Memories Part 3: And A Child Shall Lead Them

Chapter 39 - GUMBO!

Orlando - Barnes Residence:

"... that'll be everything you've got!" Byron giggled as Antonio landed on Park Place - again.

"You got lucky!" Antonio pouted as he started cleaning off the board. "I wanna rematch!"

"You're on, hon!" Byron replied as he started cleaning up his side of the board.

At that moment, Antonio's commbadge came to life. "Tommy to 'Tonio, Code Alpha at the Schaffer house, repeat, Code Alpha at the Schaffer house."

Antonio locked eyes with his fiancé, then dropped the cards from his hands. "Raincheck, hon; duty calls," he stated as he tapped his badge. "Acknowledged, Tommy."

Byron nodded, watching as his love went into doctor mode. "George - open channel Med 5, Priority 2"

"The channel is open, Doctor,"

"Doctor Antonio Barnes to Doctor Chris Barnes and Medical Director McCoy. We have a reported Code Alpha at the Schaffer residence. Chris, grab the Level 1-S tricorders and meet me there. Doctor McCoy, you presence is requested if possible."

"On it bro!" Chris replied immediately. "See you there!"

"I'll see you there," McCoy replied.

"Acknowledged," Antonio replied as he ran towards the closet just inside the front door of their condo, grabbed his smock, then ran out the door.

Viola looked at Tommy curiously. "What is a Code Alpha?"

"Iff'n I'm right," Tommy replied carefully, "This here house is fix'n to be git'n its skirts in a big ol' up'ror."

"I'll translate," Tanner announced with a snicker. "A Code Alpha, while not an emergency, is a signal that scrambles certain people. The definition of the code is need-to-know only; Antonio can certify if it applies, and if it does apply, he will fill you in."

"Deej, 'Tonio's about to the front door," George warned. "Chris and Uncle Bones are right behind him."

"Thanks George!" DJ replied as he twisted around and sprinted through the kitchen doors.

"Chicken!" Tanner yelled after him. In a more normal voice he giggled "Just because Antonio told him the next time he has to wait for DJ, he'd administer an old-fashioned prostate exam..."

"Why would that scare him?" Julius asked.

"Antonio has to use his whole hand..." Tanner smirked.

Before any more could be said, Antonio, Chris, and Bones followed DJ into the kitchen. "Stop scaring the adults, Tanner," Antonio growled. "Keep it up and you'll have to eat dinner cooked by Sean - under doctor's orders!"

"Meanie!" Tanner pouted. "Some doctor you are, 'Tonio, poisoning your patients!"

"Antonio?" Tommy interrupted, before rapid-firing a sentence to Antonio in the same language he'd used earlier.

"Thanks, Tommy," Antonio nodded. "George, medical lockdown. Chris, Doc Bones? Our patient is Crey, he's at the counter."

Julius had recovered enough to ask "Is it too much to ask what is going on?"

Pointing at Antonio, Bones stated "Once Doctor Barnes makes his determination, then we'll all know. You only have to worry if you piss one of us off."

Figuring by the tone of Bones' voice that questioning who all were actually doctors was probably not a good idea at the moment, Julius just nodded, and slid back into the tight group that the rest of his family had merged into.

While Bones was dealing with the adults, Antonio and Chris had went to join Crey and Creston on the dining room side of the counter. "Hey guys, I'm Antonio, I'm the doctor in charge of making sure that you guys stay healthy." Antonio began. "This is my brother Chris, he's my assistant and just passed his board exams. The big guy is Doctor McCoy; he's the only one that can give me, Chris, and Doc Austin orders that we have to listen to. Don't worry, he's the best doctor in all the Universes."

Chris had begun his scans, and glanced over at Antonio with an amazed look. "Bro, I think we need a couple of portables and a med terminal." He glanced down, then turned his head. "UNCLE BONES! We need a Federation lock! Alpha confirmed, but not where we expect!"

Even DJ and Tanner were surprised to see Bones go OVER the counter to join Chris and Antonio. Once both he and Antonio had looked over the readings Chris had, things turned interesting. "GEORGE!" Bones bellowed. "Where in the Hell are those beds and that damn terminal that Doctor Chris ordered, you overgrown pocket calculator? While you're at it, seal these boy's records under my orders, same exceptions as Doctor Antonio, and get me a damn level seven link to Vulcan yesterday!"

"While you're at it, tell Dylan to get his skinny ass over here NOW!" Antonio added.

"Ehhhh... Wazzup, Doc?" Dylan asked as he popped in behind Antonio.

Antonio spun around to find Dylan standing there, munching on a carrot. "Okay smartass, you have three seconds to explain what we just found!" Antonio threatened.

Dylan's mouth blurred, and what could only be described as a squeal came out of his mouth for three seconds. Grinning, he then asked, "Did you get that, Uncle 'Tonio?"

"Stop playin', Dilly!" Chris growled. "You know what he meant, now speak at NORMAL speed, goofball."

"Sorry," Dylan replied. "Can I look to see what you're askin' about, Uncle 'Tonio?"

"Go ahead," Antonio nodded, pleased to see that Dylan was trying to be somewhat responsible.

Dylan tilted his head once he'd caught up. "Okay, I can help some. Uncle G had me mask Crey until he'd settled in here some; his kin had it worse than Antonio's did here if they were caught. I wanna know how Tommy figured it out though! Uncle G didn't touch Creston though; he did say that if Creston accepts his destiny, he will be the key to the Clan finding a gift that they stumbled on."

"Thanks Dilly," Antonio replied. "I think that was a good thing; these guys needed to be family first before we figured out Crey. I'll note Creston's readings, knowing your omnipresent Uncle, I'll need them."

As Antonio was talking with Dylan, Chris was talking to their confused patients. "Don't worry, guys, we didn't find anything bad. It's good, but it's different than we've seen before. Crey, you and Antonio are kinda the same, you don't age like the rest of us. Creston, while you ain't got the same gene that Crey does, somehow you're aging like he does. We gotta do a different scan than Doc Austin did, that way we can make sure that we're ready for things as you grow up. There are a whole bunch of people here in Alpha Prime that age like you, so you'll fit in great."

"They don't gotta hide it?" Crey asked, amazed.

"Not any more," Chris replied. "There are a few different ways to live long, and we've got all of them that we know about in the Clan. How you age don't mean nuthin', it's what kind of person you are. I should be able to tell ya how fast you're aging after the bed scan."

"So me and Crey are gonna grow old for a really long time?" Creston asked.

"It looks that way," Chris replied. "It's pretty much the same for you, I really need a bed scan to know the details."

"Awesome!" Creston exclaimed before pulling Crey into a very involved kiss.

"Those two remind me of the stories Teri has repeated about Sean and Cory," Bones quipped before turning to the kitchen and directing his next comment towards the parents. "Before you ask, no, they will not get pregnant, but they will sure have fun trying." He then leaned over and whispered to Chris "That should stop the questions long enough to get answers."

"I'll have to remember that one!" Chris giggled softly in reply.

With the help of Antonio, (and a fuzzy stuffed toy crowbar provided by Dylan), the three doctors managed to get their now-giggling patients onto the biobeds. As Chris and Antonio each operated a bed, Bones collected the data and forwarded any necessary data to the Vulcan Longevity Project.  

Once all three doctors were satisfied with the results, Chris and McCoy handled the question and answer with the boys, while Antonio took care of the waiting family and new friends. After taking a seat at the breakfast bar, Antonio began. "Okay, now that you all understand why we make you wait outside while we work, I'll explain what we've got going on. First off, you other guys need to know that you've got a really special little brother. He's part of a genetic offshoot known here as an Acadian. He's just as human as the rest of you, it's just that his ancestors developed a gene that slows aging. I carry that gene, so I age one year physically for every four years I live. Crey's running at seven to one; he's physically seven, but he's been around forty-nine years. Mentally, most of the time he'll probably be seven, but he has the knowledge of all his years."

After a quick look around, he continued. "Creston's body appears to be adjusting itself to match Crey. As far as how and why, all we can do is guess based on previous experience. While there is no record of it happening before with Acadians, what we are thinking is that a recently discovered human capability for the brain to form an equivalent to a Vulcan Bond Link is very possibly allowing Creston's body programming to sync with Crey's body programming. It takes a very specific combination for that skill to even be triggered, so our data is still being collected. We have put in a request for help from another dimension, as they have more experience with the bonding. Pretty much, they are the same brothers you all love, they ain't sick, and they are all human just like you. The Clan has a support network for families with members that have long lives; they will be getting with you within a day, I can promise that Dylan has already alerted them. Tommy, you did a great job, get with me later to fill me in on how you spotted it."

"T'ain't nuttin'" Tommy shrugged. "Ya just gotta know 'bout readin' kin."

Antonio looked around, and spotted that Helen had joined them. "Aunt Helen? Could you translate that?" he asked with a grin.

Helen shook her head. "You know exactly what he said, Antonio Barnes. Now, DOCTORS, I believe all three of you are late for your tee time on Cory's mini-golf course; I'll handle Viola's questions while Tommy and Ty are giving their safety lecture. George, honey, could you please escort the medical staff to the first tee?"

"Done, Aunt Helen!" George exclaimed as all three doctors vanished, with the medical equipment following a few seconds later.

"Boys," Viola stated, "I think that your brothers could use some time to get a few of their own questions answered before you start asking questions about what we just learned. Julius, that includes you! I believe that most of you were planning on testing out your new toys; why don't we go with that plan, and while Tommy here is giving Ferris and Ton their first taste of cooking, the rest of us will help Crez and Crey sort out the details of the bombshell that the doctors dropped on them."

"Is anyone going to explain it to the rest of us?" JD asked.

Viola nodded. "I think that it will be a perfect use of your new media room for us to hold a family meeting to make sure that we're all on the same page. Just remember, your two brothers have the only say on what you're told; neither Juliusor I  are going to decide what you're finally told. If any of you find that you're in a similar situation, you'll be given the same consideration."

JD tilted his head, thinking over the response. After a few seconds of thought, he replied: "If that's what actually happens, it sounds fair."

Viola nodded. "JD, I can tell that you have some issues trusting us, and I'm guessing it is because of your old home life. If you are going to challenge us, please do like you just did and keep it polite. Believe it or not, your new dad had to overcome something similar, so I can relate to your current distrust since I helped him."

JD shrugged. "If you say so, I ain't gonna hold my breath. I ain't never had an adult keep their promises very long."

"Understood, and I plan on proving that I'm different," Viola replied calmly. "I'm sure that your brothers are going to think up questions while you're out playing, do you think that you can remember them for later?"

JD nodded, "Yeah, then we'll see if they actually get answered."

Viola smiled, "I'll do my best. Go have fun, okay?"

With that, JD led the charge into the garage. The remaining people in the kitchen smiled as they heard the yells of excitement, then began their original plans.

"Viola?" Helen asked as Tommy took charge of the initial training, "I'm Helen McCarthy, Teri Short's live-in cook. You're doing great with that boy, don't stop what you're doing. You'll find that a lot of the youth around here have varying levels of trust issues; they also have a very strong grapevine that publishes which adults have earned the right to be trusted. You're on the way to making that list, which means you're going to have more than just your sons coming to you. From experience, it'll happen, and there's not a single adult who will counter them coming to you."

"Thanks for the warning, Helen," Viola smiled. "It's nice to meet you after everything I learned from DJ. I only have one question; is it safe to leave Tommy and Tyler run free in the kitchen?"

"Absolutely," Helen replied. "I enjoy just sitting back and watching them; the two of them have a habit of making it fun for themselves while they cook, and some of their escapades are amazing."

"Well then, let's see if Crezzy and Crey will let us join them," Viola quipped.

The pair made their way to the counter, where Viola asked: "Do you boys mind if we join you?"

To her surprise, Crey was the one who answered. "Sure, I'm just filling Crezzy in on a few things I had to hide from him."

Creston smiled, "Yeah, it's all been good stuff too. It's awesome that we getta be boyfriends for a really long time!"

Helen smiled at his enthusiasm. "You two are not alone either. Tyler over there is going to outlive all of us, even you two. Between him, Kyle, and all of the androids running around, Teri and I have become very familiar with how having a long life affects you differently than the rest of the youth. There will be things that your Mom and Dad won't have answers for, and there are things that you'll do that will confuse them. All of you need to remember that you can come to us, and then later on other families will come to you."

"What is the one thing that stands out as the most different?" Viola asked.

"I'll bet that you already do this, Crey," Helen responded. "Most boys their age tend to bounce around to experience as much as they can in as short of a time as possible. Long-life boys seem to take their time, learning everything they can before moving on to the next thing."

Crey giggled. "Yep, it drives the rest of the guys nuts!"

"So THAT'S why you do that!" Creston exclaimed. "Now I understand!"

"So you think Creston's going to start doing that?" Viola asked.

"I can just about promise he will," Helen stated. "He won't even think about it, my guess is that it is just a natural tendency that comes with long life. Antonio earned his MD because of it; he never allowed himself to be distracted from his goal. The thing is, it rubs off on their closest friends and family. Chris just earned his MD because he took on the challenge of trying to be like his brother, and he did it by copying how Antonio studies."

With a serious face, Creston changed the subject abruptly. "Mom? Is it really okay that me and Crey are boyfriends?"

Viola turned and made sure that both boys could see her face. "Not only is it okay, but I'm actually really happy that you found each other. Normally, most people would say that you're too young, but I can see in your eyes and body language that the two of you really do have a bond. Most people never find the special someone who makes them totally whole, but the two of you got very lucky and found each other before you could commit to someone else."

"You're not the only ones," Helen added. "Kyle and Tyler were love at first sight. Cory and Sean became boyfriends before either of them said their first word. Tommy was adopted by Teri after my son Kelly Joe decided he wanted to keep him. There are even more examples, including Timmy and Ricky, that have found each other even younger than the two of you."

Smiling, Viola continued. "I would be a failure as a parent if I tried to stop what obviously is what you both need. All I ask is that the two of you take the time to decide who you want to go to for help when things get tense between you. It happens to all couples, but only the ones who take the time to seek help with resolving what the problem is managing to recover and stay together."

Helen chuckled as both boys rolled their eyes. "Boys, even Cory and Sean have had to do that. They had a really nasty time where neither one realized what they were doing to the other one, and it took the advice of a couple of adults to get them back on the right track. It happens to all couples, so don't think you won't need to do it sooner or later."

Crey nodded. "Okay, what about how I age? Am I considered an adult or a kid?"

Viola turned her head, asking with her eyes how things like this were normally handled.

"It looks like your mom hasn't thought that far yet," Helen replied. "I'll tell you how we ended up working it out with Antonio. As adults, we recognize that he has more life experience than some of us. But, we also know that there are times that he is emotionally at the age of his physical appearance. We base our interactions on how Antonio is acting; when he's in adult mode, we treat him as an adult, and when he's in kid mode he's treated like any other kid his age. We've found out that the swings between the two are actually normal for your people, so we adjust to whichever mode you think is appropriate at the moment."

"How do the other boys handle the difference in how Antonio is treated?" Viola asked.

"Not only do they understand," Helen explained, "but they tend to help Antonio decide what mode is appropriate. If you hear one of them tell him 'elf time', that means they think he needs to step back and be a kid for a while."

Crey tilted his head as he considered it. After some thought, he replied "You know, I think I like that. It really makes me mad that I am always treated like a kid even if I knew better than the adult what to do. Crezzy, is it okay with you if Mom and Dad do that?"

Creston actually thought about it for a few seconds. "Ya know, if I'm gonna be like you like the Docs were saying could be happening, I think it really sounds fair doing it that way. Lookin' at it that way, you oughta be treated like that already."

Viola smiled at her sons. "I'm really proud of both of you. Even though it is in different ways, you both are dealing with the news that you will be openly aging at a different rate than everyone around you really well. I'll admit that it will take getting used to, but I agree that the way Helen just explained which works for Antonio sounds like the best way to handle things. Just remember that the rest of our family, including me, might slip up occasionally."

Both Creston and Crey nodded their heads before replying in unison "Thanks Mom and Aunt Helen!"

In the kitchen, the four boys were much too occupied to pay attention to the happenings at the counter. Ferris and Ton quickly realized that Tommy was extremely strict about kitchen safety, and paid close attention after they'd been caught by Tyler and called out for not believing the precautions were necessary. As Tommy paused for questions, Ton asked: "How can you have fun with all these rules?"

Tommy grinned. "Y'all ain't gotta worry none; dem rules is what makes it so y'all can be havin' fun. If all'y'all's followin' them, then ain't none of us gotta be worrie'n our heads 'bout gettin' hurt; then we're doin' safe funnin' 'stead of worrie'n."

Ton looked up at Ferris. "Bro? Did you understand that?"

Ferris giggled at the confused look on his little brother's face. "Yeah, Monkey, he said if everyone is being safe, then we can have fun without worrying about getting hurt."

"Oh!" Ton replied, "Why didn't you just say that, Tommy?"

Tommy saw Ferris tense up, so he replied quickly, "Don'cha worry none 'bout pickin' on my speakin'; I don't care none if kin and friends do it. If'n y'all ain't figgeren out my sayins, just ask. Y'all'll git used to it after a few bits."

Ferris relaxed, then had an idea. "Tommy? I'm gonna ask Tyler this so that Ton understands the answer, okay?"

Tommy smiled, "Yeppers, it's good."

Turning his head, Ferris asked "Tyler? Could you explain why sometimes we can understand Tommy and other times we have to think about what he says?"

Ty nodded. "That's easy. Right now, Tommy's relaxed and being himself, which means that he talks just like he did down in southern Mississippi growing up. When he's talking like Mom would, he's in Clan mode and forcing himself to speak what seems like a foreign language to him. I hang around him in the kitchen, along with everything else we do, so I've learned almost all of his normal sayin's."

Ton looked up at Ferris, then at Tyler, then at Tommy. After a few seconds, he pulled away from Ferris and sheepishly went over to Tommy. "Ummm... I'm sorry, Tommy. I guess I kinda thought you was speaking weird to make fun of us."

Having already figured out just how protective Ferris was of his little brother, Tommy slowly reached out and pulled Ton into a cuddle. Making sure that he was understood, Tommy softly said "It is okay, Ton; something tells me your old world didn't get around as much as we do here, so you wouldn't have heard as many different ways that people talk. There are people from all over the Universe that visit or live here, so you might be confused a lot until you get used to the differences in how they speak."

"You ain't mad?" Ton confirmed.

"No, I understand," Tommy replied with a giggle. "Just wait until you meet the Welsh guys and girls! They like having totally different meanings for words!"

"Thanks, Tommy," Ton replied as he gave Tommy a squeeze. As he broke free, he asked: "Do we get to start cooking soon?"

Tommy nodded with a grin. "Yup; we's startin' easy, I'm gonna teach y'all Gumbo!"

"Really?" Ton asked, "Whatta we gotta do to start?"

"Y'all's gonna learn crawdad trappin'," Tommy giggled, "Theys gotta be fresh for good gumbo!"

"We shrimpin' too?" Tyler asked hopefully.

"Why not?" Tommy giggled. "Y'all up for some critter chasin?"

Ferris smiled as he saw his little brother's eyes light up. "If it's okay with Mom, sure."

Viola, having been pre-warned by Helen that Tyler would probably be handling the little detail of the time needed to do things, answered before anyone could ask. "Go ahead, and have fun. Tyler, I expect my sons' home in no more than thirty seconds, understood?"

"Got it!" Tyler giggled before all four boys vanished.

"Wait for it..." Helen sniggered, fully expecting the usual Tyler-inspired side trips. As she expected, the four boys re-appeared seconds later. all four now wearing souvenir Mardi Gras tee-shirts and sporting almost half their weight in beaded necklaces around their necks. Three large coolers were now in their possession, and Ton was giggling as he played with the young red fox kit snuggled in his arms.

"Sorry, we took so long!" Tyler giggled. "Tommy was the only one of us that's been to Mardi Gras, so we stopped to check it out! Tommy's right, real gumbo's lots better than that store stuff!"

"That explains just about everything," Viola replied, "everything except Ton's new friend, that is."

"Oh, you mean Tails?" Tyler asked innocently. "He decided to help Ton with the crawdads, and his mom said he could come over and live with Ton."

Viola raised her eyebrows as Helen tried to unsuccessfully muffle her laughter. "Before I respond to that, I believe Helen has something to say?"

Somehow, Helen managed to speak without cracking up completely. "Timmy's getting good, he's already trained Ton! At least Ton's not bringing home bears yet!" Pausing to regain control, Helen then added: "Sometimes the best therapy for an abused child has four or more legs and fur; the difference in the Clan is that the animals usually pick the child."

Viola nodded. "I suspected as much after seeing Timmy's wildlife preserve he keeps in his closet. Ton, just remember that Tails is just like a human friend, he'll get sad if you ignore him."

Realizing that his new mom didn't even hint at him not keeping his new friend, Ton smiled as he replied: "Okay, mommy."

Now that they had fresh supplies, the boys quickly put their beads and new shirts in separate piles, then donned aprons to begin the preparations. A quick request from Tommy had George delivering the rest of the needed ingredients, as well as the two large gumbo pots that the meal would be assembled in. "Okay, y'all, we's gonna be tak'n turns wit makin' the roux. Ya' gotta stir it until it's done."

"How do you know it's done?" Ton asked as Tails decided to make himself comfortable on a towel on the counter.

"It'll be kinda the color of Tail's fur," Tommy replied. "When we ain't stirrin', we're gonna get other stuff ready."

"Young guys against the old guys, let's see who does better!" Tyler challenged with a grin.

"Yur on, rugrat!" Tommy laughed. "Try notta burn it this time!"

Tyler stuck out his tongue as Tommy motioned for Ferris to join him at the station on the other side of the island. As they got ready, Tommy announced "I'll be callin' the fix'ns, so y'all little guys pay attention!"

"Gotcha!" Tyler replied as he adjusted the stations to a height suitable for him and Ton.

"For the roux, about four cups lard, same amount of flour," Tommy instructed.

"Four and four!" Ton echoed with a grin. 

Tyler helped Ton by showing him how to measure the two ingredients, commenting "Tommy cooks more by eye, taste, and smell than by measuring; I'm learning to do that too, but you kinda need to know what the right amount looks like first."

"Okay," Ton replied as he carefully began melting the lard. Once it was liquid, he let it warm like he saw Tommy was doing, then began adding the flour. 

When Tyler saw how Ton was making sure to add the flour slowly, he asked: "Where'd you learn that?"

"A TV show me and Ferris useta watch," Ton replied. "He used a weird thing that he shook to put the flour in when he cooked, but I think this will be good."

"Great job," Tyler encouraged as he began stirring the roux, "I think you're right."

"Do we got onea them wire thingies?" Ton asked. "That guy on TV always used them when mixin' wet stuff with flour or sugar."

Noticing Tyler was actually confused, Helen interjected "That is called a whisk, and you're right, that is one of the things it is designed for. George, please assist Ton with an appropriate whisk for his current task."

Ton smiled as a large whisk appeared next to him. "Thanks, Aunt Helen!" he stated as he finished the flour and used the whisk to take over from Tyler.

"Let me know when you need a break, I'm going to start cutting the veggies," Tyler grinned as he watched Ton concentrating on mixing the roux completely.

 "I'll start the crawdads and the shrimp," Tommy announced from his side, where Ferris was now stirring their roux. "No use'n waistin' effort preppin' twice."

"I had Peter set up the pots on the deck," Tyler informed Tommy. "I'll yell if Ferris says he needs a break."

"Sounds good, bro," Tommy replied.

"Can we help?" Creston asked hopefully.

Tommy smiled as he pointed at two of the coolers, "Sure; if each of y'all wheels onea these out, I ken grab the fixin's to spice the water an' we can geta boilin'." Guessing that his two new cooks might think they were missing something, Tommy added "Ferris? Ton? I'll be showin' ya spicin' the water later; I'm just doin' 'nuff for the gumbo. We gotta do sides too, and y'all can help while the gumbo's gettin' its head."

Once Tommy and his volunteers were outside, Viola turned to Helen. "You know, I honestly expected this to be you doing most of the work, with the boys just getting messy. Does Tommy always take charge like this?"

Helen shook her head. "Not always, but he has his moments. The thing is, he's made it a personal vendetta to take as much of a load off of me as he can. He's decided that he likes your sons, so he'll make sure they get trained to his level by whoever needs to train them."

"Just what is his level?" Viola asked.

"Does the fact that he's got an open invitation to visit the kitchens of the Queen of England any time he wishes give you an idea?" Helen replied with a grin. "When it comes to cooking, both him and Tyler have a natural skill, and they are not afraid to ask questions or make suggestions. Their youth actually helps sometimes, since neither one of them likes following a recipe exactly; they experiment, and usually come up with a twist that makes the dish more appealing to their brothers and sisters."

Viola smiled, then looked over to check on her sons. Ferris had decided that his little brother had a good idea, and was now also using a whisk to keep his roux from burning as it cooked. Just then, Ton looked over to where Tyler was busy prepping vegetables, stating "Hey Ty, it's starting to change color!"

"Aunt Helen? Could you check him?" Ty asked, "I've just about got the veggies ready. Tommy says to go on the light side, since a lot of these guys ain't had real Cajun."

"Sure thing, Ty," Helen replied as she stood up. Remembering the previous comment about matching Tails' fur, she walked over to Ton's station and looked into the pot. "It is really close," she informed Ton. "Since Tommy's outside, I'll show you how I taught him to do it. The color isn't everything; if it doesn't taste right then it'll ruin the entire dish."

After retrieving a set of tasting spoons, Helen dipped one into the roux and after blowing on it to cool it, tasted the results. "I think that is perfect for seafood, but why don't you check it as well?"

Once Helen took over the stirring, Ton followed her example. After tasting the roux, he commented "Isn't shrimp stuff 'posed to be all garlicky and buttery?"

"That is the next stage;" Helen replied, "and this is where you switch to being a chef. The first part is turn your roux down to a really low flame, then we'll start with the things Tyler has been getting ready. At that point, you can adjust your seasonings too."

Tyler came over with a bowl piled with the various veggies for the gumbo. "Tommy says that if you wanna put butter in the roux, go ahead; he thinks about a pound should be good, but you can decide what you think. Once the veggies are cooked, then the garlic can be added."

"Okay!" Ton replied with a grin. "George, I need a pound of butter!"

Once Ton had his butter, he and Tyler started taking their pot to the next stage. Satisfied that they had everything under control, Helen walked over and asked Ferris "How's yours doing?"

Ferris smiled, surprised he was actually asked. "I think mine's close, but I'm not a butter freak like Monkey is."

Helen returned his smile. "That's not a bad thing; no matter what, the two batches would taste different just because they're being done by two different cooks. Now you can do it to your taste, and the family can eat whichever meets their tastes. We do that a lot, and the choices don't reflect on you as a cook, it just reflects on the preferences of the person eating."

"But is it still gumbo if I change it?" Ferris asked.

"Honey, there ain't no one right gumbo," Helen snickered. "Everyone has their own way, and even then it is different every time in some way."

Ferris looked carefully at his roux, then reached over and turned the flame to low. "I think I'm ready to do the taste test."

"If you want, I can help you while Tyler is helping Ton," Helen offered.

"Sure!" Ferris replied, enjoying actually having a choice.

With the guidance of Helen and Tyler, the two budding cooks began the task of turning their roux into the makings of gumbo. As they worked, the effects of the various spices were explained, and each of them slowly brought the taste of their creation to something that they enjoyed.

Tommy wandered in, and smiled as he entered the kitchen. "Startin' to smell like gumbo!" he giggled as he walked over to see how Ferris was doing. After taste testing, he commented "This's gonna be a hit with the old folks! You got it right for the folks who like their gumbo spicy!"

"What about my brothers?" Ferris asked.

"Some will like it," Tommy explained, "but me and Ty do this a lot; he spices for the yung'uns, I spice for the old folks. Then we let them pick one, and they're all happy. Cory likes mixin' the two sometimes, that way he don't gas us outta Florida again."

"Cory ain't gettin' none of Ton's gumbo!" Ty giggled. "He's gonna do the garlic good! Cory eats it, we're making him sleep in Des Moines."

Seeing the confused looks on Ferris and Ton's faces, Helen explained: "Cory cleared out a church the last time he had garlic bread, so we make sure there are no-garlic options when he's eating if possible."

Ferris nodded. "I'm not adding garlic; I don't like the taste of it. I guess I'll be cooking for Cory a lot."

Tommy giggled, "Yep, yur gunna be Cor's personal chef!" After a pause to get serious, he added "Anyone but Sean or Kelly can follow recipes; the guys over at Gran'ma Lizzy's say a chef uses recipes as a starting point, then make it into something they're proud of. I was testin' ya to see if you had it in'ya to make a chef; you an' Ton passed, so after this, we start givin' ya the real trainin'. Aunt Helen was right, there ain't no one way to make gumbo, an' you both decided to make it your own."

Viola studied the group in her kitchen from her seat at the breakfast bar, and came to a conclusion. "Tommy, you've made your point. This is not the way I was taught, but it is a much better way for the boys to learn. To be honest, I've learned a few things watching you boys, the most important being that you need to respect the opinions of everyone in the kitchen, no matter how much experience they have. While I still fully intend to teach my sons everything I can, I'm giving you full permission to expand their skills however you see fit."

Tommy recognized the look that Helen was giving him, and decided that telling Viola he wasn't giving her a choice would not be the smart thing to do. Playing it safe, he just responded: "Thank you, Ma'am".

Knowing Teri's sons all too well, Helen suggested "Viola, why don't we head outside and check on your other two? Pre-teen boys and live crawdads are usually an entertaining sight, especially if they are not expecting adults."

Taking the hint, Viola agreed quickly. Once they were outside, Helen began "There's some things you're going to need to understand about the Short brothers..."

To Be Continued...

Author's note:

Yes, I realize that this is a little shorter than normal, but I couldn't figure out a way to do the next scenes without the chapter growing to oversized. It doesn't help that I caught the nasty cold going around, which has had me laid out for 4 days already. I am really enjoying a little Tommy-time in the story; he's been doing a lot in the background, so he was overdue for the spotlight. Please let me know what you think; this is one of the story arcs that really needed to be wrapped up before ending book 3, and I'd like to know if you think that I'm doing it justice.



 CSU Crest Small GIFCSU Archivist Notes:

I thought for a minute that I was reviewing a Cajun Story ;) It was nice seeing Tommy get to be himself outside of the Clan HQ. Unless you are baking recipes are just guidelines, use them to get an idea of the flavours and textures, and then make the dish your own. It does look like we are getting to the end of Book Three, however, I have been informed(Thnks, Timmy) that ACFan has lots of ideas for Book Four.