I didn’t mean to actually touch him when I went to stop him from heading up to the loft, but as soon as my fingers touched his skin I nearly lost my supper. I’ve never been nervous in front of a guy before, and it felt foreign to me when my voice came out an octave higher and softer than it usually is. I’m just lucky he agreed – not that I in any way meant for this to be a date. It just so happens that I don’t like being alone in my house after dark. I know, it’s childish, but it’s something that started when I was little and has stuck with me ever since. I’m not afraid of the dark in the least, and I’ve never been able to figure out why I don’t like being alone in my house after dark. I can be alone in the barn, or alone in a vehicle, or alone anywhere else besides my house. It’s weird, I know.
Beau and I are curled up on the couch watching Grown Ups when Dad’s lights flash through the window blinds. Normally I’d move from my position of resting my head on his lap, but his arm is draped across my stomach, and I’m almost a hundred percent sure he’s asleep because he hasn’t laughed at anything for a while. I don’t want to wake him though, so I close my eyes and pretend to be asleep when Dad comes inside. Through my eyelashes I see him give us a weak smile before grabbing a blanket and draping it over me. I’m a little surprised he wasn’t more surprised, but then again he knows I don’t like being alone here after dark. Plus, it’s not like we’re in my bed or anything.
He also turns the TV off, and I’m a little upset, but then realize how hard it is to open my eyes after I’ve shut them, so I decide to just stay here. I grab the blanket and pull it closer over my shoulder while I hear Dad taking his supper out of the oven and sit down at the table. Beau shifts under me and his hand tightens around my waist, pulling me closer. I can’t even begin to describe how right this actually feels – sleeping beside/on him. I wait until I hear Dad put his plate in the sink and head to bed to move to a more comfortable position – instead of using the part of his thigh closer to his knee as my pillow, I shift my head back so I’m using the comfier part.
There, I fall asleep and don’t wake up until I hear Beau’s alarm on his phone and him shifting under me – along with several muttered profanities – and he finally tries to gently move my head from where it was resting on his thigh. “Sorry, Stella.” He murmurs when he replaces his leg with a pillow.
“What time is it?” I ask, rolling onto my back and peeking my eyes open at him.
“6:30; go back to sleep.” He replies, heading over to the door to put his boots back on.
“Business doesn’t start around here until 7. Why are you up so early?” I ask, sitting up and yawning.
“Figured I’d better start early since I slept in yesterday. Tell your dad I’ll feed the cattle today.” Beau answers, and opens the door. I yawn and head to the bathroom to take a shower. I let the hot water wake me up before I shave my legs and admire the baby pink pedicure I got in Panama before I came home.
“Honey, you’re up early. Are you okay?” Dad asks, softly knocking on the bathroom door after I’m out of the shower and staring at my reflection.
“Yeah. Beau woke me up. He said he’ll feed the cattle today if you want him to.” I answer, heading to open the door.
“Okay, I was planning on putting a new bag of mineral in each pasture and he’s never done that before. Do you have plans this morning?” Dad asks, heading to the kitchen while I go to my room and pull on a pair of jean shorts and another tank top.
“I was going to go see Auntie this morning, but I can wait until this afternoon.” I holler through the walls of my room.
“I bet Auntie will love to see you.” Dad says as soon as I enter the kitchen.
Auntie is the only person I have left of any of my grandparents, and she’s not even related to me at all. She’s my grandma’s absolute best friend. They may as well have been sisters because they spent every day together after my grandfather died before I was born.
“So should I take that as an ‘I want you to go put mineral out with him’ question?” I ask, grabbing the orange juice out of the fridge.
“You know it’s a two-person job, plus, he doesn’t know how it’s done.”
“Why can’t you help him?” I ask, frowning as I sip my juice.
“I have a bank loan meeting in Savannah at 10. I need to get going here pretty soon.”
“How bad is it this time?” I ask, putting the cup down and staring my dad down. Last time he had a loan meeting we nearly lost the farm. It was right after Mom had left and Dad was just getting into the hang of things with the money situations, and he didn’t realize that there was a second loan out that he was supposed to be paying on. We got it sorted out though and haven’t had a problem since.
“It should actually be a good meeting. I finally got it paid off, so they want me to come up and close it in person instead of over the phone since we’ve banked with them for so long.” Dad answers, and I give him a half smile before sitting down to tug my boots on. “And when you get back from visiting Auntie this afternoon, will you hop in the tractor and start baling for Beau? He’ll need help if he’s going to get that pasture finished by dark.”
I nod and head out the door to go see Zeus. I walk in the barn and grab an apple out of the tack room before sneaking into Zeus’s stall and feeding him the apple. Beau already fed him his breakfast, and I give some loving on Zeus before Beau comes down the stairs. He doesn’t see me at first, but heads straight to Lucy’s stall to give her a carrot. He nearly jumps out of his skin when I speak up.
“Don’t leave without me today. Dad wants to put out fresh mineral and you’ll need help if you want to get done in time to get the hay baled today.” I tell him, honestly a little sad that he changed out of his cutoff. He spent 20 minutes last night telling me about a few of the ones in the sleeve, and I’ve never been more intrigued. He has stories and special reasons for each of his tattoos, and I think that’s so cool.
“Well you better be ready to go as soon as all of these horses are turned out.” He replies after composing himself from the startle I gave him. “What’s your dad doing today?”
I clasp Zeus’s halter around his head and lead him out of his stall and past Beau, who is bringing Lucy and Faith out of their stalls. “He’s getting ready to head to Savannah to go to a bank meeting. He’ll probably be gone most of the day again.” I sigh, turning Zeus loose in the paddock and heading back in the barn to get Apollo. Since Lucy is getting close to foaling, we leave her in the extra-large stall 24/7, but when I have time I’ll take her for a walk in the yard. This is the fourth foal she’s had since we’ve had her, and every single one of them are beautiful little things.
“That sounds serious.” Beau grimaces, walking back to the barn with me.
“Dad says it’s not, but I’m not so sure. He tries not to worry me about money since I’m going to college this fall, but I know things aren’t as great as he says they are.” I sigh, and drag Apollo out of his stall. He nips at my shoulder, but I yank his rope and he stops.
“I know you said you’re going to the art school, but where are you going to live? I don’t think that college has dorms for you to live in, and it’s too far for you to drive every day.” Beau asks, grabbing the feed truck keys out of the tack room and jingling them while we head to it.
“Gemma and I are going to get an apartment or something in Savannah. We can split the rent and still live together even though we’re going to two different schools. I think we’re planning on going down next weekend to look at a few places in person. We’ve seen them online, but who knows what they’re actually like.” I tell him, climbing up into the passenger’s seat and directing him to the shed where we keep the mineral bags. Together we load all 8 bags and 8 salt blocks for the cattle before Beau fills up the pellet feeder and we head to the first pasture.
“Oh, that sounds fun. I think you’ll probably miss living the dorms at least one year, but at least you’ll still have a friend there.” He says right before I get out to open the first gate. Damn, I should have said that I’d drive. As soon as the gate is open, I climb back into the truck and point to where the mineral tub is.
“I’m sure we’ll both come home quite a bit. I mean, unless you’re planning on being here for the next four years, Dad won’t be able to handle everything on his own. Someone has to keep his checkbook balanced, because he sure doesn’t know how to do it.” I laugh, pushing my hat down father on my head as we get into the bumpier part of the pasture trail.
“I honestly don’t know what the next four years has in store for me. I’d like to own my own ranch like this one, but I probably won’t be able to afford it for a long time. But I don’t have any plans of leaving this place in the near future.” Beau sighs, honking the horn so the cattle will come to him. They were apparently just over the hill because they all come running as soon as they hear the horn and the pellets. Beau runs the feeder for the 8 seconds before circling back around to make sure they’re all here. I smile as I watch the calves jumping around playing with each other while their mommas eat and Beau pulls over to the mineral tub, that is an ACTUAL old bathroom tub. He chuckles when he sees it, and I climb out and jump on the bed of the truck so I can yank the seal off the bag and hand it to Beau who dumps it in the tub. A couple of cows drift over to see what we’re doing, and they start licking the salt blocks on the back so I kick one off before climbing back down and replanting myself in the passenger’s seat while Beau picks his way between the cows so he can get back to the truck. “I could have done that by myself.”
“Don’t question Dad. Plus, there are a couple of pastures where the tubs aren’t visible from where the cattle are normally fed, so you’d need help finding them.” I laugh again, and climb out to shut the gate behind us when we reach it. Beau pulls out of the pasture while I shut it and I head back to get in.
“Just so you know, I thought about hitting the gas and pulling just out of your reach.” He snickers when I climb in.
“If you’d have done that, I’d have probably killed you. Dad used to do that to me when I was little. You have no idea how much I hated it.” I make a face and pull one of my knees to my chest while Beau drives to the next pasture. It’s pretty quiet except for Beau softly singing to the radio, and I miss our conversation.
We actually make it through two more pastures without having much of a conversation, but I finally get sick of it. “Did I hear you say you had a brother the other day?” I ask, trying to get us back to talking.
“Yeah, his name is Gunnar. He’s two years younger than me and plays football at Georgia Tech.” Beau answers, smiling when he talks about his brother.
“Does he look like you?” I ask, reaching to turn the radio down at the same time Beau does. Our fingers brush and neither one of us pulls away for a minute until he turns his gaze on me and my cheeks turn a bright pink shade of pink and I pull my fingers away.
“Absolutely not. I’m much better looking than he his.” He smirks, returning his eyes to the road, but the damage was done.
“You’re not supposed to be conceited.” I murmur, still looking out my window.
“Haha, sorry. But I really don’t think we look alike.” He replies, still smiling.
“You should invite him down for the 4th. We always have an amazing fireworks display at the lake and a pretty fun party on our lot during the day. Dad always sets up a barbeque and everybody brings stuff and it’s just a lot of fun.” I suggest, nearly forgetting that next weekend is the 4th of July.
“That sounds like fun.” Beau says, and I finally work up the nerve to look at him as he’s turning into the next pasture.
“Bryndle’s flight should land Thursday.”
“She’s coming home for the 4th?” He asks, and I nod before getting out to open the gate.
“She’s come home every summer for the 4th since they moved. It was always her favorite holiday when she was little and they don’t celebrate it in Panama, obviously, so Mom makes her happy and lets her come up here for a week.
“That’s really nice of your mom. I’m sure it’s not cheap for her to fly home every summer.” Beau gives me a half-smile, and I roll my eyes.
“Her husband could pay for both of us to fly home every week and still not even put a dent in his fortune.” I snort, rolling my eyes and crossing my arms. Don’t get me wrong, I like him enough, but I don’t like the way he and my mom got together.
“Sounds like you’re pretty bitter to him. How’d they meet, anyway?” Beau asks, seeming genuinely curious.
“You mean Dad didn’t tell you?” I ask, glancing at him. He shakes his head so I tell him the story. “My mom worked for a company in Savannah called NKO Enterprises. She started at a secretary position but quickly moved up the chain until she was VP of Foreign Affairs, which was where she eventually met the company’s owner, Jack Townsley. It started with drinks after work when he was in town, to her actually going on business trips with him, to Mom calling and saying she had to stay in the city over the weekend because ‘something came up at work.’ Eventually Dad figured it out when he walked into the apartment she rented in Savannah and found them having a glass of wine on the couch. Everything went downhill from there. They fought for weeks before Mom finally asked for a divorce, and no sooner than the dotted lines had been signed, she was already making plans to get married and move to Jack’s permanent home in Panama. Bryndle was beyond excited to get to move out of the country, and Mom asked if I wanted to go, but there was no way I could leave this place. I couldn’t leave my dad, or the horses. I love this place too much to up and move away and not look back.”
Beau sits there for a minute, letting my story sink in before he even starts to feed the cattle that have swarmed us. He still doesn’t say anything until after we’ve climbed out and put out the mineral and salt and are back in the vehicle. “Does she love him?” He finally asks, staring straight ahead and not making any move to put the truck in gear.
“I think so. I mean, she was never they type to be in a relationship for her partner’s money, but I guess things can change. I’ve only met the guy three times in my entire life. Once at their wedding, once when I went down there for my 16th birthday, and just this past couple of months.” I explain, shrugging my shoulders and looking out the window. Our conversation went from light and easy to heavy and intense way too fast for my liking. I don’t really mind talking about my mom, but then again, it wouldn’t be my topic of conversation. Hopefully Beau won’t ask about her again, at least not for a while.
He apparently takes the hint that I don’t want to talk about her anymore, and puts the truck in gear and heads for the gate. We finish the rest of the round quickly, and when we get back to the house I scramble some eggs for him to eat before he heads out to the hay field. He eats them after mumbling a thank you, and I hand him the water jug as he’s heading out the door. I spend the rest of the morning cleaning the house from the mess Dad and Beau made while I was gone, and then go outside to see Zeus. He prances over to the fence when he hears my whistle, and I sit on the top bar of the fence while I scratch his ears. He eventually shifts enough to where I can throw my leg over his back and just have some alone time with him. I seriously love this horse more than anything in the world. I wrap my arms around his neck and do my best to show him the love. After a while, I lay back and just let him walk, focusing on my balance. Thankfully he doesn’t go too crazy, just heads back to his friends and sticks his head down to the grass. I close my eyes and doze off, only to be startled awake as I realize that I’m actually falling. My shoulder hits the soft grass first and I at least have the instinct to tuck the rest of my body into a ball. Zeus picks his head up and looks at me curiously when he realizes I’m on the ground beside him and not on his back anymore. I stay down for a few seconds so I can evaluate my body; my shoulder is sore, but it doesn’t feel dislocated. It takes me a second to stand up and get my bearings, but once I do, I pat Zeus’s neck and jog back to the barn to check up on Lucy. The pregnant mare should have about a month to go before she foals, but horses often foal early, especially an older mare. Lucy seems content though, standing in the corner of her stall with her head drooped, eyes closed, and back hoof cocked, so I head on past her and decide the tack needs cleaning. There are seriously only so many things I can do around here until it’s time for me to start baling for Beau. It only takes me an hour to clean the four saddles and eight bridles hanging in the tackroom, and by that time I decide I should make lunch and head to the field. Today I make several turkey sandwiches since that seemed to be Beau’s favorite yesterday, and I stuff a couple of apples in the basket and two more bags of chips before heading to climb into the new John Deere that has the fancy technology so I can actually see the bale being made and its specs. I toss my water jug to the side of the seat, and position the basket so it’s balancing on the back shifters and head for the pasture.
Beau seems surprised when I pull the new tractor into the pasture and make a couple of rounds, resulting in about 10 bales before I’m hungry. I stop the tractor after the baler has spit out its 11th bale, and hold the basket up for Beau to see. He takes the quickest route to where I’m unpacking our lunch, and shuts his tractor off before climbing out of the cab, once again, shirtless.
“Hey, just so you know, I’m really sorry about how personal the conversation about your mom got this morning. I didn’t mean to make you upset or uncomfortable or anything.” Beau sighs, plopping down and leaning his back against one side of the tractor tire while I lean against the other. I toss him a sandwich, before opening my own.
“Don’t worry about it. It’s not like it’s anything new to me. It’s just not something I’d like to have broadcasted to the whole world.” I mumble, taking a bite of my sandwich.
“I know how you feel. I didn’t want to talk about my parent’s divorce for a really long time after it happened. But from here on out, I promise we don’t have to talk about your mother, or divorce in general.” Beau promises, and I quickly take him up on that offer.
“Here’s to no more family drama.” I smile, grabbing my water jug and holding it out to him to clank his against.
“To no family drama.” He chuckles, tapping his jug against mine.