Joel Jr. sat on the hand rail of the front porch watching his mom, Emma, rush around the yard fussing over all the table decorations and lights for the party. With her hair in large curls draped over her shoulders, wearing a baby blue dress, he had to admit, she looked pretty when she dressed up.
But it seemed dumb to be having a sweet sixteen for a boy. He rolled his eyes and exhaled exasperated. Two more years and he could tell her no if she wanted to fuss over him ever again. 18 just couldn’t get here fast enough for him.
The sun was setting behind the distant mountains casting a soft glow all around. The air was crisp just the way he liked it.
With his left leg bent, knee close to his chest, his right leg dangled and tapped against the boards. He pulled at his tie, trying to stop it from strangle him. His dad, Logan, waltzed onto the porch and slapped his hand away from the tie.
“Don’t even think about it, kid. There’s no way your mother’s going to let you take that tie off even if it is your birthday.”
Joel frowned at his father and then stood up. For only being sixteen, he was proud to be just as big as his dad. Though not as filled out, but he was working on that, lifting weights for football. His hair was black like his mom’s, yet he had his dad’s green eyes. There was no way his dad could try to deny him being his son. They were a match.
“Dad, I have work to get done. Why did she have to throw a party? Couldn’t we just go to Lucy’s Diner or something!”
“Get over it kid. You’re the oldest and the first boy in the family. She’s going to fuss about everything with you.”
Next, Grandpa Miller walked out in a suit.
“Looking sharp Gramps,” Joel said, walking over to have a look at him. “I’ve never seen you look so… clean.”
His grandpa chuckled and then grabbed both muscles opposite his neck. “You too kid.”
Joel smiled widely. His grandpa released him when a soft cough drew his attention. He bent from the waist and opened the front door. Joel’s sister Addie sashayed from the house and spun in a circle. She wore a short gold dress with black lace over it. Her hair was done up the same as their mother’s.
Joel’s eyes bulged. Wow. She looked great. No one would ever guess she was only 14. She looked 18 easily.
“She can’t wear that!” he cried.
“Why not? She looks lovely,” his dad said, kissing her cheek.
“Yeah sure! You say that now. You just wait until Bow and Tucker show up for the party. Then you’ll be sorry.”
Abbie slugged him in the shoulder hard. “Traitor.”
Logan shoved his hands in his pant pockets and scowled at Abbie. “Bow and Tucker are Joel’s friends. They’re almost 17. They better not be floating around you, Abbie.”
She smiled sheepishly. “Oh look, mom needs help. I better go.” She sprinted off the porch and Grandpa laughed out loud, as she went.
“We just had to try for a girl, Emma said. Now look, the pretty little thing is going to make me have to shoot not just one boy, but two. Let me go get my gun now so I can scare them when they arrive.”
“Dad, a gun isn’t going to scare Bow or Tucker.”
Logan pinched his chin for a minute. “Right, let me go get the tractor.”
“Logan, she’s a good girl, and she has a nice right-hook. The boys won’t be a problem.” said grandpa. “Now, how about you give this strapping young man his birthday gift before everyone shows up.”
His dad draped an arm over his shoulders and directed him around the side of the house, Grandpa walking beside them.
When the rounded the corner there was “Big Red,” his dad’s 1956 Ford truck, looking shiny with a new paint job. His cousin Olivia, stood in the back along with her brother’s Eric and Shane.
“Surprise!” they all cried joyously at him.
His jaw dropped. “What?”
His dad dropped the keys to Big Red in his hand. “She’s all yours.”
“I can’t believe it,” he yelled. “Woohoo.”
When he turned to give his dad a hug, there was his mom, Aunt Bethany, Aunt Daisy, his Uncle Cole, and Uncle Peter, smiling and laughing at him. Where had they come from? Even his last two cousins were there, the twins, Tiffany and Julie hugging their mom, Daisy. Tears threatened to fill his eyes. No! He was a man now. There would be no tears, only laughter.
“Who wants to go for a drive down the road and back before the guests get here.”
Abbie came running passed and threw herself into the back of the truck next to Olivia. “I do. Come on everyone we can all fit if we put down the tailgate.”
To Joel’s utter shock his mom, Aunt Daisy, and Aunt Bethany squeezed into the cab while the rest of them piled into the back of the truck.
He climbed in, slammed the door closed, and fired up Big Red. She sounded great. Must have gotten a tune up to go with the paint job.
The truck crept down the road as several conversations took place along with bouts of laughter. Joel was so high he didn’t think he was ever going to come down.
“So do you like your gift,” asked his mother, sitting next to him. Her amber eyes glowed at him, and his heart beat faster. He loved it when her eyes sparked at him like that, because he knew it was her love radiating out for him to see.
“It’s amazing. You didn’t have to give me a truck.”
“We know that. But you’re such a good kid how could we not.” Suddenly, her expression grew serious. “Don’t think you’re going to take off all the time and run around with your friends.”
“I won’t. I don’t have time with school, sports, and the ranch. You know that.”
“Good. I would be sad if I didn’t get to see you all the time. I don’t know what I’m going to do when you go off to college.” She started to sniffle.
Aunt Bethany wrapped an arm around his mom. She leaned forward and gave him a wink. “Oh Emma, you can come to my house and boss my kids around if it will make you feel better.”
When he got to the end of the dirt road he turned the truck around and headed back to the house. When he got to the driveway, he peered into his rearview mirror and notice for the first time his dad, Uncle Peter and Cole sat on the tailgate. Unable to resist, he punched the throttle. All three of the men fell off the tailgate and face planted in the dirt. Joel parked Big Red and the women filed out of the cab to check on their partners.
Joel was laughing so hard he barely had time to make a break for it as all three men dusted themselves off, and started his way.
Joel sprang from the cab and broke into a run only to have his Uncle Cole wrap a powerful arm around his narrow waist and lifted him up.
“I got him boys. Let’s teach this youngster how to play nice.”
Cole carried him to the yard and sat on him. Everyone filled in around them. Joel knew this wasn’t going to be good. Yet, he couldn’t stop laughing. The looks on his dad and uncles faces after they face planted were something he would remember forever.
“Let the tickling commence,” Cole cried.
And just like that. Joel’s entire body was under attack. He tried to kick, but Peter held his feet down, and his dad yanked his hands over his head.
“Not fair!” he yelled in between giggling.
“Fair. Let’s not talk about fair kid,” said Uncle Peter.
Joel laughed so hard every part of him hurt. When the tickle session was over Joel lay there in the grass staring at the stars.
I love my family.