Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Man from Swift Current Chapter Thirty Two - Rick's Family Reunion

Chapter Thirty Two – Rick’s Family Reunion

I awoke with a start but quickly relaxed as Rick pulled me closer to him.   He was still sleeping.   I love watching him sleep.   His face reflected the happiness he felt being with me.   At least that is how I interpreted his little half smile, especially when he pulls me closer to him and squeezes me in his arms.   The sun was streaming in the window and fell across Rick’s face highlighting his strong, handsome features.   It’s mornings like this one that make me appreciate the wonderful man who has changed my life in such a short period of time.

It wasn’t long before I heard a knock on our door.   It was Rick’s Mom.   I was grateful we had locked the door before we settled in for the night!   I could just see her walking in on us wrapped in each other’s arms as we are right now…..that would be a disaster!

“Boys, breakfast is ready,” Vickie called through the door.

“We will be right down!” I shouted.   Rick was awake now and looked spooked.   “It’s okay.   The door was locked so she couldn’t come in.”   Rick immediately relaxed and smiled at me.

He kissed me good morning, “I love you.”

“I love you, too, handsome.   We need to get up and get dressed before your Mom returns to see why we aren’t coming down for breakfast,” I said.

Rick groaned, “Why can’t we just stay here and enjoy each other?”

“She is YOUR mother not mine.   Remember, you were the one who told me she won’t stop until she gets you to do what she wants.  I’m just trying to keep us in her good graces while we're here,” I said, looking into Rick’s eyes.

“Alright, I’ll get up.   You can be such tyrant in the morning, you know.”  Rick said, as he stretched luxuriously like a cat just waking up from a nap.

“I am not a tyrant!  The problem is you like to stay up too late.  That's why you're always too tired to get up in the morning!” I exclaimed as I reached over to tickle Rick.   This caused Rick to react instantly and put his arms around me, holding me in a vise-like grip.   I love it when he does it, because I knew what going to follow!

Rick said, “You KNOW where this leads don’t you, Mr. Nielsen!   I thought I had taught you how to behave and see what you do.   You revert back to your natural state of making mischief and now you will suffer the consequences!”  Rick grinned and proceeded to show me the proper punishment for violating Rick’s first law: Never Tickle a Tiger!   Rick never failed to bring me back into submission with his passionate kisses and caresses that made me want him all the more.

A moment later, there was a knock on the door, this time it was Rick’s dad.   “Boys are you coming down for breakfast.   I heard you two rough housing up here and thought I’d better come make sure your room was still intact.”

“Just a moment, Dad,” Rick called out, as we both hurriedly pulled on clothes from last night, not wanting to mess up our clean clothes.

Rick opened the door and his Dad peered inside the room.  “What were you two up too?”

“I was practicing tickle torture on your son,” I said with a wicked grin on my face.

Rick’s dad chuckled, “Rick has always been ticklish.   It’s nice to know some things never change!   Good on you, Glenn.  I’m glad Rick has someone to keep him in line.”

“Hey, you are supposed to be on my side, Dad,” Rick said, pretending to be offended.

“No, I know how you can be son and I’m glad Glenn has found a way to help keep you under control,” Jim said.  “Let’s go downstairs and eat before your mother calls for reinforcements to come get you two!”

We all went downstairs to the dining room where a huge breakfast waited for us.   I’d forgotten how hungry having sex makes me, until I saw all that food piled on the platters.   We said grace and we dug in.   It wasn’t long before Rick and I were completely sated.  

“Let’s go up and get a quick shower and get ready to leave for the park where the reunion will be held,” Rick said, pulling me to my feet.  

We raced back up the stairs.   I waited in Rick’s room as he showered.   I noticed a photo album sitting on his desk so picked it up and sat down on Rick’s bed.  As I flipped through the pages, I took a journey through time from when Rick was a baby through his teen years.   Near the back of the album I found a photo of Rick with a very pretty girl hanging on his arm.   The caption under the photo read “Rick and Angie.”   So this was the famous Angie.   She was a gorgeous blond with great big, expressive blue eyes.   I could see why Rick had fallen for her.  

I jumped as Rick put his arm around my waist.  “Rick, don’t scare me like that!”   I leaned against him and breathed in his fresh scent.   I turned my head and Rick gave me a quick kiss.

“I see you found my photo album,” Rick said, pulling me closer to him.

“Yes and I found the photo of you and Angie,” I said, pointing to the photo on the page.

“If you turn the page, you’ll find more photos of me and Angie together,” Rick said sadly.

“You really did love her didn’t you?” I said, empathizing with Rick’s broken heart.

“Yes, I did.   But that’s all in the past.   Now I have the most wonderful lover in the world,” Rick said, smiling at me and tightening his embrace.  

I looked up at him and smiled back.  “No, Rick.   I am the one who has the most wonderful lover in the world in you."  I reached up to lightly brush his cheek with my fingertips.  “I love how you smell when you just get out of the shower.   You are such a sexy man and you are all mine!”

Rick kissed me and released me.  “You need to get your shower.   You smell like sex!”

“And I wonder how that happened, Mr. Lernier!”

Rick gave me one of his “who me” looks and said, “I’m totally innocent in this matter.   Any judge would find in my favor since I was unduly provoked.”

“Oh, please… know you would be found totally responsible for corrupting me and showing me the ways of the world.   I was so sweet and innocent until I met you,” I said, laughing as I managed to skip past Rick as he tried to grab me.

“Sweet maybe but innocent you certainly were NOT!” Rick exclaimed.

“I most certainly was innocent and I have witnesses,” I said as I headed down the hall with my toiletries to the bathroom.

I quickly showered and got dressed.  I returned to Rick’s room to find Rick looking through his photo album.   He looked like he had been crying.   I came over and sat next to him on the bed and put my arm around his shoulders.

“It’s okay Rick.   I’m here for you now.  You need to let the hurt out and finish the grieving process so you can move on with your life,” I said, brushing the teardrops from his cheek.

“I know you're right, Glenn.   I’ve held onto the anger for so long I haven’t really taken the time to just let the hurt I feel come out.”

Rick tears continued to course down his cheeks as he put his head on my shoulder.   I could feel his whole body shudder with the sobs he was trying to suppress.   I stroked his hair and tried to comfort him by holding him.   This is how his mother found us a few minutes later.   She looked at the photo album lying open on Rick’s lap and saw the photos that had caused the release of so much sorrow.   She quietly sat down Rick’s other side and gently took Rick’s hand.

“I’m glad you have finally talked to someone about your feelings for Angie and how she hurt you.  I know how you have kept it all bottled up inside of you and how it has fed the anger you felt towards Angie.   You have been a very angry person for a long time now.  I hope this means you can begin the healing process and move beyond what happened to you.”

Rick wrapped his arms around his mother as his grief for his lost love continued to overwhelm him.   His mother rubbed his back and gently rocked with him in her arms.  

Vickie looked over at me.  “Thank you, Glenn, for being here for Rick.   He’s going to need a lot of love and support now he’s finally begun to let go of the hurt and the anger.”

I nodded my head in acknowledgment.  “Rick knows I'll be here for him.”

A few moments later, Rick’s sobs stopped and he pulled away from his mother.   He wiped his eyes and tried to smile.

“I’m being such a baby about all of this,” Rick said.   “It all happened years ago but I feel as if it happened yesterday.”

“That’s because you’ve never been able to find a release for all the hurt and anger you felt,” Vickie told her son.   “Your Dad is putting everything in the car we need to take to the reunion.   We're going over early to help set up.   You boys can join us now or you can come over in about an hour or so when the rest of the family gets there.”

“Thanks, Mom.   We'll come over a little later.   I need some time to recover before I have to face the rest of the family.”

“I completely understand dear.   Just don’t be late.  Glenn, I’m counting on you to make sure you arrive on time,” she said as she left us in Rick’s room.

I got up and quietly closed the door and locked it.   I took the photo album from Rick and placed it back on his desk and then pushed Rick down on the bed.   I climbed in beside him and just held him close to me.

“I just want to hold you close to me like you held me when I was hurting so bad,” I whispered in his ear.

“I love you, Glenn.   I’m sorry for being so emotional.   You know I’m not usually so out of control,” Rick said.

“Rick, stop torturing yourself!   You are a fine man and being able to express your emotions is healthy.   It has taken you a long time to get to a point where you could let those feelings out.   I glad to be here to love and support you.”

I cradled my man in my arms as he laid his head on my chest.   I felt him sigh and snuggle up closer to me.   Rick seemed like a little kid who wanted and needed comforting.   Rick must have been physically drained by all the emotion because he quickly fell asleep in my arms.  After a while, I glanced at my watch and realized it was nearly time for us to go or we would be late for the family reunion.   I gently shook my sleeping giant until his eyes fluttered open.

He yawned and stretched.  “I must have been really tired.  I don’t normally fall asleep in the middle of the day.”  Rick leaned over and kissed me.  “Thank you for being here for me.”

“You’re welcome.   That’s what family does for family and you're my family now.   We need to be moving out or we'll be late for your family reunion.”

Rick looked at his watch and gasped, “I must have slept for nearly two hours!   Why didn’t you wake me up sooner?”

“Because, Babe, you needed the sleep.   Actually, I was enjoying the time with you asleep in my arms.   I didn’t want it to end,” I said, smiling at him before I gently kissed his lips.

Rick jumped off his bed and reached over to give me a hand up.   “Let’s go.  Remember to bring a hat.  The sun gets pretty intense in the afternoon around here.”

We both grabbed our baseball caps and headed downstairs and out the door to Rick’s Jeep.   He drove us to the park where the reunion was to be held.   As we pulled into the parking lot, Rick’s Dad waved to us from the pavilion where most of the family was congregating.  

Rick turned off the engine and gave me an encouraging smile.  “Just relax and enjoy the day, Babe, okay.”

“I’m not the one who is having a difficult time remember?   I’ll be fine.   Just don’t stray too far from me, so you can come rescue me if necessary.   Let’s set up a signal for help if we need it.   How about we pull on our left ear if we need to be rescued from a terribly boring conversation?” I asked.

“That sounds good.   And let’s say pulling our right ear means, “I love you and I need you right now!” Rick said as he reached over and caressed my leg, grinning like a Cheshire Cat.

“I’ll agree to that as long as you come to my rescue with a passionate kiss!” I took his hand in mine and raised it to my lips.  “I love you.   Don’t you ever forget it!”

“Ditto!   Let’s go meet the family,” Rick said, jumping out of the Jeep and heading around to my side of the car.   I climbed out just as he came up to the door.   Rick grabbed my butt and gave it good squeeze.

“You are rather frisky aren’t you?   You'll have to save up all that energy for tonight!” I said, laughing as I pulled away from Rick’s groping hand.

We walked over to the pavilion where Rick introduced me to his grandparents, “Glenn, this is Grandma and Bill.   Grandpa doesn’t like being called “Grandpa” so we call him Bill.   Grandma and Bill this is Glenn Nielsen my new roommate at college.”

Grandma shook my hand.  “Glad to meet you Glenn.   Welcome to our family reunion.   I hope you have a great time.”

Rick’s Grandma looked a lot like his mother – tall and slender with just a tinge of gray beginning to frame her face.   Bill was tall and slender also to match his wife, only his hair had gone completely white.

“Thank you.   Rick has told me about the great BBQ you have at these reunions.   I’m really looking forward to trying it.”

Bill smiled and took my hand.  “Good to meet you Glenn.   Come on over and take a look at the pig were cooking.”

Bill led me over to the smoker where the whole pig was being slow roasted.   He opened the lid to let me take a peek.

“Doesn’t that smell good?” Bill asked enthusiastically.

“It sure does, Bill.   I can hardly wait to taste it when it’s all ready to eat.” I responded

Rick spoke up then, “I warned Glenn to come prepared to have the best BBQ in North Carolina, Bill.”

Rick’s praise for Bill’s BBQ was met with a great big smile, “Well, it might not be the best in all of North Carolina, but it’s pretty close!   You two had best go join the other young people playing games and such.   I'll go back and keep your Grandma company.”

With that, Bill returned to his seat next to Rick’s Grandma.   Rick pulled me over to introduce me to his Uncles who were gathered around the fire drinking beer.   They all greeted Rick warmly.

Rick introduced me to the group.  “Glenn Nielsen, these are my uncles.   This is Uncle Sid, Uncle Barry, Uncle Alma, and Uncle George.”   He pointed to each one as he spoke their names.

“Glad to meet you all,’ I said, acknowledging their greetings.

“Glenn is my new roommate for the coming school year,” Rick informed them.

“Where do hail from, Glenn?” Barry asked, in a heavy Southern drawl.   Barry was a short, fat bald man.   He couldn’t be more than five feet tall and about as wide.   He had a fat, round face, a happy grin, and a protruding round belly, reminding me of the Buddha you see in most Chinese restaurants.

“I'm from Saskatchewan and have decided to attend school at Georgia Tech,” I said.   “My parents own a wheat farm close to the U.S. border.”

“So why did you decide to come to school in the States?” Alma asked.   He is a tall, thin man with dark brown hair, graying a little here and there.   His voice was rather high pitched and nasally sounding like he had a slightly stuffy nose.

“My grandparents are Americans and live in Georgia.   My parents let me come spend the summer with them before school starts,” I explained.

Rick spoke up then, “Glenn is Keith Turner's cousin.  I think you'll remember Keith.”

Sid nodded his head in recognition.  “I thought you looked familiar.   I’ve met your cousin, Keith, on a number of occasions.   You look very much like him.”   Sid is a big bear of a man.   He looked like a linebacker for the local football team.   He had a deep voice and a fringe of white hair around his big head.  

None of these guys looked anything like Rick.   I thought to myself they must have married into the family.   I would have to remember ask Rick about it later.   The only one who hadn’t spoken to me, yet, was George.   Now this one had to be Vickie’s brother.   George looked like he was Vickie’s twin.   He held my gaze and didn’t say anything for a moment.

When he finally spoke, I was surprised his voice sounded almost like his sister’s except it was a little lower pitched.   “I hope you don’t mind satisfying our curiosity.   We don’t meet very many Canadians around here.   My brother-in-law, Jim, is the one that’s got the traveling shoes.   He couldn’t wait to get away from here and took my sister with him.   Unfortunately, things didn’t work out for him and they had to move back home.   It’s amazing how the high and mighty have fallen, isn’t it Rick?”   This last was directed at Rick with just a hint of sarcasm in his voice.

Rick just shrugged his shoulders and didn’t respond to his Uncle.

George continued, “So… do you like our hot weather?   I’m sure you’ve never felt so much heat and humidity before.”

“You’re right about the heat and humidity.   It does take a bit of getting used to, but it’s not too bad today,” I responded.

“You’re right about that.   The humidity is down and the temperature hasn’t climbed above 80, yet.” George said.   “Rick, have you introduced your friend to your cousins, yet?”

“No, Uncle George, we just got here.   Glenn has met Grandma and Bill and now you all,” Rick responded.

“You best take him down to the swimming pool and introduce him to the cousins,” George said, nodding his head towards the swimming pool.  "The women folk will be arriving soon with the rest of the food."

Rick led me back towards the Jeep where we had left our swim suits and towels.   “Your uncle seems pretty hostile towards your parents.   Why is that?”

“Uncle George has always said that my Dad thought he was better than everyone else in the family.   When we lived in Maryland, he used call and give my Mom a hard time, telling her she needed to stop chasing money and return to her roots.   He has always thought we should have stayed here and lived a properly righteous life, which includes being poor and continuing the chain of poverty that has plagued our family for generations.   Uncle George wants us all to remain close to the land and be tobacco farmers, just like our ancestors were since they came to this country.”

“Wow!   I had no idea that people were so backward in their thinking as to wish ill of folks trying to improve their circumstances in life,” I exclaimed in total amazement. 

“Well, you will find that there are many people around here who think the same way as Uncle George.   They cling to traditions like a life preserver.   The problem is they want to drag down everyone else with them,” Rick said.

"So, Barry, Alma and Sid don't look like your mom's family.  Did they marry your mom's sisters?"  I asked.

"Yes, they did.  Barry married Aunt Florence, Alma married Aunt Javis, and Sid married Aunt Ivy," Rick answered.  "Uncle George is married to Aunt Emma."
We entered the changing area and quickly changed into our swim suits and put our stuff in the lockers that were provided.  I couldn’t help but admire Rick’s beautiful body as he changed into his swim suit.   We had both chosen to wear our Speedos under our regular swim suits.   As soon as we were both dressed, Rick leaned down and gave me a quick kiss on the lips, before helping me up from the bench.   We joined the group of young people our age who were already in the pool.

Rick introduced me to them, “Glenn these are my cousins, Judy, Patty, Kim, Dale, David, Christian, Jill, Tina, April, Shannon and Joshua.”

They all chorused, “Glad to meet you!”

Soon I was surrounded by the girls, who kept peppering me with questions as the guys drifted off to the other end of the pool.   I looked around to find Rick, and was happy to see he hadn’t abandoned me.  

“Do you have a girlfriend?” Jill asked.

“Jill, you shouldn’t be asking such questions.   He might think you are being forward.” Kim chastised her younger sister.   “Never mind my sister.   She’s in heat and wants to have a boyfriend really bad,” Kim said, laughing at her sister’s rather loud denial.

“I am not in heat and I don’t need a boyfriend,” Jill exclaimed, angrily.

Judy asked, “How did you meet Rick?”

“His roommate, Keith, is my cousin.” I responded

“Isn’t Keith getting married soon?” Patty asked.

“He’s getting married next week in fact,” I said.

Rick chimed in, “And Glenn is taking Keith’s place as my new roommate.”

“That’s great news.   That means Rick will have to bring you to visit us when he comes home on break!” Jill said, enthusiastically.

Rick rolled his eyes, before answering, “Yes, Jill, that means I will bring Glenn home with me for breaks.”

All of the girls laughed at Rick’s expression.   At that moment, Dale joined the group, “Okay girls!  You’ve had your chance to meet the new guy.   Glenn, I’ve come to rescue you from my cousins.   They are like sharks circling a fresh piece of meat, when they get this way.”

Rick and Dale both laughed but the girls looked daggers at their cousins.   Kim finally said, “Well, you guys are no better when a cute girl shows up!”

“I never said we were any different!   I’m just rescuing the poor fellow, while there’s still a chance for Glenn to escape your evil designs!” Dale said, diving into the pool splashing everyone in the process.

Both Rick and I dived in after Dale, leaving the girls standing on the pool deck.   When we surfaced, Dale nodded to the other side of the pool where the rest of the guys were organizing themselves into teams.  “Do you want to join us for a game of water polo?” Dale asked.

Rick responded for both of us, “Sure, we’ll join you.   It’s better than leaving Glenn to them!”   He nodded towards the girls.

Dale laughed at that, and we all went and joined the group of guys.   I ended up on Dale’s team while Rick joined David’s team.

All of us played hard and enjoyed the competition.   Dale, Josh and I managed to win out over David, Christian and Rick.   I particularly enjoyed the eye candy!   Let’s see…..the best looking one, besides my Rick, has to be David.   He’s the oldest of us at 25.   He looks like he was the model for Michelangelo’s statue named David.   The unruly curly blond hair and clearly defined muscles from his days as a wrestler really set him apart from his cousins. 

Not that the others aren’t great looking guys, because they are.   I learned that the other three attended the same high school, and were on the swim team together.   That explained their healthy good looks.   Dale looks the most like Rick both in height and build.   Where Rick has light brown hair, Dale has jet black hair and the darkest brown eyes I have ever seen.

I loved being around them.   We chatted about girls, school and cars, etc., as we sat on the pool’s edge resting after our game.  

Rick leaned over and whispered in my ear, “You’d better stop drooling all over my cousins, before they start getting any ideas.”

I looked guiltily up at Rick.   I knew I’d been caught!   I know if Rick noticed, his cousins may have noticed, as well.   Rick patted me on the back and said, “It’s okay.”

I just can’t help myself when I’m around such good looking guys!   I guess I'll have to learn some self control…..NOT!!   As long as I’ve got eyes in my head, I won’t be able to stop looking.    When I stop looking, I’ll be dead!

We played around in the pool for a couple of more hours.   By the time we were ready to get out of the pool, we were all fast friends.   The girls even stopped acting weird around me and started treating me like their boy cousins.   I have to admit I was pretty uncomfortable with the way they surrounded me when we first arrived!

We rejoined the adults at the pavilion where Rick’s mom and her sisters were getting the tables ready for the picnic.   They had arranged a couple of long tables along one side which were full of every kind of salad, fruit and vegetables trays, cheese and crackers, etc., you could imagine.   There seemed to be enough food to feed a small army!

Bill was tending the smoker putting the finishing touches on the roast pig.  I sat down next to Rick’s Grandma while Rick helped his Mom and his aunts get stuff out of the car.

“You're in love with my grandson, aren’t you Glenn?” she asked, looking me in the eyes.

I was totally surprised by her question.   I didn’t know how to respond.   My mind was reeling!   How did she know?   I know I hadn’t slipped; or, at least, I’m pretty sure I hadn’t done or said anything that would out us to anyone.

Seeing the look of panic on my face, she said, “You don’t have to worry, Glenn.   You haven’t done anything wrong.   I just have this uncanny sense you two are more than just friends.   You need to be careful and protect each other.   I am happy Rick has found someone who cares for him and wants the best for him.   The reason I'm talking to you is some of our family members won’t take too kindly to you being with Rick in that way, and are willing to do whatever it takes to put a stop to what they view as something wrong.   I don’t want to see you or Rick get hurt; so, please be very careful who you tell and especially be careful of your actions around the family.”

My mind was still trying to grasp the fact Rick’s Grandma was okay with us being together to absorb everything she said.   I just nodded my head in acknowledgement, hoping to give myself time to think through what I had just heard.

She took my hand to get my attention. “You had better go rescue Rick from a very bad situation.”   She nodded toward where Rick was standing.   “Those are George’s three boys and they have adopted the same attitudes that George has and the oldest one is dating Rick’s ex-girlfriend.   Peyton knew Rick was going to be here today and intentionally brought Angie to the reunion to get to Rick.   The other two, Elijah and Samuel, are just as mean and vicious as their older brother.   Don’t ever let any of them know that you are in love with Rick.   It will only lead to trouble. “

I got up and made my way over to where Rick was talking with his cousins.   As I approached, I overheard Angie’s remark, “Well, well, well.   If it isn’t Ricky boy!   Who would have thought you’d be here!”   She turned to Peyton and said, in a really sappy tone of voice, “Peyton, dear, you didn’t tell me you were Ricky’s cousin.”

Peyton had an evil grin on his face, as he said, “Oh, did I forget to tell you.   Now, I remember, Ricky once thought he was good enough to be your boyfriend.   Well, Ricky, Angie finally found someone worthy of her.”

As I came up next to Rick, Angie said, “Oh, what a surprise to see you here, Keith.   Have you come to protect Ricky boy from getting beat up, again.   Is your brother, Roger, here as well?”

“I’m not Keith.   And my cousins, Keith and Roger, aren’t here at the moment.   My name is Glenn Nielsen.   I’m Rick’s new roommate at college.   Am I to assume that you are Angie and that these are George’s sons, Peyton, Elijah and Samuel? “

Peyton responded for all of them, “That would be correct.   I apologize for Angie’s rude behavior.   I hope she didn’t offend you?” 

Peyton’s phony apology almost made me puke, but I managed to remain civil, as I replied, “Thank you for your concern, Peyton.   Angie didn’t offend me.   I am sure she momentarily forgot her manners in all the excitement of coming to your family reunion.”   I looked innocently back at Angie, as she shot daggers at me with her eyes.   I had made an enemy and I knew if she could cause trouble for me she would.  

“Rick, your Grandma wants us to help her,” I said, turning away from the hostility plainly visible on all their faces and returning to the pavilion with Rick following me.

“Thanks, Glenn.   I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t been there to rescue me.   I was so angry at seeing her, and Peyton’s disparaging remarks had me ready to knock his block off!”

“Don’t thank me.   Thank your Grandma.   She saw what was happening and sent me to your aid,” I said, nodding towards Rick’s Grandma. 

We saw Peyton and Angie head back to Peyton’s car and watched them as they pulled out of the parking lot.   Elijah and Samuel stayed close to their father and didn’t make any attempts to join the rest of the cousins who had included us in their group.  Every once in a while, I would look over to see what they were up to and find them angrily staring over at us.   It wasn’t long before Uncle George pointed over to us, indicating that they should join us.

I nudged Rick and whispered, “Don’t look now but it looks like your Uncle George is not to happy with your cousins.”

Rick looked over to where Uncle George was talking to his boys.  “I’ll be surprised if they do come over, though.   Uncle George and his family have always been a little aloof when it comes to family events.”

Dale added his agreement, “That’s right, Rick.   We hardly ever see them at family events.   They won’t even talk to us at school, which isn’t a bad thing.   Those guys are always causing trouble.   They were bullies in grade school and have gotten worse the older they get.   None of our friends want anything to do with them.”

Kim said, “But Dale, they are still family, even if they aren’t the best people in the world.”

“Yes, cousin, but that doesn’t mean we have to like them.   You can bet that they wouldn’t hesitate to take you down, if there was something in it for them.   They have no loyalty to their extended family.   They look out for each other in their nefarious deeds and nothing more.”

Jill, “They aren’t as bad as you make them out to be, Dale.   They are just rebelling against their overly controlling parents.   You know how super religious our Aunt and Uncle are.   They can’t help it that both their Mom and Dad are so self-righteous and sanctimonious you can’t stand to be in the same room with them for more than a few minutes at a time.”

Kim scolded Jill, “Jill, how can you talk about your elders like that?”

Jill’s unrepentant look spoke volumes as she replied, “It’s the truth and I’m not afraid to say it.   Don’t say it Kim!   I know what you’re thinking – If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.   Well, I think it’s time we stopped pretending everything is okay and hoping things will correct themselves.”

David joined the conversation at this point, “None of us is going to change Uncle George and Aunt Emma.   They may be “Holier than Thou” kind of people but that doesn’t make them evil.   They are just a little misguided.   I would recommend that we keep inviting Elijah and Samuel to join our activities in hopes that at some point they will decide to turn away from the following the same path Peyton has chosen.”

“That’s easy for you to say, David,” Jill said, heatedly, “You don’t have to go to school with them every day.   They and their friends are behind most of the mischief that happens at the school.   It’s embarrassing to have to admit to my friends that I’m related to them, sometimes.”

“Just the same, we can’t deny that they are our blood relatives,” David persisted in saying.   “We still need to keep reaching out to them.”

Christian said, “Josh and I have tried to include them in our group of friends but they always laugh and tell us to get lost.”

“They are heading over here now,” Rick said.   “Let’s see if we can get them to at least talk to us.”

David was the first to speak to them as they came up to us, “Elijah and Samuel, I’m glad to see you two.   Come sit down by me.”

Elijah and Samuel looked like scared rabbits as we all stared at them.   Kim was the next to offer an olive branch.  "Guys, you are welcome to join us.   We haven’t talked to you for some time.   What have you two been doing this summer?”

Both boys seemed surprised that we would even be interested in them or their activities.   Elijah spoke up first, “We’ve been pretty bored all summer.   Mom and Dad haven’t been able to get away for a vacation this summer, and this is the first time we’ve been away from the farm all summer.   Dad seems to think that idle hands are the devil’s tools; and has us busy from sun up until sun down every day.  He keeps lecturing us about church stuff, and how we will go to hell if we aren’t careful.”

Samuel added, “Yeah, Dad has been really insistent about us going to church every Sunday and to Bible study during the week.    It’s really getting bad at home with all this being shoved down our throats.   We aren’t little children anymore and Dad doesn’t seem to get it, yet.  He has been working us pretty hard, since Peyton moved in with Angie over at the trailer park.  Dad keeps railing on Peyton for living in sin by not marrying Angie, so Peyton and Angie don’t come around much.   Then he takes out his frustrations on us.”

Dale asked, “Doesn’t your Mom try to calm your Dad down a bit?”

“No, she is even worse than Dad is,” Elijah said, rolling his eyes.

“We’re sorry you are dealing with that at home.   Do you think your Dad would let you come over to our place to play video games or watch movies?” Christian asked, looking over at Elijah.

“He might if you asked him.   I know he wouldn’t give us permission if we were the ones doing the asking.   He doesn’t trust us,” Elijah said, with a sad look in his eyes.

Samuel looked around the group of cousins before he spoke earnestly to them, “We owe each one of you an apology for the way we have treated you at school.   We have no right to expect you to be nice to us after all the mean things we have done to you.”

Elijah added, “Yes, we're sorry for the way we have behaved last year.   Can you forgive us?”

David smiled and looked expectantly at his cousins.   After a moment of silence during which each them looked at each other expecting the other to be the first one to speak, Jill spoke up, “I’m willing to give you a chance to start over.”

The rest of the cousins nodded their agreement with Jill’s statement.   I looked at the two boys to see their reaction.   David wrapped his arms around Elijah who was now quietly crying.  

Kim went over to Samuel and gave him a hug.  “Welcome back to the family, Samuel.”

Samuel had the biggest grin on his face.  “I told Elijah everything would be okay.   Hey Josh, do you still have that bocce ball game?”

“Yeah, we still have it.   Would you like to come over tomorrow and we can play it?” Joshua asked, smiling at his cousin.

“Sure, but like Elijah said, you will have to ask my Dad, since he won’t listen to us anymore.   It’s been really hard on both of us since both Mom and Dad have been on the war path about our “evil” ways.  Of course, they are right to be concerned and I’m glad Dad has tried to help us see the error of our ways, but it’s been a difficult summer for us,” Samuel said.

At that moment, Bill called us over to eat.   Rick was right!  The BBQ was excellent!   We spent the rest of the afternoon talking with the adults and getting to know them.   It wasn’t long before we started to clean up and take things back to the cars for transport back home.   Bill divided up the BBQ among the various families so we had more BBQ for supper later that night.

Rick and I were so tired when we finally retired for evening that we both fell asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillows.

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