They turned off the main road a few miles later, heading down a narrow paved road that soon became dirt. Jasper’s SUV handled the bumps and bounces well, but Hana still felt bruised and battered when they arrived at a metal gate across the road. Jasper jumped out, opened it and drove through. Hopping out once more, he closed the gate.
“Four more to go,” he mumbled. “I hate this part.”
“I can get the gates, you drive.”
“Baby, you can’t open those gates. They weigh about a hundred pounds each.”
“They don’t look that heavy.”
“You ain’t built like me. I tell you what, you scooch over here and drive through. I’ll open and close.”
They employed his system for the rest of the gates. They drove up to the house a few minutes after shutting the last gate. It was a huge hacienda style house made of tan stucco with a red tile roof. The yard out front was landscaped with desert plants. An arched driveway was paved with bricks. In the center was a fountain that leaped and splashed on painted tiles below.
Jasper honked the horn, jumped to the pavement and waited while the house erupted. Hana lost count of the number of dogs and people milling around the SUV. Dogs yipped, people yelled happily and clapped Jasper on the back so hard she was afraid he’d break in half.
A huge man, roughly the size of a bear, came up to her door, yanking it open. He was burly and covered in dark hair. A bushy beard hid his face, his black hair stuck out in all directions. He smelled like bourbon and pipe smoke.
“You must be Hana!” He pulled her out of the seat, hugging her tightly.
“Mitch, watch it! She’s a bit more delicate than me,” Jasper cautioned.
The giant of a man set Hana down gently. “I didn’t hurt her,” he chuckled. “Didn’t even knock the air outta her lungs, did I, sweetheart?”
“I’m fine, Jasper. Don’t worry. Took me by surprise, that’s all.”
“Hana, this is Mitch. These other folks, I’ll let him introduce to you.”
“My wife, Issy.”
A tall, slender woman waved to her. She looked like she would break if Mitch embraced her too hard. Next to her were five children. A boy, about 6’1″, who couldn’t have been more than fourteen. He towered over his mother, but was shorter than his father. A girl as tall as her mother, stood next to him. Beside her, another boy only slightly shorter grinned shyly. At the end of the line, two more girls, who were nearly 5’8″, waved at Jasper. They looked to be about ten.
“These are our kids,” Issy took over introductions. “Oak, Willow, Thorn, Ash and Cypress.” The last two girls were obviously twins.
“Pleased to meet you all,”Hana nodded to each of them. “I’m not so good with names, so forgive me if I don’t learn them right away.”
The oldest girl took her hand, holding it carefully as she gazed at her palm. “You’ll remember,” she said with assurance. “It’s not every day you meet a whole grove of trees, is it?”
Hana laughed, tossing her hair. “No, that’s for sure. They’re unique names.”
“Mom’s a tree hugging, nature freak,” Willow explained, taking Hana’s arm comfortably and leading her in the house.
“Not a freak, exactly,” her older brother corrected. “She was a druid in another life.”
“Freak,” Willow whispered.
Instead of getting angry, Issy laughed at her daughter. Like wind chimes, it was the kind of laugh that made Hana want to join her, so she did. Pretty soon, all of them were laughing, including Mitch and Jasper, who had no idea why.
“Have you eaten? We’ve got plenty left over from lunch, if you’re hungry.”
“No, thanks, Issy. We stopped by Julia’s on the way up.”
“Oh, lovely! How is she? Have any more of her powers manifested?”
“Not yet, but could be any time. Nana got a few the first time she was pregnant, round about the second trimester. Julia’s got about ten days before she hits that.”
“Oh, in time for the full moon! I’ll add that to my chanting list,” she said, walking to a piece of paper tacked to the refrigerator with a crystal magnet.
“I know she’ll appreciate it,” Jasper smiled, taking Hana’s arm. “Do you want me to get started right now?”
“Rest a bit,” Mitch said. “Those critters can wait. They’ve gone this long without shoes, they can go a little longer.”
“You could consider barefoot or in boots,” Jasper said as they sat around the living room on low couches.
“Yeah, but I’m a traditional guy. Not only that, given the terrain around here, I’m a little nervous about barefoot horses.”
“They’ve gone their entire lives unshod, Mitch,” Jasper laughed.
“Yeah, and you should see the condition their hooves are in. I’ll let you decide. They all need a good trim, even if we don’t put shoes on. Never did see such a man as him trying to talk customers out of parting with their cash,” Mitch chuckled. “If it were up to him, he’d be the only unemployed farrier in the business.”
© Dellani Oakes 2022