It wasn’t easy to find a parking place at the track on race day, but all I had to do was show my Galaxy Security identicard and one in the first row magically appeared. I asked for directions to the pit area, showed the identicard again, and was taken there by a surly gentleman. I use the term loosely.
My “escort” told the crew chief who I was looking for. He walked over and introduced himself as Mike and said I could wait until the race was over. Sounded reasonable, since the man I was looking for was driving. From what I could overhear, he was in the lead. I refrain from using the word ‘winning’ since a driver’s position on the track can change suddenly. I watched the pit crew as they worked. One man handled the radio; several others made sure tires and fuel were ready if and when they were needed. I was surprised to see a woman, roughly my age, running around taking care of miscellaneous jobs. She didn’t look like a mechanic, or a groupie for that matter, his girlfriend maybe?
Soon the race was over. I wasn’t surprised that he won. He always won. The pit crew let out a whoop and the woman was off like a flash. Mike came over and told me that it would be a few minutes yet. The driver had to make his victory lap and have pictures taken. If he could avoid the photographers, it might be sooner. I remember how he hated having his picture taken even when we were kids.
The woman came jogging back to the pit, a racecar behind her. It pulled into the pit and the crew descended on the driver like a pack of hyenas on a zebra carcass. The driver climbed out of the window and took off his helmet. The hair was shorter and he looked only a few years older than the last time I had seen him, but he was still the same skinny kid. Only his eyes looked different, not as angry as before. Maybe time had cooled the rage that burned inside him.
Mike said something to the driver, but I couldn’t hear what was said. The driver handed off his helmet and walked toward me with a suspicious look. That definitely hadn’t changed.
“Mike said you wanted to talk to me.” He looked at me and recognition dawned. “Princess?”
“I didn’t recognize you at first,” he said as he peeled off his driving gloves. “You don’t have green hair anymore.”
“No, I finally let it grow back to its natural color.”
“So, what brings you here?” So much for small talk.
“I’m trying to get the team together for a reunion.”
“Why? Doesn’t the “team” all work for Galaxy Security?”
“So what’s your point?”
“Jason, please. It’s been sixteen years. Can’t you forgive Mark and the Chief?”
“Why should I? They’re the ones that kicked me off the team in the first place.” The old anger had returned.
“I won’t defend what Mark did, but part of the blame falls on you.”
Jason turned away from me. I thought he was going to start walking away, but instead he called to the woman I had seen before. She walked over, a slightly less suspicious look in her eye.
“Sam, I like you to meet Princess, my foster sister. Princess, this is Sam. My wife.”
His wife? Jason, the man that said he’d die before he got married, had a wife?
“Hello,” Sam said. She was about my height, big blue eyes, and medium length dark blonde hair pulled up in a ponytail, the proverbial girl-next-door. Pretty, but not what you would call beautiful. Not Jason’s usual type.
“Hi,” I manage to say without staring too much.
“Jase, why don’t you take Princess to the office? It will be quieter there and you two can catch up on old times,” Sam offered, steering Jason toward a door in the corner.
He closed the door behind us. The room was small and contained a desk and a couple of chairs. The computer had a screen saver of a car that looked similar to the old G-2 and a checkered flag. A black-and-white photograph by Ansel Adams of a condor in flight hung on the wall. “She seems nice,” I said.
“Yeah, she’s about the only one that can put up with me for any length of time.”
“So, how did you two meet?”
“She’s a design engineer and works for the owner of the team. She had designed the car I was to drive and the owner insisted she be at the track when I test drove it. You should have seen her, dressed in heels, short shirt, expensive silk blouse. She didn’t like what we were doing to the car, so off came the shoes, up went her sleeves and she climbed under the hood of the car to fix whatever we thought was wrong with it. I saw her in a different light then.” He smiled slightly at the memory.
“How long have you been married?”
“Three years today.”
“No. We haven’t been inclined to have any.”
That much hadn’t changed. Jason never had been much for kids, but he had his moments. There was a knock at the door. Mike poked his head in and said, “Hey, Jason, the old man wants to talk to you.”
“I’ll be right there. Princess, why don’t you talk to Mike for a while? He’ll tell you everything you ever wanted to know about anything. Mike, entertain the lady, will you?” Jason got up and disappeared through the door.
“So, you know Jase long?” Mike asked.
“Since we were kids. We grew up together. How long have you known him?”
“Oh, ‘bout fifteen years or so. He’s a good guy when he keeps his temper under control. Hell of a driver. Excuse my language.”
“He and Sam seem happy.”
“Yeah, he’s changed a lot since they met five years ago. You shoulda seen ‘em, like oil and water. Argued about everything. He had no use for her. She thought he was an obnoxious jerk. The old man, our boss, insisted she be here when Jase test-drove the car she had designed. Something wasn’t quite right, and she didn’t like what we were doin’ to the car. Here she was, all dressed up. The old man wanted her to dress nice, see? She’s all dressed up with her head under the hood of the car with Jason, two of the mechanics, and me. She had everything figured out and workin’ in two minutes. She went up about 100 points on Jason’s respect-o-meter that day. We were all surprised when we found out they snuck off and got married. I think it surprised them more than the rest of us. The old man had a fit about that.”
I had to laugh at his story. “Sounds like Jason.” Jason came back to the office.
“Sam wants to know if you’d like to come to dinner.”
“I don’t want to intrude.”
“You’re not intruding. I’ll drive you over to the house. Where’s your car?” Pleasantries were never Jason’s strong suit.
We said goodbye to Mike and then walked to where I had parked the rental car. I tossed the keys to Jason and he drove us to his house in silence. “Nice neighborhood,” I said.
“Yeah, the house isn’t big, but it was what we could afford. The neighbors are nice enough, I suppose. They don’t complain about the cars.”
We pulled into the drive of a cute yellow two-story house with green trim. Somehow, I had expected Jason to still be living in a trailer at the racetrack. The lights were on. Sam must be home. We got out of the car and Jason led me to the side door. He opened it and let me enter the house first. A large tricolored dog met us at the door. It barked once, and after seeing Jason, stood wagging its tail. This surprised me. Jason never seemed the type to have a pet. Animals had always been Keyop’s obsession
“Some watch dog you are,” Jason said to the dog as he scratched behind its ears. “This is Bandit. He’s generally harmless.” He continued on into the kitchen. Sam was at the counter, chopping something. She turned and smiled at him.
“Hi. I didn’t expect you home this early.” Turning toward me she said, “Did Jason insist on driving or did he give you directions?”
“Which you do think?” I laughed. I liked her. She had been good for Jason. Of the five of us, Jason always seemed the loneliest and had the worst luck with women. They had the ill fortune of either dying on him or working for Spectra.
“Make yourself at home. Dinner will be ready in a little bit.”
“Is there anything I can do?”
“No, I think everything is under control… at the moment.”
“If you don’t need me, I’m going to run up and take a shower,” Jason said.
“Go ahead. I’ll entertain Princess,” Sam replied.
“I bet you will.” He disappeared up the stairs.
“Jason is still his old charming self, I see,” I said.
“You mean it isn’t just me? He was always like this?” Sam looked horrified for a moment and then laughed. “In the five years I’ve know him, he’s actually mellowed a little. Can I get you something to drink?”
“No, thanks, I’m fine. Sam, what do you know about Jason’s past?”
Sam turned from her task and looked me in the eye. “He told me about the G-Force project, if that’s what you mean. I know from experience how difficult Jason can be, so I know that his dismissal from the team was partly his fault. Just the same, it hurt him deeply to leave. You and the others were like family to him, even if he won’t admit it.”
“He and Mark were always arguing, but they had a certain respect for each other. The rest of us hated to see Jason leave. We all grew up together. It was hard to find another member for the team.” I didn’t say replacement for good reason. We never had a permanent fifth member of G-Force after Jason left. It’s a good thing the war with Spectra ended when it did. We went through six different members in four years. Brett, the sixth, lasted an entire year.
Sam and I chatted for a while until Jason finally came downstairs, his hair still damp from his shower. Bandit was right at his heels.
“I never figured you to have a dog, Jason,” I said.
“Found him at the track. Some idiot had dropped him in a dumpster. He was covered in grease and half-starved.”
“And kind and loving soul that my husband is, he climbed into the dumpster, pulled the dog out, and brought him home to me. That dog rarely leaves his side,” Sam said.
Bandit wagged his tail and flopped in the middle of the floor. Jason continued walking, stepping over the dog, and over to Sam. He kissed her on the cheek and stole a couple of the carrots she had been chopping. She playfully elbowed him the ribs. “Since you’re so full of it tonight, you get to set the table.”
“I knew you’d like that.”
I felt like I was intruding. Jason had rare moments of playfulness when we were kids, but he never really seemed happy. Marriage must agree with him. I help Jason set the table, having to step around the dog occasionally.
“Bandit, go lay down,” Jason said. “You’re becoming a pest.”
The dog looked like he was pouting and walked out into the kitchen to lie down on a big cushion.
“So, how is everybody?” Jason asked.
“They’re fine. Mark is deputy chief of security, Tiny is head pilot, and Keyop works in R&D.”
“What do you do?”
“I’m assistant deputy chief of security. I get to do the leg work for Mark and the Chief and I get to travel quite a bit.”
“How’s the Chief?”
”He’s fine, thinking about retiring. He wants you to come home, Jason.”
“He should have thought about that before he kicked me out,” he said bitterly.
We finished setting the table and Sam brought in the food. Everything smelled wonderful. I had forgotten that I hadn’t eaten since before my flight early this morning.
“Princess, do you have a place to stay tonight?” Sam asked.
“I was hoping to get a motel room. I came right from the airport today.”
“We have room. You can stay here.”
“I don’t want to be a bother.”
“No bother. I insist. I’m up with the chickens anyway. Jason is the one that can sleep the day away.”
“All right. I’ll have to call and let the office know where I am.”
Dinner was good, but quiet. Jason must have used his quota of words for the day, as he didn’t say much of anything. After we finished eating and I had helped clean up at my insistence, Jason showed me upstairs to the guest room. A double bed covered by a colorful quilt was in the center of the room. One wall was covered with pictures of Jason’s various wins and the cars he had driven. There were only a couple of pictures of Sam and Jason together. I stopped to look at one that caught my eye. Both of them were dressed in dark blue racing suits. Sam was in Jason’s arms and it looked like he had just caught her. Both wore embarrassed smiles as if they shared a secret.
“That was taken when Sam won her first professional race. Mike had picked her up and tossed her over to me. I was afraid I’d drop her,” Jason said. Then after a moment, he said, “Bathroom is across the hall. There are towels and anything else you might need in the closet.” Then he disappeared. I noticed he had a tendency to do that when his feelings got too close to the surface. He returned a few minutes later with my overnight bag from the car. “Thought you might need this. ‘Night, Princess.”
“Good night, Jason.”
* * * * * * * *
I awoke the next morning to find a pair of gold eyes looking at me. Startled, I sat up to see a big orange and white cat sitting on top of the quilt. “Hello. Who are you?” The cat just looked at me. He got up and hopped onto the floor, squeezing through the partly open door.
“Reggie, what were you doing in there?” I heard Sam ask. “I’m sure Princess didn’t appreciate your company.” I heard her continue to talk to the cat as she walked downstairs. I looked at the bedside clock. Five minutes before 6:00. Time to get up I suppose. I grabbed my robe and walked downstairs to the kitchen.
Sam was busy making coffee, still talking to the cat as he sat on a bar stool in the corner. “Good morning,” she said. “I hope Reggie didn’t wake you.”
“No, I usually wake up about this time. The coffee smells good.”
“It’s about ready. I don’t drink it, but Jason can’t live without it. What would you like for breakfast?”
“Don’t go to any trouble on my account. I can fend for myself.”
“I’m in the mood for French toast. Want some?”
“Sounds good. Do I have time for a quick shower first?”
“Sure. Don’t worry about how much noise you make. Jason could sleep even if a freight train ran through the bedroom.”
I laughed and went back upstairs. After showering and getting dressed, I repacked my overnight bag and took it out to the car. My plane didn’t leave until 10 A.M.
Sam had breakfast ready. We sat in the dining room and talked. I hadn’t been able to talk Jason into considering coming back for a visit last night. Hopefully, I’d be able to convince Sam.
“Sam, I have something I want to ask you. Do you think that you could talk Jason into coming back home for a visit? I know he didn’t leave on the best of terms, but the Chief and the others would like to see him.”
She considered my request for a minute. “I won’t make any promises, Princess, but I’ll try. It might do him some good.”
“How did you get Jason to tell you about the G-Force project?” I asked.
“I asked about his interesting scars one day. He didn’t want to say anything at first. I didn’t push him, but he finally told me about what had happened to his parents when he was a kid and how Chief Anderson had taken all five of you in for various reasons. He told me about the cerebonic implant.”
The implant. The day Jason was forced off the team, I remember Chief Anderson talking to the doctors. They had wanted to remove Jason’s implant, but after running a few tests, they found that it would kill him if the implant were removed. We had had the implants since we were kids. Too much scar tissue had grown around them, making them nearly impossible to remove. I remember the yelling that took place just before Jason walked out. Since the implant couldn’t be removed, the Chief insisted Jason stay in GalSec custody. He refused… loudly. The Chief countered by saying he could force Jason to stay, which made Jason even angrier. He did quite a bit of damage when the security guards tried to stop him. Tiny could have stopped Jason if he’d wanted, but he wisely stayed out it. We never saw Jason again after that. Keyop had started watching the sports channels for auto races, hoping to see Jason. We always knew where he was and his standing in the ranks, but it wasn’t the same.
“This may be a personal question,” I said, “but how did Jason propose to you?”
“I wouldn’t say he actually proposed,” Sam replied. “I though he was kidding at first. I’d had the honor of being his co-driver for an endurance race from the southern Baja peninsula to Las Vegas. We had gone out a few times. I had even gotten him arrested a couple of times, which is a story in itself. We spent most of our time together in a garage with a car surrounded by mechanics. Not what you would call a romantic courtship. I was bowled over when he said ‘let’s get married’ after we had won the race. It surprised him too. It surprised him more when I said yes. That was the first time we slept together. I’m not sure who was more nervous, him or me. Not how I pictured getting married and spending my honeymoon. It was three weeks before we told anybody what we had done. Mike and Mr. Pitney, our boss, reamed us out good. When Jason and I first met, Mr. Pitney had told him that he would have him dismembered if he ever laid a hand on me. We were definitely off to a good start.”
I laughed. Jason had an unfounded reputation of being quite a Casanova. I never did figure out how that started. I think Mark and Tiny knew, but they would never say anything. I suspect they may have been the ones to start the rumor. From the way they tell it, Jason’s bedroom had a revolving door, but I never felt that way. He must have known Sam and I had been talking about him because he appeared in the doorway trying to stifle a yawn.
“My, my. Aren’t we up early?” Sam said. “The way you were sleeping when I got up, I didn’t think I’d see you before noon.”
Jason just glared at her. “There had better be some coffee left.”
“We left most of the pot for you, Mr. Sunshine. Want some breakfast?”
“I’ll get it,” he said as he disappeared into the kitchen.
“If you can get him to change his mind, here’s my card. Call me, please,” I said. Sam and I had talked for over two hours before Jason had gotten up. “I need to get to the airport. My plane leaves at 10.” I got up and took my dishes out to the kitchen. Jason stood in the middle of the kitchen with the biggest coffee cup I had ever seen. “It’s nice to know that some things never change,” I said. I earned a glare for that remark, but I did notice the quick smile before he turned away.
After rinsing my dishes and putting them in the dish drainer, I walked over to him and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. He put his cup down on the counter and pulled me into a bear hug. “Try not to be a stranger. Sam has my card. Call me sometime,” I said.
“I will. I won’t promise, but I’ll try. Sam will make me.”
“I’d like to see her do that.”
“She will. Honest. She’s a lot meaner than she looks. Anderson should have recruited her to go after Zoltar. The war would have ended a lot sooner.”
I pulled back to look at him. I think he was joking, but I couldn’t be sure. “I have to go. Take care, Jason.” I said good-bye to Sam and he walked me to my car and gave me directions to the airport. Sam walked out and waved as I backed out of the drive. I waved back and drove off.
The flight home was long and boring. Keyop met me at the airport. I couldn’t believe how much he had grown over the years. He was tall and had filled out, finally outgrowing his awkwardness.
“Did you talk to him? Is he going to come?” he said as he hugged me.
“Yes, I talked to him. I don’t know if he’s going to come or not. I gave his wife my card and she’s going to try to talk him into it.”
Keyop looked at me as if I were speaking Spectran. “Did you say his wife? Jason got married? He always said he was never going to get married! I can’t believe he got married!”
“Believe it. Her name is Sam and you’d like her.”
“How long have they been married? Any kids? Am I an uncle?”
“They’ve been married three years and they don’t have any kids. I don’t think they’re planning on having any so you’re out of luck.” None of us had been of a mind to get married. Mark and I had flirted with the idea over the years, but never quite got around to it. Tiny had been married twice, but each lasted less than a year. He was such a nice guy. Too bad he had such terrible luck with women.
Keyop prattled on all the way back to the office. Mark and Tiny were waiting when we arrived. I hugged them both leaving Keyop to carry my bag.
“How was the trip?” Mark asked.
“It was fine.”
“Is he going to come?” Tiny asked.
“I don’t know. His wife is going to try to talk him into it.”
“His wife?” Mark asked.
“Mm-hm,” I replied.
“He got married?”
“That’s the usual way you get a wife.” I continued walking to Chief Anderson’s office. He now oversaw the entire Galaxy Security program. After Zoltar and Spectra had been defeated, Brett had returned to whatever he had been doing before he had been recruited for G-Force. The rest of us stayed on to work for the Chief and GalSec.
“Was she drunk, desperate, or pregnant?”
“Mark! That’s a terrible thing to say.” I would have hit him, but there were too many witnesses.
I knocked on the Chief’s door. “Come in,” a muffled voice answered.
“Hi, Chief,” I said, hoping to sound cheerful.
He looked up and smiled. “How was your trip?”
“It was fine. I found Jason.”
“Did he talk to you or throw you out?”
“He talked to me. I got to meet his wife.” I waited to see if the Chief would respond the way the others had, but all he did was raise an eyebrow.
“Is he going to come?”
“I don’t know, sir. Sam, his wife, was going to try to talk him into coming, but she couldn’t make any promises.”
I finished giving my report about my trip and then returned to my office to plow through the pile of work I knew would be waiting for me. I wasn’t disappointed.
* * * * * * * *
Nearly six months went by before I heard anything from Sam. When she did call I was surprised that she been able to get Jason to finally say yes to coming for a visit.
“I’ll get him there, but it will be up to you and the others to keep him there,” she said over the phone.
“Thank you, Sam. When are you coming?”
She gave me a couple of different dates and let me pick a week that would work out well for our schedule. The week I picked worked well for them, as there weren’t any races. We went over travel plans and I told her that I would pick them up at the airport. Everything was in place. I just had to tell everyone else and a meeting was called for later that afternoon.
* * * * * * * *
Keyop and Tiny insisted on going with me to the airport to pick up Jason and Sam. With our GalSec credentials, we were able to meet them at the gate. The three of us hung back to watch the other passengers disembark. Finally I saw Jason, but he hadn’t seen me yet. He stopped just inside the gate. Sam caught up with him and he took her hand. She looked different than the last time I had seen her, but I couldn’t figure out why.
Sam looked up and saw me. She tilted her head and whispered to Jason. They stopped and I walked toward them, Keyop trailing behind me. Tiny hung back, not sure what reaction he would get from our wayward brother. When I reached them, we didn’t even get the chance to say hello before Keyop wrapped himself around Jason, who clearly didn’t know what to think. Sam found it funny, but tried not to laugh. I mouthed, “Keyop,” so Jason would know who the madman was that had grabbed him. Jason was finally able to extricate himself from Keyop’s embrace and held him at arm’s length.
“Hello, Keyop,” he said, trying not to smile.
“How did you know it was me?”
“I had some help. Keyop, this is my wife, Sam.”
“Hello, Keyop,” Sam replied.
“And the big guy attempting to hide behind that pillar is Tiny.”
“Hi, Jason,” Tiny said.
I hugged them both and we started to leave. “Oh, we need to get your luggage.”
“This is all we have.”
“That’s it? You aren’t planning to stay long, are you?”
“Sam can pack more stuff in these two bags than most people can pack in a steamer trunk.”
Speaking of Sam, I turned and said to her, “There’s something different about you, but I can’t place it.”
“Really? I don’t know what it would be,” she replied. She and Jason shared a look that clearly said something was going on, but it could wait.
The trip to Center Neptune was hardly quiet. Keyop and Tiny had to tell Sam all about the things Jason did as a kid and had to catch Jason up on that last sixteen years. They were still talking when we arrived at the reception area. I had visitor badges issued for Sam and Jason as well as guest quarters. I showed them to their room and after they had gotten settled, gave them a quick tour. We ended up at the Chief’s office. He was in a meeting so we had to wait.
“Wow, this is like living in an aquarium,” Sam said as she looked around the room at the view ports.
“Yeah, you should see all the different fish. Sometimes we even see sharks,” Tiny replied.
Jason still hadn’t sat down. He leaned against the wall with his arms crossed, just like the old days.
“Okay, you two. What’s up?” I asked. “I know you’re hiding something, Sam.”
“You might as well tell her. She’ll find out as soon as you take off your coat,” Jason said.
* * * * * * * *
Sam stood up and removed her jacket. That’s when I saw what was different about her. She looked to be about five months pregnant. She sat back down and didn’t say a word. Tiny and Keyop just kept looking back and forth between each other, Sam, and Jason.
“You’re pregnant!” I finally managed to say.
Neither one said anything, but Jason gave Sam a sly smile.
“When? How? Don’t answer that. I thought you weren’t planning on having any kids.”
“Who said this was planned?” Jason said.
“Congratulations!” I hugged Sam first and then went after Jason.
“Hey, none of that.” He tried to get away, but I hugged him anyway.
Tiny and Keyop started talking at once and kept it up until Mark and the Chief returned. “What’s going on in here? We could hear you all the way down the hall,” the Chief said.
“We’re going to be uncles,” Tiny told him.
Jason had slipped away from where he had been standing by the door and was now over by Sam. Neither of them said a word. Jason put his hands in his pockets and looked at the Chief and Mark.
“You must be Sam.”
There was an awkward silence for several minutes. I walked over to Mark and whispered to him, “Say something!”
He took a deep breath and walked over to Jason. “It’s good to see you again.” He turned to Sam and said, “Hi, I’m Mark.”
“Sam. It’s nice to finally get to meet you.”
Jason hadn’t said anything. “Why doesn’t everyone sit down?” the Chief suggested.
Jason sat on the arm of the sofa next to Sam and Mark sat next to me on the other sofa.
“Princess tells us that you’re a design engineer, Sam,” the Chief said.
“What do you design besides racecars?”
“If you want a change of scenery, we’re always looking for good engineers.”
Sam looked up at Jason and said, “I’ll keep that in mind, sir.”
There was more awkward silence until Tiny decided he had had enough. He started asking Jason questions about his racing and what he had done since he left. Jason responded with as few words as he possibly could.
Finally, Sam stood up. “If you all will excuse me, I need to go for a walk.”
“Do you want me to go with you?” Jason asked.
“No. You stay here to talk to the others. I’m sure I can walk up and down the hall without getting lost.” She slipped quietly out the door.
“The doctors tell her to walk every few hours,” Jason offered.
“When is she due?” Mark asked.
“Who knows? Every time she goes to the doctor they give her a different date.”
“They can’t tell?”
“How should I know? They ask her questions and she answers them. They run a few tests. It’s all as clear as mud. Sam thinks it should be sometime in May, but they could come earlier.”
“She’s going to have twins.”
“Twins? You two didn’t fool around.”
“How do you think we got in this mess?”
Mark and Tiny chuckled at that. The Chief just shook his head. After that, things warmed up a bit. An hour later, Jason started to worry.
“She should have been back by now.”
“Maybe she went back to your room?” I suggested. “I’ll call out to the reception area. Maybe they’ve seen her.” I made my call, but no one had seen her.
“I’m going to go looking for her,” Jason said.
“We’ll all look,” Mark replied.
We only had to open the door to find Jason’s errant wife. She sat on the sofa looking out the windows as the fish swam by.
“I still think it looks like a giant aquarium,” she said.
“Where have you been?” Jason demanded.
“I went for a walk and then came back here. I thought you might talk more if I wasn’t around.”
“If you weren’t pregnant, I’d lock you up.”
“Like I haven’t heard that before,” Sam countered. They bantered back and forth like that for a couple minutes.
“All right, you two, that’s enough. It’s getting late. Is anyone interested in dinner?” the Chief asked.
Center Neptune only had a staff cafeteria, so we returned to the mainland for dinner. It was almost like old times. Keyop and Tiny really hadn’t changed that much. They still had to tell their stupid jokes. I have to give it to Sam, though. She laughed at the appropriate times. Every now and then I would catch her glancing at Jason, but he just gave her a lopsided smile, never saying a word. Sam sat with Tiny on one side and Keyop on the other. I could tell she was uncomfortable, but not from being seated between them.
“Is everything all right, Sam?” I asked as she shifted in her seat.
“The kids are just really active tonight. They’ll probably be rugby players.”
Keyop asked, “What does it feel like when they kick?”
“Here. You can feel for yourself,” Sam said. She took Keyop’s hand and placed it on one side of her stomach. She then took his other hand and placed it on the other side.
Keyop never said a word, but he had the silliest grin on his face. At least he did until Jason saw what was going on.
“Keyop,” Jason growled. “Take your hands off my wife.”
Keyop jerked his hands back as if they had been burnt. We all started to laugh when we saw the devious smile cross Jason’s face.
“Don’t worry, Keyop. He’ll have to go through me to get to you,” Sam told him.
“I’d go around you,” Jason replied.
Mark hadn’t tried to say much to Jason other than asking a few questions about his racing career. I could tell that Jason still harbored resentment for Mark and the Chief, but he was attempting to keep the piece, even if only for Sam’s sake.
After dinner, we all headed back to Center Neptune. We said goodnight and went our separate ways. Mark and I watched as Jason and Sam went back to the guest quarters.
“He should have met her twenty years ago,” Mark said, “but she probably would have ended up dead.”
No one was around so I slapped him. “Mark, that is a horrible thing to say!”
“Hey! Well, it’s the truth. Even when we were kids, all the women he ever said hello to ended up dead.”
I smacked him again. “That’s not true and you know it. Sam’s been good for him. I always felt that Jason just needed someone to love him. We had each other. Tiny and Keyop had each other to pal around with. Jason didn’t have anyone.”
“Like that’s our fault? He was always a loner. Why do you think the Chief was always sending him to a psychologist when we kids?”
I was going to smack him again, but he dodged out of the way.
* * * * * * * *
We were able to convince Jason to stay four days, but I could tell it was hard for him. I drove them back to the airport. I hugged Sam and told her to keep in touch, and then I turned on Jason. He was never much for hugging when we were kids, but occasionally you could catch him unaware. “You keep in touch in too,” I told him.
“I won’t make any promises.”
“At least call me when the babies are born.”
“I’ll add you to the list. Keyop insists that I call him every week with updates, but that’s not going to happen.”
“Your incorrigible, you know that?”
“Now tell me something I don’t know.” They announced that Jason and Sam’s plane was boarding. They both waved good-bye and then they were gone.
* * * * * * * *
The next few months slipped by. Sam would e-mail me occasionally. Jason was less frequent, but it still surprised me to hear from him. “Sam makes me,” he wrote. Sam was more likely to tell me what Jason was up to, while he would tell me how Sam’s pregnancy was going. He even sent me a copy of a picture from one of her ultrasounds. “See if you figure out how they can see a baby. All I see are shapes, but nothing that looks even remotely like a baby,” he said in one of his rare e-mails.
In early May, the Chief had a weeklong meeting not far from where Jason was living. He hinted to me that he might stop by their house for a visit, but he wasn’t sure what kind of a reaction he would get.
Late one evening after I had gone to bed, my phone rang. I looked at the caller ID. I recognized the Chief’s cell phone number. “Hello?”
“Hello, Princess. I’m sorry to wake you. I’m not going to make my flight tomorrow.”
“Is something wrong?”
“Sam’s in labor and I’m keeping her company until Jason can get here.”
“Where is he?”
“He had a meeting with a couple of his sponsors. I brought her to the hospital and I didn’t feel right leaving her here alone.”
“That was nice of you. Keep us posted.”
“I will. Goodnight.”
I couldn’t go back to sleep right away. I was going to be an aunt! I finally fell asleep and was awakened by the phone again. This time I didn’t recognize the number.
“Hi, Princess.” Jason. I would recognize his voice anywhere.
“Is everything all right? How’s Sam?”
“She’s fine. She fell asleep a little while ago.” He sounded tired.
“Are you daddy yet?”
“Yep. God, it’s weird to say that. I’m actually someone’s father. They made their appearance about two this morning.”
“Well, what are they? I want details.”
“Both boys, one was just over 6 pounds and the other is about 6 and a half. Both are 20 inches long. Like that is really supposed to mean something to me.”
“It means something to someone. Did you see the Chief?”
“Yeah. I was glad he was there when Sam went into labor. I was a mess. He was the only calm one in the room. The doctor and the nurses were running around like idiots. He left just before the twins arrived. He may still be around somewhere. I’ll have to see if I can find him.” He covered the phone and said something to someone in the room. “Sam wants to say hello.”
“Hi, Princess.” God, if Jason sounded tired, then she had to be exhausted.
“Hi, mom! Congratulations.”
“How is everything?”
“Fine. Jason was a real trouper. He was a lot calmer than he lets on. Don’t tell anyone this, but he may have cried when they handed him the first baby.” I heard a loud “Hey!” in the background.
“Tell him that his secret is safe with me.”
“I will. I have to go now. I’ll talk to you later, Princess.”
* * * * * * * *
When the Chief returned from his trip, he looked happier than anyone could ever remember seeing him. He called me to his office after he got settled.
“Did you have a nice trip, Chief?” I asked.
“Yes, I did. After my last meeting, I stopped by Jason’s house. Sam was home alone, Jason had been ordered to a meeting with his sponsors. Apparently, he didn’t want to go, but he wanted to keep his racing sponsors. Sam and I had a nice little visit, and then suddenly her water broke. She called the doctor and then tried to get a message to Jason, but he was still in his meeting. She hadn’t had any contractions before her water broke, but when they started they were only about four minutes apart. I took her to the hospital and waited with her until Jason arrived. I was going to leave when he got there, but he asked me to stay. I hadn’t been able to see it before, but he’s really grown up over the years.”
“Happens to the best of us, Chief. I talked to Jason this morning. He really appreciated your visit.”
“I’m glad I went. He and I had a long heart-to-heart talk while Sam was in labor.”
“I’m sure she loved that.”
“She played referee.”
I laughed. “Sounds like she gets a lot of practice. It will come in handy when the boys are older.”
“Yes, I suppose it will. Oh, by the way, Sam wants everyone, including Mark, to come for Thanksgiving.
“I’ll add it to his calendar. I’ll hog tie him if I have too.”
* * * * * * * *
The next six months sped by. Jason had actually sent me pictures of the babies. “They look like all the other babies I’ve seen,” he said. So much for fatherly pride.
Thanksgiving was quickly approaching. I was able to force Mark into going to Jason’s with only a bit of help from Tiny. “I’ll tie him up and put him in the box for you, Princess.”
We took a GalSec plane instead of a commercial flight. Sam met us at the airport.
“Where’s Jason?” I asked.
“Home with the boys.”
“He’s doing this willingly?” Mark asked.
“No, but he needs the practice and I needed to get out of the house.”
The Chief had rented a car so Tiny and Keyop rode with him while Mark and I rode with Sam. We talked about the world in general and suddenly we arrived at the house. “You moved. This isn’t the same house as before.”
“We needed more room and I couldn’t climb stairs by myself when I was pregnant, so we decided to buy a one story house.”
Sam pulled into the drive with the Chief right behind her. “I’m sure Jason is climbing the walls by now.” She couldn’t have been more wrong. When we entered the house, we found him lying on the floor surrounding by two babies, two big dogs, and a cat, reading to them.
“Hi,” he said as he got up.
“Hi, how did it go?”
“Fine. We all got along famously. That and they’ve all been fed, so they weren’t about to give me too many problems.”
“Jason,” I said, “didn’t you only have one dog before?”
“My husband, the over grown Boy Scout, found Shadow in a drainage ditch,” Sam said. At the sound of his name, the big black dog wagged his tail. “Another of his admirers.”
“What can I say?” Jason said smugly.
Tiny and Keyop got down on the floor to play with the babies. Both were miniature copies of Jason, down to the large blue eyes, and neither baby seemed overly impressed with their uncles. They turned around to look at Mark. I had to laugh. They both gave Mark the same look that Jason used to give him when we were little and Jason was in trouble for something.
“Remind you of someone?” I whispered in Mark’s ear.
Sam and Jason disappeared into the kitchen. “Is there anything I can help with?” I asked.
“I don’t think so, Princess. Jason was busy while I was gone and took care of everything.”
“The kids were asleep and I put the dogs outside so I could get some work done,” Jason said.
Just then a piercing scream came from the other room. They both took off to see what had happened. I was right behind them. We stopped in the door. Both boys were sitting in the middle of the room surrounding by four terrified looking men. “What happened?” Sam asked.
“Darned if I know,” Tiny said. “This one just decided to scream.”
Sam walked over to the child in question and picked him up, holding him at eye level. “Joshua Mark, what are you up to?” The baby just wiggled and started to laugh. “That’s what I thought, you little stinker.”
At the mention of the baby’s name, I cast a glance at Mark. His eyebrows went up, but he didn’t make any other indication of noticing.
“What’s the other baby’s name?” I asked.
“How did you pick the names?”
“We each made a list of the names we liked, edited each other’s lists, and then put all of the names in a bowl and just started pulling names out,” Jason said.
“Not really. It just saved a lot of arguing.”
* * * * * * * *
Jason and Sam had insisted that we all stay with them during our visit. After dinner had been cleared away, Jason disappeared somewhere in the back of the house. He returned with a photo album. I recognized it as the one the Chief had when we were growing up, but I couldn’t remember seeing it in years. I looked questioningly at the Chief.
“I brought that along during my last visit. I thought Sam would like to see some pictures of you all when you were kids.”
“Sam made a couple of additions to it,” Jason said as he handed it to the Chief. We all gathered around him as he opened the album. In the back were several new pages. There were pictures of the babies and there was a picture of Jason sitting on a hospital bed with his newborn sons in his arms. Apparently he hadn’t known he was having his picture taken.
“He didn’t know I was taking that picture until it was too late,” Sam said quietly from behind us. “I hope you don’t mind my adding the pictures to the album.”
“Of course not,” the Chief said. I noticed his eyes had grown misty. I looked up at Jason. He had picked up one of the babies and handed him to Mark, who looked like he had no idea what to do. The baby just smiled at him and laughed. That was when I knew everything was going to be just fine.