Grandpapa C’Tis sat in his room with the door closed and chewed on the heel of his thumb. Occasionally, he glanced at the letter on the table beside him. He bit the heel of his thumb and looked across his fields to the small cemetery high on the mountainside facing his home. His wife was gone, had been gone these past twenty years. He had children and grandchildren but they weren’t the same as having a wife. He glanced toward the cemetery again, knowing that His Elspeth wanted him to live. She valued love. He nodded. Elspeth would be happy knowing he had a new companion.
He watched his grandson, Young C’Tis, driving Lucy’s red convertible from her house to the place on the terrace behind his house where the cars were kept. Still gnawing on his problem, he followed his grandson. I should talk to him about Hallie. He caught up to C’Tis as C’Tis set the brake in the car. “How’s Lucy? Is she still asleep? Why did she drive home instead of taking the train?”
C’Tis turned toward Grandpapa. “Uncle Peter just called Kenny.” C’Tis pressed his lips together and looked away. When he looked back at Grandpapa he had tears in his eyes. “Some people tried to kidnap Lucy last night. They chased her half-way across the country. We’ve set a watch up on goat peak in case they try to come for her here.”
Grandpapa scowled and picked up one of C’Tis’s rags to wipe at the layers of dust on the sports car. He thought about his other problem. He couldn’t upset C’Tis with talk of a new woman now. Could he bring a new wife here if evil was still following his granddaughter? Would C’Tis think he’d forgotten Grandmama Elspeth?
Kenny soon strode up to the parking lot, trailing the shop-vacuum behind him. “I’ll get the inside.” Kenny chewed on the hairs in his new mustache. “Derran came up to visit Lucy. He said they made good time last night. He thinks the people following them were after him too because of his work in the prosecutor’s office. He says they were part of the same group that tried to kill the prosecutors.”
Grandpapa nodded. “Is Lucy still sleeping?”
Kenny paused before turning on the noisy vacuum. “Yeah, Derran said she hasn’t eaten or slept much all week because she was worried about her final exams.”
Grandpapa’s chin trembled. “Is Lucy safe now?”
Kenny nodded. “She’s safer than most people in this country. Nobody will dare touch her now that the leaders behind the troubles have been captured.” Before Grandpapa could mention his new woman, Kenny turned on the vacuum.
Grandpapa left the young men to clean the car and took his bigger problem back to his room. He read the letter on his table. Someone would have to pick the woman up at the train station in the morning. What should he tell the children? What if he didn’t like the woman when he saw her. What if her voice was loud and grating? What if she didn’t like his home? What if she didn’t like his adopted children because they’d been orphaned?
He paced for an hour before he climbed the mountain to the settlement at High Valley. He nodded to his neighbors as he made his way toward the shaman’s hut. He found his old friend laying on his back in the grass behind his hut feeding bits of leaves to a baby goat.
“I’ve come to ask your opinion.” He sat cross legged in the grass beside the wise man. “When I was on TV, this woman wrote to me after, and I wrote back." He poured out his problem. "…so, she’s coming. I haven’t said anything to anybody about her because we’ve written to each other, but I don’t know if she’ll have me once she sees me.”
The shaman still on his back rolled his head to the side to look at Grandpapa C’Tis. He considered his words. The woman would be a complete fool to refuse Uncle C’Tis. He was the richest man in the mountains. He had powerful friends. He was also naive for all his experience with the outside world. “Bring the woman home and give her a room at the resort. Now, if she wants to get in your bed, you tell her she must wait until the archbishop makes it all legal. Meanwhile, you watch her real close like. She’ll be nice to Miss Lucy, but watch how she treats Beulah. Watch Mr. Kenny. If she’s the wrong sort of woman, Mr. Kenny and Mrs. Irene will see that in a flash. I’ll come visit you day after next and see if she is the right sort of woman for your family. She must respect Mrs. U’Nice.”
“Ah, the right sort of woman for my family.” Grandpapa nodded and stood abruptly to return home.
When he came back down the mountain he ran his hand over the red convertible and imagined himself picking up his new woman from the train station in this car. He nodded. The convertible would be much nicer than the truck. He studied the instrument panel. Could he drive the thing?
Before the sun came over the mountains the next morning, Grandpapa, dressed in his second best suit, tiptoed out to the sports car. He winced when the motor roared to life. He watched the windows to see if he woke any of his grandchildren. Once started, the car was quiet enough to slip down the road and over the pass without waking the rest of the family.
As he drove down the winding road that would take him out of the mountains, his lower lip protruded farther and farther. What if she isn’t the right sort of woman? She sounds nice in her letters. How will we get rid of her if she’s bossy with Mrs. U’Nice? What if she doesn’t want me? She sounds eager to come, but maybe she’ll think I’m too old. Maybe she won’t have come, after all. I should have said something to C’Tis or Lucy. I hope she’s the right sort, but I don’t know. How will we …?” His thoughts felt like they were spinning faster than the wheels on the car.
Before the train came in, Grandpapa had gassed the car in the village and greeted his village friends, “I’m picking up a guest for the resort.” He parked the car at the station, then shuddered when he saw a curtain twitch in the second floor window at the new pharmacy his granddaughter, Sarah, owned. Should I go tell Sarah I’m just picking up a guest for the resort?
He didn’t need to tell Sarah. The owner of the general store popped in Sarah’s back door to get some aspirin and say, “I see your Grandpapa has a new car. He’s picking up someone for the resort.”
Sarah nodded. “That’s the car Lucy and Martha drive at university.” She glanced out the window toward the car. “You know, someone tried to kidnap Lucy when the prosecutor’s offices were attacked the other night. She drove all the way home.” She bit her lip. “Can you let us know if anybody is asking about the car, or her?”
Before the train came in, a boy about ten ran down the back path from the farm store to the pharmacy. “Miss Sarah, I’m to tell you not to worry about those people who are looking for Miss Lucy, we know how to give them what for.”
The train arrived and Sarah stepped out the door of her pharmacy with a sack of supplies for Grandpapa to carry back to the clinic at the resort. The owner of the bakery met Sarah in the middle of the road. “I heard about those people who chased Miss Lucy home. We have a plan for them if they show their faces in the village. We don’t like their sort around here.”
Sarah nodded at her neighbor and missed seeing the resort-guest throw her arms around Grandpapa and give him a hug somewhat more than warm.
Officer Burke came trotting up the only street in town. He reached the red convertible just as Grandpapa tried to open the passenger door for the woman clinging to his arm with both of her hands. “Elder C’Tis, we’ve heard about the attack on Miss Lucy. We consider her one of our own. Nobody’s going to be nosing around here looking for her or that car.” He pulled his belt back up around his waist.
A scrawny farmer with sweat stains under his arms and manure on his boots, stroked the convertible. “I saw this car come through my place the night before last. Was that Miss Lucy and her young man?” He scratched the back of his head, pulled a seed or bug from his hair and dropped it on the ground. “I guess I can put a chain and lock on my gate. I’ll put up a big bell. Anybody who wants to come through my land can ring the bell and explain to me why they need to come through.”
Sarah finally got a word in edgewise. “Grandpapa, I have some medicines and supplies for Kai.” She held up her bag.”
The woman beside grandpapa finally dropped his arm. “You must be Miss Sarah, the pharmacist. C’Tis told me all about you. I’m Hallie S’Kay from Argos City.” Hallie held out her hand.
Sarah dropped her bag on the front seat of the car and shook hands with Grandpapa’s friend. “I’m pleased to meet you.” She glanced at the stationmaster standing behind Hallie holding two large suitcases and thought that Mrs. Hallie had come prepared for a long stay.
The baker watched the new woman from under half-closed eyelids. The farmer scratched the back of his head again. Officer Burke hitched up his belt again and said what everybody else thought. “Now, Sir, don’t you worry about Miss Lucy, or anything. We know how to take care of our own, and there won’t be no outsiders coming in here harming Miss Lucy…or anybody else.”
Poor Grandpapa turned this way and that and wished these people would just go away and let him get on with it.
Sarah wanted to laugh over her protective neighbors. “Grandpapa, you can’t drive Mrs. Hallie up the mountain with the top down. We’ll have to put it up just to get her luggage in.
The stationmaster sprang forward to help Sarah with the convertible top and to stow the luggage, while Hallie stood beside Grandpapa and praised everything she saw. She finally hit on a topic to make everybody happy. “Oh I saw the paper in Mesa City this morning. I looked for the graduates, you know. That paper said Miss Lucy McKinsey graduated first in her class.”
Sarah puffed a little as she bent over the back of the driver’s seat and wedged her sack between the two suitcases. She looked through the far window. “That’s good news. I think we all knew she would, but school will be easier for the younger ones if us older ones do well.”
Grandpapa was finally able to tuck his friend into the car and close her door. He wondered why he thought he could drive to the village and pick someone up without everybody knowing his business. What would she think of him, and the village people almost threatening her. He felt heat creeping up his neck. What would A’Kee say? Would his grandchildren accept her? What if the children were too noisy for her? He turned the car toward home and stepped down on the gas leaving a trail of dust behind him.
Of course, Sarah pulled her phone out of her pocket before the dust settled. She debated a half-second over who to call first. She decided Lucy had the first right to know what was in the wind. “Lucy, I’m calling to tell you where your car is. Grandpapa is using it to bring a female friend home from the train.”
“What kind of female friend?” Lucy sat at her kitchen table and paused with her bite of waffle half-way to her mouth.
“The kind that looks at him like an adoring puppy, clings to him with both hands, and looks like she can’t wait to eat him.”
Lucy’s laugh sounded evil to Sarah. “Right. I’m all over this. If I don’t get any hanky-panky, neither does he. Do you know, he told me that I can’t get married at home, and that I have to go to the capital so Uncle Peter can be there, and that he has my whole wedding planned? He makes the rules. We’ll see how he likes living with them.”
Lucy got off the phone and called up the stairs to her sisters, “Everybody on deck. Family meeting in fifteen minutes. Important guest coming in.”
Fifteen minutes after Sarah called Lucy, the whole family gathered at tables in the outside kitchen. Lucy opened the discussion. “Grandpapa has a girlfriend, and he’s bringing her here. We need a nice room for her at the lodge.”
C’Tis hid his hands behind his face and sniffed. “Praise the mountains, the sky and the wind. He’s clung to the past ever since Grandmama died.” He shook his head.
Adele watched C’Tis. “Right. We need some flowers for her room, and maybe we should take her some of the extra rugs from Uncle Andrew’s room.”
Lucy’s phone pinged. She looked at the screen. “This is KA’Lee from the Argos orphanage. She says. Your Grandpapa is Mrs. Hallie’s new man? Sparkling! I’m so relieved. Everybody worried when she bought new clothes and left town to meet a man none of us knew. She’s a sweetie. You’ll love her.
Kenny had been standing behind where C’Tis sat. He let out a long noisy breath. “That’s a relief.”
Martha’s phone pinged, “This is from Cousin James. He ran a background check on Mrs. Hallie through the Federal Investigative Service Office. It came up clean.”
Lucy’s fiancé Derran stopped his truck by the outdoor kitchen. He waved his cell phone in the air as he hustled to Lucy’s side. “I just heard from Prosecutor LeMoin in Argos City. He knows this woman Grandpapa is bringing home. He says she worked as an aid at his son’s school.”
Mama U’Nice raised her hands in the air and said, “Hallelujah! Another pair of hands.”
Kenny looked at his brothers and sisters. “The poor woman doesn’t know what she’s getting into. Now that everybody has investigated something that probably wasn’t any of our business, we better get a move on to give this woman a warm welcome.”
As he drove the car down from the pass toward his lodge, Grandpapa wondered if he’d ever laughed as much as he had on the ride home from the village. Next, he wondered what kind of fool he’d been to think that a man living with twenty-six grandchildren could bring home a new woman without everybody in the family turning out at the lodge to inspect the new guest. He inventoried the family lined up outside the front doors. The little girls wore their party dresses. Lucy, Martha and Nicole had their hair pulled up on top of their heads. They waved to Grandpapa as he arrived. Mr. Kenny wore his suit and rushed forward to open Hallie’s door.
Grandpapa let out the breath he’d been holding for days. His grandchildren would help him impress this new woman. She’d love them. The worst of his worries were over.