Chapter 7

Two weeks and one day later four men and one dancer climbed out of a rather beat up looking VW bus on to the parking lot of the community center. There was a lot of shuffling around; making sure that all the dance costumes and every other piece of necessary equipment was accounted for. Emma sighed.

This had been easier when her mom brought her to these competitions. She'd been very organized. Maybe she should just ask John to bring her next time. He was the most organized of the bunch and would cause a lot less commotion. People stopped in the parking lot to watch. Her dad and Langly were arguing about Langly's poor parking job.

Jimmy kept opening and closing the passenger side front door, slamming it because it wouldn't latch. Then her dad started in on Jimmy for making so much noise. He told Jimmy to get out of the way and got the door shut in one try. Langly tried to help John carry her stuff but ended up knocking half of it on to the ground.

Emma waited patiently for them to decide they were ready to head into the hall so she could check in. She had actually gotten used to how they interacted, at times fussing and yelling at each other. It didn't bother her. She knew that they all loved and respected each other and each would defend the others to the end if need be.

Emma thought about her twelfth birthday the day before. It had been happy in many ways and sad in a few. It was the first big occasion in her life that she celebrated without her mother. But it was also the first time her father was part of a family event. She still desperately missed her mother but did enjoy spending her birthday with her dad and the guys. They all came over to the house for dinner. Patty, Paul and Louie came as well. Yves had been invited and stopped by for about the last hour.

Emma got a basketball backboard from Jimmy. Paul went next door and got the tools to put it up. He and Langly installed it above the garage door while Jimmy ran back to the store because he had forgotten to buy the basketball.

Langly gave her a copy of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in a box set with a promise to take her to each movie as it came out. They'd watch the first on DVD but it would not be available until August. He said she really needed to read the books first anyway.

John gave her a set of tiny pierced opal earrings. He remembered her mother had promised she could get her ears pierced when she turned twelve. He said he'd take her to get the deed done in the next few days.

Her dad had been very mysterious for the last week. She had been forbidden to go out into the garage at all for three days. She found out why when he brought in a shiny, new, red bike with a big bow on it. She told him, "Thank you. I love it but I don't know how to ride.

"Then it's about time to learn. We'll take it out to the warehouse and you can practice riding around in the alley." Patty and Paul gave her a matching helmet to go with the bike.

When all was said and done, candles blown out, cake and ice cream eaten, wrapping paper picked up and dishes cleared away, it had been a memorable day.

She smoothed out the pleats of her kilt and straightened the puffy sleeves of her blouse while absent-mindedly humming the tune to one of the dances for the competition that day. She was wearing Tevas over her dance shoes to keep them clean and protect her feet until she got inside. She patted her hair to make sure it was all still in place. "Look, I'm going to run inside and check in. I'll meet you guys in there."

"I'm coming with you," her dad said.

She checked in, got her number pinned to the front of her kilt, rescued the rest of her costumes from Langly (John had gone back out to the van to get the video camera) and went in search of the dressing area to put her stuff down. She greeted friends she hadn't seen in a long time. There would be 8 girls dancing at the Premier level in her age group. It was going to be a tough competition. She suspected she would not do very well. She hadn't competed in months let alone taken many lessons. Most of the girls knew about her mother's death and a few offered condolences.

She was proud of the fact that she could thank them and talk some about her mom. The school counselor had recommended a therapist that specialized in helping children deal with grief. She was going three times a week for now. The therapist said as they progressed he would cut back on the amount of time spent with him until Emma no longer needed to see him at all.

The other dancers were curious about her 'entourage' as they called her father and his friends. She explained who they all were. She brought several of them over to meet the guys. Some of the older teenage dancers were hovering around Jimmy. He talked to them and just about everything he said sent them into peals of laughter. Emma stood by Langly and watched. "If I ever act like that around a cute guy, will you please shoot me?"

"Don't worry, squirt, you'll never act like that. You have too much good sense. But if you did, your dad would probably lock you up in your room and leave you there until you turn 30."

The first set of competitors arranged themselves on the stage and the bagpiper played the tune for them to begin dancing. Seeing a few boys standing with the girls who were waiting their turn, Jimmy asked Frohike. "Are those boys going to dance, too?"

"So, it would seem."

"Wow, that is so cool."

"You thinking of giving it a shot?"

"Not really. What I want to try is the bagpipes!"

"Don't get any ideas! I would have to club you over the head with your own bagpipes if you even brought a set home."

"Why would you care? You don't live with us any more. I could practice when you aren't there.'

Langly had to put his two cents worth in at this point. "He doesn't live there but I do. I would do the job for him."

"Hey, look, Emma's in the next group." Byers brought their attention back to the stage. He put the video camera to his eye to start filming.

Emma came and talked to them when she got a chance. There was time between dances and costume changes. She was pleased that they had come with her today. It was a lot of sitting around to only watch her dance 5 times. They swore they were not bored. She secretly hoped that they would like it enough to go with her to The Virginia Scottish Highland Games in Alexandria in a couple of months.

She could so see them all in kilts. Her dad in a military khaki shirt and a Royal Steward tartan kilt, John in full dress with silver buttons on his jacket and a glengarry hat, Langly with that long hair could go Braveheart with an ancient style kilt with one long section thrown up over his shoulder and a big claymore sword strapped to his back, and Jimmy in a t-shirt and kilt ready for the athletic events. She just knew he would love to toss the caber and figured with practice he would become quite good at throwing the long heavy pole.

Emma stood on the stage at the end of the competition as awards were handed out for her group. There had been five dances. She totally messed up on one, did all right on two others, but thought she did the best on the Sword and the Hornpipe.

She knew she had no chance to get the aggregate trophy that went to the dancer who had the best overall score in her group, but thought she had a chance to place in at least two of the dances. She got fourth place in the Fling and third in the Hornpipe.

Her dad and the guys all applauded wildly when she walked over to receive her ribbons. The Sword was the last to be awarded. She didn't get fifth or fourth, she knew she'd done better than that. But when she didn't get third or second, she was disappointed. She thought she'd done all right on it. Not great but certainly good enough for second or third.

"And first place for the Sword dance goes to number 413 - Emma MacKenzie." Emma wasn't paying attention.

The girl next to her elbowed her in the ribs. "They called you."

"They did?"

"Yes, hurry up. They're waiting."

She looked out the audience. Her guys were standing and cheering. She walked over, accepted the ribbon, and returned to her place in line. Emma stood watching her father and her friends in the audience.

John was still behind the video camera but waved at her when he saw her looking their way. Her dad was standing with his arms folded across his chest smiling proudly. Jimmy was pounding Langly on the back in his exuberance. Langly was fighting to maintain his balance. She smiled at them.

A friend of hers from dance class got the aggregate trophy. Emma was happy for her. She had earned it. While she was being presented with it, the girl who had prodded her to go get her ribbon asked, "Who are those men that keep yelling every time they call your name?"

Emma answered without thinking, "They're my family."

But as soon as she said it she knew it was true. Here in these four men was the family she had always wanted. They were brothers, uncles, and cousins, all in one group. Her dad would always be her dad but the others took on whatever role they deemed appropriate at the moment.

For about the hundredth time in the last two weeks, tears spilled down her cheeks but these were different. These were happy tears. She quickly wiped them away so as not to worry her father. There was only one thing lacking in their little family: women. She had gone from living in a world with only her mother as guidance to one of only men. She occasionally missed the female perspective. Maybe it was fate that her mother had named her after Jane Austen's Emma: a character who relished the role of matchmaker.

And there were a lot of unmarried teachers at school who would probably love to meet a nice guy.

End Part Two