by Lubrican

Chapters : 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | Epilogue


My sister has a vivid imagination. She still swears that's why she ever agreed to do anything sexual with me in the first place. She says she closed her eyes and imagined us doing what Vlad was suggesting, and all she could see was a warm, sunny place where she didn't have to be afraid, and could try out some things she was intensely curious about.

I have often wondered if that was the only true thing Vlad ever told us ... that in Russia, this attitude about trying things with someone you know already loves you is more acceptable than it is here.

Anyway, she had no problem whatsoever adopting Aunt Maureen's idea of a possible future for us as her own. In fact, ten minutes after she heard about it, she was making plans with Aunt Maureen about how to make it all happen.

I'm making it sound like it was all sweetness and light. That was not the case. Addison wanted to stay at the ranch, and finish school there. Aunt Maureen wanted no part of that, insisting that her sister needed to help raise the baby, not her. I think some of the terror childbirth had caused in her remained, hanging around in Maureen's brain, and the thought of the horrible unknown of having a tiny, helpless baby in the house, and that she might have to be responsible for that tiny, helpless thing's health while Addie was at school, just scared her to death.

That part was out of our hands anyway, which became clear when our parents arrived, having driven straight through, without stopping for anything except food and gas, changing drivers every four or five hours while one slept and the other drove. While they hadn't been in favor of the making of this baby, once he was out into the big, wide, world, he instantly had two loving, doting grandparents.

And my mother made it crystal clear that her grandson and his mother were going back to Hastings, where her daughter was going to finish high school.

About that, both parents were firm. The rest of the "plan", however, fascinated them as much as it fascinated Addie and me.

I don't think either of them had ever envisioned me as a veterinarian, which was what Aunt Maureen's intentions were. As an alum from the school of veterinary medicine at the university, she had pull and access to programs in that field. She was correct in her belief that she could not only get me into the university, but that, if I declared a major in Biology and then went on into the vet school, I could get scholarships to help me with that plan.

Of course it wasn't as easy as just that. I had to take all kinds of tests, to see if I was well suited for that course of study. I had to sign papers that, if I changed my major or failed to complete it, required me to pay back the money. I had to maintain a 3.0 grade point average in all courses that were required for the degree, and a 3.5 grade point average in all other courses.

And then there was vet school, which was another four years of unbelievable hard work.

Of course, as an eighteen year old who suddenly has the hope of fulfilling his dreams on multiple levels, I had no idea how hard the suggested course of action would be. I suppose that's why teenagers reach so hard for the stars. They do look like they're not all that far away.

I'll be completely honest. If I had known then what I know now, I doubt I'd have been brave enough to try it. But three things got me through my college education.

The first, but not the most important, was the concept that I would own the ranch one day. The second was that, through it all, Addison never doubted that I could do my part. Every time we saw each other, she reminded me that what I was doing was for us, and our family, and that she loved me for making the sacrifices I believed I was making.

By far the most important, though, was that each summer I got to spend on the ranch with Addison and Bernie, as we commonly called him. Bernard was named after our ancestor, who spent his life creating the Broken B Ranch. And those months, where I finally got to be with her again, and catch up on everything that had been done while I was off in Minnesota, were what kept me going.

Meanwhile, Addison graduated from high school in Hastings, and went to Tech to start a business degree. Two years later she moved to the ranch for good, and finished her degree online. Actually, she never actually graduated. Basically she took the courses needed to understand how to run the business and invest for the future and things like that. And since Aunt Maureen had never done any of this, it was quite helpful. The Broken B stock had always been sought after, and she had two stallions people would pay to have their mares put with. She had never been what she would call "rich" but when Addison started applying what she learned in school, the books began to look a lot better.

It is difficult for me to describe this stage in our lives. For one thing, I was gone eight months out of the year, and what I was doing took every ounce of concentration I owned to get through. In one sense, it was good I didn't have a family with me, because if I had, I'm not sure I could have pulled it off.

And I also have to admit that I didn't make it any easier on Addie. That's because every summer, and during the break every year between semesters, I went home to that feather bed, and tried to make up for all those nights I had to sleep alone.

And that didn't help because my sister never went on the pill.

And by the time I graduated as a doctor of veterinary medicine (with emphasis on large animals) I had visited two more children on the poor girl.

I don't know whether it was because everybody knew how hard I was working, or because they finally threw up their hands and gave up, but our parents, while they frowned about us having more babies, never flagged at accepting them into the family. They did draw aside, when Addie admitted to them she was pregnant for the second time, with Vanessa. Their question was, "We know the first time worked out ... but are you sure you want to go on this way?"

Our answer, though disapproved of, was accepted. What else could they do? Our children, who now consisted of Bernie, Vanessa, and Jordan, were spoiled rotten by their grandma and grandpa. Their other "Grandma", who they addressed as "Granny Maw", was over her fright about having babies around, and had become thoroughly embroiled in raising them.

But I want to make it crystal clear here that neither Addison nor I were happy while we were separated. Had we been normal people who got married and then did all this, we might have ended up in divorce. But we didn't think about it like that. She was my sister. She'd always be my sister, and nothing could ever change that. And it was the same for me. We couldn't get divorced. That word didn't even make sense when it came to our relationship. And I knew there could never be another woman for me, while she was convinced that no other man would ever lie in that bed, or any other, with her. And while that sounds like a positive thing, it only made the separation more painful for both of us.

So when I finally got back to the ranch, there was practically an orgy of relief and relaxation. Not that everything went smoothly.

When children are raised in a matriarchy, with a mother and two grandmothers doing the vast majority of all child rearing, the children can tend to view men as "those odd people who show up once in a while and say and do interesting things." They all obeyed their grandfather, for the most part, but it was the women who called the shots.

They knew who I was, of course. True, when I'd been gone for a semester, and suddenly came back, they were confused about things for a little while. But they knew who "Daddy" was. And they knew they had to do what Daddy told them to, but I'll be honest. That was because Mommy insisted they do what Daddy said.

And when I got back there permanently, and the whole dynamic changed, because I was finally fully integrated into both the running of the ranch, and being a full time father, there were some bumps in the road. But that only lasted six months or so. When daddy expanded chores into areas that were both more fun and more dangerous, he won the hearts and minds of the children. Mommy wasn't so happy about it at first, but she got over that too.

Over the next nine years, we had added another boy and girl to the family, and built a new house which was ten times more energy efficient and probably a hundred times cheaper to maintain. Maureen couldn't bear the thought of demolishing the old house and, while it wasn't efficient to cool and heat, it was structurally sound. So Addison came up with a business plan to renovate it and turn it into a bed and breakfast, to draw on the tourist trade. Tourism brings what are called "new dollars" into the system, meaning you aren't recycling something already there, and the micro economy involved draws in funds that would not otherwise be available. It's a little like prospecting for gold. You don't spend any more money doing that than you would just staying alive, and if you find gold, you get rich. You have nothing to lose except time and energy, both of which you would spend doing something anyway.

Of course renovating a hundred year old farmhouse does take both time and money, which has to come from the micro economy involved. It's a gamble as to whether that will pay off or not. And putting money back into the infrastructure had tax advantages, so even if it didn't work out, it could still be less than harmful. But Addison thought people might want to spend some time in Big Sky country on a horse ranch.

She was right, as it turned out.

People did want to spend time on a horse ranch. And it also turned out they loved Denise's cooking. Martha, the cook when Addie and I had first arrived, had, indeed, retired. Addison hadn't taken her place, though. Instead, her daughter-in-law had been invited to come learn the trade while her husband was overseas on a tour in Afghanistan. She had taken to it happily, needing something to do to keep her mind off of worrying about her husband. When Dennis got out of the Army and came home, he liked it there, hired on as a hand, and became our expert coyote hunter.

I won't say the B and B was too popular, but by the time Bernie was ten, it was booked solid two years in advance, and Maureen was complaining that it was taking too much of her time to administer.

That was when Mom announced she was taking early retirement from the university. She'd been complaining about not getting enough time with her grandchildren, and intended to visit much more often. While the kids had been down to Hastings for a few days every once in a while, that's hard to make work when what is basically a single mom is raising them, and working on a ranch at the same time.

So when she called and announced she'd have more time to spend at the ranch, she and Addison got to talking and the next thing I knew we had hired a new host and hostess for the B and B. Dad could do his job anywhere, and besides, he was thinking about retirement too.

And that's how it turned out that, some eleven years after Vlad Zharkov "destroyed" our lives and disappeared into the ether, we were all together as a family on the Broken B Ranch, raising the results of Vlad's criminal interference in the lives of two teenagers who fell in love with someone they weren't supposed to fall in love with.

You might wonder how the surrounding community viewed all this. Well, as it turns out, working as a ranch hand isn't for everybody. It's hard, dirty work, and there aren't regular hours. The time the horses need you the most is when the weather is the worst. Of course anything that threatens them, threatens you as you try to help them survive, whether it's getting them out of the way of flash floods, or helping them get through deep snow to feed, or driving them off the hilltops during a lightning storm. And even though horses can be very affectionate, when they don't want to be herded or caught, they are very capable of avoiding both.

So a lot of men who sign on for that kind of work don't last all that long before they decide they want to look for something a little more conventional.

Some stick around longer than others. Being invited into Aunt Maureen's bed can have that effect on a man, even if she's old enough to be his mother. She's trim and shapely and, as I said, apparently a tiger in bed.

But by the time I graduated from vet school and moved back home permanently, there wasn't a single hand left on the ranch who was there when Addie and I first arrived. The foreman was a man named Cody Burns, and he was quite possibly the only hand on the ranch who hadn't spent the night in Maureen's bedroom. That was because he was happily married with three kids, and lived in Tipper's Corner, the town twenty miles down the blacktop road from the ranch. He "knew" I was Addison's step brother, but had not been told the original cover story about our parents "accident." He had met them, in fact, before he met me. And while there were a few people in the area who might remember about the accident they'd been told of, all of them had also been told that, eventually, the parents would recover. My dad, in fact, had a limp. It wasn't from the fictitious accident, of course, but people who saw him later didn't know that. And by this time, everybody who had seen them had forgotten about all that anyway.

So when our mom and dad showed up to run the B and B, and live on the ranch in their retirement, nobody thought a thing about it.

There was one other thing we had to make a decision about. When the children were born, Addison left the names of the fathers as "unknown" for obvious reasons. At least to us. But that denied me any legal claim to having the right to provide for their care, or make medical decisions and things like that. Even though there were probably a couple of people around who suspected that her step-brother was responsible for Addison's pregnancies. Even if their suspicions were true, it wasn't illegal, but they could understand why we didn't feel like we could get married. Addison and I, of course knew we couldn't get married.

So Addison had papers drawn up making me the children's guardian, should anything happen to her, and granting me the authority to make decisions that required such authority in legal basis.

Of course their grandparents make decisions too, as they provide guidance to the children. I'm the only veterinarian within a hundred miles, now that Maureen is retired from that line of work, at least away from the ranch. So I'm often gone for hours at a time. And Addison is busy with her duties as CEO of the Broken B.

So it's not at all odd for Grandma or Grandpa to ride herd on the children, who range in age these days from Bernie, who is in his last year of attending the same high school his "Uncle Bob"went to, down to Annie Mae, who is four now.

And I suppose that's why, while I was helping Addison set the table for supper one night, Vanessa, who just turned sixteen, asked her grandmother the question, instead of asking her mother.

"Grandma? Now that I'm sixteen, and can drive, can I get an after school job so I can make some spending money?"

I think it scared the poor girl half to death when both her grandparents yelled "NO!" at exactly the same time.

The End

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