Chapter 121

Ranger was just pulling into the garage at the townhouse, tomorrow was Thanksgiving. He finished up earlier than expected with a client meeting so he was home to help with the preparations. He considered going to the airport and taking the first plane out. It was a Manoso-Plum Thanksgiving. His family voted in a secret ballot without telling him and his wife that they wanted to have dinner in Trenton because they had such a fun time every time they came. Estella and Max had just recently returned to Miami after the formal adoption ceremony, both Ben and Danni were Manosos now and he officially was the father of six children. Six! All coming within a relatively short time frame over the last two or so years. That fact alone and the number should have overwhelmed him, but it never did, because his crazy and beautiful wife made it all so natural. They discussed moving into a bigger house, but the children were happy with all their friends and activities around. The townhouse was actually big enough for them and it was nice Tank and Lula moved in a street over with Trey and Natasha, their adopted son and daughter. The neighborhood was still getting used to spandex loving Lula, but all fit in and he never saw his best friend so happy.

He sat in the Porsche a moment listening to the CD in his player. Danni was in the chorus at school with bus-driving Sally Sweet as the assistant choral director. Mr. Langston was on medical leave due to a ski accident in Colorado where a tree ran into him, so their friend was in charge. For the Fall Choral Concert they went 'Motown'. Danni and Natasha were part of the final number; he didn't know Stephanie was in it, too! The final song was 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough'. The lights went out and Aubrey let out a squeal in his arms because Stephanie was back stage helping their young daughter. The lights came up a little showing three girls in sequins with their backs to the stage standing next to blank cardboard forms. All three had very big 60's hair. The music started and they turned around. That was when he saw his wife was the middle form in a long blue sequined gown. When they got to the chorus, Danni spun her figure around revealing Joe Jonas, Natasha had Denzel Washington, and Stephanie twirled hers which happened to be Ranger. They gave a performance even Diana Ross would be proud of. When the song was over, Stephanie kissed her cardboard form's cheek leaving a big red lip print. She never disappoints.

He dropped a few files on his desk in his office he enjoyed so much and why he spent all the time there he did. The photograph of Aubrey after she was born wrapped in her pink blanket was in the double crystal frame next to their wedding photograph in Miami on his desk. On the wall was hanging a photograph of all eight of them from the adoption hearing two weeks ago and another with them when Ben's soccer team won first place in the Trenton City tournament. There was a copy of Julie's history paper which told about Hitler's toilet and the remembrances of WWII around Trenton. Her teacher thought it was witty and well written so he entered it into an essay contest and the crazy thing won 2nd place. A picture of the 'Motown' song he just finished listening to and others from the cabin, their trips, and Aubrey's christening all had places on his wall and in his heart. He even had more on a wall at Rangeman so he was always surrounded by his family.

Walking into the living room, Julie, Ben, and Danni gave a collective "Hi, Dad," busy setting out the china, silverware, goblets, cups, and napkins for tomorrow. Stephanie's good Wedgewood china was all freshly washed waiting for Thanksgiving dinner. Ranger wanted to buy her extra place settings but she vetoed the expensive expenditure, instead she and the children scoured estate sales and discount stores for extra china, melamine plates for the children, and silverware to add an eclectic touch for Thanksgiving dinner. They had a blast! Caden told him Martha Stewart says the china doesn't always have to match to have an elegant Thanksgiving table. One of these days Ranger was going to cancel the cable.

"Hi, Kids, where's Stephanie?" he asked not seeing his wife or the youngest Manosos.

They pointed down and he heard the voices.

"You need to take off your boots, Dad," Julie told him, "Stephanie's cleaning the carpet down there. This one is almost dry." He toed off his boots by the entry and went into the family room. There was Stephanie with Aubrey in her arms watching Caden and Cassidy run the carpet cleaner.

"Here, Cassie, we missed this spot," Caden directed the long arm on the carpet.

"Babe?" he kissed Stephanie and took his infant daughter in his arms. "Why didn't you hire someone to clean the carpeting?"

She gave her husband an exasperated expression, "Ranger, you wanted to do a security check on the fourteen year old neighbor boy who cut the grass in the backyard. If I told you I was having a company come, you would have run one on them, and some companies won't come when they know it's our house. The Bad Ass image has gotten around, so I just bought a steam cleaner."

"Babe, I just want you and the children safe."

Giving a 'Burg' eye roll, "Ranger, this was easier."

He noticed Zeus and the newest animal member of the family, Athena, a tabby cat, who was stuck in a tree by the pool for almost a day and Ranger climbed to rescue, were sitting on the sofa watching the children spray and vacuum the carpet.

"I'm so glad you're here, Ranger-Dad, this is hard work and by back is killing me," their genius stopped and put a small hand on his back straightening up.

Cassidy sat down on the sofa with the pets, "Me tired, too."

Stephanie started to take the long arm, but her husband handed her Aubrey. "I do it, Babe. What do I do, Midget?"

"OK," Caden instructed, "We're almost done. We just have this part to finish." It was the section of carpeting in front of the archway entrance.

"You press this button up to spray the cleaner and push it down to suck up the water, but first we got to empty out the dirty stuff and add more hot water."

Ranger gave his giggling wife an eyebrow and followed the little boy into the powder room thinking he should have stayed at Rangeman,


"Babe, do you think we could get anymore people in this house?" He asked at the endless line of Manosos coming through the front door with platters and casserole dishes.

"Grandma," Caden was in the kitchen stirring the whipped topping for the Jell-O while Ellen Plum was basting the turkey, "we need to add some 'BAM!' like that cook who sounds funny on TV."

"Or burn down the townhouse with him helping in the kitchen," Ranger was shaking his head.

"Happy Thanksgiving, Ranger," Stephanie kissed her husband. Their daughter fell asleep in her arms.

The house was even crazier, since Aubrey's birth Valerie and Stephanie had been on friendlier terms and she was there with Albert, their four girls, and another baby on the way. Of course, a girl. Frank didn't make too much of a fuss about another granddaughter because he had Caden and Ben to do male stuff with anytime he wanted. And, Aubrey had him wrapped around her baby finger like her doting father.

"Yeah, Abuela, there's a live wrestling match downtown we can go to. It's rumored that a couple of old wrestlers, Bruno Sammartino and the Iron Sheik, who he defeated," Edna Mazur explained, "are making appearances. I got front row tickets. Mavis got a new old mini van and will pick us up after dinner. It only has 80,000 miles this time from Mooner."

Ranger's Abuela listened to Edna intently and laughed, "Edna, tú eres mi tipo de mujer. ¡Qué manera de terminar la noche! Que el jeque de hierro es un mirón. Quiero que mi ropa interior de autógrafos. {'Edna, you are my kind of woman. What a way to end the evening! That Iron Sheik is a looker. I want him to autograph my underwear."}

"Abuela!" Ranger let out.

"Call if you need a ride!" Caden came out of the kitchen with a white chef's hat on, his dark glasses, and a wooden spoon in his hands telling both great-grandmothers, "Llame si necesita un paseo!"

"Si, Caden," Ranger's grandmother patted the little boy on his head before he went back in the kitchen.

"When did he learn Spanish, Babe?" Ranger was watching Caden and also an eye on their sneaky grandmothers.

Stephanie shrugged it off, "I guess cable."

Julie, Ben, and Danni were arranging little handmade paper cornucopias on a side table filled with M&M's in tied netting. They had dozens of them.

"What are those?" Ranger picked one up.

Julie enlightened him, "Our favors, Dad."

"We do favors for Thanksgiving dinner?"

"Ranger-Dad," Caden comes back out of the kitchen in the hat and now with a spatula, "I'm cooking here and busy to answer questions. Don't you ever watch TV? Martha Stewart says you should give your guests something to remember the fun time they had at dinner. It's a good thing," turning around and going back into the kitchen where Ellen and Selena were getting dinner ready.

"Babe, he sews and now he cooks?"

She kissed her husband, "He'll make Emmie a wonderful husband one day."

He threw his hands up. He paid for another date night for Caden and the little girl so he could ask her to go steady. They're in kindergarten and wear matching stretchy plastic bracelets with their names embossed in them. But, what could he say, it was part of his crazy life with Stephanie and the children.


The turkeys and ham, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, corn casserole, broccoli, green beans, fresh bread and rolls, cranberry sauce, warm fried apples, salad, Jell-O, and all the other Thanksgiving foods are all lined on the kitchen counters ready for the Plum-Manoso feast.

"Son, may I say grace?" Manuel Manoso asked with the room full of people waiting for dinner.

"Go right ahead, Poppa." Ranger held Stephanie's hand in one and Aubrey was in his other arm with their remaining five children around them.

"These words are from Ralph Waldo Emerson."

"For each new morning with its light,

For rest and shelter of the night,

For health and food,

For love and friends,

For everything Thy goodness sends."

"And," Manuel continued, "how thankful I am for the family and friends all around us. Our newest Manoso, Aubrey, to join our family and for the new one," glancing at Diego and his new wife, Tracy, who were expecting in late spring, "in the coming year."

Without saying anything to anyone, members of their families began saying what they were thankful.

"I'm thankful for my new wife and baby on the way," Diego said kissing Tracy next to him.

Tank spoke up with cracking emotions in his voice, "I'm thankful for Lula being my wife and for the family we have," hugging her and their adopted children to him.

On very few occasions Ranger has seen his best friend emotional, but if someone deserved even a part of the happiness he had, it was Tank.

"I'm thankful, Dad and Steph," Julie whispered tears on her cheeks, "knew what was best for us and we're together," holding Ben and Danni's hands.

"Mommy, can I say what I'm thankful for?" Caden asked with his chef's hat and his Buddy Holly glasses on his face.

"Of course, Sweetheart," smiling at her little boy through her tears.

"I'm thankful that we're all together and we got a new sister. Oh, and I'm glad we're done cleaning the carpeting because my back hurt."

The room was laughing at the little boy.

Cassidy spoke up, "Me thanks Granma for pumpskin pie."

"That's something to be thankful for, Cassie Girl," Stephanie picked her up and hugged her little girl.

"I'm thankful," Frank Plum took his turn, "my family is together, we have Aubrey with us and another on the way."

When everyone had said their thoughts, the Man in Black took his. "It's my turn," Ranger began, "I have so much to be thankful for in my life. I own a successful business to provide for my family, a number of great friends, and my family. None of that would add to the fullness of my life if it wasn't for my beautiful wife, Stephanie. For Julie, Ben, Danni, Caden, Cassidy, and Aubrey," kissing a dark curl on her baby head. "I am so thankful for the life we have, we share each day. For the bumps along the way we've experienced and future ones which will make us stronger and make up love each other more. I am so thankful, Babe, you never gave up on me and you love me. I could never have imagined how perfect the life we have, craziness and all, could be. I wouldn't change one thing or moment. I love you, Babe."

Stephanie wiped the tears from her husband's handsome face, "I love you, Ricardo Carlos Manoso, forever," bringing her salty lips to meet his.

Her stomach made its self known and he smiled against her lips, "Babe, you never disappoint."


Ranger and Stephanie did have their happily ever after. All six children grew into their own successful adults. Julie became a writer and then the lifestyle editor with the 'Trenton Gazette' and had a published coffee table book of off the beaten path of roadside oddities. She married her friend Sam after college. Ben earned a scholarship to three universities for soccer choosing the University of Pennsylvania because it was the closest to Trenton and earned a degree in Electrical Engineering. Danni became a veterinarian and opened her practice there. Caden did go to Harvard becoming an attorney. He was elected the youngest Mayor of Trenton, married Emmie, moved into the townhouse next door just as he said he would, and ran Rangemen with Ben when Ranger retired so he and Stephanie could travel or do whatever they wanted to do. Cassidy became a gymnast. After college with a degree in business administration and leading the Rutgers gymnastics team to the national championship finals, she opened her own studio. Aubrey, their beautiful baby, grew into a beautiful young woman who became a successful model, and after a social worker.

Stephanie and Ranger thought about moving into a smaller house after all the children had homes of their own with families, but all their memories were there with Caden living on one side and Aubrey and Roberto, an Italian photographer she met on an assignment, a few doors down. Cassidy lived in the next block down from her brother. Julie, Ben, and Danni lived in the same housing plan five minutes away. All six children stayed close to their parents and never forgetting what bound them together. Each volunteered their time or assisted in someway helping waiting children find homes and adopting children because Stephanie continued to help Gayle with Children's Services. The Manoso family got together at least once a year to have a little crazy road trip because those were some of the best and craziest times the six children ever had with Stephanie and Ranger. And, everybody needs a little of Plum crazy.



Thank you to all have read the adventures of Stephanie, Ranger, Julie, Caden, Cassidy, Ben, Danni, and Aubrey. I have wrestled on how to end this story and this morning I woke up with this idea in my head. I've enjoyed bringing them to you in words. You never know I may think of an adventure for the Manoso clan for a short story. My mins work in mysterious ways. Scary, huh? Lee Anne