"As the apple trees among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight and his fruit was sweet to my taste."
(Song of Solomon)
Our family grows; ends are only beginnings.
Malachi sighed as did I, the results of our love satisfying, portentous of the depth of our love and commitment to our life together. We were approaching our eighteenth wedding anniversary. Eighteen years of deep love (part of him could really penetrate deep), hard work, some sadness, much happiness, and each of looking forward to another day together.
I was partnered with Dad in his law office, now Parker and Parker, Attorneys at Law, in Rockport, Malachi was busy with teaching part-time at nights as an Adjunct Professor at the outreach center a Community College and a couple of small, private colleges operated in town, and both of us were extremely busy with Cayden's Cottages.
Uncle Cayden and Uncle Dave retired and Malachi and I were in the process of purchasing the resort, on land contract, their share, from them. We were already partners, but they really preferred we own it outright while they were both still healthy in order to prevent any problems when they died. There was always the niggling feeling the Taylor side of the family would pop up their ugly heads and demand something, although the matriarch and patriarch were long in their graves. Malachi hoped they'd been buried face down just in case they decided to dig their way out. The terms on the land contract were very generous and, with a gift every year of a portion of it, we were well on our way to having it paid in full.
Our life was busy, but relatively uncomplicated until recently. Our family was close by, our circle of friends small, but loyal and delightful to be with, and we loved where we lived. The lake and the surrounding woods were perfect for us. The summer season would soon begin the first Saturday of May with the fishing opener and we were booked full, all eight cottages. All cottages were reserved for the summer portion of the season, about sixteen weeks and reservations were coming in for the next winter season already. Winterizing the cottages was a wise decision Uncle Cayden and Uncle Dave made. The cottages were producing revenue the year around and it was great. It tied us up, but we really didn't mind.
Sighing to myself again, still trying to get back to sleep, and remembering Uncle Dave and Uncle Cayden arriving at the Resort just a week ago from wintering down south. Their fifth-wheel camper was now parked on the concrete pad next to the small studio we'd built for Malachi to work in. Both were up behind the cottages, yet close to the office and residence. The pad had full hookups so they were quite comfortable, yet, thank God, out of the main hustle and bustle of our household.
Malachi and I occupied the master bedroom, formerly our uncle's bedroom. James, now Dr. James Parker PhD, occupied our old bedroom when he wasn't traveling for the company he now worked for. He preferred using our house as his permanent residence rather than Mom and Dad's house. I think it just gave him a sort of independence he felt he might not have at home. We now only had one bedroom of the four bedrooms available for guests since the other was now occupied by two boys, ages eight and ten.
For some reason, the law office was extremely busy during late winter for Dad and me. There was an unusually large number of properties sold in our two small communities and on the surrounding lakes. All of the sales or at least the buyers of the property, needed the services of an attorney in various ways, all from facilitating the sales through the drawing up of agreements, transfers of title or deed, and just general legal work. We weren't complaining, understand, for many of these would lead to steady clients in the future. Having a relaxing drink at home with Malachi in the evening was rewarding and relaxing.
Malachi was in need of a little libation as well each evening. Ordinarily, he'd be busy just with preparing the Resort for the opener, making certain outboard motors were serviced, boats repaired, sufficient supplies stored for use, merchandize for our little store, and help lined up. However, several of his wildlife and landscape prints were selling quite well and he was busy signing and numbering prints. In some cases, purchasers desired their prints to be re-marqued as well (a penciled drawing with comments). He'd also made some significant sales of originals. He struggled to balance his art, with his part-time teaching and managing the resort.
I often spent evenings taking over the necessary resort duties so he could accomplish other tasks. It all took time and energy, but the rewards were well worth it. Fortunately, we continued the decision Uncle Dave and Uncle Cayden made by closing the resort during April, lessening the work load and giving us time to prepare for the summer season. We were together, working and loving each other and prospering as well. A busy life, but we welcomed and enjoyed it.
Our world seemed to turn topsy-turvy when the resort line phone rang one evening in early April.
Answering the phone, I noticed my cell phone also buzzed at the same time. It was a text message from Dad. I tried to read it and still pay attention to the caller on the phone.
"Mr. Parker?" the male voice on the other end asked.
The message from Dad read, "u'll gt a call from lwyr lking for Malachi."
I stammered a moment over the phone as I realized what Dad was telling me.
"I beg your pardon?" I asked.
"Mr. Parker?" the voice asked again.
"Yes, this is Josiah Duranleau-Parker, how may I help you?"
"I'm John Scott, an attorney with Woodward, Ross, and Scott in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. I'm seeking information on a Mr. Malachi Duranleau. I understood from my conversation with a Mr. Jed Parker, you might be able to assist me."
"For what purpose, Mr. Scott?"
"If he's there or you know where I can locate him, our conversation would be between him and me."
Shrugging at Malachi, his quizzical puzzled looking wondering what was going on, I handed him the phone. "It's for you, something's up. Want me to listen in on an extension?"
"Nah, I don't think so," he responded he picked up the phone. "This is Malachi Duranleau- Parker, how may I help you?"
I watched Malachi's face as he listened intently to the gentleman on the other end of the line. His face changed from disbelief to sadness as tears began flowing in rivulets down his face and dripping from his chin. I closed the distance between us, putting my arm around him, offering him my support in whatever was now troubling him, as he replied, "We can be there in seven to eight hours. What hospital? Will you be there as well? I have what?"
Malachi paused, quickly adding, "There'll be no problem with that. My husband and I will see you," looking at his watch, "no later than six tomorrow morning."
"Pack enough clothes for several days, we'll leave as soon as we can."
Quickly I ran my schedule of appointments through my mind and decided Dad could handle anything until we returned, if we weren't gone too long.
"Where we going?"
"Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan."
"Why are we going there this time of night?"
"My dad is there in a hospital, suffering from pancreatic cancer and the prognosis is not good."
Again, he paused, took a deep breath and added, "I have two half-brothers, ages eight and ten who are there with him."
From what little Malachi could ascertain from his brief conversation with the attorney, Jericho drove from Canada, crossing the border at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, settled the three of them in a cheap motel, and called an attorney. Somehow he ended up in a hospital and the attorney had been seeking Malachi for over a week. Any further information would have to wait until we arrived.
Quick calls to Mom and Dad explaining what was happening and asking them to keep an eye on the place while we were gone, quickly packing our bags, checking on cash and credit cards, and we were on our way to Michigan.
We arrived around six in the morning and, after identifying ourselves, were given directions to Malachi's father's room. We were met outside the room door by Mr. Woodward, the attorney who'd called Malachi. After introductions, he explained the situation and his involvement. He belonged to a local "ajudi-care" group which did pro bono work for those individuals or families who couldn't afford an attorney.
"Mr. Duranleau indicated he was terminally ill, desired assistance in locating his oldest son, if living, prepare a will, and guardianship papers for his two youngest son, again, predicated upon the belief you, Mr. Duranleau, or is it Parker or Duranleau-Parker…"
Malachi smiled, interrupting, "Duranleau-Parker, but please call me Malachi."
Continuing, Mr. Woodward said, "naming you as their guardian with full parental rights since he didn't want them ending up in the system. Once I saw the condition he was in, I persuaded him to enter the hospital for assessment and care. We, our firm, decided he needed more than just legal advice so our families pitched in. The two boys are currently living at my house in one of our spare bedrooms."
"How long has he been here in the hospital?" Malachi asked.
"About three days. He and the boys crossed the border about a week ago. According to the doctors he is terminally ill with probably a month, give or take some time, before he succumbs to his illness. You will learn much more once you talk to the doctors. We had a dickens of a time finding you, although the old studio where you and he worked was some help. Even though the business was under new ownership, they did have a record of you, Malachi, working there as a part-time employee some years ago. We followed up on the address you listed, found you no longer lived there, and by chance, a young Asian lad happened by and, when asked about you, he said he was a cousin and you were married and living in Rockport. From there we called Jed Parker, who referred us to you."
Malachi had waited long enough, announcing, "I want to see my dad, we can speak more later."
Stepping into the room, Malachi was taken aback at the sight of his rather emaciated father laying in the bed. Jericho was awake when we came in, his eyes glistened with tears, his face brightened with a smile when he saw Malachi, and with a small wave of his hand, beckoned Malachi to the bedside.
"My sweet boy; my lovely dancing boy!"
Malachi lay his head carefully on his father's chest, embraced him while Jericho's arm straddled his back, trying so hard to hug his son and hold him tight to him.
Malachi softly sobbed, "My Poppa; I thought I'd never see you again after you left."
Leaving them to their reunion, I looked around and spotted, seated on two straight-back chairs, were two of the most adorable, extremely good looking boys I've ever seen. Big doe-like grey-green eyes, dark hair, light tan in complexion, slim, and almost miniatures of Malachi. There was no doubt they were his brothers.
I heard Jericho ask something of Malachi. He waved me over. "Dad, this is my husband, Josiah Grant Dickenson Duranleau-Parker."
Jericho smiled, extended a hand, and welcomed me to his family. "My Malachi did well and I'm so happy for you both."
Then to his sons, "Mischael and Zacharias, come meet your big brother and his husband."
The boys stepped forward hesitantly toward the bed. Malachi turned, bent to their level, and opened his arms as if to hug them. But the boys didn't leap into them, preferring to assess the situation with suspicion. They clearly weren't very trusting, at first encounter, of both of us. The oldest boy sort of eased the younger one behind him, offering his own small body as protection for his younger brother.
Malachi picked up on the caution, stood up straight and extended a hand. "I'm Malachi Jericho Duranleau-Parker, and you are?"
The oldest stepped forward; "I'm Mishael Anthony Duranleau and I'm ten years old," and extended his hand to accept Malachi's.
His brother then stepped from behind him and extended his hand, following suit of his older brother. "I'm Zacharias Kenton Duranleau and I'm eight years old."
Both boys were articulate, spoke with precision, and spoke Canadian English with a slight French accent, which might not be unusual since most if not all Canadian children learn both English and French from an early age. Looking at them, the resemblance to Malachi was uncanny; they were miniatures of him in every detail. They looked like what I imagined he did at that age. They cast a questioning glance in my direction.
"This is my husband, Josiah Grant Dickenson-Parker. We call him Scooter."
Neither boy reacted in a manner which might find the fact two men were married to each other distressing or offending. In fact, they sort of had that indifferent, "okay" reaction on their faces, accepting it and ready to move on.
"Now we know each other, how about a hug now?" Malachi asked.
Mischael gave a nod to Zacharias and both of them stepped forward to accept a hug from Malachi. I noticed, however, they didn't hug back. They were busy assessing the situation, wondering whether or not they'd want to live with the two men they just met, I think. I don't believe there was any doubt in their mind their father was going to die and arrangements were being made for their care and life ahead.
They were suspicious and rightly so. We were two strangers, identified as their half-brother and his husband, although I was also willing to bet knowledge of Malachi as a youngster was shared with them by their father. By the same token, they were staying with an attorney they'd known only a week after being taken from their homeland to another country, a strange land known only to them from the news and other sources.
Approaching Mr. Woodward, I handed him my business card. "If you've drawn up any sort of assignment of guardianship document or are in the process of doing so, I'd appreciate the opportunity to review it. Also, if there's no objection from your client, please include my name as guardian as well as Malachi since we are legally married."
Surprised, Woodward responded, "I hadn't realized you were an attorney Mr. Duranleau- Parker" glancing at my name on the card, "I thought it was the other Mr. Parker I spoke to first was the attorney."
Laughing, I informed him it was my father and we were law partners. "By the way, Mr. Woodward, Malachi is actually Dr. Malachi Duranleau-Parker. He earned his PhD at the University of Wisconsin-Madison."
Evidently both revelations were a surprise to Mr. Woodward.
Mischael and Zacharias never missed a word passing between Woodward and me. They we quiet, listening carefully to every word, absorbing and processing all that was said and happening everything around them, evaluating and deciding. It was time for me to make my move. I didn't lack experience with boys their age since I do have five younger brothers and decided I knew how to break the ice in this new acquaintance.
"Boys, I'll bet you're as hungry as I am. How about I buy us breakfast in the hospital cafeteria?" and extended my hands to them.
Without hesitation, Mischael tucked his hand into my left and Zacharias secured my right and we walked from the hospital room. Leaving, I overheard Malachi ask his dad, "Why didn't you take me with you when you left?"
The ride down to the cafeteria in the elevator was delightful. The quiet boys turned into chattering, curious, anxious to please, eager boys. I learned more during the ride down and up and having breakfast with the boys than I ever expected.
"What should we call you?"
"Since I'm your brother-in-law, Scooter is just fine."
"What should I call you boys?"
"I'm Mickie," answered Mischael, "and he's Zach."
"Do you boys speak French as well as English?"
"Oui." "Parle vous francais?"
"No, but I do speak Chinese."
"How did you learn it?
I took the opportunity to explain my mother, my grandfather and grandmother, along with my uncles and aunt, were all Chinese-Americans and we learned from the time we were young to speak the language. I further explained my grandmother was, since she now was deceased, a doctor and was their brother Malachi's doctor when he was little.
"Did you know him then?"
"No, we were both in high school before we met and fell in love."
Breakfast was so much fun with these smart, witty, and pleasant boys. They were so much like their older brother, I just couldn't help but fall in love with them, wanting to take them home so they could grow and develop under our guidance and love. Malachi was old enough to be their father and if I didn't miss my guess, he'd be acting as one once Jericho died and I'd be his partner in the raising of his brothers.
They wanted to know how Malachi and I met. I gave them an edited version of our encounter, saying only Malachi was brought to his Uncle Dave Taylor after being severely injured. They'd heard their dad speak of his oldest son so often, they thought of him as the age he was when he and his father were separated. They were somewhat taken aback at how tall he was (given their size) compared to me. They also mentioned there was another older brother somewhere as well.
"Poppa said his momma took him away before he was one year old," Zach explained with disgust. "Why would she do that? Poppa is oh so good to us."
They mentioned their lost brother's last name was Sutton, but offered no more. I learned a great deal concerning their life in Canada, their schools, academic achievements (Zach in third grade and Mickey in fifth), where they were born, had dual citizenship and carried both Canadian and United States passports. They were very well informed and quick to pick up on any subjects.
"Mickey is really, really smart," Zach announced, in awe of his older brother, as we visited about school.
"Poppa was good dancer and instructor and we traveled with him when he was on tour with a dance company," Mickey added.
That sounded familiar to me and certainly would to Malachi.
"We moved to Sudbury after Momma was killed by some crazy guy crashing into a crowded sidewalk one day while we were in school," offered Zach sadly. He didn't say where they lived before that.
"Yeah," Mickey, "then Poppa got sick."
His comments and the looks on their faces, reflected their understanding a longer term relationship with their father wasn't going to be possible. They seemed resigned, not happy, but resigned to the eventual death of their dad; resigned as much as an eight and ten year old boy can be, considering they also lost their mother through a tragedy. Mickey and Zach were very perceptive, intelligent, and astute young lads. It seemed to me, evident Jericho spent some time explaining what lay ahead for him and for them. I could only hope, when they lived with us, we could nurture and expand their intellectual horizons. There was no question we'd love them immensely, only hoping they'd be able to reciprocate the love.
Tummies full, still chattering like two happy magpies, Mickey, Zach, and I rode the elevator back up the floor where Jericho's room was. We entered in the midst of a heated conversation between Malachi, two doctors, and Mr. Woodward. Jericho lay on the bed, watching his oldest son intently.
From what I could quickly gather, Malachi was defending his father's wish to discharge himself from the hospital into Malachi's care and be transported to our home for hospice care or at least some sort of end of life care. The doctor was reluctant to agree since he was uncertain whether or not Jericho could stand the trip and, if he did, receive the type of care he needed in his final days. Mr. Woodward, acting as Jericho's attorney made it very plain the doctors really couldn't keep him there if he desired to leave.
"We could go to a judge and have him declared mentally incapable of making such a decision as ill as he is," one doctor proclaimed proudly.
Bidding the boys to have a seat, I stepped forward into the fracas. "Excuse me" I said, "I'm Josiah Grant Dickenson Duranleau-Parker, Malachi's spouse and his attorney. If you're concerned for your patient's welfare and the rights of a blood relative, namely a son, to care for his father, exercising those rights as a son following his father's wishes, please contact your attorney. Your accusation of Mr. Jericho Duranleau's mental state and Malachi's rights as a son should prove to be an interesting series law suits I'll be filing on behalf of Malachi, Mischael, and Zacharias, all sons of Jericho Duranleau; each law suit individual and separate from the other. It should be enough to tie up the hospital and your practices for years."
One of the doctors turned to me, face red with anger and exasperation. "Now listen hear," he began, but shut up when a ten year old boy bellowed,
"No, Mr. Man in the White Coat, you listen to me. My Poppa, my brother and I are going to live with my oldest brother and his husband. If Poppa dies, he'll be with us and not with you!"
Just like his oldest brother, I thought; determined, vocal when provoked, and ready to do battle.
"Don't even respond," I said, speaking softly. "I can have hospice, doctors, pharmacy, and medical equipment in our home by noon tomorrow. There are at least a half-dozen attorneys, that many doctors, and at least one judge at my beck and call – all of them within my family. Care to place a bet on the odds against you?"
By three o'clock that afternoon, Mom and Dad had everything in place for our arrival the next day. After dinner in the cafeteria, we retrieved the boy's clothes from Mr. Woodward's home, with our profound thanks and promises to come to his assistance anytime he needed it, along with Jericho's loaded car, and drove back to our motel.
We did make one short detour on the way, stopping at the hospital to check on Jericho, and was greeted with a smile and a "thanks" to me and an "I love you" to his sons. I was a little apprehensive how the boys would react sharing a room with us, but with reassurance from their Poppa, accepted it.
Shy, the boys ducked into the bathroom to change into their pajamas before crawling into their bed. We were already under covers, tired from driving overnight and the stress of the day, realizing Jericho's life would be short and Malachi's time with his father would be limited. There was no way he could make up for all of the lost time, but he'd be with his father until the end and that was important to him and to his father. Jericho could die in relative peace knowing his two youngest sons would be well taken care of and living with a brother rather than under foster care.
We told the boys goodnight, received the same in return, and waited for the boys to drop off. Instead of going to sleep right away we could hear them whispering to each other in French, obviously not wanting us to know what they were discussing. Slipping into French became common when they wished to conceal what they were discussing or, in their cases sometimes as they grew older, plotting.
The next morning, after an early breakfast, the four of us met with Mr. Woodward and the doctors to effect the release of Jericho. For some reason, he didn't look as frail as he did the day before, although it was evident he was gravely ill.
Malachi would drive our truck since it had a front seat which would recline back and make it more comfortable for Jericho. When the doctor's fussed, Jericho informed them he'd driven from Sudbury to here in far worse condition than he was now, he thought. I wasn't so certain, but he was determined to leave. The truck was fairly new (Grandpa Parker's old truck gave up the ghost and this was our first really new truck since we were married. We did have one other one previously, a good used one). We also had a small sedan I drove back and forth to the office.
Now we had a third vehicle, Jericho's sedan. I followed Malachi in it, two excited little boys riding with me. We'd be close enough to give assistance to Malachi if he'd need it. A sealed envelope with a copy of Jericho's will was in my possession along with new guardianship papers, power attorney for Malachi to use when his father was unable make the decisions, and copies of medical records from the hospital (there was also medical records from doctors in Canada which Jericho "forgot" to give to the doctors at the hospital). Mr. Woodward's staff must have worked overtime in order to complete the guardianship papers, have Jericho sign them, witnessed and sealed by a Notary Public.
I called Mom when we were about two hours out and she informed me all would be ready when we arrived. Jericho was really worn out, but I was assured a hospice nurse would be there to help get him inside and settled.
Mom and Dad met us at our home and with the assistance of Olivia Parker, Terrance's wife who was going to be one of Jericho's nurses, helped Malachi carry him into the living room where a hospital bed, work table, and the other necessary medical and care supplies were waiting. This is the same room Malachi first occupied when he arrived at the resort, sharing the room with Percy, now deceased and preserved by taxidermy. Terrance just couldn't part with the old bird so when he finally cocked up his toes, Terrance had a local taxidermist stuff him and place him back in his cage. The cage now occupied a permanent space behind the bar section of "Sir Percy's On The Lake," a fine supper club located in Rockport owned jointly by Terrance and Olivia's father, a retired airlines captain.
While they were busy getting Jericho settled, I led Mickey and Zach on a quick tour of their new home explaining below stairs was the resort office and store, this floor had the kitchen, living room, dining room, and laundry room. The laundry room for the resort was downstairs in the resort area. We wandered upstairs, the boys withholding all comments, mainly, evidently seeming somewhat nervous, uneasy, or uncertain, but not objecting.
I showed them the room they'd occupy, right across the hall from Malachi's and mine, and indicating they could decide which one had which twin bed in the room. I explained, of the four bedrooms in the upstairs, one was Malachi's and mine, another was theirs, a third one belonged to James, one of my younger brothers, and the fourth one was for guests.
"Where's James now?" asked Zach/
"He travels a great deal and usually comes home about once a month to catch up on his rest and enjoy the lake."
"Does he speak Chinese too?" bounced back Mickey.
"All of my brothers, my mother, and my uncles all speak Chinese. James also speaks several other languages including Spanish, French, and Russian – I think."
"How about the nurse downstairs; does she speak Chinese?"
"Yep, she's married to my youngest brother, Terrance, and they have two boys and another baby on the way."
"Duh," snorted Zach, "that's pretty obvious; can't be a watermelon stuffed under her belt."
"Any more of your brothers live around here?"
"Yep; they all do. Seth, my next youngest brother owns the local pharmacy and his wife is an elementary teacher; Samuel, the next one down, is a doctor and will be checking on your father and his wife works with Aaron, the next one down, as a pharmacists in Seth's drug store. Aaron's wife, Bethany, is a doctor also and will help check on your dad. James works for some big international company and calls our house his home."
I brought our tour to a halt telling them we better get the car unloaded so they could move into their new bedroom. They followed me down the stairs, speaking softly in French, evidently discussing their new room, living arrangements, my family, or who knows what else.
At the bottom of the stairs, Zach and Mickey took a quick detour to check on their father. He was resting comfortably in the bed, upper body propped up through a slight elevation of the head end of the hospital bed and, although barely awake, quickly smiled as the boys bounced into the room. They quieted down as they approached him, walked softly to his side, and each kissed him on the cheek as they greeted him in French.
"Are you okay, Poppa?" Mickey asked softly.
"Oui, mon petite fils," (Yes, my little boys) Jericho nodded and asked so softly, in French, it was almost discernable to all except Mom standing nearby. "Are you all settled in? I think you will be most happy living here with your big brother, Malachi, and his husband, Scooter."
Both boys responded with eager nods of their heads. Zach was silent for a moment before asking, "Are you going to die today, Poppa?"
"No, my sweet one, not today."
"Will it hurt, Poppa, to die?"
"I don't know; I've never done it before."
Zach patted his hand comfortingly, "Don't worry, Poppa, Mickey and I will hold your hand and tell you how much we love you so the hurt will go away like you do for us."
Mom was the only one of us who teared up as the conversation slowed, stepping closer to the bed, asking in French, "May I ask who these handsome sons of yours might be, Mr. Duranleau?"
The boys' eyes popped open in surprise, hearing someone else speak a language they found so familiar; more so, because they'd been informed she spoke Chinese as well as English.
"She speaks French too!" Mickey announced, astonished, to his brother, both staring at Mom.
"Yes, I do. I'm Grandmother Parker and," and pointing to Dad, "this is Grandfather Parker. Who might you be in English please so others might know as well?"
"I'm Mishael, but I'm called Mickey," giving Zach a nudge when he finished.
"I'm Zacharias, but I'm called Zack," his brother responded, adding quickly, "Does Grandfather Parker speak French also?"
"No, just me." She paused, hugging them both tightly, welcoming them into her fold of grandchildren. "I think you'll be so happy here living with Malachi and Scooter. There's the lake to swim and fish in, places to ride bicycles, and oh so many cousins to play with, but now, I think your Poppa needs some rest, so why don't you and Malachi and Scooter unload your car?"
"Boys," she reminded gently, "speak American, okay?"
With a nod of their heads and a laugh, the boys joined Malachi and me on the way to their car to unload.
There were three items, among the boxes and bags, of particular interest and concern to the boys. One was a metal lockbox Mickey insisted on removing from the car.
"This one," he announced, "has all of our important papers and things in it. Those other two," pointing at two larger cardboard boxes, "hold all of our memories, Poppa says."
He looked at Malachi and me, then carefully handed the metal box to Malachi. "Since you are our big brother, I think this should go to you and Scooter."
It reminded me of the solemnity of handing a sword over after a surrender or the passing of a mantle of some sort to one of respect or leadership. The boys were acknowledging they were placing their future in our hands as their father wished and had instructed.
By the time we had the car unloaded, everything carried upstairs, and the boys settled in their room with clothes in the dressers and closet, Mom had supper ready for us. Afterward, we helped clean up the dishes, the dining room, and the kitchen before taking the boys on a tour of the rest of the resort. They were full of questions, accepting our answers with thought and then storing the information away. The two most important questions, in their minds, concerned when could they go swimming and when could they go fishing. Malachi seemed to satisfy both with "when it warms up."
Over the next two weeks, they settled into a routine of helping with laundry, cleaning their room, helping with meals, caring for their father, and preparing the resort for opening. I had to return to work, so most of this was left to Malachi and the boys. Zach and Mickey, through questioning Seth, Samuel, Bethany, and Olivia discovered there were "cousins" their own age and a bunch of others, although most were in school at the time, Mom and Dad live across the lake and they could see their house from our dock, and they had two more "oncles" who would move in with a fifth wheel camper just before the fishing opener.
Uncle Dave and Uncle Cayden arrived with their camper the Saturday before the fishing opener. According to Malachi, it was hilarious to watch Mickey and Zach confidently instruct them where to park, where the hookups were, the office, and so on. Their new uncles didn't act as if they were fully acquainted with procedures as part owners, but just let the boys feel their own importance and knowledge. Mickey and Zach were, by now, truly at home and feeling very comfortable in this environment.
They never failed to stop in the living room to tell their father how much they loved him and give him a kiss. It was a nightly ritual and one they'd never forget and be thankful for. One of them would ask each evening, "Are you going to die tonight?"
We could see Jericho slip each day, winding his way to death, knowing it wouldn't be long until he either said "yes" or was unable to answer his sons.
The Sunday evening before the opener and the day after Uncle Cayden and Uncle Dave arrived, Zach asked his father, "Are you going to die tonight, Poppa?"
Jericho didn't answer, just laying their quietly, his breathing shallow, his complexion fading.
"I think Poppa is going to die soon," Mickey announced sadly to his brother, and reached for Jericho's other hand.
Standing nearby, I gave Malachi a nudge and he stepped forward, lay his hand on his father's forehead, leaned over, kissed him, saying, "I love you so much Poppa, and will miss you so."
Jericho smiled faintly, but said nothing.
I could hear Olivia, the nurse on duty, calling Samuel on her cell phone urging him to hurry out to the resort and if he wasn't able to, please send Bethany.
Jericho was buried in one of the eight grave sites in the family plot Malachi and I bought in the little cemetery down the road where Grandpa Parker and Uncle Grant were buried. Uncle Dave, Uncle Cayden, Dad, Seth, Aaron, and Terrance were the pallbearers. A local minister conducted the graveside services and committal. Mom fixed a light lunch for us at their house after the service.
Mickey, Zach, and Malachi were so sad as their father was lowered into his final resting place; Mickey and Zach for their immediate loss and future without him; Malachi for the love he felt with Jericho growing up and the lost years without him.
Life must go on and so it did with the start of the tourist season. Malachi kept his brothers close while he worked and while they played. The boys became his right hand in the office and store and trailed after him in seeing to the needs of their guests. Uncle Dave and Uncle Cayden were thrilled to have the boys around and "spoiled them rotten" according to Malachi, as if he didn't himself. Malachi became not only their big brother, but a father surrogate. I wasn't left out in the formation of our new family. We took advantage of every opportunity for the four of us to do things as a family; swimming, fishing, meals together, especially breakfast and supper. We loved those two boys beyond all belief.
Before long it was the end of May. The boys didn't attend school here after their arrival and the death of their father. Malachi and I met with school officials and after perusing their records we all agreed it'd be best if they started the next school year. This would give them time to become better acclimated to a new life and new family.
The end of May, I worried I hadn't heard from James and he hadn't been home since before we added the boys to our family. I sent him several texts and left voice messages, all asking for him to call, but heard nothing.
"If I don't hear from him by June 1," I announced to Malachi, "I'm giving his corporate office a call and find out what the hell is going on. I'm worried sick about him."
The next morning, after the boys had piled on us in bed, waking us from our sleep, the four of us were gathered in the kitchen while I fixed breakfast. The boys were laughing, teasing their brother about the "condition" he exhibited when awakened, and chattering about what they were going to do today. It was Saturday and I was off and it was turn-around day, a busy day for the resort.
Mickey announced they were going to ride to town this morning with Uncle Cayden to pick up a couple of outboard motors at the repair shop.
"So?" I inquired.
"He always buys us ice cream when we go with him," giggled Zach.
I heard the front door open and, thinking it might be one of our uncles, asked Zach to go see who it was. With a giggle and a playful poke at Malachi, skipped to the front door. Just as quickly he raced back to the kitchen.
"There's two strange guys coming into our house," he announced, loudly and somewhat frightened. "One looks like you Scooter and the other is the same color as Grandpa Parker."
Malachi and I quickly headed for the front door with Mickey and Zach following safely behind us.
Standing in the living room was James and a relatively tall, handsome, thin but not a unhealthy thin, skin tone the color of Dad's, man about James' age, and appeared to be either a light African-American or bi-racial White/African-American.
"James!" I shouted and rushed forward, hugging him tightly to my own trembling body. "I've been so worried about you. I've texted you, left you voice messages, but heard nothing. What was I to think?"
Apologizing, James responded, "I'm so sorry. My phone died and I didn't replace it so wrapped up were we on our Mediterranean visit."
"What the world were you doing in the Mediterranean for so long?"
"We were on our honeymoon!"
"Our honeymoon," releasing me and turning to the man standing next to him.
Before he even introduced him, I noticed how familiar James' husband looked. He was the same skin tone as Dad, dark haired somewhat "nappy," dark eyes, svelte, and with facial features and body build so much like three other people I loved.
"Scooter and Malachi, this is my husband, Dontrelle Jericho Sutton-Parker"
"Say again," I spouted, almost in disbelief what I heard and what I saw standing next to James.
James' husband extended his hand, repeating his name. "Dontrelle Jericho Sutton-Parker. I was named after my mother's brother and a father I don't remember and never knew."
"I am black, but comely"
(Song of Solomon)
Thank you for reading "Parker's Love; Scooter and Malachi"
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