Dinner was a lively affair; the kids were animated and excited about the day's events and they hadn't even heard the best parts. Ally was quite at home and had obviously clicked with Jeannie, they were having a great time.
Dan got the kids' attention and began to explain the sawmill to Tessa and Petes; Tessa was extremely happy with the news that I would get involved and that the building would be saved.
"What sawmill is that?" Ally inquired.
"It's in Buellton, over on Ballard Canyon Road," Dan informed her.
"I used to go there with Gramps, he knew all the people there, why are they tearing it down?"
"They want to build a hospital and the site is perfect for it," Dan explained.
"Well, it's good that you're trying to save the old place, but where will you put it?" she asked.
I began to explain about the old woodshop and the water wheel and race and Dan's plans to incorporate it with the restaurant and so on.
"Well, that actually makes sense, it will have a new life. I'll bet there are a lot of young people that would love to learn how things were done before computers ran everything," Ally agreed.
I decided to fill them in on Petes' project and what I intended to do to help him with it. "I know you're proud of him and you'd love to tell the world how smart he is, but until we secure a patent for him he should keep his system and designs low key. Be sure and tell Paul and here's why. If this concept isn't patented, we can get the jump on building and selling these machines to other vineyards or even a contractor who would go from place to place. That might not be popular because of the risk of contamination to the vines, like those blighted ones that Petes spotted.
I'll call Dad in the morning, he's not really the kind to talk about something like that until it's a done deal. He wouldn't want every grower in the valley calling him about this great new invention," Jeannie supplied.
"Uncle Rob is going to do a redesign of my drill rig and put the prototype on that tracked skid steer Dad bought," Petes put in.
"I like the idea of tracks and the tractor has a rollover protection cage. You got lucky with the Gator; if that thing had got sideways on a grade, it would probably have rolled over. Otherwise, it's a good design, the Gator just isn't up to the job. You'll need something more durable to do the rest of your vineyard," I added.
"How hard will it be to get a patent?" Petes asked.
"That depends on several factors. If nobody else has patented the machine or the procedure then we can push it through quickly, in about eight months I estimate. The European patents will take longer and there will be a licensing aspect that we can explore later. My man will do the research on other wine and grape exporting countries and give us his best estimate. Petes, you'll need to come down for a design meeting; I can come up and get you if you can't get there on your own."
"Whoa uncle Rob, that's intense, are you talking about manufacturing these rigs for sale to other vineyards?" Petes asked.
"Absolutely, if it takes off the licensing fees alone will pay for you and your sisters college tuition just about anywhere you want to go," I encouraged.
"Oh man, I never thought of making it a business, this is so cool. I'm in for whatever it takes," he agreed.
"I'll have a truck here midweek and my fab shop will get right on it. Meanwhile I'll dig up the specs and drawings for the Bobcat and get started on a preliminary design. I'll need you to send me copies of your notes from the build too. Can you get them together fast?"
"You bet, I have the whole file in my room and a lot of it is already scanned into my computer. I'll get busy on the rest after dinner and email you the whole thing, how's that," Petes asked.
“Fantastic, and you understand why it needs to be sub rosa right?” I pressed.
"Yes, absolutely, I don't want somebody swiping something we worked so hard to bring to life," Petes assured me.
For me it was good to be back in their lives actively, I had been remiss and I felt bad about it. This deal could make life a lot easier for the whole family and I would have the satisfaction of bringing a valuable new concept to a market that was so fragile that one bad winter can ruin an entire country's economy.
"I know it's early yet, but how do you feel about "right to repair’ on these machines. They'll have a lot of complex electronics and the users will need to do things that require access to the software," Petes asked quite seriously.
"I think I know where you're going with this, there are some manufacturers that restrict access to diagnostic software to licensed dealers, it's causing a lot of backlash from farmers who can't just load up a huge combine and run it to the nearest dealer. I think that practice is unethical and farmers are finding a way around the access issue with bootlegged software. Ultimately, the manufacturer will lose out on future sales and some of them are already breaking ranks and addressing their customers’ concerns. I think when it gets to that point we should be open source for diagnostics. We can still protect the software and avoid bootlegging and hacking which could cause liability issues," I put forth.
"You've really given this some thought, haven't you Rob?" Dan asked.
"I've been following the debate for awhile. If we're going to be a manufacturer we don't want to start the dance by shooting ourselves in the foot," I replied.
We all laughed and dinner continued.
"Ally are you from the Buellton area?" Jeannie asked.
"Yup, we farmed alfalfa and other crops. One of my cousins is running the operation now. It's funny, it's the second time in just a few weeks that Buellton has come up.
“I just met some friends of Rob; Jack and Mary are Ronny's parents and that's Kelly's best buddy. But it turned out I knew Mary when she was a kid. She was three years behind me in school and I helped her with a few things that she was struggling with in school. She recognized me right off but I didn't recognize her. She's like a different person; she's much more sure of herself and very sharp."
“It's just weird that it keeps coming up," Ally remarked.
"Well, I'm from Buellton too, you were two years ahead of me and all of us girls thought you were so cool, you didn't take crap from anyone. We actually never met you other than to wave in the hallway, but you always waved back. It meant something," Jeannie beamed.
Ally grinned and raised her glass, “To old acquaintance known or otherwise," she grinned.
We all joined her and soon dinner was over.
We said our goodbyes and loaded a case of wine that Dan insisted we take. Hugs and kisses were exchanged and I reminded Petes to call me next week.
It was a lovely drive back to the hotel; we stopped on the way and looked at the stars. When we arrived, the valet parked the car and we headed for our room.
"Those have to be some of the nicest people I ever met and Jeannie is a hoot. Tessa is such a lovely girl, she's going to break hearts if she hasn't already," Ally mused as we lay together in a wide chaise.
"Well, they better be careful, she's fully capable of breaking their arms if they can't take no for an answer," I supplied.
"She reminds me of somebody," Ally giggled.
"Probably you, I can't imagine a boy getting anything over on you, you must have been a pistol."
"I guess so, Grampa called me a wildcat, Cammy can tell you about some of our antics."
"She has, and yet here I am."
The rest of the evening was a blur of romantic activity.
When I woke Ally was still sleeping. I showered, made a cup of tea for myself and a cup of black coffee for Ally. The hotel had really great coffee in the rooms according to her. I checked my email while she drank her coffee and then showered and dressed. Blue jeans and gingham look great on her. We decided to hit the dining room for their brunch and we spent the rest of our time there by the waterfall.
We took our time returning to the airport and I gave Jan a call and she said she'd get right on rolling out my baby. It was ready for preflight when we arrived. I dug our bags and the case of wine out of the very full trunk. I popped the case open and handed a bottle to Jan as a thank you. I gave her my card and told her to call if she came to Santa Paula and we would take her to a great steakhouse. She said she just might do that.
I did my inspections and checklists and got underway. Ally called Cammy before we took off and the flight was perfect. We landed an hour before sunset and the place was pretty busy. I made my way to my hangar and rolled Ally's truck out first and then prepped the bird for its nap. It was still half full of fuel, which is a good level, I can go a long way with a full load on half fuel and maintain reserve. With the bird tucked in we scooted on back to the house. Ally drove and I relaxed. It seemed fair and I trust her driving. Carolina drove fine if a bit fast but Maurice scared the crap out of me when he drove.
We returned to a houseful of jubilant boys, they had gone all out sweeping and raking outside and vacuuming and cleaning inside. The place was spotless, I suspected Cammie's hand in this but I said nothing except to praise the boys for their hard work.
Espen was there with Brandon, and they looked happy. Espen was getting around without his brace and was nearly back to normal. He had hoped his doctor would clear him for riding soon.
"All that swimming has done my ankle a lot of good, it doesn't hurt at all anymore and I don't have any trouble with the stairs," he reported.
I gave hugs and kisses all around and I sat on the couch so Kelly and Carter could both sit next to me for a cuddle.
"I'm commandeering your washer and dryer for awhile and I'll need to go to the dry cleaners tomorrow so anything you need done there, get it ready to go," Ally directed.
I saluted and the boys giggled.
"Hey Dad, are you in here?" It was the voice of my oldest son Lucas.
"Hey Luke, is that you?"
"Ah, there you are, whoa, you said you took on two boys, this is more than two Dad, is something off with your math? Luke chuckled.
Cammy surged forward and hugged Luke, "Did you bring your wife and those adorable babies with you?"
"Hi Cammy, no the little ones are both sick and I needed to pick up some equipment I stored in the hangar. I promise I'll bring Seth, Amy and Julie next time. Little Warn is untouched so far, he's been helping his mommy.”
"Who are the two on the couch, Dad?"
"Well this big guy is Kelly, he's one of the boys I told you about; Brandon is behind me and hopefully waving at this point." Brandon did indeed wave saying, "Nice to meet you."
"And this little tiger here is Carter, he's on loan to see if I want to buy him," I said as I tickled Carter.
"Nu uh, my Mommy is here and she's your daddy's girlfriend," Carter announced.
The whole room laughed.
"What's going on down here," Ally asked.
"Ally, come say hello to my oldest boy, Luke, or Lucas if he prefers."
Luke is fine, nice to meet you Ally; how did you fall in with this bunch?"
"Oh, Espen introduced us," She supplied with a grin, causing Espen and Brandon to roar with laughter.
"We'll explain later Luke, but it's a good story," Ally explained.
"Well, nothing Dad does really surprises me."
"Oh, we need to talk Luke," Ally grinned mischievously.
"Can you stay for dinner or is Julie expecting you back soon?" I asked.
"Sorry, but with two sick kids I need to get home and do the cooking, they're wearing her out. I'll let her get some sleep while I deal with the monsters."
"I'm planning a get together here soon, so Ally can meet my own monsters and their families, maybe I can get Bobby to come too."
"We'll be here, I imagine most of us will be, I talked to Bobby recently and he's got a serious girlfriend; he mentioned coming for a visit so now is a good time to get going on it. Let us know if we can help. If nothing else we can make phone calls," Luke offered.
Oh, before I forget, I stopped to say hi and ask if you had Bluebelle out recently."
"Yes, we just got home a short while ago, we must have just missed you, um…why do you ask?"
"Oh, just some oil build up on the engine cowls but I didn't actually touch it. I wasn't sure if it had been run recently," Luke explained.
"We just got back from Santa Maria, we went up and saw Dan, Jeannie and the kids. I plan to take some volunteers down and give her a bath tomorrow."
"How are they? I haven't seen them in a long time," Luke replied.
"They're great, I'll try to get them to come to the party too. You should see Petes and Tessa, they're nearly grown."
"I'd like to see them, if not here maybe we can get up there soon."
"I know you'd be welcome," I assured him.
"Well, I'd love to stay but I need to get back and help Julie, it was nice meeting all of you and I'll be back to get to know you better."
I walked out with Luke and he said, "Ally is so much like Mom I can't believe it."
"There are some similarities but she's a very different person. I kind of worried about that when we started out but I can tell the difference, in time you will too," I counselled.
"She seems great, I just want you to be happy Dad, you are long overdue."
"Thanks Luke, I love you son, be sure to pass it on to Julie and the babies."
I watched him back his truck out and head for the front gate. It was good to see him happy. Five years back he was a basket case after his first marriage tanked. He spent a year with me and then met Julie, I've never seen two people who are better matched. He helped me rejoin the world and I'm grateful to have him."
As the weeks went by the party idea fleshed out and almost all the boys would be there.
I got busy right away with the prototype drill rig and after wrestling with Petes to explain some of his specs I came up with something we could build. I was idling away at my computer when I received a call from Petes.
"Hi, Uncle Rob."
"Hey, Petes, how are you doing today?"
"Really good, I talked to Dad Monday night and he said almost exactly what you said. He told me boys learn about intimacy by experimenting with each other and there was no shame in it. He also said that if I really am gay it doesn't change a thing except the wedding invitations." Petes giggled.
"That sounds like your dad, I figured he'd be okay with it."
"Um…I didn't tell him that I talked to you first. He doesn't need to know does he?"
"Not as far as I'm concerned; but understand if he asks me if we talked first I won't lie to him."
"I wouldn't expect you to, but you won't volunteer anything either right?"
"You know me pretty well Petes."
"I went over to Randy's on my dirt bike this morning. I caught him coming out of the shower and kissed him right there in the doorway while he was naked."
"TMI buddy! But since you brought it up, did he get dressed or did you get undressed?"
"A little of both, he put on some shorts and I took off my sweats. I know you don't want the details but he's really hot, did you see the piccy I sent you yet? I promise it's PG."
"He's beautiful, man those green eyes are something and such a pretty face. I love the red hair too, he's adorable Petes and so are you. When you get a chance send me a piccy of you two together."
"I wanted to ask if the invitation was still open to come for a visit and would it be okay if I brought Randy?"
"Petes, you know you don't even need to ask and Randy would be welcome. When were you thinking of coming down?"
"I was hoping for Friday; this is traditionally a dead weekend at the restaurant and the vineyard work will be done except for the irrigation crew and they don't need me. I just get in their way."
"That sounds good to me, I can fly up Friday and pick you up."
"Thanks but we should take the train, Randy doesn't like to fly. He lost someone in a crash."
"Well it's a nice train ride down and I can pick you up in Ventura or Carpinteria if you want to hang at the beach part of the day first. It could be a very romantic trip."
"Oh man Rob, that's such a good idea, I'll talk to Randy. I know the fare is less than forty dollars and we both have our own money. That would really work out, thanks for the idea."
"You’re welcome, just doing what I can to further the cause of true love."
"I love you, Rob, Dad needs me to do some stuff so I gotta go but I'll talk to you soon."
"Sounds good Petes, I love you too. I'll see you soon, bye."
Petes told me goodbye and disconnected, his voice sounded a bit husky as though he was a little emotional but I put it down to his sweet nature.
"Who was that Rob?" Espen asked.
"That was Petes, he's a boy I've known since he was born. I'm his unofficial uncle, he's a really nice kid and he's coming for a visit and bringing a friend."
"Oh cool, more servants for me," Espen grinned.
"I don't think you'll be able to milk that ankle much longer. The way you've been swimming has been good for it and I'm guessing you're mostly healed. You know you’re still welcome here after they pronounce you healed, right?"
"Thanks Rob, this gives me a much better place to stay than our neighbors when my mom has to travel."
"It's so much better than staying with the Newtons. I mean they're nice people but they go to bed at nine and watch Wheel of Fortune and Hallmark. And they don't even have Wi-fi, it's inhuman."
"Really? I met them; they seem not much older than me, but if they're happy then who are we to judge?"
"Yeah you're right, they have the right to live the way they want. Hey maybe they get up to all sorts of perverted sex stuff when I'm not there," he giggled maniacally.
"You need to go find Brandon and vent some of that libido buddy."
"Is that an order?" he grinned.
"Yeah sure, why not. Kelly and Wade are riding, Ally has Carter with her and I'm going out to the car barn. I'll be gone for at least an hour."
Espen hugged my neck and kissed my cheek and hobbled off to track down Brandon.