Jason quietly hurried back to the truck, climbed in and as silently as possible shut the door. "The dispatcher at the sheriff's office said someone already called the office about a half-hour ago. Sheriff Waite and some deputies should arrive any minute. She said to stay in the truck and she'll radio the sheriff to let him know where we are."
Uncle Rick glanced at Tony, noticing he was petrified with fear. "Tony, I'm sorry to bring you into this situation. I promise we won't let the church or anyone lay a hand on you or take you anywhere. You're safe here, and I mean that."
Tony gave a half smile and nodded. "I know, Uncle Rick. They just scare me so much."
The guys in the truck heard the sirens from the sheriff and deputies Broncos as they pulled in the driveway. Sheriff Waite and two deputies hurried to the front porch. A few minutes later Sheriff Waite walked out to the new barn and up to the truck.
Uncle Rick lowered the window. "Sheriff, what's going on?"
Sheriff Waite explained. "It seems the president of that church figured out where Erik and Daniel live. He demanded Brandon, Henry, and Travis hand over Daniel and Erik to him, saying God had given him the power and the right to take them. He thought they would be here when he arrived."
Daniel leaned forward in his seat. "Sheriff, we just got back from the bishop's trial in Milford. Those guys are crazy."
Sheriff Waite shook his head. "Daniel, I don't know if they are crazy or on something, but the president is under arrest and going to jail. Rick, I should tell you Brandon, Henry and Travis did a good job showing him how much authority he had around here."
Uncle Rick was confused. "Why, what happened?"
"Brandon was in the kitchen, heard a car outside, looked out the window and saw the church van pull up. He called for Travis and Henry to meet him at the front door. The president of the church demanded they surrender the boys to God. When Henry told him to leave, the president attempted to barge his way in, only to find himself face down on the porch, hands behind his back and in a headlock spouting off about God smiting them. They managed to strap his hand and feet together and kept him detained like that until we got here. We're charging him with attempted kidnapping, violating the restraining order, and trespassing."
The sheriff's dispatcher called on the radio for the sheriff. "Waite here. Go ahead."
"We checked wants and warrants for one Delbert Thomas of Milford. There is a warrant issued by the F.B.I. in connection with an ongoing investigation."
"10-4. Contact the F.B.I. office in Kingston and let them know Delbert Thomas is in our custody and will be in our jail within the hour."
The sheriff ended the radio call. "Rick, you and the boys may want to stay in here for a bit. Give us about 10 minutes and we'll be out of here with Delbert Thomas. I'll send Chaparral Towing to haul the church van away." The sheriff noticed Tony sitting in the back seat. "Who is this young man, I don't think we've met. I'm Sheriff Waite."
Tony anxiously smiled. "Hello, sheriff. I'm pleased to meet you. I'm Tony D'angelo."
Uncle Rick explained about Tony testifying against the bishop and his need for protection in light of that testimony.
Sheriff Waite looked directly at Tony. "Son, you are in good hands here. I guarantee you'll be completely safe with Rick and the boys here. Plus at any sign of trouble we're just a few miles away and will be here as soon as we can. I'll sound the siren off for the all clear when we leave."
The sheriff went back to the house and with his deputies took Delbert Thomas to jail. As promised Sheriff Waite sounded the siren signaling it was safe for Uncle Rick and the boys to leave the barn. Uncle Rick drove the truck to the front of the house, where the boys unloaded their bags.
When the boys and Uncle Rick walked in the house Tony stopped and marveled at the magnificent living room with its grand fireplace and beamed ceilings. "Wow, cool!"
Erik smiled at Tony. "We spend a lot of nights in here cuddling and talking. You can join us tonight if you want."
Tony beamed. "I'd like that."
Brandon, Travis and Henry met the group in the foyer and welcomed them home. Uncle Rick introduced Tony who was given warm hugs from Brandon, Henry, and Travis.
Uncle Rick was the first to ask about the unexpected visitor. "Brandon, what happened with the church president?"
Brandon told the story from his perspective. "I happened to look out the kitchen window just as the guy pulled up in front. I yelled for Henry and Travis. We weren't sure what church he was from but we knew he didn't belong here. So all three of us went out on the porch before he walked up. The guy asked if Daniel and Erik Bunch lived here. That gave away who he was. Henry told him to leave and not come back. He started yelling something about being sent by God and he was going to go in and get the two sinners. He started for the house and that's when Travis used his karate moves. The maniac was on the ground in a second with Travis holding him in a headlock. Henry got some straps and secured him. While they held him I called the sheriff. The man never shut up, ranting about Daniel cheating him out of thousands of dollars and he had to find them. We held him until the sheriff and deputies got here."
Jason grinned at Travis. "Remind me never to make you mad. I had no idea you know karate."
Travis snickered. "My parents sent me to karate lessons after school for about three years. I'm glad I remembered it. But don't worry, Jason. Everyone here is on my good side."
Cody giggled. "Travis, I'm glad you are a good guy. The forces of evil don't have a chance against Karate Man."
Travis smiled and stood in a bold stance with hands on his hips, legs spread. "Thank you, Shape-shifter Wizard who knows all."
Everyone laughed. Daniel and Jason went to their room to unpack their bags while Cody and Erik took Tony to their room, showed him his bed, closet, and dresser. They let him know if there is anything they could do for him to let them know. The three boys unpacked and put away their things. Tony could see he and his new roommates would get along great.
After unpacking and putting all of their things away Cody, Erik, and Daniel joined the others in the kitchen for lunch. Brandon served a delicious tossed green salad, barbeque pork sandwiches, and homemade yam fries.
Tony's eyes grew wide as he bit into his sandwich. "MMMMM, this is so yummy. How do you make it this good, Brandon?"
Brandon winked at Cody. "I have a special magic wand I use when I make the barbeque sauce."
Cody nodded. "Brandon is a wizard and he uses magic to cook our food."
Tony raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Is that a fact?"
Brandon snickered. "That and I use my grandmother's time-proven recipes that date back to 1939."
After lunch Uncle Rick suggested Travis, Daniel, Jason, Erik, Cody, and Tony take the horses and show Tony around the ranch. Travis declined the invitation, saying he and Raul were going drive to Chaparral to pick up materials for a project Raul was doing on his house. The other boys went to the stable, where Erik showed Giselle and Sundown to Tony. Sundown came up to the gate allowing Tony to pet his nose. The boys gave Sundown and Giselle some carrots and readied their horses for the ride around the ranch. With Daniel and Cody in the lead, the five boys headed east over a large meadow of tall golden grass waving in the breeze. Once across the meadow the boys steered their horses through a grove of quaking aspen to the eastern property boundary shared with the Sanchez ranch. They turned north just before the fence and continued until they came upon a clearing in the trees. To one side of the clearing was a clear stream that flowed down from the mountains in back of the ranch. They dismounted and let the horses drink from the stream. Cody searched the ground, carefully turning over leaves and twigs.
Tony looked on curiously. "What are you looking for, Cody?"
Cody continued his search. "The natives used to camp in clearings like this. Sometimes you can find artifacts. They would chip rocks into arrowheads and sometimes they would make pottery. Oh, here is one."
Cody picked up an inch-long pink-colored arrowhead and gave it to Tony. "That's an arrowhead made out of rhyolite, the mineral the ranch is named after." Tony handed it back to Cody. "No Tony, that's a present for you, your first arrowhead from the ranch. I hope you like it here."
Tony blushed with humility. "Thank you, Cody. That is so sweet of you. I think I'll make a necklace out of this and wear it all the time."
Cody beamed, happy to have given Tony his first artifact. The boys joined Cody in the search of the clearing. While they were searching for arrowheads, something scurried across the clearing and up an aspen tree. The boys searched the trees and saw two dark brown eyes staring at them from a branch above.
The creature startled Tony. "What is that?"
Daniel saw a furry ringed tail hanging off the branch. "Oh, it's a ringtail cat. Those are cool. They usually come out at night so I think we disturbed it looking around the clearing. He won't hurt us if we leave him alone."
The boys continued their search of the clearing and found four more rhyolite arrowheads to take home as souvenirs of their fun afternoon. Being aware it was getting to be mid afternoon they decided to continue their journey. They mounted the horses and continued riding along the trail northward. Tony asked lots of questions about the ranch, ranch life, and activities. Tony grew excited as he learned about his new life on the ranch. Soon they reached Becker Canyon. Tony's eyes grew as they made their way through the narrowing canyon. They dismounted and walked to the pool that Daniel and Cody had built. The boys stripped off their clothes and stepped into the soothing warm water. The sound of the water cascading over stones and boulders added to the splendor of the canyon. Jason pointed out the pink rhyolite rocks, letting Tony know his arrowhead was made from those rocks. Cody gave a mischievous grin and splashed Daniel. Daniel splashed Cody in retribution and also managed to splash Erik. Soon all the boys were splashing each other, laughing and giggling. Through the playful fun, Tony felt he was now part of a fun, safe, loving family. It wasn't long before the skin on their fingers began wrinkling from soaking in the crystal clear water. After climbing out of the pool Tony and the boys spread blankets on the ground and laid together getting to know each other better while drying in the warm sun. Daniel and Jason laid next to each other holding hands and occasionally caressing each other lovingly. Cody and Tony chose to lie on each side of Erik.
Jason noticed Cody smiling happily at Erik and Tony. "Cody, is everything going okay?"
Cody grinned and nodded. "Yep, things are like they are supposed to be. Everything is going to be fine."
Tony glanced at Cody with a confused expression. And Jason snickered. "Tony, it may sound a little strange but you'll soon learn Cody knows all. He knows when things in the universe are right and when they are wrong. That is why you're here with us. Cody knew you needed help and we were supposed to be there for you. Now you're part of our family. You just gained an uncle and five brothers."
Cody interjected, "Soon it will be six brothers."
Daniel was confused. "Who is the sixth, Cody?"
Cody grinned. "Raul will be our brother soon."
Jason grinned. "Well, that figures. They've been spending a lot of time together. All this time I worked with Travis I had no idea."
After the afternoon sun had warmed and completely dried, the boys they realized it was time to leave the pristine canyon paradise and return to the ranch house. They put their clothes on, mounted the horses and headed home. They arrived at the stables just as the sun dipped below the rugged hills on the far side of the valley to the west. They unsaddled the horses, stowed the tack, and brushed the horses with care.
Brandon peeked out the back door to find the boys smiling, laughing, and talking about their adventure while heading to the ranch house. "I thought it was about time for you guys to be back. Are you hungry? Dinner will be ready in 10 minutes, so get cleaned up."
As the boys made their way to him, Brandon caught the aroma of horses. "On second thought maybe I should give you all horse names and feed you oats in the stables. You boys get out of those clothes and put them in the laundry basket, get in the showers, and put on fresh clothes before you come to dinner."
Cody giggled. "I guess we're horses now. Oh well, we could be worse."
The boys hurried to the laundry room, stripped their clothes off, put them in the laundry basket, filling it up and hurried to the showers. Jason and Daniel showered together in their bathroom at the same time Cody, Erik and Tony showered together in theirs. Encouraged by hunger, they made quick work of showering, dressed and hurried to the dining room to find Uncle Rick, Henry and Brandon putting the last plates of roasted lamb loin in Cabernet sauce, buttered green beans and twice-baked potatoes on the table.
Jason noticed someone was missing. "Where is Travis?"
Henry smiled and explained, "Raul offered to cook dinner for Travis so he is eating at Raul's tonight."
Jason grinned. "I think Cody is right again. We are going to have another brother soon."
Uncle Rick smiled happily. "I can't help but think those two were made to be together. When Travis was 15 and staying the summer here they were inseparable. I can't think of anyone better for Travis nor a better person for Raul than Travis."
Everyone raved about the tender lamb and thanked Brandon for the delicious food. The boys found it difficult to hold back from devouring the sumptuous meals. They agreed after this meal Brandon must be a master wizard chef. After everyone finished the lamb, green beans and potatoes, Brandon served warm blackberry pie a la mode.
Tony let out a moan of pleasure upon taking the first bite of the blackberry pie. "Wow, this is the best pie I've ever had. I should have met you and moved in here years ago."
Henry snickered. "Tony, you can be sure you'll be eating more food like this. Brandon tries to better himself every time."
Tony beamed. "Henry, if Brandon can cook Italian food like my mom does you guys will have me around for life."
Brandon put his hands up and backed away slightly. "Oh wait a minute now. I can't compete with an Italian mother whose recipes probably are from the old country. You will have to make do with my cookbook recipes."
Tony smiled at Brandon. "That's okay too, Brandon. I'm sure you can cook a mean spaghetti too."
Erik grinned. "You should ask him to make lasagna one night. It's really good."
Daniel, Jason and Cody all heartily agreed.
After dessert the five boys made quick work of cleaning the dishes, using the new dishwasher Maria Sanchez had given the family. Before retiring for the night Uncle Rick reminded Erik, Cody, and Tony they had to register for school in the morning and turn in early. The boys agreed.
At nine-o'clock everyone went to bed. Cody and Erik snuggled under the covers while Tony climbed into his bed. He was happy to be sharing a room with his new friends. He thanked them for being such cool guys and coming to his rescue. They thanked him for being their new friend, telling him how much fun they would all have. Soon they drifted off to sleep.
Around 1:00 A.M. Cody and Erik woke up to sounds of sobbing. They realized Tony was in his bed crying. Without saying a word to Cody, Erik pulled back the covers, walked over to Tony's bed.
He whispered in Tony's ear. "Come snuggle with us, please. I promise everything will be better."
Tony wiped his eyes, nodded and followed Erik to his bed. Erik motioned for Tony to climb in bed and he would follow. Cody and Erik cuddled Tony from each side all night. Tony soon fell into a deep sleep between the two loving boys.
After sunrise the quiet house became a bustle of activity. Everyone showered and dressed in anticipation of the busy day. Brandon cooked a large batch of scrambled fresh eggs and diced smoked ham, golden hash brown potatoes and wheat toast. The ranch family gobbled up the robust and delicious meal.
Uncle Rick finished the last bites of his breakfast and spoke with a serious expression. "Guys, today Erik, Cody, and Tony register for school. I know we're going to miss them during the day but I am sure they will do really well. Tony and Erik, I'm going to make the same offer to you as I did to Cody a few years ago. I will be more than happy to tutor you and help you get good grades in school. Anytime you need help with your homework or if you don't understand something I'm available to help you out. I won't do your homework for you but I'll do my best to help you understand the material. Don't ever think you would be bothering me if you need to ask for help, alright?"
Erik and Tony agreed.
Uncle Rick continued. "There is something else that is important for us to talk about. I don't think any of us trust the church people to stop bothering us. They seem determined, regardless of what the law says they will do. If you are at school and someone other than our family, Sheriff Waite, or anyone from the Sanchez family tells you they are there to take you anywhere for any reason you say no thank you and go to the office and tell them what happened. Never get near or in a car or agree to go with anyone you don't know. Don't believe anyone if they tell you they were sent to get you by any of us I just mentioned. There are enough of us around here that we won't send anyone to get you. In light of what has happened with the church I will talk with the principals and ask the teachers and counselors to beware of any suspicious people. Do you understand?"
The boys nodded and said they understood.
"There is one more thing. If the phone rings, only Brandon, Henry, Travis, Jason or I should answer it. If we're not near the phone let it go to the answering machine. Erik, Daniel, Cody, and Tony, you guys are not to answer the phone under any circumstances unless you hear who it is on the answering machine and it's the Sheriff, one of the Sanchez family or any of our family. We don't want to let the church get any ideas of who is here. Also, Brandon, Henry, Travis and Jason, if anyone you don't know asks for the kids you're not to give them any information at all. Tell the caller I'll return their call and get their number. Everyone agree?"
Everyone agreed, cleaned up the breakfast dishes and got ready for the busy day.
Uncle Rick drove Erik, Cody, and Tony to Chaparral. He and the boys accompanied Cody into Chaparral Elementary School and registered Cody. Uncle Rick found the principal, Mr. Kline and Mr. Hill, Cody's new teacher and explained the situation with the church to them. They assured him they would keep a watchful eye on Cody.
After Cody was registered at his school, Uncle Rick and the boys walked next door to Chaparral Jr. High School and registered Erik and Tony. Uncle Rick talked to their principal, Mr. Barnson, who agreed to notify the teachers and counselors of the problem with the church and to keep an eye on Erik and Tony. After registering all the boys for school, Uncle Rick drove to Perkins Mercantile, where the boys shopped for school supplies including new backpacks, school clothes, and warm jackets. Uncle Rick suggested they head home and see what Brandon had made for lunch. They hurried home and found delicious meatloaf sandwiches and German potato salad and homemade yam fries waiting for them. Travis and Raul showed up as everyone was sitting at the large dining room table. Brandon greeted them with plates stacked high with the scrumptious sandwiches. The guys enjoyed the tasty lunch, asked the boys about their trip into town and registering at school, and picking up school supplies. Daniel, Jason, and Henry talked about their morning preparing the ranch for colder weather that was forecasted for later in the week.
Brandon agreed it was a good day to winterize things around the ranch. "The weather forecast on the radio this morning said we might get some snow flurries."
Jason shivered. "Isn't it a little early in the year for snow?"
Uncle Rick nodded. "Yes, it's about a month early but we'll do fine. We've survived blizzards here.
Travis and Raul talked about their morning working in the greenhouse, planting fall bulbs and cultivating the planting beds. That afternoon they would be at Raul's house installing shutters to protect the windows on his house. Raul explained he built his house on a ridgeline to take advantage of a panoramic view. The downside to the location is its being vulnerable to seasonal winds. He explained in the summer the light breezes are welcome but those winds can become harsh in the winter.
After lunch the entire ranch family and Vicente Sanchez joined to help Raul install the shutters on his twelve house windows. What would have taken three days was accomplished in an afternoon. By the time everyone finished it was dinnertime. Vicente invited everyone to dinner. A delightful aroma greeted the group as they stepped into the Sanchez foyer. Maria, Alejandro, and Ana greeted the guys with hugs. Maria invited them into the dining room where dinner was set up and waiting. They all sat and feasted on brazen roast beef, acorn squash, carrots, spinach, and homemade sour dough bread. It was a school night for the kids so after dinner they said their goodnights went home and were in bed by 9:00 P.M.
That night Erik and Cody invited Tony to sleep in their bed with them. Tony spooned in between Cody and Erik. Cody was soon fast asleep being held in Tony's arms. Tony smiled as Erik held on to him, giving him comfort and security. Erik nuzzled in and kissed Tony's neck lovingly. Tony turned his head, looked into Erik's eyes, kissed his lips tenderly and turned back facing Cody. He reached back and pulled Erik closer before they fell into a deep peaceful sleep.
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Thank you to my anonymous S.L. friend and to Mark for your much appreciated help with this chapter.
I welcome any respectful comments. If you enjoy this story please send me an email and tell me what you think about the story. Thanks!