Best Men, part 7

When I got back to the main house Chris, Steve and Pete were at the kitchen bar, talking. They all looked around at me when I came in, and I was struck again by how much they all looked alike, particularly through the eyes. They all had Jack’s eyes and the good looks forged by a combination of Scots, Viking and Native American blood. I must have been smiling; Chris said, “What?”

“Hm? Oh, nothing. Just noting how much you three look alike and look like your dad.”

Steve smiled. “Thank God for that, right?”

I climbed onto a stood beside Pete. “You resemble each other more than Jeff, Kevin and I.”

Steve said, “Anyone could pick you and Kevin out as brothers. Jeff must look like your mom.”

“He does. His hair and eyes are a tad lighter, but otherwise, yeah.”

Chris said, “I’ve never met your brothers.”

“You’ll meet them at the wedding.”

She smiled at me. “Thanks for walking Dad home.”

“Oh, sure. I noticed his life call button.”

“That’s for my own peace of mind more than anything.” Chris propped her chin on her hand. “But there are times when none of us are home, and I want him to be able to get help on the way before he tries to get hold of one of us.”

Pete said, “I’m glad you did that.”

Steve said, “I am too. But try not to infantilize him too much.”

Chris and Pete both looked surprised. Pete said, “You know what that word means?”

“Duh, of course I know what it means. I’m just saying, Dad’s used to being independent. Don’t make him too dependent.”

 

Steve was staying in a guest room in the main house, but Chris had housed Pete and I in the larger guest house, about a quarter mile away. It was comfortably but beautifully decorated. I said, “Do they rent out this house for vacationers?”

“Yeah, but not all year. Three months each in the spring and fall, I think. Andy’s parents started doing it, and they have regulars that come.”

“I guess they do pretty well with the businesses?”

“I suppose so, but they work all the time. Andy and his brothers run the ranch and the feed store, and Chris and her mother-in-law and one of the sisters-in-law manage the guest house.”

“Being self-employed is tough.”

“True.” Pete checked the fridge. “This is fully stocked. Want a beer?”

Yes.”

A fire was laid in the great room fireplace; Pete lit it and we were soon enjoying the toasty warmth and the cold beer. I yawned. “Can we sleep in tomorrow?”

Pete put his arm around my shoulders. “We’re on vacation. We can do whatever we want.”

 

Wednesday, December 24

We spent the next several days enjoying the ranch and the company of Pete’s nieces. On Christmas Eve morning Andy and Stephanie saddled horses for us, and we went for a ride along the fence line. Andy said, “I try to do this every week. The hands keep an eye on it, of course, but I like to see it for myself.”

Stephanie was laughing at my attempts to get comfortable in the saddle. “Is this the first time you’ve ever been on a horse?”

“Yup. I’m a greenhorn.”

Pete said, “So am I. But these horses seem pretty calm.”

Andy nodded. “Those two that you’re on are the same ones the girls learned to ride on when they were kids. They’re as gentle as they come.”

I finally found a position that I liked and patted the horse’s neck. “Thanks for the ride, handsome.”

Stephanie giggled.

When we got back to the barn and dismounted, I had trouble getting my land legs for a minute. Stephanie said, “You and Uncle Pete will be coming here on a regular basis, right? We’ll make a rider out of you.”

I hadn’t considered that, but she was right. We’d be trekking to Tucson as often as we could, now that most of Pete’s family was here. I said, “I’ll give you a chance to do that, but the first time a horse bucks me off, it’s over.”

She patted my horse on the nose. “Sonny won’t buck you off. Especially if you bring him treats.”

“I’ll come armed with apples next time.”

When we got back to the house Chris, Steve, and Samantha were bustling around the kitchen. Chris said, “Steph, get washed up. I need you to make the salad dressing.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Steph ducked into the half-bath by the back door.

I said, “Can I help?”

“Sure. You can set the table. Sam will get the plates and utensils out for you.” She wiped her hands on her apron. “I figured we’d have our big meal at noon. Today will be the Ferguson family Christmas dinner, then tomorrow we’ll go to Andy’s sister’s.”

Sam said, “We don’t have to cook tomorrow.”

Chris said, “No, but you’ll have to help clean up. Go show Jamie where everything is. Pete, why don’t you go see if Dad’s ready to come over? We’ll eat in about a half hour.”

“Will do.” Pete went back through the door.

Good. This might be Pete’s chance to be alone with his dad for a bit.

I followed Sam into the dining room, where she showed me the stoneware and place settings to use – red and white Fiestaware, which made me think of Paul’s staging. I said, “Do you have cloth napkins?”

Sam looked at me curiously. “Yeah, but we usually use paper.”

“Show me where the cloth ones are. I’ll put them in the laundry with our clothes this evening.”

She shrugged. “Okay.”

When I’d dated Ethan in college, his father’s cook had shown me how to make fancy shapes with cloth napkins. I’d kept up

"Christmas dinner table (5299442229)" by Miia Ranta from Finland - Christmas dinner tableUploaded by Fæ. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Christmas_dinner_table_(5299442229).jpg#/media/File:Christmas_dinner_table_(5299442229).jpg

“Christmas dinner table (5299442229)” by Miia Ranta from Finland – Christmas dinner tableUploaded by Fæ. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Christmas_dinner_table_(5299442229).jpg#/media/File:Christmas_dinner_table_(5299442229).jpg

the practice so I wouldn’t forget the technique. The knowledge would finally come in handy. Sam went back to the kitchen, and I got busy setting an enticing table.

It took about fifteen minutes. I was admiring my handiwork when Chris brought in the first dish. She exclaimed in surprise when she saw the ruffled creations on each plate. “Oh, that’s wonderful! Where did you learn to do that?”

“From a professional chef, back in college. I told Sam, I’ll wash the napkins. I have to do laundry this evening anyway.”

She waved that off. “Don’t worry about that. I’ll toss them in with mine tomorrow or the next day. We won’t need them again for a while.”

I helped Chris and the girls carry platters and fill water glasses. Andy and Steve appeared through the front door just as Pete and his dad came through the back. Everyone washed their hands one last time and gathered around the table. Chris said, “We have Jamie to thank for the fancy napkins.”

Pete pulled out his phone and took a picture. “I had no idea you could do that.”

I grinned at him. “I’m full of surprises.”

That got a laugh from everyone. We sat, Andy said grace, and we dug in.

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