Best Men, part 8

After dinner we hung out in the family room. Andy began to explain some aspects of the business to Jack, Pete and Steve. I wasn’t as attentive as I should have been; the next thing I knew, Pete was shaking my foot. “Wake up.”

“What? Oh, crap. How long was I out?”

“Only about a half hour.”

We were alone in the room. “Where did everyone go?”

“Chris and the girls walked Dad back to his place. Steve and Andy are in the barn, but they’ll be back soon. Steve’s going to make his famous hot chocolate.”

“His hot chocolate is famous?”


I wasn’t sure how famous it was, but Steve’s hot chocolate was delicious. He refused to divulge his recipe. “You’ll have to come here to have this.”

Chris said worriedly, “You two will be able to come often, won’t you?”

I said, “We’ll come as often as we can.”


We snacked through the rest of the afternoon and watched some football. Jack didn’t make another appearance. We said goodnight to everyone relatively early – we had to pack – and went back to the guest house.

As we were walking I said, “Did you get some time with your dad before dinner?”

“Yeah. I programmed his remote for him.”


“He said he’s going to miss me.”

Did he? What did he say?”

“That’s it. He clapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘I’m going to miss you, son.’ I said, ‘I’ll miss you too, Dad.’ That was it.”

Jack had done exactly what I’d suggested – and no more. “Well, that’s something.”

“Yeah.” Pete snorted softly. “That’s my dad. A man of few words.”

“Shoot, if he suddenly began getting mushy with you, you’d be worried.”

That made him laugh. “Yeah. I would be.”


Thursday, December 25

We got up early on Christmas morning, cleaned up the guest house and loaded the Jeep, and drove it to the main house. We were hoping to get away before noon. When we went in, Chris was taking homemade cinnamon rolls out of the oven. I said, “God, those smell good. Can you give Pete that recipe?”

Pete gave me a sideways look. “I bet they’re not very heart-healthy.”

Chris swatted him. “They’re fine for special occasions. I’ll give you the recipe.” She handed us plates of rolls and scrambled eggs. “Go on into the dining room. The girls are already up.”

Steph and Sam were at the table, both busily tapping on their phones. I pulled out my own phone and texted “Merry Christmas” to my family and friends, and pretty soon my phone was pinging with replies. Chris came in with her own plate, and handed me a 3×5 card. “Here’s the recipe. I know you’ll be sure to get home with it.”

Steve drifted downstairs, yawning. “Is Dad coming for breakfast?”

Chris answered. “He said no. I told him what we were having and he said he wants to get in the habit of eating oatmeal for breakfast.”

Steve said, “Remember the eggs he used to eat every morning, Pete?”

“Yup. Three eggs fried in butter, white toast, and three cups of coffee, every morning.”

Chris looked horrified. “Is that what you two ate?”

Pete said, “No. We ate cereal or oatmeal, except on the weekends. Then I’d make pancakes or something like that.”

Chris shook her head. “How long ago did he quit smoking?”

Pete said, “Only ten years. When Grandma Ferguson died.”

“So he smoked for years.”

“Thirty-five years.”

Steph and Sam were listening to this in amazement. Steph said, “You all grew up with secondhand smoke.”

Chris said, “We did. At least until I was fifteen. Then…”

She didn’t need to say it. Then the Fergusons had divorced, and Jack and his cigarettes had moved from Barstow to Lancaster.

Steve said, “Stephanie? Samantha? If I ever find out that either of you is smoking, I will drive all the way from Alamogordo to yell at you in person.”

Chris said grimly, “You’d have to stand in line.”


"Gifts xmas" by Kelvin Kay, en:user:kkmd - originally to English Wikipedia as en:Image:Gifts_xmas.jpg, 15:07, 18 June 2006 by en:User:Kkmd. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

“Gifts xmas” by Kelvin Kay, en:user:kkmd – originally to English Wikipedia as en:Image:Gifts_xmas.jpg, 15:07, 18 June 2006 by en:User:Kkmd. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

Jack arrived not long after, and the orgy of gift-opening began. Pete’s gifts were all cookbooks, which delighted him. My presents were all books, too; Pete must have divulged the contents of my Amazon wish list. Pete had handled the gift-buying for his family, with one exception – I’d gotten Samantha a UCLA t-shirt, as a recruiting tool. She opened it and squealed. “Oh, this is awesome! Steph will never steal this one.”

Stephanie was already taking one class a semester at the University of Arizona and would attend full-time when she graduated from high school. She wrinkled her nose. “Sam, if you go to UCLA, we won’t be able to talk to each other during football season.”

Sam dismissed that. “Nah. We’ll be united in our hatred for the Ducks.”

I said, “My brothers and I all went to different PAC-12 schools, and we got through it. You would too.”


After the gifts were all unwrapped and the debris was cleared, Pete and Chris went into the kitchen to pack sandwiches and the rest of the cinnamon rolls for our trip. I picked up a stack of books to take to the Jeep and Jack said, “Hand me a couple of those. I’ll walk out with you.”

I gave him two of the books and we went to the Jeep. When we’d set the books down I turned, and Jack put his hand on my shoulder. “I want you to do me a favor.”

“Yes, sir. What’s that?”

“You take care of my boy for me.” Jack patted my shoulder. “I reckon you’re the best man for the job.”

That was by far the most touching thing Jack had ever said to me. I smiled. “You don’t have to worry about that. I’m going to take good care of him.”

Jack gave me one more pat. “That’ll be fine.”

We went back to the house and I said goodbye to everyone, hugging the girls and Chris, shaking Andy’s hand, and playfully slugging Steve in the shoulder. Pete followed suit. One thing about the Ferguson – Fernandez clan that was different from the Brodies: guys didn’t hug.

I climbed into the driver’s seat and started the engine. Pete lingered another minute, but finally got into the vehicle. I beeped the horn as we left; Pete’s family waved vigorously, and we were on our way. Thirty minutes later I turned onto the 8 and headed west toward San Diego and home.



Filed under Short Stories

2 responses to “Best Men, part 8

  1. Sharon Cox

    I’m just catching up now as I’ve been away. Enjoying this and really looking forward to the next book.

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