While Jake chased Chuck around the edge of the yard, Grace climbed the stairs to the upstairs guestroom that would be serving as her home for the next month. The view she saw when the door opened brought a smile to her face. The room was furnished in pale oak, polished so that it seemed to give off a faint golden light. The four-poster bed was canopied with sky blue fabric and the wardrobe stood open filling the room with the warm scent of cedar. A vase of wildflowers stood on the night table beside an old black and white photograph of a young girl with a wreath of flowers in her hair completing the scene. Sitting her bags down on the blue and white checkerboard blanket at the foot of the bed she examined the picture more closely. She was surprised. The young woman in the photograph was her mother,
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It was suddenly obvious to Grace that Uncle Gerard had spent a lot of time getting this room ready for her, there wasn't a spot of dust on any of the furniture, and the mirror on the dresser looked as if it had been freshly cleaned. She was beginning to understand why her mother always referred to Gerard as her "favorite uncle".
“I hope you like the room, princess. It's been quite a few years since I’ve had a young lady in the house." Gerard said quietly leaning against the door jam watching Grace as she inspected the picture of her mother as a child.
Grace started at the unexpected sound. She hadn't even heard her uncle on the wooden staircase leading to the guestroom.
"I think it's great. Really nice, I mean. Thank you for going to so much trouble. I think I'll miss Mom a little less with her picture right beside the bed." Grace stammered still a bit surprised by the big man's presence.
"It was no trouble at all. Come downstairs when you finish getting settled in. Dinner will be ready shortly. How does beef stew and homemade biscuits sound to you?"
"Sounds good. I'm just going to put my clothes away first." Grace replied turning back to the bed and it’s covering of clothes.
“Your mother stayed in this room for quite a few summers. Who knows, she may have left some of her things laying around." Gerard said with a smile as he turned and headed downstairs.
After getting Chuck inside and settled down, Jake set himself to the task of unpacking his bags of clothes and toys. While Jake hurriedly arranged his action figures and board games on the rows of empty shelves in the room's small bookcase, Chuck dozed peacefully on the Indian blanket set at the foot of the bed. As Jake hurriedly transferred the contents of one bag of clothes into an empty drawer, a low growl came from the sleeping dog. The boy dropped an armful of clothes on the dresser top and crossed the room to run a hand through the animal's fur, kneeling to scratch lightly behind the dog's ears.
Jake spoke in almost a whisper, “Having a nightmare, boy? It'll be okay. I know this a strange place and that old squirrel probably scared you, but I'll make sure your safe."
While Jake continued to comfort the dog, there was a light knock at the door. A second later, Uncle Gerard poked his head into the room. Taking in the kneeling boy and sleeping dog he smiled. "Dinner will be ready in just a few minutes, beef stew and biscuits. As soon as you guys are ready come on in to the kitchen to eat.”
Jake nodded as he continued to stroke Chuck's fur. "Be there in a minute, okay?" With that, Gerard eased the door shut and Jake listened to the sound of his work boots on the hallway floor.
Grace and Jake met in the hallway leading to the kitchen. “How do you like your room?” Grace asked her brother as they walked past the living room toward the inviting smell of stew and freshly baked biscuits.
“It’s really cool. There are all kinds of shelves for all of my men, and their cars and there’s even a Indian blanket by the bed for Chuck to sleep on. And you know what, I think it might be a real Indian blanket! You know, like the ones they throw over the horses’ in those old western movies Dad watches. I wonder where Uncle Gerard got something so cool.”
“I don’t know Jake. Maybe you should ask him at dinner. Maybe he’s actually met an Indian. We better get in there before the food gets cold.”
When the children finally pushed open the swinging door into the kitchen they saw Gerard stirring a large pot on the stove with a long handled wooden spoon. Behind Gerard set a large round table, with four chairs. Silverware, bowls and glasses were laid out neatly in front of three chairs. In the center of the table sat a wooden bowl piled high with lumpy golden brown biscuits, and a glass pitcher full of milk.
Without turning around Uncle Gerard waved a hand toward the table behind him. “Go ahead and sit down, the stew’s almost ready. I hope milk is okay to drink. I don’t normally keep soda in the house because the caffeine makes it hard for an old man like me to sleep. Maybe we can drive into town tomorrow and you two can help pick out some of the groceries.”
Jake started to wrinkle his nose at the mention of the lack of soda, but before he could say anything Grace spoke up.
“Milk will be fine. It’ll be good with the biscuits. But I’ll have to warn you soda doesn’t last long with Jake around. Mom wonders if he drinks it or bathes in it.”
Jake couldn’t help but laugh at his sister. “Mom doesn’t say that!”
“Well maybe she should.” Grace shot back.
The kitchen filled with laughter at the unsuspected joke. After Jake’s fit of giggles subsided, Gerard filled their bowls with a generous helping of the rich stew. After filling his own bowl he poured himself a tall glass of milk then passed the pitcher to Grace. After both children had a full glass, he raised his own in a toast.
“Here’s to all the fun and adventures we’ll have together this summer”
The children repeated the words and their glasses met with a soft clink. With that the three started eating. Gerard reached for the bowl of biscuits time and time again, while Grace ate carefully trying not to spill stew on her clothes. Jake simply devoured his meal, stopping twice to ask for seconds and then thirds.
During the meal Gerard drew the children into conversation. He asked questions about all manner of things; what subjects they enjoyed in school, their hobbies, favorite foods and what they wanted to do tomorrow. He listened carefully to their answers, discovering Grace’s favorite subject was English while Jake preferred Science. Grace loved books about knights and princesses while Jake would rather be outside, catching tadpoles and setting up battles with his many action figures. Grace hated broccoli but loved spinach while Jake was just the opposite. While telling Gerard about themselves, the children began to relax. For the first time since arriving, they knew with certainty the time with their uncle would be just as much, if not more, fun than at home.
Once everyone finished eating, Gerard pushed back from the table and stood. Picking up his empty bowl and glass he moved toward the large double sink.
“Now we need to wash the dishes. How about I wash and you two dry?” he said motioning for the children to join him.
“Aww man, chores on summer vacation!” Jake whined but gathered up his dishes anyway. Grace followed without complaint.
“Where do you keep the drying towels?” she asked setting her bowl and glass in the sink, which was slowly filling with hot soapy water.
“Third drawer on the left. Get one for yourself and one for Jake.” Gerard replied thrusting his hands into the soapy water and started to wash.
With all three of them working together it took only a few minutes to wash the dishes even the big stew pot. Jake and Grace horsed around hitting each other with their damp towels, while Gerard wiped down the sinks.
“Okay you two, I need someone to wipe off the table and stove.” Gerard said in a serious tone, but the amused sparkle in his eyes and his wide grin gave him away. He was enjoying this almost as much as the children were.
“Jake, get the table and I’ll take care of the stove.” Grace suggested.
While the children were busy wiping down their respective areas, Gerard put away the dishes. He was about to ask the children if ice cream cones sounded good for desert when a knock on the door interrupted him. The children looked up, somewhat surprised. They hadn’t heard a car pull up and both immediately wondered if their parents had forgotten something or missed their plane.
“I wonder who that could be?” Gerard mused aloud heading for the door.
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