The dim white faded line of dawn shimmered along the horizon when Jeannie got up quietly and checked on her brother. He was still snoring in the basement. A sour smell hovered in the stuffy air and hit Jeannie instantly when she opened the door and made her pull a face. For his sake, Jeannie hoped it was only the alcohol drenched sweat that caused this odour. From the top of the stairs she could only see the back of him and had no intensions to go further down. If she would wake him who knows how he would react. Tiptoeing backwards, Jeannie carefully closed the door again. Poor Alice would have her hands full later but Jeannie greatly doubted that Joshua would have any recollection of the night before. Maybe that was good that way. There was no rhyme or reason to it all.
What was his problem with Alex? She could not understand it.
The house was still quiet when she tried to steal herself out the house but was detected by Alice who husked her name from across the living room.
“Sorry Alice, I did not want to wake you”, Jeannie whispered cautiously . The last thing she wanted was to wake her niece and nephew who were still innocently sleeping upstairs.
“You didn’t. Are you not staying for a coffee? I need one.”
Sitting at the breakfast bar the two women tried to process Joshua’s outburst. Never in his whole life had he been aggressive or drunk in that fashion.
“That was so surreal. I still don’t know what to say.”
“My husband’s a damn idiot. That for one would fit.” Alice said rather matter of fact. Her eyes stared coldly out the window as she sipped on her cup. The fear she had felt the night before had made way for anger and embarrassment and what she hated the most was that she still felt concerned for her husband. She wanted to shout at him, wanted to tell him what a fool he made out himself. Yet she tried so hard to figure out what had driven him to such lengths. Alex hadn’t done anything.
Her thoughts drifted further back. For months she had witnessed first-hand how Joshua withdrew him more and more from his father and from her. Work had become almost an obsession and she had no means to get through to him. All her efforts were shut down in a simple gesture or an argument. When Jeannie had called the other week to announce her arrival, Alice had secretly hoped that this would take his mind a little of whatever had grabbed hold of him. But again, that had been another stupid hope of hers. Instead of being happy about the news, Joshua’s tension had become even worse.
Alice couldn’t go on like this for much longer and was ready to resign and call defeat. Where was the man she had married? What had happened to him? They had been so happy and in love. And now she didn’t even know how to ask him if he wanted his chicken cold or heated up.
Through the window they could see the silver lining pushing the night sky away and from below the basement they heard Joshua’s painful awakening.
Alice knew that she could handle him alone once he got up. His hangover would be the righteous punishment for him. Only the dreaded call to his boss filled her slightly with unease but it had to be done. There was no chance for him to get to work in the state he was in.
Reassured that Alice would be fine, Jeannie left. It would be best for the kids not to see her or they would ask questions and she wanted to spare Alice further heartache.
It was misty and cool when she stepped outside and not a single soul was in sight.
When she passed the Inn Jeannie noticed that the rental had gone and tried to remember if she had seen it the night before but couldn’t think properly. She was still a little tired and concluded that they must have stolen themselves away during a quiet moment.
Jeannie enjoyed the walk home. The fresh air was exactly what she needed and other than the singing of birds did nothing interrupt the quiet moment.
By the time she arrived at the ranch the faint sound of the tower bell echoed through the valley seven times and had faded by when she finally reached the front porch. Quietly she stole herself in to the house and noticed a familiar sound coming from the bathroom as she paused and listened intently before she felt safe to wade through to the kitchen. She must have been the first down so she prepared the coffee machine for her dad, left the newspaper that she had picked up from the post box on the kitchen table and went quickly upstairs to get changed. She had to be in Town for 8am as she had volunteered to help with the clean-up. Still tired, she dragged herself back down the road, walking all the way as she needed more of that refreshing air.
Keeping a close eye on the time, Jeannie decided to have a quick pit stop at Carrie’s to fuel up on her favourite beverage. Happy to see her bright and cheerful she grabbed a seat at the counter and chatted with Carrie about nothing in particular which was welcomed after last nights’ commotion.
She had no interest to discuss her brothers’ abominable behaviour and credited Carrie’s discretion highly which could easily not be said about other members of the community. Jeannie could already see them huddled on the street corners spreading their rumours. But hey, if the past few weeks had taught her anything, it was that she comfortably could deal with that as well.
Punctual Jeannie arrived at the Hall with others already waiting for Tanner to unlock the door who patiently studied his watch as he waited on the top steps for the Tower clock to announce the time. Jeannie noticed how he had started a countdown of his own to the bemusement of the bystanders. To her Tanners little quirks seemed perfectly normal but that was because she had never known him any differently and could imagine how difficult it must be for the new arrivals to get accustomed to his own peculiar ways.
As the chime of the bell was in perfect sync with his wrist watch Tanner nodded in content and smiled brightly while he nestled for the keys in his pocket before welcoming everyone.
Interrupted by hasty footsteps that were closing in Tanner glared at the late offender nervously twitching his clipboard.
“Ah well, it is nice to see you and almost timely. Do I understand that Canadians have a different feeling for time?”
Alex breathlessly stopped beside Jeannie and dismissed Tanners insulant remark with a simple gesture. It wasn’t the first time and definitely would not be the last.
Alex had to take a couple more deep breaths before he was able to speak.
“I didn’t expect you to be here this morning to be fair. How did it go?” Alex asked who still sounded exhausted.
“He hasn’t moved a muscle since he was put to bed and I believe he won’t be going far for the rest of the day” Jeannie reported soberly.
“Are you okay?” Jeannie quizzed after Alex pulled a distorted grimace.
“Not used to run that much” Alex gasped. “I stupidly let Yvi have the car this morning. She seriously asked me when I was still half asleep and before I realised it she was already half way down the drive. What a great start to the morning!”
With a sympathizing frown Jeannie patted motherly Alex’s shoulder who sensed the sarcasm in her eyes.
“Ha, ha just make fun of the old man. I’ll remember that Leeland” Alex quipped.
The radio played in the background while everyone was working up a sweat. After the morning mist had cleared the temperature rose again quickly. Meanwhile, more volunteers appeared including her father who had started to dismantle the booths. Tanner wanted to salvage most of the wood for the harvest fair in October, so the men had to walk back and forth to the store rooms and then discard the broken pieces onto the back of Thomas’ pick-up truck.
Jeannie was helping the treasurer in the office of the Town hall when the Tower clock chimed 1pm. She noticed that most of them had scattered to the shady spots along the grass to have a well-deserved break after the exhausting work. Thomas and Alexander were sitting with some of their friends, sipping on their water and discussed last nights’ commotion. Jeannie could hear from the snippets that came through the open window how calmly they both were able to talk about it, which appeased her as she had feared either of them would have taken offence.
After she had handed over her days graft, Jeannie walked outside and grabbed a sandwich for herself and took a seat amidst Tanner and a few others. She did not want to interrupt the men as they boisterously talked about stories from the past. She looked across to them when they burst out into laughter and couldn’t help getting lost in the gleeful affliction that glowed from Alexander.
After a long break, Alex pushed himself quickly to his feet while her father drove away to discard of the wood.
When talking to Nathan, Alex brushed dirt from his jeans and grabbed his hat from the ground and noticed Jeannie who sat casually on the steps with the sun beating down on her. The reflection of the sun in her hair and the way she was laughing fuelled Alex with content but at the same time regret for not having spent more time with her during the break. He soon would have to leave as he still had to work and did not know when there would be another opportunity to talk to her. Just as he wanted to walk towards her his cell phone started to ring. Annoyed Alex threw his head back before he answered it.
Jeannie saw the hassled look on his face as he paced up and down the grass talking on the phone. With his back to her he stopped in his tracks took off his hat, scratched the back of his head and readjusted it. After he ended the conversation he quickly ran across to Nathan who had gotten into his car and was about to drive away. Jeannie could only guess what they were saying as they were far away from where she sat. Nathan nodded his head and turned the ignition key but waited for Alex who was now running over to Jeannie. With a startled look she jumped up and took a few steps towards him.
“Is everything okay?” she asked rather concerned.
Alex smiled reassuringly “Nothing to worry about I just have to head back home. I got an important call to make. I’ll tell you all about it later.” Not willing to risk another missed opportunity Alex pulled Jeannie hurriedly in for a tight hug but only managed to give her an awkward kiss on the forehead before he rushed back to Nathan leaving a confused Jeannie watching them disappear down the road.
With the notebook in his hand, Thomas sat down at the dinner table. Preoccupied he moved the green beans around on his plate with his face buried in the notes.
During the afternoon he had taken several bookings for lesson and had several other requests concerning the stables. Jeannie knew this had been a straight result of the fair and was more than pleased with it.
Thomas hadn’t said a peep so far and was trying to avoid any chit chat at dinner. The radio cracked in the background as the presenter announced another heatwave for the unforeseeable future.
“We’ll better check the water pump tomorrow” Tom dropped while he continued to sort the schedule.
“Pardon?” asked Jeannie
“The pump”, replied Thomas “we’d better check on it. Don’t want to send the horses to the back field with the pump not working. If the weather is getting as scary as they predicted we have to make sure everything’s in order. The rain last week was hardly enough, that’s for sure.” Tom explained rather concerned.
For most the early sign of summer was welcomed with relieved enthusiasm that winter was finally over. The strong winter had kept everyone miserable as they were stuck inside. So it was no wonder that the Kentuckians took full advantage of the break this offered.
But for farmers and ranchers like Tom the promised heatwave was drawing in huge concern. With crops at the brink of burning under their hands and life-stock to look after these last weeks had been a challenge in itself and there was no sign that this would change anytime soon. The sporadic rain had been nothing but a drizzle compared to the burning heat of the sun.
Jeannie nodded her head and got up to put her plate in to the dish washer while her father was still shifting his food around when they heard a loud knock on the front door.
Startled they exchanged a look when they checked the time and heard Lorna answering the door.
“May we come in?”
Thomas face turned to stone when he recognised the voice that was echoing through to the kitchen and immediately got up to his feet.
Jeannie tensed when she heard the footsteps and knew by the sound of the voice that this won’t be a casual visit.
Through the darkness of the hallway approached Joshua who was surprisingly formally dressed in his work clothes, followed by two gentlemen Jeannie immediately identified as the intruders her brother had shown around a few days ago.
How could he dare to bring them in to their home!
Angry faced, she wanted to intervene but noticed her fathers’ disapproval as he protectively.
“Father,” Joshua addressed him formally.
Thomas decided against making a scene as he did not want to make a fool out of himself with these vultures looming in the background.
“Son,” he replied cool. He did not offer them a seat and remained standing tall.
“May I introduce you? Mr Wright and Mr King form Solitaire Capita. The gentlemen arrived this afternoon and would like to discuss a proposal.” Joshua exclaimed matter of fact.
Was that some sort of joke? Jeannie frantically tried to think on the spot but her head was empty. Being over-run like that was nothing short of rude.
“Pleasure to finally meet you, MR Leeland!” announced Mr King. He gleefully reached out his hand to Thomas who continued to stand with his arms crossed in front his chest. He darkly gazed at his son ignoring the intruder entirely.
Mr King lowered his hand quickly and stood a little taken aback next to Joshua.
Out of a briefcase the other of the two men produced a pile of papers and arranged them neatly in three piles on the table. With a daunting smile glanced Mr King at the piles, pulled out a chair and sat down.
“May we?” he asked and pointed at the other chair. The sheer audacity of inviting Thomas in his own house to take a seat at HIS table made things only worse.
“Please, dad. Just listen to them.” Joshua asked cold.
Preying eyes were staring at Thomas as he gave in and pulled out the chair. Jeannie was still standing next to the dish washer awestruck and tried to hide her anger. The urge to shout and kick them all out grew with every spiteful word that trickled out of their mouths. Her own brothers was sitting there, neatly suited trying to convince his father to sell his home! Their home! Oh why had she not been home sooner? Why hadn’t her father confided in her earlier? And why wasn’t she bold enough to grab them by their neat expensive suits and kick their backsides down the drive?! The whole situation could have been avoided. In the back of her mind she run through all kind of scenarios and prayed for a miracle.
“So, what you are basically telling me is that you want the land. Not once have you mentioned what you going to do to the farm. Is that such a great big secret?” Tom pressured them for answer.
“Mr Leeland. This should not be any of your concern. Be reassured we have wonderful plans for the future of this picturesque place. That is all we can tell you.”
The fake grin on MR King’s face could have not been more alarming to Tom.
“Oh it is my concern. You are talking about my family home. And if you do not put your cards on the table, I am afraid I will tell you right now where you can put your plans” Thomas emphasized his words with an equal fake grin.
“MR Leeland, I hope you do understand the urgency of the matter on your side” MR King snarled as he opened his suitcase again. “As I understand by these documents, the ranch will be going into the banks possession a week from today.
“We give you the opportunity to personally deal with the matter. Basically we do you a favour. If, for whatever reason you decline our generous offer you will not only lose the farm anyway but still will be faced with significant debt, Mr Leeland. It is your choice. We have no obligations and could wait until next week. It would be so much more,” he paused for a moment “honourable from both our perspectives. Think of your family Mr Leeland.”
Out of the blue, Thomas burst out in hysterical laughter.
“That was a good one. You do me a favour, right? So, if you are so concerned and care for my honour why not lend me money? Why insist on hiding your little plans from me? Why pace around what you actually are after?” Thomas had talked himself into a rage.
“Mr Leeland. Please, understand that we do have our plans with the place. Why does this matter to you so greatly?”
“You still don’t get it, do you?” Thomas shook his head.
“Well, let me try to explain. This land, this ranch had been built up by my ancestors own hands. Every bit from the bridge at the creek to table you are sitting at has been touched, breathed and made by MY family. My family are buried across the hill and you seriously expect of me to sign you insulting contract, hailing you’d do ME a favour? How stupid do you think I am? I might have catapulted everyone who is depending on me in to a right mess but, my Lord, I was not born yesterday. I know people like you! And now, if you don’t mind, get yourself out of MY HOUSE before I forget my manners, gentlemen.”
Jeannie wanted to applaud her father! Red faced the trio grabbed their belongings with Mr King sending a punishing look across to her brother.
The two investors were the first to vacate the house. Joshua stood dumbstruck in the kitchen not knowing how to react.
“You better leave too, Joshua.” Tom grumbled
Regret and despair had mixed in Joshua’s throat and it was hard for him to look at his father.
“Dad, I…” Joshua uttered.
Instantly, Tom pointed towards the door.
“Spare me any of your lame excuses. Get O.U.T!”
There was no point for Joshua to hang around and made his way to the door.
As he climbed into the car Joshua took another look at the front porch only to see his father slamming the door shut.
The atmosphere within the limousine was not much better. It took a good five minutes until Mr King raised his voice.
“I thought you had the situation under control?”
“I am sorry, I…” Joshua stumbled. King could only snort.
“Sorry doesn’t sign the contract. I hope you are aware that this will have direct implications when we draw the contract with you next week? Sorry, - , ha, that never bought me anything.”
Joshua felt raged.
“Sir, please mind me saying,” Mr Wright interrupted. “Mr Leeland seems rather, well,- common. I assume he has not yet understood the pressing nature of the situation. I’d say we leave him a while to process tonight. The factory is not lost yet”
Joshua’s ears pricked up.
“Excuse me, did you say factory?” he said inquisitive.
A lecturing look shot across to Wright.
“What my colleague wanted to say was that our plans are still in the making” King tried to talk them out the predicament for further explanations and nestled for his cell phone.
“No, I heard you right.” Joshua protested. “My father is right isn’t he? You are planning to demolish the ranch.”
Wright and King concentrated on their cells.
“That is not what we originally talked about, I..”
Mr King rolled his eyes and dropped his cell in an annoyed fashion onto his lap.
“You are kidding me Leeland, right?! What is it to you? You were just sitting in that kitchen with us, trying to convince your own father to sell up. Don’t come now with guilty conscience. How pathetic!” King shook his head and turned back to his cell and kept silent for the rest of the way.
Joshua felt trapped. Sitting there in the car, with these men he had hailed and praised out of false pretences. The drive back home felt more like an escort to the slaughter house. He had put the sling around his own neck and had to deal with the repercussions now. The last fool on earth had just entered the scene and prayers wouldn’t be enough to get him out of this mess.
How could he face his wife tonight? What on earth had he done?
With bowed head and sunken shoulders, he stood for an eternity on his front porch. Through the window he could see his wife and children sitting on the sofa watching their bed time program. As usual, Parker sat alone in his fathers’ chair with his cowboy hat on. Instantly, Joshua had to think of the times when Tom had chased Parker around the living room, pretending they were outlaws running from the law.
He felt like crying and fought hard against the urge to scream to contain the little bit of pride he had left. Instead he walked around the house to the back garden.
Inside Alice prepared hot milk in the kitchen when she looked outside the kitchen window and saw her husband rolling up his shirt sleeves as he started to chop wood.
She wondered why he would do that at such a late time of night but left him to it. If he felt remorse, even better! She was still mad with him. After he had spent the entire morning in the basement and finally had come to see her, sour faced and angry that she hadn’t woken him earlier, all he could mumble was something about the ranch. She was outraged that, after the night before he still thought about widening the rift between him and Thomas with this stupid investment! They had avoided each other and when Josh finally had waltzed out the door; he only said that he’d be back later.
When Alice finally switched off the lights in her children’s bedroom she could still hear the thudding noises from the axe climbing through the open window.
Concerned, she walked downstairs and waited at the open back door. Joshua sporadically looked up. His shirt was soaked through and sweat was pouring down his face. He eagerly tried to produce a smile but couldn’t look his wife into the eye. There she was stood, his beautiful angel; His conscience, his entire world. And what did he do to her? He wished he’d be a better man, one who was worthy of this woman. Uncontrollably all emotions clashed over him and he couldn’t hold up the wall any longer and broke down. It was official, his last bit of pride had just decided to abandon him and all he could hear were footsteps quickly closing in amongst his desperate cry