Chapter 81

"By the power vested in me, I pronounce you man and wife. Allow me to introduce for the first time, Mr. and Mrs. Clint Haines. Or I will as soon as they stop kissing."

I vaguely heard the laughter by everyone present but it was still a few moments before Clint and I came up for air. And despite our desires it was definitely worth coming up for. It was a beautiful day on the first of June and the area around the Big House was decked by Mother Nature like she was showing her approval. The scent of the rose bushes filled the air and competed with the zinnias and marigolds to splash color everywhere you looked. Even the woods were bedecked as my daylily idea had really proven successful. I was dressed in a 1920s vintage formal dress that could have come straight out of Great Gatsby thanks to one of the last trunks I emptied up in the attic. Originally white the dress had aged to a lovely tea-stained beige. My bouquet was made up primarily of the last of the Mother's Day hydrangeas that Lacey had been nursing along as she said "of a purpose 'cause they make the prettiest bunches to fill your arms up." She was also thrilled to be one of my bridesmaids and had her own vintage dress on of pale lilac that had Reggie staring so hard he ran into and entire row of chairs and nearly broke his neck. Bernie just laughed knowingly and helped the younger man to his feet and told him to keep his eyes in his head and be less likely to trip.

As for who gave me away I asked Clint if he minded if I asked Mr. Crocker. He had no objection and I bashfully asked the man and was surprised by his ready acceptance as well as the sniffs and claim of spring allergies while he wiped his nose with a handkerchief. My other three bridesmaids were Stacey, Carra, and Julie. Together with Lacey they through a family bridal shower that I will never forget … it was a lingerie party. Oh my Lord. I didn't know whether to laugh at some of the gag creations or sink under the table I was setting at from some of the real ones. Clint certainly had a few things to say about the ones I let him see. Again … oh my Lord. His words caught me off guard just as much as his hurry-u-it is had a couple of weeks earlier.

It was a month ago and I was up to my elbows in ramps when Clint ran into the house and decreed he was tired of waiting on the world to right itself, that we would right our own world and hang the rest of it until they found enough commonsense to catch up. "Marry me woman and make me the happiest man on the planet."

Teasing a bit because I thought he was fooling I said, "You said you were the happiest man on the planet last night."

He grinned and then picked me up and spun me around and gave me a kiss. In the background I could hear Carra groaning, "Eye bleach! Remember the eye bleach is on back order along with everything else! Do you want to scar me for life?!" The fact that she took off running upstairs laughing told me she was only partially serious. But at least she was laughing … she doesn't laugh or smile nearly as often she once did. She's getting better but there are days her grieving is hard.

"I'm serious Sweetheart," Clint said regaining my attention. "If we're waiting on things to fix themselves we'll be waiting forever."

"Clint …"

"And no, it isn't because of the new tax laws either."

"I would never think that much less say it!" But I did wonder if it had something to do with Robert and Susan's visit the preceding weekend and all the children underfoot and the comments about he wasn't getting any younger from his aunts. I also wondered if it had anything to do with our last counseling session.

After returning from Florida I was closer to a "collapse" than I wanted to admit … or understand at first. I wasn't much better after a second week and Clint insisted on taking me to town to the Clinic. It was walking pneumonia. A nasty type that required heavy doses of expensive antibiotics. I became depressed at the cost, Clint and I almost had another argument about it, and that's when Aunt Daffy stepped in and made the quiet suggestion that a counselor might be in order. Not just for me but for Clint, for our relationship. She recommended a man that pastored a local church that she'd heard good things about. We managed to barter his services by allowing his family and congregants to join the cooperative garden the Estate was growing in a fallow field not far from Aunt Daffy's compound.

For whatever reason, perhaps providence, both Clint and I liked the man immediately and found we could talk to him both alone and as a couple with no hesitation. He didn't preach at us and the examples he used of married couples working together, both in the Bible and other more non-traditional resources, helped us to shed some of the last of our personal stereotypes which in turn made room for us to build our own ideas of what we wanted and expected of a marriage partner. Just as importantly we worked on what we expected of ourselves when it came to being a marriage partner. Both Clint and I were amazed at just how practical the man was in his counseling. Yes, he did raise Biblical topics and cited Biblical scripture, but it was all in conjunction with things that affected us today and not just historical practices that were difficult to impossible to completely impose on ourselves in today's world. Especially in today's world.

The banks have reopened but it is only recently that the withdrawal limits have been lifted. There are a lot of new restrictions in place, but few are complaining since they are more grateful than not just to have the other restriction removed. Martial law has come to an end but there are groups pushing through a new, much stricter application of the National ID laws that will extend what is already temporarily in place. Every facet of life seems to have been affected by the blasted "jihad." If that was their goal they won the battle … but they haven't won the war they've tried to start. Turnabout is fair play as some have said, and they've basically made it much harder on their own country and people as every time a religious figure backs the "jihad," that country is given a week to recant or they lose all funding from the US and the immigrants in this country from that country are put on a fast track for deportation. Judges and lawyers who tried to fight that order were summarily dismissed by the military tribunals that were instituted during federal martial law. There was rampant shock in the legal and activist communities until some people started "kindly" explaining the realities.

There was a lot of the "jackbooted thugs" talk bandied about but people learned – sometimes the hard way – to keep it to a minimum. Protests were still allowed (First Amendment) but they were orderly and non-violent … or else. Surprisingly or not, more was accomplished by those types of protests than the ones that tried to get out of hand. And weren't some West Coast celebrities surprised when there was no revolving door upon their arrests at various events, and furthermore zero sympathy from the masses who were dealing with their own crapstorm and didn't have time to feel sorry for their entitled, show-off antics. More than a few were shocked at just how heavy the fines were being levied against them in lieu of jail time … assuming that offer was made. And celebri-butts as Carra and Lindy occasionally called them better hope their taxes (both state and federal) were paid up at their time of arrest or they quickly found themselves losing assets for their bad debts.

I kept my opinion to myself on most days … Clint not so much. At least not on the Estate. He mostly agreed with the hardline approach being taken concerning the jihadis but didn't agree with everything that was taking place. Some of that was political and some of it was simply anything can be taken too far and there were some at the time that became a little overenthusiastic with their expression of the authority that had been invested in them. Things are better now but I wonder if they will ever be quite what they were before.

Certainly terrorist attacks continue to happen, but only on very small scale and monthly rather than daily. There is so much suspicion now directed towards those of that religious persuasion that more now leave the country than enter it. Or they are caught betwixt and between having gotten used to the freedom they found in this country and not wanting to give it up, but not wanting to fully give up their affiliation and identity with the country they moved here to escape.

All of the financial incentives for immigration have been summarily removed. Unless you are a US citizen – born of citizen parents or naturalized at least five years – you will not receive any entitlements. The issue of "anchor babies" are now nul and void as of April 1st. No such title now exists. If you are born in this country of immigrant parents who have not naturalized then you are also For several hours people thought it was a April Fool's Joke. It wasn't. The government is not preventing private charities from assisting immigrants, but all such assistance must be reported to a federal clearinghouse and be attached to a valid greencard and/or social security number. Charities that do not do this will (not may) immediately lose their non-profit status and will be taxed accordingly. A few were even raided for their records and widespread arrests of members of Boards of Directors were made for failing to follow the new laws. Some churches even lost their non-profit status shocking certain communities. When they say they do not want cash awards going to people without any accountability, they mean it with a sharp and pointy exclamation. As a result, a lot of churches have stopped utility assistance and scholarship funds. It is hurting some people that weren't in the target populations, but I suspect that was in the works even before the world had its latest nervous breakdown.

And how did it go from just being our country to being the world? As I said, you either recanted the jihad or you lost assistance coming from the US. That didn't only mean federal dollars in assistance. It meant that all money transfers originating in the US were stopped, even from private individuals as well as banking transactions to private individuals and businesses. One of the unintended consequences of that were that missionaries and missionary groups felt the pinch, but then again many Christian missionaries were pulled out of countries supporting the jihad, especially after groups thought it meant open season on any missionaries that weren't of their religion. In addition to financial assistance, the US cut off agriculture contracts and trade agreements were hosed. A lot of people called this inhumane but that more than anything seems to have created the desired affect. Most countries are much less inclined to host people and groups that threaten the US. Unfortunately the mandates have caused some economic hardships in this country as well.

Thank goodness Cody Clark is on our side. Between him and Beech, Roe, Lacey, and a few other staff members the Haines family will weather all the storms; those that have passed and the storms still brewing on the horizon. The talk of war has calmed down quite a bit. Especially when a certain General told the UN General Assembly they could pound sand and if they tried to send troops on our soil he'd have bulldozers on hand so fast and fierce it would look like the National Headquarters had never existed and they could find some other country to pay the bills so they could sit around throwing hissy fits like two-year-olds from there on out. He put a period on that proclamation by turning off the water and electric for nonpayment of services and started deporting certain members of foreign staff that seemed to use their diplomatic immunity as an excuse for massive asshattery. People entering and leaving the UN property and attached embassies are now also required to go through a TSA-like experience each time and have a specific day-pass to even go out and buy a bottle of water. Emphasis on "day" as there is a curfew in much of NYC that precludes any nighttime activities for all but the most official necessities. The mayor made threats … until pictures of his son having dinner with several unfriendly to the US nationals made it into the hands of the news media. The governor never made a peep on recommendation from his personal legal representative … his daughter and wife were also identified in those pictures.

The news was rife with rude commentary on that until editors and broadcast company bigwigs started being interviewed and put on notice. Anti-government commentary and editorials were allowed … incitement would get people cut off at the ankles withing 24-hours or less. Trust me, word got around. And the social media monopolies have also been busted apart. It happened so quickly you know this had been discussed in several back rooms for some time.

Like I said, some of it has eased and is supposed to ease some more by the end of the year, but only if the threats and attacks ease. And the attacks aren't isn't just happening in the big cities. A span of the Blueridge Parkway was sabotaged killing and injuring several people during Spring Break. When that happened Clint did his own line hardening and if you leave the Estate you better have a good reason and be back within fifteen minutes of the time you say you'll be back or he'll send out the troops and you better be laying bloody on the side of the road and not simply goofing around and losing track of time. He fired six seasonal staff people after such a stunt and told them they could find their own way home … and not bother coming back … ever, not even as a guest. They'd all signed the new ironclad contracts he and Reave had written and implemented whether the Aunts had completely been comfortable with them or not.

Groceries – those we can't produce ourselves – now come by way of bulk purchases delivered to the campground side of the Estate. The shortages and backorder lists grow longer every day and by necessity other members of the family have had to learn to make do with staple ingredients, as many as possible from local sources. That went over like a lead balloon at first, but it worked out. Clint had required every family group to participate, he offered the Staff the same deal. They put in so much per person per month and they'd get it back at the end of the month in shares from whatever deal he could broker. Those families who refused to participate would have to go out and acquire everything on their own, no more charging anything to the Estate. The ones that tried to do it on their own quickly changed their tune. People were still free to acquire specialty items on their own but most "specialty items" are hard to come by these days as the pipeline has emptied and new items are not being imported from hostile entities.

A Sunday at the end of February it was Clint's turn to host a family get together of Board Members and their immediate families. There was nearly a fight when the accusations started flying that he wasn't following the same Draconian rules he was setting for everyone else.

"What the hell are you all talking about?" Clint snarled at those making the most noise.

"You've got gourmet coffee and tea. And this isn't salt and pepper on this fish. And you ain't give up your cheese and that's a fact!"

I nearly dropped the pan of homemade rolls I'd brought from the kitchen. Uncle Vern took one look at my face and smiled mischievously asked, "How'd you pull this one off Little Gal?"

I looked at Clint and he said, "Go on and tell 'em. It's not like I've had time to hear about what in the hell all that mess is you've been doing." The previous day hadn't been a particularly good one and he had a foul headache that turned into a foul mouth.

Stuck with everyone staring at me I stuttered through an explanation. "Um … that's not coffee. Or not all coffee. It's a mix of chicory and dandelion with some Café' Bustello mixed in to give it a little kick. The tea is a mixture of lemon verbena and chamomile Lacey and I grew last summer. And … er … that's just … just homemade birch syrup some of your kids helped to harvest and boil just last week during pioneer week at the Estate School. Uh … the … the cheese is queso blanco I made from powdered milk." Then in a short burst of panic after looking at Clint's face I all but begged them, "And please don't bring up the cheese thing. I'm running low on block Velveeta and Clint will probably have to do without pimento cheese spread sooner rather than later and he's grieving a bit."

Clint growled, "Damn right I am so nobody better push me on it."

I was forced to prove my words and the discussion that ensued lasted through the meal and for several hours afterwards. Did Clint and I convince everyone to follow our lifestyle choice? I couldn't say yes with a straight face if my life depended on it. We did get a few to think, and few more to do more than think and make some changes, but it was another month before there was true capitulation on the issue of how groceries were ordered and used in individual households.

And now I'm Mrs. Clint Haines with a piece of official paper with a raised seal to prove it. And maybe … maybe some time next year there will be a little someone that will grow up to call me Mom. Clint and I aren't going to bother with birth control like he'd thought about back when I'd first started helping him along this planning journey. As he said, if we waited for the perfect time to try and have a family it would never arrive. The world is too bent on self-destruction for anything to ever be perfect. But so long as we can be responsible parents and provide life's necessities without having to first take them from other people, there can be a right time. And as the Aunts have said, neither one of us is getting any younger.

(seven months later)

"Clint! Clint! Oh my Lord, are you okay?!"

The doctor called for a nurse to help her get Clint off the floor and into a chair.

He finally stutters, "There's … three? There's three of them?!"

I'm in my own bit of shock. The fertility drugs worked … fast … and well they worked fast and did what they were supposed to. And a little more besides.

The doctor said, "I did warn you there was a chance of multiples when the fertility specialist recommended assisted reproduction technology."

"Yeah … twins … since they've shown up a few times in the family tree. But this sure as hell isn't twins! There's three of them!"

Worried I looked at him. "Clint? Are … are you …?"

"What the hell Sweetheart?! The Hen Club is never going to let me live this down. What am I talking about? Carra will never let either one of us live this down." He groaned and started to list to the side but suddenly shot up and yelped, "My gawd … the grocery bills!"

I didn't know whether to giggle or cry. This appointment wasn't going anything like I expected. We'd come in to get the results of some blood work only for me to be told to hop up on the table and let the nurse do a sonogram. I was scared that they'd found another cyst … or two … like they'd found not long after we'd gotten married and my periods had become irregular … we thought it was happening again and we were both worried. Instead the nurse calls in the doctor and after reviewing the screen she turned to say, "Congratulations. In about five months you'll be the proud parents of triplets." Clint's knees had buckled and he'd hit the floor.

Then the real panic set in for Clint. "What about my wife? Is … is she okay?"

"Yes. And we'll keep her that way by following some instructions I'm going to give you. The first of which is to stop at the pharmacy down the street and get a big bottle of prenatal vitamins and start taking them."

As my own shock slowly set in Clint's seemed to abate and he was making notes fast and furiously and asking about books he should read. We finally left the office loaded down with a welcome to being pregnant gift bag that Clint was already reading the contents of and making notes on.

When he started eyeing me like a heifer on the auction block I asked, "What?"

"I'm wondering how long we can hide this from Carra and the Hen Club."

"Hide it? You … you don't want the family to know?"

"Of course I do … just not right this second. Not until we get a few things hammered out."

"Like … like what?"

"Like a plan for enlarging the garden. Getting one of those washers from over at the dorms … the ones that do industrial sized loads. And we're not letting the Hens name our kids so we need to come up with some options to head them off. You're going to need stuff and … and my gawd … we're going to need three of everything. Woman we have some planning to do."

And then I saw it. The look on his face. The big goof was enjoying this. He was excited. And in his element now that he had a goal to reach.

"Oh Clint," I was finally able to laugh. "I do love you."

"I love you too Sweetheart. To the moon and back. What do you think the Hens will say if we name the kids Huey, Dewey, and Louie?"

"Stop worrying what your aunts will think and start worrying what I'll think if you even pretend to be serious about those names."

"Yeah, I guess you're right. Especially since two of them are girls." Then he blinked. "I'm going to be outnumbered to perpetuity."

"You know you love it."

"Yeah … yeah I do," he said with a huge grin. "Let's celebrate over grilled cheese sammiches. These papers say you are going to need to up your calcium and cheese it high on the list to do that. I love you being pregnant already."

I have a feeling I'm going to be hearing what's in those papers well into the night and over the next five months. Life is about to get a whole lot more interesting at the Big House. Happily ever after to us.