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John was hanging out in the barn talking to the baby protoceratops when River slipped in. She hovered in a corner watching him.
“You gotta grow up and be a big ceratops someday, Stretch. You know that, right? You aren't a pet, you're a big scary prehistoric beast with terrifying horns and a sharp beak.” The baby squawked and headbutted his leg.
John reached down with his good arm and scratched the dinosaur behind his armored head.
River joined him. “Why do you call him Stretch?”
“You never gave him a proper name.”
“How did it go at court?”
“The case was practically dismissed. The judge decided that since there were no permits or laws in place for dinosaurs that he couldn't really prosecute anyone on the charges laid before him. He did tell Dad not to sell any more dinosaurs and give the patent rights back to Anthony. He told Keith he should probably leave town for a while.”
“That's a good idea regardless. He's all over the internet now. What happened to your other brother?”
“I think he's in hiding.”
“I would be too if I was him.”
They watched the prototops in silence for a few minutes.
“So,” River asked, “Do you want to do this thing?”
“Run a dinosaur petting zoo with me.”
“Oh, that thing. Sure, I guess.”
River shifted to look at him. “You know, you could sound a tad more enthusiastic about it. Also, you could save a lot of your paycheck if you stayed in one of the insulated outbuildings instead of that smelly hotel room.”
“It's not smelly,” John protested weakly.
“Come on, John, you know this place almost as well as I do. You can run this farm practically with your eyes closed. What say you? Are ya ready to quit drifting aimlessly through the world and put some roots down in one spot for a spell?” River's eyes twinkled.
John shuffled his boots. “I didn't drift aimlessly,” he muttered.
“I'll let you name my dinosaur whatever you want.”
He smiled. “Eh, I'd rather have that tractor driving lesson you never gave me.”
River frowned, “I thought you figured out how to drive the tractor already?”
“River, I've always known how to drive a tractor.”
She huffed, “Well, you could have put that on your resume` ya know.”
John smiled again. “I'll stay, for now anyway. Hey, can we ask your uncle about making one of those long-necked dinosaur breeds?”
“Probably, he seems like he is going to stick around for a while too. He keeps drinking all of mom's coffee.”
“That can't be good.”
“Yeah, I have a feeling that that is one reason for how all this dinosaur stuff came to happen in the first place.”
About a year later a small minivan bumped along the dirt road leading to the Douglas farm. The GPS helpfully told them to take the final turn and then they would be at their destination.
“What kind of dinosaurs do they have here, dad?” A small boy asked excitedly.
“Jeremy, I already showed you the pamphlet. You know exactly what kinds there are,” Jeremy's dad replied from the driver's seat.
“Look!” Screamed Jeremy's sister as she pointed at the sign out of the window.
It said simply Douglas's Farm And Petting Zoo but there was a picture of a blue dinosaur under it that gave away the secret.
“We're here, we're here!” The two kids shrieked in the backseat.
Parking in the designated field, the family of four tentatively approached a skinny kid who was hauling on the rope of a very stubborn goat who refused to move.
“Excuse me,” the dad said politely. “Where are the dinosaurs?”
The boy jerked his head, “Over that way, follow the signs and ya can't miss it.”
The goat bleated and sat down. “Ah come on!” The boy threw the rope down in frustration.
Deciding to leave the goat situation in favor of more exciting things, the family hurried on and rounded a hedge. There, in front of their very eyes, was a herd of real-life dinosaurs. Igaunodons, protoceratops, some funny looking bald chickens and other small species intermingled and ran around inside a giant enclosed field. Other families milled around looking at the dinosaurs, taking pictures, talking to each other and checking out the stands that sold snacks and dinosaur memorabilia.
“Dad, look!” Jeremy screamed and ran forward.
“Jeremy, wait!” His family hurried after him. Jeremy climbed up on the wooden railing and watched as a small protoceratops wandered over and sniffed his shoes inquisitively.
Jeremy giggled in pure delight.
John appeared quietly next to him and said, “That's Stretch. He's really friendly, do you want to pet him?”
“Yes!” Jeremy screamed again.
“Me too! Me too!” His sister excitedly jumped up and down.
John smiled; his natural sense of calm was unaffected by the excitement of the children.
“Alright, put your hands out like this and say, 'Come here, Strech.'”
The children obeyed and the protoceratops eagerly nudged their hands. The parents took a few quick pictures and then carefully leaned into pet the dinosaur too.
“He thinks he's a dog,” John explained.
“I still can't believe I let you name my dinosaur Stretch,” River said as she bustled by, her arms full of boxes.
“You mean our dinosaur, right?” John winked.
The tiny town that John lived in was just like all the other tiny towns he had passed through in his life. It had a market, a post office, a small gas station, a cozy little library tucked up one side-street and a handful of restaurants that were mostly family-owned and operated. The streets were quiet and the whole place had that friendly laid-back vibe that most small towns were known for. There was something slightly different about this town though. This town was home and it had a dinosaur farm in it.