Category: Slash, Drama, Romance, Established Relationship
Pairing: Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Season: Beyond the Series - August 2012
Written: October 24-31, November 1-5,9-11, 2007
Summary: A vintage TV series leads to a southern adventure for the Jackson-O'Neills and to an unexpected surprise for Brianna.
Disclaimer: Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't. A gal can dream though!
1) This is part of the “Wanderin' in the USA” road fic in honor of Jack and Daniel's universe readers. Thanks for your support!
2) “Carolina in the Morning” words by Gus Kahn and music by Walter Donaldson.
3) The inspiration for this fic is the small town of McBee, South Carolina. While a few of the locales are real, the characters and incidents are purely fictional.
4) Sometimes, Jack and Daniel speak almost telepathically. Their “silent” words to each other are indicated by asterisks instead of quotes, such as **Jack, we can't.**
5) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
6) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better: Claudia, Robert, Tonya, Jo, Linda, Melissa! A big thanks, too, to the following for assisting me in making life in small town USA and on a farm as authentic as possible: LadyD, Carol, Tamela, Alex, Katie!
Wanderin' in the USA
Chapter: Carolina Cruisin'
“They sure don't make them like that anymore,” Jack said as 'Green
“Let me show you,” Rolaine said, picking up her tote and pulling out
the picture of the cat in question. “Meet MacGyver, our
newest. He's a Manx, and he's already the ruler of the
roost. He's the smartest cat that has ever owned me.”
The family was enjoying a relaxing night in an RV park. Several of the kids had joined Jack in watching an episode being broadcast from the TV series' first season. Daniel was wandering in and out of the living area, in between trying to get JD to sleep while also responding to a mini-crisis situation with J-O Enterprises. Actually, he had been on the verge of making the decision when he decided to just let Megan Williams, the company's Director of Operations handle it. After all, Jack and Daniel had left her and Karissa Lewis in charge of the company, and the couple really wanted to see how they could do on their own. While it was tempting for the archaeologist to handle the situation, by the time the rest of the family had finished watching the TV show, he'd zipped off an email to Megan telling her and Karissa to take care of it.
Jennifer, too, was in and out, since she was doing the laundry. It was the same for David, who had been conducting an inventory of supplies. Jeff, as well, only saw a portion of the show since he was actually washing the SUV. He'd just finished, though, and was getting himself a drink of juice as his older father had commented on the concluded program.
“Make what, Dad? Goofy comedies?” Jeff questioned as he sat down in the dinette booth.
“Goofy, silly, insane: maybe, but that's entertainment,” Jack responded.
“Where is Hootsville, Dad?” Ricky asked about the fictional city in which 'Green Acres' took place.
“Hootersville, Darling,” Aislinn quipped, sounding very much like the Hungarian actress who portrayed the socialite wife on the show.
As the family chuckled, Jack stood up to get himself a cup of coffee, answering, “It's in TV Land, Ash,” as he did so.
“Sure is a tiny town,” Jenny said. “It just has Mister Drucker's store and the hotel.”
“Yeah, you have to go to Bixley for any excitement,” Jonny spoke.
“Not Bixley, Jonny,” Little Danny sighed. “Pixley.”
Jonny just shrugged as he sat down on the floor and prepared to play with his marbles for a while. This particular sack was just a small part of his collection, and it had been one of his three things he'd chosen to bring on the family's American journey.
“Daddy, are there really towns as small as Hooterville and Pixley?” Chenoa inquired as she began to practice a couple of tap steps on the tiled floor of the kitchen area of the RV.
“Thousands,” Daniel answered while carefully putting away the computer equipment he'd been using for safekeeping.
“We've gone through some, Sis,” Jeff said, his hands encircling his glass of juice.
“We have?” Chenoa asked in amazement, tapping as she talked.
Little Danny sat down on the floor, facing the kitchen, and began to clap, providing a bit of encouragement for his dancing sister. Seeing this, Lulu plopped down next to him and did the same thing.
Chenoa grinned as, one by one, the family's attention shifted to her dancing. Even Bijou and Katie woofed a few barks of encouragement. Her casual practice quickly shifted into a short performance of three of her favorite tap routines. When she was done, the family applauded, whistled, and cheered while the curly-haired girl curtsied appropriately.
Giggling, the dancer responded, “Thank you. My next show will be ... hmmm, I don't know!”
**Danny, did you see her concentration?**
**I sure did. Watching that Gregory Hines DVD that Jeff surprised her with recently has paid off.**
Everyone laughed and calmly returned to their prior places. As things settled, the conversation returned to Hooterville.
“How can anyone live in a town with no McDonald's?” Ricky asked curiously. “Does Mister Drucker make Big Macs?”
Jack laughed, “No, Son, they ...” He paused, leaning forward in the recliner that he was sitting in. He looked over at Daniel, who was just returning the ottoman that had the computer setup stored in it to its place against the wall. “Danny, I think we have an idea for our next destination.”
“We do?” Daniel asked, walking into the living area and standing with his hands in his pockets.
“Kids, the only way to really get to know a small town is to go to one,” Jack stated.
Daniel smiled, saying, “I agree. Brood, it's that time!”
“I'll get the atlas, Daddy,” David offered, retrieving the book and taking it over to the dinette table.
Daniel flipped through the large book until he found the appropriate pages, one that showed nearby states to their location.
“We may have to do this one in two parts,” Daniel spoke. “The atlas won't show the smallest towns, but it'll give us a starting point.”
“Whose turn is it?” Jack inquired, looking around at the children.
“Mine!” Ricky exclaimed, holding up his hand in preparation.
“Close your eyes, Squirt,” Jeff reminded as the boy stood in front of the table.
As was now the routine for their 'blind person's finger' game, the children turned Ricky around three times and then spoke in unison: “Finger, show us the way!”
As soon as the brood had completed their chant, Ricky planted his finger on a spot on the map, and then everyone leaned forward to see where their next stop would be.
“Har...Hartsville,” David announced.
“In South Carolina,” Aislinn added as she reviewed the atlas.
“Is that where we're going?” David queried with a raised eyebrow.
“Nope. That's too easy. We want a place that isn't on the main map,” Jack said, pulling out a more detailed map, one that included the latitude and longitude of towns. “Hartsville is latitude 34.37 north. We need a close latitude to that. We'll keep the thirty-four. Jonny, give me a number a little higher or a little lower than thirty-seven.”
“Ummmmm,” Jonny replied, practically humming.
“We're not singing, Son. A number,” the general commanded.
“Forty-seven,” the sandy-haired boy replied.
“Why forty-seven?” Little Danny asked curiously.
“It's an airplane: the Republic P-47. Dad was showing it to me in a magazine. It's an old plane, from the old world wars. They were real rugged and dependable. The bad guys would shoot it all up, but it wouldn't go down. They thought of it in ancient times, 1940, and did the first test flight in 1941. It had a three-blade propeller and lots of problems. They had to go through a whole bunch of test planes, and it took a couple of years, but then they made this big, really bad plane called the Thunderbolt that had a wing span of over forty feet. It ...”
Jonny paused, seeing several of his siblings giggling.
When his brother looked perplexed, Little Danny whispered in his ear, “Jonny, you're prattling like me and Daddy and Aunt Sam and Dad when he talks about 'The Simpsons'.”
“I was not,” Jonny denied. Then he sighed from the truth he didn't want to admit. “Well, it's a really cool plane, and that's why I picked forty-seven.”
“Makes sense to me,” a smiling Daniel agreed, reaching down to mess the boy's hair just slightly.
The family giggled again when Jonny mumbled under his breath, “Not prattling: I was just excited, thinking about the plane.”
“That's the catalyst of prattling, Son,” Daniel responded. “Excitement, passion, caring, desire: there's nothing wrong with it at all.” He looked over at his husband and asked firmly, “Is there, Jack?”
“What?” Jack asked, looking up. “Sorry, wasn't listening.”
“Daaaaad!” several of the kids chastised, lightly leaning against him in fun.
“Okay, I heard every word, and Daddy is right,” Jack spoke. ~As long as I don't have to listen to technobabble prattles, I can hang in there with the best of 'em.~ Ignoring his lover's glare, one that seemed to indicate he might have 'heard' the silent thought, he continued, “Okay, that gives us 34.47 latitude. We need a longitude. Little Bit, give me a number, lower or higher, within thirty of eight.”
Seeing the confused face, Daniel clarified, “Dad's trying to give the range for the longitude, using eight as the middle ground. You can think of it as a plus or minus. Eight minus thirty is ...”
“Minus twenty-two,” Brianna responded.
“Correct; and if we convert that, going backwards from one hundred, what do we get?” the archaeologist questioned.
“Seventy-eight,” Jonny answered, surprising a few of his siblings by the quick response.
“Right,” Daniel confirmed. “So, that includes everything from seventy-eight to one hundred and ...” he prompted.
“One to seven, because eight is like zero,” David answered.
“Exactly. On the plus side, eight plus thirty ...”
“That much I know, Daddy,” Lulu chastised lightly.
“Go ahead, Little Bit,” Jack requested.
The curly-haired brunette put her finger on her mouth and looked upward as she thought for a moment before expressing her choice of, “Twenty-six.”
“Why that one?” Chenoa asked her sister.
“That's what page I'm on in the book I'm reading,” the girl said.
“Lat 34.47, Long 80.26,” Jack stated as he ran his fingers on the map. “Here we go, Brood. Small town, America,” he said, having drawn a circle around the name of the town.
“McBee,” Aislinn read.
“It should be interesting,” Daniel agreed.
“Daddy, can we look McBee up on the computer?” Little Danny questioned.
“No, Sproglet. We want to go in and learn ... from the people. We want to observe and get to know *them*, not something written down for us to memorize.”
“Is it like being an anthropologist, Daddy?” David questioned. “We're going to learn about another way of life, right?”
“Hold it,” Jack stated. “The people in McBee are just like us. We're *not* on a mission or studying anything. We're going to experience a small town, not gawk at it.”
“That's what an anthropologist does, Dad,” David maintained as Daniel just smiled.
“I'm just saying we're not better than them. Kids, be curious, be interested, and remember that, if we're lucky, the McBeevans will be our friends when we leave.”
“McBeevans?” Daniel questioned.
“Well, they have to call themselves something,” Jack replied.
Their destination determined, the Jackson-O'Neills began preparations for getting a good night's sleep before hitting the road and venturing to McBee, South Carolina.
The Monaco coach was moving steadily along Highway 151 with Jack driving. The children were all in their seats, securely buckled in and looking out the windows of the vehicle at the passing scenery with great curiosity.
“Daddy, can we stop there?” Jenny asked eagerly, having seen a sign for the upcoming antique auto museum.
“Okay,” the archaeologist agreed, seeing the building just up ahead. “Jack ...”
“I heard her,” the silver-haired driver responded.
“There's a sign that says they have food, too,” Jonny noted with a smile, his stomach letting out a needy rumble.
“Interesting,” Jack commented as he turned into the parking area.
“Every farmer's market needs an antique museum behind it,” Daniel quipped upon realizing that the two businesses were apparently operating under one roof.
“Bet their prices aren't antique,” the older man teased as he parked off to the side, not wanting to interfere with any of the several passenger vehicles that were parked in front of the market.
A few minutes later, the family filed out of the RV and into the museum, which was part of McLeod Farms. The museum housed several antique vehicles and, much to Jack's surprise, admission was free, so they walked inside and began to look around at the old equipment and vehicles.
“I like this one,” Chenoa giggled.
Jonny groaned, “Only because it's a Teeeeee,” referring to the Model T vehicle the little girl was studying. Then he looked up at Daniel and asked, “How come it's a T and not a J?”
“As a matter of fact, there was a Duesenberg J,” Daniel replied.
Jack looked over at his lover incredulously as he asked, “What do you know about Duesenbergs?”
“Well, I know that in 1913, two brothers, Fred and August, created an automobile company in their name, which was, by the way, Duesenberg. They were engineers and wanted to build sports cars. They became the elite of automobiles. In fact,” he looked at the Munchkins, who loved racing, “a Duesenberg has even won the Indianapolis 500; three times. I know that they didn't do so well, and their company failed. A man named E. L. Cord purchased the company and hired Fred to design a chassis and engine that would be the best anywhere. Long story short, they eventually built the Model J: they called it supercharged because it had 320 horsepower and could go almost a hundred-forty miles per hour. It was a hit, driven by some of the most popular actors at the time: Clark Gable, Gary Cooper ...”
“Who?” Jenny questioned.
“It's not important.”
“Daniel, since when do you know so much about Duesenbergs?” Jack questioned.
“Since one of my professors in college had a thing for cars and insisted we know the classics. He said the Duesenberg was a classic,” Daniel said with a shrug.
“Of course, it was,” the older man responded dryly as the family split up a bit to see what else the museum had to offer. **You never cease to amaze me, Babe.**
**Thank you, Love,** Daniel replied, glancing over at his lover and sharing a smile.
“This one looks funny,” Ricky noted. “What is it?”
“It's a very old tractor, Son,” Jack answered.
“It sure doesn't look like any tractor I've seen before,” David stated.
Jeff teased, “And how many tractors have you seen, David?”
The boy laughed, “I mean on TV.”
From another part of the museum, Jennifer laughed, “Careful, Dad.”
“You wouldn't want to get caught!” the teenager joked, pointing at the old sign that read, 'Spitting on the Sidewalk Prohibited'.
“Yeah, with my luck, I'd get the high part of that fine,” Jack mused in reply, referring to the bottom half of the sign that indicated penalties ranged from five dollars to one-hundred dollars.
“Jen, over here,” Daniel called out. “Noa, you might like to see these, too.”
The two girls, along with several others of the curious brood, walked over to where their younger father was standing.
“Wow!” Jennifer exclaimed. She looked at her younger sister and asked, “Gee, Noa, can you imagine sewing on one of these old machines?”
“Na-huh,” Chenoa responded. “How?” she asked, trying to figure out how the antique machines worked.
“Very carefully,” Jennifer chuckled.
“There's no cord,” the younger sibling remarked, looking under, over, and all around the old object.
“That's right. See the big pedal near the floor? You pump it with your feet, and that makes the needle go up and down, and the feed dogs move the fabric forward.”
“What does feeding dogs have to do with sewing?” a very confused Ricky asked.
Jennifer chuckled and said, “The points look like teeth, so in a sense, you're feeding the fabric to them, and, like sled dogs, they pull it along. I don't know how accurate it is, but that is the explanation Mrs. Valissi gave me when I asked why that part of the machine is referred to as the feed dogs.”
“Here's something,” Jack called out. “Try playing Beyonce on this baby,” he suggested about the old phonograph player.
Having read the label on the exhibit, Jonny looked up at his dad and asked with youthful eyes, “What's a phonograph?”
“It played records,” Jack answered.
“What's a record?” the boy asked.
“I feel so old,” Jack mumbled, turning and walking away, leaving his husband to answer the question.
Daniel chuckled, “Before CDs, iPods, and MP3 players, Jonny, they had vinyl records that played on stereos and, uh, once upon a time, on phonographs like this one. The needle picked up the vibrations of the music in the grooves, and a tiny microphone picked up the signal and sent it to an amplifier; it was played out of speakers. It was a huge advance when there were two channels instead of one; that's when stereo came into being. The CD is just an advance of the same technology. A laser has replaced the needle, and the grooves hold much more encoded data, so we have greatly enriched sound and a lot more music on a much smaller disk.”
When they were finished in the museum, the family entered the roadside market. Several people were milling about, making selections from the abundance of fruits, vegetables, jams, and breads that were available for purchase.
“This is a little more than a farmer's market,” Jack pointed out.
“Yeah,” Daniel agreed, looking all around as he walked deeper inside the market.
“Can we get some peaches?” Lulu asked when she saw the inviting-looking bin of the juicy, yellow fruits.
“These look great,” Daniel said, examining the peaches. “Looks like they have several varieties available, too.”
“Them there, they's the best,” a woman said as she stood on the other side of the crate of peaches that the archaeologist was looking at.
The woman wore a simple blue dress. Her strawberry blonde hair came down to her shoulders, and she wore no makeup except for a bit of pink rouge on her cheeks. She had a small bandage atop her left hand, but the thing the brood had noticed the most was her thick Southern accent.
“I love peaches,” Lulu stated.
“Me, too, Sweet Child,” the woman said. “McLeod's got the best in the entire South. We come out here nye two or three times a month to get our fixins.”
“You live here then?” Daniel asked.
“In Bishopsville; it's just on down the road a shake, round about seventeen miles from here,” the woman said. “You?”
“Colorado,” Daniel added. As an afterthought, he clarified, “Colorado Springs, actually. We're here on vacation.”
Seeing Lulu was still entranced by the peaches, the woman perused the bin and picked out one, asking, “You yont this here one, Honey Pie? It's a good one.”
Lulu crooked her finger, motioning for her younger father to bend over so she could whisper, “What did she ask me?”
Daniel whispered back, “It's just her accent, Little Bit. She asked if you *want* one.”
“Oh,” Lulu expressed with a smile as Daniel stood up straight again. “May I have one, Daddy?”
“Of course. Get a basket, and we'll get some for everyone,” Daniel answered.
“Where ... oh, there they are,” Lulu said, seeing the baskets. “Be right back.”
“Pleased ta meet ya', Dearie. I'm Miriam Haskell.”
“Daniel ... Jackson-O'Neill,” the archaeologist stated, smiling as he shook the woman's hand.
“Reckon you'll be staying in these parts a spell?” Miriam inquired.
“I'm not sure. We, uh, only just got here. My daughter, Jenny, saw the sign for the museum, so we stopped.”
“Miriam, shake a leg,” a man called out.
“That's my Jim-Roy,” Miriam said. Calling out, she said, “Jim-Roy, you stop yer yappin' and messin' about. Get yer dang self on over here to meet these nice folks.”
The man, wearing faded blue jeans and a red and black plaid shirt, looked like he might balk at the order, but he didn't. He put his hands on his blue suspenders and walked over. He had a beard and deep black eyes, though his hat covered them up a bit.
“Jim-Roy, this is Daniel. Daniel, this is my loud mouth husband,” Miriam introduced. Seeing him about to argue, she warned, “Spittin' and snarlin' won't make one bit a difference. Now don't bother arguin', Jim-Roy, you know it's s'truth. Now you best be neighborly and say 'hello' and then fetch us some blackberry preserves. Hurry yerself on up, now.”
“Hello,” Jim-Roy stated, shaking Daniel's hand. “Now I'm goin', Miriam, to the preserves and pick us up a jar, and then I'm a goin' to the counter to pay for them, and ya better be there when I get there. I tell ya, Woman, I'm hungry enough to eat the south end of a north bound skunk.”
“Then get a move on, Jim-Roy,” Miriam ordered. She smiled at Daniel and said, “If'n you need anything, remember we're just down the road. You can't miss us. Just ask anyone for the Haskell place. Bye-bye,” she said as she shuffled off quickly to meet her recalcitrant husband.
“Daddy, I didn't understand half of what she said,” Lulu whispered.
“Some Southerners have very deep, thick accents, Little Bit. We'll talk about it more later,” Daniel replied. “Okay, which kind of peaches should we get?”
“Three of everything,” Lulu replied.
Daniel chuckled as he looked at the harvested items. From reviewing the bins of peaches and also the row of peaches in baskets, he deduced there were at least eighteen different types of peaches available for purchase, if not more.
“Well, they say variety is the spice of life, so let's see what peach variety does for us,” Daniel agreed.
“You're funny, Daddy.”
“Sometimes,” the father agreed. “Let's start gathering up the peaches.”
“Jen, look,” Chenoa called out. “They have ice cream.”
“It looks like it,” the teenager agreed.
“I hope we ...” Aislinn paused, something else getting her attention. She turned and looked around, spotting her older father nearby. “Dad! Oh, Dad, can I? Can I, please?” Aislinn asked, licking her lips.
“Can you please what?” Jack asked, approaching the little girl on the left hand side of the market.
“It's strawberry shortcake.”
“No one makes it any better, Sir,” the woman in the blue shirt behind the counter interjected. She had short black hair and a pleasant smile as she spoke, “Would you like some? It's a local tradition to get some from here when you're passing through town.”
“Well, we certainly wouldn't want to go breaking any of the local traditions,” Jack spoke lightheartedly. Granting her with his most charming O'Neill smile, he gently pushed his daughter forward toward the woman, suggesting, “Why don't you give her a little bite now, and then we'll save the rest for later.”
The general, satisfied that his little one would be amused for a while, moved away to see what Brianna and the twins were up to.
“Thank you, Dad,” Aislinn spoke, not realizing Jack had already walked away. She turned to look at the dessert, her eyes growing big and anxious in anticipation. “Thank you,” she said to the woman as a small piece was given to her. After tasting it, the girl let out a long, happy sigh and said, “Mmmm, that's the best I've ever had in my whooooooole life.”
“You should come back in the spring,” the clerk at the counter spoke.
“That's when we have our strawberry festival. Plus, you can take a ride and see how we grow the strawberries. You can even pick a basket of them all by yourself!”
“I can? I'll ask my Dad and Daddy if we can come back. Thank you!” Aislinn stated happily, turning to hurry over by Jennifer.
~Dad and Daddy?~ the woman thought, looking out over the market. ~I must have misunderstood her.~
By the time the traveling family hit the checkout counter, they had a large assortment of peaches, a few varieties of jams, the strawberry shortcake, and a couple of loaves of peach bread. Jack and Daniel had also promised the kids they'd come back on their way out of town to enjoy an ice cream treat and possibly some peach cobbler, which was enticing just about all of them.
There had been a steady stream of customers in the market, and no one, yet, had really noticed that Jack and Daniel were a twosome. That changed when the couple ended up side by side at the counter, surrounded by twelve kids.
“Dad, I think JD is hungry,” Jeff stated as he held the baby.
“You got this?” Jack asked his husband.
“Yeah,” Daniel said, reaching for his wallet. “Uh, Jeff. Why don't we try and take a picture before we take off?”
“Sure, Daddy. There's a play area outside. That might be a good place.” Seeing Daniel nod, Jeff added, “I'll get my camera ready.”
When Jack and Jeff had walked out, Daniel looked up at the woman whose eyes were now wide as silver dollars. Her focus was intense as she just stared at the archaeologist.
“How much do we owe you?”
“Uh ... well ...” the female began, trying to regain her bearings.
When the woman had finally managed to stutter out the amount of the purchases, Daniel paid for the items and led the children outside. He glanced back, noticing the woman was leaning over the counter a bit, staring at them. Just before he looked away, he saw her scurrying over to another employee. She had seemed nice enough, but was apparently already gossiping about the two love birds.
~I hope this isn't going to be a problem,~ the man thought as he headed for the RV.
As Jack drove the RV away on the one-lane road roughly twenty minutes later, David glanced back at the market and noticed a few people watching them.
~I have a hunch they don't have many same-sex couples around here,~ Daniel thought, praying that their small town adventure didn't turn into a small town nightmare.
“Dad, Daddy, it's a fire!” Jonny called out in alarm, seeing a plume of smoke.
Both Jack and Daniel looked off into the distance to see what the boy was concerned about.
“We should call nine-one-one,” Chenoa stated as she looked out the window, too.
“No, it's okay. I think that's just someone burning their trash,” Jack responded.
“Huh?” Jonny asked.
“Rules are different here, Son,” Jack began. “Look!”
Jack pointed for a second as they passed a farmer, watching over his small bonfire of debris.
“I thought that was illegal,” David spoke.
“It is in Colorado, but we're not in Colorado right now,” Daniel replied.
“Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore,” Jack quipped.
“Not even Oz,” Daniel mused with chuckling eyes.
“There sure is a lot of ... land out here,” David spoke after a few minutes.
“It's farmland,” Daniel responded from his co-pilot's seat in the RV's cockpit. “You should be able to make out individual plots of land and water sources, but it's going to be pretty flat compared to what you're used to seeing around Colorado.”
Deciding to get up and go to the living area where the children were, the archaeologist got up from the cockpit. Once there, he gestured with his fingers to point out where the different fencing and gradation of the land was clear and easily recognizable.
“There sure is a lot of land out here, lots of very ... flat land,” Jennifer sighed several minutes later. “It was really pretty at first, but I'm ready to see some mountains or ... something.”
Not responding verbally, Daniel had to agree that the majority of the sheer flatness of the terrain was incredibly dull on the senses after a while. Still, he was captivated by the history of the area and was curious about the people who lived amid the vastness of land he was observing.
“What are they growing here?” Little Danny questioned curiously, having taken his daddy's impromptu land surveying lesson to heart.
“All kinds of things,” Daniel answered. Wanting the children to learn to socialize with people from other cultures, even when those cultures happened to be on Earth, he put forth, “That's a good question to ask some of the townspeople.”
“Right now I'd sure like to see some more buildings; um, something that doesn't look like an outhouse,” Jennifer remarked, having noted several rustic, oftentimes dilapidated sheds and structures scattered in the vast farmland on either side of the RV.
“I think what you really meant to say is outbuildings, Jennifer. Many farms that have buildings like you've seen, just can't afford to repair or build new structures.”
“There's a sign,” Little Danny pointed out. “It says, 'Welcome to McBee'.”
“Wow,” Brianna expressed in wonder. “'Population 741',” she said, reading the lower part of the sign.
“Our high school is bigger than that,” Jeff pointed out as he gave his teenage sister an amazed look.
Suddenly, hands waving like flags in the wind, Daniel spun towards the cockpit and urged, “Uh, Babe, slow it down.”
“I see it,” Jack spoke about the speed sign, which indicated a quick reduction in the speed limit from sixty-five to thirty-five.
“Uh, Babe ...”
“I think I'll take it to a crawl. I've been through these little speed trap towns in the past,” the older man replied, noting the limit had again changed to twenty.
“It's for the safety of the town,” Daniel replied, giving the local jurisdiction the benefit of the doubt.
“It's for the welfare of the town treasury,” Jack retorted with a bit of a sneer.
“Cynic,” Daniel accused.
“Realist,” Jack countered.
“Everyone make sure your seatbelts are secured,” the younger father instructed as he, too, returned to the cockpit and settled back down.
Though the younger kids were usually seated securely in their booster seats and the older ones with their seatbelts on, the reality of RV travel across the country meant that wasn't always the case. The last thing Daniel wanted right now was to be pulled over by a small town police officer, or any policeman, for that matter, so he'd given the reminder, making sure his seatbelt was properly affixed as well.
“Is this it?” Jonny asked a couple of minutes later as the RV rounded the turn and some buildings came into view, revealing the main drag of McBee, otherwise known as Pine Street.
“This is it,” Daniel affirmed, looking back at the children.
“We'll gas up there and see if there's any place we can stay in the town,” Jack stated.
“I don't think so, Babe,” Daniel commented as he looked out through the large front window of their home away from home. “I have a hunch this place isn't big enough for a motel.”
Jack pulled into the gas station and began to refuel the huge RV gas tank.
“Need any help?” an attendant asked as he wiped his hands on a rag while walking towards the refueling vehicle.
“No, thanks. I've got it,” Jack answered. “I could use some information, though.”
The attendant looked to be in his late teens or early twenties at the oldest. He was African-American with short black hair that had a little curl in it. He walked with a little bit of a limp.
Walking towards the front of the RV, the attendant opined, “That's sure a nice looking vehicle.”
“Thanks,” Jack responded. “About that information ...”
The man looked at Jack and smiled, saying, “Sorry, Mister, but I'm gonna own me one of these someday. I'm gonna own me a lot of things.” Approaching the general, he added, “First, though, I have to get to college. That's no easy thing, though.”
“No, it's not. Do you have a career in mind?” Jack asked curiously.
“Automobiles, maybe. I've got a lot of experience. I've been working here my whole life,” the attendant spoke, his accent a little less thick than Miriam Haskins'. “Or maybe planes.”
“Planes? You want to be a pilot?” the general asked, his interest piqued.
“No, Sir. I want to build them. I want to hear them sing, just purr away like sweet music,” the young man replied.
Jack noticed the expression on the attendant's face as he thought about his passion. His eyes were lit up, and he'd begun to smile.
“So you want to be an engineer?”
The attendant's smile faded, and his eyes dimmed. He sighed, bowing his head as he looked away.
“Are you okay?” Jack inquired.
“It's just a dream. I have a lot of dreams, but I ain't ever gonna get out of here,” the man said. “I have me a high school diploma, but no money. How's someone like me gonna get out of here without money?” he asked in frustration. In a combination of anger and passion, he spoke, “I don't wanna be a farmer. I want to build engines.” He let out a frustrated sigh as he looked at the RV. “Someday, somehow ...” He looked back at Jack, saying, “You wanted information.”
“What's your name?” Jack inquired.
“Zachariah Taylor, but most folks call me Zach.”
“Jack Jackson-O'Neill,” the general said, reaching out to shake the young man's hand. As they were shaking hands, he stated, “Never lose sight of your dream, Zach.”
“Easier said than done. This is a good place, Mister, but if'n you don't want to farm or work making wire or somethin' like that, you're stuck. Some of my friends, they're going the wrong way, and I don't want to follow them. But what am I gonna do? Work in this station forever? The boss, he's a good man, and I've a lot from him, but putting gas in pickup trucks isn't what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
Jack nodded as he reviewed the progress of the tank; then he asked, “I noticed you're limping.”
“Ain't nothin',” the young man replied. “Just a little injury. Folks at the clinic said it'll be fine in a few weeks.”
“No. One of those friends of mine decided to try and help themselves to Mrs. Lemmons' jewelry. She's always been kind to me; treats me with respect. I couldn't let him do it. We tangled a bit.”
“What happened to the jewelry?”
“Mrs. Lemmons has it,” the man answered.
“And your friend?”
“He's in jail. Nasty place,” the man said.
Staring at the young man, Jack got the sense he was afraid that jail was exactly where he'd end up one day. It was a fear caused by a lack of hope that he'd ever be able to get the education he needed to become an engineer. Clearly, the attendant needed a helping hand.
“Have you ever considered joining the Air Force?” the general asked, shifting the conversation a bit.
“Air Force?” Zach echoed, his head shooting back in disbelief. “Why would I do that? I don't wanna fight in no wars, Mister.”
“Neither did I, but, sometimes, there's a give and take. You can learn a lot about those engines in the military,” Jack opined.
“Maybe, but they'd probably just screw me over. A person like me don't get no breaks,” Zach maintained.
Jack reached into his wallet, pulling out a card as he asked, “Ever been to Shaw Air Force Base?”
“Nah, but I've seen those planes comin' and goin'. They make a pretty noise,” Zach expressed in awe. With a confident air, he asserted, “I could make them better.”
“I'm betting you could, Zach,” Jack said as he wrote something on the card he'd just pulled out. He extended his hand out, the card between two fingers, and instructed, “Take it.”
“What is it?” Zach asked, taking the card and studying it.
“The base commander is an old friend of mine. Give him a call, and then get there. He'll help you out,” Jack spoke, making eye contact with the hopeful man.
Zach looked back down at the card, turning it over to see Jack's name. He looked up, surprise in his eyes.
Jack smiled and reintroduced himself, saying, “Major General Jack Jackson-O'Neill, United States Air Force. Make that call, Zach. Keep dreaming, and never stop believing in yourself.”
“I do believe, but ...”
“Take a chance,” Jack urged with a nod. “Pigeon won't steer you wrong. Will you have to fight? Maybe. I can't say, but maybe it's worth the chance.”
Zach blinked and then asked, “Pigeon?”
Jack grinned, looking down as his grin turned into a full blown laugh, and then he responded, “Ask him. The man could drop a pen with precision. Now, uh, about that information.”
“Yes, Sir,” the young man replied, slipping the card into his shirt pocket.
As Jack finished off the refueling, replacing the hose into its slot, “Are there any motels around here?”
“None here. Hartsville has some.”
“We just came through there. Uh, listen, would you mind if we parked the RV over there and went for a walk?”
“I reckon you can park this beauty anywhere you'd like, General ...”
“Let's keep it to Jack,” the general requested.
A few minutes later, the RV was in place, out of other gas station patron's way, and the Jackson-O'Neills, dogs included, were stretching their legs and taking in their host town.
“Danny, I'll just be a minute,” Jack called out.
“What's going on?”
“I just have to make a Pigeon call,” the general mused.
“Uh ... okay,” the confused archaeologist replied, looking forward to hearing about the call.
Leisurely, with Jennifer pushing JD in his stroller, the Jackson-O'Neills made their way up Pine Avenue. Jeff had one of his cameras around his neck to help capture any potential 'photo happenings'. Brianna had Katie on one lead, while Lulu had Bijou on another. It wasn't long before they got to the intersection of the two main roads. Jonny looked down one way and then down the other.
“Where's the town?” the oldest Munchkin asked as he scratched his head.
“Jonny,” Little Danny chastised, gently elbowing his brother in the arm. “There's a store, and there's a post office, and there's ...” He shrugged and then said, “It's a building.”
Jack walked around in a circle and then questioned, “Which way?”
“Well, why don't we keep going and see what we find?” Daniel suggested. “I don't think this street is all that long.”
“Straight ahead, Kids,” Jack instructed.
“Are you on a field trip?” a female voice called out.
“Hold up,” Jack called out, making sure that Brianna and David, who were leading the family, didn't go across the street.
“What school are you from?” the woman asked curiously.
“Field trip?” Daniel echoed, walking the few steps necessary to stand by Jack and across from the inquisitive resident. “I guess you could say that.”
“Don't confuse her, Daniel,” Jack urged. Looking at the woman, he answered, “No, we're not. We're on vacation and decided to stop here for a while.”
“Welcome!” the woman said brightly. “I'm Debbie Younger.”
“Daniel,” the archaeologist said at the same time, nodding his head politely at the woman.
“My name's Aislinn, but everyone calls me Ash. You can call me, Ash, too.”
“I'm the oldest twin, and my name's Jenny, not Red, but if you want to call me that you can.”
Jack laughed. It was true that the Spitfire was often called 'Red'. He knew she liked it, but she had fun pretending she didn't. The little girl was way too independent and determined to let Jack, or her Uncle Mark, who had given her the nickname in the first place, continue to use if she really didn't like the moniker.
~She *is* a Spitfire; doesn't let anyone get away with anything. You just keep on protesting, *Red*,~ Jack mused fondly.
The introductions went on until finally, the oldest child said, “Hi, I'm Jennifer, and this JD. He's the baby of the family.”
“The family?” Debbie asked. She looked at the two men and asked, “Where are your wives?” As the two men gulped in unison, she added, “I'd love to meet them.”
Jack and Daniel exchanged a nervous look. The time was at hand. They weren't in a metropolitan area or even a suburb of a city. No, they were in rural, small town America, and they were in the South, which, deserved or not, had a reputation for intolerance.
Before the parents could say anything, Ricky explained, “Dad and Daddy don't have wives; they have each other.”
“What?” Debbie asked as her jaw dropped, and she realized what the children were saying.
“We're the Jackson-O'Neills, Ma'am,” Jack said calmly.
“I know this probably isn't something you see every day here, but we are on vacation, and we'd just ...”
Backing away, the woman said, “Excuse me,” and turned, hurrying away.
“Why'd she do that, Daddy?” Ricky asked curiously.
“She's just a little ignorant, Ricky,” David spoke quietly, refusing to lie or explain away the behavior. “Let's keep going. I want to see what's at the other end of this road.”
“Lead on, James!” Jack teased.
“James?” David asked. “Dad! Geez,” the boy whined as he walked over to be near Brianna as the family continued on.
“Jack, have you noticed that we have a ... uh ...”
“Following?” the older man questioned, looking back at a group of about seven people that were now following the family. They'd gone up Pine Street, taking note of the high school and the baseball diamond across the street from it. In fact, they talked about playing ball for a bit later. When the road began to curve in a southeastern direction, going deeper into the farmland, they'd turned around. Now, they were back, having decided to walk down the other main drag street when they came to it again. “Yeah, they're hard to miss.”
“Daddy, can we stop and eat at that restaurant?” Jonny pointed out eagerly. “I'm hungry!”
“Huddle House,” Daniel said, reading the sign. The restaurant looked appealing enough, but the timing was off. “Not now, Son; we have the girls with us.”
“Ah, shucks,” the boy with the endless pit for a stomach lamented.
“Hey, we're on a recon,” Jack reminded.
Jonny straightened, nodded, and continued forward, causing his parents to let out small chuckles at the response.
“It's a beauty parlor,” Jennifer said, pointing out to the small building directly ahead as the family walked up Seventh Street.
“Maybe you should get your hair done,” Jack called out. “You can put it up in a bun or something.”
“Oh, Dad, get real,” the teenager replied as she looked inside the window, seeing three woman getting their hair done. When one of the women, who was sitting under a dryer, wave, the girl waved back, speaking, “Hi,” even though she knew the woman couldn't hear her.
“Come on, Sis. Strike a pose,” Jeff urged, sprinting a few feet away to get to a different vantage point.
Playfully, Jennifer began to pose, tossing her long, brunette hair all around, raising her arms and hands into different positions, and finally kneeling down to cuddle in close with JD. As she did so, the rest of the family stayed back, all out of sight of the beauty parlor window.
“Perfect!” Jeff praised after he'd snapped several shots.
“Perfectly crazy,” Jennifer replied.
Suddenly, her hair still in large, brown curlers, the woman appeared on the street, saying, “You two are just so cute together that I had to come get a good look at your baby.”
Jennifer and Jeff were stunned for a moment, but then they broke out snickering.
“I'm sorry, Ma'am,” Jennifer spoke, seeing the woman's look. “We're brother and sister, and this is our littlest brother, JD.”
**Brace yourself,** Jack urged.
**I know,** Daniel stated, aware that they were about to have another dose of reality, having no idea how the woman would respond when the teenagers introduced them, which they were sure to do.
“Those are our parents and our other brothers and sisters,” Jeff spoke, nodding over behind the woman.
The woman turned and immediately expressed a tentative, “Oh.” She was trying to process the words she'd heard. “You're ... half-siblings, then, and your mothers are ...”
“No, Ma'am,” Jeff responded.
Jack and Daniel let out tiny smiles as they went through the introduction game again, with Daniel finishing up by saying, “We're passing your town and thought we'd stay a day or two.”
“Oh,” the woman repeated, this word a bit more intense than the others.
“Sharon, what are you doing out here? You're going to ruin your set,” a stylist stated as she walked outside.
“Heidi, these are the ... the ... the, um ...” Sharon began, not certain how to complete her introduction.
“Jackson-O'Neills, Ma'am,” Jack completed. “I'm Jack; this is Daniel, and these are our twelve children.”
“Woof!” Bijou spoke up.
“And our girls, Bijou and Katie,” Jack added, giving the beagles an apologetic shrug.
“You're a ... a ... a ...” Sharon stammered.
“Couple,” Jack spoke. “Actually, to be precise, we're married,” he informed, deciding to move forward full throttle and take whatever was about to come.
“Really?” Heidi questioned. “Well, I'll just swaney,” she said to no one in particular.
“Swaney?” David quietly asked his younger father.
“Uh, I'm not sure, but from her expression, I'd say she's just saying she's surprised,” Daniel theorized softly.
“I'll be darned?” Jack questioned, almost in a whisper.
“Yeah,” Daniel affirmed with a nod.
Sharon looked down and then shook her head, though it was a tiny movement. She blinked her eyes at the same time. It was almost as if she was waking herself up.
Finally, the stylist looked at her customer and stated, “Sharon, you'd better get back under that dryer.”
“Oh, yes, of course. Goodbye,” Sharon spoke as she quickly returned to the inside of the salon.
“Don't mind her,” Heidi said good-naturedly, her accent soft and pleasing. “I hope y'all know you're fixin' to surprise a lot of folks here.”
“We've, uh ...” Daniel paused, looking behind them where their 'followers' had grown to over a dozen, “... noticed that.”
Heidi looked over the family and exclaimed, “Heavenly days!” She smacked her lips and shook her head briefly. Then, raising her right arm toward the followers, she called out, “Y'all come meet these nice folks or go about your business.”
Jack and Daniel watched, pleased that the muttering crowd dispersed. They wanted to meet the townspeople, but one or two at a time was their preferred style.
“Just pay them, and Sharon, no never mind. Y'all are like the strong man at a carnival around these parts,” Heidi spoke.
“Do you think that'll be a problem?” Daniel questioned, concerned about the brood.
“Goodness, no! You'll just be better viewin' than the TV until folks get used to ya,” the woman spoke jovially. “I better get back inside. Honey, if you want your hair done while you're here, come on by. There's always an opening.”
“Thanks,” Jennifer responded with a smile.
The family continued on with their exploration of McBee for a while and then decided to return to the RV. If it was okay, they'd leave the girls in the security of the vehicle, while they ate dinner at the restaurant. That was their plan.
“Dad, look at all those people,” Brianna pointed out as the family approached the gas station, which was on the other side of the street. “It's like a mob scene.”
“Don't exaggerate, Bri,” Daniel admonished lightly. “They're just ... curious,” he spoke about the large group of McBeevans who were staring at the RV as if it were one of Daniel's artifacts.
All of a sudden, it was the family itself that began to be viewed as a collective artifact as the gawkers became aware of their presence.
“You know what their expressions remind me of?” Daniel questioned.
“Being under a microscope?” Jack questioned.
“No. P3X-289,” the archaeologist stated.
“The shrinking dome world,” the other man acknowledged, nodding. “They did look at us funny.”
“Funny?” Daniel repeated, looking at his lover. “Babe, even wearing that BDU garb, from the way those people were staring at us, I was wondering if I was naked out there, or something.”
“You only get to be naked for me,” Jack spoke softly.
“Children,” Daniel reminded with a smile, motioning at their brood.
“I don't see Zach,” Jack observed, though he caught sight of another gas station attendant he hadn't seen there earlier. He looked at his watch to see what time it was and then supposed, “He's probably gone home for the day.”
As a precaution, Bijou and Katie automatically became on guard, and the older children subtly moved in closer to the younger ones. When they'd crossed the street and were approaching their RV, Jack took the lead while calmly reaching in his pocket for the keys.
“Hi, Folks!” Jack greeted. As the group just stared, he continued, “I'm Jack. This is ...” He paused and then said, “You know, I'm guessing you already know who we are. We'd like to stay a day or two and get to know you, if you don't mind.”
“We like your town,” Little Danny stated. “Do you have a library? We love to read. Could you show it to us?”
“We saw a baseball field. We're gonna play later, or maybe tomorrow. Do you want to play with us?” Jonny asked.
“Do you have any little girls who like dollies? I love dollies. I have a dolly club at home,” Aislinn added.
“My, they're as precious as angels straight from Heaven!” one woman exclaimed as she looked at the triplets.
The comment by the local woman broke the ice. There was still a bit of mumbling, but then, one by one, smiles and neighborly expressions began to replace the doubting looks and curious stares. Introductions were made, and the town began to truly welcome the Jackson-O'Neills to it.
“Dad, I'm hungry,” Jonny groused a while later.
The people had been curious about the expensive RV, so Jack and Daniel had opened it up for a showing of sorts. While not something they'd normally do, both knew that if they wanted the citizens to trust them, they had to trust the citizens. While RVs weren't an oddity, the townspeople had seldom seen one quite as luxurious as the one belonging to their current visitors.
“Folks, it's time for the kids to eat. We're gonna go to that restaurant we saw and ...”
“You'll do no such a thing,” one of the women who had introduced herself as Pat Bell interjected. “You just start this contraption up and follow me home for a good ole country supper.”
“Uh ...” Daniel began.
“We can't have visitors thinking we're inhospitable,” Pat stated. “I'll be back in two shakes of a lamb's tail,” she added as she turned to get her pickup truck, which was parked a few blocks away.
In their RV, Jack and Daniel followed the fifty-ish, gray-headed woman for several miles, going through more farmland.
“Are we still in McBee, Dad?” Chenoa questioned as she looked out the window.
“Yep,” Jack replied. “The town is the centerpiece, but the heart are the farmers.”
“Wow! That's a barn,” Ricky noted.
“They have cows,” Little Danny pointed out, seeing a few cows grazing in the field.
“Jack, she's pointing for us to park over there,” Daniel stated, having seen Pat pointing out the window of her vehicle.
With the truck and RV parked, Pat waved for the family to come into the house, saying, “Come on in, and sit a spell while I find my Arnie. He should be around here somewhere.”
The yellow, two-story house was moderate in size. It had a wraparound porch that allowed the tenants to sit outside and face any direction. Every side of the deep, wooden porch had some kind of seating on it. A swing was on the front porch, along with two redwood chairs. Potted plants were all around, and a strong, decorative rainbow-colored rope which held a bell that could be rung to attract attention, if needed, was hung from the overhang of the home. Chimes were hung at the back of the house.
On the left side of the home, a few yards from the house, there was a vegetable garden where, this season's produce -- rows of okra, lettuce, green onions, tomatoes, watermelon, carrots, sweet banana peppers, and bell peppers -- were being grown.
Pat loved flowers, so her husband had built her a small greenhouse that sat off to the right and towards the back of the house. This allowed the woman to enjoy her love of flowers without interfering with the garden or bringing pests to the house.
“Daddy, chickens!” Aislinn exclaimed, seeing a chicken coop full of chickens.
Pat looked back and said, “It'll be time to check for eggs shortly. You can help me, if you like.”
“I like,” Aislinn responded. “I mean, can I, Dad, Daddy?”
“Of course,” both men spoke at the same time.
“Arnie? Arrrrrrnie, where are you?” Pat called out as she walked inside the home.
“Don't shout, Woman! I've put in a hard day, and these dogs of mine are tired,” Arnold 'Arnie' Bell responded as he came down the stairs.
“Where are the kids? We've got company,” Pat informed as she set about to introduce their guests to her family.
Though Arnie had initially been taken aback by the same-sex couple and their even dozen children, not to mention the two dogs, he'd quickly gotten used to them, especially when Jack had done an impromptu juggling act, using some apples. It had been another one of those 'breaking the ice' types of moments, especially when Arnie admitted that as a little boy he'd wanted to join the circus. When Jack had offered to teach him to juggle, Arnie's trepidation about the couple dissipated almost completely.
With dinner and the first juggling lesson completed, Pat and Arnie, along with their children, Reba and Conway, ages sixteen and thirteen, respectively, were seated in the living room with the Jackson-O'Neills. Bijou and Katie were staying close to the Munchkins and Spitfires as they watched Duke, the Bell's hound dog.
“So, what is you do to be able to drive that fancy machine parked out there?” Arnie asked.
Most of the conversation during dinner had actually been about the town of McBee or the road trip thus far, with the children telling lots of stories about their adventures.
“We have an archaeological company,” Jack answered.
“You dig in the ground?” an astonished Pat asked.
“I guess you could say that,” Daniel responded lightly, a smile on his face.
“That beats all! You hold on here a minute. I've got to call Rolaine,” Pat said.
Jack and Daniel exchanged a curious look as the woman got up and went to her phone to make a call.
“Rolaine is Pat's sister. She digs in the ground, too,” Arnie revealed.
“She does?” a surprised Daniel asked.
“You don't seem like a dirt digger, Jack,” Arnie stated.
“He's a Fly Boy at heart,” the archaeologist teased.
“I'm a general in the Air Force, part time; mostly now, I dig dirt, and I *love* it, I might point out,” Jack said, giving his lover a mischievous reprimand for the tease.
“We get to help, too, sometimes,” Little Danny stated enthusiastically.
“Rolaine's fixin' to come right here,” Pat reported as she returned to her seat.
“I'm looking forward to meeting her,” Daniel acknowledged.
As the conversation continued, Aislinn suddenly asked, “When do we get to go and get the eggs?”
“Oh lamb's sake alive!” Pat exclaimed. “I'm sorry, Ash, but Reba had already done it.”
“Oh. That's okay,” the little girl replied, her face dropping with her disappointment.
“But if you're a mind to, you can help me in the morning,” Pat suggested.
**We can come back, Jack. It would be a great experience for her,** Daniel opined via the couple's special non-verbal communication.
Getting the okay in the form of a nod from her parents, the girl's smile returned, and she happily agreed to help in the morning.
“Do you have a tractor?” Jonny asked eagerly. “I've always wanted to ride on a tractor.”
**He has?** Jack questioned.
**Apparently,** Daniel replied.
“Jonny, I'm sure Arnie doesn't need your help with ...”
“He's welcome,” Arnie interrupted.
The conversation quickly evolved, ending with the agreement that the Jackson-O'Neills would spend the night with the Bells and spend the next day on the farm, working right alongside the family.
“We start workin' at sunup,” Arnie informed.
“So you youngins' best make sure you get your proper sleep,” Pat added.
“Sunup?” Jennifer questioned, her eagerness to experience the day as a farmer subsiding a little, if it meant rising even before the crack of dawn.
“Breakfast will be right 'bout four-thirty,” Pat added.
Jack and Daniel were sure their brood would rebel with the news, but not even Jennifer uttered a word of disagreement, although several started yawning, causing their parents to chuckle.
**Apparently, they think of this as an adventure,** Daniel put forth.
**It is, Angel, and we'd better make sure you get your beauty sleep tonight, too.**
**Just a figure of speech, Love,** Jack insisted.
Rolaine Smoot arrived about twenty minutes later. She was five-feet-two, with long, flowing red hair that Jenny immediately took a shine to. Her green eyes were spry with life, and her voice steady and friendly. Though both Pat and Arnie had had their moment of shock with the Jackson-O'Neills, Rolaine hadn't batted an eye. Unlike her sister and brother-in-law, she'd traveled extensively and, being away from the small 'world' of McBee, had long ago taught her the value of tolerance and acceptance. It was her traveling that explained why her accent was less thick some of the other South Carolinans the family had met. Plus, she used fewer southern expressions, though some of them crept out from time to time while everyone visited.
As the evening progressed, the two families had spread out. At the moment, Daniel and Rolaine were chatting outside as they sat in the two redwood chairs, enjoying the night air. Seated in front of them on the wooden deck, their backs near the railing that ran all the way around the house, were Little Danny, David, and Brianna. Jeff was there, too, relaxing on the swing.
“Are you an archaeologist, Mrs. Smoot?” Little Danny inquired.
“No, but I've studied it a great deal, and I've gained experience from working on various projects. You know, a lot of students are interested in the field, but when it gets right down to it, they don't want to get their feet dirty,” Rolaine opined.
Daniel chuckled and, when the group looked at him, he explained, “I've known some of those.” Facing the kids, he further commented, “Think about J-O. You know how Dad and I like to use students at the university whenever possible, to help give them experience. While we've always been able to find suitable interns, sometimes it's taken a little doing. Being out in the field isn't for everybody. Remember Mexico,” he urged.
“Arkansas was worse,” David spoke, having accompanied his father there for a couple of days on a project. “It was raining all the time, and it was muddy. There were bugs everywhere.”
“Jonny would have liked that,” Little Danny mused.
“Exactly, so Mrs. Smoot is right. It's not always as easy as people think to get good help on a dig,” the archaeologist spoke. He looked at the woman and asked, “How'd you get interested in archaeology, Rolaine?”
“When I was a little girl, Pat and I were outside playing when this man came by our house. He was a little lost. It was late, so Daddy invited him to stay for supper. Turns out he was an archaeologist. Well, I was fascinated with his stories, though Pat could care less. He saw how I hung on his every word. Before he left, he gave me a present -- a small clay head of a Mayan figure.”
“That's quite a present,” Daniel commented.
“Yes, and I treasured it. I began reading as much as I could about the Mayan culture and archaeology, how we learn from discovering the relics of the past. It wasn't easy in a small town like this, either, but it became easier after I wrote him to thank him. I have the gift of gab, in case you hadn't noticed, and ...”
“So does Little Danny,” Brianna teased, gently patting her younger brother's arm.
“I get it from Daddy,” the boy said proudly.
“I have no idea where I get it from,” Daniel said lightly. ~Although Jack thinks it's from not talking very much while growing up; he's probably right.~ “Go on.”
“Doctor Robinson, that was his name, sent me books he knew I could never get here. He traveled the world, and he'd send me tiny treasures sometimes, like a scarab beetle.”
“A bug?” Brianna asked with a frown.
“No, Bri, these were like prayer beads that the regular folk used. They'd offer up prayers, using a string of beads, and then bury them in the sand as a gift . They hoped that the spirits who lived in the Valley would hear them, and that the gods would be pleased.”
“I'm glad it wasn't a real one,” Brianna responded.
“Me, too,” Daniel said with a nervous smile. ~I've been a little too up close and personal with living beetles. Shake it off, Jackson. That was a long time ago,~ he thought, remembering a particularly bad experience from several years before.
“Daddy, was there a god of the scarab beetle?” Little Danny asked.
“I remember reading about one,” David interjected. “Um, Khepri was his name, I think.”
“That's right,” Daniel confirmed. “Scarab beetles tend to push large balls of dung around. Egyptians noticed that habit and applied it to the sun, believing that the sun was rolled across the sky, like a ball, because it was being pushed by a scarab beetle. Khepri was thought to be the one pushing the sun, so he ended up being viewed as a solar deity.”
“Like a sun god?” Brianna questioned. With a frown, she added, “I thought Ra was the sun god.”
“He is, or, was,” Daniel said with a coy smile. ~Definitely was: false, *dead* god.~ He folded his arms across his chest as he spoke, “The scarab beetle lays its eggs in the bodies of various dead animals.”
“Eww,” Brianna responded with a scrunching of her face.
“It gets ... worse,” Daniel warned. “They also lay their eggs in other scarabs and in dung. The Ancient Egyptians saw the beetles being born from, well, dead animals and matter, and began to associate Khepri with rebirth and renewal; even resurrection. In fact, that's what they believe Khepri was doing every day -- being reborn so that he could renew the sun, making life possible. When Ra gained prominence, Khepri morphed into being identified as just a part of Ra, the part that constitutes only the dawning sun.”
“... when the scarab beetle is pushing the sun across the sky, thanks to Khepri,” the tomboy surmised.
“It gets a little more involved, but, uh, we won't go into that right now,” the archaeologist spoke.
“They sure did get creative to explain things,” Brianna commented.
“They did what they could to explain things that they didn't understand so that their world made sense,” Daniel responded. “Resurrection was popular in their culture. Oftentimes, scarab-like jewels were placed in the tombs to facilitate the resurrection of the dead. They believed that just like the sun rose every day because of the scarab beetle, that every life would do the same.”
“You'd think they'd figure out it was crazy when no one ever came out of the tomb,” Jeff commented.
“They still think it's a sign of good luck,” David spoke.
“Yes, they do,” the father acknowledged. “We saw a lot of scarab beetle jewelry when we were in Egypt.”
Rolaine continued, “That's where Doctor Robinson found this one, in the Valley of the Kings.”
“What does it look like?” David asked curiously.
“Oh, it's not quite an inch long, is made of clay, and it's lapis lazuli color.”
“It that valuable?” Brianna questioned.
“Not really. There are thousands of them.”
“So, that nurtured your interest in archaeology,” Daniel stated, returning to their original topic.
“Definitely. Doctor Robinson sent me little relics up until the day he retired. I still have everything he ever sent. The greatest thing he ever passed on to me, though, was his passion for archaeology. It's something I've tried to share and encourage in youngsters everywhere,” the woman declared with strength.
Daniel cocked his head thoughtfully to the side for a moment and then began, “Robinson. Could you mean ...”
Meanwhile, inside the house, the fans were still blowing to cool the night air since the Bells didn't have central air-conditioning in their home. Instead, the windows were open and strategically placed fans helped make the summertime liveable. On the radio, WVSZ was playing the country music of the day.
In the kitchen, Pat was answering all kinds of questions about the chickens from Aislinn while she cleaned and prepared for the next day. Ricky and Jenny were coloring as they sat at the kitchen table, listening. Katie was lying down on the floor between them.
Jack, with JD in his lap, was talking to Arnie, trying to pass on the sage wisdom of Homer Simpson, while Jennifer and Reba were huddled together, looking through the latest issue of Cosmo Girl that had come in the day's mail.
Jonny, with Bijou on his heels, was with Conway and Duke, in the teenager's bedroom. Conway liked to race, something that was of interest to Jonny and his fellow Munchkins. At the moment, he was showing the little racer a videotape of some of his races.
“I've never seen one of those,” Jonny commented about the midget car.
“Do you get to race a lot, Conway?” the oldest triplet inquired.
“Not as much as I'd like. Mama wants me to get my education and doesn't like me puttin' too much time into drivin', and Daddy needs me to help here on the farm, but I done got to go to Darlington once. Have you seen it, Jonny?”
“Na-huh, except on TV.”
“A friend of mine is the son of the cousin to the mother of one of the tire changers for the zero-thirty-nine car, and they let me visit them at the racetrack last year. All those cars: what a sight,” Conway spoke, a look of wonderment on his face as he recalled the trip. “I got to see me a Darlington stripe up close.”
“Wow!” Jonny exclaimed, knowing that meant the teen had seen a race car that had hit the wall at the racetrack and gotten a 'stripe' on it as a result of losing its paint against the barrier. Obtaining a Darlington stripe was one of stock car racing's rite of passages for new drivers. “That's neat.”
“Dougie, he's a friend of mine, is building a midget car. I'm helpin' him when I can.”
“Wish I could see it,” Jonny replied.
“Maybe before you leave, we can show it to ya. We'd have to go by his place, though.”
“I'll ask Dad and Daddy,” Jonny said eagerly as he continued to talk racing with Conway.
“Of course, I know it,” Daniel spoke, nodding his head in answer to the question as the archaeology discussion continued outside. “The Windover dig unearthed remains of one-hundred-sixty-eight people from seven-thousand years ago. That was quite a find for North America.”
“It was incredible, Daniel,” Rolaine responded. “We've learned so much about the lives and health of early Floridians because of that site.”
“Where's Windover?” Brianna asked.
“It's just outside Titusville in Florida,” Daniel answered.
“They found the remains in the Windover Farms subdivision, in a pond,” Rolaine added. “The first one they found was a child.”
“A little girl,” Daniel spoke reverently. “She had a toy cradled in her arms.”
“What kind of toy, Daddy?” David inquired.
With a tiny smile, Daniel answered, “A wooden pestle-shaped object and the carapace of a small turtle.”
“Huh?” Brianna asked, not understanding. “How is a turtle shell a toy?”
“Like a drum, maybe,” Little Danny suggested. “She probably used the pestle like a drumstick.”
“It's possible,” Daniel agreed, smiling at his namesake with approval.
“How'd they find the bodies?” Jeff asked.
“They were developing the land in 1982 when a backhoe operator found some human bones,” Rolaine explained. “They made the right connection, realizing they could be of archaeological importance and contacted the right people. It took a while, but the excavation finally began in eighty-four.”
“What was your experience like there?” the archaeologist inquired.
“I was only able to spend one weekend at the site, but it's one I'll never forget,” Rolaine began. “The remains were buried in a swamp, covered in cloth. You could still see the weaving pattern on them. The bodies looked like some of those like you'd find in Ireland from the peat bogs.”
“Because of the tannic acid from the oak trees,” Daniel interjected.
“Yes. I cleaned pottery pieces, arrowheads: things like that. The most amazing thing we found that wasn't a human remain was an atlatl hook,” Rolaine stated.
“What's that?” Jeff asked.
Leaning forward a bit, Daniel answered, “It predates the bow and arrow and was used in the Americas for thousands of years. It was a wooden launching device for spears. The end of the spear is nestled in the hook. Uh, I believe that one at Windover was made from a deer antler. So, with the spear nestled in the hook, the spear's velocity increased, making it capable of being thrown further.”
“Daddy, why would anyone bury their dead in the water?” Jeff asked curiously.
“I don't know. No one does. It could have been for religious or spiritual reasons,” Daniel answered.
“Or it could that with the land, being mucky muck, it was just easier for them to bury their dead in the water. There's no evidence they had anything like a shovel that they could have used to dig with,” Rolaine pointed out.
“That's true,” Daniel stated. “It's possible, too, they didn't have to worry about animals desecrating their burial ground. Then again, the swamp gases may have something to do with it.”
“I've wondered about that, too,” Rolaine interjected.
“Swamps have gas?” Little Danny asked, sounding a bit more like Jonny.
~You haven't quite studied everything, have you, Sproglet?~ Daniel questioned silently. He smiled. The little boy was a child prodigy, but he really hadn't been around a discussion like this one before, so he was learning, without the benefit of an encyclopedia or computer to help. “Sometimes, at night, methane that is in a swamp can ... well, glow. If you didn't understand it or know what it was, it might seem like something different.”
“What?” Brianna asked, feeling hopelessly lost.
“The methane bubbles; that is, the methane gas rises to the surface as vegetable matter decays. The bubbles could be perceived as breathing. It's possible that they thought that by burying their people there, that the swamp gas could restore their lives, by making them breathe again.”
“I think if I'm going to be in water, I'd rather stick to scuba diving,” Brianna replied.
“Do you dive, Bri?”
“Yes, some. I'm going to be a marine biologist,” the tomboy stated proudly, her smile huge.
“I'm a certified diver myself,” Rolaine informed.
“Really?” Brianna asked, edging a bit closer to the woman. “Where have you dived?”
“Primarily Florida. I used to do a lot of river diving; I've gone down as far as ninety-feet in the Gulf of Mexico, but I love to dive off the coast of Maui, too. A friend surprised me with my first diving trip there. I absolutely loved it, so we've gone back a few times since then. It's great every time,” Rolaine responded.
“That's neat,” Brianna replied with a smile. “Do you dive when you do the archaeology thing, too?”
“Archaeology thing?” Daniel questioned lightly.
“Sorry, Daddy,” Brianna spoke with a shrug.
“Of course. I remember once there was a war canoe found on Lake Thonotosassa after a bad drought, and the lake was very low. The water there is very murky, but the worst part were the water moccasins: nasty, ill tempered little things.”
“I've read about them,” Little Danny interjected. “They're known for being aggressive, but they really just defend their territory.”
“Well, I guess they thought I was in their territory because they sure did try to chase my butt a few times,” Rolaine chuckled. “Fortunately, they stayed away most of the time.”
“If you leave them alone, they'll leave you alone,” Little Danny asserted, nodding his head.
“It worked out,” the woman remarked. “As if those creatures weren't enough, we had to use this special stuff to seal the exposed wood on the canoe. Phew! The air drying the wood rots it fast, and the stink was something I'd like to forget.”
“Do you still go on digs?” Little Danny questioned.
“Sometimes,” Rolaine spoke. “My husband, though; now, he's a character. We've been married forty-one years now. Anyway, he's ready to stay home a spell more than we've been.” With sparkling, somewhat mischievous green eyes, she added, “My paleontology genes have taken over a bit these days; I've become very curious about animal fossils and learning what I can about them. I'm not ready to give up my digging shoes just yet.”
“Tell us about another one,” David requested.
“One of my favorites was when I volunteered to help out at the Peace River in Florida. I love Florida and help out there quite a bit. Anyway, we had to take a nine-mile canoe trip to get to the site. Now memorable, it was, just for the alligators.”
“Alligators?” Jeff questioned.
“Honey, we were in these thirteen-and-a-foot canoes, watching out for gators big time. We passed one that was longer than our canoe,” Rolaine stated with happy amazement that the alligator had left the canoe alone. “Where we were excavating, most of a bank had fallen into the river.”
“So you couldn't create a grid,” Daniel surmised.
“No, not at all. One of us would use a bucket to scoop up the river bottom and pour it into a hand held shifter.”
“Find anything interesting?” the archaeologist inquired.
“We did find a lot of nice pieces -- stone axes, arrowheads, clay beads. We turned them all over to the university,” Rolaine answered. “That water sure was cold.”
“Sounds like you've been around,” Jeff stated. As Rolaine began to laugh, his eyes widened, and he said, “Oh, I didn't mean it how it sounded, Ma'am.”
“Don't start 'Ma'am'ing me, Jeff,” Rolaine laughed. “I've seen a lot, especially in Florida. My husband is from there, so we've gone back and forth like we were on a seesaw. One season here, one there, and back and forth,” she said, laughing some more. Suddenly, she stopped her cheerful outburst. “Jackson-O'Neill. Jackson . Daniel ... Jackson. Heavenly stars, you wrote that crazy paper about Egyptian pyramids; something about aliens and spaceships and things. I read it on the internet once.”
“Uh, yes, that ... that's ... me,” Daniel acknowledged.
“But it's not ...”
“Daniel Michael,” Daniel stated sternly, interrupting his son from a possible security breach.
“I was just going to say it's not silly.”
“Of course, it's not,” Rolaine said, smiling at the youngster who now smiled back at her. “Some folks think I'm crazy, too, Little Danny. You know why?” As the child shook his head, she smiled at him, saying, “Why? Well, I believe in the paranormal.”
“You mean ghosts and things?” Brianna asked curiously.
“If you want to call it that,” Rolaine spoke. “You don't like ghosts?”
“I've never met one, so I don't know,” Brianna responded with a smile.
“Neither have I,” Rolaine spoke, adding, “but it doesn't mean they aren't out there, with all kinds of secrets about how life used to be. You have to be open to everything.”
“That's what Daddy always says,” Little Danny noted.
“You aren't a straight-line science thinker, Daniel?”
“I believe that I've seen too much to discount anything,” the archaeologist responded. “Some of my colleagues may believe that archaeology is one-hundred percent science, but I think the humanistic side has to be part of the equation. We don't know it all, and science doesn't always explain everything,” he stated firmly.
“No, it doesn't,” Rolaine agreed. “What's your position on the paranormal?”
“I guess you could say I'm ... open.”
With a nod, Rolaine responded, “I suspect we're a little alike in this regard. I'm a great believer of 'let's see if there's a rational answer to what happened before we say it's supernatural', but I am open to saying some things are beyond science and what can be explained.”
“Daddy, I've never thought of it like this before, but is a ghost a spirit, like that day with the balloons?”
“Long story,” Daniel spoke, seeing Rolaine's questioning looks. Looking back at the inquisitive boy, he answered, “I think there might be elements of a spirit in a ghost, but ... that day, there were no ghosts.”
“It was Mommy's hands,” Little Danny maintained.
Rolaine's eyes expressed her increased curiosity as she looked over at the archaeologist.
“A ... *very* long story,” Daniel said with a smile.
Suddenly, Lulu came outside, saying, “Daddy, can you beep the RV for me? Dad said I could call Calico now.”
“Sure thing, Little Bit,” Daniel spoke, reaching into his pocket and aiming the device at the RV.
“Thanks, Daddy,” Lulu said with a smile as she skipped over to the RV to make the call.
“Calico?” Rolaine asked.
“Our cat,” Brianna spoke.
“One of our cats,” Little Danny corrected. “We have two -- Mittens and Calico. I miss them.”
“We didn't think it would be a good idea to bring them with us since we're traveling for a couple of months, and they would have to be cooped up for hours on end,” Daniel explained.
“Wait. She's calling your ... cats?”
“Uh, yes,” Daniel confirmed. “We have a webcam set up.”
“I think that's wonderful. I've always had cats.” Suddenly, Rolaine let out a burst of laughter. “You know, that husband of yours reminds me of one of my cats.”
“He does?” Daniel questioned curiously.
The children chuckled at the comment, with Jeff saying, “I think that's how Dad feels about our zoo. We have a hyacinth macaw that he's always sparring with.”
“Hey, it's time for bed,” Jack said, walking outside. Smiling a little apologetically, he added, “I know you could probably talk out here all night, but the Spitfires are already asleep inside and, as you can see, this guy is out like a light. I'm gonna put him down in the RV. Can you get ...”
“Yeah,” Daniel interjected, standing up. “Rolaine, we're going to be here a couple of days.”
“Good! I'll try to bring that husband of mine by so we can chat some more,” Rolaine responded.
“I'd like to hear more about your diving experiences,” Brianna noted.
“I'll bring some pictures,” Rolaine responded.
“Cool!” Brianna explained gleefully. “Daddy, do you want me to get the twins?”
“I'll go say my goodnights to Pat and Arnie,” Rolaine stated, getting up and heading inside the house.
“Daddy, I wasn't going to say anything I'm not supposed to,” Little Danny spoke, a bit of chastisement in his voice for Daniel's earlier interruption of his comment.
Daniel sighed and, while nodding, spoke, “I'm sorry, Sproglet. I do owe you an apology. None of you have ever given Dad or me cause to worry about saying something you shouldn't; I'm just ...”
Seeing her father shrug, Brianna surmised, “You get tense when it comes to defending your paper. You still feel like you have to do that.”
“I think it's that Daddy still thinks everyone thinks his paper was ridiculous,” Jeff supposed.
“You may be right, Jeff,” Daniel acknowledged. “Okay, time for bed. Let's go.”
The alarm buzzed and was instantly silenced by a grumbling Daniel, swearing in a foreign tongue.
“Daniel, language,” Jack said as he yawned.
“I'll swear if I want to, Jack. It's four freakin' o'clock ... in the morning!” the archaeologist whined.
“Farm living is the life for me,” Jack sang mockingly, using the lyrics from the 'Green Acres' theme song.
“Then you get up, and I'll go back to sleep,” the weary younger man stated, rolling over and pulling the covers up over his face.
“Aren't you the one who says it's a good idea to see how others live?” Jack questioned as he sat up in their bed.
“Stop quoting me!” Daniel mumbled, his chin nuzzling into the warm comforter.
Jack chuckled as he stood up. He walked over to check on JD, who apparently didn't realize that a buzzing alarm meant it was time to wake up. Of course, that wasn't a bad thing at the moment, considering the time.
“I'm gonna take my shower, Love,” Jack spoke. “You'd better get ready, or you'll miss your turn.”
“Mmelbetyarigsure...<yawn>mmm, yeah,” was the strange, indecipherable response.
“You're beautiful, Angel,” Jack spoke softly, a smile on his face as he stood, watching his lover.
“Love you,” Daniel replied, his words clear and distinct.
Still smiling, Jack turned and entered the bathroom to prepare for what he knew would be a long and interesting day.
“You're a great cook, Pat,” Jack praised after enjoying a hearty breakfast in the Bell kitchen.
“Comes from my grandmama and her mama, too. It's in the genes,” Pat chuckled as she cleared the table with the help of the teenagers.
“It's daylight, Pat,” Arnie announced, walking into the kitchen. “Youngins, who's coming with me?”
“I am,” Jonny called out eagerly.
“Me, too,” David added.
“Conway, you have your chores to do. Don't go puttin' it all on these nice folks, now.”
“Yes'm, Daddy,” Conway responded.
Soon, the two families were scattered, the day on the small farm just beginning for all of them. Jack and Daniel would be going back and forth a bit, trying to keep an eye on all of their children, while also tending to JD and the beagles. Jeff had a special assignment: to try and catch as much of the farm experience as he could. It would be a true test of his skills, both as a photographer and as a covert spy since the goal was to capture natural photos without people being posed, at least for the most part. It would be a challenge and one he would accomplish with a bit of help from Conway's bicycle as he went from place to place.
“Just come along,” Pat urged her three helpers: Aislinn, Jenny, and Ricky.
“What do we do first, Mrs. Bell?” Aislinn asked.
“We're going to feed the chickens, and then we'll go looking for their golden eggs,” the woman jested with a smile.
“Are they really golden?” Ricky asked in awe.
“No, Silly,” Jenny chastised. “She's just teasing.”
“Oh,” the boy expressed with a shrug.
“Morning, Chickies!” Pat called out when she and the children entered the chicken house. “Children, get some of that feed on that shelf over yonder. Careful, now, not to spill it.”
As the chickens squawked, Aislinn carried the bag of feed over to the woman.
“Pour some of that into these cups, and then start spreadin' it around on the ground in the coop just outside here. Go on. They'll follow you out.” Pat turned her attention towards the chickens and called out, “Breakfast! Come and get it!”
The three children giggled as they spread the feed lightly over the ground. They watched intently as the birds eagerly went after the tiny grains. When enough had been placed, the trio returned inside the chicken house with Pat.
“Now help me fill up these feeders,” Pat called out. “We use this grain mix.”
“How come you feed them outside then, like we just did?” Aislinn questioned.
“Oh, that's just to make sure they get their exercise. They'll mosey on back inside here shortly and start pecking away at this food.”
“What if they don't go outside?” Jenny questioned.
“Like Lucy Bell here,” Pat chuckled, looking at the one chicken who hadn't gotten up yet. “Chickens are used to having their eggs taken, so they don't make a fuss.” She reached over and retrieved the egg from the chicken's nest, the creature barely moving or making a noise. “See?” she asked, holding up the egg before putting it back down for the moment. “Lucy Bell, you get on out there and stretch those legs of yours,” she spoke jovially as she picked up the chicken and gently flung it forward.
Squawking, Lucy Bell didn't even look back as she walked outside to be with her fellow chickens.
Next, following Pat's lead, the children took turns putting the grain mix into the plastic feeders.
“How come it's in the air?” Ricky inquired curiously, seeing the feeder hanging roughly four inches off the ground.
“That's to make sure the rodents don't eat it. That would put the chickens in a bad mood,” Pat teased.
“How do the chickens eat it?”
“Don't you know that chickens fly?” Pat asked.
“No, they don't,” Ricky refuted.
“They fly just enough to get their food from these feeders. Child, if you're hungry, and you need to fly, you fly, and these chickens fly to get their food,” Pat informed. “Now this one is for their water. We just make sure it's full, and they fly up and get a swallow when they've got a thirst.”
Pat checked the feeder and then went back outside to get the garden hose, pulling it forward to the chicken house so she could fill the object.
“Children, each of you grab one of these baskets,” Pat directed when she was done with the water feeder, pointing at the side of the chicken house where several baskets sat. “Now, let's collect the eggs. Treat them gently, and just gather up all you can find.”
“Like an Easter egg hunt,” Ricky joked.
“Except they aren't hidden,” Pat responded jovially.
Elsewhere, Conway was walking into the pasture where the family's four cows were standing. Alongside him were Brianna, Chenoa, and Lulu.
“What we do first is bring them in from the field,” Conway spoke.
“To the barn?” Brianna asked.
“Here, Cow,” Chenoa called out.
Conway chuckled, “Not like that, Noa. Just go up to them and put this rope around their necks. They're used to it. Then give her a carrot.”
“Oh,” Chenoa giggled as she walked up to the cow. She'd wondered why Conway had given each of them a couple of carrots before they'd left the house. “Okay, Cow, now you just stand there.” Carefully, she slid the rope over the cow and gave the cow the first carrot. Then she began to pull on it lightly. Sure enough, the cow began to follow her. “I don't even have to pull hard.”
“Nah. They're wanting to be milked. Cows need that, or they get to feelin' poorly,” Conway explained.
“I can do that, too,” Lulu said happily as she mimicked her sister's actions.
“I guess it's my turn,” Brianna spoke. “What do you do when school's in session?”
“Chores come first,” Conway informed as he led the fourth cow towards the wooden structure. “We have to keep the farm going, so we get up early.”
“You do this *every* morning ... *before* school?” an astonished Brianna questioned.
“Yep,” Conway affirmed succinctly.
“Wow,” the tomboy expressed.
“After we milk them, we need to put their feed in the outside troughs.”
“Don't they just graze in the pasture?” Brianna questioned. “That's what they do on TV.”
“Yeah, they do that, too,” Conway said.
“Con, you don't like to talk much, do you,” the tomboy asked, using the boy's nickname.
“Sure, I do,” the boy said. “It's just ...”
“I've never been around such a pretty girl before,” Conway stated shyly.
“Jen's not out here,” Brianna said, looking all around as they reached the barn.
“I was talking about you, Bri,” Conway said.
Brianna was astonished and didn't know how to react, although she could feel herself beginning to blush. She was happy when Chenoa and Lulu both let out loud giggles as they looked at the underbelly of their cows in anticipation of milking them, and Conway walked away to teach them how to milk the cows.
“We best do one at a time,” Conway suggested. “Lulu, you stand in front of Eleanor ...”
“Eleanor? Like on 'Green Acres'?” Brianna asked, amused that a real cow would have the same name as the cow on the old rural TV series.
“Mama loves that show. That's why this is Eleanor, and that one's Lisa, and she's Eb, and she's Olivera.”
“Olivera?” Chenoa chuckled.
“Mama says Eb doesn't know her name's not a girl's one, so it doesn't matter,” Conway explained.
“I guess that makes sense,” Brianna responded.
Handing a bag of hay and oats to the curly-haired brunette, Conway instructed, “Just put this over her, and she'll eat at her own pace.”
“I could just hold the bag,” Lulu stated. “That looks heavy.”
“Cows are strong, Lulu. They're used to eatin' out of their feed bags. Noa, you come right here and sit down.”
Chenoa sat down on the stool at the side of the cow, waiting for Conway, who had walked away. He returned a minute later with a bucket of soap and warm water. He also had an empty milk pail.
“We gotta clean the ladies before we can milk them; wouldn't want any, uh ... uh ... we just need to make sure they're clean,” the boy informed. “Just take the soap and gently clean all around here, like this.”
The younger girls giggled the entire time that Conway demonstrated cleaning Eleanor. They giggled more because the teenager was talking to the cow all the while.
“Ya gotta keep the cows calm. You talk to them, like they're your friends. You don't want to scare them, or they won't give any milk,” Conway spoke.
“Gotta have milk,” Chenoa interjected. “I won't scare you, Eleanor.”
“Eleanor, Noa wants to milk you today,” Conway said. He knelt down to help Chenoa do her job properly and instructed, “Just put your hands here and lean your head against her flank. Use the soap and just clean the udder.”
“That's her milkin' part.”
“Oh,” Chenoa responded, still giggling as she cleaned the udder.
“Good job, Noa,” Conway said when the job was done. “Now for the milking.”
After placing the milk pail under Eleanor's teats, Conway instructed, “Just squeeze the teat at the top with your thumb and forefinger, and then keep on doing it, squeezing each finger around the teat. There you go; just like that,” the boy said with a smile.
Focusing on her task, Chenoa stopped giggling and began to milk the cow.
“Eleanor, I'm Noa, and I hope I don't hurt you. It feels funny, though, and ...” Suddenly, the milking girl heard a noise. She looked down into the pail and cheered, “It's milk! Lulu, Bri, I'm milking a cow!” She looked around to see the cow's face and praised, “Good girl, Eleanor!”
Soon, it was Lulu's turn to milk Eb. She washed the udder and then sat down at an angle and leaned her head against Eb, just like Chenoa had done with Eleanor. With that done, she began pulling on the teat, just as she'd been instructed, but when nothing happened, she became concerned she was doing it wrong. She bent down and pulled the teat towards her, wondering if anything was going to happen.
“I don't think it's gonna worrrrrrr...<giggle>...k,” Lulu sputtered.
“Lulu, what happened?” Chenoa asked, still feeding Eb the bag of hay and oats.
“Are you okay, Lulu?” Brianna asked, trying not to laugh.
“I didn't think I was doing it right,” Lulu said as she wiped the milk off her face. The young girl now had milk in her hair, running down her face, and all over her clothes. “I guess I was, though,” she chuckled.
“I can finish her,” Conway said.
“Na-huh,” Lulu stated. “I wanna do it. Eb, you did that on purpose, but that's okay. I still like you.”
After all four cows were milked, Conway and his helpers made sure the feed trough was full and let the animals loose to graze. Then they took Lulu inside so she could clean up and wash her clothes. Since none of the Jackson-O'Neill children were traveling with much spare clothing, a bit of creative thinking was needed to devise some temporary farm clothing that Lulu could wear while her clothes washed and dried.
Lulu looked down at her new outfit. An old T-shirt was tucked into an even older pair of Reba's jeans, which was being held up by a tight belt.
“I look funny,” Lulu giggled.
“Funny, but beautiful, Princess,” Jack chuckled.
Elsewhere, Arnie, Jonny, and David were working on the tractor. After much consideration, Little Danny had decided to join them, too, figuring he could go and meet all the farm animals later.
“That should do it,” Arnie spoke as he wiped his hands down his overalls.
“That was fun,” Jonny opined about the belt Arnie had just replaced on the tractor.
“Now's the real fun: mowing the fields,” the farmer stated.
“Is that like mowing the lawn?” David inquired.
“Yep, except the lawnmower is bigger,” Arnie laughed. “Let's hitch her up.”
Once the machinery was ready to go, the man spoke, “I've got a lot of weed-hackin' to do with this, but only one of you can ride with me at a time. Now I promised your daddies that I wouldn't leave any of you alone, so we need to call one of them to come watch the ones not with me.”
“Okay,” David acknowledged, reaching for the two-way radio he'd been given earlier that morning. “David to Worrywart. Come in, please.”
There was a pause and then finally, “Worrywart? I resemble that remark,” was heard.
“Dad, Jonny, Little Danny, and I are with Mister Bell. We just hitched up the lawnmower to the tractor, and now he needs to cut the weeds in the fields. He says one of us can go with him for each field, but the other two would have to wait. What do you want us to do?” David inquired with a bit of a sigh, certain his father would make them come back to the house. ~I'm eleven, and we don't need a babysitter every second.~
~Not even the NID would follow us to McBee; they'd go stir crazy,~ Jack thought. “David, whichever two stay behind keep the radio, and I want check-ins every five minutes from them, and they are to *stay* right where Mister Bell tells them to or face grounding until they're twenty-one. Understood?”
“You mean we can stay?” the surprised boy asked.
~Can't live in a cocoon; that's exactly what this trip is about,~ Jack thought. “Yes, but there is one thing.”
“What?” the boy asked, sighing again.
“I'm sending Bij out there to stay with the two who stay behind, so I want Jonny or Little Danny to take the first trip with Mister Bell. I'll bring Bij out.”
“You mean we don't have to wait for you?”
“Not this time.”
“Wow!” all three children exclaimed in excited surprise.
“Are you sure you have a mind to do this, Daniel? It's woman's work,” Pat spoke.
“In my household, there's no such thing as woman's work, Pat. I'd like to contribute since I can't be out there with the children until JD wakes up,” Daniel replied.
“Allrighty then, have at it. We need lots of butter beans shelled,” the woman informed.
“I'd love to,” the archaeologist replied. “Uh ... how?”
Laughing, Pat took hold of one of the butter beans, otherwise known as lima beans, and said, “These are smaller beans, so just pull off this string here along the seam, then press the two sides here like so, and that pops out the beans.”
“I should be able to do that,” Daniel said with a smile.
As Pat went inside, Daniel settled into the swing on the front porch. At his side was the baby monitor so he could hear if JD stirred. Katie, too, was inside the RV with the baby. On his lap, he held the big, silver bowl full of beans to be shelled so they could then be cooked for the evening meal.
Suddenly, Pat popped her head out the screen door and said, “Daniel, Honey, you do know not to eat those beans raw. They can kill ya.”
Daniel just smiled and nodded as Pat returned to her duties inside the home. He looked down at the bowl, quickly putting back the single bean he'd almost just tasted.
“Daddy, we rode the tractor!” Jonny exclaimed joyfully.
Daniel put the bowl of beans on the swing and got up, smiling when his son leaped into his arms. He smiled at his other two sons and nodded in acknowledgement at Arnie.
“That's what I heard,” Daniel replied. “How were they, Bij?”
“Good! Dad told me the trust he placed in you three.”
“We stayed right on the fence, Daddy, right where Dad told us to when he brought Bij to us, and we called him just like he asked us to.”
“Good,” Daniel replied. Looking at their host, he stated, “I hope having the boys with you didn't slow you down too much.”
“They were a great help,” Arnie said. “I had this one,” he pointed at Jonny, “pull some of the weeds I couldn't get with Big Sally.”
“That's Mister Bell's lawnmower,” Little Danny commented.
“Is it time for lunch now?” Jonny inquired.
“Lunch? We still have half the morning left; that is, if'n you really want to know what farmin' is all about,” Arnie spoke.
“Stomach, hush,” Jonny whispered, looking down at his abdomen.
“What's next, Mister Bell?” David asked.
“We need to bale hay. Winter will be here before you know it,” the man said. “Come along.”
Daniel watched as the children obediently followed the farmer. Then he took Bijou over to the RV so they could check on JD, who had woken earlier, but was now taking a nap. When he walked out of the vehicle a couple of minutes later, leaving Bijou inside and bringing Katie outside, he smiled, seeing his lover approach. The two kissed.
“Well?” Jack asked.
“They didn't have a clue,” Daniel answered.
“Was I wrong, Danny?” the older man inquired.
“Babe, we're always going to be overprotective of our brood. I think you were right to give them the trust, and I also think you were right to check up on them ... a lot,” Daniel spoke. “But ... sooner or later, Jack, we're going to have to let them out in this world. We can't be with them every second.”
“If it had been just David ...”
“I agree. He's eleven now, but ... well, I guess maybe that's the cutoff, no matter how much they don't like it.”
“Where is everyone?”
“They're all over the place at the moment. Some of them are baling hay, some are working in the garden, a couple are doing something called walking beans, and a couple are in the house, cleaning,” Daniel answered.
“Nice to see they're staying out of trouble.”
Daniel chuckled and then said, “Bij is with JD. He'll be waking up anytime. Here's the monitor. I'm going to take Katie for a little walk.”
“Love you, Angel.”
“Love you, too.”
“Feels like we've been out here for hours,” Jennifer spoke, wiping the sweat off her brow.
Reba laughed, “We have. It's almost one.”
“I guess that's why it feels that way then.” Each of the two girls had a hoe and was walking down the rows of soybeans, cutting out weeds and volunteer corn. The rows were about a quarter mile long, and, as they walked between two rows, they also looked over into the rows to the right and to the left of them, essentially working four rows at a time. “Reba, you started to explain to me why we're doing this earlier, but then we got interrupted.”
“Yeah, when your brother showed up to take a picture,” the girl recalled. “Well, what we have to do is get rid of the weeds and the volunteer corn.”
“Why is it called that -- volunteer corn? Seems like a funny name to me,” Jennifer stated.
“It's the leftover corn from last harvesting season. There's always some that gets missed. Then it starts growing, and that's why we have to weed it out,” Reba explained.
“But why not grow corn here again? That other field over there has corn,” Jennifer queried as she looked over in the direction of the corn crop.
“Corn crops were down last year, and Daddy wanted to try soybeans this year. Besides, we usually rotate crops.”
“So, was the cornfield something else last year?”
Reba chuckled, “No, it was corn. Daddy loves his corn; said a farmer isn't a farmer if he doesn't grow some corn every year.”
“Do you do this every day?”
“Just the last half of the summer. We got a late start today,” Reba stated. “Normally, we start 'bout nine and work until two. Sometimes, we even come back out after supper.” She paused and then stated, “You're doing very well, Jen.”
“Thanks.” A moment later, Jennifer questioned, “Reba, I love your name and was just wondering ...”
Reba nodded, saying “Yeah, Mama loves Reba McEntire and Conway Twitty. That's who Con is named after.”
The other girl laughed, “He was one of the old time country singers. He's not someone I'd ever like, and Con isn't fond of him, either, but that's who he was named after, so he's gotta live with it.” Then she whispered, “I've always been glad Mama liked Reba better than Patsy.”
“Patsy Cline. You don't know who she is?” Reba asked. Seeing Jennifer shake her head, she said, “She was one of the greatest country singers ever. I like her music a lot, but I don't like her name.”
“You really like country music then,” Jennifer surmised.
“No,” Reba laughed. “But Mama does, so I have to listen to it. I do like Patsy, though. She had a sweet voice.” After a few seconds, she said, “I guess you don't listen to much country out where you live.”
“Some do; we do, too. We saw your high school. It looks nice,” Jennifer spoke.
“It's okay. They're big into reading. We have lots of reading programs. Read this, read that, read, read, read and you get points. Get a lot of points and you get to go on special trips, like to the movies, or sometimes we get to have a party, or go home early.”
“That sounds fun,” Jennifer replied.
“It is, if you like reading,” the other girl mused.
The older members of the two families were gathered around the lunch table, while the younger ones were seated around a card table and a smaller table the Bells had brought in from outside. JD was in his high chair. The beagles were relaxing on the wraparound porch in the back, by the kitchen. They could easily hear the family talking since the back door was open. Duke was with the girls, as well, the three dogs now feeling very comfortable with each other.
“What was it like, Jen?” Brianna asked curiously.
“Well, when we first started, the beans were still wet with dew. I felt like I weighed twice my weight because my jeans got so heavy from the moisture and mud. I'm glad we did it, though.”
“We'll need to do some more after lunch,” Reba said. “We were talking a lot, Daddy, and we didn't cover as much ground. We'll make it up this afternoon.”
“It'll be hot as blazes out there. Wear your screen,” Arnie warned, reminding his daughter to put on some sunscreen.
“We will, Daddy. It won't take that long to get caught up,” Reba spoke confidently.
“Lulu, we can send eight-by-tens to everyone,” Jeff chuckled after the girl had recounted her milking experience. “I'm glad I was there. If Con's bike hadn't had that flat tire when it did, I wouldn't have been around.”
Now back in her own attire that had been washed and dried, Lulu giggled, “I looked silly, but it was so much fun.”
“I wish I could have milked a cow,” Little Danny spoke.
“Cows have to be milked twice a day, Youngin',” Pat advised. “You're welcome to help with the milkin' tonight.”
“Me, too?” Jonny and the twins all asked at the same time, their words stepping over each others', causing them to laugh.
“As long as there's milk to be pulled,” Pat spoke pleasantly.
“How does that work?” Daniel inquired.
The topic had switched to education and schooling. They'd talked about how Jack and Daniel homeschooled most of the brood and then some about the high school that Jennifer and Jeff attended in Colorado Springs. Now they were talking about McBee High School, which Reba and Conway attended.
“It's called Exchange Day,” Reba spoke. “As long as the folks go to our classes, we get to stay home.”
“Is it like an Open House?” Jack inquired.
“No, Sir. We get their lessons and homework, just like Reba and Con were there, listenin' to their teacher,” Pat stated.
“If our parents don't attend any of the classes, then we have to, but Mama and Daddy have always gone to Exchange Day,” Reba added.
“The farm comes first, but I want to know what the kids are up to at that school,” Arnie stated, getting a smile from his wife.
“Not all parents feel that way,” Pat added. “What's the farm for, if not for our kids?”
“It's just up the road a piece,” Arnie stated about the Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge. “They're doing good things there, helpin' to educate the young kids.”
“Maybe we should stop by there when we leave,” Daniel supposed, seeing Jack nod as he took a bite of his lunch.
“Try to find yourself a red-cockaded woodpecker while you're there,” Arnie suggested. Out of the blue, he looked at his son and said, “Con, you haven't spoken nary a word since we sat down. You sick, Boy?”
“No, Sir,” Conway answered. Suddenly, he spurted out, “I go to the refuge sometimes to bird watch. They have great birds there. Wish I could take *you* there, Bri. There's this spot, just off the path, 'bout a-mile-and-a-half from the office, that's great for spotting Bachman's sparrows. They make the prettiest sound, kinda a chip-chip-chip and then a sweet-sweet-sweet. They're awfully pretty, Bri, just like you.” Still speaking, practically without taking a breath, the boy finished, “Wish I could show you.”
Conway's eyes widened, and his spoon clanged against his plate. He'd just realized what he'd said, in front of everyone.
Brianna closed her eyes as she continued to slowly chew on her food. She figured if she just ignored the situation, it would go away. She'd just stare at her food and keep eating. Denial was everything.
The younger children at the other tables had missed the inference and were essentially clueless about the outburst. Jennifer smiled, though, while Jack and Daniel shared a curious look with each other before looking back at their tomboy daughter for her reaction. Jeff looked sympathetically at Conway and then grinned at Brianna's sudden preoccupation with her food.
“I meant that y'all would love the birds there, and I ... I wish I could show them to all of you,” Conway attempted to clarify, nodding his head one time and looking around at the entire family.
“I'm sure we'd love it,” Daniel spoke. He glanced casually at his husband and noted a change in demeanor. **Jack, stop sizing him up. Bri isn't even interested.**
**He's looking at our daughter.**
**Jack, don't blow this out of proportion. Behave!** Trying to get things back on track, Daniel questioned, “Is the library open this afternoon? I know Little Danny is curious to see it.”
“It surely is, but only for a few hours. It's just a small building, but the librarian is very smart. She could answer some of those questions that your smart bee over there was askin' 'bout earlier,” Pat stated.
Daniel noticed Brianna was still staring at her plate while she ate. He also noticed that Conway was still three shades of red. Normal conversation would resolve the situation. He just needed to keep on talking, so he did, all the way until lunch was done, and it was time to begin the afternoon chores and tasks.
“Doesn't she like boys?” Reba asked while she and Jennifer were doing their 'walk bean' chore again.
“She's a tomboy. She loves dolphins,” Jennifer giggled. “I thought she was gonna stick her head in her plate. She couldn't bow her head any lower and not.”
“Con's never done that before,” Reba stated. “He's always taking someone to the dances and such, but I've never seen him act like that.”
“It's a good thing we aren't staying long. Our dad is a little anal when it comes to his daughters and boys.”
“Which one?” Reba asked about the two male parents.
“Oh, Dad, Jack. He's in the Air Force, and he knows how to stare down an adversary, especially if it's a boy wanting to pay attention to one of us,” Jennifer said. After a moment, she said, “Boy, it's hot out here.”
Casually, Jennifer removed her shirt and tied it around her waist. She was wearing a sports bra, so felt safe in doing so.
“That's a good idea,” Reba said, taking off her top, revealing a swimsuit top. “This is how we get a good tan,” she laughed.
“It's taller than me,” Jonny spoke. “We could get lost in here.”
“That's why youngins' don't play in the corn,” Arnie stated.
The man was showing the kids the cornfield up close and personal.
“How long does it take to grow this high?” Ricky questioned.
“When do you know when to plant it?” Aislinn queried just after Ricky had asked his question.
“We plant the corn when the oak leaves are the size of mouse ears,” Arnie answered. “That's when the soil temperature is right. If'n we've done it right, the corn is knee high by the fourth of July.”
“It's a lot taller than that now,” David pointed out.
“Maybe if I jump, I can be taller than it,” Jonny said as he started jumping up into the air, trying to rise above the five-foot high corn stalks. As the tallest of the Munchkins, he was almost able to do it, too. “Ah, shucks”
“Here, Jonny,” David said, picking up the younger boy so he could see over the growing corn for a minute.
Naturally, once Jonny had gotten that view, the other children wanted to see, too. When the corn show was done, they continued the tour of the cornfield.
“By the end of the month, it'll be time to harvest the corn,” Arnie stated as they walked on.
“Any questions?” Pat asked.
“No, Ma'am,” Chenoa and Brianna answered.
“Lulu and I will be tending to my flowers,” the farmer's wife stated as she took Lulu's hand and headed toward her garden, talking about her flowers enthusiastically to the girl.
The girls were painting the barn door that had been damaged in a storm a couple of months before. While the door itself had been repaired, it had yet to be painted.
Happily, the two went about their painting until they were disturbed by a loud growl.
“Dad, relax,” the teenager spoke, automatically putting her shirt back on. She and Reba had finished their task and were heading for the house when Jack had seen them and let out his grizzly call in response to the girl not having her shirt on. “It's hot, and it's not like anyone can see anything.”
“Jennifer, there's a girl-crazy boy around here somewhere and ...”
“He's only looking at Bri, so ...”
“Hey! I'm out here, listening to this, so please don't,” Brianna called out, wishing she could hide.
“Dad!” Jennifer admonished, her eyes begging him to let it go. “She's not even twelve yet,” she spoke more quietly as she got closer to her older father. “Please leave her alone, Dad. She's embarrassed, and you know she's a tomboy, but ... down deep, she knows now that boys will notice her. Please let her have that. Don't ruin it for her.” She placed a kiss on the man's cheek; then smiled at her girlfriend, indicating for them to continue on inside the house. “We're going to have some lemonade. Would you like a glass?” she called out, looking over her shoulder.
“I'll be right in,” Jack answered, looking over at Brianna and Chenoa. ~Crap, Jen's right. She's not ready for boys, but there's a part of her now that knows she can attract them. I don't think she knew that before. Okay, Bear, back inside.~
With a nod and a smile, Jack turned and walked inside the house.
“Bri, do you like Conway?” Chenoa asked.
“He's okay, for a boy,” Brianna responded as she focused on the painting job before her.
The afternoon was a bit more relaxing for the children in that a few of them accompanied Arnie into town to order some parts he needed for the combine and to pick up some feed from the grain store. A couple of the children went into town with Daniel, too, just to look around and also to visit the library depot, which was something Little Danny had been wanting to do. For the ones still at the farm, they'd had two visitors, neighbors of the Bells who had just dropped by to say 'hello' and meet the Jackson-O'Neills.
As it turned out, and not to their surprise, the family was still the talk of the town, and the residents of McBee were very curious about them. Same-sex couples were unheard of in the tiny town. The neighbors were a bit disappointed that Daniel wasn't there, but they loved playing with JD. Babies were always a joy, no matter how they came into the world. The McBeevans easily accepted the 'cover' story that JD, like the Munchkins and the Spitfires, had been born with the assistance of a surrogate.
When the families were reunited, the cows were milked again, the pets were fed, and then they went into the small peach orchard that was part of the farm to harvest some of the peaches that were ripe. Arnie had a couple of migrant workers who he hired every year to do the majority of the work, but to keep up with the job, the family still had to go out for an hour or two before dinner to work in the orchard. This was a more difficult task, so the children mostly watched, but Jeff, Jennifer, Brianna, and David were all allowed to climb the ladders and toss a few peaches down to their siblings.
When that was done, Reba took Jennifer, Chenoa, and Lulu to the chicken house. It was time to get any eggs that had been laid during the day and to make sure the chickens were secure in their house to protect them from predators.
While they were doing that, Pat took Aislinn and Brianna to the vegetable garden. She'd noticed some weeds there earlier when she and some of the children were picking the vegetables, but they hadn't had time to pick out the weeds. That's what she instructed the children on how to do now before she went inside to work on the pot roast they were having for supper.
When supper was done and the sun had set, the two families settled into a quiet peace. Most were outside, somewhere on the wrap around porch. The fans were blowing to help relieve the heat since this had been one of the hottest days of the summer. Inside, the radio played. The Bells weren't big on television, so it wasn't on much. Instead, accompanying the radio were the sounds of summer: the cicadas buzzing in the trees and the breeze moving through the corn. To add to the visual effect of the green fields was the sight of the lightening bugs as they called to each other over the beans.
Jack was at the back of the home, lying down on a hammock. Suddenly, he felt a tug and smiled as he helped his namesake climb atop his chest.
Jonny yawned as he lay down atop of his father, saying, “Being a farmer is hard work, Dad.”
“It sure is,” Jack said, rubbing the boy's back.
“Dad, can we stay and work on the farm some more tomorrow?”
The Jackson-O'Neills had planned on leaving the next day, though they hadn't talked about it at all during the day since it had been so busy and laden with farm chores.
“I'm not sure we should impose on the Bells anymore, Jonny.”
“They like us, and we're helping,” Jonny asserted and then yawned again.
Jack chuckled. He knew the Bells would have gotten a lot more work done had they not been so gracious as to teach the children about life on a farm. He felt gratitude that they'd not let on about the slowdown to the brood.
“Jack, you're welcome to stay a spell,” Arnie called out, having sat down on the back steps.
Apparently, the man had heard every word.
“Are you sure?”
“It'll be a busy day. We have lots of work to do tomorrow,” Arnie spoke.
Jonny climbed off of his father and ran over to Arnie, saying, “We're good workers.”
“I'm a willin' if your folks are, Boy,” Arnie said.
Jonny looked over at Jack eagerly, his big eyes clearly indicating his desire.
“Go ask Daddy.”
Cheerfully, Jonny headed around to the front of the house where Daniel was talking with Conway, Little Danny, and Jenny.
“Daddy, Mister Bell says we can stay a spell and work some more on the farm. Dad said it was okay with him, if'n it's okay with you. Can we?”
~If'n?~ Daniel mused inwardly. He called out, “Brood, would you like to stay another day on the farm?”
Around back, Jack could hear the question and the affirmative answers. He smiled at Arnie, nodding gratefully, though no words were spoken.
The next day found the Jackson-O'Neill kids hard at work. For lunch, the family was scattered, but each had been given the same meal to enjoy out on the farm: roast beef sandwiches on white bread with mayonnaise and sweet pickles.
“I don't think Sheila would believe this,” Jennifer chuckled as she enjoyed her meal while leaning up against the tractor tire after she and Reba had taken Arnie and some of the children their lunches. “This is really good.”
“Sheila's your best friend, right?”
“Yeah, she is. She'd like this. My friend Amber is a bit ... well, I'm not sure she'd ever want to be this laid back. She loves fashion. I do, too, but ... this is really cool,” Jennifer repeated, smiling at Reba. “Tell me some more about Jacob,” she requested, referring to a boy that Reba particularly liked.
Meanwhile, near the house, Conway and Brianna were eating their sandwiches under a shade tree. The boy was definitely smitten with the tomboy, but they didn't talk about it. Instead, they chatted about baseball, dolphins, and what it was like going to high school, something that was foreign to Brianna, since she was homeschooled.
As he finished his sandwich, still licking his lips from the last bite, Conway asked in a near whisper, “Bri, can I write to you?”
Brianna found herself smiling in spite of herself and answered with a very definite, “Yes.”
Conway grinned and then asked, “If you're done, I'll show you the creek. It's a neat place to hang out for a while.”
“Okay,” Brianna said happily as she finished off her meal.
More neighbors had dropped by that afternoon, and the family took another trip into town to visit with more of the curious townsfolk. They stopped by the gas station to talk with Zach for a few minutes and to reinforce that he did have options for the future if he truly didn't want to stay in McBee. As planned, they played a game of baseball, and then, finally, they returned to McLeod's Market to enjoy their peach cobblers.
Rolaine dropped by for a visit right after supper, showing off some of the treasures she'd acquired over the years and talking with Brianna for a while about diving.
The rest of the evening was as calm and relaxing as the one before it, and, while the Bells were very inviting folks, Jack and Daniel knew it was time to move on. The two families chatted like they were old, dear friends as the night edged onward.
The next morning, after helping out one last time with feeding the chickens, gathering the eggs, and milking the cows, the Jackson-O'Neills said goodbye to the Bells. Hugs were shared all around, even between a nervous Conway and Brianna, who, seeing Jennifer's smirk, gave her a warning look to never bring up the hug again for fear of death.
“Thank you, for everything,” Daniel said as the family began to get into the RV.
“Don't forget these,” Pat said, holding up three huge bags of sandwiches.
It wasn't necessary, but the gesture was hospitable, and Daniel accepted it with a gracious 'thank you' and then embarked into the RV.
“Keep in touch!” Jack called out from the cockpit.
A minute or so later, the Jackson-O'Neills were back on the road, heading for the wildlife refuge, where they would stop for a short visit before continuing their journey across America. They were a bit sad, though, having truly grown to care for the Bell family.
“I wanna come back for strawberry season,” Aislinn said with a little sniffle of sadness from leaving the farm behind.
“We'll talk about it for next year,” Daniel promised, earning a smile from the youngest Munchkin.
Not wanting to be lost in sadness, Aislinn, the music leader of the family, took a breath and began to sing:
“Nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina in the morning,
No one could be sweeter than my sweetie when I meet her in the morning.”
Daniel looked back at the brood. They'd been truly touched by their time in McBee and on the Bell farm.
“Jack, we have to come back.”
“Strawberry season,” Jack affirmed. “If not next year, the year after.”
Nodding, Daniel joined in, singing, “Where the morning glories Twine around the door, whispering pretty stories I long to hear once more.”
The chorus continued, the children's voices growing stronger as life in a small town became a part of their essence.
Daniel whispered, “If I had Aladdin's lamp for only a day.”
“We don't need it, Danny. We have everything we need,” Jack said, giving his soulmate an eternal look of love.
“I love you, Jack.”
“I love you, too, Angel.”
As the Monaco RV traveled down the highway, the family was heard singing loudly, “Nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina in the morning.”
Feedback Welcome - click here to email the author
“Let me show you,” Rolaine said, picking up her tote and pulling out
the picture of the cat in question. “Meet MacGyver, our
newest. He's a Manx, and he's already the ruler of the
roost. He's the smartest cat that has ever owned me.”