"They're doing what?"
Jarrod felt like pleading the fifth and placed a still warm cookie in his mouth to ensure his lips remained occupied with something other than talking. Jenny looked at him in disbelief.
"Honestly, sometimes I wonder if the man I married will ever grow up. And you say Heath is in on it, too?" Jarrod just gave her a lame look and pointed to the cookie in his mouth in self-defense. In frustration, Jenny Barkley banged down her rolling pin and took off her apron, letting it fall to the floor. She had flour on her cheeks and all up her arms and left a dusted trail as she walked the length from the kitchen to the backyard.
"Nicholas Barkley! Just what do you think you are doing?" she exclaimed angrily as she saw her husband bent down on all fours. The temptation to kick him in the posterior was almost too good to resist but because the other man in her life, Little Heath, was sitting on his back and clutching on to his father's shirt, she exercised wifely restraint.
Nick Barkley, married twelve years, always wondered why it was that women questioned the obvious. "What do you think I am doing?" he said, "Little Heath and I are going to race Heath and Nicholas and what's more we are going to win. Isn't that right, pardner?" Little Heath nodded his head in glee.
"Oh don't be ridiculous!" Jenny remonstrated, "Little Heath is far too small to race on your back." She went to pick up her son but he objected loudly and clung on to his father's neck.
"Jenny!" Nick protested. "Stop fussin' over the boy! He'll be just fine. I'll look after him."
Jenny wasn't so sure, but there was no budging Little Heath. "Well alright then, but only if I run along side you both to make sure he doesn't fall off."
"What!" Nick bellowed, his bellow containing almost enough force to push Little Heath in the air. "No self-respecting jockey would have his mother running along side him on the race course. I won't allow it. You can sit over there on the porch and watch like all the other spectators."
Jenny looked over to the empty porch, "What spectators?" She watched as her brother-in-law and nephew came into view. "Heath?" she pleaded, looking for her brother-in-law to support her.
Heath calmed her fears with a brotherly kiss on her cheek and a comforting squeeze of her hand. "Don't worry Jenny. It's just a bit of fun. Little Heath and Nicholas will be just fine. As to Nick? Well, I can't promise what state I will return him in. I'm not sure those knees of his will stand up to the course."
"Stop kissing my wife," Nick protested, "And get yourself down here, Little Heath, are you holding on tight?"
"Yes Pa," said Little Heath holding on too tight to his father's collar.
"Just allow me enough air to breathe, son and we'll be okay. Now remember, whatever happens don't let go. Okay?"
"Okay, Pa," Little Heath responded, eager for his daddy to get going.
As Heath knelt down and placed his hands firmly on the ground, Jarrod, his appetite for cookies satiated now that he didn't have to answer any more incriminating questions, picked up Little Nicholas and placed him on his father's back. "Now remember, Nicholas," he advised, "If your horse gets sluggish, a quick dig in the ribs with your spurs will work wonders."
"Hey!" Heath remonstrated. "There's room for a third brother down here, you know."
"Nothing doing, little brother. Anyway, if I did, who would start the race?"
Within minutes the race had begun and quickly the dry dirt scuffed up under their hands, knees and boots as brother number two and number three fought for first place. Heath, the younger of the two by four years, made the most of that advantage and forged ahead, remaining ahead at the half-way mark. Nick, whose competitve edge never left him, got awfully tired of seeing Heath's tan covered butt in front of him and made a real effort to catch up. With sweat pouring from his face, he inched painfully forward so he was just a nose in front at the turn.
Encouraging Little Heath to cling on as he sprinted forward and opened up a gap, his delight was evident for all to see but all to short-lived as Jarrod warned from the side that Heath was quickly closing in on his tail. Both boys screamed and shouted excitedly, encouraging their fathers to go faster. Heath went ahead next and then Nick quickly caught up. It was neck and neck now and even Jenny was up on her feet encouraging her menfolk on.
Little Heath was so excited, his hands reached forward and clutched onto his father's head and hair before his eager hands quickly moved down to cover his father's eyes. Blinded, Nick could see nothing and quickly started veering off track. At one point he even ran round in a circle as Little Heath hands acted as a blindfold and dug in. And then, ..... Oh no! Little Heath made the situation worse! A telling wet patch began to permeate through Nick's shirt from under Little Heath and began to generously spread out across his back. Then to add insult to injury, Nick heard the whoops of a winning team as his baby brother and Little Nicholas raced noisily past and reached the finish line ahead of them.
Jarrod surveyed the winning brother spread-eagled in the dirt, his favored tan pants scuffed with dirt, his shirt pulled up half-way around his back under the force of Nicholas's hands, and his tired limbs unable to go one step further. For all his exhaustion there was a triumphant smile on his youngest brother's face at having beaten his brother. With amusement spreading across his face, Jarrod pulled down his brother's shirt and patted Heath on the left shoulder before scooping Little Nicholas up in his arms and declaring him winner!
Observing his eldest brother, Nick rolled on his wet back and held his son aloft, "Little Heath," he sighed, realizing this partnership still needed some fine tuning, "We got to learn some hand and eye co-ordination here, son. A little fatherly advice. It don't pay to blind and drown your horse on the home stretch!"