Chapter 33

Extending their small trip to Lexington was the best thing that Kevin could have done.  Annie fell into step with the family like a solider.  She spent her entire time calling everyone by their relative names.  Every time she said ‘Grandma, Aunt, or Uncle,’ she would smile.  She would beam when she said Daddy.  The entire family cracked up because Dad would beam back, just as bright. 

Cass relaxed once ‘Pa’ had told Annie.  Cass never questioned the validity of angels from that day forward; only Abe had the ability or the knowledge to help them save Annie that day.  Kevin watched Cass down at the barn for long stretches of time.  She would bury herself in the paperwork of the horse breeding.  Kevin’s heart was filled with as much love as he could handle.  Cass was no longer stressed and even called his Mother, ‘Mother Anne’ before they had left. 

Anne was thrilled and kept her fingers crossed.  She had raised her son and knew him inside and out.  Kevin had slowed down with Cass and now he was just biding his time.  Maybe someday they would get married but Anne thought it might be a long time to come before Kevin actually got what he wanted.

“Hello Gentlemen!”  Kevin called as he entered the studio in Los Angeles. 

A.J. checked him out as he came in.  Kevin was as rested and happy as he had ever seen him.  A.J. and the fellas understood when Kevin had extended his vacation by a few days, nobody said too much.  A.J. danced when the call came in.  He also was instructed to pick up Kevin’s mail.  A.J. cackled, “How did you know I still had keys?”

“Cuz Bone, I know you.  You probably have keys that belong to me that I don’t even know what they belong too.”  Kevin laughed but it hit him full measure, he had come full circle.  “Thanks Bone, Thank you so much.”

“No problem, but when’s the wedding?”  A.J. laughed into the phone.

“Not for a long time, she’s not ready.”  Kevin paused as he watched Cass down at the barn with Titan.  “It’ll be awhile.”  He hung up the phone and headed for the barn.

Kevin coughed, four heads turned to him.  He now seemed to glow with happiness.  “What?  You didn’t miss me?”

Laughter filled the room. 

“Just like a hemorrhoid Kevin.”  Howie answered as he slid switches up and down on the soundboard.

“Well, I have someone I would like you to meet.  You may have met her.”  Kevin danced over to the door and grinned.  All of them smiled when the green-eyed girl with the curly black hair entered the studio.

Kevin picked her up and stood her on stool.  “Gentlemen, I would like you to meet my daughter, Miss Annie Jo Collins Richardson.”

A chorus of “Hi Annie-s!” filled the studio.

“You’re silly Daddy, I know them.”  Annie waved back eagerly. 

A.J. and Brian watched Cass come in holding a brown bag.  Annie saw everyone look behind her so she turned.  Grabbing for the bag that Cass was holding, she held it up to Kevin.  “You forgot your lunch I made for you Daddy.”  Water faucet Richardson reported in, in record time.

“She takes very good care of me,” Kevin pulled Cass forward.  “So does her Mommy.”

Brian started it along with Nick, they started to sing, “I’ll Never Break Your Heart.”  Kevin signed quickly that the guys were singing, Annie turned to them with a smile.  “I can’t hear you, after tomorrow I can.” 

The singing stopped immediately.  It was just something that had happened that was natural to them.  They sang; people listened.

“Shit,” Nick uttered.

“Shit!” boomed into the sound studio, it was Cass.  “Guys she has all the music and knows all the words so take it from the top.”  She didn’t want the guys to feel bad, they were doing their thing, just for Annie. 

Brian started again along with the rest of them as they each took their parts.  They could see Kevin speaking and Annie was focused on him.  She placed her hand on his Adam’s Apple.  When they were done singing, Annie turned back to the microphone her father had put in front of her.  “Thank you, it was very pretty!”

Kevin was going to cry again so Cass took her from him.  They didn’t know that the conversation could be heard in the studio.  The guys pretended to do other things but they were listening.  “Love you Daddy.”

“Love you Princess,” Kevin gave a quick kiss.  “You have to go now because we have to do some work today.”

“Okay...  Kiss Mommy goodbye too,” Annie giggled. 

Cass moaned and Kevin grinned.  “I can do that for you.”

Nick turned his head to Brian, “He’s whipped.”

“Big time,” Howie added.

“It’s never gonna be the same around here,” Brian joined in.

“I say a trial,” A.J. laughed.

“Oh yeah,” Nick laughed the loudest.

Patiently, they waited for Kevin to come back into the studio.  When he did, four heads turned to basically check him out.

Nick nodded and looked directly at Kevin, “Guilty.”

Kevin didn’t say much, he suppressed the laugh and looked at the floor.  They hadn’t done this in a long time.  The guys used to hold trials anytime one of them became whipped by a family member or a female.  The last trial was the birth of Brian’s twins.

“Guilty,” Howie smirked.

“Cuz, you are so guilty.”  Brian was smiling.

“Ya’ll don’t know what you’re talking about,” Kevin grabbed the stool.

“Dude, an elf lives at your house,” Nick hit the symbols for added effect.  

Kevin turned as he hitched a foot in is stool.  “What the hell are you talking about?”

Nick had his sneaky grin on; he moved his shoulders back and forth.  “Dude, you are guilty of being whipped or a gay elf has moved into your house.  I went with A.J. to get your mail.  Two of your rooms now have stuff in miniature.  You have a tea-set and pretty dresses.  So, either you have an elf, or your daughter has your ass whipped and it ain’t ever going to be the same.  I do not want to know what Cass has done to you.”

“AJ!”  Kevin yelled as A.J. snuck out of the studio.  Okay so he had given the guys a grand tour of Kevin’s house while he was gone.  A.J. heard the steps behind him, a hand snagged his shoulder, and spun him around.

Kevin was face to face, smiling at him.  “You’re right, I’m whipped.  Let’s get to work.  I’m busy tomorrow.”

Both of them walked back into the studio, arm and arm.  It was cool, the world was cool, for both of them.

The next day Cass, Kevin, and Annie sat in a small room.  Annie was nervous, it was the big day... maybe.  Cass was jittery for the same reasons.  An audiologist had come in earlier and fitted Annie with her transmitting coil and microphone.  Now they were going to hook-up the speech processor.  Annie would have to wear the processor on her at all times, but it was a tiny thing that nobody would notice.

Annie sat on the stool watching every move the woman made.  Kevin sensed her fear and scooted his chair closer to her stool.  He placed a hand on her leg and she turned to face him.  “It’s okay baby,” he patted her leg.

The woman sat down with a clipboard next to what looked to Kevin to be something similar to a soundboard.  Adjusting a few knobs, she looked at Annie.  Pulling her face directly to hers, she smiled.  “I’m going to turn it on one piece at a time.  The first thing I’m going to turn on is the implant, then I’m going to turn on the transmitter, and then the speech processor.  Do you understand me?”

Annie nodded apprehensively; she was troubled.  She wondered if Daddy would still want her if it didn’t work.  They talked last night and Daddy said it wouldn’t matter, he loved her no matter what.  Annie turned to her Mom for reassurance, Cass moved closer too.  “It’s okay, really.”

The woman dropped her head, Annie couldn’t see her.  She began to speak to Kevin and Cass.  “The implant is on and she doesn’t know it.”  Briefly, she looked up at the crest-fallen parents and then dropped her head again.  “It’s fine, we’re not done yet.  Now I’m going to turn on the transmitter.  I don’t want either of you to do anything other than breathe unless I tell you to.  Sometimes this can be frightening to children.  All Annie has heard is muffled noises until now, this should be as clear as a bell to her.  I’m putting it on the highest setting and then I will adjust it down from there.  When I tell you to do something, please do it instantaneously.”

The woman flicked a switch, then she looked at Annie.  You could hear a pin drop in the room.  The woman clapped her hands loudly. 

Annie screamed, “TOO LOUD!”  Her hands ripped the transmitters off her ears.

Cass began to cry, she couldn’t help it, “It’s too loud.  It’s too loud...”

Kevin calmly set the transmitters back into place; he had gone over the removal and installation of the equipment himself, reading the instructions many, many times.  He spun Annie’s stool around so she faced him.  “You don’t touch those.  I know that was scary but we need to see where to set them.  Do you understand me?”

Annie sniffed and croaked out a, “Yes Daddy.”

Kevin turned her around again to face the Audiologist.  The woman offered Annie a tissue for her nose.  “I’m very sorry.  I didn’t want to frighten you but it’s part of it.”  The Audiologist again set the switches and repeated her instructions to Cass and Kevin.  Adjusting the volume down she turned it on again.  They went through a series of adjustment until the volume was comfortable for Annie.  She glanced up at Annie’s parents.  “Annie can hear now, so how about she hears you?”

Annie swiveled to face Cass she had heard the lady talk.

The Audiologist muted Annie’s transmitter briefly and told Cass what she wanted her to say.  Cass smiled at her thoughtfulness.  “I love you Annie,” Cass spoke in a normal tone.  She quickly glanced to Annie and then to bawling baby Richardson.

Annie catapulted off the stool almost taking the equipment with it, it was a good thing Kevin was there to help as he grabbed onto the equipment.  “I heard you mommy!  I heard you! I love you too...” 

Annie’s head turned towards the Audiologist, her eyes wide in shock.  She said the words again, the Audiologist smiled, “That’s you that you hear.”

“It’s me,” she laughed.  Quickly she turned to Kevin as she sat in her mother’s lap. 

Annie was waiting and her Daddy knew exactly what for.  “I love you Annie,” he smiled.

“Daddy!  I love you!” she threw herself at him.

Over the next two months, Annie had adjustments made, and a base line done.  From there, she had speech therapy that she was doing very well at.  She also had some language therapy and reading sessions.  She wanted new words to go with the pictures, of course her father indulged her every whim and her mother hadn’t balked, too much.

Annie and Cass were getting ready to leave for Montana.  They had missed their family and Annie was missing Ferdie.  Kevin had set up a speech and language therapist for Annie as well as a reading teacher.  He also managed to ship a few ‘gifts’ unbeknownst to Cass and Annie.  Kevin was pleased how well everything had gone.  He hammered out visitation without a lawyer getting involved.  Kevin traveled so much that it was left open ended, he could come to the ranch unannounced any time he wanted to see them.  He would have Annie for a week, without Cass around before school started.  Kevin almost fell over when Cass suggested it.

Cass began to talk about the horse farm in Kentucky and how much she loved it.  Kevin made her a key and told her to go anytime she wanted.  “Oh right, I’ll just book a flight because I’m rolling in the dough.” 

She was sarcastic and hurt.  Then a credit card was pressed into her palm.  “This is for things like that and any thing else you need.”

“You’re giving me your credit card?”  She blinked.

“It’s your credit card, use it for what you need.”

Cass began to hand it back.  “But I can’t...  I already owe you...”  

“Use It!”  Kevin yelled at her.

After a quick exchange of good-byes at the airport, they were off.  They were lucky, the press now knew about Annie.  Mother Richardson was right, they couldn’t hide it forever.  However, Cass was very good at fooling them, she actually enjoyed it, like a game.





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