Claire appeared at the door and asked us to join them.
"Hi Espen, do you remember Dr. Noble? I asked, gesturing to Ally.
"Whoa, I wouldn’t have recognized you dressed like that, you look so different," Espen piped.
Ally leaned in and kissed his cheek, "Thanks Hon, you look better without all that mud yourself."
"Hi Rob, I see you got cleaned up too," Espen declared.
"Squeaky clean now," I agreed.
I stepped aside so Brandon could get in and talk to him.
"Hi Brandon, thanks for everything you did for me and for keeping me company," Espen replied tenderly.
"I was happy to help Espen, you would have done the same I think," Brandon smiled gently.
"I hope we can hang out together, do you live in Ojai?" Espen asked.
"Just across the road from the stables, I live with Rob now," Brandon informed him.
Hearing him say that gave me a little twinge of emotion. Something about his voice told me he was turning loose of the anger he felt for Chuck and everyone who had done him wrong.
A nurse entered and announced that Espen would be moving soon and we would have to see him in his room downstairs.
We all traded goodbyes, but Espen asked Brandon and I to wait.
"I wanted to thank you guys for saving me, I was about to start saying goodbye to my life and getting ready for whatever is next. Rob, you stayed with me and got me out even though it could have meant dying with me and I’ll never forget that. Brandon you gave me the kindness I needed at a really tough time and I hope this isn’t the last time I see either one of you," Espen whispered hopefully.
I leaned down and kissed his cheek and he hugged my neck. I stood up and nudged Brandon who did the same. Brandon lingered a bit as Espen kissed him back on the lips." Brandon stood up with a befuddled smile and red cheeks. Espen gazed up at us with red cheeks as well.
"I think it’s safe to say we’ll see you soon. Brandon can always catch the Tram into Santa Paula to visit you and you’re welcome at our place anytime. We’ll see you downstairs." I advised as the nurse returned with an orderly to perform the transfer.
I tugged Brandon along with me and met the ladies in the hallway.
"Well I’m beat, I’m going home and get some Z’s," Ally declared. I would have liked to join her but I had other considerations.
"Do you need a ride? I’m parked near the E.R."
"So am I, you can walk me out if you like," she offered.
"Room three eighteen, right?" I asked Claire.
"Yes, that’s right," she nodded.
We let the other two off at the third floor and I walked Ally to her pickup. That just about sewed my heart up right there, she drove a 1954 Chevy pickup with a mild custom job to the drive train and chassis. The faded door lettering read Noble Ranch, Buelton, Ca. MA-4-9044.
"Do you like it?" she asked.
"It’s fantastic, is it an heirloom truck?" I asked.
"Yeah, it was Gramp’s and I rebuilt it. I couldn’t bring myself to change the paint though," she reflected.
"No reason you should, it looks great and I’m in favor of preserving original paintwork," I agreed.
"So I’m going to go out on a limb and just kiss you now, because I like the way this is heading," she ventured. And then she did just that. She laid an earth shattering kiss on me and I tried very hard to at least meet her half-way.
She slid into her truck and cranked up the engine. The truck rumbled down the drive and onto the street as I watched.
Back on the third floor I asked Claire if she would be needing a ride back, or would she stay in town overnight. When she told me she’d be staying I made a couple calls; one to the Marina Bonaventure to reserve a room. They know me there because I stay there when I don’t want to drive back home or shouldn’t. The second call was to a fellow deputy who owns a Budget franchise and keeps cars at the hospital for just this occasion.
He gave me the code for the key box for a Toyota and I thanked him. I told him I would have the driver call with her info but he told me to skip it. I thanked him again and went back to tell Claire.
After I told her what I had set up she gave me a chaste hug.
I told her I would show her the key box and she already knew where the hotel was.
"Give me a call when Espen is ready to go home and I’ll come get you. You may as well get used to seeing Brandon around because they really hit it off."
"Yes I know, he’s in with him now. I’m glad because he doesn’t make friends easily. He has a few at school but no one his age near home."
"What school does he go to?"
"He’s in the Langham Academy close to Sulphur Springs park. It’s a nice school. Where does Brandon go?"
I explained part of Brandon’s situation and that I would be looking for a good school in the area.
Brandon and I took our leave of Espen and Claire and headed back to Ojai at a more sedate pace than earlier in the day.
"Brandon was lost in his own thoughts most of the way. He was obviously thinking of Espen.
"You okay in there?" I asked.
"Oh yeah, sorry, I was just thinking."
"About Espen? He seems pretty happy to know you. You really made an impression."
"Yeah, he’s cool. But what about you and Dr. Noble, that happened fast didn’t it?" he asked.
"Well, nothing has happened yet although she did let me know she was interested."
"Are you interested in her?"
"Yes, I think so."
"Um, don’t you have um…"
"Wyatt? I think that may be past its sell by date. I got the impression that he had something important to discuss last time we spoke on the phone."
"Oh, um should I be sorry?"
"No son, Wyatt needs someone his own age, he has a lot of growing up to do and you can't raise someone you're in love with. But he’s a good person and he’ll find his way."
I made the left turn into our gate and swung around behind the house. I was surprised to see Wyatt’s battered Cherokee wagon sitting outside the kitchen courtyard.
I found him chatting with Cammie at the table.
"Hi Wyatt, I wasn’t expecting you. Have you met the menagerie?" I asked cheerfully.
"Yes I have, they seem like nice kids; is this Brandon?"
Brandon stepped forward, "That’s me, Rob’s been helping me get off the road, but I won’t bore you with the story. Nice to meet you."
"Um Rob, is there somewhere we can talk in private?"
"Sure Wyatt, let’s go into my office."
As soon as the door closed behind us, Wyatt hugged me tight but didn't speak.
"Okay Wyatt, I think I know what this might be about and its okay. I presume you met someone your own age that rings your bell, is that about right."
"How did you know? Did I say something?"
"No, it was the way you didn’t say it, if that makes any sense. I don’t want you to waste a lot of anguish over this. I knew it was going to come along eventually and I told you that going in. Don’t be hard on yourself."
"I’ll always have feelings for you Rob, it’s just Wes really gets me and we seem to click. I’ve been putting him off for a while until I could get my head straight and talk to you, I owe you that."
"I appreciate that Wyatt, and now you can give yourself to Wes freely and without any guilt. I will always have a fond memory of you and what we had together. Let’s not overwork it though. I will always care what happens to you and I want to hear how you’re doing. Now give me a kiss and let’s go have some dinner, I need to feed those guys or they’ll eat my dogs."
"You really aren’t much for drama are you?" Wyatt asked.
"Nope, never have been, why start now. We had a great time together so let’s remain friends, does that sound good to you?"
"Yeah, that’s what I was worried about; I didn’t want to lose you as a friend." Wyatt sniffed and kissed me gently on the lips one last time and hugged me as hard as he could manage and I hugged him back."
It suddenly occurred to me that I hadn’t asked Ally about Doc Briggs.
I gave him a call and he told me that once they decided he had told them everything he knew about the patient, he was free to go. He took advantage of the unplanned trip and called his daughter to come get him and he took the family out to dinner and was staying the night. He added that his oldest grandson was driving and would bring him home the next day. He related that he called Dennis and told him but I hadn’t seen Dennis yet. I bade Jerry a good night and disconnected.
I hit the kitchen and started making preparations for a spiced meat roll that is kind of an easy Beef Wellington.
I had a roast that I had cooked in the crock pot and the beef just falls apart when you cook it like that. It turned out to be a group effort. Brandon helped with the asparagus and sliced mushrooms for the roll and other vegetables.
Cammie made a mixed green salad with a great dressing using Parmesan and red wine vinegar.
She and Brandon joined forces for chocolate soufflés with a chocolate ganache filling. Wade, Kelly and Ronny were dispatched to retrieve raspberries from Cammie’s kitchen.
It was shaping up to be a great meal.
Wyatt wanted to help but the boy can barely fry an egg and survived on take out, Ramen and Hotpockets like a lot of other college students.
With the roll in the oven I took a break and sat down with a glass of wine and Wyatt joined me.
"Where did you pick up the two little guys?" he asked.
"It’s a long story," I mused.
I told him the whole tale in abbreviated form and included the day’s activities.
"Whoa Rob, you have had a busy couple of days," Wyatt exclaimed.
"You could say that, and since the boys are out of earshot I want you to know I may have met someone myself. Someone more suited to my own age and personality."
"What’s he like?" Wyatt asked.
"Well, actually it’s a woman and she’s the doctor who was on the air ambulance," I informed him.
"I guess it doesn’t surprise me. Well I guess I’ll tell you the same thing you told me; give yourself to her freely without guilt. I’m truly happy for you Rob. You were right all along; the age difference is just too big to get past. We’re products of different generations and it would have been a problem eventually."
"See, I knew you were smart. I meant what I said though, I want to know how you’re doing and I expect you and Wes to attend my Christmas bash as well."
We were both quiet for a while and then I had a thought.
"Do you have any clothes or gear here that you want?" I asked.
"Just a tooth brush and some clothes that don’t fit anymore. Oh, that jacket you bought me is nearly new, but it doesn’t fit me anymore. Maybe you could find someone who could use it."
"Actually I did, it fits Brandon quite well, I could get you another if you’d like."
"Actually, I only ever wore it here. The Carhartt look isn’t for me I guess. On you they look great; hell if you grew a mustache you could do ads for Brawny paper towels," Wyatt grinned at me.
"As Wade told a waitress, I just dress practical. I can hardly saw logs wearing an Armani tux now, can I?"
We laughed about that for a while.
"I’ll miss seeing little ole Wade, he’s a neat kid."
"You don’t have to; I know it’s a drive but you and Wes could visit."
"I’d like that Rob," Wyatt responded softly.
"So would I."
Brandon alerted me that my timer was sounding, so I had to get back to the kitchen.
Dinner was a resounding success and we all basked in the praise.
Brandon suddenly looked exhausted; I suggested he say good night and go on up to bed and walked up with him.
"If you have trouble sleeping you know where I’ll be."
"Thanks Rob, I’ll try and stay put. I’m pretty tired and it all caught up with me just a little while ago."
I kissed his cheek and pulled his door closed.
Wade, Ronny and Kelly were all sacked out on the couch while the Minions movie played to an empty house.
Dennis and I lugged them up the stairs, but Kelly roused enough to walk up himself. Cammie and I skinned the two dead ones and Kelly needed help with his shoes and he piled in next to little Ronny. Watching the three of them out cold and snuggled together was precious. The three of us went down to the kitchen and drank a bit more wine. I offered the use of a guest room and they accepted. Wyatt had driven back shortly after dinner since he had classes in the morning.
My phone vibed and a message from Ally asked if I made it home safely. I replied that we had but I didn’t want to wake her with the news. She bade me good night and my phone went quiet when I returned the sentiment.