by Michelle Francik
Mae Donahue hid her grin behind one hand while she ruffled Adam’s hair with the other. Her son let out a frustrated sigh and buried his face in his hands. Adam was a very dramatic boy and his over the top behavior tended to bring out the worst in his classmates and, sometimes, in his own brothers. He’d just come home from school and told her that two of his classmates had called him an Elvis wannabe. The white western shirt with sparkly rhinestones along the collar and sleeves did make it look like he was trying to emulate Elvis, she had to admit.
“Maybe there is something wrong with me, Momma. Maybe the other kids are right. I’m not normal.”
Her heart twisted and her grin changed to a frown. “Adam Donahue! Don’t you ever say that about yourself again!” She sat down next to him at the kitchen table, grabbed his chin and lifted his face until their eyes met. His eyes went wide when he saw the anger reflected in hers. “I want you to listen to me and listen carefully.”
Adam swallowed hard and nodded his head. “I will, Momma.”
His lips were trembling and all she wanted to do was pull him into her arms and keep him safe forever. But Mae was a wise woman and she knew that wasn’t what he needed. She took a deep breath. “People are not always nice, Adam. No matter what you do or how you look or how you behave, there will be always be someone who makes fun of you or calls you names or dislikes you. Unfortunately, that’s just the way life is.”
“But it hurts, Momma.” Tears filled his eyes and she couldn’t resist the maternal urge any longer. She pulled him into her arms.
“I know, son. Believe me, I know.” She held him for a moment, stroking his hair and trying to find the words he needed to hear. “You can’t change other people. There will always be bullies and meanies. Some people are taught to hate anyone different than them. Others feel weak or scared and the only way they know to cope with those feelings is to attack other people. It’s not right and it’s not decent. You just have to remember that you are a good person and that you are loved, just the way you are. The only person you can control is yourself, so just always try be the best person you can be.”
Adam pulled away from her and dried his eyes with the sleeve of his shirt. “Sometimes, I want to say something mean right back to them.” He paused for a second and she stayed quiet, giving him time to find his words. “But I don’t really want to hurt them back. I just want them to leave me alone.”
Mae smiled tenderly at her son. “I know, Adam. Your papa and I have tried our best to instill good manners, morals and ethics in all of our children. And we’re very proud of all of you. You especially,” she told him.
“Why me ‘specially, Momma?”
“Because you’re unique, Adam. You aren’t a carbon copy of your dad, like Reed and Garrett. You aren’t a sports and exercise freak, like Zack and Andrew. You aren’t even like your sisters, Charla, Emma and Bonnie. They all have their own personalities, but they seem to be pretty similar in the way they act and dress. But you, my wonderful son, are entirely your own person. And that’s an amazing, precious thing.”
He shook his head sadly. “No, it’s not. It just makes me a bigger target.”
She grinned, a mischievous look on her face. “Do you know why they target you?”
“Because I’m different?”
“Nope. It’s because you’re smarter and more handsome than any of them can ever hope to be,” she chuckled and ruffled his hair again.
“Mom, that’s not it at all.” He pushed her hand away from his hair and looked up at her, a tiny smile twisting his lips. “Thank you, Momma.” He sighed. “I can’t be something I’m not. And I like who I am. I need to be me. Even if other people don’t like it.” He stood up and pushed his chair in. He tipped his head to the side, a thoughtful expression on his face.
“I’m very lucky to have parents that love their kids no matter what. And you and Dad always make us feel special and important, even when you’re scolding us.” He grinned and paused. “I’ll try to remember that not everyone is so fortunate.”
The back door opened, and Ethan Donahue walked in. His eyes met Mae’s and she felt the same thrill she’d felt as a young girl, the first time she’d met the man she’d made a life and family with.
“Everything okay in here?” he asked, in his raspy, deep voice.
Adam ran to his father and threw his arms around him. “Hi, Dad. Love you. I have to go feed the chickens now.”
As the boy ran out the door, Ethan walked over to Mae, his eyebrows raised. She wrapped her arms around him. They held each other for several moments as Mae breathed in the comforting scent of the man she loved with all her heart. She released him and stepped back.
“The kids at school were picking on Adam again. They made fun of him for the clothes he was wearing.”
Her husband shook his head and sighed. “He’s going to have a hard time, Mae. I don’t know why people can’t just let each other be.”
She shrugged. “I don’t know either.”
“What did you tell him?”
“That no matter what you do, there’s always going to be someone who doesn’t like it and thinks they have the right to judge you and be mean.”
“Them’s some mighty fine words, Mae.” He grinned and her heart skipped a beat—or two.
“I know,” she said. “That’s what you told me when I wanted to wear that black dress to prom.”
His eyes lit up at the memory. “That’s the dress that made me want to marry you.”
“Ethan Donahue. No dress made you want to marry me. It was all me, plain and simple.”
He laughed out loud. “There’s never been anything plain or simple about you, my love. But that was a mighty fine dress.” He waggled his eyebrows at her, and she felt a blush heat up her face. “I love you, Mae.”
“I love you, too, Ethan.”
The sun’s rays shone through the curtains, making dust motes dance in the air. Mae grinned. She kept a clean home but there was no way to eradicate all of the Texas dust. It clung to everything and it didn’t help that she had eight kids--nine if you counted her husband—tromping through the house.
She finished packing her suitcase and zipped it closed. She heard the front door open and slam closed. “Sorry, it slipped,” Emma called out.
Mae shook her head and smiled. She loved her kids, no matter how many grey hairs they gave her. She set the suitcase on the floor near the door and headed to the kitchen to pack up some snacks for the road.
She couldn’t believe how nervous she was. She and Ethan were going to check out a conference about raising goats. Ethan and their oldest son, Garrett, had recently learned about Angora goats and how their hair was used to make Mohair fabric for sweaters and blankets. They were going to the conference to see if these goats would be a good option to add to their farm.
Strong arms wrapped around her and she yelped. She’d been so caught up in her thoughts she hadn’t heard her husband enter the kitchen. “Penny for your thoughts,” he whispered into her ear.
Her face flamed and he chuckled. “Never mind. I know what kind of thoughts were going through that pretty head of yours. They’re going through mine as well.”
She turned to face him. “It’s been so long since we’ve been alone,” she said.
“I know. I’m looking forward to having you all to myself for a few days.”
She saw the mischief in his eyes and swallowed hard, pushing him away. “Enough of that. We need to get on the road if we want to get settled into the hotel before the conference starts.”
“Do we have to go to the conference?” he whined. “Can’t we just check in and stay in the room?”
She slapped him on the arm. “Behave yourself, Mister Donahue. The whole point of this trip is to check out the goats.” She smiled to herself as she turned away, picking up the snacks. “Our bags are packed and waiting at the bedroom door. I’ll take these snacks out to the car while you get them.”
“Yes ma’am.” He kissed the tip of her nose. “The sooner we get out of here, the sooner we . . .”
“Please don’t finish that thought. It’ll scar the children for life.” Garrett’s voice was deep, like his fathers, but not as raspy. Mae turned to find him smirking, his arm around her youngest child, Emma.
Emma pushed her glassed up and agreed with her older brother. “Yep. Definitely scarred for life.”
“One day, you’ll understand,” Mae promised.
“Nope. I’m never going to get all mushy over a boy.” She made a sour face and shook her head. “I intend to focus on helping animals.”
“That’s what you say now, but when you’re older, you might just have a change of heart.” Ethan smiled at his daughter then glanced up at Garrett. “You’re in charge, son. We’ll call when we get to the hotel.”
“Yes, sir. I can’t wait to hear all about the goats and mohair and . . . everything!”
Ethan chuckled. “I know. I promise I’ll fill you in when we get back.” He turned to his wife. “I’ll grab the bags and meet you outside?” His eyes sparkled with excitement and Mae grinned, nodding.
“Garrett, I know you wanted to go with your father, but he and I need some time together. Without the eight of you!”
“I know, Mom. And you need me here to keep an eye on things. Even though I don’t understand why Reed or Charla can’t do it.”
“Because you’re eighteen and they’re seventeen and sixteen. And you’re the most responsible of the bunch,” she admitted. “Could you please gather everyone out front so we can say goodbye?”
“Sure,” he replied. He turned and hollered, “Hey, everyone! To the car, pronto. Mom and Dad are about to leave!”
Mae shook her head and smiled wryly. “Thanks, Garrett.”
“Any time.” He grinned back at her, then raced over to give her a hug. “Have fun and enjoy yourself. You both work hard and you deserve a break.”
Tears filled her eyes at his thoughtfulness. “Thanks, son. And you know we’re only a phone call away if you need us.”
Mae threw a chocolate chip cookie at Ethan and it bounced off his shoulder. Startled, he looked up at her. “You’ve been on the phone for an hour,” she told him. “I’m starting to feel neglected.”
His eyes sparkled and he grinned at her. “Hey, Garrett? I gotta go. Your momma needs me. We’ll talk more tomorrow, okay? Yeah, the first session starts at 8 am and we should be out of there by 10 o’clock. I’ll call you then. Okay. Say hi to the rest of the kids. Yes, I know you’re not a kid. Okay then. Bye. Bye.” He hung up the phone and turned to her.
“It’s about time. I was starting to think you’d forgotten all about me.”
“Never, my love. You’re the most important person in my life.” She smiled and slipped into his arms. “Our son is a very serious young man and he had so many questions.”
Mae rolled her eyes. “I wonder where he gets that from? When you two get started, there’s no stopping you.”
Ethan smirked. “Well, there is one thing.” He leaned in for the first kiss of many.
The next few days passed in a blur, with meetings, calls to the kids and alone time with Ethan. Mae was feeling very relaxed and happy as they headed home.
“I’ve really enjoyed this conference. Especially the after-hours entertainment,” Ethan said, making her blush. “But I can’t wait to get home and sleep in our own bed.”
“I can’t wait to see the kids,” she admitted. “I miss all the hustle and bustle.”
“What? Being in a room with a hundred or so farmers for hours a day wasn’t enough hustle and bustle for you?”
She slapped his arm and shook her head. “It’s not the same at all. I miss my babies.”
Ethan relented and nodded. “I know. I miss them, too. But we’ll be home in a few hours and by tomorrow, you’ll be wondering why you missed them in the first place.”
She laughed and nodded. “I know. They drive me crazy sometimes.”
He reached over and took her hand, interlacing their fingers without taking his eyes off the road. “I can’t wait to tell Garrett all about the goats.”
Garrett and Adam were in the barn tossing hay to the horses when the Sheriff’s cruiser pulled up next to the barn.
“Hey, Sheriff Brown, how are you today?” They heard Bonnie greet the man.
“Hi Bonnie. Is Garrett around?” Adam looked at Garrett who shrugged his shoulders.
“I’m in here, Sheriff. Be right out.” He removed his gloves and headed out of the barn, followed closely by Adam. His stomach flip-flopped at the Sheriff’s subdued expression.
“Hello, boys. Can I talk to Garrett alone for a minute?”
Adam and Bonnie walked over to stand by their brother’s side, Bonnie slipping her hand into Garrett’s. Fear raced through him and for a moment, he didn’t know what to do. He turned to his brother. “Adam, could you please gather everyone in the living room? And Bonnie, could you please help him?”
Their eyes burned into his and for a moment, he nearly faltered. But he was the one in charge—the responsible one. “I’ll be there in a moment. I promise.”
Once they’d left to round up the others, he turned to the Sheriff. “What’s happened?”
“There’s no easy way to say this, son.” The sheriff removed his hat and twisted it in his hands.
Garrett’s gut twisted and he felt sick to his stomach. “My father always said it’s better to rip the bandage off real fast. So please, just tell me sir.”
Sheriff Brown cleared his throat. “Your parents were hit by a drunk driver over in the next county. There were no survivors.”
Garrett’s eyes burned with unshed tears as his world turned upside down. His throat felt tight and for a moment he couldn’t breathe. “Are you certain?”
“Yes, son. I identified them myself.”
He nodded and cleared his throat. “Okay then.”
“Would you like me to tell the others?”
Garrett looked towards the house and saw seven faces peering out the window at him. “No sir. I’m in charge. I’m the responsible one.”
He stood there, until the Sheriff had cleared the driveway, his mind spinning. He was the oldest and his parents had left him in charge. He would keep the family together and make sure that his brothers and sisters remembered the lessons his parents had taught them. He’d make sure they knew they were loved. He’d always be there for them, no matter what.
Determined to make his parents proud, he started walking towards the farmhouse.
You’ve reached the end of Danger and Donahues—the Beginnings. To read more about the Donahues, please check out the first three books in the series: Murder and a Pinch of Rosemary, featuring Reed Donahue; Murder in the Maternity Ward, featuring Garrett Donahue; and Murder in the Houston High Rise, featuring Adam Donahue. The fourth book is expected to be released late 2021 and it will feature the twins, Zack and Andrew. Sign up for my newsletter so you don't miss any of my new releases!
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