Deleted Chapters.

Here, I’m going to do the ‘odd’ and post deleted chapters.  Get ready to know my characters inside and out.

Below, is the alternate ending to Little Sparrow.  It ties up some threads that you didn’t realise were in the book.  My beta readers felt that these chapters are a prologue to RedDress, so I cut them.  There is tidbits sprinkled here and there and delve into Christy’s and Karen’s relationship further.  It is a little more than a rough draft, but not polished yet, so keep that in mind while reading.

We will start at Chapter 32.

Karen made her way into the new master bedroom. Richard’s clothes hung in the closet. Just a few things. Doc Tate brought in her suitcase and placed it down.
He played with the handle for a moment. “He’s a good man.”
“I know.”
“You never said you’d marry him. It’s not legal, you know. But Richard is buying this house.”
She ran her fingers over the carved wooden cabinet. “For me?”
“No, and yes. He decided he wanted to stay in Kansas and build a new handyman company. But, he fell in love with the land. And you.”
Loud voices erupted from the family room and melted in with the lulus and shouts from outside.
Tate stared at her. “Are you going to leave him?”
She smiled and opened her suitcase. “I’m home now. I dare you to make me leave.”
Shouts came from the family room.
“What’s going on?”
Doc Tate smirked. “Painted Girl did something in New York to make RedHorse jealous. I think it backfired.”
Oh, this is going to be good.
Karen walked back to the family room. She caught a glimpse of John as he ran out the door.
“Wait! You haven’t declared yourself,” Grandfather yelled. “I should challenge you to a duel.”
Everyone stood there wide-eyed and stunned, looking from the front door to Grandfather. Suddenly they all burst out laughing. Grandfather slapped Mike on the back hard.
“Did you see his face?” Grandfather made a comical face.
“Grandfather you’re horrible,” Sally said. “How could you?”
“He has a lot to learn,” Grandfather remarked easily as he sat back down. “But it will be fun to teach him.”
“But a duel?” Sally asked. “Where did that come from?”
“I didn’t think,” Grandfather replied slowly, “that asking him to come before the tribal council would instill enough fear. I might rethink that, though.”
“You know Grandfather your accent comes and goes,” Richard said.
“Oh, I speak just fine,” Grandfather answered. “It is how you expect me to speak. All white men expect Indians to speak as they do in the movies. So I do. Makes for some good private jokes.” Grandfather laughed. “You should go shopping with me in a big city. It is fun.”
“Are you mad about Painted Girl and John?” Richard whispered.
“Painted Girl must find her own way in this,” Grandfather said. “We will help her, though. She seems lost. I do not know if John will honor our ways. He may make a good husband once John realizes that he wants to settle down.”
“I don’t know about that Grandfather,” Richard said. “He has a lot of… friends, too many to settle down.”
“Did you notice that when I called him out he left by the back door after Painted Girl? Not through the front door to leave and never see her again,” Grandfather informed him. “All men want to get married when they meet the right woman. They just need a push. Like you two.” With that Grandfather went off whistling, but he paused and called back over his shoulder, “Sally do you think you can call some people and get them together for a, and I quote, a tribal meeting?”
Karen laughed and Richard chuckled.
“You know,” Richard said. “I think they had this all planned for us.”
“They probably did,” Karen said. “Grandfather has always wanted me to know my heritage. He also has a wicked sense of humor. He wants to approve of everyone’s marriage. He doesn’t think that divorce is an option.” Changing voices she mimicked Grandfather, “Once you are married you are married. There is no room for another.” She turned and smiled, then faltered for a second, “Oh Mike, I didn’t mean anything by it, I mean, you’re a welcome member of our family.”
“Thank you, Karen. It means a lot to me,” Mike thumped Richard on the back. “Old Running Naked through the Snow Carrying Small Dog and I feel welcomed here don’t we?”
“Running naked through the snow carrying a small dog?” Karen asked confused.
“Oh, your Grandfather has been trying to figure out a name for Richard.” Mike laughed. “That’s the most excitement we’ve had around here in years. I hear Christy got an eye full. Richard and Doc Tate almost came to blows over it.”
“There was no such thing,” Richard interrupted. “I wasn’t naked and it was Lucky not a puppy.”
“He had on, what was it you said?” Grandfather said, walking back into the room with a plate filled with pie. “Almost clean boxers. Maybe I should name you Dirty Pants? Barren Boxers? White Bottom? Cold feet? I will think on this.”
“I already have a name it is Pahana.” Pausing, Richard looked at the Ledger Paintings on the wall. Karen joined him, hoping for the story. He put his arm around her. “He can’t give me another name can he?”
“Sure, how do you think Doc Tate got his name?” Sally said grinning.
“Tate’s your name, isn’t it?” Richard asked.
Doc Tate shook his head.
“Tate means ‘He Talks Too Much’,” Sally said. “Grandfather gave it to him when he was in vet school and tried to get Grandfather to take some medicine.”
Sally grinned and took a piece of pie from Grandfather. Grandfather looked down at the plate frowning.
“I need some fresh air,” Grandfather mumbled. He left, taking the plate of pies with him.
“But everyone, even the feed store knew him as Doc Tate,” Richard said.
“Yes and if you’re lucky you won’t be known as what was it? Man who Runs in Snow Naked Carrying a Puppy,” Mike said. “But I doubt it; it sounds as if the story has already made its rounds through friends.”
He pumped Richard on the back then left, following in Grandfather’s wake. Richard explained the ledger art with Sally and Doc Tate adding in details. Karen’s pride in her new husband grew. She hugged him. He’d saved her…She-pard.
She’d really had to have a chat with her mom and Grandfather.
How naive did they think she was?
Chapter 33

Sally motioned everyone into the sunroom with a finger over her lips for quiet. It was not often that Grandfather talked about his childhood to others but he was opening up to Mike. She was always concerned when he told people about it. He liked to gloss it over and pretend that it didn’t hurt. She knew that deep down- Grandfather held a lot of pain. It was the reason he collected grandchildren she believed. He befriended everyone in the community and made them part of his family. He could tell which children needed the most help and concentrated on them but never ignored the others.
“I was born in a tipi on a stormy night my mother…,” Grandfather began.
“Um…,” muttered Sally.
“I was born,” Grandfather said, eyeing at her. “On an Indian Reservation on a stormy night. I learned to fight the old ways and…”
“Um…,” Sally interrupted again. She raised her eyebrows at Grandfather, daring him to continue.
Grandfather sighed. He didn’t know the truth of his birth and Sally felt his pain.
“I do not know where or when I was born. But I know that it was a stormy night,” Grandfather glared at her. “My first memory is of a boarding school that is what they called it. I have no idea how I came to be there. Young, hair-shaved and frightened. Indians only cut their hair when they are mourning. I do not know if my hair was cut before I came to the school or if the Headmaster did it. That is my first memory, staring into a mirror and the horror of death as it choked me. But, who’s death? I didn’t know. I spent my whole life wondering.”
He inhaled, placed the pie on the stool and ignored them. Grandfather never ignored pie. Sally crossed behind him and laid a hand on his shoulder.
“Back when I was young, white men took Indian children and put them in boarding schools… to ‘assimilate’ them into white culture. We were not allowed to speak our native tongue, play our games or to see our families. We were taught religion, reading, writing, how to be farmers, laborers, blacksmiths and carpenters. The girls who were usually separate from us were taught how to cook the white man’s food, how to keep house, how to care for children- the white people way. Kill the Indian save the man. I heard that so many times,” Grandfather said, shaking his head sadly. “That was our school’s headmaster’s motto.” Grandfather paused, pulling in a long breath.
His hands shook as he took his pipe and lit it. “I never knew who my parents were; I don’t even know my birth name or what tribe I came from. It was harsh there to say the least. Learn by the stick. Speak an Indian name you get a beating. Pray the Indian way and get a real beating that would last for days. Speak of your parents- get a beating. It was a harsh life.” Grandfather paused, shaking his head.
“Every summer we were given out to families as a way to train us. I hated that time. Couples would come in and look us over like we were sheep. They would feel our arms for strength and look at our teeth for health. It was degrading, but we were to adhere no matter our age. At eight or nine, I spent my first year on a farm. I remember standing in line getting inspected by a white couple. I wanted to leave that place more than anything. I lied when he asked me if I knew about horses. I had dealt with cows at the boarding school, but we didn’t have horses. I figured that they couldn’t be much worse than cows. So they took me to their home and put me in the barn. I was expected to care for the horses, but they scared me. An Indian scared of horses!” Grandfather laughed at the irony of that statement.
Sally heard the undertone, the bitterness, and forgiveness. “The family that had me worked me from before sunrise until after it set. I was to work as a man, even though I was only a small child. I was scared and lonely. I had to sleep in the barn with the animals. I did not know what I was doing. Luckily, they had taken an older Indian girl home too to do the cooking and cleaning. She was named Sarah. I grew to depend on her. She would get in trouble when she helped me and get whipped for it. I was whipped for not taking proper care of the horses. We were returned in disgrace. The old man complained to the headmaster who did not take it well. He put me outside, tied me to a pole and whipped me each time he came out. I knew that I should not show weakness, but I cried. I did not understand why I was there. I was only a child,”
Grandfather shook his head again. He sniffled. Sally withheld her own tears. “Each year I grew and learned more of the white man’s ways. I was a poor student, though. When new children came to us some spoke Indian, some knew the Indian ways and they had it the hardest. I had no memory of being an Indian. I fought with the other boys. When they would ask me for my name, I would give them the name that the white man had given me. I did not know my Indian name. I didn’t know how to fight either. I was lost. I got whipped for fighting and they got whipped for being an Indian. I was about thirteen when I finally left the school. I vowed to run away, but I had nowhere to run to. It is hard when you do not know who you are. Then one-day Sarah’s mother found her. It was rare that family members picked up their children so she was lucky. As she was leaving, she saw me, turned to her mother, and said, “Aren’t we going to take my brother home too?”
Grandfather let a tear roll down his cheek before brushing it away.
“That was when I got a mother and a sister. I asked her one time to help me find my family. She was offended. She was my mother and I should not have asked. I did not know this. A wonderful woman, she taught me some of the Kiowa ways. But by that time I had a lot of the white man’s ways whipped into me. It was not an easy transition. My mother and her brother found a way to bring together the white and the Indian in me. I became whole and a member of the Kiowa Tribe.”
“So you never knew who you were, where you came from or why you were there?” Mike asked gently.
“No being Indian…” Grandfather paused. John came in looking flustered and continued, “Being Indian is a proud way growing up on the reservation. I killed my first white man when I was thirteen summer’s old- for taking my sister’s virginity and not marrying her.” Sally watched as John started backing out of the room. It must have looked surreal to him with everyone dressed in their Indian clothing sitting in a room on the floor passing a pipe around. “It is our way, dueling at dawn with tomahawks. My tomahawk has great magic. It is sad that I have no reason to make war on a white man. All my granddaughters have their virginity, don’t they? Or getting married? I will sing to you my war song and we will prepare for a war party. We must find a deserving white man to…,”
John backed into the table full of meat, getting grease all over the back of his pants. He stumbled from the room and out the front door. He looked scared.
Grandfather broke out laughing.
“Grandfather,” Karen admonished him. “You’re horrible! How could you?”
“How could someone be so naive,” Grandfather answered. “He thinks this is the white man’s version of the Wild West. I can have a lot of fun with John.” Grinning, Sally could see him formulating a plan in his head. Grandfather had that gleam in his eye.
Richard’s phone rang. “Shh, it’s John, Hello? Well I don’t know. It’s my wedding night. Yes, Grandfather married us tonight. Yes, I had to; did you hear him talk about his tomahawk?” Richard winked at Karen, “It’s big. No, why would I kid you about that? Sure, you can stay here. Little Sparrow and I will be staying in the tipi tonight. You can have the room next to Grandfather’s. Of course, he is- he’s family. No, there is nothing in the water…. Painted Girl’s house? Oh, you mean Grandfather’s Tipi, ya, it’s near here, but I’d have to show you the way. No, I’m not kidding. Of course, they’re Indians. No, not tomorrow, like I said, it’s my wedding night. Make it the day after tomorrow. Get a hotel room at…”
“Little Wolfs’ on the highway,” whispered Grandfather laughing.
“Little Wolfs’ on the highway. No, it’s not a tipi motel,” Richard looked at Grandfather for conformation. He had a silly look on his face as he mouthed, ‘Is it?’ “I’ll talk to you tomorrow. OK?” Richard hung up smiling. “I really shouldn’t have done that. He’s always been my best friend.”
“Quick Grandfather,” Sally said. “Call Little Wolfs’ and have Ashkey lay it on thick. Oh, and mention a possible duel in a few days.”
“Oh my God, you are all going crazy,” Sally laughed. “This is going to be much more fun than Karen’s engagement. Which reminds me, Karen, do you want a church wedding or a Justice of the Peace?”
Karen looked at her Grandfather.
“Would you mind Grandfather,” Karen asked. “We have to be married legally.”
“You are already married the Kiowa Way,” Grandfather told her. “But if you must have a piece of paper I understand this… and a white dress,” Grandfather added.
“I want a small wedding here,” Karen answered. “With just friends and family.”
“You call that small,” Richard said. “You know everyone for miles. Almost everyone in town was here tonight. The house was packed.”
“We’ll have it outside in the spring in the vineyard,” Karen said quietly.
“Perfect,” Was all Richard said.
Grandfather gave Richard a look. “You’d better be good to my granddaughter,” Grandfather warned. “Or I will take her away. Divorce is simple the Kiowa Way.” Grandfather told him, forgetting his long lessons to his granddaughters about marriage being forever.
With that, Grandfather left grinning broadly to go outside and enjoy the festivities.
Chapter 34

Richard grabbed Karen’s hand and led the way outside. Everyone clapped and yelled wishing them well. The food covered the table. RedHorse prepared the deer expertly and it went well with all the other dishes or it seemed to. Karen hadn’t been able to snag a bite as everyone hugged her and wished her well. All of her friends and family were near. Everyone she loved.
She watched Doc Tate’s wife. Christy dressed in a red Hopi dress that flattered her pale skin. Blond hair laid in one long braid over her shoulder away from the baby. You would think that a blonde-haired woman would stand out among the Native American’s at the wedding but she did not. She belonged here just like everyone else. But something bothered Karen. A niggling that she was missing something. Christy looked sad, not as happy as everyone else. The baby in her arms giggled and laughed at everyone.
Karen needed to talk to her and ask about the photos on her wall. She didn’t remember Christy being there. It was if a blanket marred her memories.
Grandfather came over to Christy and spoke quietly. She left with him and went toward the barn.
Kay grabbed her and asked her to dance a gourd dance around the fire. Happy to oblige she clasped Richard hand in hers and ran to the center of the yard. The fire hissed and fell. The drums loud, calling to her blood. Her feet moved, then her arms. Her shawl fluttered around her as she twirled. She stomped the ground, walked forward and flapped the shawl around Richard then jumped back as his arms went for her waist. Thump, thump, walk, tease. She danced around him; the women egged her on with lulus. She twirled; the sky flew by but always returned to Richard. She laughed as she stopped and launched herself into his arms. He spun her in a circle, laughter echoed through the night. A twinkling sound, special, light happy. She latched onto his neck as her legs flew into the air. He stopped at her plea and slid her down him with slow careful inches. His eyes locked on her. Bright, smiling, happy.
She gazed over to the tipi and wiggled her eyebrows at him. His slow smile told her that he couldn’t wait either.
Married! How long until everyone leaves?
“I have to go talk to John and see what he’s doing here.”
Karen paused. It would be hours before the guests left. Hours before the fun could begin. He brushed his palm over her cheek. She kissed it. “You go. I want to chat with Sarah, er, Painted Girl too.” She needed to quit thinking of her as Sarah. It was confusing at times having two Sarah’s around. They constantly got mixed up. She’d wanted to call them Sarah one and Sarah two but that didn’t work. They didn’t like it. Something about being number one irked her friend. Number two wasn’t any happier.
“Someone told me he was milling about the barn.”
Karen kissed him. “Don’t make me come looking for you.”
He snuggled into her neck; goosebumps tickled her toes. “Oh, my wife gives orders now does she?”
She smiled and gripped his arm. “I won’t change.”
“I don’t want you to.”

Karen hesitated at the barn door. Shadows edged up the old red building. Long fingers stretched for her, imprisoning her. Her feet backed up of their own accord. Only shadows from the trees. But, death huddled in the barn it had taken her father. Eaten him, sucked out his soul and left him for dead. Grandfather insisted that her father lived within its walls, his soul forever young.
Memories of his death haunted her and kept her out of the barn.
She didn’t want to enter. But the guests were leaving and the tipi called. She wanted her wedding night. Damn it. Where was he?
Rustles on the snow. Snap! A twig cracked. She stifled a scream as a lone dark figure ran around the side of the barn towards her, fingers outstretched. Holy Mamma! Karen ducked behind a crate. Stupid, stupid, stupid! Death can find you anywhere. Face him!
She jumped up ready for a fight. John ran by her with a growl. She leaned against the cold bristled wood. Not death but silly old John. Ha! Painted Girl must be having fun. She’d eat him up and spit him out.
Death of another sort. She watched him run away like a silly little mouse afraid from a little old Painted Girl.
She wouldn’t have chosen him for her friend, though. He’d be great for Sarah. They’d be hilarious together.
She was procrastinating. The large crate bumped against the building, she hopped on it and peeked inside. Not tall enough even on her tippy-toes. Nothing to see but the overhead lights. Being short sucked when you had high windows.
The barn door squeaked open. She inhaled waiting for her nerves to settle.
Christy came out and pulled her shawl around her.
Shit. “Yeah, it’s me.”
“What are you doing?”
Sneaking a peek into the devil’s home praying he’s not on the prowl. “Looking for my husband.”
Christy laughed. “You haven’t lost him, he’s inside. I had to give Grandfather the hide from RedHorse.”
“Why now? Why you and not RedHorse?”
Christy shrugged. “I think he thought RedHorse shot one of his deer.”
“Oh, good Lord! Grandfather would never forgive him for that. He names them.”
Christy looked around, dropping her voice. “RedHorse isn’t stupid. No one can get within a mile of Grandfather’s place with a weapon. Except….”
Karen leaned in. “What?”
“Well. I heard he took Richard out to the property line a couple of times to shoot deer.”
“Richard has a gun?”
Christy shook her head. “No, Grandfather was teaching him to shoot a bow.”
And arrow? Really? “Why?”
Christy shrugged. “I think this was Richard’s idea.” She pointed to the tip and wedding. “But Grandfather would have planted the idea seeds.”
Karen looked at her feet. “Ok. I’ll wait for Richard out here.”
“Nope. Let’s go.” She grabbed her arm and pulled. “You’re shivering and the barn is warm.”
Karen let herself be lead into the devil’s abode. Her feet slapped the ground. Christy pulled her onward into her personal hell. She shielded her gaze as the florescent lights assaulted her.
The inside of the barn no longer held animals but served as a waiting ground. Forgotten furniture, cabinets and pieces of history no longer useful collected here. The floor swept clean. The cow stalls long empty. Boxes lined the loft, clearly marked and organized. Above old Maisie’s stall a large container marked ‘Karen’s baby toys’, then another with ‘Grandma’s nick-knacks’ scrawled on it.
Karen snickered. Give away to the DAV my arse.
The heat kicked on with a large click scaring Karen. Skittish as a raccoon in headlights she balked as the place her father had died came into view. Death hid in the shadows, waiting on a victim. She longed to burn the barn to the ground and erase her memories.
Her grandfather sat on the bench. Shadows crept over him, impaling him in their grasp. His hat looped on his head, his braids fell down on his chest. His chin rested on his bulky coat.
He didn’t move.
Grandfather’s hands fell to his side.
Hysteria clawed at her throat.
She screamed at ran to him. The sound reverberated off the walls, bounced through the barn and hit her like a prizefighter.
Karen ran to him and shook him. “Grandfather!” His head lulled to the side, his hat fell to the ground. “No!”
Her fist pounded his chest.
A hand pulled her away. “Karen, listen to me!” Christy shook her, screaming. “Karen! Look at me! Look at me!” Christy grabbed her and pulled her away from Grandfather. Karen kicked out trying to fling her body free from the hold.
“Let me go to him, why are you stopping me! Let me go. I can save him,” Karen yelled. “You stopped me from saving my dad! You will not stop me from saving Grandfather! Let me go!”
“Little Sparrow. Listen to Christy. What are you saying?” Grandfather spoke.
Boots stomped into the barn. “Karen?” Richard yelled.
“Little Sparrow?” Grandfather asked. “Who is holding you back from me?”
Karen turned around. Fear, anger, and hope hid in her. “Christy is she did it before too.”
“Little Sparrow,” Grandfather said calmly. “Do you think you can stop death?”
“But I could have helped him,” Karen pleaded. “She stopped me. I could have done CPR. I could have saved my father.”
“Little Sparrow, don’t you know that you cannot stop death,” Grandfather whispered. “Death comes to everyone and when he calls you answer. No one can stop it. Christy tried to help your father- just as you had. She went to call 911 and tell your mother. That was the right thing to do. No CPR could have saved him. He was called and he answered. You must accept this. You must go on and not blame Christy. She was good to you. You need to remember that.”
Karen broke down crying. She slid down Christy’s body slowly and ended up on the ground, curling herself up into a ball. Christy held on to her telling her how sorry she was. How much she loved her and how she wished she could change that day. Karen reached for her, stopped fighting and held her tight.
They stayed like that crying and sobbing for what seemed forever.
Tears ran down the Elder’s face.
“You must forgive Christy, Little Sparrow,” Grandfather told her. “She only did what she should have done. You were wrong to blame her all of these years. She was your sister in spirit and you denied her your friendship. Christy mourns just as much as you do. She grieved for your father and for you. You owe her an apology.”
“I’m sorry Christy,” Karen gulped, fighting the tears that threatened to flow again. “I’m so sorry. I don’t know why I blamed you. I’m so sorry.”
“Oh Karen, it’s not your fault,” Christy sobbed. “I didn’t know what to do. I panicked. I shouldn’t have left you.”
“No you were right,” Karen answered, blubbering. “Grandfather was right. Dad was already gone when we found him. I just couldn’t accept that. I’m sorry!”
Karen looked up. Doc Tate brought his hand down for his wife and checked her over. He brushed a kiss over his wife’s tear streaked face.
“Karen, why don’t you let me examine you and check you out,” Doc Tate asked. He knelt down and pushed the hair out of Karen’s face.
“I’m fine, I’m fine,” Karen gulped through tears. “Give me a few minutes.”
Richard knelt down beside her and took her into his arms.
“Would you check on Grandfather please,” Karen pleaded. “Please? Make sure he’s OK.”
“I’m not the one crying on the floor Little Sparrow,” Grandfather informed her. “That is you.”
“Please,” Karen begged, “Grandfather for me?”
“OK, tis fitting.” Grandfather gave in. “We are in a barn anyway. Do not look at me like a horse Doc Tate. I do not like that.”
“You’re not a horse,” Doc Tate said. “And I am enough of a doctor to take your pulse. I do it all the time.” Doc Tate took Grandfather’s pulse and looked into his eyes pulling up each eyelid.
“Would you like me to bark for you, Doc Tate?” Grandfather asked. “I can do a coyote bark that sounds real. See. Aahooo ar ar ar rooo.”
“He’s fine Karen, he’s as strong as a horse…. er coyote,” Doc Tate told her. “Now let me examine you.” Tate did the same thing to Karen but paused for a moment when he took her pulse.
“Would you do me a favor please,” Doc Tate asked. “Come see me in the morning. I would like to check you out further in my office. No arguments.”
Karen hid her face in Richard’s chest. “Tate you’re a vet.”
“I know that because everyone keeps reminding me,” Doc Tate said. “But I also deliver babies on the side. I can look you over. Promise me you’ll come.”
“I promise. She will be there in the morning,” Richard answered for her.

Richard held Karen all the way to the tipi. She curled against him putting her hand on his shoulder. She looked so fragile in his arms and it worried him that she was so quiet now. He turned to carry her outside when someone else came into the barn.
The long walk to the tipi didn’t hold any magic. The cold air bit into him. He pulled Karen closer but she didn’t more.
He knew that tonight he would not be consummating his marriage but he didn’t mind. Karen was in such a fragile state. She had frightened him beyond belief with her scream. He wanted to hold her, keep her safe and never let her out of his sight. And most importantly, she needed to heal. He ducked into the tipi and put her down on the bed of furs, brushing her hair aside. Richard covered her with a blanket and watched her sleep. Grabbing some firewood, he fed the blaze then laid down beside her and ran his fingers over her arms. Quietly he watched her breathing begging it to say steady.
From what he knew of the situation, Karen needed a psychiatrist not a vet
“Richard,” came a soft call from Sally at the doorway. “You close the flap if you don’t want any visitors. Keep it open like this and anyone will come in.”
Richard rose and walked over to the entrance. Sally’s smiling face framed the doorway. She had no idea what had happened.
“Sally,” he whispered, “get Mike and come in here. It’s okay, Karen’s asleep. I need to talk to both of you.”
Round-eyed, Sally skidded away. A few minutes later, she came back in with Mike in tow, carrying a platter of food for Richard.
“I didn’t see you eat tonight, so I brought some food for you. Now, what is going on? It’s supposed to be your wedding night,” Sally whispered.
She looked at her daughter in alarm. Lucky came bounding in all happy and excited but quickly quieted down as he took in the somber faces. He could tell that all was not well. He walked over to Karen laid down beside her. His nose almost touching her. His ears drew back in alarm and he whimpered at Sally.
The warmth of the tipi cooled.

Sally nodded for Richard to begin. He told them everything that had transpired in the barn. Sally grabbed Mike’s hand for comfort, tears forming in her eyes. It felt to her as if she had to relive that day, ten years ago, when her Bill had died. She knew that Karen had issues around Bill’s death. Sally tried to get her to see a psychiatrist when it had happened but Karen refused. Sally felt that it was her fault. She should have insisted, but she was dealing with her own grief and Karen rarely came home. Richard and Mike both assured her that there was nothing she could have done. Everyone deals with death in their own way and has to work through their pain at their own pace. Mike and Richard both knew this as well as Sally. It was easy to say to someone else. It was hard to understand it when it was happening to you.
Sally kissed Karen gently on the head and patted her shoulder. She gave Lucky a quick kiss too. Then Mike and Sally got up to leave.
“I’m so happy that you understand her pain, Richard,” Sally said. “Your patience with her is… I don’t know the word for it. Tonight is your wedding night. To show this kind of patience tonight of all nights is commendable. Thank you.”
Richard gave both Sally and Mike a hug and walked them to the entrance. Just as they were about to put the flap down Dingle snuck. He took one glance, around went to the furs and curled up at Karen’s head.
Sally smiled into the night, grabbed Mike’s hand and told him that all would be well.
Chapter 35

Richard woke up to a commotion and a few screams a few hours later. It sounded like something out of a movie. Lulu yells and howls came from the house. Richard almost got up- until he realized that it was just Grandfather having fun with John. He rolled over and went back to sleep. It would be a good story in the morning.
Lucky woke him about an hour later. He growled, sniffing around the tipi. Richard heard someone outside and realized after a second that it must be John. He walked over to the flap and heard John call his name. Richard decided on the best course of action. He was tired and just did not want to deal with it. He opened the flap and said, “Sick’em Lucky.” Richard figured that would do the trick. He just did not realize that Dingle would enjoy a good game of ‘sick’em’ too until he sped out after the dog.

Karen woke up and looked around. She was in a tipi with Richard lying beside her. For a moment confusion tugged at her brain, then it hit her. She was married or she thought so. Last night bordered on surreal. She must have fallen asleep after Richard picked her up and carried her outside. Karen had felt safe in his arms. That she remembered. She hoped that she never lost that feeling. She rolled over and looked at Richard. His eyes were closed and his breath came out with a slight snore. Karen traced her fingers along the side of his face.
“Hey sleepy head,” She whispered, tainting her voice with a sexy edge. “Time to wake up and consummate our marriage.”
Richard’s eyes stayed closed but a smile tinted his lips. “I am ready when you are Little Sparrow.”
Karen giggled and rolled on top of him, “I was worried that you didn’t want me.”
“I’ll always want you, you’re my Little Sparrow,” he said. “Come; let’s get ready to fly together.” He rolled her over onto her back and kissed her. The warmth of Richard’s body embraced her. His tongue rolled over her lips. Tingles ran up her spine, tingling, exciting.
Her belly flopped.
Karen jumped up. “I’m not feeling well.”
“It’s OK,” Richard stood and wrapped his arm around her. “Why don’t we go into the house so we can take a shower? Then we can go over to Doc Tate’s and see what he says.”
“You realize he’s a veterinarian don’t you,” she said, trying to inject some humor into the morning.
Fresh snow blanketed the land, pristine white. Frosty and chilly. She bent down to make a snowball and thought the better of it. Lucky came out, wiggling and jumped around her barking. Dingle made his way out of the tipi and stretched. He hurried in front of her, begging to go inside at the door. Richard wrapped his arms around her and kissed her forehead.
“Feel better, Love?”

Karen headed into the shower and Richard found Grandfather sitting at the kitchen table eating.
“You want some breakfast Dome,” Grandfather asked. “There is more Coco Wheats.” Grandfather motioned toward the stove.
“What’s Coco Wheats?” Richard asked.
“Cooked farina, Delicious. It’s made by Little Crow Foods in Warsaw, Indiana. It has been for many years.” Grandfather said between mouthfuls.
“Is it a traditional breakfast?” Richard asked. “I thought cocoa was from South America?”
“Coco Wheats is not an Indian food just good food,” Grandfather said. “Don’t know why company is named Little Crow Foods. Grits is the traditional Creek food.”
“So that’s why I love grits,” Richard smiled.
“Probably, but Coco Wheat is good on a cold morning. Warms you up inside,” Grandfather said smiling and rubbing his belly.
It was a good morning. Richard walked over to the stove, scooped out some of the porridge and sat next to Grandfather. The Elder grabbed Richard’s bowl and added a little sugar and milk to it. Richard tasted it and thought it was good too.
“Some people add peanut butter to it,” Grandfather informed him. “But I like it this way.”
“Peanut butter,” Richard said. Grandfather had to be pulling his leg. This was great the way it was.
“Grandfather, what happened last night?” Richard asked. “I heard a commotion.” Richard was dying to hear about what went on.
Grandfather belted out laughing. He could not stop himself. He tried three or four times to tell the story but could not stop laughing. Gradually he quieted down and tried to muster a serious face. Finally, he put on his storytelling expression and began.
The Elder told a rousing story about John. Richard wondered what his friend had gotten himself into. Grandfather scheme bit John in the buttocks good. A good man, his friend. Stupid around women, though. Apparently, Painted Girl got the best of him.
“Grandfather,” Karen interrupted. “Whose clothes are on the floor in your room? And why is there glass on the floor?”
“He’s naked?” Richard asked alarmed. “Any idea where he went?”
“No, he left that way,” Grandfather told him pointing to the sliding patio door. “He may still be around. You need to find him to make sure he is alright.”
“Who’s naked? What’s going on,” Karen asked. “Why are you two laughing like that?”

Karen walked into the sunroom. The sun streamed in through the windows. Curtainless, the light took free reign and bathed the room in its early morning glow. The snow glistened outside. Beautiful, pure, pristine beauty. Trees wiggled in the breeze, dumping snowballs on unsuspecting victims. Birds chatted and flew into the feeders posted around the patio. A squirrel shook his tale and slide down a slippery stake, its meal out of reach.
Something was off. Grandfather sat on the couch without a word. He never sat quietly anywhere. “Grandfather, what are you doing?”
Grandfather raised his head up and smiled innocently. He had on his hat and as usual, his hair laid in two long braids down his shirtfront. However, he just looked… oh, like he was up to something. She had seen that face before and when she saw it, odd things happened.
“Nothing, I am doing nothing,” Grandfather said. “I am an old man. I am just sitting here waiting for my grandchildren to arrive. I do not have enough grandchildren. People do not know how to have fun anymore. Everyone is in a hurry. Rush, rush, rush. That is all they do.”
Now Karen knew there was something up. It was his ‘I’m doing something you do not need to know about speech.’ She had heard it many times before.
“Come kiss your Grandfather so we can take you to Doc Tate’s. He needs to examine you,” Grandfather said. “You do not look well. You have dark circles under your eyes. You are worrying your Grandfather.”
Grandfather gazed at her, then gave her one of his ‘looks’.
“Grandfather,” Karen said, exasperated. “Doc Tate is a vet.”
“I know this, why does everyone tell me this,” Grandfather asked. “Do you think I forgot? I must be getting old. I am old. Doc Tate is a vet. I must remember this.” Grandfather put his finger to his head as if he was trying to get the information to stay in there. Karen knew that Grandfather was evading the question.
“You ready,” Richard asked from the doorway. “John’s going to stay here with Grandfather while we are gone.”
“Oh, no I’m not, he’s…” John jumped.
“John,” Richard interrupted. “My house. My guest. Grandfather is family.”
“Oh, do not mind on my account,” Grandfather said as sweet as a jam-covered biscuit. “I will go with you, Dome. I do not wish to stay behind. I am worried about Little Sparrow. She may need me.” Grandfather stood up and took Karen’s hand.
“You’re not staying here?” Richard asked eyebrow cocked.
“No,” Grandfather answered him. “I want to make sure that Little Sparrow is okay and she may need me.”
Richard grabbed Karen’s coat and helped her put it on.
John edged out of the doorway. He had on…her mother’s red Mumu?
“Why is John wearing a…” Karen started.
“We need to leave,” Grandfather interrupted her. Pushing her towards the door. “We are late and we do not want to keep Doc Tate waiting. He has many patients. He is a busy man. We must go Little Sparrow.”
Oh, for Pete’s sake. “Grandfather,” Karen said. “I’m fine. Doc Tate is a vet.”
“I know this. Why do you keep telling me this?” Grandfather mumbled while grabbing his coat. “I must be getting old. Doc Tate is a vet. I must remember this.”
Grandfather ushered her down the steps. John’s voice echoed behind her. “You’re taking your wife,” John asked, his voice raising an octave. “To a vet to be examined?”

They arrived at Doc Tate’s a little late. The fifteen-minute drive took them twenty on the snow-covered roads. Grandfather’s old truck bumped along the road, the heat roaring out of the vents. Karen scooted over towards Richard, his arm draped over her shoulder. Grandfather kept his eyes on the road.
Small mounds of snow lined the sides of Doc Tate’s driveway. The clinic a renovated barn sat behind the house, within walking distance. The inside, warm and cozy. A long desk, chairs and dog toys littered the floor. Barks and an occasional meow came from the furthest reaches of his clinic. Karen smiled as a long drawn out ‘mooo’ echoed through the office.
He already had some patients waiting in the waiting room. Grandfather walked over to the reception desk and wrote down on the pad while Karen drummed her fingers on the counter and narrowed her eyes at him.

Patient: Little Sparrow
Breed: That’s not a nice question to ask but she’s a proud Kiowa, some German in there too. Might have a little bit of Napoleon in her.
Sex: Hope so, I want grandbabies.
Insurance: She’s not been fixed if that’s what you’re asking.
Fixed?: I just answered that.
Complaint: Tired, doesn’t eat her dinner. Sick all the time.
House trained: I’ll ask Sally, but I assume so.

Grandfather turned to the group and smiled, motioning for everyone to take a seat.
Karen felt silly. Why in the world was she here? She sat down next to a big dog who drooled all over the place. Brown with a lopsided grin, he looked happy and wanted to play. There was another smaller puppy who looked so sad. Black, sleek with touches of white, he cowered under his owners gaze. The owner, a large woman, new to the area, yanked on his leash at every chance. Karen glared at her while she waited her turn.
Karen started a conversation with the owner of the small puppy. The lady could not get the puppy potty trained and it was driving her crazy. Karen suggested, in the nicest terms to quick yanking his chain.
She didn’t like her advice.
The other owner, an old friend of Grandfather’s spoke with the Elder about his horses.
Doc Tate came out; looking professional in khaki pants and a button shirt covered by a bib, and took the big dog and his owner into the exam room.
“I’ll be with you soon,” he told her.
Karen walked over, sat down and played with the little puppy. Fluffing his ears and rubbing his belly, under the glare of its owner.
The woman looked at her. “Are you picking up your pet today?”
“Uh no,” Karen said. “I’m not.”
“Then,” she asked, perplexed, “why are you here?”
“She is here to see the doctor,” Grandfather said with mischievous tone tainted with humor.
“You do know that he’s a not a real doctor don’t you?” The woman asked, raising her eyebrows at them.
“I know this, why does everyone tell me this,” Grandfather muttered. “I have to remember this. It is important.”
Grandfather took off his hat and placed it over his heart, mumbling the same thing over and over, “Doc Tate is a vet.”
Karen rolled her eyes then looked at the woman and mouthed ‘don’t ask’.
Luckily, Doc Tate came out and called the puppy and parent into his exam room. The woman gave Karen and her family an odd look but said nothing.
It will be all over town by morning. She just knew it. Karen watched as the big dog and its owner left a moment later. Happily.

Richard couldn’t get over the fact that they were at a vet’s office. His wife, in his opinion, needed a real doctor. He paced across the floor, looking at the diplomas’ hanging across the walls.
“Who are these diplomas’ for?”
Grandfather pointed at the degrees. “Doc Tate. That’s his Anglo name.”
‘Real name’, Karen mouthed.
Richard looked at each one in turn. “He has a bachelor’s degree in Biology and a Doctor of Medicine from the University of Pittsburgh?”
“Yep.” Karen jumped up. Richard pulled her close. She smiled at him. Lovely. “He always wanted to be a doctor. He loved Pitt too. But, he did a year residency in Kansas at the emergency room. He was so close to getting his license but something happened. He won’t talk about it. He came home, sulked and changed to veterinary medicine. He attended school for ten years.”
Now he felt better. And it made sense why everyone treated him like a local doctor.
Christy came in carrying the baby. She looked at everyone expectantly.
“Hocha,” Christy said. “Grandfather it is good to see you. You look well. Congratulations again Karen.”
Everyone looked at Karen with their breath held. Karen hugged Christy. They were quiet for a moment in their embrace.
“See? Vet good for Karen,” Grandfather whispered to Richard. “He has much magic, he is a good doctor, he…”
“Grandfather you’re up to something. The more you talk like that, the more I know it,” Richard interrupted. “Now what are you doing with John?”
“Me?” Grandfather said. “I am here Richard Dome. I cannot do anything to your friend if I am here. I am…”
“Up to something,” finishing his sentence for him, Richard smiled. “Don’t hurt him.”
“Hurt him,” Grandfather said. “I am here, he is not…”
Richard rolled his eyes and listened to Grandfather ramble on. Oh, he was up to something and Richard knew it was gonna be good. Grandfather is probably figuring out how to tell the story now. Shaking his head, he looked at Karen. She was holding the baby and laughing with Christy as if they had never stopped being friends. The way Karen held the baby with so much love just melted his heart.
“You should start on one of those soon,” Grandfather told him. “I am lonely. I do not have enough grandchildren. I need more grandbabies. People don’t know how to have fun anymore.” Grandfather spoke in monotone.
Doc Tate saved them all from another ‘tirade’ from Grandfather. He walked over to Christy and kissed her on the forehead then said ‘hello’ to the baby. He told Karen to go make herself comfortable in exam room 2. He would be in in a moment.
Everyone quieted as she left.
“How is she,” Doc Tate asked. “How did she do last night?”
“She fell asleep in my arms on the way to the tipi and didn’t wake until this morning,” Richard told him. “Then this morning she was ill again.”
Richard told him about her continuing symptoms.
“Ump,” Grandfather grumbled. “I will never get grandchildren at this rate.”
“How long has she been ill,” Doc Tate ignored Grandfather and focused his attention on Richard.
“Since two days before Thanksgiving,” Richard told him.
“That’s twelve weeks,” Doc Tate said. “She looks thinner. Has she had a pregnancy test done?”
“Yes in the middle of December.” Richard remembered the hope he’d felt. “It was negative.”
“Did she have a blood test or a urine test?”
“I have no idea,” Richard said. “I believe a nurse took it at work.”
“OK,” Doc Tate went over to his calendar and looked at the dates. “That’s almost three months she’s been ill. I’ll look at her. But I really think that she needs to go see an actual doctor and a psychiatrist,” Doc Tate said slowly.
“You can fix her,” Grandfather said.
“I’m a vet Grandfather.”
“I know that. Why does everybody keep telling me that,” Grandfather thumped his finger on his head. “It is important. Doc Tate is a vet.”
“You’re up to something Grandfather, what is it?” Doc Tate inquired. “You always get like this when you are up to something.”
“You noticed it too,” Richard chipped in.
“I do not know what you are talking about,” Grandfather grumbled. “I am an old man. I do not get up to anything. I…,”
“Yep, he’s up to something,” Doc Tate said then shook his head and turned back to Richard. “I’ll go talk to Karen. Maybe I can help and I’ll figure out what type of doctor to send her to. Richard,” he continued quietly, “would it bother you if she had to see a psychiatrist?”
“No, mental health is as important as physical health.” Then Richard looked at Grandfather and gave him a wry smile. “I want a whole wife. I do not want a half wife. I want a wife who knows who she is,” Richard said mimicking Grandfather’s speech.
Grandfather laughed and smacked his hat on his leg. “You do that well Dome. You can be my apprentice. I will teach you how it is done. We will do well together.”
Chapter 36

Karen walked by exam room 2 just as the woman walked out. She did not have the puppy with her and just looked at Karen with her eyebrows raised. Karen ducked in and closed the door. She looked around his office and heard the puppy whining from the other room. She opened a door and found Doc Tate’s kennel. Floor to ceiling cages lines the room, but all of them were contained cats. The lower ones held the dogs. He yipped at her from the last cage, and written over the bars a note, ‘Surrender to pound’.
Oh, how sad. She opened the cage and took out the puppy. She held his wiggling body his tongue licking her. How could anyone give up such a sweet baby?
“Karen?” Doc Tate voice came from the other room.
“Over here.”
“He’s a good pup,” Doc Tate told her, “just a little slow. His owner tried for months to potty train him. Either he doesn’t get it or she just can’t train him. I don’t know. He’s a heartbreaker that one.”
Tate’s hand rubbed the puppy’s head. The poor thing wiggled with glee.
“He’s mine now,” Karen said.
“Karen, you already have two animals,” Doc Tate said. “Lucky is getting older and will require a lot of time and energy soon.”
“Two animals?” Karen asked. “Oh geez, I guess Dingle is mine now. I never thought about it. Anyway, this little boy is my baby.”
“Well, at least Grandfather will get a new grandchild today. Just not one he was expecting,” Doc Tate laughed. “I’ll keep him here today and bring him by tonight for you,” Tate added ruffling the pup’s ears. “OK, I want to examine you. Come have a seat on the table.”
Doc Tate walked into the exam room and patted the table.
“You know.” Karen enunciated every word. “I’m not a pet.”
“I know that, but I want to examine you,” Doc Tate said. “We use to play doctor when we were young. You were my guinea pig. Just think about that.”
Tate tried to inject some humor into the odd situation.
“Oh no you don’t,” Karen said, “I thought Christy was going to kill me when she found us!”
“Ah, all’s well that ends well. Let me get your pulse.”

Doc Tate wished he could start a no-kill shelter, but he did not have the facilities to do that. As it was, he and his wife spent every Saturday setting traps near-feral cat colonies and picking them up on Sundays. During the week, on his free time, he spayed or neutered them. Then they would release them before setting new traps. Things were better now, a lot better since someone starting picking up his bill. He didn’t know who it was and RedHorse wouldn’t tell him- but he suspected it was Richard. He just didn’t know how to thank him.
Doc Tate walked over to his bag and brought out his ‘human’ supplies. He’d had to buy them for Grandfather. The man just would go see a regular physician so Tate became the family doctor. Tate reached for Karen’s arm and took her pulse. It was nice and strong. Next, he checked out her lungs and had her lay down. When he told her to unzip her pants, she looked at him with a cocked eye.
“I want to feel your belly,” Tate explained. “You’ve been throwing up a lot lately. For three months by my account. I want to see if you have any pain when I push on it.”
“OK,” Karen said. “But this had better end better than last time!”
Tate chuckled as he felt Karen’s belly. The last time he had had her up on a table feeling her belly for practice; Christy had walked in and almost left him for good.
Ah, college days.
“Does this hurt, no? Here? No? And… Wait…,” he paused. A hardness. Only two things it could be. “Uh, Karen, when was your last period?”
“OK, Tate we are done,” Karen said. She tried to sit up, but he held her down, “No more doctor talk.”
“No, Karen. I’m serious,” he said. He’d felt something. Either something great or horrible. A mass in her abdomen. “I feel something here,” he told her, pressing gently on her belly. Round and hard.
“Feel what?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m not a gynecologist.”
“I’m not pregnant Tate,” Karen said, “I took a test.”
“When,” he asked, “December 10th? Did you miss your period then?”
Please say you missed your period.
Karen blushed; her head fell down to her chest. “I was supposed to have one soon after that, but didn’t.”
“What type of test,” Doc Tate asked. “A blood test or urine?”
They aren’t always good. Should he ask her when she had sex last? He could guess.
“OK,” Doc Tate said. “What I need you to do is to go take a pregnancy test and make an appointment with a gynecologist.”
“But the test I took was negative,” Karen said. “What if it is negative again?”
Don’t frighten her. “You need to take the test Karen,” Tate said. “Today. And call a gynecologist.”
“Can’t you give me one?” Karen asked. “I mean, don’t you have any here?”
“I have ones for animals,” he told her. “They won’t work on humans. Wait here and I’ll go call a doctor for an appointment.”
“No, I will,” Karen said. “I’ll go get a test. Don’t say anything to anyone,” Karen pleaded. “Please say nothing. Grandfather would get excited and if it is negative, well, I’ll deal with that too.”
“This is important Carrie,” Tate told her. “Do it today and get an appointment.”
He shook his head. It has to be something good, it just has to be. This is why he didn’t want to be a doctor. How do you look a young person in the eye and tell them they are dying? He couldn’t do it again. He just couldn’t.
Please let it be a baby.
Karen looked at her hands. “Doc?”
No explanations or hypotheticals, please. “Yes?”
She cleared her throat. “I’ve been drinking.”
“Quit. Now. Then discuss it with your Gynecologist.”
She looked off to the side of the room. Refusing to look at him. “I might have inhaled.”

Chapter 37
As soon as they arrived home, Karen headed out to the general store. Richard and Grandfather didn’t like the idea of her driving anywhere but they gave in. All she had to say was that she needed some women things and both men backed down. They offered to drive her, but she refused. She told them she needed to find something special for her lady needs and didn’t want them to rush her.
Karen arrived at Painted Girl’s house a while later. She didn’t want to go home to take the test in case someone would see it. Scared, Karen needed the support of a friend.
She opened the door, warmth and hot peppers greeted her. Painted Girl stood over the stove stirring a pot of chili. The old avocado kitchen sparkled with that I-just-wiped-it-down with-pine-cleaner. Her friend kept Grandfather’s house spotless. A remnant of Painted Girl’s childhood horror that no one brought up.
RedHorse sat in the kitchen chair and glowered at Painted Girl as he took off his prosthetic arm. He wore his boxers and nothing else. He nodded to her then turned slit hurtful eyes on Painted Girl.
The stove sputtered, wild flames shot out of one side of the burner. Painted Girl hit the grate with a cast iron skillet. Then held it in her hand, her gaze toward RedHorse.
Oh, boy. I’ve stepped into a fire ant mound.
“I came by because I missed you,” Karen said.
RedHorse nodded and went off to the bathroom. “I’m going to shower now.”
Karen waited until the door closed. “What’s going on?” She whispered.
“RedHorse slipped in some horse dung. Sarah’s coming over soon with some clothes.” Painted Girl tossed in the onions.
“So Karen, why are you really here,” Painted Girl asked. “And don’t tell me it’s because you missed me. You just got married.” Her face held no animosity but a gleam in her eyes spoke of trouble.
Painted Girl turned on the cold water full blast. Karen heard a couple of cusses coming from the shower.
“The pipes froze last week. Grandfather had to reroute the water through the kitchen,” her friend said with a wink.
“I need to take a pregnancy test,” Karen whispered. “And I didn’t want to do it at home.”
Painted Girl swung her into a hug one hand on the kitchen faucet. “I am so happy for you.” Hot water poured into the sink. Followed by another yelp from the bathroom.
“Before you get excited,” Karen warned her, looking at the bathroom door. “I don’t think I am. I already took one and it was negative.” Her gaze went to her friend’s confused one. “Doc Tate said he felt a mass in my belly. He was worried but thought that it might be a baby. But if it isn’t it could be bad. I’m scared Vi.”
Painted Girl listened, shook her head and turned the faucet on cold. Another yelp and then a devilish smile spread across her lips.
“It’s a baby,” Painted Girl whispered. “I know it is! Oh, I’m so happy, it will be fine, you’ll see.” Time for the hot water. Yelp! And more cussing. Painted Girl reached up and took down three bowls. In one bowl, she put a ton of Tabasco sauce and then crackers on top. In the other bowls, she put just crushed crackers.
Painted Girl winked. “Turn on the hot water for me will you?”
Karen obliged. Yelp.
“Just think,” Painted Girl said. “You, Christy and Kay will all have babies about the same age. Grandfather will be pleased, so will Richard. You must take your test as soon as RedHorse finishes his shower. Turn on the cold water now will you? I can’t make up my mind whether to add cold or hot water to RedHorse’s chili.”
“Vi,” Karen said. “You take after Grandfather.”
“I am an old man,” Painted Girl laughed. “I want grandchildren, people do not know how to have fun,” Painted Girl said in her best Grandfather voice. They both broke out in laughter.
Karen looked down at her hands. Her voice barely above a whisper. “I want someone with me when I see the results.”
“Oh Vi, a baby! I am so happy,” Painted Girl said.
Karen looked up to see RedHorse standing in the doorway. Towel dried hair topped his head and wearing Grandfather’s old robe and the bear-claw slippers that she had bought for Grandfather as a Christmas gift years ago.
Karen hoped that he had not heard what their conversation. She wanted to tell Richard and Grandfather first.
If she was pregnant. She inhaled. Icy crystals of fear clung to her spine. One word kept entering her mind but she refused to say it aloud. The dreaded ‘C’ word.
“Is the chili ready,” RedHorse asked his voice choppy and demanding. “There’s something wrong with your shower. Ask Grandfather to get a plumber here as soon as he can.” RedHorse sat down at the table and growled. “Did you make it spicy for me? And why do you always put crackers in it? It’s not natural.”
“No, not too spicy,” Painted Girl smiled sweetly. “Karen doesn’t like spicy food so I think you should add some more to it. Be careful, though. I bought the extra spicy ghost Tabasco this time.”
Painted Girl’s smile grew and she leaned back against the counter and winked at Karen.
“I like it spicy,” RedHorse said. “You just don’t know how to make it spicy for me.” RedHorse added a few tablespoons of hot sauce to his chili.
Painted Girl looked like she would explode with anticipation as he stirred the chili around in the bowl. “Why don’t you wait until we get back to eat? Chili is better the longer it sits and we can eat together.”
“We can do this later Vi,” Karen said, knowing that she was interrupting an argument between the two of them. “So you can eat with RedHorse.”
“No,” Painted Girl said. “I want to do this now.”
Karen saw the look on RedHorse’s face. Brokenhearted. He stared at his chili, stirring it into a mush.
“I suppose I can wait a few minutes,” RedHorse whispered. “Don’t take long. I’m hungry.”
“We will be back in ten minutes,” Painted Girl grabbed Karen by the arm, pulling her into the bathroom. “Let’s go Vi.”
Painted Girl read the directions for Karen and they sat, waiting for the three minutes to elapse. A beautiful bathroom, all done in tile. Painted Girl’s first project that started her career. Burnt orange, brown and hints of yellow glowed on the floor and up the walls. A claw foot tub took up one wall. A vanity, carved with leaves held an orange bowl sink. Karen admired the workmanship but just could not stand still. The longest three minutes of her life. She paced the small space bumping into her friend. Painted Girl grabbed a towel, put the pregnancy stick in it and took Karen’s hand. They walked outside, opening the back door gently, so RedHorse would not see them.
The cold hit her. Her fingers clasped her belly. She uttered a silent prayer. Her friend held her in a clasp, the pregnancy stick held between them. Each with one hand on it.
“You ready? Time’s up,” Painted Girl said. She held her gaze and whispered with a kiss to her cheek. “It will be okay- no matter what the result
“I can’t look,” Karen said, hands over her eyes. “I’m too scared. You look Vi.”
“OK, here goes,” she pulled at the cloth covering the test and gasped.
“Oh, Vi.”
“What,” Karen asked. “What is it?”
“It’s a smiley face.”
“Smiley face,” Karen peeked between them. “Pregnant? Really?”
They screamed and hugged each other while dancing on the snow-covered ground.
“Shh,”Karen said, “don’t let RedHorse hear. I don’t want anyone to know before I tell Richard and Grandfather.”
“Oh, I’m so happy.”
“You go tell your man,” Painted Girl told her. “I have to get back inside and teach RedHorse a lesson. Do you want the test strip?”
“No, just throw it away,” Karen said. “I peed on it!” Laughing Karen waved goodbye then added, “don’t be too hard on RedHorse.”
“Oh, I will, he deserves it,” Painted Girl said with a grin.

Karen drove towards home as a storm clouds gathered over the horizon. Home. Richard said that tomorrow they’d sign the papers.
She couldn’t believe it. The property would stay in the family for another generation. Or two. If this child loved the land as much as she did. A baby. She couldn’t wrap her head around it.
Karen pulled into the drive and stopped. At the entrance, carved from one long piece of wood, the sign hovered over the driveway. Two large poles on either side. Wrought iron wove around it with decorated grapes and their leaves. Grandfather’s work. A solid sentry over the property for years to come. A testament of his love and care. Grandfather had made the sign with an intertwining L and S. Where the L and S met in the middle a small heart joined them together. Just like Painted Girl’s tile over the stove. Perfect.
She edged on the gas, taking the drive with baby steps. Tonight had to be special. She didn’t know if she would tell Richard and Grandfather together or separately. Karen hadn’t thought that far in advance.
Parking the car in the front, she folded her hands over the steering wheel and plopped her chin down. Home. My home.
Her child would grow up here with the love of the community, as she had. He or she would have cousins, uncles, and aunts in the traditional Indian way. A perfect beginning for a child.
She closed the car door and clicked the alarm. Silly. The safest haven in the world stood before her nestled in snowy slender. She sighed and moved towards the front door. She needed to give the car back to the rental place and buy one of her own. A minivan, capable of holding kids and dogs for play dates.
Karen clapped her hands together and twirled in a circle. Tiny whisks of snow fell on her face.
A baby!

Karen walked into the house and met chaos. Grandfather yelled in Kiowa over the phone. Richard was grabbing his coat and hat.
“Good, you’re home,” Richard said. “All hells’ broken loose. Grandfather and I have to go to his house. We’ll be back soon. Love you.”
“What’s going on?” Karen said crushed. Her plans for an uneventful but happy evening faded fast.
“Painted Girl is pregnant,” Richard told her. “RedHorse found John sneaking around outside and hit him. Painted Girl got in the middle and jeez, all hell broke loose. The Sheriff is over there. Grandfather and I are going over to see if we can sort things out.”
“But wait, Richard,” Karen said. “I think there has been some mistake.” Karen went to grab his arm but missed.
“Mistake,” Grandfather yelled. “Mistake? She calls this a mistake?” Grandfather mumbled as he made his way out. Before Karen knew it, the door slammed shut and she was alone. His truck started up and slammed down the road.
She called Painted Girl but received no answer. Karen wanted to drive over there but Richard had taken her keys or she’d lost them. Painted Girl would straighten it all out. One sentences. Karen’s pregnant.
She shook her head. Well, there goes her surprise. Her profound moment.
Boy would RedHorse feel stupid. A simple misunderstanding. Wait. Why hasn’t she said anything? Painted Girl kept her promise. Oh, no. She had no way to fix this now. She could walk to Grandfather’s house, a mile away through the woods. Twenty minutes alone as the sun sunk in the woods was not the place for a pregnant woman. Out the window, the snow fell harder. Definitely not.
Grandfather should really allow cell service in the area. Why he fought the towers was beyond her.
She gathered some candles and a glass of milk. Time to take care of herself. A nice long bath in the new Jacuzzi. A surprise for Richard when he came home. Soft music, romance. Tell him over bubbles in the candle light.
She gathered the supplies in the kitchen then made her way down the hallway. The master bedroom door refused to turn. She tried every door in the house but it was all the same. Every door locked and no skeleton keys anywhere. What in the world had happened here?
Chapter 38

Richard arrived home as the snow fell in quiet blobs with the puppy from Doc Tate. A couple of cars peppered the driveway. Good, just a few people. Exhaustion filled his head with thoughts of sleep. His body, however, had thoughts of kissing Karen in bed. They had not consummated their marriage and eagerness clawed at his body. He yawned. He wondered if he would be too tired tonight.
Grandfather would not be pleased. No sex. No grandchildren.
Richard grabbed the carrier and made his way into the house. He didn’t know how to introduce the new puppy to Lucky and Dingle. He hoped that they would get along for Karen’s sake. He walked through the house, noticing the quiet. The Christmas tree twinkled in the dim light. The puppy yipped in the carrier. Heavy little bugger. He opened the sliding door and stepped outside into the backyard.
The bonfire glowed. Low music poured out of speakers. The colored lights twinkled above the pergola. The heaters glowed dripping cheery red lights on the crystalized snow. Rainbows of color.
The pup barked in his carrier. Karen jumped up and ran to him. Her face flush, her eyes glowed, as he’d never seen them before. He smiled and snuck in a quick kiss and hug. Her lips moist and warm. His body tightened.
Maybe he wasn’t too tired for a wedding night.
He held up the puppy carrier for her to look at the whiney occupant. Lucky bound over and woofed at it. The puppy yipped back. Richard put the carrier on the ground and allowed Lucky sniff it. Lucky jumped clearly wanting to play. Richard opened the carrier door. Lucky sniffed the newcomer then sat down. He was good with it.
Now it was Dingle’s turn. Dingle walked around the puppy. The puppy decided that it would be great to yip at Dingle and snap at him. Dingle sat down and smacked him in the face. The puppy did not care for that and snapped at him only to receive a hiss from Dingle. After about three times the puppy finally figured it out. Dingle was boss and you did not yell at the boss. Relieved Richard took Karen’s hand and greeted their guests.
They walked around talking to everyone. The puppy and Dingle played ‘run-around-and-through-the-guests’ and ‘see-who-we-can-trip-now’. Richard grabbed some food and two beers, brought them over to Karen and sat down. They shared the food, not bothered by the falling snow until the wind picked up. Everyone cleaned up and made their way to the house. Karen didn’t touch her beer, so he finished it off for her.
Tonight only close friends were there and her mom and Mike. Karen spent the next hour holding Istaga, Kay’s son, until Doc Tate and Christy arrived. Christy made a beeline for Karen and they disappeared into Karen’s old room, taking Kay and Sally with them.
Doc Tate handed Richard Mona, his baby, and asked a question. “Do you want kids, Richard?”
Richard paused, gazing at little Mona then gave a long look at Mike. “I’ve always wanted children.”
Doc Tate gave a start. “I…” His face turned bullseye red. “Good.”
Mona cried. Richard got up, walked around with her and showed her the ledger art that Grandfather drew. Pointing to his naked bottom, and then Lucky, he explained.
“Do you see that,” Richard asked Mona. “That’s me carrying Lucky. A big dog and those? Those are my boxers. I am wearing boxers, but you can barely see them.”
He went through each drawing and told Mona about the art that Grandfather made.
“Hey, hey! Stop the dog!”
Too late the puppy lifted his leg at the wall. Everyone jumped into action, but Dingle got to him first. He nipped at his tail stopping him in mid-pee and then ran. The pup followed scurrying down the hall. Everyone tried to stop them but it just did not work. They followed the animals into the master bedroom then the bathroom. There they found Dingle and the pup in the cubbyhole. Dingle had taken the pup to the litter box. Richard just stared as he opened the door and saw Dingle peeing. The pup, taking the hint, did the same. By now, all the men were in the bathroom watching the puppy use the litter box.
“Well,” said Doc Tate. “I guess that problem is solved.”
“But,” Richard looked at Doc Tate, amazement in his voice. “Dogs don’t use a litter box.”
“Sure they can, while they are small,” Doc Tate told him. “A lot of people in apartments train their pups to use a litter box. Sometimes people use them in the winter instead of taking their dog outside. Smart cat you got there Mike.”
“Don’t tell him he’s a cat,” Mike whispered watching Dingle. “And he’s not mine anymore. He’s decided to live here; he just hasn’t asked Richard or Karen yet.”
The women acted odd. Bubbly and giggles at every turn. Karen held a baby on her lap all night or she carried one around. Her laughter lit the house. The Christmas tree twinkled a little brighter. Light danced across the shiny floor. Fat blobs of snow cleaned the land. The wind picked up, rattling the windows. Everyone grabbed their hats and coats, snuggled the kids in blankets and left.
“Ahh, home alone at last,” Richard said hugging Karen close. “Let me look at my wife. You look great tonight. Are you feeling better?”
“Yes,” she whispered, her eyes shining. “I feel wonderful.”
She pirouetted around him like a young child.
“How about a beer?” Richard asked. “Then we settle down for the night?” He wiggled his eyebrows at her.
“Oh yes,” Karen said. “But first we must spend the night in the tipi again.” She stopped, reached up on her tippy toes and kissed him quickly. “I didn’t get my wedding night last night. So I want it tonight in the tipi.”
“I’ll go get a fire started,” Richard told her. “And get it ready for us while you get those beers.”
“The tipi is ready,” Karen told him. Her hands reached out to grab his. “Kay and I did that earlier. All you have to do is to carry your wife across the lawn so we can make love all night long.”
Richard didn’t need any more instructions. He kissed her, picked her up and carried her outside to the tipi. The snow came down hard, the wind snipped at his shirt. She lay nestled in his arms, light as a favorite novel. Laughing, remembering the first night they had made love after running in the snow. A fitting wedding night. Three companions joined them, protectors, matching his steps towards their honeymoon suite.
Richard put Karen down gently so he could open the flap, then let her go in first. He made sure that the dogs and Dingle were inside before securing the flap. He checked the fire the way that Grandfather had taught him. It felt like his wedding night. Excitement pounded in his blood. He smiled. Karen stripped near the bed. Her pants slid off her hips. The blouse unbuttoned with slow precision. Her cheeky grin as she flipped her underwear at him. Her skin glowed in the firelight casting shadows on the wall. He savored her with his eyes as she stood naked looking at him. She wiggled her eyebrows naughtily. He got the hint and began removing his own clothes. She laid down on the fluffy deerskin rug stretching her naked body. Lifting her back, her arms reached out to the side. She raised a hand. Her fingers twitched in that ‘come here’ or better yet, that ‘give me’ motion.
“I’ve always wanted to make love on a deer skin rug. The fur just seems so… sensual.” Karen stretched lazily. Richard couldn’t have had a better invitation if it had been a royal decree. He joined her on the bed kissing her holding her close. He drew back and gazed at her. Hair flowed down on the pillows. Copper breast stared at him. Richard wanted to make sure she was real. So much had happened these past few months and it had all been for her. She made him whole again. He looked forward to each day now instead of waking up with dread and loneliness. Richard hadn’t realized that he needed anyone in his life until she was there. His lips met hers. Tender, sweet, his. He rolled on top of her ready to join them together.
Karen reached up and caressed his face. Her fingers cupped his face. He kissed the palm.
“Be gentle Richard,” Karen whispered. “Our child is growing in me.”
He nodded and looked down wanting to watch the moment they came together.
“What?” He stopped and looked at Karen. His heart pounded in his chest. Did she just say what he thought she said?
“Be gentle Richard,” she smiled. “Our child is growing in me.”
Wonder. Excitement. Elation. Be sure. “A baby?”
He screamed with joy tucking her around him. All was right in Richard’s world.

Richard woke up to a tickle on his nose. He opened his eyes slowly. Wamp, wamp, wamp, Lucky’s tail batted him. He swatted at it, but it kept coming back to his face. Dingle jumped up landing on his head. Richard awkwardly reached for the cat and shooed him away. He watched as Dingle started nipping the pup’s tail. It must be time for him to go potty. He went over to the flap and got it open just in time. Dingle would make a good mom if he wasn’t a boy. He thought about it for a second and figured that maybe Dingle would like to be a dad. He wondered how Karen would feel about another cat in the house. Richard’s family was growing quickly and he loved it. The cold air hit him; he realized that he should not be standing in the doorway naked. He might have a lot of land, but his house was anything but private. Who knew what family members would be at the house this morning? He turned to find Karen running past him. At least she’d had the chance to grab a blanket. He should think about that the next time he stayed here.
He dressed and made sure that everyone made it to the house. Three inches of snow had fallen during the night. The puppy had a ball playing in the snow, but Richard felt the cold run up his legs. He scooped up the pup and made their way to the house. Dingle hopped the whole way. Lucky had followed Karen into the house so Richard didn’t have to worry about him.
He opened the sliding door; chocolate goodness smacked him in the face.
“Hocha Grandfather,” Richard greeted Grandfather with a smile. “Coco Wheats again?”
“Hocha Dome, close the door,” Grandfather said. “Were you brought up in a barn?” Grandfather laughed into his Coco Wheats, ticked at his own joke. Then he gazed at Richard pointedly. “I see Karen is ill again. Doc Tate said to take her to a doctor soon. Have you made an appointment?” Grandfather waved his spoon.
“Today I will,” he wanted Karen to tell him the news. She would want to surprise him herself.
“Man must keep his word,” Grandfather said. “Now on tradition. It is traditional to wait one year and nine months for your first child. To have a child earlier would mean that you are showing excessive sexual drive and very forward. I do not mind if you disregard this tradition. I am old and want grandchildren,” Grandfather told him with a smile.
“You will have a new grandchild before next Christmas, Grandfather,” Richard promised.
“That is ten months away Dome. Do not make a promise you cannot keep. Indians always keep their promise.” Grandfather said gravely.
“I promise,” Richard answered crossing his heart. “You have my word.”
“Better work quick Dome,” Grandfather laughed, then added, “I hope you’re up to it.”
Richard decided that it was best not to answer. He wasn’t sure if Grandfather was referring to… his parts. So, he ignored the jib.
Richard wanted answers about John. He grabbed a bowl, made himself some CoCo Wheats and sat down. He added some sugar and milk before asking the question.
“What went down yesterday with John?”
“I did not know all of it Dome,” Grandfather answered. “Only what I’ve been told and I haven’t talked to everyone yet. I’ve been trying to keep it from Painted Girl. She is sharp.”
Grandfather finished his Coco Wheats and looked dishearten. Richard pushed his bowl over to the Elder.
“I made too much,” Richard offered. “I can’t eat it all. Would you like some of mine?”
“Don’t want to waste food,” Grandfather said. “Not good to waste food.” Grandfather dug into Richard’s Coco Wheats. Richard looked around. He had to figure out how to get some breakfast. He was hungry. He wondered if it would look odd if he made some more for himself.
“About John,” Richard reminded Grandfather.
“Oh. Let me see,” Grandfather smiled. “Where is he?”
“He refused to stay here last night,” Richard said. “So I dropped him off at Little Wolf’s hotel.”
Grandfather dropped his spoon and looked up. “Did they realize it was John who was staying there?”
“Yes,” Richard said. “He said to tell you that they’d take care of something for you. I forgot his actual words but…”
Richard stopped as Grandfather jumped up forgetting his Coco Wheats. This didn’t bode well.
“I have to go,” Grandfather was almost in a panic. “What time is it?”
“About ten am,” Richard said. “Why?”
“Phone! I need phone!” Grandfather found it and dialed. He waited, received no answer and threw down the phone in disgust.
“What hotel does not answer phone?” Grandfather’s voice took on a frantic high pitch and an agitated accent dropping words. He grabbed his coat and ran out of the house before Richard could stop him or get any answers.
Chapter 39

Karen wrapped a towel around herself and made her way down the hallway. The front door slammed open then closed. Richard yelled. She padded over to the window and raised the curtain. Grandfather jumped in his truck, tires squished rocks sending them flying. Richard ran behind the truck, stopped then got into her car. She ran outside. The cold bit her. Gravel jabbed at her feet.
“Where are you going?”
Richard rolled down the window. “Karen, what are you doing? You’re pregnant. It’s cold. Get back in the house.”
She lurched her hand in the car and grabbed the keys. “Not until you tell me where you are going.”
“It’ll take too long,” Richard answered. “I have to go.”
“Not without me you’re not.” Karen held up the keys and jingled them. “You wait here for two minutes while I grab some clothes. Somethings going on and I want in on it!”
Karen ran back in a flash, as soon as she got into the car Richard took off.
“Do you have your seat belt on?” Richard asked.
“Almost,” Karen told him jerking on her pants. “Now what is going on?”
He waited until he pulled out of the snowy driveway to start. “Grandfather told me that if I didn’t respect your culture then I would have been taught to respect them.”
Karen turned towards her husband. “So? What’s that got to do with…”
“John didn’t respect the culture.” Richard patted her on the leg. His color changed as a blush ran up his cheeks. “He kinda freaked out actually. So Grandfather and some others took it upon themselves to teach him respect.”
“Like?” Oh, boy, this is gonna be good.
“Well,” Richard glanced at her. “Grandfather heard him call you a squaw and an Injun.”
“Oh no.” Karen cringed. Grandfather would have had a war party after him.
“So,” Richard continued. “When John tried to sneak into bed with Painted Girl, Grandfather took his revenge. He was in the bed instead of her.”
“What?” Karen asked. “John was in bed with Grandfather? How? When?”
“Well, that’s partially my fault,” Richard explained. His blush deepened. He turned redder than a chameleon on a red carpet. “I told him that Sarah slept in the house. On my wedding night, all John jabbered about was seeing her. It made me mad.”
“Wait. Sarah or Painted Girl? Which did he say?”
Richard watched the road for a moment. “I thought they were the same? Sarah is Painted Girl.”
“Was. She had a naming ceremony. The two Sarah’s were always getting confused. John asked me about Sarah.” Is this is all one big misunderstanding? “What happened next?”
He paused; a small smile graced his lips. “Grandfather waited on him in bed, dressed as a brave and scared him half to death.”
“Oh, no!” That would have been fun to watch. She withheld a gruff giggle and looked out the window.
“That’s not the worst. Apparently, John had gotten completely undressed before trying to get into bed. So there he was, naked, and he took off running out of the bedroom. Somehow, RedHorse laid in wait, saw John and they had an altercation. Painted Girl stepped out of the guest bedroom and smashed a vase over RedHorse’s head. John ran off and spent the night in the barn. Dingle guarded him. John hates cats by the way. Scares him silly.”
Richard looked at Karen before continuing.
“I wasn’t told what happened to RedHorse but Painted Girl took him back to Grandfather’s and they spent the day there.”
Karen’s mouth opened of its own accord. “I saw them there but Painted Girl didn’t say a word.”
“Well,” Richard continued. “I forgot about John so when I found him in the barn, Grandfather brought me a dress for John to wear. I just wish he would have brought some underwear. I’ve seen more of John than I ever should have.” Richard shook his head. “I left John at the house by himself when we went to Doc Tate’s yesterday. When we got back, he wasn’t there. I figured he hightailed it to the airport. But he didn’t”
Richard paused.
She laughed and leaned over towards him. His arm wrapped around her. “When we came home yesterday all the bedroom doors were locked.”
“I guess it was so he couldn’t get any clothes,” Richard said. “He was still wearing the dress when I found him last night at Grandfather’s. John and RedHorse came to blows. The Sheriff showed up madder than that crazy Presidential candidate. Later, I took John to Little Wolf’s hotel. He refused to come home with me.” He turned into the hotel parking lot before saying, “I never did find out what happened yesterday. John refused to tell me and I feel so bad about it. He’s my best friend, always has been. This morning when I mentioned to Grandfather that John had stayed at Little Wolf’s hotel, Grandfather got agitated and took off. And that’s where we are at. I have no idea what is going on.”
Richard parked the car next to Grandfather’s truck got out and went to help Karen out of the car.
“All of this happened on my wedding night?” She couldn’t wrap her head around it. So much fun missed and no sex either! Ugh.
“This way. His cabin is somewhere around here,” Richard said. They jumped as a truck barreled into the parking lot. RedHorse and Painted Girl. They both looked as angry as they could be. RedHorse got out of the truck and yelled for Painted Girl to hurry up. When she didn’t comply, he went over to her side of the vehicle. He opened the door and gave her a low bow. ‘Your highness,’ he sneered.
Oh, boy. They are having a huge row. Karen hurried over to the truck to talk to Painted Girl but she just held her head high and said, “Let’s go.”
Karen slowed her steps and yanked Painted Girl’s hand. The men hurried along the cobblestone steps oblivious.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“You had more important things on your mind.”
“What’s going on now?”
Painted Girl yanked her head towards RedHorse. “Idiot found the pregnancy test and assumed it was mine.”
Karen stopped. “You didn’t tell him it was mine?”
“Why would I do that?”
Karen rolled her eyes. “Cause you love him?”
“He doesn’t trust me. I WAITED on him. Stupid man.”
Lips pressed together to withhold a smile she asked, “Still a virgin? No John?”
Painted Girl sneered. “Sarah loves the idiot.” She twisted her hands in her dress. “He’s good for some raunchy jokes, though.”
They walked down a cobblestone lonely path into a winter wonderland. Snow hung on the barren trees, occasionally throwing a barrage of wintery flakes when the wind picked up. A snarly squirrel hissed at them and ran through the branches. His tail fluffy and full. Robins took off from the bushes a stark contrast to the white sky.
The sound of male voices echoed off the trees. The voices became louder as they entered the clearing at the honeymoon cabin. Set off by itself, smoke rose from in front of it. Yellow curtains lined the windows. A crowd of scantily clad young men paced around a bonfire, yelling at each other in front of the lonely cabin. The honeymoon ‘special’, the furthest from the office and was often used for after wedding ‘fun’ because of its secret location. However, at this moment the hideaway provided anything but privacy. Apparently, the young men had been having fun. They wore leather leggings but had on no shirts. A couple of men flapped their arms around and stomped their feet trying to get warm. Each man had paint on his face. One young man, Ashkey, RedHorse’s younger brother, had a red handprint up the side of his cheek. In the middle of the commotion stood John, wearing her momma’s Mumu.
Painted Girl stopped and smirked towards John. “I’m going to teach RedHorse a lesson. John owes me favors. So does Sarah.” She turned towards her friend. “I kept your secret too. So you owe me a favor too.”
Oh, shit.
John’s eyes narrowed. He crossed his arms, causing the dress to rise a few inches too many. John Peakes’ peeks peeked in the cold. Karen really wanted to comment on the cold and the effects that it had on John’s peeks but kept her opinions to herself.
Men don’t like flaccid reminders. The itsy bitsy weaner crawled up her momma’s Mumu. Round came the wind and flopped it to and fro…. Karen rolled her eyes.
“Hocha Grandfather,” RedHorse said. “It is good to see you. What can I help you with?”
“Good, good,” Grandfather nodded to RedHorse. There was more going on here than meets the eye. “We have a problem RedHorse. It involves your sister.”
“My sister?” RedHorse asked. “What does this Custer have to do with my sister?”
Knew it. Sarah, John asked about Sarah. Not Painted Girl.
RedHorse’s hands clenched. “Where is she?” he demanded.
Sarah appeared in the doorway. The smug look on her face, as priceless as a newborn’s first grin. “Here, Jack. I am here.”
“T’daun, what is going on?” RedHorse addressed his sister in Kiowa using an endearment.
“I have decided to get married RedHorse,” she glared at her brother.
Oh, good Lord. Married? Karen looked at Painted Girl. The jig’s up. Wonder if I still owe her a favor?
“Married,” RedHorse asked. “But you’ve had no suitors.” Then he looked at everyone suspiciously. “Who are you marrying, Sarah?”
“I have eloped,” Sarah RedHorse said, her hand went to John’s shoulder. He jumped. Ha! His face twisted in horror. “I am already married the Kiowa way. It is now up to you to accept the gift-giving.”
“Who did you marry Sister?” RedHorse ground out.
“That one.”
Sarah RedHorse pointed directly at John. John blanched and turned three shades of red, but said nothing.
Karen laid her hand on Painted Girl’s arm and gave her the sweetest smile she could. Richard went to stand between John and RedHorse. RedHorse seethed but his eyes lit up and his temper receded. RedHorse turned around and grabbed Painted Girl’s other arm, pulling her along with him toward the parking lot.
“Where are you going RedHorse?” asked Grandfather smiling.
“We are getting married. Legally.” RedHorse answered. “The child will be mine and brought up properly as a member of our tribe.”
Great! Karen jumped up on her tippy toes.
“And do I have a say in this?” Painted Girl asked, but she wasn’t fighting him.
“No,” RedHorse answered, walking faster.
You tell her, RedHorse. You’re the man! Take your love to town and sign those marriage papers.
“Are you marrying me just because of the baby?” she asked quietly.
Oh no. Painted Girl. He loves you. You love him. It’s my baby. Time for the secrets to end.
“Yes, a child needs a father. He needs to be taught our ways,” RedHorse answered.
Grandfather’s smile faded. The Elder should have taught RedHorse how to be quiet when he was teaching him to tame his temper.
“Then I’m not marrying you,” Painted Girl announced. “I would rather marry John.”
Eeeks. Shit.
Painted Girl stopped and faced RedHorse.
“He is apparently married to my sister,” RedHorse informed her, his hand clenching.
“Then he shall have two wives,” Painted Girl pulled her arm away from RedHorse and walked back to stand in front of John. Painted Girl looked at RedHorse’s sister for a moment, then she too joined John. The three of them stood side by side to the amazement of everyone else.
You have to be freaking kidding me. RedHorse do something. Anything.
RedHorse gathered his composure and turned around to leave.
“Wait, RedHorse,” Grandfather yelled. “We must agree on John’s gifts before we go so that they can be properly married. I am guessing that he will give your family lots of horses.”
RedHorse stopped and flexed his hand open, closed, open, closed. His prosthetic hand made a slight clicking sound on his belt buckle.
“Fine,” RedHorse ground out through his teeth.
“We will meet at your house in an hour to discuss it.” Grandfather informed him.
RedHorse stalked off toward his truck. But Karen caught a smile creeping into Grandfather’s face. Oh, he tried real hard to hide it but couldn’t.
Karen looked at Painted Girl. She shook her head.
“Shh,” Grandfather told everyone. “I must hear this.” Everyone stopped their chatter. They heard RedHorse’s truck start up and leave quietly. Grandfather smiled.
“Good! Good! Now you three,” Grandfather pointed at the three in the circle. “You are up to something. I can tell.”
Grandfather would know. Karen rolled her eyes.
They stood there defiantly, but no one said a word. Painted Girl turned and held RedHorse’s sister’s hand and looked at her Grandfather without saying a word.
“Come, let’s go then. We can decide on the wedding,” Grandfather said. “This is confusing. I do not like being confused.”
“Painted Girl?” Karen asked with her eyebrows raised.
“Hush now. I am happy,” Painted Girl told her. Karen just stared at Painted Girl. She understood that Painted Girl wanted her to stay quiet. She was beginning to think that Grandfather had been outmaneuvered. She just hoped that Painted Girl had thought this through.
All the young men stood shivered from the cold. Their bare bodies unaccustomed to the weather. One by one, they gave up on the charade and went to find their coats and scarves. Ashkey last one to gather his clothing; he refused to leave until Grandfather ordered him away. The elder had to be knee deep in this. She wasn’t fooled. Young men do not wear war paint and run around the woods naked on an average day.
“Grandfather,” Richard asked. “Would you like Karen and me to come over?”
“You must go home and take care of your wife.” Grandfather told him. “I want grandchildren, many grandchildren. Go get busy, I am old. I want to bounce my grandchildren on my knee. You must make this happen for me. You promised a grandchild before the year ends. You must get busy.” Grandfather almost chanted.
Now Karen knew for sure that Grandfather was up to something. She just hoped that it all ended well for Painted Girl. Both of the scheming? Ugh. Hell’s frozen over.
“John, do you need me?” Richard asked. “I can go with you and help you out.”
“Why would Pretty Dress Wearer need you?” Grandfather asked Richard. “You are newly married. You must give me grandchildren. You must get busy.”
“I can take care of myself, Richard,” John answered proudly in her momma’s little red dress. She’d have to give it to him, he has cute…knees.
Down came the wind and brushed at the wrinkly skin and the itsy bitsy weaner crawled up his leg again.
Karen and Richard just looked at each other. They were being dismissed. She’d miss all the fun. They turned and walked toward the parking lot with the others. Karen cozied up to Ashkey on the walk back to the car. She grabbed his arm, rubbing it, hoping to give him some warmth and get some answers. His face had a bluish tint to it and she worried about him. He brushed off Karen’s concerns with a blasé attitude. She tried a couple of times to get him to tell her what had happened. But he would not say one word.
Richard opened the car door for her. She sat and looked out the window.
“Do you know what’s going on?”
“Yes. We’re screwed.”
“We can’t tell anyone I’m pregnant.”
“Why not?”
“Cause I owe Painted Girl a friggin’ favor.”
Chapter 40

Richard and Karen drove quietly back to the house. He concentrated on the road for a few moments, then sneaked a peek at Karen. “Can John have two wives? Is that even possible?”
“No,” Karen answered slowly. “That is a very old practice. And illegal.”
“Then what in the world is going on?”
She laughed. “Apparently, John’s on trial.”
“I don’t think he’s doing so well.”
She moaned, “You think?”
Eyes on the road, Richard slowed around a corner as a car slid by too fast. “Do you have on your seatbelt?”
She sighed. “Yes.”
He eased off the gas. Driving with her in the car made him cringe on the inside. “Can we tell your mom and Mike about the baby?”
He turned into the top of the driveway and stopped the car. Grandfather’s sign made him smile. The Elder had asked for no money, just a favor. A family tradition. He grabbed Karen’s hand and kissed it. “You sure we can’t tell them?”
She sighed and squeezed his hand. “An Indian always keeps their promises.”
“What about me? I could tell them.”
She looked at him with fire in her eyes. “No.”
He liked the look and the promise it held. He wanted to take his new wife into the master bedroom and make love to her for the first time in that room. He planned his caresses, looking forward to her responses as he drove up to their house.
Their home. He loved the sound of that. Richard’s body reacted to her fingers as they caressed his arm. She laughed as her hand ran over his thigh and felt it rising. He put the car in drive and skidded up the slippery drive. Sun turned the snow a brilliant white. The house twinkled in the distance, a beacon for his new life.
Disappointment ripped through him; Sally’s car sat in the driveway. He pulled up behind the car and cut the engine. Karen jumped out and waited. Her gaze on the sleeping grapevines behind the house. Richard needed time to get himself under control. It would be embarrassing if her mom and Mike caught in this state. He waited for a couple of breaths, then followed Karen into the house. He found a quick way to ‘deflate’ himself. All he had to do was close his eyes and see John Peakes’ peeks. That did it.
“Mike, Sally. It’s good to see you,” Richard said as he entered.
“Hey Richard,” Mike slapped Richard on the shoulder. “I see you’ve got a new Leaks.”
“What leaks,” Richard asked. “We completely redid the house!” What now?
“Your puppy. We named him Leaks,” Mike burst out laughing. “That means his name is now Leakes’ Leaks. It fits.”
Richard laughed and shook his head. His whole life people made fun of his name. Mike was just having fun with him but the name fit. He would be Leaks from now on.
Lucky pushed his hand begging for a pet. Leaks jumped into the air.
“Hey Lucky, how’s my boy? You too Leaks.”
He liked being met this way. It warmed his heart. Both Lucky and Leaks vied for his attention as he sat down on the couch. Dingle jumped up and gave him a head butt. Richard scratched his ears and petted the feline just like a dog.
“Dingle’s been trying to potty train him,” Mike said. “It isn’t going as well as planned.” Mike made a face and pinched his nose. “Dog’s stink more than cats!”
“Maybe we should tell Dingle to teach him to go outside,” Richard told him.
“Lucky should be teaching him,” Sally exclaimed. “Not the cat!”
“Leaks thinks he should jump up on the counter like Dingle,” Mike told them. “He just hasn’t made it yet. I think the pup believes he’s a cat now. He makes a squeaking sound almost like Dingle does.”
Richard wondered how long they had been at the house today. He didn’t mind, though, it was nice having family around. Finally.
“I wonder what Grandfather would say about that,” Sally said.
“What would I say about what?” Grandfather stood at the doorway surprising everyone.
“The pups using the litter box and is trying to imitate Dingle,” Mike told him.
“Nobody knows who they are anymore.” Grandfather said, taking off his hat and leaning cross-armed against the doorframe. “Dog acting like cat. Cat acting like dog. World is crazy. I am too old for this. I need to sit down. Where are my grandchildren? I need grandchildren to prop on my knee.”
Grandfather strode over, sat down and pointedly looked at Karen. His dark eyes grazed over her asking an unanswered question. “Pahana Dome promised me a grandchild by the end of the year.”
Dingle jumped up and sat on Grandfather’s lap. The Elder scratched his ears and smiled at the cat, purring. Leaks not to be outdone tried to jump up too.
Karen looked at the floor then over towards Richard. He nodded at the Elder. “We’ll have to work on that, Grandfather.”
The Elder’s eyes shifted. First towards him, then over to Karen. “Tis not hard to do, if you’re up to it. You’re not having problems are you?”
Karen’s shoulders shook. Uh huh. “No.”
“You sure?” Sally asked. Her eyes danced. “I might have an extra copy of the Karma Sutra around here.”
Richard raised his eyebrows and shifted in his seat uncomfortably. “No, thank you.”
Grandfather thumped his finger on his chin. “Maybe they need something stronger. Diagrams maybe. Something with pictures.”
Karen’s eyes locked on his. Her body shook with suppressed giggles. “No.”
The Elder snapped his fingers. “Written instructions then?”
Richard lowered his voice and brushed his hand over Karen’s shoulders. “No.”
“How am I going to get grandchildren then?” Grandfather asked.
“By waiting,” Richard answered. “Let nature take its course.”
Grandfather waggled his finger towards the master bedroom. “There’s your course. Get going. I’ll wait.” He shook the newspaper and held it in front of him.
Sally offered drinks and went into the kitchen. Mike followed.
Grandfather edged the paper down. His bushy eyebrows wiggled. “You done already? Man’s fast on the draw.”
Karen tapped him on the shoulder. “We have guests.”
“No. Family. Not guests. Get busy. I’m teaching Dingle how to read. He’s a little slow, though.” Grandfather pulled the paper back up. The cat’s head swung up and down the page. His paw squished the paper. “Oh, that word? Fartlek.” The Elder laughed. “No, it’s not that. It’s a form of exercising… No, it’s not a form of butt exercises.” He lowered the newspaper. “Is it?”
Karen sighed and looked away. “Fast paced intervals.”
“See?” Grandfather told the cat. “It’s not a gassing contest.”
Chocolate filled the air as Sally and Mike carried in hot chocolate and fresh baked cookies.
Richard cleared his throat. “What about this marriage?”
“Who’s getting married?” Sally gave out the hot goodies and settled down next to Mike.
“Don’t know- will tell you when I find out,” Grandfather said looking at the Christmas tree. “Then after the wedding, we can open the presents. Christmas in February. It will be a tradition.”
“Grandfather,” Sally said, “we can do that now if you’d like.”
“No, not until everyone is married. That will make a happy Christmas,” Grandfather said. “We may have to wait until March for Christmas. Not everyone as happy as Dome and Little Sparrow.” He grabbed his hat and then added, “Maybe April. Everyone mad. Nobody likes to have fun anymore.”
“Wait, Grandfather,” Karen asked. “What’s going on at your house?”
“Don’t know- I’m here,” Grandfather said. “How do you expect me to know what’s going on at my house when I am here?” Laughing, bouncing with the energy of someone half his age, Grandfather left out the back door.
“What in the world is going on?” Looked from Karen to Richard. Confusion marred her face. “And who is getting married?”
“Mom you’re a part of this,” Karen told her.
“Me?” Sally asked. “What did I do?”
“You took part in his trials,” Karen placed her hands on her hips, but you could tell that she wasn’t as mad as she was trying to make herself look.
“Oh, please tell me what happened,” Sally said. “The trials your Grandfather put me through to marry your dad were horrible at the time. Now they are good memories. The things he had me do to Tom and Christy.” Sally rolled her eyes. “It’s amazing that anyone gets married these days. Richard, you should be glad. He got off easy. I was beginning to think that Grandfather had lost his touch.”
“You?” Karen asked, surprised. “You had a trial too? And Tom and Christy?”
Sally nodded, “Yes, so did Mike when we started dating.”
“You’re kidding?” Karen said.
“Nope,” Sally told her. “Anyone your grandfather loves he sticks his nose into their relationship. It’s his way of making sure the marriage last and showing you how much he loves you,” Sally said gently but there was pride in her voice. Pride and love for Grandfather.
“He must surely love Painted Girl,” Richard told Mike.
He laughed. Karen glared at him then explained as much as she could about what was going on with Painted Girl, John, RedHorse and his sister. Richard chipped in to fill some gaps. Karen was a storyteller just like her grandfather. Oh, not quite like her grandfather. She did not have that sing-songy quality that Grandfather did so well. She also did not tell everyone how much she needed grandchildren. He could see that coming with age, though. She would make a great grandmother to their offspring.
When she finished, she begged her mother to tell her ordeal. Then she asked Mike to tell his story.
“In the old days,” Mike told them, his professor face in place. “Indian braves had to show their courage, show they could support their mates. It’s like he started a new tradition based on the old ways. Which reminds me, Karen, I have a question for you,” Mike said, putting his arm around Sally and giving her a squeeze. “I got to thinking about what Grandfather told me about him being in that school as a child. Not knowing who he was or where he came from. We did some research, a lot actually, in the past three months. That’s why your mother and I are here. We found three possible matches for who might be your grandfather’s family. Do you think that he would like to find out or should we not say anything?”
“You did most of it, Mike. I just came along for the ride,” Sally said, giving Mike all the credit.
“You did a lot of work too Sally,” Mike said. “Don’t sell yourself short.”
“Well,” Karen pondered. “I think he would like to know who he is.”
“He’d have to do a DNA test to make sure,” Mike said. “There are descendants of each one that we can test to see if he’s related. If I can find someone who is willing to do a DNA test.”
“Can we do the test without his knowledge?” Karen asked.
“Yes, we can use a toothbrush it says, as long as it isn’t rinsed afterwards,” Mike explained.
“I’ll get it,” Karen said. “Until then let’s keep mum about it.”
They put their heads together and formulated a plan.
Chapter 41

Richard pulled the covers over his legs and felt along the mattress. He found the silky hair of Dingle, not his wife’s. He opened his eyes. The cat gave him a wide-eyed stare and moved away with his tail between his legs.
The cat nodded his head towards the bathroom. Richard groaned. Either the cat was the smartest animal he’d ever met, or Grandfather had taught him well.
Snarled curses came from the dressing room. He padded over to the walk in closet and gawked. Clothes littered the floor. Karen stood in the middle of the mess, yanking off a pair of pants.
He rubbed the sleep from his eyes. “What are you doing?”
“Nothing fits today. I can’t button anything up.”
“That usually happens when you’re pregnant.”
Karen glared at him. “Mom said she used a rubber band to hold her pants closed until she had me. I can’t fit the damn things over my butt.”
The cat made an odd noise and ran out of the room. Richard shook his head. “We should buy you some maternity clothes.”
She huffed, swinging her hair behind her. “I’d have to make them or go to Kansas City. Now, I need something to wear.”
Richard rummaged through her things. The only garment that fit was a very tight tracksuit and shirt. He wrapped his hands around her, feeling the barely swollen belly. His lips nibbled her neck. “I can’t wait to feel it move.”
Karen leaned in and held her hands over his. “I’ve felt a few flutters. I wish I could talk to mom about it.”
Richard sighed. “You still can’t say anything?”
“‘Cause an Indian always keeps their promises, right?”

They opened the door. Grandfather stood with Dingle in the hallway. The Elder grinned then backed up against the wall with arms splayed out.
“What are you doing?” Karen asked.
“Just giving you room to pass,” Grandfather answered.
Richard looked at Karen then back at Grandfather. The Elder’s grin said it all.
“You’re getting pudgy. The halls aren’t that large, Little Sparrow. Maybe we should widen it for her.” Grandfather winked.
The cat put its paw over his face and coughed.
Karen sputtered. “I haven’t gained that much weight!”
“Hurry past,” the Elder panted. “I can’t hold my breath any longer.”
Richard smiled and prodded a huffy Karen ahead of him into the kitchen. He brewed coffee and pulled out a couple of pans for breakfast. “What sounds good?”
His wife swiveled in her seat. “Fry bread.”
“Fried bread?”
Karen stopped. “No silly, fry bread. It’s a Native Bread. Some people call them elephant ears if they have sugar and cinnamon on them.” She spun her chair around and spoke excitement punctuating her words. “You can make ’em as tacos, too.”
Grandfather puttered back into the kitchen. His damp hair, freshly braided hung over his shoulders. An old red plaid robe wrapped around him. Bear-claw slippers bounced as he walked.
She pointed towards the Elder’s feet. “I bought those for you years ago.”
“Uh huh. They keep my feet bear-warm.”
“Would you like some breakfast?”
“I hungry. I’d like some food. I’m scared to eat at home.”
Karen eyed him up and down with a sweet smile. “You scared to take a shower there too?”
“Uh huh. Someone’s always walking in on me.”
Karen jumped up and hugged him. “You’re always welcome here.”
The Elder’s arms wrapped around her but his face turned towards Richard. Grandfather’s bushy eyebrows rose and fell in rapid succession. “Let me lean over a bit, I can barely wrap my arms around you.”
Karen gave him an exaggerated thump then pushed Richard out of the kitchen. “Have a seat boys. Momma’s making breakfast.”
“When’s Sally getting here?”
“Not my mom. Me. I’m making breakfast.”
Grandfather turned towards Richard, eyes wide, face blanched. His lips fluttered up and down. His voice barely above a whisper waivered. “Oh, no.”
Richard leaned in towards the Elder as Karen smacked bowls on the table then flipped open cabinets looking for something. “What’s the matter?”
“Call Doc Tate and ask him if he knows dentistry.”
“Why, do you have a toothache?”
“We will, after breakfast.”
Karen grabbed a coffee cup, her whispered, “Eh, ’bout a cup,” had Grandfather smacking his head. They both watched as she dumped flour, salt, baking powder and water into a bowl. Her face scrunched up. She went back to the cupboards.
“Do we have any powdered milk?”
Richard shook his head.
“Think creamer is the same thing?”
The Elder’s lips blubbered. Dingle jumped up on the counter, eyes round he went to Grandfather and patted his hand with a paw.
“Fry bread is sacred, Little Sparrow. You can’t change the ingredients. How ’bout some nice boiled eggs?” The Elder leaned over and whispered. “She can boil water, can’t she?”
Richard locked his eyes on Grandfather and nodded. The cat shook his head.
“It’ll be alright. I’ll just add a touch of milk.” Karen dumped a slash into the mix, then turned on the stand mixer.
Grandfather’s face turned red. “Over mixing makes ’em hard.”
She looked into the bowl and grinned. “They’ll be fine.”
Karen poured oil into a pot and set in on the stove. Her hand hovered over the oil.
Grandfather went over to the drawers. “I know you have a thermometer, don’t you?”
“Yeah, it’s in the…”
“Don’t be silly,” Karen interrupted. “I’ve watched mom do it a million times. Sit down, Grandfather.”
The Elder rounded on Richard, his eyes implored, ‘Do something.’
Richard shrugged.
Karen grabbed some dough, patted it in her hand and plopped it into the oil. “Huh. Shouldn’t it bubble or something?”
“I think I forgot to feed the horses. I should go.”
Karen swung towards him. “Nope. I’m cooking. You stay.”
“Oh, no.”
Dingle slid to the edge of the counter and peered over Karen’s shoulder. He looked back at Grandfather and shook his head.
“Fry bread’s sacred,” Grandfather moaned again.
“Why?” Richard asked.
The Elder whipped on his storytelling face. “It all started on August 31, 1849. The brave Navajo leader, Narbona and several hundred warriors set out on a peace mission and met with Colonel Washington…”
“No, he was long dead by then. This one’s name was John,” Karen cut in.
Grandfather nodded. “They spoke all day and into the late afternoon. Narbona agreed to the terms. Peace was at hand. The warriors rode out on their horses, free into the setting sun. But one warrior galloped to the head of the column, Sadoval. He did not want a treaty. The land was theirs. He argued and his voice grew under the thud of the horses’ hooves.
Calvary soldiers rode near. One broke off and hailed Colonel Washington. “An Indian rides my stolen horse.” Colonel Washington high-tailed it back to the Navajo. “Stand down return the horse or we will fire!” Narbona refused. The rider and ‘stolen’ horse were nowhere to be found. The Colonel gave the order. A canon boomed in the setting sun. As the smoke cleared, Narbona lay dying. A Calvary soldier jumped on him, took his scalp as he took his last breath then held it high for all to see.”
The Elder’s head bobbed. Dingle lowered his into his paws. “This lead to the ‘Long Walks’. Years later, in 1863, Kit Carson came to the Indian lands looking for our surrender. No one came to ‘greet’ him and this made him mad. He burned the land, torched it to the roots. Starvation littered the land and took many into his deadly embrace. Carson captured hundreds of Indians and took them to Bosque Redondo near Fort Sumner. A three-hundred mile walk without food or proper water for sustenance. Navajo bones lined the path; death stole their hearts. Carson forced the Navajo with the Mescalero Apache and skirmishes broke out. The camps meant to contain four-thousand people burst with over nine-thousand captives.”
Grandfather inhaled as he placed his hands on the table. “Food, a rare commodity, came in spurts or dribbles depending on the ‘supply lines’. The government handed out lard, flour, salt, sugar, baking powder, or yeast, and powdered milk but nine times out of ten, they were rancid. An ingenious person mixed these meager supplies together and gave the people hope during their four years of captivity.”
The Elder’s head bowed. “It is sacred to us.”
Karen turned off the pot and placed four copper round doughs on paper towels then onto the counter. She coated them in cinnamon and sugar then beamed as she presented them. Grandfather looked at his then leaned over. “Mine looks like a hammer.”
Richard bit into his and squeaked as hot oil burst over his tongue.
“Lose a tooth?”
“Grandfather! They aren’t that bad. Just a little too brown.”
“Burnt,” the Elder whispered. “The word you’re looking for is burnt to a crisp.” He pulled his apart, the doughy center oozed out. His hand disappeared for a moment. Leaks howled. Grandfather turned pink.
Karen glared. “Did you just feed the dog my homemade fry bread?”
Grandfather licked his fingers. “I like the sugar topping.”

Bundled in a light windbreaker, Karen tapped the long stems of the grapevine and listened. Hollow. She picked up her pruning shears and cut off the cane, dropping it into the path. Young kids, Grandfather’s helpers and family ran along the paths collecting the discarded vines.
Dew settled into the little rolling hills. Heads popped up over the vines then disappeared. Snips cut through the air. Earthy smells of the fresh ground rose around her.
Her gaze followed the vines off into the distance. Almost finished with the last acre. Soon they would spring to life and her dream with it. Richard stumbled behind her, tripping over a stray twig. He grabbed her shoulders and nibbled at her neck.
His breath prickled her skin. “Shouldn’t you be inside?”
She rubbed her cheek on his. Goosebumps rose on her skin as his five o’clock grazed tender patches. “Nope.”
“Little Sparrow needs exercise and fresh air. She’s getting….” Grandfather scrunched up his face. “Plump.”
Karen raised her eyebrow. “I am not fat.”
“Nobody said fat, said plump. Not the same thing,” Grandfather grumbled.

“Sounds the same to me.”
Richard planted a kiss on her cheek. “She looks wonderful, Grandfather.”
“She’s plump.” Grandfather nodded towards Painted Girl. “She, on the other hand, looks too skinny.” He looked at Karen’s work and nodded. “You’d think that you were pregnant, not Painted Girl.”
She sighed and rolled her eyes before scooting down to the next vine.
“Maybe you are getting fat. I haven’t seen you in anything but sweat clothes since you were married. At this rate, we’ll have to roll you down the aisles. What are you feeding her?” he asked Richard.
“I think she ate all the Coco Wheats this morning.”
Grandfather blanched in horror. “All of them?
“They are good for you,” Karen said patting her belly. “Hot and warm goodness.”
“Not one box?”
“Nope.” Karen smiled. Grandfather moved away. “Where are you going?”
“To the store.”
“Oh. I forgot. They’re out. I checked.”
Grandfather stopped. His head jiggled over the vines. “Kay? Do you have any Coco Wheats?”
Her voice touched with a hint of laughter rolled over the vines. “Nope. Little Sparrow said she’d ordered some.”
“Ordered some?” He eyed Karen.
Karen nodded. “From the internet. Fresh from the factory. They’ll be here today, but I need a favor first.”
Grandfather’s eyes grew wide. “I can order food on the internet? Anything I want?”
Oh, no. “Not everything. Coco Wheats. My favor?”
The Elder nodded.
“I bought six new toothbrushes. I need someone to try each one and see which one is best.”
She tugged a stuck clipping. Richard pushed her hand away and yanked it out. “Christmas gifts. For the kids. You know, for when everyone is happy.”
Grandfather shrugged. “Might have to wait ’til June.”
“Uh huh.”
“Okay. I’ll do it later. When’s the Coco Wheats arriving?”
Karen grabbed a bag from her jacket. “Nope. Now. Open wide, chomp down a few times then give it back.”
The Elder did as asked. “No difference to me but I like the one with the owl on it. I like owls.”
Karen smiled and placed the toothbrushes into baggies. “I know Grandfather. The Coco Wheats should be on the front stoop. Knock yourself out but leave a few for me.”
The Elder ambled away, grinning ear to ear.
“The delivery guy doesn’t come until later, Karen,” Richard said.
“I know. I put them there myself this morning.”
He put his hand on her shoulder. “You shouldn’t be lifting anything.”
She sighed. “I did it with my seatbelt on.”
“Richard.” Karen grabbed his hand. “I’m fine. We’re fine. But you have to quit worrying about me.”
He looked away for a moment. “I’m smothering you, aren’t I?”
She laughed. “Smothering, no. Hovering, yes.”
“I’ll do better.”
She brought herself up on tippy toes and kissed his chin before she ambled through the vines checking other’s work. The breeze tickled her cheek. Soon the spindly curls of vines would produce fat leaves then juicy grapes. The sun rose high in the sky, the warmth sprayed across her cheeks. She made her way over to the tall enclosures they’d built for strawberries. Leaves and buds peeked out of small slits in the tall containers. Seven foot tall and six foot wide made out of wood, the slits were for the deer to nibble some treats. The upper level for people to gather the fruit once it ripened in another month or so. An ingenious way to keep the deer happy and the bulk of the plants out of the deer’s hooves. Grandfather hated the fence around the grapevines but it had to be that way. She kept a few vines near the strawberry containers for the deer and she pruned those too.
Blue jays and red robins skidded around the plants looking for an early treat. She needed to check the bird feeders. She pulled the ladder from the side and leaned it against the maple tree.
The patio door opened and closed. Chocolate wafted on the breeze. She smiled. Grandfather was already enjoying his treat.
“Little Sparrow,” Grandfather yelled. “Ladders aren’t for fat women. Let a skinny guy do it. You’d break it.”
“She is getting fat, isn’t she?” Sally called.
“She wobbles when she walks.” Grandfather walked around the patio swaying to and fro, holding his gut out. “She’s duck built.”
RedHorse ran over. “Here.” He swiped at the ladder with his prosthetic. “I’ll do it. You might break the rings.”
Karen huffed. “You’re bigger than me.”
He looked down at her barely protruding belly. “Naw. You’ve ballooned. Must be Richard’s cooking.”
“I did not balloon.”
“She’s right RedHorse. There’s no way she’d fly away now. I might have to change her name. Big Duckie? Big Duckie and Dickie Leakes? Nope, don’t sound right. Big Waddle Dickie Leakes? I’ll think on it.”
“You are not changing my name, Grandfather!”
The Elder eyed her. “Ostrich? Dodo bird?”
Karen examined the Elder as if he was a worm farmer.
“Pterodactyl? Watch out RedHorse, she might eat the tree from under you.”
She crossed her arms and glared. “Maybe I need all those Coco Wheats.”
Grandfather screeched and ran into the house. Probably hiding the boxes of food.
Karen puttered around the strawberries then made her way back through the vines. Dingle pounced in front of her. His body moved oddly, though. He waddled and swayed with each movement. Like a fat pregnant cat. She stopped and glared at him. He turned his green eyes on her with a muffled cough.
Grandfather yelled from the porch. “You can’t fit in the rows, Little Stegosaurus. You’re squishing the path.”
Her mom’s voice gave her pause. “Karen, stop!” She turned and looked at her mother and smiled. For two seconds before her mother continued, “Your feet are bouncing the vines.”
Kay sat pruning a vine. She lifted her head up, her eyes round. “Did you feel the earthquake?”
Tom peeked around her three times. “Did the house fall down? Is that what’s happening? I can’t see, something… big… is blocking the house.”
A strangled voice, which sounded an awful lot like Painted Girl yelled. “Help! I think I’m seasick. The ground is moo-oo-oving.”
Dingle’s buttocks bounced. He stopped and snickered at her. She bit her lip and stared over the land. Heads popped up over the vines.
“Oh, thank God, she stopped. She didn’t break the land open did she?”
Painted Girl’s voice screeched above the other voices. “Quick hide the cows. She looks hungry.”
Karen flicked her hand on her thigh.
“We don’t have any cows.” Richard’s voice cut through the budding laughter. “Cut it out. Now.”
Painted Girl’s head peeked over the rows. “Did you eat all of them?”
Karen plowed through the rows and grabbed her. “We are having a conversation. Now!”
She pulled her cousin out of the vines, down a worn path across the fields and into the woods without speaking. They fell into step until they came to a small clearing. Tall grass weaved around the path towards a fallen log. Karen pointed. Painted Girl sat with an ornery grin.
The breeze picked up her hair and flung it around her face. Dingle scampered over and sat down, his keen green eyes held her gaze for a moment. He smiled.
Karen paced, started to speak then stopped. She gathered her fists and plopped them on her thighs.
“How could you take part in those jokes?”
Painted Girl played with the hem of her long dress. “It’s funny.”
Karen ground her teeth together. “This is all your fault.”
Painted Girl sighed and leaned back. “Don’t talk in front of the C.A.T.”
Dingle’s ears twitched. So did Karen’s.
“Why not.”
Painted Girl nodded towards the feline. “Somethings not right about it. Odd things happen around H.I.M.”
“Uh huh. And Grandfather is teaching him to read you know.”
Karen raised her eyebrows. “Since when do you swear?”
Dingle stretched his back; his eyes went to Painted Girl.
“Grandfather knows everything and the only way he could know is if,” she yanked her head towards the cat, “he tells him.”
“Oh, good Lord. Give me one reason why I shouldn’t tell everyone.”
Painted Girl sighed. “I’m in a three-way marriage with John.”
“He’s nice enough.”
Painted Girl’s glare shook the trees behind her. “Sarah makes sure that man’s penis sees more action than the wind.”
“You should have married RedHorse.”
“Only because I’m pregnant?”
The cat’s eyes grew round. He shook his head.
“See?” Painted Girl whispered. “He understands.”
Karen rolled her eyes. “He’s a cat.”
Dingle bared his teeth and hissed.
Painted Girl’s eyes went wide as she gazed at the cat. “Doggie. She meant dog.”
The cat nodded and sat down.
Karen sat down next to her cousin and took her hand. “Grandfather’s screwing with you.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Oh for the love of Pete. This has to stop.”
“Fine. You tell everyone but don’t mention the T.E.S.T. in the T.R.A.S.H. That’s my offer.”
Karen sighed. “Do you think it will stop the fat jokes?”
“I doubt it. Now they are telling me skinny jokes.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll hold you down when a breeze comes along.”
Painted Girl groaned. “We’ve been here a while. You should get home. The sun’s going to be setting soon. Do you want me to take you back?”
“Naw, you go on home. It’s only about a twenty-minute walk back for me and about the same for you. Tomorrow I’ll have an announcement party.”
She kissed her cheeks and hugged her. Dingle stayed at her heels as she waved goodbye. The breeze calmed then picked up. A storm brewed on the horizon but she took her time. Deer grazed off in the distance. She stopped to watch them. A small doe protected by the herd chomped on new shoots of grass. Its tail twitched. She leaned against a tree and became one with the woods. Critters came out, ignoring her. A squirrel chirped above, a baby bunny hopped down by a stream.
Dingle scratched her leg and nodded towards the house. He walked ahead of her and stopped before giving her an imploring gaze.
“Dinner time, Dingle?”
The cat nodded and took a couple of steps. He waited for her to catch up then prodded along towards home. The vineyard came into view then the house. The setting sun produced a halo around it; dark clouds swirled in the distance. Home and Richard. Not far now.
A police siren cut the air. Its sharp call sliced through her. She ran. The halo turned to red as the lights bounced off the house.
Oh, no! Grandfather!
Chapter 42

Richard bound up the last of the discarded vines and packed them in the pile with the rest. His arms ached, his back too. He looked forward to the harvest. Now the waiting began. He meandered through the fields and waved goodbye to retreating friends. Lucky fell in step beside him, Leaks hopped off finding a stick to entertain him.
He made his way to the patio and plopped down in a chair. Sally came out with some iced tea. A beer sounded better but he’d take anything at the moment. The tangy smell of cooking tomatoes, oregano and basil ran out of the house and tickled his nose as Grandfather came out to join them.
“Is Karen cooking?” he asked Sally.
She shook her head. Grandfather blanched, his eyes round with horror.
“She’s not that bad,” Richard whispered.
Grandfather looked around then back at him. “Uh huh. I had to count my teeth after lunch.”
Sally laughed. “She made soup and sandwiches.”
Grandfather shook his head. “Sticking a bowl of canned goo in the microwave isn’t making soup. Slapping baloney on a piece of bread isn’t a sandwich. I think one of them broke my tooth. See?” Grandfather smiled wide.
Richard sighed. “She made it this morning all by herself, be nice.”
Grandfather eyed him. “I don’t know why she’s getting so fat. You must be doing all the cooking.”
Richard shrugged his shoulders and leaned back. He couldn’t help his smile. “I cook dinner, she cooks dinner. She does fine.”
“How many boxes does she open?” Grandfather laughed.
Richard refused to answer. She usually opened jars. He thought about asking to take over the cooking because he loved being in the kitchen. If she’d do the cleanup, he’d be happy.
Sally sipped her drink. “So, where is she?”
He tensed. She’s not here? “Karen? Isn’t she in the house?”
Sally shook her head.
Grandfather looked around. “She’s with Dingle. She’ll be fine.”
Richard jumped up and ran into the house. “Mike? Have you seen Karen?”
Mike stood over the stove, stirring the sauce. “I thought I saw her walking with Painted Girl. It’s been a while though.”
Richard grabbed the house phone and called Grandfather’s house. Painted Girl answered. “I left her a half hour ago. She should have been home by now.”
Richard slammed the phone down and ran out of the house. Dark clouds hung on the horizon. He bolted, hitting the dirt hard. His lungs burst as he topped the hill. He turned in circles.
Fear sliced through him. “Karen!”
Mike ran up to him and leaned over grabbing onto his pants. His breath came in spurts, his face red. “Grandfather… says… Dingle… is… with her. She’ll be… fine.”
“Dingle? Are you freaking kidding me? My wife is out here somewhere. Alone.” He inhaled and yelled at the top of his lungs. “Karen!”
Sally hurried up the hill; she stopped and put her hand on Richard’s arm. “She’ll be fine. She’s lived here her whole life.”
Richard looked towards the woods. She could be hurt, ill, lying dead in a gully. Oh God, not that, please not that. I can’t lose her too.
He took off for the house. “I’m calling the police.”
Both Sally and Mike ran after him. “Richard, wait.”
He forced the sliding doors open. Grandfather sat the table. Candles danced, the lights turned low. Steam lifted off the spaghetti. The sauce, thick and meaty sat beside it. Garlic bread toasted and buttery sat between them. Wine glasses sparkled on the table.
Just like before. When the police came and shattered his life. When his wife died taking their child with her. He shook. His body out of control, his fingers reached for the phone and dialed.

Red lights shined in the window. He couldn’t think. His fingers twitched. Why isn’t he out searching? Get out of the house and go look for her!
Grandfather sat in his chair as if his world wasn’t crashing down. Sheriff Bills gave him odd looks.
“Find her!”
Bills snarled, his hand on his gun. “She’s only been gone an hour or so. You need to calm down before I take you to jail for being a public nuisance.”
“She’s missing! She might be hurt or lying in a gully somewhere.” Why isn’t anyone taking this seriously? “Damnit, look for her!”
Sheriff Bills edged up close, his finger jabbed him in the chest. “Boy. You need to learn some manners. You don’t call the police when your wife runs out to do her nails.”
Richard’s world imploded. He pulled back his fist and swung with all his fury. Fist connected with bone, blood spurted from Bills nose. Arms grabbed for him pulling him down. He struggled then sank to his knees. Fire seared his lungs. “Find my wife.”
Karen’s voice ripped through him. “Oh my God! What is going on?”
His wife, his lovely wife sat before him rubbing his face.
Her gaze left him and snapped to the Sheriff. Blood dripped down his face. “What did you do?”
Bills shoved Karen out of the way. She fell with a plop on the floor. Grandfather grabbed Bills. “Do not touch her! She’s… fat!”
Dingle hissed and went for the Sheriff’s pants. The man howled and kicked.
Bills pushed Grandfather aside. He landed a swift kick on the cat. “Richard Leakes, you’re under arrest. Benjamin NoName, you too.”
Karen jumped up. “What for?”
Dingle ran teeth bared towards Bills. Grandfather yelled, “No Dingle. You wouldn’t like jail.”
The cat stopped and hissed. Green eyes glowed. A low growl pulsed from his lips.
The Sheriff pulled out his cuffs. “For stupidity, lunacy, idiocy and anything else I can think of.” He looked towards the cat. “And guess who’s going to the pound.”
“Oh,” Grandfather eyed Bills. “Don’t mess with him. He’s special.”
The Sheriff snorted. “Like that damn dog who thought he was a wolf? You pulling that crap again Benjamin?” He stepped in closer to the Elder. “You been drinking again?”
Grandfather’s eyes slit. “You need to learn your place.”
Bills laughed. “Well, right now, your place is in my jail. You crazy old man. You’re up to something and that never bodes well.”
The Sheriff dragged them both out of the house and into the car. Karen ran outside and stopped. Mike and Sally joined her in the driveway.
Her yell reached his ears and made him wince. “What the hell is going on?”

Grandfather sat in the cell and bounced on the lower cot. The dull yellow walls ran into the old marble floor. It smelled of paint, bleach and if he sniffed long enough, baked beans. His tummy rumbled.
Richard sat beside him, head in his hands. “I’m sorry, Grandfather. This is my fault.”
He patted the young man on the thigh and smiled. “Tis fine. Mrs. Bills cooks for the jail. She makes great baked beans.”
Richard leaned back against the wall, his long legs crossed in front of him. “I think I blew it with Karen.”
He shrugged. “Fat wives are worrisome. Skinny wives too, but fat ones have more to love and lose.”
“Are you mad at me for having you put in jail?”
The Elder leaned back, stretched out his legs then shook his head. “Naw. They’ve spruced the place up a bit since I was last here.”
“You were in jail?”
Grandfather mumbled. “Moved in for a while. Mrs. Bills was single then. She makes a ham that will curl your toes.”
Richard blinked. “You spent time in jail… for ham?”
“A happy tummy is a happy home. Food brings people together. Don’t you smile each time you think of turkey or pie? Everyone has a favorite memory of food and it always involves family.”
Richard turned towards him with wide eyes. “Mrs. Bills? As in Sheriff Bills’ wife?”
Oh, shouldn’t have let that one slip. “Don’t think ill of her for her bad choices in life.”
Jingled keys and heavy steps had them both silent for a moment. The Sheriff peered through the bars looking like a one-eyed pirate.
He laughed. “Got yourself a shiner there, Bills.”
One eye looked him up and down. “Shut up Benjamin. I brought you a damn lawyer, though I have no idea why he chose to take you on.”
Benjamin studied his fingernails. Choices in life, they always come back to bite you in the ass.
“You want to talk to him or not?” Bills barked.
Grandfather sighed. “I heard Bena was back. Is he mad at me?”
Bills snarled. He opened the door, made a motion towards the office then Bena came in.
“Grandfather.” Bena smiled.
He’d changed. The army did him well. He’d filled out. His hand outstretched he took it in his own and squeezed. Bills walked off with a shake of his head.
“I’ll get my father to drop the charges or mom will quit cooking for him.”
Grandfather nodded then introduced Richard.
“I’ll have you out soon. Mom made a ham.”
The Elder’s tummy tingled with anticipation.
“Father won’t be able to eat any until you’re released.”
Grandfather put on his sad face. “Can I have some of it? Fat Sparrow is cooking today. It’s a box.”
Richard leaned over. “We’re having…”
Grandfather bumped his arm. “Cardboard doesn’t taste good cooked. Too much fiber for me.”
Bena laughed. “Is it better than mock apple pie?”
Grandfather plopped down on the cot. “Your memory wounds me.”
The sweet voice of Mrs. Bills wafted through the bars with the smell of home cooked ham. Bills answered, his tone raised. The argument swirled through the bars.
Bena smiled and leaned against the bars. “Any minute now.”
The argument crested behind the closed door. Wisps of it burned his face.
“I want to thank you, Grandfather. Without you, I’d be stuck here married to Sarah RedHorse. I could have left in a better way though.”
The Elder nodded. “Are you happy?”
The young man smiled, lighting up his face. “I am, but my father isn’t. I re-upped and I’m staying in Korea. Got me a new gal too.”
A door slammed against the wall. The Sheriff stomped down the hallway and opened the cell. “Out! Out! Don’t make me come regret this Benjamin.”
Grandfather steepled his fingers. “Can I take some ham to go?”
“Out now before I change my mind,” Bills growled. Grandfather smiled. If he could stay, he’d get ham and beans. Bills’ eyes narrowed. “I’ll ask Sarah RedHorse or Karen to cook for the jail while I take my wife on vacation.” The Sheriff’s eyes gleamed. “How’s burnt beans and mock apple pie sound?”
Oh no! “After you, Richard.”
Chapter 43

Karen paced outside of the jail. Really? In jail? All because he’d freaked out over me taking a walk?
Fat drops of rain fell on the pavement and coated her shoulders. The breeze pulled wet hair into her face. She swiped it aside. Mike brought out an umbrella and held it over her and her mother. Stomping her feet, she glared at the Sheriff’s door.
A Volkswagen puttered down the street and slowed as it passed. Two head popped out the window and stared. Painted Girl and John’s faces looked at her in wonder as Sarah stopped the car at the curb.
“What did you do?” John asked.
Karen glared at him. Mike walked over and talked to him. John’s stare turned to ice as Mike told the story.
Painted Girl peeked at her with an impish grin. “I’ve never heard of an Indian lost in their own woods before.”
Karen struck her with a steel honed eye. Painted Girl retreated into the car for a moment then stuck her head back out. “Grandfather’s in jail too? Seriously? How could you let them take him to jail? He must be horrified.”
“I didn’t let anyone go to jail. I wasn’t there,” she ground out through clenched teeth. Mike edged away and came back to stand with her and her mother.
Mike cleared his throat. “Don’t be mad at him. He was scared out of his wits.”
She edged in closer under the umbrella as the sky opened up. The bubble of the VW melted into the plops of rain. “Because I went for a walk?”
“Look,” Mike brought his free arm around her. “The day my daughter died, we were in the kitchen. The table sat, candles the whole nine yards, just like today. When the Sheriff pulled up with his lights flashing, I think it all came back to him. He’d been so excited when the doctor told him Rose was pregnant. Then in an instant,” Mike’s voice faltered. “She was gone. My little girl, my grandbaby and my wife too. He saw all of that in one instant happening again.”
Karen turned an icy stare on Mike. “But that doesn’t give him the right to hit-”
Her mother grabbed her arm. “Remember how you reacted in the barn? It’s the same thing. You kicked Christy, fought her. I saw the bruises.”
Her body cringed. Oh, Lord. She deflated, her anger swept away with the rain. The door swung open. Richard stood in the doorway, relief written on his face. Grandfather stood behind him, holding up a bag with a grin on his face. She nodded and walked away towards the car.
Richard stopped to have a hurried conversation with John, the sky lit with anger as thunder ripped through the sky. Mike and Sally hurried to the auto, Richard on his heels. Grandfather followed, hugging a bag close to him. Karen turned in her seat and stared out the window.

Richard wiped his hands on the towel. His wife had not said one word in the car, only a goodbye to Sally and Mike. Nor had she spoken during dinner. She’d finished her meal then went to bed. Richard cleaned up, put away the dishes then moped about in the kitchen.
The Elder waited on Karen to leave then sat down at the bar and pulled a ham sandwich from the bag. Given to him at the jail by Mrs. Bills. His smile should have warmed his heart.
He needed to talk to Karen.
“Don’t mind me. Go have make-up sex. Your ‘grandchild by Christmas’ clock is ticking.”
“I doubt…” Nope, not going to finish that sentence.
“You doubt what? Your abilities? I hear they make a pill for that. Hand me the phone and I’ll get Doc Tate to prescribe one.”
Richard shook his head. Dingle jumped up on the counter. Grandfather pulled off a piece of meat for the cat.
“I told you Dingle would bring her home. You should have listened to me. But it all worked out for the better.” He held up the sandwich and smacked his lips. “Best ham ever.”
Richard left Grandfather to his musings. His footsteps echoed on the wood floor. A lonely cadence matching his pensive mood. He paused at the photos on the wall. A few new ones joined the old weathered photographs. Wedding photos. A black and white one of them draped in the blanket, Karen’s face beaming up at his. He touched his fingers to the cool glass and inhaled.
Soft music floated over him. He turned towards the master bedroom. Lights flickered from under the double doors. He edged his way over and listened.
Dingle popped between his feet and pawed at the door. Lucky moseyed over, cocked his head towards the sound and sniffed. The cat turned towards him and wiggled his backside in an obscene manner. The feline rubbed the door, his eyes glazed over, his butt danced. Richard pushed him aside. The feline scooted close as Richard put his hand on the handle.
“Oh, hell no.” He grabbed the hollering cat, called Lucky and Leaks then found Grandfather back in the kitchen.
“That was quick. Shouldn’t it take three minutes instead of two?”
Richard sucked on his tooth, handed the Elder the cat then walked away. “He’s yours tonight.”
He hurried down the hall. The soft music tugged at him, pulling him closer.
Grandfather’s voice followed him. “Dingle says he’s an old hand at this. If you’d like any pointers, he’s your… doggie.”
“I don’t need any help from a cat.”
A sharp hiss filled the air. “Just for that, Dingle says he won’t bless your mojo. I hope you’re in the mood to chat tonight.”
He felt the cold hard steel of the door handle. His hands shook, the music beckoned. He prayed it wasn’t locked. He inhaled, held his breath and turned the knob. The door opened. He stared.
Karen faced away from him, her legs rubbing each other in slow smooth movements. Pearly white lace floated around her, like daisy petals; her dark hair the shining floral center, her lean legs the stem. She rolled on her tummy, he knees flexed she wound them together at the ankles. Her bottom peeked from under the lacy teddy, two soft earthy mounds. A bright white thong disappeared down its path. A trip he hoped to take soon, himself. The candles fluttered.
“Dingle get back here,” Grandfather’s loud whisper broke his concentration. He jumped inside and slammed the door. A paw shoved itself under the door and pulled. The doors shuddered. Richard locked them just in case.
She turned towards him, flipping her hair out of the way. Her smile welcomed him. “Come here, my big bad criminal.”
He laid down beside her, taking her face in his hands. He brushed away a stray strand of hair. “I’m sorry. I thought I’d lost you.”
“I know.” She ran a soft finger over his arm. “But I’m not your Rose.”
He smiled. “You’re my daisy.”
She raised an eyebrow at her. Her lips puckered in a confused pose. “Your dark legs, the white teddy, then your beautiful face. You looked like a plucked daisy looking for the sun.”
“Do you have a thing for flowers?”
He shook his head. “No, just for you.”
She smiled and turned her lips up towards him. A sweet invitation. He lowered his head, locked his eyes on hers and only closed his after hers nodded together. His hands roamed over her nighty and lifted it, finding the swell of her breast. Rounder now, a slight difference but fuller. His inched his way down to her belly and held it there, hoping for a flutter. He stilled begging the child to acknowledge his presence. A gentle pulse touched his hand. His eyes flew to Karen. She nodded. He looked back down at her abdomen. Our baby. My child. He lowered himself down by her side, his face against the soft mound. He ran his fingers over her skin, watching the goosebumps rise and the tiniest of movements. His lips met the last twitch, his first kiss for his prodigy.
Karen tapped him on the shoulders, then crooked a finger at him. He pulled himself along the silky sheets and laid down beside her. His lips found hers and locked them together with his.
He took off his shirt and threw it to the floor. He opened her teddy and kissed the space between her breasts. She stopped him, rolling him on his back.
Karen’s hand twirled around his belly. He huffed and looked at the ceiling. Her lips trailed over his pecks. Needle pricks of excitement ran through his head… but nowhere else. I- Love to love you baby, played on the speakers. The candlelight bathed her skin in a wondrous glow. Her body slid over his. Pearly white lace floated around her. Long dark hair caressed him. Her lips covered his, teasing, tasting, tempting. He groaned and gently pushed her aside.
“Where are you going?” Confusion edged her voice.
“To apologize to a damn ca… doggie.”

Then cut to the last scene, where she’s eating an ice cream on the way home.

Ohhh, that hurt, physically hurt.  So much backstory left out, but I think it is better for the average reader. Please give me your thoughts and feelings.  I love to hear from readers.