families and friends on Christmas eve, except those, like us, who went to late services.

There wasn’t a lot of folks.  We sat with the rest of our cowboy family which was about a third of the folks there.  The little church was decorated for the season and there were no electric lights used.  The church was lit by candles.  The soft glow and the smell from the tallow as the candles burned was comforting and hypnotic.  It was a lovely service and the pastor gave an interesting sermon on the unconditional love God expressed to man by giving his son for our sins.  I wondered if God, being almighty and everything,  couldn’t have found a bit more loving and less violent way to have expressed his love than to let his beloved son be nailed to a cross.  I know I sure wouldn’t want that done to no son of mine.

But what does a cowboy know about the working of God and the mysteries of the universe?  I felt ashamed, because God had been good to me and given me a gift that could potentially help or harm others depending on how I choose to use it.  It was a big responsibility; one which I didn’t take lightly.  He had also been good to give me an uncle, a granddad and another family of people and friends in Texas; folks I had come to love and cherish over the last year.  I prayed for forgiveness and thanked God for my blessings, health and family; and asked him to watch over and protect those I loved.

We exited the church and the night was clear, crisp, and still.  It’s many stars were like pinpoints of light in a sky that were designed for the birth of a king.  Dad was quite on the way home.  I asked him what he was thinking about.

“They told me my little brother came to you and O.C. and Seth set things right between them?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“And later,— Seth came to you again with your granddad, and they made their peace?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Then, after setting things right with yore’ granddaddy,— Tom Harris and two angels came for him.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Humm,— ” Dad mused to himself.

I didn’t ask.  I figured he’d tell me if he wanted me to know what he was thinking about.  We drove along in silence for a while. I was driving and Dad had his face turned away from me looking out the window of the truck.  I glanced in his direction once.  Was that a tear I saw on his cheek?  In a voice filled with emotion he spoke quietly,

“I was the one what watched out for Seth and loved him.  I was the one what protected him from our dad’s wrath.  I loved my little brother more’n life itself.  I adored him.  In my heart, I still do.  I thought God gave me you, an almost perfect image of my little brother, for loving Seth so much. Why couldn’t he have come to me for help?”

A small voice told me not to answer his question.  I thought, perhaps the answer I had for him, he might not want to hear.  Was it a sign all this information was slowly taking effect?  Was his self-imposed shell beginning to crack?  I acted like his question was rhetorical, and drove on steadily through the magic of the silent night.

End of Chapter 42 ~ Texas Longhorns
Copyright 2005 ~ Waddie Greywolf
All rights reserved ~
Mail to: waddiebear@yahoo.com