Disclaimer:  The following story is a work of fiction.  If you are offended by descriptions of homosexual acts or man/man relations, please exit this page.


Copyright 2009 by Tulsa Driller.  All rights reserved.

This is a story of men who have two common interests.  You will see that they love the land where they live and work, but it is also the story of young men who love other men and their coming of age in a culture of prejudice and misunderstanding.  It is a story, which deals with difficult and often disturbing issues but, nonetheless, issues which must be confronted in today's society.

This is a work of fiction and in no way draws on the lives of any specific person or persons.  Any similarity to actual persons or events is entirely coincidental.  This work is copyrighted© by the author and may not be reproduced in any form without the specific written permission of the author.  It is assigned to the Nifty Archives under the terms of their submission agreement but it may not be copied or archived on any other site without the written permission of the author.

PLEASE:  In a perfect world AIDS doesn't exist.  My characters have unprotected sex.  I hope you use proper precautions because I'd like you to be around to read the last chapter of this story.

Tales from the Ranch
Book 2, Chapter 18: Those Who Look Out for Each Other

Thursday dawned clear and with a hint of the smell of spring in the air.  It had been a mild winter with the usual dreary days when they received a dribble of rain, not enough to measure, but those working outside needed a windbreaker to stay dry.  Shrubs and bulbs were in bloom everywhere and trees were unfurling their new spring leaves.

Joey woke up with Forrest's back to his chest, the same position they had gone to sleep in.  Mitsy jumped off the bed, giving a little "grrr".  The new paperboy did not place the newspaper against the door; he threw it from either the elevator door or the top of the stairs on the 5th floor.

Forrest wanted to say something to him about the noise, but Joey reminded him that they were generally awake and ready to get up at that time of a morning, anyway.

As Forrest was slowly awakening, Joey pulled on his boxers to start the daily morning routine of letting Mitsy out, going to the kitchen to flip the switch on the coffeepot and getting a glass of orange juice for each of them.  He washed the water and food bowls, filling each for his dog.  Mitsy was usually back at the door immediately after using the flowerbed for her needs and he let her in.

Joey then took care of his bladder and prepared his face to be shaved.  Forrest didn't wake up as quickly as Joey and usually arrived in the shared bathroom as Joey was ready to start his shower.  Forrest was ready for his own shower as Joey was finishing drying his body.  They exchanged a hug as they traded places.  Joey quickly dried his hair and was ready to dress for the day.  Again, he was finishing dressing as Forrest shut off the water and quickly dried himself.

Dale and Craig were in the kitchen having their second cup of coffee when Joey arrived and poured himself a cup, and then rinsed out his juice glass.

"Where's your brother?" Dale asked.

"Right behind me," and sure enough Forrest arrived in the kitchen wearing only his boxers.

"What, no jockstraps for your fan club to see today?" Dale teased.  He thought it was neat that the two teens wore them most of the time instead of underwear.  He didn't know the real reason they both liked to wear jockstraps.

"That was embarrassing," Forrest replied, turning a little red.

"It certainly was," Joey agreed.  Neither of them realized that's all they were wearing until they started to get dressed after the TV interview.

"Don't worry about it," Craig said.  "I'm sure that all the gay guys and most of the women enjoyed the view – and probably about 25% of the men, too."  They all laughed, but it was probably true.

Forrest filled his coffee mug and disappeared back into their bedroom to get dressed.  He peeled off his boxers and put on a clean jockstrap before pulling on a pair of Levis and then a long sleeve rugby shirt.  He put his athletic cup into a baggie and then into a pocket in his backpack.  A pair of athletic socks and his white Nikes completed his outfit for the day.

Barry needed a ride again this morning.  The three young men had determined that they might as well go to school since Thursday was the last school day of the week, Good Friday being a day off from classes.  Spring break would follow for three days next week.

Joey and Forrest were ready to go pick up Barry and then go on to school after giving their Dad's a hug and telling them that they would see them after school, reminding them that they would go to the ranch and feed the horses before coming home.

After they left, Craig told Dale, "I thought maybe they would welcome a day off from school, but they didn't want to have to make up two days of assignments.  I can't say I blame them, they wouldn't have anyone to pal around with since all of their friends are in class."

"Those two are so responsible that they more than set a good example for all of their friends," Dale agreed.

"That's a great group of boys.  They are always there for each other and are pretty tight when it comes to getting things accomplished," Craig said.

"Not to change the subject, but what's going on around here today?  I know that Larry and Darin are to arrive this afternoon and that we have a Maundy Thursday service at 7 p.m. and then are to come back here for dinner," Dale questioned.

"Well, you are almost right.  We're going to meet here for cocktails, go to church and then come back here for more drinks and have deli sandwiches and salads," Craig clarified.  "Friday and Saturday would be good to show them around town, visit our offices and maybe take Larry and Darin for a horseback ride around the ranch."

"Which ranch?" Dale questioned, grinning.

Craig got tickled.  "Guess I should have thought that comment through.  The Bar-W was what I had in mind, but going to see our new house should be on the list, too."

"We can do both.  The Bar-W tomorrow and our place on Saturday.  We also need to take them to see your folks' new place, too, as well as the store."  Dale realized that it was going to be a full weekend, even with Larry and Darin staying until about noon on Tuesday.

"Mrs. Hopkins will be here this morning to do our laundry and give the place a quick cleaning.  Otherwise, we are in good shape for company, Craig reminded Dale.  He knew that Doris was pushing her kitchen to the limit on preparing several meals for the weekend.  He had invited her to use the kitchen at the condo, but she said that she could use the time to do other things while baking in her own kitchen.

They looked at the clock.  It was time for Dale to leave for the Bar-W and Craig needed to spend several hours at his office.  He and Don each had a possible new client and Craig needed to be there to meet them for the initial interviews.

Dale hoped that the three men he wanted to interview the previous afternoon would come back today.  He had left a note on the office door saying that he had an emergency.  He had interviewed seven men and had hired four the previous morning.  The new hires would be living in the crew quarters (more like a bunk house) at the Morning Star Ranch.  He hoped that old man Sharpe would behave himself.

* * * * *
Ray awoke first this morning.  He was lying on his left side and John was cuddled with his back to Ray's front.  This seemed to be the position they slept in.  The alarm rang and Ray sat up so he could turn it off.  This, of course, woke John.

"Morning lover," Ray spoke.  John leaned up for a peck on the lips.  He knew that his breath was bad and Ray hugged him for being considerate.  

"Morning to you, too.  Are we ready to start the day?" John asked.

"Yeah, but this is the last day we have to work for several since we're going to Houston for the weekend.  Just have to be back for the party Dale and Craig are giving for his cousin and partner on Sunday evening.  Do you have everything ready to go into a suitcase so we can leave right after work this afternoon?" Ray asked.

"Yeah, pretty much.  I think there are some things in the dryer that need to be folded and added to the pile," John told him.

"Good.  I'll go start the coffeemaker while you're in the bathroom," Ray replied.  There was room to put a second lavatory in the bathroom and a new marble counter top with cutouts for both had been ordered.  They should be ready for the simple remodel next weekend.

Ray went down the stairs, started the coffeepot and pulled the few items out of the dryer to take back upstairs with him.

Both were looking forward to getting out of town for a three day weekend.  By adding two more workers to their crews and getting caught up on the various jobs, nobody was scheduled to work over the weekend.  That was a first since last August.

* * * * *
Jason and Kevin were looking forward to a long weekend, also.  Their parents were going to Dallas to visit friends over the weekend and the boys were going to stay with their grandparents (Chris' parents) in Dallas.  They always had a grand time when visiting there as their grandparents always had a lot of really fun places lined up to visit.

* * * * *
Barry was ready when Forrest and Joey pulled up to the curb in front of his house.  Joey crawled into the back seat so their buddy could ride in front.  

"Who are we going to save today?" Barry asked.  "I have my tights and cape in my backpack, all I need is a phone booth."  The three laughed about that and slapped hands.

"Actually, I think I had enough excitement to last for several months yesterday morning.  I've been thinking about us driving down a little-used alley and Jarrod running out to stop us.  I agree with Erik, his guardian angel was watching out for him," Joey affirmed.

"If it hadn't been for your efforts, he would have drowned because I wouldn't have known what to do," Forrest added.  Barry agreed.

I've been thinking, it was all due to a class through the Boy Scouts and the Houston Fire Department that I learned what we needed to do.  I think it's time to join Barry's Cougar Patrol in the scouts so we can learn other things we need to know.  Don't you think, Forrest?" Joey asked.

"Agreed," he answered.

Hands were slapped as they drove off toward the school.  

"What patrol did you belong to before?" Barry asked Forrest.

"The `Puma Patrol'," Forrest answered.  Actually, I'm still a member of that patrol and my dues are current, but I'd rather be with my bud, Joey, as a member of your patrol."

"Alright!" Barry said, again the boys slapping palms.  "What's your status?" he asked Forrest.

"I got my Second Class about three years ago and have done a little work on my First Class, but my grandmother's needs kept me from going to meetings or campouts," Forrest said.

"Not a problem.  We can get your records and see what you've done and then I can tell you what you need to do to finish up your advancement to First Class."

Then Barry turned to Joey.  "What about you?"

"I've done a little work on my Star rank, but my dad got sick and I wanted to spend as much time with him as I could.  I guess that you can get my records from my old troop in Houston," Joey answered.

"Not a problem.  Just need the troop number and Scoutmaster's name and address," Barry told him.
"Regardless of getting everything verified, you both can join us on the next campout in another week."

Forrest drove into the student lot and parked in their assigned area.  The three young men went to the attendance office to get their excused absence slips from Betty Armstrong, then split up to go to their first hour classes.  Betty Armstrong was amazed that the boys had passed up a chance for a day off from school.  She went to Doug Tate's office to give him the report.  He wasn't surprised.  These were very responsible young men and he hoped their actions would have a good influence on other students.

* * * * *
Erik Sharpe slept late, almost to 9:30.  Jarrod had gotten himself up and gone to school after fixing himself a bowl of mini-shredded wheat and a glass of orange juice.  Jarrod had matured a lot in the past year and was getting more and more confident with his life and daily chores around the house.  The evening before Erik had written a note for an excused absence for the missed day of school, stating that a "family emergency" had kept Jarrod home from school the previous day.

Erik was a single parent, raising Jarrod alone from the time he was born.  He had been teased about being "queer" by others in the highly competitive contest to represent the USA on the Olympic swim team.  The razzing became so bad in Erik's mind that he felt he needed to disprove the accusations.  Thus, he had unprotected sexual intercourse with a young woman who was also in the competition.  She became pregnant.  In 1988, they were both kicked out of the competition.  The young woman, Teresa Raisea, didn't want the baby, but chose to carry it to birth.  Erik was from a wealthy family and his grandfather agreed to pay the woman $75,000 plus all of her medical expenses.  Erik doubted that his grandfather would have paid a dime if he had known the truth, that Erik was indeed gay.  But at that time secrets were kept in the tightly knit Olympic community.  Erik hadn't had any contact with Jarrod's mother since the meeting with her parents the day they announced she was pregnant and Erik was the father.  

He and his mother picked the baby boy up at the hospital and a nurse was hired to take care of the baby when he wasn't in daycare.

His grandfather purchased a home for Erik and Jarrod and set up a trust fund for both.  Erik had never drawn a dime from the two trust funds.  He (in 1991) was still endorsing athletic goods for various manufacturers, receiving a healthy fee for both print and television ads, and earnings from that had actually supersceded the large trusts set up by his grandfather.

Unfortunately, Erik's parents didn't have a chance to see their grandchild grow up.  They were killed in a rather unusual road construction accident where an excavator operator didn't clear the side of a dump truck with the bucket and caused the truck to overturn and roll down an embankment, crushing two cars, one of which belonged to Erik's parents.  This happened about the time Jarrod was a year old.  Wilford Sharpe became embittered, losing his son and  daughter-in-law just a few months after his wife died, losing a long battle with cancer.

That morning Eric was thinking about how fortunate he had been to come away with his life and no injuries from the bizarre accident of him getting his leg and foot caught in the drain pipe at the bottom of his pool.

He called the attorney who handled the affairs for his grandfather and himself.  Wendell Razak answered after Erik's call was transferred to his office.  

"I see that your story is all over the TV and newspapers today," Erik was told after they exchanged greetings.

"Yeah, nothing I could do about that.  You can't run from the media when your leg and ankle are trapped in a drain pipe," Erik told him.  The statement was funny today, but wasn't yesterday.

"Well, that should make your fees for product endorsements go even higher," Wendell told him.

"I hadn't thought about that," Erik replied.  "Listen, the reason I'm calling is that I want to do something nice for Joey Sullivan, Forrest Ross and Barry Gilbert.  They are deserving of a reward for saving my life.  I know that you can't place a value on a human life, but you and I wouldn't be talking on the phone right now if I'd died... and I almost did.  I was out of oxygen and starting to feel dizzy and numb when Joey brought me the first air from his lungs.  If he hadn't been there, along with the other two young men, I would have died at the bottom of my own pool."

"I understand.  You have considerable resources to draw on," the attorney told him.  "Do you know who Joey Sullivan is?" Wendell asked.

"No, not really.  He's an honor's student at Davy Crockett.  Why, is there something else I should know?"

Wendell explained.  "Dale Richards is Joey's father and the general manager of the Bar-W Ranch.  Your grandfather and three of his henchmen accosted Dale and another worker making fence repairs between the Morning Star and the Diamond-R Ranches, shooting out the tires of two vehicles and yelling obscenities at them.  The Texas Rangers had to be called because the Llano Sheriff's Department claimed the area is outside their jurisdiction."

"Shit, I thought that we had grandpa under control.  Obviously, he isn't taking his medication again," Erick said.

"Not only is he not taking his medication, he's drinking way more than ever before," Wendell explained.  "There are some days I don't think he draws a sober breath."

"How much longer does he have to live?" Erik questioned.

"Who knows"  His doctors thought a year ago that he didn't have much time, but he keeps defying what they have to say.  I was out at the ranch last week and I know that his liver and kidneys are failing.  He's starting to get a greenish cast to his skin, and that's just hanging on him.  He's lost a lot of weight and also has a hard time talking because of congestion in his lungs.  Really, Erik, you need to go out and visit him."

"Why should I do that?  He's not been kind to me and the only reason the trust funds exist is that he couldn't retract them when he found out I was gay.  What do we have to talk about?"

"You are right, not much.  But you should at least make the effort.  You should know, though, that he hasn't changed his will and the Diamond-R ownership will pass directly to you and Jarrod when he dies," Wendell told Erik.

"I don't want the god-dammed ranch.  I don't know anything about running it."

"Anything you would do will be an improvement.  There hasn't been much in the way of crops planted, except for the needs of the ranch, for the last five years.  There aren't more than a couple hundred head of cattle on the land, either.  The people in Lone Grove feel like they are being held hostage because he treats all his help so badly he can't hire good men.  Most of the guys spend Saturday night getting drunk and shooting up the town.  They then serve a couple of days a week in jail for public drunkenness.  The only reason your grandfather isn't there with them is that he's bailing everyone out of jail all the time."

Erik asked, "What should I do?"

"Just let it run its course.  Wilford is harmless and I honestly don't think he knows what's going on around him most of the time.  I don't think that he has much longer to live and as long as he's just being a nuisance, not really hurting anyone, just scaring them to death, I wouldn't add to his misery. I think he views cutting fences as cheap entertainment."

"Yeah, but I'm worried about things happening to people like Joey Sullivan's father.  Do you think we could get him to manage the Diamond-R?  I might consider hanging on to it, if that was the case," Erik told him.

"The only way you could get Dale to manage the ranch for you is to sell it to the Williamson family and it becomes another part of the Bar-W Ranch in Williamsport," Wendell told him.  "They recently bought both the Spur and Boots and Morning Star Ranches.  That's a pretty healthy chunk of mid-Texas real estate."

"That problem may take care of itself.  Right now I want to do something special for the three young men who saved my life.  They, at the very minimum, are deserving of a college education and the money to help them achieve it," Erik stated.  Then he added, "Plus, they are worthy of a substantial reward from Jarrod and me."

Erik decided, with Wendell's help to tap the trust funds so they could do something for the young boys who were so deserving.  His grandfather probably didn't even remember that the trusts had been set up almost eleven years ago.  Besides, he didn't have any control over them.

He and Wendell discussed the options they had.  There was more money than Erik and Jarrod would ever need in the trust funds set up from Erik's product endorsements.  

"You can easily tap the earnings for the accounts your grandfather set up and not touch the principal amount," Wendell explained.  He went on to say, "I have the last quarter reports and if you took the money earned from low performing stocks, that would still leave a lot of money in the accounts of high earning companies, so you can pretty much do what you want to."

"Let's do it.  I'll decide how much to give them and call you back in a little while.  I want you to write a letter to go with the checks stating that `a value cannot be placed on a human life, but that Jarrod and I want to honor their heroism'.  I'd like to deliver the letters and checks personally on Saturday morning, is that possible?" Erik questioned.

"Yeah, I'll have the broker sell what stocks are necessary for the bank to cut cashiers checks as soon as you tell me the amounts for each of the young men."

"I'll call you back within thirty minutes," Erik told him and broke the connection.

Erik felt really good about his phone conversation with Wendell Razak.  The next project was to sell the Diamond-R Ranch to the Williamson family – after his grandfather died.

* * * * *
Joey, Forrest and Barry had a hard time moving from one classroom to another that morning.  Everyone wanted to shake hands or pat the guys on their backs and make themselves known.  They were late to every class, but the instructors looked the other way and were surprised they were in school to begin with.  Every teacher knew of Principal Doug Tate's offer to allow them the day off as an excused absence.

* * * * *
There was no baseball practice after school since it was Easter weekend.  The next game would be played after spring break, a week from next Friday, against the Killeen Kangaroos.  The rivalry between the two schools dated back to 1948 when Davy Crockett High School came into being.  It would be a game to determine their place in league standings for the upcoming spring tournaments.

Barry rode home with a neighbor.  Joey and Forrest met at their car and were soon on their way to the ranch to feed the horses and check to see if their poultry had enough to eat.  The horses came to the barn immediately upon hearing the tires on the gravel driveway leading back to the parking area in front of the barn.  

Forrest turned on the water faucet so the tank would fill up while he did his other tasks.  He then put large scoops of oats into their individual feed troughs.  After that he put some of the clover hay into a common trough for the horses to eat.  He and Joey would come out in the morning to clean the barn and put down fresh straw in the stalls.

Joey half-filled a gallon bucket of "poultry mix" which consisted of corn, maize and dry beans for their collection of ducks, geese, and peacocks which had been a gift from Jason and Kevin Williamson. It was about one hundred and fifty yards to the pond and didn't take long for Joey to walk down there, put feed into the new bins that Dale had built and walk back to the barn.  Forrest was finished by that time and had cut up apples for a treat to give the horses.

They drove back to the condo and parked next to a vehicle with Louisiana plates on it.  Larry and Darin had already arrived at the condo.  Both boys were anxious to meet their cousins.

* * * * *
When the telephone rang at 4:15, Craig answered.  It was his cousin, Larry Thomas.  

"We've just checked into the Cattlemen's Hotel.  My, what a nice place this is.  We're glad you suggested it," he said.

"Glad you like it.  Several years ago the building was gutted and completely brought up to date with new bathrooms and the addition of air conditioning.  The furniture was restored and some new pieces were built, too.  Actually, the hotel is owned by the family Dale works for," Craig told him.

"Well, I'm sure we will enjoy staying here.  Darin and I want to freshen up and change clothes.  We should be at your place in about a half hour; if that's okay with you?" Larry asked.

"Sure, people will start arriving about that time.  Forrest and Joey went out to our ranch to feed the horses and everybody else will come here after work, so it may be 6 o'clock before everybody is here.  Church is at 7 o'clock and Stan and Becky are driving down from Dallas, so they won't be here until after 9 o'clock.  We're having cold cuts and various kinds of salads for our meal this evening," Craig replied.

"Sounds okay to me.  Can we bring something in the way of snacks to go with the cocktails?" he asked.

"No, we have the food covered, so just bring yourselves," Craig replied.

"We'll see you as soon as we get there.  I have your directions and they sound easy enough for someone who doesn't know the town," Larry replied.

"It is easy to get here.  Just park anywhere in the lot and take the elevator to the 5th floor," Craig affirmed.  We're all looking forward to seeing both of you and catching up on everything that has gone on in our lives since we last saw each other."

* * * * *
Doris rang the doorbell just as Craig hung up the phone.  "Hi Mom," he said, giving her a kiss and taking two heavy shopping bags she was carrying.

"Hi, Hon.  There are four more sacks of food and other items in the trunk of my car," Doris said.  Craig took the bags to the kitchen, telling his mother that Larry and Darin had checked in at the hotel and would be there in about a half hour.

Doris handed him the car keys.  "I'll unpack this stuff and put the things that need to be kept cold in the fridge while you get the rest of the things I brought.  "I think that your father was going to pick up a case of liquor and bring it.  Seems like we're always drinking your booze and not replacing it," she laughed.

"I'm not running a tab, but with the amount of food you haul in here all the time, we probably owe you, or at least should be about even.  Regardless, it's appreciated," Craig told her.

He went downstairs to get the other sacks out of the trunk.  Mitsy accompanied him and went to the flowerbed for her usual needs.  He was waiting at the elevator for her to ride with him, but she didn't see him and ran up the stairs.  Craig pushed the button and rode to the fifth floor where Mitsy was at the front door, waiting for him.  When the elevator door opened, he pressed the button to send the car to the ground floor, thinking Larry and Darin might be the next ones to use it.

While Doris emptied the sacks and put things away, Craig washed out Mitsy's food and water bowls, filled them and set them back on the floor.  She was hungry as she was dancing around Craig as he leaned over.  He wondered if they had forgotten to feed her that morning, but knew Joey always went to the kitchen to do that and start the coffeemaker while she was outside.

Craig and his mother talked about the meals for the rest of the weekend.  Their Easter dinner would be at noon on Sunday and Doris was going to roast a turkey and bake a ham on Saturday afternoon.  Dale and Craig were having a party for Larry and Darin on Sunday evening.  People were invited to stop by for a drink and hors e'doeuvres between 5 and 6:30 p.m.  They would have cheese, crackers, some veggies and a couple of dips for people to snack on.

Larry and Darin had told Craig they wanted to take everyone out to dinner on Saturday night.  Craig asked his mother about her thoughts of either the dining room in the Cattlemen's Hotel or Tony D's.

"Either would be fine with me.  Why don't you explain to them what they can expect at both places, then make reservations as soon as possible since it is Easter weekend," Doris told him.  

While they were discussing other meals, the doorbell rang.   Craig looked at his watch.  It was almost a half hour since Larry had called.  He went to the door and opened it.  Larry looked the same as Craig remembered, just more mature.  As they stepped into the hall, Larry grabbed Craig into a bone-crunching hug and kissed him on the cheek.  They exchanged another hug and Craig invited them into the living room.  Larry introduced Darin and turned to give his Aunt Doris, a hug.  Craig and Darin hugged each other, then when Darin started to shake hands with Doris she pulled him into a tight hug, saying "It's good to meet you and I'm glad you are now part of our family."  That really made Darin feel good since Larry's mother refused to meet him.

Everyone just stood and looked at each other for a minute.  It was good to see Larry again and he and Darin made a very handsome couple, both about 5'11" and probably weighed 175.  Larry had close-cropped light brown hair and blue eyes.  Darin's hair was a little longer and a dark rust color with brown eyes and some freckles.  

Then everyone started to speak at once.  They stopped, laughed and started talking again.  As they moved into the living room Craig directed them to sit in chairs or the love seat.

The next person to arrive was Frank, carrying a case of liquor.  Larry spoke up, "Uncle Frank, I can see that you are going to make sure everyone has a good time."  Everyone laughed.  Frank set the box on the floor next to the bar and moved to give Larry a hug as he stood up.  Again, Larry introduced Darin who was going to shake hands.  Instead Frank pulled him into a hug and welcomed him as part of their growing family.  They were still talking when the door opened and Joey and Forrest entered the room.  Mitsy was glad to see them.

While the next round of introductions were being made, Dale walked in and they started all over.  Frank got everyone's attention.  I'll mix drinks if Craig can find out what everyone wants.

As everyone was talking and starting to get acquainted, the doorbell rang again.  Dale moved to the door and let Chuck and Susan in.  Another round of introductions and hugs were in order.

Finally Craig had a tray of drinks to distribute and told people there were cheese, crackers, veggies and dips on the dining room table, but reminding them that they needed to leave to go to church about 6:40.  Joey and Forrest disappeared into their bedroom to take a quick shower and put on casual clothing that would be appropriate for church.  Dale went to the bedroom he and Craig shared to do the same.

By the time everyone had visited for about a half hour, it was time to leave for the Maundy Thursday service.  Forrest and Joey had left a few minutes earlier so they could put on their vestments.  The others divided up into the various cars to drive the few blocks to St. James.

After six weeks of somber Lenten colors and music, it was nice to see white vestments and hear the Gloria in excelsis sung again. After communion, the choir chanted Psalms appropriate for the service as the altars and sanctuary were completely stripped of furnishings.  Then the lights started through their dimming cycle as people quietly left the building.  There would be a Good Friday service starting a noon the next day and a Tenebrae service at 7 p.m. on Saturday evening.  

Both Larry and Darin were impressed with the mass and especially the building.  Darin had kind things to say about the choir and Joey told him that the best was yet to come, the music for the Easter mass.

Everyone had arrived back at the condo by 8:15.  Forrest washed and dried the glasses so Frank could mix drinks for everyone.  Doris explained to Joey and Susan how she wanted the buffet set up on the dining room table.  When the table was ready, Frank asked the blessing.  He announced that it was casual dining and people could help themselves to food when they were ready to eat.

Several people filled their plates right away, but most wanted a second drink so they could continue their visit.  About 9 o'clock the doorbell rang.  It was Becky and Doug.  Introductions were made again since not everyone knew everyone else.

The thirsty group turned into the hungry group and by the time they were finished eating, there was little food left in the various serving dishes.  Craig got everyone's attention and thanked his mother for the preparation of the food they had just eaten.  There was a lot of applause and even a couple of whistles.

By 10 p.m. everyone had left.  Larry had checked with Dale and Craig as to the schedule for the next day and agreed to be at the condo at 8:30 a.m. for coffee and rolls.  Dale told them they would tour the Bar-W Ranch on horseback and possibly drive over to Lone Grove and Bluffton to show them the newly acquired land and give them a feel for how large the ranch actually was.

* * * * *
Friday was a perfect spring day.  Joey and Forrest went back to Saber Peak Ranch about 7:45 to clean out the stalls, rake the corral and put down new straw for the horses.  They had scheduled themselves to work at the store from 11:30 to 5:30 p.m.  It was a good thing they chose to do that as a lot of people had the day off and the store was full of customers all day.  Altogether, twenty-eight new computers were sold with Joey and Forrest selling eighteen of them.  Joey told his grandfather that he felt the other three salesmen needed more training.

Dennis had spent most of Thursday setting up an area where they would sell the used computers the company had taken in on trade.  There was a card attached to each computer showing how the computer was presently configured and what was necessary to upgrade the computers to handle a newer operating system.  All of the old computers from the computer lab at Davy Crockett High School were to be sold.  There had been an ad in the paper the previous Sunday informing people this new department would be open for business on Friday morning.  They started with thirty-five older computers and twenty-four used printers that morning.  By the time the store closed Friday evening, there were five computers and three printers that hadn't sold.  It was a very successful day for sales at the store.  

* * * * *
Dale and Craig took Larry and Darin to the Bar-W Ranch and saddled up four horses to ride.  They took the same "excursion route" that Dale liked to use to show off the ranch.  The first section of the ride was to the scout campground along the river, then followed the river into the start of the canyon to the swimming hole.  They followed the river for another three miles, then doubled back so they could cut across the ranch to ride about five miles to the buildings the cattle operation occupied, then another four miles to the horse operation.  They rode slowly and it was a great chance for Larry and Craig to catch up on what had transpired in their lives as well as giving the four of them a chance to get acquainted.  Dale led them to his favorite scenic view and then they allowed the horses to run for about four miles, completing the circle back to the main ranch buildings.  

Larry and Darin had never had as much fun as their ride on horseback.  Dale and Craig showed them how to wipe down the leather and groom the horses.  Then all of the horses in the corral were given carrots for a treat.

Larry and Darin decided that Tony D's sounded like the type of place they would like to take everyone for dinner on Saturday night as Dale and Craig had promised good food in a casual atmosphere, so they stopped at the Bar-W office so Dale could call for reservations.

Doris needed milk, eggs and cream so they filled containers to take to her, plus milk for their own needs as Joey and Forrest drank a lot of it.

They decided that everyone would be better off with a light lunch so drove to Zapata's where they could order any quantity of the various Mexican entrees and side dishes.  This worked much better than ordering combination plates for each to eat.

* * * * *
Craig's partner, Don, arranged for Chuck and Doug to join him and his father-in-law for a foursome on the golf course at Lakeside Country Club.  The men played eighteen holes and were tired when they returned home.  As Chuck was an avid golfer and Susan enjoyed playing from time to time, Dale and Craig decided to give them a junior membership at the club for a wedding present.  

It was a relaxing afternoon, although busy for the kitchen crew working at the condo.  Dale and Craig enjoyed visiting with Larry and Darin and they spent quite a bit of their time sitting at the counter so Doris, Susan and Becky could join in the conversation.  Becky was even asking Doris how to fix various dishes on the menu.  Doris thought that was a good sign as Becky had shown little interest in learning to cook up to this time.

The telephone rang about 4:30.  It was Erik Sharpe and he wanted to know if he and his son, Jarred, could stop at the condo the next morning as he wanted to talk to Joey and Forrest.  Then he wanted to know if it was okay to invite Barry to be there, too.  Craig told him that it would be no problem and suggested he have coffee and rolls for all of them.  According to the calendar it appeared that Joey and Forrest should be home.  It was agreed that 9:30 on Saturday would be a good time for them to visit.  Craig didn't tell him that Larry Thomas was his cousin and was visiting from Shreveport, along with his lover.

Everyone met at the condo for happy hour at 6 o'clock and then enjoyed another buffet meal.  Doris and her kitchen crew had stuffed and baked Cornish Game Hens, with an assortment of side dishes plus lots of extra stuffing that always disappeared quickly.  They had fixed a tossed salad and baked pies and a cake for dessert.  

* * * * *
On Saturday morning Barry arrived at the condo about 9:15.  He was wondering why Erik Sharpe wanted to talk to him, too.  The doorbell rang at 9:30.  Joey answered the door, greeting Erik and Jarrod.  There were fresh cinnamon rolls that Doris had prepared for them to eat and they enjoyed them with a choice of coffee, orange juice or milk.  

Erik was surprised to see Larry and even more so to learn that he and Craig were cousins.  Although it wasn't mentioned in front of the other guests, Larry and Erik had had a rather torrid affair during their junior year at SMU in Dallas.  Erik wasn't about to say anything about that as he didn't know if Larry had told Darin about being old lovers.

Erik quickly got to the point of their visit.  Addressing his remarks to the boys, he said, "As you know if it hadn't been for you three young men, people would probably be attending my funeral this morning.  I will always feel my guardian angels were watching out for me as there is little traffic in the alley behind our house.  The fact you were in the alley and Jarrod was trying to find someone to help me saved my life.  I was about ready to give up because my lungs were empty and if I'd tried to take a breath, I would have filled them with water and that would have been it for me.

"Joey, I understand that you learned something about water rescue when you were in the Boy Scouts?"

Joey explained how he happened to be in the class that the Houston Fire Department put on and that they didn't want him to take the class because he was only twelve years old.  He went on to say that Forrest and Barry were good swimmers and didn't hesitate to help him get air to Erik.  "I couldn't have done it by myself," he explained.

"I know that and Jarrod and I want to compensate the three of you for what you did on Wednesday morning.  I know that no value can be placed on a human life, but I think mine is pretty valuable.  I want to see to it that the three of you have the money needed to pay for your college educations... and have the money necessary to enjoy that time of your lives."

With that he gave envelopes to the boys.  Joey was the first to open and read the letter, and then unfolded the check that was enclosed.  It was for the amount of $450 thousand.  His jaw dropped to his chest.  Barry was next.  His check was for the same amount.  He was speechless.  Forrest opened his check and it was for a like amount.  He was stunned and couldn't speak.  Erik and Jarrod were enjoying watching the reactions the young men were having, their faces showing disbelief and then showing elation.

"You don't have to do this for us," Joey finally said as he walked over to Dale and handed him the letter and check.  Forrest stood up and took his letter and check to Craig.  Both Dale and Craig were unbelieving at the dollar amount typed on the checks.

"Forrest simply said, "This is way too much money."

Barry had tears running down his cheeks.  His parents had been struggling to put a little money aside for him to go to college.  With a younger sister, it was a struggle for his parents to fund a college education for each.  He knew that for the first two years he would be attending Western Junior College and living at home.  He stood up and went to Erik, who was standing in front of the love seat.  "Thank you for being so generous.  Now I'll be able to go to a four-year school and be able to get a master's degree, too.  He gave Erik a hug and then turned to Jarrod and did the same.

Erik told the men, "I have plenty of money from product endorsements... more than both of us will ever need.  This money is from trust funds that my grandfather set up for Jarrod and me when my parents were killed in a construction accident.  There is still a bunch of money in those accounts, so I just want to put this where it will say `thank you' from Jarrod and me."  Eric went on to tell them that it was his intention to fund water rescue classes and get the Williamsport Department of Public Safety to implement them.

By this time everyone was trying to talk and nobody could be understood.  Joey and Forrest moved to give hugs to Erik and Jarrod after Barry.

Dale and Craig moved over to give Erik and Jarrod hugs, also.  Erik spoke up.  "I understand that my grandfather and his henchmen have been cutting fences and that they shot out the tires on two vehicles you had out at the site where you were rebuilding damaged fences.  I'm sorry for his actions, there is no excuse for it; but you have to understand that he has terminal cancer and doesn't think rationally these days.  I'm sure he sees it as a way to have fun and scare everyone to death.  He's not taking his treatments and from what I've been told by his attorney, he's hitting the bottle pretty heavily.  It appears that his liver and kidney functions are shutting down, so he won't be alive much longer."

"I have to tell you that it's a pretty frightening experience to have someone shooting rifles in your direction when there is no place to hide.  Those men obviously weren't feeling any pain the other morning, but the thing that worries me is that we can't get the Llano Sheriff's Department to do anything about it.  They claim that anything east of the Diamond-R fence is out of their territory and that's not true.  We had to call the Texas Rangers in from the next county to help us out."  Dale was allowing his bitterness to show.

"I don't think that I want to keep the ranch.  I don't know anything about how one operates.  I've been estranged from my grandfather for over ten years, so I haven't even set foot on the property during that time.  Tell Marty that I'll be contacting him to see if he wants to make an offer on the Diamond-R property after grandpa dies," Erik said.

This surprised Dale.  Maybe his problems would disappear sooner than he thought.  But that meant he would have to find more good help for the additional land.  He hadn't even been able to hire enough people to work land the Bar-W already encompassed.

Barry needed to leave as he was scheduled to mow several lawns that day.  He again thanked Erik and Jarrod and gave them another hug.  He went to the parking lot and got into his old Toyota.  It wouldn't start.  He'd have to ask his parents if he could get a more reliable car to drive.  The amount of money he'd been given hadn't registered yet.

The visit continued a little longer.  Craig offered more coffee and rolls, which were declined.  Everyone walked to the parking lot when Erik and Jarrod left to get into their silver Firebird.  Erik's curiosity about the relationship between Dale, Craig, Joey and Forrest was in his thoughts as they drove off.

Craig was going to take Barry home, but Dale told Barry try to start the car again.  He decided that it was probably loose battery cables.  Sure enough, the mechanic hadn't tightened the connections after he worked on the car the previous day.  Dale got a set of wrenches out of his Blazer and soon had the car running.  Barry thanked everyone again, telling Joey and Forrest that he would see them next week when school resumed on Thursday.

Joey looked at his watch.  "Forrest and I are supposed to work at the store from 11:30 to 5:30 again today.  We need to get ready so we can pick up a bite to eat before we go to the store."

Dale got a funny look on his face and his eyes sparkled.  "Hell, with the money you two now have, your other Dad and I will sell the store to you and work for you instead of the other way around."  That statement brought a big laugh from everyone.

"We'll have to talk to Leland about how best to invest your money until you are ready to start college.  Maybe you can give your other Dad and me a monthly allowance, too.  More laughter.

* * * * *
They hadn't been back in the condo very long before Doris, Susan and Becky arrived, all with sacks full of groceries and other things needed for their Easter dinner.

The next stop on the days agenda for Dale, Craig, Larry and Darin was to go to Saber Peak Ranch to take a tour of the house under construction.  Both men were impressed at the size of the house and thought it was in the perfect location.  The trees were leafing out and early-blooming shrubs were beautiful.  The next stop was at the A&W Drive-In for burgers and malts.  Then Dale drove to Kawarce to show their guests the house Frank and Doris were building.  Construction was far enough along that Larry could easily tell that the floor plan was similar to the house they owned in Arlington.  Craig pointed out that the kitchen was a duplicate of the Saber Peak residence; a larger version of the kitchen at the condo, both with commercial equipment and appliances.

They visited Craig's office and he proudly showed them pictures of some of the construction projects their company had been involved in, starting with the remodel of St. James Rectory.

The last stop for the day was Saber Computers.  Larry and Darin were impressed with the size of the store and the number of customers in the building, all seeming to be buying something.  The four toured the entire facility, including the ISP office and equipment room along with the catalog mail-order areas.  Although the store was busy, Joey didn't have a customer at the moment, so he quickly demonstrated his sales pitch.  Again everyone was awed at his expertise.  

As they got into the Bar-W Blazer to go back to the condo Darin expressed his thoughts that Joey and Forrest were certainly two teenage men who had both feet solidly on the ground.  Dale and Craig proudly agreed.

* * * * *
The turkey and ham had been baked, cooled, and then sliced onto serving platters and refrigerated.  The condo still smelled good from the pies and cakes that had been baked and set out to cool.

Doris and her daughters had gone back to her apartment.  Everyone was due at the condo for cocktails at 6 o'clock and then their guests were taking everyone to Tony D's for dinner later in the evening.

Larry and Darin decided they wanted to go to their hotel to shower and dress for the evening, saying they would return about 6 o'clock.

* * * * *
"Can you believe the size of those checks?" Craig asked Dale after everyone had left.

"No, Erik is right.  You can't put a value on human life, but he certainly tried.  Believe me, it's appreciated, too.  We just need to keep some of it liquid for the boys to use for major things they need before they go to college.  They don't need to work at the store, but I have the feeling it's a challenge to both of them and they certainly keep track of the sales and missed sales of the other three salesmen.  

Craig agreed.  "Forrest's life has certainly made a big change since Joey moved to Williamsport and they became acquainted.  Those boys are about as close as they can get," he said.

"Hasn't it though?"  Dale laughed.  "And to think that it all started because Forrest was delivering the paper and Joey opened the front door at the same time – totally naked."  They both thought that was funny, but it really was the way they had met each other.  "Then Joey invited Forrest to eat lunch with him and the other guys in his gang... and, as they say, the rest is history."

Craig walked downstairs with Mitsy so she could take care of her needs.  He checked the mailbox.  In the mail there were several envelopes addressed to Joey, all with Houston postmarks.  Craig walked back up the stairs where Mitsy was waiting in front of the door to be let in.

* * * * *
When Joey and Forrest arrived home, Craig pointed to the stack of mail.  Joey read notes from two of his former teachers.  Vince Marshall was Joey's history teacher in Houston and had written a polite note of congratulations.  The next envelope he opened contained a letter from Milton Morgan, his former science teacher.  He had enclosed several newspaper clippings from the Houston Chronicle.

The third envelope was from Rusty Gable and Cary Clark, the two men who conducted the sale of Joe's household goods.  There was a nice note of congratulations, along with a couple of newspaper clippings.  They stated that they were proud they now knew two heroes from the same family and invited him and his two Dad's to come visit them for a weekend in Houston.  (The other hero was Dale, having broken Bret Jenkins arm just before Rusty and Cary met the family.  They didn't know Forrest was now a member of the same family.)

The other notes were from two of Joey's closest friends and old Boy Scout buddies, Josh Herrman and Stuart Browning.  Each had written a brief note and Josh reminded Joey of his invitation to visit Williamsport in the summer.  Those notes really made Joey feel good as he passed them around for everyone to see.

He and Forrest went to their bedroom to shower and put on fresh clothes to go to dinner with their family.
* * * * *
Everyone enjoyed happy hour.  There were twelve people at the condo and it was a fun evening.  Of course, Joey and Forrest proudly showed off their checks from Erik and Jarrod.  That brought a lot of congratulations and comments from everyone.  Joey explained about having taken the water rescue course, stressing the fact that they thought he was too young.  "I hope that they at least teach a basic course for younger people," he told his family.  Everyone agreed that age had nothing to do with knowing the basics.

Dale asked Joey to show everyone the notes he had received from old teachers and friends in Houston and everyone was very impressed.
Dinner was the climax of a great day.  Although everyone had been busy, it was still a relaxing day.  The entire family had a good time catching up on everyone's activities.  Greg had outdone himself with providing a nice room for their usage and had used up a couple dozen balloons left over from Dale's birthday party.  The streamers had been tied to the water goblets, much to everyone's glee.  

There were also blow ups of pictures of Joey and Forrest, proclaiming them to be heroes.  Craig wondered where he had gotten the pictures, and then realized that they were the same as on the TV news.  It was easy enough to get copies when you requested them.

When they were ready to leave, Larry was surprised that the bill was about half of what he thought it should be.  Dale and Craig had to explain that Greg used the restaurant to entertain friends, hence the lower bill.  Craig was surprised there was a ticket to begin with.

* * * * *
Easter morning dawned bright, cool and beautiful.  The family took up most of two rows of chairs at the solemn high mass.  The highlight of the mass as far as the family was concerned was Joey singing the solo, "The Holy City."  At the chorus he was joined by Matt, Bret and the young man known to everyone as "Fat Albert", who's real name was Andrew Simon.  Paul had arranged the music and done a superb job with the harmony.  Darin was going to talk to each of the young men to see if they had any interest in attending Centenary College.  He could certainly make a place for them and with scholarships, too.  He felt that all had potential and was amazed at Joey's voice for him being only a few months short of fifteen years old.

The family didn't stay for coffee hour since they were having their Easter dinner at noon.  This was to accommodate having a cocktail party in honor of Larry and Darin.  Dale and Craig had invited 18 people and fourteen were able to be there.  Marty and his family had gone to Dallas for a long weekend.

Although the party was for Larry and Darin, Joey and Forrest received most of the attention of the other guests and each had to retell part of the story of rescuing Erik.  Not to be outdone, Erik Sharpe gave the boys plenty of praise and told of being about ready to give it up, when Joey brought him the first of the lifesaving air and then finding an oxygen tank that was supposed to be empty.  

Dale pulled Leland Stanton aside to tell him of the checks Joey and Forrest had received from Erik Sharpe.  Needless to say, that got Leland's attention.  "Call my secretary, Lois, on Tuesday morning and have her make an appointment for you and the boys... and Craig, too."  Dale agreed to do that.  He thought the checks belonged in the bank, regardless of what the final disposition was.

* * * * *
It was a good party.  Unfortunately Becky and Doug had to leave to drive back to Dallas about the time the party started.  Becky had hinted to her mother and sister that she and Doug had discussed marriage.  Becky was still two semesters away from earning her masters degree, but felt that she and Doug had a commitment for marriage.

It appeared that more than just a few of Susan and Chuck's friends from Dallas would attend their wedding in Williamsport.  The RSVP's had started arriving a week earlier and of those received so far, there were only two declines.  She and her mother needed to sit down and finalize arrangements for a caterer.  The music was taken care of with Paul.  The choir would sing and Joey would be the soloist.  Forrest would be an usher.  Dale and Craig would be groomsmen.  The wedding would be a big event for the close-knit family.

* * * * *
Everyone hated to see Larry and Darin leave after lunch on Tuesday for their return trip to Shreveport.  It had been a great visit.  Larry had asked Susan and Doris if it was okay to invite his father and they insisted he attend, if at all possible.  Doris wanted to be ornery and invite her sister, knowing that she wouldn't be there, but wouldn't be able to say she wasn't invited.

It had been an exciting week for the "Bastian family" of Williamsport.  One that declared they were part of a growing and happy close-knit family.
* * * * *
Edited by BoxerDude

* * * * *
Author's Note:  I appreciated all of the emails you sent regarding Chapter 17.  It's great to know that so many of you are continuing to enjoy the story.  I enjoyed hearing all of your comments and hope that I answered each and every one of you.

My special thanks for proofreading help to David (BoxerDude) who has taken his valuable time to question some of the things I've written about and come up with a better way of saying it.  

Any comments are appreciated and you can reach me at TulsaAuthor@hotmail.com.  

Thanks, David.