Ten Steps Down

Chapter Fifteen

We couldn't believe our ears when James' great-grandmother called him Shawn's bastard son. James stood in shock, as if frozen, then suddenly he bolted from the room. Justin caught him before he could get the front door open. "Come with me, James," Justin said, as he guided him upstairs.

"Mother, either you apologize to my grandson or leave this house," Debra stated.

"You have no idea what that boy has endured," Mom said, when she finally found her voice. "He had been abused all of his life until he came to live with us. Now he hears those awful words from you."

"I mean it, Mother," Debra demanded. "Either you apologize or you leave."

"I have nothing to apologize for," Retha said. "That boy is Shawn's bastard son."

"Wendell, would you get Mother's coat and escort her out," Debra Said. "Libby, I'm sorry your family had to hear that. My mother has always been a hypocrite. According to her I was a premature baby, but I weighed eight pounds."

"That's a lie," Retha yelled, as Wendell handed her coat to her.

"Mother, I've known since I was a little girl that you were pregnant when you and Daddy got married. "Aunt Louise confirmed it when I asked her."

There was no need for Wendell to escort Retha out, she rushed out, slamming the door on the way.

Justin came down the stairs with his arm around James. We could tell that James had been crying. "Where is she?" Justin asked, as both Mom and Debra rushed to embrace James.

"I asked her to either apologize to James or leave," Debra said. "She decided to leave."

"I told James that she would apologize or I would personally throw her out," Justin said.

"James, I'm so sorry she said that to you," Debra said.

"It isn't your fault," James managed to say.

"What's wrong?" A pretty, young woman asked, as she came into the room.

"Amber, come on in and meet your nephew and his family," Debra said. "James, this is your Aunt Amber and your cousins, Dylan and Tyler."

"Hi, Grandma, hi Grandpa," Dylan and Tyler said at the same time.

"What about me?" Justin teased.

"Hi, Uncle Justin," the twins, who appeared to be about five years old, again said unison.

"Boys, come over here and meet your cousin James," Justin said.

"My goodness, you look just like your dad," Amber said, as she gave James a hug with the twins hiding behind her.

"Amber, this is James' family," Debra said. "This is Libby, Don, and Craig."

"It is a pleasure meeting you," Amber said. "Mom, I saw Grandma leaving as I drove up, I thought she would be here for dinner."

"She was here, but I asked her to leave when she insulted James," Debra said.

"I told you that she would say something nasty," Amber said. "What did she do this time?"

"She called James Shawn's bastard son," Debra said. "James, I'll say it again, I'm sorry for what my mother said."

"It's okay, Grandma," James said.

"No, it isn't okay," Amber said. "It was mean of her to say such a thing. But she's been like that as long as I can remember. She refused to go to my wedding because I wore white. She said I was a hypocrite."

"She told me I was going to hell because I went to mass with a Catholic girlfriend," Justin said.

"James, you don't have to worry about her," Debra said. "She isn't welcome here until she is willing to apologize to you."

"I'm not worried about her," James quietly said. "I think my dad was a good person, and so are you. My adopted family loves me and I love them. Getting to know my other family makes me happy, too. I never want to see my biological mother again, but I wish I had known my dad. If Grandma Retha wants to get to know me, fine. But if she doesn't want anything to do with me, that's fine, also."

"Honey, you sound just like your dad," Debra said. "He would have been very proud of you. I'm so happy that you have this wonderful family to love you. I'm also pleased that you can be a part of our family."

"We'll bring him to see you often," Mom said. "And remember, you're welcome to come to our home to see him, too."

"We'll certainly take you up on that invitation," Wendell said.

"Could we go, too?" One of the twins asked. They were identical and I couldn't determine which one was Dylan and which one was Tyler.

"You are all welcome," Mom smiled. "Goodness, how do you tell them apart?"

"Dylan has a freckle above his right eye and Tyler doesn't," Amber said, as Tyler pointed to the freckle on Dylan's forehead as he had probably done hundreds of times.

"Where is Drew?" Justin asked.

"He went to the hospital to see his uncle Joe," Amber said.

"I didn't know that Joe was in the hospital," Wendell said.

"Yes, he had gallbladder surgery yesterday," Amber said. "He's doing fine now."

"I'll go visit him tomorrow," Wendell said.

"James, let's go box up the trophies," Justin said.

"What trophies?" Debra asked.

"I told James he could have all of Shawn's trophies," Wendell said. "I guess I should have discussed it with you first."

"Oh, no," Debra said. "I agree that James should have them."

"Can we go help?" Tyler asked.

"Sure, come on," James answered.

"There is a stack of old newspapers out in the garage," Debra said. "Be sure and wrap them so they don't break."

After about twenty minutes Justin came back downstairs alone and said, "The twins found a book and James agreed to read to them."

We sat around and visited for the next hour or so. Dad and Wendell seemed to be hitting it off well. Wendell had grown up on a farm and was interested in Dad's farm operation. Mom and Debra were in the kitchen with Amber, who also seemed to be on the way to becoming friends.

"Drew, come on in and meet Don and Craig," Wendell said, when a nice looking man came into the room.

"It is a pleasure to meet you," Drew said, as he gave Dad and me a firm handshake. "Where are my rowdy boys?"

"They're upstairs with James," Justin said. "They found a book and talked James into reading to them."

"I'll bet they'd like to know that their grandma has a plate of freshly baked cookies," Drew said.

"I'll go get them," I volunteered.

When I entered the room, James was asleep with a twin snuggled on each side of him, also sleeping. I took my phone out of my pocket and took a picture of the three sleeping.

"They're sleeping," I said, as I handed my phone to Mom when I went to the kitchen.

"Oh, how cute," Mom said, when she saw the picture and then handed the phone to Debra.

"Oh, my goodness," Debra said. "That is cute, could you send a copy to me."

"Sure, give me your E-mail address," I said.

"You're right, this is cute," Amber, who now had my phone, said. "Drew, come and look at this."

"They look so innocent," Drew smiled. "Craig, do you mind if I send this picture to my phone?"

"Not at all," I said.

"Send it to mine, too," Justin said.

"Hi, Daddy," the twins said in unison, as they came downstairs with James.

"This is our cousin James," Tyler said, as he took James' hand and pulled him forward.

"James, I guess everyone has already told you that you look just like Shawn," Drew said, as he shook James' hand.

"Yeah, they have," James smiled.

Dinner that evening was delicious. It seemed that Debra was as good a cook as Mom. The roast beef dinner was served with a variety of vegetables, mashed potatoes, and wonderful homemade yeast rolls. The dessert was a blueberry trifle that was out of this world. However, the best part of the evening was that the two families really enjoyed being together.

 After dinner, James and I cleared the table and loaded the dishwasher as we usually did at home. "My goodness, my kids never did that without a fuss," Debra said.

"Hey, you two sit down," Justin joked. "You're making Amber and me look bad."

"It's too late for that," Debra said. "Libby, how did you manage to get them trained so well?"

"We're just lucky to have two really good boys," Mom said.

"They're a big help on the farm, too," Dad said. "As I get older, I realize how much help they really are."

"We get paid for that," James said.

"What do you spend your money on?" Justin asked, as he ruffled James' hair.

"I'm going to buy a car when I'm sixteen," James said. "I already have enough saved."

"You must get paid really well," Wendell said.

"Most of it came from what Uncle Jason got for me after the car wreck," James explained. "Dad said that he and Mom would match what I had."

"Libby, is that the wreck in Topeka you were telling us about?" Debra asked.

"Yes, we were fortunate that James had some really great doctors," Mom said.

"What kind of car do you want?" Justin asked.

"I don't know yet," James admitted.

"Put your coat on I want to show you something," Justin said. "Craig you and Don come, too."

"What do you think of this?" Justin asked, as he pointed to a classic 1969 Mustang that was parked in the driveway.

"Wow, it's beautiful," James said.

"It belonged to your dad," Justin said.

"Do you want to sell it?" James asked, as he looked at Dad for permission.

"It is beautiful," Dad said, as he put his arm over James' shoulder.

"I can't sell it," Justin said. "It isn't mine to sell."

"Whose is it?" James asked.

"Yours," Justin said.

"Huh?" James asked in surprise.

"It belonged to your dad," Justin said. "You have more right to it than I do."

"But what would you drive?" James asked.

"I have a Chevrolet Avalanche," Justin said. "I only drive this to keep the battery charged. I drove it today so you could see it."

"Dad, is it okay?" James asked.

"This is between you and Justin," Dad said. "Just remember you can't drive it until you are licensed.

"He can get a learner's permit when he turns fourteen," Justin said. "He could drive as long as a licensed adult over twenty-one is in the front seat."

"No shit?" James excitedly asked. "I mean really?"

"No shit," Justin laughed. "Your uncle is an attorney; have him contact me to legally transfer ownership to you. Once that is done, you can come and pick it up."

"You could take it to him when your mother and I go for a visit, and you could ride back with us," Wendell said.

"That would work," Justin said.

James was so excited that I was afraid he wouldn't be able to sleep when we got back to the hotel. However, I think he was asleep before I was.

After checking out of the hotel the next morning, we met the Harringtons at a restaurant for breakfast. The twins rushed to sit next to James, they seemed to idolize their new found cousin. Both ordered the same breakfast that James ordered.

"When are you coming for a visit?" James asked, while we waited for our breakfast.

"And bring your car?" Justin teased.

"That, too," James smiled.

"We have to get the paperwork done first," Justin said.

"I'll call Uncle Jason today," James said.

"Don't you think you should get Justin's phone number for Jason?" Dad asked.

"I'll write it down for you, and I expect you to call me too," Justin said.

"I'll call you, Uncle Justin," James promised.

"And?" Wendell said.

"I'll call you and Grandma, too," James said.

"Libby, Wendell and I were discussing this morning about how lucky we are that your brother found us," Debra said. "We had mixed feelings about agreeing to not trying to get custody of James. However, after meeting his family, we are happy that he is in a loving home. We are so happy that you are letting us be a part of his life."

"Our only son was killed in Iraq," Mom said. "It was very painful for Don and me, but God rewarded us with two more wonderful sons. We love them both and want them to be part of their biological families, too. Craig has reconciled with his biological father after eight years of separation. He has even learned that he has a sister. We want James to be a part of your life, too."

"His family is our family," Debra said.

After breakfast and long goodbyes with hugs for everybody, we were on our way home. We drove several miles with little conversation. Occasionally Mom or Dad would mention an observation of the visit, but for the most part we rode in silence. "Dad, could I ask you a question?" James asked Dad, as he leaned as far forward as the safety restraints would allow.

"Sure, Son," Dad said.

"Does it bother you when everybody refers to Shawn as my dad?" James asked in a serious tone. It was obvious he had given this question some consideration before asking it.

"Son, I'm sure that Shawn was a good man," Dad began. "I know that he would have loved you had he lived and got to know you, just as I love you. Shawn was your dad and I'm also your dad. So, to answer your question, no it doesn't bother me at all."

"Thanks, DAD," James said, with emphasis on dad.

With only a stop for gasoline and snacks, we arrived home with plenty of time to do the chores. None of us had wanted lunch after the late breakfast. Dad was a little tired when we arrived, so James and I volunteered to do the chores. Mom got busy in the kitchen preparing dinner while Dad napped in his favorite recliner.

"You boys should do your homework before dinner," Mom said, when we came in from doing our chores.

"I did mine at school during my lunch period Friday," I said. "I didn't have much to do anyway."

"I still have a few chapter questions to answer from my science book," James said.

"Why don't you go work on those and I'll let you know when dinner is ready," Mom said.

"Do you need any help?" I asked.

"You can make some garlic toast while I make a salad," Mom said. "I'm thawing some lasagna that I had in the freezer."

"Mom, I'm surprised you didn't tell Retha off after what she said about James," I said, as I melted butter for the toast.

"Honey, I was in shock," Mom said. "By the time I realized that she had actually said that hateful thing to James, Debra was already telling her off. It was her home and it was better that she did it rather than I."

"I was glad to see that they all supported James," I said. "They seemed like a nice family."

"They are a nice family," Mom said. "I'm really pleased that Jason found them for James."

"He was really pleased about the car," I said with a laugh.

"Yes, it was a real surprise," Mom said. "But it hardly seems fair that you had to buy your first vehicle and he gets his free."

"I don't see it that way," I said, as I brushed the bread liberally with garlic butter. "You and Dad helped me buy it. Besides, I'll have plenty of money from the sale of the house."

"You boys amaze me," Mom said, as she walked over and gave me a hug. "Now, go tell your brother and dad that dinner is almost ready, I'll finish the toast."

"You should see it, Uncle Jason," James was excitedly saying into the phone when I stepped into his room. "Yes, Uncle Justin said that since it was my dad's that I should have it. Okay, I'll text Uncle Justin's phone number to you so you won't have to write it down. Okay, bye, Uncle Jason. I love you and Uncle Ryan."

"Dinner is ready," I said, when James hung up.

I then went to the den to tell Dad, and was surprised that he was still napping. "Dad, dinner is ready," I said, as I gently shook his shoulder.

"Oh my, I must have really been tired," Dad said, as he woke from his nap.

"Dad, Uncle Jason said that it was really simple to transfer the title of my car to me," James said, as he served himself a generous helping of lasagna.

"I knew that," Dad said. "I guess I wasn't thinking when Justin said to contact Jason."

"Uncle Jason said he would contact Uncle Justin tomorrow," James said. "I can't wait to get my car."

"What's the hurry?" Dad asked. "You can't drive it yet."

"Maybe I could drive it on the country roads," James said.

"No, you can't legally drive it on any public road," Dad said.

"What about here on the farm?" James asked.

"We'll discuss it when you get the car," Dad said.

"Oh, yeah, Uncle Jason said you or Mom should be listed as co-owners," James said.

"Yes, I'm listed as co-owner with Craig on his," Dad said.

As the days went by James seemed to talk of nothing but his car. I would often change the subject, but he'd quickly change it back. I understood his excitement and tolerated his car talk. Fortunately, school and farm work occupied most of James' time.

One Saturday, late morning, James came into the kitchen where I was keeping Mom company while she was busy baking a cake. "Craig, will you drive me to Kenny's, if it is okay with Mom?"

"I can't," I said. "Seth is coming over and we're going to the movie."

"Ask your dad," Mom suggested.

"He's napping and I didn't want to wake him," James said.

"Call Kenny and see if his dad will bring him here, and Craig can take him home when he gets back from the movie," Mom suggested.

"Okay," James said, as he took his phone and dialed the number while walking away.

"Mom, I'm worried about Dad," I said.

"Why is that, Honey?" Mom asked.

"He seems tired a lot, he naps a lot, and seems to have a fever," I said.

"I noticed that, but he said it was only a cold," Mom said.

"Mom, a cold doesn't last that long," I said. "He's been taking rest breaks when we're feeding, too. I think you should make an appointment with Dr. Carr for him."

"You're right," Mom said. "I'll call Monday."

"I'll get it," James yelled, when the doorbell rang.

James was telling Seth all about his car as he escorted him into the kitchen. "It sounds like a really nice car," Seth said.

"Do you boys want something to eat before you go?" Mom asked.

"No thanks, Mom," I said. "We're going to get a burger before the movie. I'll be back in time to do the chores. Tell Dad that he needs to rest until he can see Dr. Carr."

"Is your dad ill?" Seth asked, as we drove into town.

"He has no energy, and lately has been running a fever," I explained. "I'm really worried about him."

"Maybe it's just a cold or something minor," Seth said.

"I hope you're right, I said. "But it's lasted longer than a cold. Mom is going to get him an appointment with Dr. Carr."

"I'll help you on the farm until your dad is better," Seth volunteered.

"James and I can manage," I said. "But thanks for the offer."

It was a nice outing in town with Seth, but I couldn't help but worry about Dad. He was strong-willed and not likely to admit that he was ill.

"Is Dad sick?" James asked, as we walked toward the barns.

"Yeah, he is," I said.

"Is it serous?" James stopped and asked.

"Mom is going to make an appointment with Dr. Carr," I explained. "We won't know until some tests are run."

"He can't die," James said, as tears ran down his cheeks.

"Don't even think that," I said, as I wrapped my arms around my brother. "Look, James, we have to be strong for Dad. The farm work will likely be left up to you and me until Dad is well again."

"I don't mind the work," James said. "I just want Dad well."

Dad only gave a token protest when James and I had insisted that we do the chores that evening. He ate just a small amount of what was on his plate before excusing himself.

"Boys, I don't know what is wrong with your dad," Mom said. "You may have to be responsible for running the farm operation for a while. If it is too much for you, we'll sell the animals."

"No, Mom, we'll manage," James protested.

"James is right," I said. "We'll manage."

"Alright, but your school work comes first," Mom said.

I saw that I had a phone call from Mom when I checked my phone during lunch Monday. I stepped out of the noisy cafeteria and called her.

"Craig, the earliest appointment I could get for your dad is at 3:00 today," Mom said, when she answered.

"I'll start dinner after we finish the chores," I said.

"That won't be necessary," Mom said. "Margaret volunteered to come over and cook dinner. I don't know what we would do without her."

When James and I arrived home from school Grandma was busy in the kitchen, but she took time to give us both a grandma hug. The kitchen had a heavenly aroma of apple pie.

"James, your uncle Justin called," Grandma said.

"I'll bet it's about the car," James excitedly said. "I'm going to call him now."

"You can call after we finish the chores," I said. "We need to get everything done before it gets dark out."

"Oh, alright," James said with disappointment.

"Why don't you take the tractor and put more hay out for the cattle and horses while I refill the feeders," I said, when we arrived at the barns.

"Okay," James said with a smile. He loved to drive the tractor.

It was almost dark by the time James and I completed our chores. "I see that Mom and Dad are back," I said.

"I hope Dad is okay," James said.

"We probably shouldn't ask in front of Dad," I suggested.

"Yeah, you're right," James agreed.

"Wash up, dinner is almost ready," Mom said, as we entered the kitchen.

"Where is Dad?" James asked.

"He's resting in the den," Mom said.

"What did Dr. Carr say," I asked.

"He's scheduled some tests, and took some blood today," Mom said. "He couldn't say for sure, but he suspects that it is lymphoma."

"Is he going to die?" James asked in a panic.

"Dr. Carr said that the prognosis is good," Mom explained in a calm voice. "He thinks that if it is lymphoma it's in an early stage. But it's too early to know much."

"Does Dad know?" I asked.

"Yes," Mom said. "He said that at least he knows now that there is something wrong and it isn't just in his head. Now, go wash up and tell your dad that dinner is ready. Margaret made this wonderful broccoli chicken casserole."

"Dad, Mom said that dinner is ready," I said, when I found Dad in his recliner.

"Alright," Dad said.

"How are you feeling?" I asked, as Dad got out of his recliner.

"I'm tired, Son," Dad admitted. "Did your mom tell you that I may have cancer?"

"Yes, she did," I said. "Treatment for cancer is much better than it used to be."

"If I didn't have such a wonderful family, I wouldn't fight it," Dad said. "But I intend to fight it with everything I can."

"And I know that you'll win that fight," I said, as I gave Dad a hug.

"Libby said that you and James plan to manage the chores for a while," Dad said. "I'll hire someone to help out until I'm well again."

"I think James and I can manage," I said. "If we need help, we'll let you know."

Dad seemed more like his old self during dinner and talked openly about his disease. This seemed to relax James, too.

"Dad, Uncle Justin said he could bring my car up here Saturday," James said. "I told him that you had been sick and I'd have to talk to you first."

"Maybe he should wait until your dad is better," Mom said. "I'm not sure that Don is up to company."

"Oh, Libby, I'll be fine," Dad said. "The boys are doing all the work here. We'll eat out so that you won't have to cook."

"I'd be more than happy to come over and cook for everybody," Grandma offered.

"Margaret, that's a wonderful offer, but that would be asking too much of you," Mom said.

"You didn't ask," Grandma argued. "Besides, it would be a good chance for me to meet James' other grandma."

"Alright James, you may call Justin after dinner and let him know that it is fine to bring the car," Mom said.

"Remember, Son, you can't drive it until you're old enough to get your learner's permit," Dad cautioned.

"I know, Dad," James said, while not hiding his disappointment.

"Craig, you have a letter from the University of Kansas," Mom said the next evening when James and I came in from doing the chores.

"What's it about?" I asked.

"You know that I don't open your mail," Mom said. "It's over there on the bar."

"I still have another year of high school," I said. "I don't know why they would be sending information this early."

"Well, open it and see," Mom chuckled.

"I won second place with my essay," I said, after reading the letter.

"Craig, that's wonderful," Mom said. "I'm proud of you."

"There's a $250 check here," I said in surprise.

"What are you going to do with that?" James asked.

"I'll put some more money with it and get Nicole a computer for her birthday," I said. "She always plays on mine when she's here."

"Honey, do you think she is old enough for a computer?" Mom asked.

"I'll ask Dan before I buy it," I said. "He can always put Net Nanny on it."

"That's a good idea," Mom agreed.

"Have you heard anything about Dad's lab work?" I asked.

"He's to see Dr. Carr tomorrow for the results," Mom said. "We should be home before you boys get home from school. I'll put something in the crock pot for dinner."

"How is Dad today?" James asked.

"He drove himself into town for a haircut," Mom said. "He was a little tired when he got home, and took a nap."

"Mom's car is in the garage," James said, when we got home from school the next day. "I guess they're home already."

"Don't ask any questions in front of Dad, in case it's bad news," I cautioned.

"Craig, give me some credit," James admonished me.

"You're right," I said. "I'm sorry."

"You're just being a big brother," James said, tapping me on the shoulder.

"What did Dr. Carr say?" James asked, when he saw that Mom was in the kitchen alone.

"It's Hodgkin's Lymphoma," Mom said. "He has an appointment in Topeka Monday to see an oncologist."

"What's an oncologist?" James asked.

"A doctor that treats cancer," Mom explained. "Dr. Carr still thinks his prognosis is good. We'll know more after Monday."

"How is Dad taking it?" I asked.

"Surprisingly well," Mom said. "He seems ready to get started with the treatment."

"What time do you think they will get here?" James asked in anticipation of his family's arrival on Saturday.

"Early afternoon, I suppose," Mom said. "Make yourself useful and go see that there are plenty of towels for the basement bathroom."

"Where will everyone sleep?" I asked.

"Wendell and Debra, as well as Drew and Amber, can have the basement bedrooms," Mom said. "Justin can have Nicole's room. We have air mattresses for the twins that we can put in Drew and Amber's room."

"They can sleep on the futon in my room," James offered.

"We'll let them decide," Mom said.

James checked and double checked the bathrooms and bedrooms to make sure they were ready for visitors. Mom finally gave up on finding tasks for him to keep him occupied.

"They're here," James said, when the doorbell rang and he rushed to answer the door.

After introducing everybody to Grandma, James and I showed everybody where they would be sleeping. Dylan and Tyler chose to sleep on the futon in James' room.

"How is Don doing?" Debra asked.

"He seems to be in good spirits," Mom said. "He fatigues easily."

"We probably shouldn't have come this weekend," Amber said.

"Oh, don't worry about that," Mom said. "Don said that if he gets tired he will just excuse himself and take a nap."

"Where is Don?" Wendell asked.

"He's in the den," Mom said. "James, would you show your grandpa and your uncles where the den is?"

"I'll do it," I offered. "It looks like James has a couple of munchkins attached to him."

"Would any of you like something to drink?" Grandma asked.

"Margaret, don't worry about them," Debra said. "They can help themselves. Is there anything I can do to help you?"

"I believe I have everything under control," Grandma said.

"If he's asleep, we'll not wake him," Wendell said, as we walked toward the den.

"Come on in and make yourself comfortable," Dad said, when he saw us.

"How are you doing?" Wendell asked.

"I've been better," Dad admitted. "I'll be seeing a cancer doctor in Topeka Monday. I get tired really easily."

"If you get tired just let us know and we'll leave you alone," Drew said.

"Don't worry about that," Dad said. "If I doze off on you don't think anything about it. I've napped most of the morning anyway. Craig, I could sure use a cup of coffee, how about you guys?"

"That sounds good to me," Wendell agreed.

"Me, too," Drew agreed.

"Water for me," Justin said. "I'll go help you with it."

"That's okay," I said. "I'll use a tray."

"Where are you going?" I asked James, as he was headed out the door with the twins and Nicole, who had just arrived with Dan.

"We're going to look at the baby pigs," Tyler answered for James.

"Watch them closely," I cautioned James. "Some of those sows with babies can be aggressive if you get too close."

"Craig, I know about pigs," James countered.

"I know," I said. "But you have three kids to look out for."

"I'll not let them get close to the pens," James said.

"This is Dan," Mom said, as I entered the kitchen. "He is Craig's biological dad. Dan, this is James' grandmother Debra, and his aunt Amber."

"Craig, would you introduce Dan to the men?" Mom asked.

"Sure," I said. "I came to get drinks for everybody. Dan what are you drinking?"

"Coffee," Dan said. "But let me help you with that."

"Dan, this is James' grandpa Wendell, his uncle Justin, and his uncle Drew, Amber's husband," I said, as I put the tray on the coffee table. "Dan is my biological dad."

The conversation that was going on in the den was soon interrupted by a couple of excited boys. "Daddy, Daddy, they have baby pigs," Dylan said.

"Yeah, could we have one?" Tyler asked.

"I'm afraid not," Drew said. "We live in town, and farm animals aren't allowed."

"Shoot," Tyler said.

"Craig, I need you to go to the store for me," Mom said, as she came into the den. "I forgot to buy coffee when I went shopping."

"Can we take my car?" James quickly asked.

"Here are the keys," Justin said, as he tossed the keys to me.

"Now hold on," Dad said. "The car is still in Justin's name. We have to get insurance and transfer the title before we can drive it."

"Uncle Justin, will you drive us to the store? James asked.

"I suppose I could do that," Justin smiled.

"Here's the money," Mom said, as she handed the money to James. "You know what brand we use."

"Can we go?" Dylan and Tyler asked simultaneously.

"No," Drew said. "I don't want to take your booster seats out of my truck.

"I'm sorry, guys," Justin said.

"Grandma Margaret made a batch of brownies," Mom said. "Let's go see if they're cool enough to eat."

"Alright," Dylan said, as he and Tyler followed Mom to the kitchen.

"It doesn't take much to bribe those two," Wendell laughed. "A cookie or a brownie will do it."

"Wow, my car is so hot," James exclaimed, when he and Justin returned from the store.

"And when you're old enough to drive, you're going to drive it below the speed limit," Dad said.

"I guess so," James faintly said.

"Your dad is right," Justin said. "Shawn babied that car, and you should, too."

"I know," James admitted.

The Harringtons' visit was an enjoyable one. The two families got to know each other better, and when they left to go home there were promises of additional visits.

"We should be home in time for dinner," Mom said, the morning she was driving Dad to Topeka for his appointment with the oncologist. "I planned to put something in the crock pot before we leave, but Margaret insisted that she would come over and cook dinner."

"I can miss school and go with you," I said.

"No, Honey, Mom said. "You need to be here and help James with the chores. We'll be fine."

It was difficult for me to pay attention to my teachers in school. My mind was on Dad and his appointment with the oncologist. James was unusually quiet as we drove home. Grandma was busy in the kitchen when we arrived home and said that she hadn't heard from Mom yet.

We changed and went to do our chores, each knowing that the other was worried about Dad. It didn't take long to do the chores since we had filled the feeders the day before. We offered to help Grandma with dinner, but she insisted that we start doing our homework. I was glad that I didn't have a lot of homework, since it was difficult for me to concentrate.

When Mom and Dad returned home, James and I rushed to meet them. "What did the doctor say?" James asked, as soon as they were in the door.

"Let me help Margaret with dinner and then we'll talk about it," Mom promised.

"Dinner is ready," Grandma said.

"Alright, we'll discuss it over dinner," Mom promised.

"It smells good," Dad said.

"It's a beef noodle casserole," Grandma said.

"The doctor said that the prognosis was excellent," Mom said, after we had all filled our plates. "Your dad will have both radiation and chemotherapy the first week. After that it will be radiation only and that will last about five weeks."

"Where will they do that?" I asked.

"In Topeka," Mom said. "During his radiation and chemo we will stay with Jason and Ryan," Mom said. "Margaret, I hate to ask, but could you stay here with the boys?"

"Of course I will," Grandma said.

"During the radiation alone we'll be home every evening," Mom explained. "If it gets to be too strenuous for Don, we'll stay in Topeka."

"When do you start?" James asked.

"Tomorrow," Dad said. "When you see me the next time I may not have any hair."

"You don't have that much anyway," Mom teased to lighten the mood. "Besides, the doctor said you probably wouldn't have much hair loss since you only have a few days of chemotherapy. He said that your radiation would only cause loss in the area treated."

"How long will each treatment take?" Grandma asked.

"The way I understand it, this week he will get both radiation and chemo," Mom explained. "That will take most of the morning. Then for the next five weeks it will be radiation alone for five days a week; that will take just a few minutes. I think we'll only be there for about an hour each day."

As Mom and Dad drove away for his treatment the next day I had a feeling of pessimism. I knew the doctor had painted a promising picture, but I couldn't help but worry. What would this family do without Dad's strong guidance?

Please send your comments or suggestions to Owen Hudson