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Waiting in Michelle´s room the next day for his grandchildren to arrive, Josiah was reminded of the day Michelle had been born. He was amused at himself when he recognized he was feeling a lot of the same emotions that he had experienced thirty two years ago. He was nervous, and excited, and more than a little scared.
Are you sure you´re alright with this, Daddy? Michelle asked quietly.
Josiah´s head snapped around to meet his daughter´s concerned eyes.
Positive, Princess, he hastened to reassure her. I never thought I´d ever be blessed with grandchildren, and that´s exactly what they are to me blessings. I haven´t even met them yet, but they´re already special to me because they´re part of you, and there is no one in this world that´s as special as you, sweetheart, Josiah returned with a warm, genuine smile that his daughter returned.
That´s sweet, Daddy, but I have no doubt that those two are going to wrap your heart around their little fingers. I know they have mine. They´re both great kids, even if that is a loving mother talking, Michelle told him.
What are they like?
Well, Rhi is my kind hearted one. She can´t stand to see anyone or anything suffering. She was constantly dragging home every wounded animal in the neighborhood, Michelle said with a fond smile, From the time she was three years old, she´s maintained she´s going to be a nurse when she grows up. I think she´d be a great one. She´s always ready to lend a hand. She´s been my little helper since she was old enough to walk. She´s always looking out for her little brother playing the little mother, which drives him to distraction on occasion. She´s also very much a girl. There´s very little of the tomboy in her.
Lucas is my little whirlwind, and I swear he has more imagination than any ten children combined. I never know what he´s going to come up with next, and to make it worse, he has absolutely no fear of anything. I don´t know how many times I´ve turned around and almost had a heart attack at what he was trying. I´ve had to climb onto the roof to get him down when he decided to play George of the Jungle, and one time I had to jump into the swimming pool, fully clothed mind you, when he tried out a submarine he had made out of a large plastic bucket and some garbage bags, Michelle shook her head in remembrance of her son´s wild antics.
Josiah was chuckling at the look of loving exasperation on his daughter´s face.
Sure, laugh it up, she mocked glared at her father, Just wait until the first time he tries one of his adventures on you. We´ll see who´s laughing then.
I have the right to laugh, young lady. Josiah told her with a wry grin. I remember practically flying up a tree near our apartment when you were three because you´d decided you were related to Superman and tried to fly. You crawled out your window onto a nearby branch and jumped off. The towel you had tied around your neck as a cape getting caught on a branch is the only thing that kept you from hitting the ground. I was scared to death you were going to strangle before I could get to you. You took ten years off my life with that stunt.
I did that? Michelle asked in surprise.
You most certainly did, he assured her, so I´d say that Lucas comes by it naturally. He inherited that fearless adventurer gene from you!
Michelle looked at him with her head cocked to one side and eyed him with amused speculation.
So where do you think I got the gene from?
Josiah gazed at her with a calm, even look and said, You must have inherited it from your mother´s side of the family.
Michelle broke into laughter and Josiah was unable to maintain his straight face and joined her.
This from the man that chases explosive-toting terrorists, and gunrunning criminals for a living, she smirked.
You make it sound so dangerous, he teased, Everybody knows we just sit around in an air conditioned office and drink coffee while we do computer searches. How dangerous can that be?
Umm hmm. I might fall for that one except for one thing, Michelle told him.
And what´s that?
I can read! I´ve seen how many times you and your team made the papers with some raid. I´ve also followed how many times you and your teammates seem to wind up in the hospital. You can´t fool me because I know better.
What can I say? Josiah tried to make light of it, They´re a clumsy bunch.
Riigghhtt, Michelle drawled.
Josiah tried his best to look innocent but failed miserably when he could not suppress his grin.
The lighthearted teasing had helped relax Josiah´s nerves enough so that when the door was opened to reveal the two children holding the hands of a young woman, he was able to smile, and warmly welcome the newcomers with ease.
The children´s eyes had latched onto him the moment the door opened, and both watched him with fascination, although Josiah could read different reactions to his presence in the young faces.
Rhiannon was a little shy and nervous and hung onto the hand wrapped around hers a little tighter, unsure whether she really wanted to advance to meet this large man staring at them with a smile and kind eyes, but Lucas was pulling against the restraining hand of Michelle´s friend, eager to make the acquaintance of this new male in his life.
Hi! he said with excitement making his voice even louder than normal, Are you my Grandpa? Mama said we was gonna meet our Grandpa today when we came to visit, and we´re here visitin´ now and here you are, so are you my Grandpa or not? It´s okay if you´re not, but I hope you are cause you look real big! Big is good. I´m gonna grow up to be big too. I´m gonna be this tall, Lucas finished by finally freeing his hand and stretching his arms as far over his head as far as he could and standing on his tiptoes to extend the reach a little further.
Mama said my Grandpa is a gov´rent agent, that´s like a policeman. He chases bad men and puts them in jail, and if they don´t do what he tells them to he shoots them dead, POW POW, just like that. I´m gonna be a gov´rent agent when I grow up. I´m gonna grow up big like my Grandpa and shoot the bad men too. I´m
Going to make your Mama really sad if you don´t come over here and give her a kiss and a hug, Michelle broke in.
Lucas grinned even wider and ran to throw his arms around his mother´s knees and hug tightly before carefully climbing into her lap, avoiding her IV lines with practiced ease, and gave her a loud smooch on her cheek. Rhiannon followed her brother at a much slower pace but the greeting she gave her mother was just as eager.
Well, Grandpa, Michelle asked when the children had finished their greetings, What do you think of your grandkids?
I think they´re about the most wonderful grandkids a grandparent could ever have, he said proudly.
So you really are my Grandpa, Lucas said, bouncing on his mother´s lap with glee.
Yep, that I am, young Lucas, Josiah told the boy with a grin. He turned his eyes to the little girl quietly observing him and said, And pretty Rhiannon´s as well. Do you think I could get a kiss from my new grandchildren? and held out his arms in invitation.
Lucas flew off his mother´s lap in a flash and threw himself into Josiah´s waiting arms and was pulled onto the man´s lap.
You bet, he cried and he wrapped his arms around Josiah´s neck and plastered a loud, wet kiss on his face.
Josiah threw back his head with a laugh at this enthusiastic welcome and jerked his knee up and down a few times, bouncing the little boy who roared his delight at the motion.
Hey, I´m a cowboy! he cried, Ride em horsie!
Josiah laughed again then looked at his new granddaughter with an eyebrow raised in question. He patiently waited as the girl watched him for another moment then cautiously made her way to his side and crawled into his lap. She slowly placed a soft kiss on his other cheek and sat back to look into his eyes as if to gauge his reaction.
When Josiah smiled and bent his head to return her kiss with a gentle one of his own on her forehead, the little face broke out into a slow smile that reminded Josiah of the sun rising at dawn. It peeked out a little at first then steadily grew until it completely lit up the girls face with a happy glow that he found almost unbearably beautiful. He had to clear the lump of emotion that had risen in his throat at the sight before he could speak again.
How is my pretty Rhiannon, today? he asked.
I´m fine, Grandpa, Rhiannon told him softly, thank you for asking. How are you?´
Josiah tried to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling at the serious politeness that the child had used to return his question and replied I´m fine too. I´m going to have to introduce you to my friend Ezra. I think the two of you will get along great.
He threw a laughing glance at his daughter who ruefully returned it.
I´m completely forgetting my own manners, Michelle told him. Daddy, let me introduce you to my friend, Marcia Camner. Marcia, this is my father, Josiah Sanchez. Marcia has been taking care of the children for me. She´s been a godsend, and there is no better friend in the world.
Marcia blushed at this and came into the room to shake Josiah´s hand, motioning him to stay seated since he currently had a lapful of children.
I´m very pleased to meet you, Marcia, he told her sincerely, Michelle has told me a lot about you, and I think she´s right. She couldn´t ask for a better friend.
I´m happy to finally get a chance to meet you, too. Michelle has talked my ears off about you as well.
Nu-uh! threw in Lucas as he looked at her and pointed a chubby little finger in her direction in reproof, You told a fib. Your ears are right there on your head where they´re s´posed to be. I can see em!
Maybe they grew back, Marcia told him with a grin.
Lucas looked skeptical at this but all the adults in the room could tell he was considering the possibility when Rhiannon captured their attention.
You don´t really shoot and kill the bad men do you, Grandpa? she asked worriedly.
Well, sweetheart, I try awfully hard not to. I´d much rather catch them and make them go to jail, but sometimes they try to hurt my friends or someone else that´s completely innocent. I can´t let them hurt people, so sometimes I do have to shoot them. I try really, really hard not to kill them though. Josiah tried his best to reassure the child that Michelle had warned was so softhearted.
Rhiannon studied his face seriously and Josiah could see the moment she made up her mind to trust him. She nodded her head in understanding and said decisively, Yeah, you can´t let them hurt people. That´s wrong. We should help people, not hurt them!
You´re absolutely right, Rhiannon, Josiah pulled her closer and hugged her.
Do you know any stories? Lucas´ voice regained Josiah´s attention. My friend, Marty, has a grandpa and his grandpa always tells him stories, and they go fishin´ when Marty goes to visit him.
Oh, I think I can remember one or two stories, Josiah told the boy modestly, and I love to fish. I´ll have to take you out to my friend Chris´ ranch. He´s got a lake just jumping with fish. You can almost stand by the edge of the water and catch them with your hands as they leap out of the water. Josiah gave the lad a wink and a tickle on the ribs, getting a giggle in return.
Does he have cows on his ranch, Grandpa? Rhiannon asked.
Not cows, but he does have horses.
Horses! Yipee, Lucas cried out, Can we go ridin´, Grandpa, like real cowboys? Please? I love horses. When I grow up I´m gonna have a horse, a black one with a looonnnggg tail. I´m gonna call him Blackie, and be his bestest friend. We´re gonna ride the range and punch cows, Grandpa!
That´s mean! It´s not nice to hit, Rhiannon stated indignantly, You should just leave them alone.
Chuckling softly, Josiah hastened to reassure the little girl with, It´s alright, sweetheart. They don´t really punch the cows. It´s just an expression.
Rhiannon looked dubiously at her new grandfather, and turned to her mother for confirmation. She relaxed slightly at Michelle´s amused nod of agreement.
Your grandpa´s right, Rhi. It is just an expression.
You can trust me, Rhiannon, Josiah told her seriously, I may tell you a story occasionally, or tease you, but I won´t lie to you.
Promise? she asked.
Cross my heart, Josiah promised and drew his hand over his chest in the traditional motion.
Satisfied, Rhiannon smiled at Josiah and settled more comfortably against his chest, relaxing more with him she had than before.
So what have you munchkins been doing since I saw you last? Michelle questioned, thereby starting the children off on a complete list of their activities.
Josiah listened to the small voices competing with each other for their mother´s attention and felt his chest swelling with pride and love for the two children sitting so trustingly in his lap. Their laughter gave his heart wings, and he realized he had never been so completely happy in his entire life. Suddenly, he felt complete in a way that he had never known before, as if a piece of himself that he had never realized was missing had been slipped into place. A hole in his life had been filled with this new family, bonded to him with the blood of his blood.
The time passed quickly. Too quickly, Josiah decided as it became obvious to him and Marcia that Michelle was reaching the limit of her strength. When Marcia announced it was time to go, Josiah reluctantly said goodbye to his grandchildren and promised to see them again soon. He didn´t want to let them go when he drew them into his arms for a goodbye hug and kiss. He wanted to keep them close for fear that they would suddenly be taken from him, as their mother had been so many years ago. He knew it was a completely irrational fear, but still it haunted him as he watched them waving goodbye as Marcia led them from the room.
Josiah turned from the closing door to find Michelle watching him with understanding eyes.
I always hate it when they leave me, she whispered. I never know if I´ll ever see them again. I just want to hold them and never let them go. I think I´d go crazy if I ever lost them.
Josiah sat on the side of her bed and lightly stroked her hair.
I think I did go crazy for a long time after your Mother took you away. I was devastated.
Michelle reached up and took his hand between both of hers.
I´m so sorry for what you went through, she told him. As a parent, I can imagine the anguish you must have felt. I only wish I had found you sooner. I think you would have been a wonderful father. I try not to blame Mother for her decision, but sometimes it´s very hard. I feel that we both missed out on so much because of what she did.
She loved you so much, Princess. Right or wrong, she only did what she thought she had to do to protect you. She was fighting the ghost of her father, and I made so many bad decisions I practically drove her away. I fed her fear instead of helping her overcome it. Looking back with the wisdom that comes with age I can see where we both made mistakes, Josiah said sadly. There´s one thing I want to make sure you realize though. I would never, ever, have raised my hand to you, Michelle. I don´t´ beat women or children. No matter how drunk I may have gotten in the past, no matter how angry I have gotten, I have never in my life been guilty of that heinous a sin.
Michelle´s sweet smile felt like a balm to his sole as she squeezed his hands and replied, You don´t have to tell me that. I already know it. I see the way you are not only with me and the children, but with everyone here at the hospice, and with your friends. You´re a protector by nature. You could never deliberately hurt someone smaller and weaker than yourself.
Thank you, sweetheart, Josiah said, humbled by her faith in him, I can´t tell you how much hearing you say that means to me.
It´s because I do know your nature and trust you that I´m going to ask you to do something very important to me, Michelle said watching him closely. We never talk about what´s going to happen to me. We talk around the subject, but never mention it. I know you´ve talked to my doctors. You know they don´t hold out much hope for me.
Michelle, Josiah tried to interrupt her but she stopped him with a finger on his lips.
I have to say it, Daddy. This is our reality, yours and mine. It´s something we both have to face. I am dying. There is no avoiding that truth. No one knows how long I have left, it could be tomorrow or a year from now, but everyone agrees on the ultimate conclusion. That makes time very precious to me. It was because time had become so precious to me that I wanted to meet you. Now I´m going to give you something else that´s very precious to me. When I´m gone, I would like you to take Rhiannon and Lucas and raise them.
Josiah sat watching his daughter in an emotion-tense silence, torn between the anguished knowledge that she would be taken from him once more, and joy at the thought of the priceless gift she was bestowing on him, not only in the children themselves but in the trust she was placing in him.
Will you do that for me, Daddy? Will you bring up my children for me? Teach them all you would have taught me if we´d had the chance? Love them enough for both of us?
Josiah felt the tears welling in his eyes spill out and trace tracks down his cheeks as he swallowed the emotion that was building in his throat and answered from the very depths of his heart and soul, I will, Princess. I promise, I will.
Michelle smiled again as she leaned back tiredly and closed her eyes.
And Daddy always keeps his promises, she whispered as she fell into an exhausted asleep.
Always, baby, he whispered back, always.
7 7 7 7 7 7 7
Josiah glanced into the rearview mirror to watch Rhiannon and Lucas singing merrily in the back seat of his old Suburban as he drove them out of Denver. They were in route to Chris´ ranch on the crisp winter´s day for a get-together with his teammates. Josiah was going to introduce his grandchildren to the rest of his family for the first time, and the excitement and pride he felt had him almost bursting into song himself.
Josiah had arranged to pick the children up from their temporary home with their mother´s friend, Marcia, and all three had gone to visit Michelle before heading out to Chris´ place. Walking up the stairs to the hospice with his grandchildren´s hands gripped trustingly in his own had been an emotional experience for Josiah. He sometimes still had trouble believing that they now belonged to him. He wanted to stop everyone he saw and tell them these wonderful children were his grandchildren, HIS, a part of his family.
He had to look down at them in wonder on occasion just to reassure himself that he wasn´t dreaming.
Rationally he knew they had faults just like any other human being, but emotionally he thought they were perfect.
Josiah turned off the highway and drove down the lane that led to Chris´s ranch. In the pastures behind fences on either side of the road, horses could be seen frolicking in the light snow that had covered the ground overnight. Josiah had to smile at the immediate reaction the horses caused when Lucas caught sight of them.
Horsies! Look, Rhi! Look Grandpa! There are lots of horsies! Lucas shouted, bouncing in his car set in excitement.
Yep, there are a bunch of them alright, Josiah replied indulgently.
There´s black ones, and red ones, and spotted ones and look, Rhi, there´s a white one!
They´re so pretty! Rhiannon cooed. Can we ride one, Grandpa? she pleaded.
Perhaps. We´ll have to see how it goes, sweetheart, Josiah said. The horses belong to your Uncle Chris. We´ll have to ask him.
I want to ride a black one, Grandpa, Lucas told him. Will Uncle Chris let me ride a black one if I asked him nicely?
The conversation was interrupted when Josiah pulled the vehicle to a stop behind Ezra´s jag. He turned off the motor and swiftly turned around when he heard the tell tale scrabbling behind his head.
Lucas! What´s the rule about the car seat? He asked with a raised eyebrow.
Only an adult can undo it, right Grandpa, Rhiannon sent her brother a superior look.
That´s right, Rhiannon, but I was asking Lucas, Josiah reproved her gently.
I´m sorry, Grandpa, the little told him with her head bent down at the correction.
It´s alright this time, sweetheart, he told her with a smile, but you need to let Lucas answer for himself, okay? He needs to learn.
Rhiannon perked up and returned his smile. Lucas shifted guiltily in his car seat as Josiah turned his attention back on the preschooler.
I´m sorry, Grandpa. I won´t do it again. I just forgot, Lucas said.
I know, but you need to try to remember. The rules are there for a reason and I don´t want you to get hurt because you forgot to obey them. You certainly couldn´t ride a horse if you got hurt, now could you?
I will. I promise, Lucas swore nodding his head so hard in agreement that Josiah started to wonder if it might come flying off.
Alright then, let´s get you both out of those things and let the fun start! Josiah told them with a grin.
After being released from their safety restraints, both children scrambled from the vehicle and stood taking in their first sight of the ranch while Josiah reached back into the Suburban and hoisted up the bag of munchies that he had brought to contribute to the gathering. As he started up the sidewalk with both children following him, the front door opened and Chris stepped outside to greet the newcomers.
Never one to be shy, Lucas raced ahead and almost leapt on the man in black.
Are you Uncle Chris? he asked expectantly.
That´s right, sport, Chris assured him, and you must be Lucas.
Yes, sir. Can I ride one of your horses, one of the black ones? Please? I´ll be real careful. Really!
Chris laughed and tousled the hair of the boy eagerly awaiting his answer.
I think we can arrange that, Chris told him with a smile.
Cool! Lucas yelled, then threw his arms around Chris´s knees and hugged tightly.
Chris had to catch himself on the porch railing to keep from falling as the enthusiastic embrace caught him off guard. In self defense, the man lifted the child up and held him on his hip as he greeted his two other guests.
And this must be Rhiannon, he smiled a greeting at the little girl holding on to Josiah´s pant leg. It´s good to finally meet you.
Hello, Rhiannon told him shyly. Thank you for letting us come, she finished politely.
Now who does she remind me of? Chris looked at Josiah with a grin before returning his attention back to the child. You and your brother are very welcome here, Rhiannon. Why don´t we all go inside now and get out of this cold.
Chris led the threesome into his house and helped them remove their outerwear before ushering them into the den where the rest of the team waited.
The large homey room was made even more comfortable by the big fire that blazed in the stone hearth. Every available spot on the couch and every chair was occupied and Josiah could see a few of his teammates and the children were making themselves comfortable on the floor. Lucas wriggled a demand to be let down and Chris obliged by setting the child´s feet on the floor.
Wow! Lucas cried and ran towards the fireplace, that´s a big fire!
Luckily, Vin and JD had stationed themselves in front of the fireplace to ward off the six month old Tanner triplets´ whose fascination with the fire was as great as the little boy´s, so were able to intercept the child before he could get too close to the flames.
Whoa, there, pard, Vin told the child with a smile as he hooked an arm around the little waist and brought him to a stop. Got to be careful, son. Wouldn´t want you to get burned.
Oh. Okay, the boy told him and curiously looked over the longhaired blond holding him then grinned and stuck out his hand, Hi, I´m Lucas. Who are you?
Vin took the small hand extended to him and shook it, chuckling in amusement.
My name´s Vin, Vin Tanner. You can call me Uncle Vin.
My grandpa told me about you, Lucas told him with a nod of his head, That´s my grandpa there. Lucas turned and pointed to Josiah who was still standing in the doorway watching in amusement. You´re the man that has three babies and shoots real good, right?
Vin´s chuckles turned into real laughs as he assured the child he was correct.
These are my three, Vin introduced him to the babies crawling around on the floor beside him, This is Houston. That´s Dallas, and the one trying to chew off JD´s shoelaces is Austin.
JD quickly reached out to retrieve his shoelaces from the baby´s mouth and pulled the child up into his lap.
Hi, Lucas. I´m Uncle JD, JD held out his hand and let the boy shake it, Welcome to the family.
You like computers, right? Lucas´ face lit up with excitement and he began talking very fast, I like to play games on our computer but my sister always wants to use it to practice reading. That´s no fun. Do you like to play games? It´s always more fun to play with someone else, but Rhi never wants to play with me. Will you play games with me on your computer, Uncle JD? We could have lots of fun!
Whooee, JD, Buck´s laughing voice broke in when the child stopped talking in order to draw a breath, He talks faster than you do!
Shut up, Buck! JD threw his housemate an amused grin.
Buck was sprawled in one of Chris´ recliners with an interested Angel on the floor beside his chair. The child had been playing with her Barbie dolls when the trio of newcomers had entered, and she scrambled up and ran to the doorway where Josiah was watching his grandson in amusement. Angel hugged the man´s knees and smiled up at him in greeting then turned her attention to the little girl standing beside him.
Hello, Angel said looking at Rhiannon, I´m Angel. Who are you?
I´m Rhiannon, the child told her shyly still holding on to Josiah.
Uncle Josiah´s your grandfather, right? Angel asked and Rhiannon nodded. Daddy told me so. He said I was going to get two new cousins. So you´re my new cousin?
Rhiannon shrugged and said, I don´t know. I guess so. I´ve never had a cousin before. I have a brother though.
I have three cousins, but I don´t have a brother. Now I have Angel carefully counted on her fingers, Five cousins!
So what do cousins do? Rhiannon asked anxiously.
Angel pointed to the triplets and said, Not a lot so far. They´re the only ones I´ve had until now and they don´t do much yet. It´s kind of fun to help take care of them though. I sing to them for Uncle Vin and help him change their diapers and things.
Rhiannon perked up and looked at the babies in relief, I can do that!
Angel handed one of the Barbies she was holding in her hands to Rhiannon and asked, Do you want to play dolls with me? You can use this one.
Rhiannon smiled eagerly and took the doll from Angel, Thanks. I´ll be really careful with it.
Angel shrugged as if to say, Whatever and took Rhiannon´s hand and led her into the room. Rhiannon glanced over her shoulder at Josiah who smiled in reassurance to the child and nodded his approval. The two little girls settled down on the carpet by Buck´s chair and began playing happily with each other.
Would you like to introduce me to your new friend, sweetheart, Buck asked.
She´s my new cousin, Daddy, Angel told him, Her name´s Rhiannon. That´s my daddy. Angel told the other little girl casually.
Hello, Darlin´, Buck smiled down at the child watching him so seriously. I´m your Uncle Buck.
Hello, Uncle Buck, Rhiannon studied him for a few seconds then gave the man with the kind blue eyes a smile.
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