Bittersweet Memories

"So Grandmother Kasey won't be coming back?"

Robin's disappointed tone halted Rick in mid-step, as he stopped in the doorway of the ranch living room. It had been a week since the confrontation with the ghost of Darius Masterson, and it was just sinking in with the younger Simons that Kasey Adams would not be around.

"No, honey, she and Grandfather Gene promised to come when we need them…but now Grandmother Kasey can rest. I know you cared a great deal about her, darling." Laurie put her arm around her daughter, as Robin sighed.

"I did, Mom, but if she's happy now…I guess we should be relieved she's found peace."

"That's my girl…" Rick said, coming into the room and dropping a kiss on Robin's cheek. At once she smiled.

"I'm glad you're home, Pop. Ian just picked up the kids from Grandma's, so I was going to start dinner. Do you want chicken or tacos?"

"Tacos sound good, honey…would you like me to barbeque?" Rick caught Laurie's eye and winked.

"Sure, Pop….that way I can make both chicken burritos and steak tacos….and the kids some taquitos." At that Rick beamed.

"That'll be great-Mom brought back some avocados from Aunt Annie's ….so you can make your award winning guacamole!"

"Award winning-I wish, Pop! I'm just glad you all like it." Robin laughed, getting up from the sofa. "Let me start the marinade, so you can fire up the grill!"

As she went into the kitchen, Rick sat in her place, then pulled Laurie into his lap, making her giggle. "Rick! You are such a tease….but thank you for making her smile." She added, laying her face against his.

"Anything for my girls…especially my sweet girl…" he told her, kissing her neck, then nuzzling her lips.

"Sweet because of you, darling…." She murmured, then a horn sounded, and she moaned. "I hope that's Mom or Ian."

"Perfect timing…!" Rick groused, then snickered as Laurie got up from his lap, then kissed his cheek.

"I have dibs on a rain check, Mr. Simon…."

"I'll be sure to deliver…" he promised, then went to the front window. There he saw A.J. and Linda, with Cecilia and the kids in tow just pulling into the driveway.

"Laurie, it's Mom and company…, I'll go start the grill." Rick said, hitting the gate control. "Thanks, love…" she replied, going outside to greet their family.

"Happy Valentine's Day, Mom!" Laurie hugged Cecilia, then embraced A.J. and Linda, then each of her nephew's and nieces. Melly waited until she got her hug, then pressed a sticky card into her hand.

"I made all my own cards this year, Auntie….I hope you like it!"

"Anything you make I'll like, Melly!" Laurie smiled, then looked at the neatly printed crayon "I want Aunty for my valentine!".

"I love it, Melly-thank you!" Laurie pulled out a bag of wrapped gifts and handed each of the kids their valentines. "Here you go….don't eat it all at once…."

"Thanks Auntie," Robin gleefully took his package and tore the paper open, as Laurie removed the wrappings and put them in the trash. Just then Linda spotted him eating the chocolate hearts he'd been given.

"Robin….what did your Auntie say?"

"Not to eat it all at once…and I'm not…I'm going to make it last!" the younger Simon grinned. A.J. just sighed.

"Why did we think Ricky would be the one to take after his uncle?"

Rick was just removing the last of the grilled chicken and beef from the grill when he saw Steve and Jaime coming across the yard from their cabin.

"Hey, Pal, Jaime…you're just in time…!" he called, pleased to see their friends. At once Steve came over to help out, as Jaime went to find Laurie in the house.

"Hey, Sis…" she called, then found Robin in the kitchen, finishing a big bowl of avocado dip.

"Aunt Jaime! I'm glad you're back." Robin enthusiastically hugged her, as Jaime tightened her arms around her.

"I'm glad to be back… definitely no place like home, honey.. I really missed you guys."

"Amen!" Steve chimed in, delivering a platter of sizzling meat, then greeting the young chef.

"Well, we missed you…and ..well…Mom and Pop can tell you what happened." Robin said, her smile dropping.

"Oscar called us, honey…I'm sorry, I know you loved having Grandmother Kasey watching over your folks, but …." Steve paused, "We're here…and we're not going anywhere."

"Thank you, Uncle Steve…I love you guys…" she sniffed, then embraced them both.

Laurie started to come into the kitchen, but stopped when she saw her daughter wiping her eyes with Jaime's handkerchief. Jaime glimpsed her in the doorway and quietly said,

"I heard about Kasey, sis…are you okay?"

"Yes, but I'm sorry for my Robin….Grandmother really connected with her, but I believe her and Grandfather when they say they'll be there if we need them. In the meantime, I'm just glad we're together." Laurie smiled at her daughter, and Robin went and hugged her mother.

"Thank you, Mom….so am I. Now, where's Pop…I'm ready for the fish!"

"You called?" Rick came into the kitchen, bearing the fresh fish Oscar and Rudy had delivered. At once Robin took the hot platter from him, then kissed his cheek.

"Merci beaucoup, Pop! Do you want to let everyone know dinner's ready?"

"Does a duck quack?" he teased, breaking everyone up.

Within minutes there was a stampede of children washing their hands, as Cecilia and Oscar set the table, and A.J. and Linda put out the side dishes. In the middle of everything the gate buzzed, and Rick let Ian and Ramona and all the grandchildren in .

"Where's Robbie, honey.." he began, only for Andy to grouse, "Deputy Pat called in sick, so Dad had to take over….what a bummer."

"Andy, go inside, you know your father didn't do this on purpose…" Ramona told him. The teenager mumbled, "Sorry", then went into the house. His mother just shook her head. Ian jerked his head and Rick nodded. "I'll go see if Robin needs help.. " he told them, then took Petey and Katie inside.

"I think we've been spoiled, Dad…." Ramona started. At that Lala piped up, "No Mom, Andy just feels bad that we can't give Dad our present….he's afraid something's going to happen to him."

Startled, Ramona looked at Rick. "I didn't know he was worried about Robbie…I would have said something to him.."

"It's all right, honey….Lala, you know your father can look out for himself, don't you?"

Rick asked, putting a hand on her shoulder. His granddaughter nodded.

"Sure, Grandpa….'sides, Uncle Rob's looking out for him too. He stopped by after Daddy left, then said he had to catch up with him…"

"That was pretty smart to figure that out, why don't you and Davie go see what your Grandma has for you." Rick said, giving her a hug.

"Okay, Grandpa…" Lala pressed an envelope into his hand, and Davie did the same, then whispered importantly into Rick's ear, "I made it myself!"

"Good for you, Davie!" he replied, then straightened up to meet Ramona's upset face.

"I can't believe I didn't see how they worry, Dad."

"Honey, they're growing up, of course they're not going to let you see how they feel all the time…but that's when asking helps. That's what Mom did with me and A.J…. Don't let them brush you off , sooner or later Andy will let you in… Now, " Rick took her arm and led her inside the warm living room. "Ian will talk to Andy; he's good at getting the kids to understand things. You just go and sit down…"

"Thanks, Dad…" Ramona said gratefully, taking her coat off. As she went into the dining room, Rick peered out the front window.

"I wish I knew what to do about this…" he thought, missing Chief Joseph's wisdom in things like Andy's fears.

"Dinner's ready, love…"

Rick was so lost in thought he didn't hear Laurie the first time, so when a pair of arms went around him, he felt his worries melt.

"Sorry, sweetheart.." he turned in her embrace and put his face to hers.

"It's all right, darling…I know you've been hit with a lot…." She replied, snuggling into his arms.

"It's not a lot when I have you…" he returned, "And I know we'll be okay."

"That's my Rick…" she smiled up at him, then linked arms as he pressed a kiss to her forehead.

"All yours, princess….well, look who's here…" Rick beamed as the front door opened and Robbie and Rob peered in.

"There's our boy…" Laurie was bursting with pride as Robbie came and hugged them both, then moved aside for Rob to greet Laurie. Ian came in to say hi, then nodded at Rick.

"Andy came back from Tucson early, so Robbie took off." Rob explained. Rick just smirked.

"Knew there had to be some perk to you being the boss!"

"One of the few, Pop!" Robbie grinned, then he spotted Andy peering out of the hallway door. "Hey, Andy, where is everyone?"

"Dinner's just about ready, Dad…." Andy replied, his eyes shining, then he slowly came into the room. "Happy Valentine's Day, Dad."

Out of his pocket he produced a small wrapped package, and shyly handed to Robbie.

A look of astonishment appeared on his face, as he tore the paper off to display a new radio.

"Deputy Pat said you needed a new one, 'cause the office one is old…so Lala and Davie and I saved up…" he began, then he teared up as Robbie replied, "This is the nicest Valentine I've ever gotten…thank you, Andy…"

"You're welcome, Dad……I'm sorry I've been a pill, but…"

Robbie cut him off by pulling his son into his arms. "It's okay, Andy….I'm sorry you were so worried….I'm all right..remember, I have your Grandfather and Dad and Uncle Oscar and Uncle A.J. and Uncle Steve to look out for me."

"I know.." Andy said, his voice muffled in his dad's shirt. "I love you…thanks for always putting us first."

Now Rob and Rick were wiping their eyes, and Laurie cleared her throat as Robbie choked up. "I love you too, son…my family is always going to be first."

"Well, as the head of this family…" Rick sniffed. "It's time to eat!"

"That sounds like a plan.." Rob added, blowing his nose on a Kleenex. At that Rick laughed as Laurie teased, "Now who makes more noise blowing their honker?"

"You do!" Rick and Rob answered, making her giggle. Just then Cecilia stuck her head in the room.

"Come and get it, before Jack eats it all!"

"Yes, Mom!" Rick called back, then herded everyone to the expanded dining room table.

As Oscar bowed his head and said grace, Rick happened look through the kitchen door, then saw a familiar figure.

"Thank you, Lord, for bringing up together on the day we celebrate love…new life and this family." Oscar prayed, then he caught Rick's gaze and saw the same thing he did.

"And bless those who look out for us…Amen" he finished.

"Amen." Rick echoed, then nodded at the spirit outside.

Through the window Chief Joseph inclined his head, a smile on his face. As he faded away, he echoed Kasey's words.

"I will be with you when ever you need me…"