Brothers AU (seven)
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The ranch was massive as the land stretched as far as the eye could see. Unplanted alfalfa fields, cornfields, and pastures filled with horses and cattle surrounded the large house. It seemed so peaceful; nobody would have guessed that the lands and livestock were under threat of bankruptcy. The money Lincoln had stashed away for his sons was out of reach from bankers and bill collectors…he had to leave his sons something, even if they lost the ranch.
The horse barn was huge with twenty-four stalls and twelve outdoor runs. An indoor area was ideal for working the animals in the dead of winter. A grain silo rested next to the covered hay barn. The tractor shed and shop looked well used with parts, grease spots, and buckets of fluid rested against the shop door. A large heavy piped corral held a large Hereford and Holstein bull. Both bulls were separated by heavy wire cables and steel posts. There were two large gas tanks resting next to each other under an old Maple tree. One was marked diesel and the other unleaded…obviously someone had mistaken the two at one time or another.
JD entered the horse barn and found only two stalls occupied. Buck’s big dapple gray stuck his nose out and gently nipped at the kid’s hand, searching for a treat. JD reached down and grabbed some loose hay and gave it to the large horse.
“That’s Coal,” Buck said, throwing in a couple of flakes of hay into the feeder.
“Coal?” the kid responded, looking questionable at the animal’s coloring.
“He was coal in color when he was born.”
JD laughed while shaking his head.
“I’ll take you and the others to pick out a horse later,” Buck offered, tossing some hay into Chris’ horse’s stall. The big black moved forward and started munching at it.
“Doesn’t Nathan ride?” the kid asked, longing for his own horse. As a boy, the horseback riding lessons his mother had given him were the highlight of his childhood.
“He’s too busy with the clinic,” Buck answered flatly. “Come on…there’s work to do.”
Josiah watched as Ezra worked on his laptop computer. He seemed completely engrossed in whatever he was working on. On occasion, he’d pick up a pen and write something on a notepad. The oldest of the seven, Josiah knew without asking that this was an uncomfortable situation for everyone, even those who’d lived here their whole lives.
Josiah grabbed two cups filled with coffee and headed into the living room. He placed one cup on the edge of the table where Ezra was working, and then sat in a chair, hoping to strike up some kind of a conversation. “I’m not sure how you like it,” he said softly, pushing the cup closer to Ezra.
“Black is fine, thank you,” came the polite response.
“What is she like?” Josiah asked softly.
Ezra sighed and closed the top of his computer. “She’s…not the ‘ranching’ type.”
Josiah smiled and nodded: “Not many are.” He took a sip of his coffee. “My mother was twenty when she gave birth to me,” he said softly. “I didn’t know about Lincoln until I was about ten…my mother told me about him. She said we were going to Nevada to see him…” he paused, just to see if Ezra was listening…he was, “When we got here, I think my mother was surprised to see Colleen and Chris there with him…but I think it was good that she did—”
“She saw her place,” Ezra said, summing up Josiah’s story in four short words.
The older man nodded regretfully: “Yes…in essence she did.” He looked hard at his brother. “Is that how you see yourself?”
“No,” Ezra replied, “Thank you for the coffee,” he said, getting to his feet and heading toward the kitchen.
Josiah sighed and leaned back in his seat, unsure if was something he’d said or did that caused his brother’s quick exit. Josiah knew it was hard, and not just for him, looking at this new life with new family members. Living day to day was difficult enough without the added hardships. Josiah looked out the window and watched as Vin poked around in one of the tractors. It was hard to believe that he was even quieter than Ezra. Vin didn’t talk a lot, but he said a lot with his eyes…more so than any of the others.
This was a new playing ground and everyone was learning the rules. It had to be hard for Chris the most, the only son with the Larabee name. Perhaps he knew his father better than most, but that wasn’t a guarantee. Buck seemed close to his brothers…maybe he was the glue that held the rest of them together. It was going to be an interesting year; there was no doubt about that. Everyone would learn their place, and like most families they’d understand what position they held. Josiah picked up his coffee cup and headed for the kitchen.
It was going to be a very interesting ride.
Chris stepped into the medical clinic and headed to Nathan’s office without asking to see him—everyone knew who he was. The nurses smiled and nodded their heads, having seen that ‘look’ before. He tucked his brown leather jacket under his arm and knocked on the office door, waiting for his brother to admit him.
“You’ll end up standing there all day, Chris,” Nathan said, stepping up behind him.
“Better here than at the department,” Chris sighed, following his younger brother into the small space.
“Mr. Owens hitting the bottle again?”
“Putting it mildly.”
Nathan laughed and slipped in behind his desk. “What’s going on?”
Chris stood by the window and looked out over the parking lot. “I’m not much of a family man, Nathan…” he sighed, and ran his fingers through his hair. “I’m not sure I can do this.”
“You used to be,” Nathan said, furrowing his brow, not understanding. “You’re the one that fought for this…for what Dad wanted.”
Chris nodded, confused about everything. Lincoln was dead, the farm was under threat by bankers, and it was still a month before beef prices started to go up…if everything went right. “It may have been for nothing,” he said softly, regretfully.
“We’ll keep that ranch,” Nathan said with conviction. “If I have to pour every last cent I own into it…we’ll keep that ranch.”
“It may come to that,” Chris sighed, turning to face his brother.
“But it hasn’t yet.” Nathan stood up and grabbed a file. “I have to go tell a patient they have prostate cancer.” He grabbed the door handle and paused. “Don’t make something out of this that isn’t there.” He opened the door and headed out.
Chris watched him go, knowing his life wasn’t the only one that had been affected by the situation. Everyone’s had been. He wanted to sit down and speak with his father, know why he’d done what he had. In many ways, Chris felt betrayed, as though he hadn’t been worthy of his father’s trust. Why hadn’t Lincoln told him about the others…why hadn’t he mentioned the possibility of losing the ranch?
Chris ran his fingers through his hair and left Nathan’s office, wishing he had a clear picture of what he was supposed to do.
Vin looked out over the pasture with his arms resting on the top rail. It was strange, living in a place, knowing he had family. He’d always been on the move, even as a kid he was moving from one foster family to the next…never knowing where he belonged. The black clouds in the distance threatened to storm. They looked as if a painter had taken a brush and stroked the clouds downward in spots, like rain was already falling.
The horses ate peacefully, as though they didn’t have a concern in the world. Their tails moved back and forth, swaying gently with the breeze. A few cattle roamed near the large pond. Heads flew upwards and ears perched forward as Buck and JD drove the truck and trailer into the large pasture. Buck stood on the back of the flatbed trailer and threw hay onto the ground as horses and cattle raced for the feed.
Vin could see JD smiling like a kid on Christmas morning. He drove that big diesel truck, watching the animals trample their feed and fight for the smallest of bites before stationing themselves at a spot. Buck stood on the back of the trailer, moving as though he’d been born there. He’d grab a bale of hay, cut it, and toss it over the side as though it didn’t take any effort. It wasn’t a wonder why the front of his pants looked so haggard.
When the truck started to turn, Vin jogged over to the gate to let them exit. Tires bounced and the trailer creaked as it moved through the entryway. Buck jumped off the wagon and slapped Vin on the shoulder.
“You any good with hydraulics?” Buck asked, helping with the gate.
“I’ve worked on a few,” came the soft reply.
Buck nodded and watched as JD parked the truck and jumped out; ready to complete his next chore. “We need to get the hydraulics fixed on the stackwagon before the first cuttin’ of hay.”
“Lead the way, Boss,” Vin replied with a grin. He didn’t mind being the grease monkey…as long as he was working.
“Most of the equipment got repaired by me or Chris,” Buck said, heading toward the shop. “Dad made sure there was a good sized barn to work in and the shop’s off to the side… We’ve got an open account with Napa Auto Parts in town, so if you ever need anything, just go on down there and ask.”
Vin looked around, surprised by the parts lying around. Everything was unorganized and in desperate need of placement. “How do you know what you have and what you don’t?”
“Trial and error,” Buck chuckled. “If you need it, you’ll eventually find it.” He grinned, his cheeks spreading over his teeth like gum over a tongue.
Vin shook his head and asked, “You ever do any huntin’?”
“Hell yes,” came Buck’s enthusiastic reply. “Mostly pheasant though… Want to go?”
Vin nodded, looking more at the chaos of the shop than anything. Yeah, he’d like to go hunting some time; it had been a long time since he’d had the opportunity. Maybe he’d get it here. “Where’s the stackwagon?” he asked.
Buck cocked an eyebrow. “You ever been on a ranch?” he asked in earnest, not wanting to embarrass his younger brother.
“Once…when I was a kid,” Vin answered honestly.
“Well,” Buck sighed, pointing to the funny looking tractor/trailer parked in front of them. “That’s the stackwagon.”
“Thought so, but I wasn’t sure.”
Buck smiled and slapped Vin on the shoulder. “I’m headed to help JD and Josiah pick out a couple horses…want to join us?”
“Ain’t real fond of horses, Buck. Think I’ll just stick to what I know.” He looked toward the machine shop.
“If you need anything, just holler.”
Vin watched Buck as he headed toward JD and Josiah, who had come out of the house to join them. It was a little odd, looking at his ‘new’ family. He’d never really had one before, having been in and out of foster homes throughout his young life. He’d been closest to his mom…until she’d been taken away in that airplane crash. At the time, he hadn’t understood why she’d left him…he’d thought she’d just abandoned him, maybe even forgot about him. It had taken him a while to understand what death meant, but by then the damage had already been done.
He looked around the shop and the new meaning that it held for him. Perhaps this was the chance he’d been waiting for. Maybe these men, these brothers, really would become his family. Vin smiled, maybe now he could talk with Buck or Chris over a hot cup of coffee, or maybe even a beer, about things that meant something to him. Maybe he could show JD how to rebuild an engine, and maybe…just maybe, he and Ezra could get to know each other on a friendly level.
Vin grabbed the shovel that had been resting near the shop door. He had to clean up this place, organize the tools, make it a place where he could work… Make it a place where he could be productive. After all, this was his home too, and he intended to make it as such.
He had a responsibility to his brothers.
Most importantly, he had a responsibility to himself.
Four of the seven brothers leaned against the pasture railing looking at the field full of horses, with colors ranging from buckskins and chestnuts to palominos and dapple-grays. They were a painter’s pallet. Young foals ran and played together while their mothers continued to graze peacefully. A group of geldings galloped up from the stream, bucking and nipping at each other.
“Dad wanted to combine the strength and temperaments of the Quarter horses with the speed and stamina of the Thoroughbreds,” Buck said, watching his youngest brother drool over the beasts. “Chris owns 40 head. All of his are purebreds…he’s partial to the Quarter Horse. He likes them better for cuttin’ stock anyway. I own about 17 of the Appendix Registered Quarters…Dad…he owned the rest. We only have about 14 Thoroughbreds left.”
“Last time I rode a horse was when I came here before you were born,” Josiah said, unsure if he’d feel comfortable riding again.
“It’s like riding a bicycle,” Buck chuckled.
“Or not,” Ezra muttered.
“See one you like?” Buck looked to JD.
The kid grinned, and with eyes twinkling, he nodded. He pointed to the well-built chestnut mare with the flaxen mane and tail. “How about that one?”
Buck nodded: “Good choice,” he sighed, resting his arms on the top railing, “You’ll need a horse from time to time around here, ‘specially if you’re gonna be workin’ on a ranch. The mule…” he pointed to the Kawasaki behind him, “or the dirt bikes can’t handle some of the terrain.”
Josiah cleared his throat and pointed to the big chestnut with the long narrow blaze.
“That was Dad’s horse, Gus. He’s a good sort with alotta of heart.” Buck smiled, remembering better times. “He’ll be a good one for you, Josiah…no doubt about it.”
JD grabbed a couple of halters and lead ropes out of the back of the Mule; eager to get his horse.
“Ezra?” Buck asked, looking at his younger brother.
“I must admit that I’m partial to the blood bay mare with the white star on her forehead.” He pointed toward the young mare that continued to munch on the grass near the water’s edge. “However, I feel I must inform you that I already own a few horses.”
Buck grinned and handed his brother a halter and lead rope. “Go get her.” He smiled. “If you own some horses already…why don’t you bring them to the ranch? Boarding fees are a hellofa lot cheaper here?”
“I’ll think about it,” Ezra replied, moving toward the mare he’d chosen.
There was something about the size, beauty, and presence of a horse that captured imaginations. Their small feet carried an enormous weight, but never once did it look unnatural. Large eyes were highlighted with a spirit that only a horse had. Muscles and tendons wrapped around legs, shoulders, and necks, offering strength and speed.
They could fly without wings.
JD stepped up to the mare he’d chosen as his own. Her ears perked forward and she tossed her head, sensing something new. Her dark chestnut coat seemed darker against her light golden mane. She batted her big black lashes and stepped forward. This kid was smart…he brought a carrot. She munched happily as the halter was slipped up over her nose and behind her ears and then latched. She followed him happily.
Gus came trotting up towards the oldest brother after hearing a familiar click of the tongue. The large horse stood patiently as his halter was slipped up onto his head. He missed the attention. A strong hand stroked his neck and he pushed himself further into the affection.
Josiah took notice of a few bite marks on Gus’ neck most had healed and were scarring over. Josiah rubbed his hand through his horse’s mane, feeling the thickness and heaviness of it. It was strange to think that this coarse hair could help create some of the world’s most beautiful music.
The bay mare stood her ground as the stranger slowly made his way toward her. She perked her ears forward, leery of anything new. She sniffed the outstretched hand and decided he wasn’t a threat. She tossed her head when the halter was slipped into place…she hated it when they sat too low on her nose…it made it look so much longer than it really was.
Ezra smiled and patted the mare’s soft neck, admiring her conformation and color. She was definitely a class act.
“I’ll have to pull their registration papers to find out what their names are,” Buck said, holding the gate open for his brothers as they walked their horses through.
JD’s chestnut mare pulled away from him and dipped her nose into the bucket of grain that had been placed in the back of the Mule. She wasn’t about to stand around and let it go to waste.
“Better get control of her before she gets control of you,” Buck said, sliding into the driver’s seat. “Sounds like a woman I knew once,” he whispered under his breath, grinning all the while.
Josiah shook his head and headed for the barn with his horse in tow. He didn’t want to know.
Seven grown men sat around the kitchen table devouring the roast Josiah had cooked. That was the nice thing about living on a ranch…at least the meat was already supplied. Silverware clanged and scraped on plates. Glasses sloshed milky white fluid and the sturdy tapping of heavy dishes hit the table.
Josiah looked up and met Ezra’s eyes, the only one of the seven who seemed to have some control over himself while eating. “Food not to your liking, Brother?”
“On the contrary,” Ezra said softly, laying his napkin next to his plate. “I need a ride to the airport Thursday morning.” He could take his own car, but he felt as though it would cause too many questions in regards to him returning. This way was safer.
Everything stopped, as though someone had fallen over and died.
“Why?” Chris asked.
“My job requires my attendance,” came the simple answer.
“I’ll take you,” Buck said, knowing not to ask anything further.
“What about the springer heifers?” Chris challenged, looking toward Buck.
“If we start ASAP, we can get them in before he has to leave…besides, JD and Vin offered to help.” Buck drank the last of his milk. “It’s fine.”
Chris nodded reluctantly. “You find out anything about Josiah, Nathan?”
“Doctor Kress agreed with me. Katie’s already taking appointments for him starting on Monday.” Nathan looked at the eldest.
Josiah smiled. He’d be spending the next two days getting his office ready. It was going to be nice, practicing once again.
“Where’re you flying to?” JD asked, looking toward Ezra.
“Nice,” Buck said with a smile. “Never been, but I hear it’s pretty…enjoyable there.”
Chris threw a napkin at his brother and shook his head.
“Well it’s true!”
“Get your head out of the gutter,” Chris complained, watching all of his brothers’ reactions.
Ezra shook his head and leaned back in his seat. When the door opened near the kitchen, everyone looked up and smiled when a small elderly woman stepped in with a gallon jug of milk. Her silver hair had been cut short and she wore pants and a plaid shirt. She set the jug on the counter and looked at all the young men.
“You goin’ to introduce me to all these Larabees’, Chris, or do I have to do it myself?” she asked, her voice not quite as small as she was.
“Nettie Wells, this is the family.” Chris stood up and placed the gallon jug in the refrigerator.
“After all these years, I was hopin’ to see some Larabee daughters.” She smiled and grabbed herself a cup of coffee. “I need to bring a couple heifers down for that bull of mine to service.” She moved back around with cup in hand.
“Buck will be here tomorrow morning,” Chris responded. “I don’t want you trying to work with that beast alone, Nettie. He’s gettin’ mean.”
“Excuse me,” Ezra said, grabbing his plate he stood up and headed for the sink, he had a job to prepare for.
Nettie watched him go and seated herself in the abandoned chair. “Don’t want to disrupt your day. But I’ve got to get those heifers bred, otherwise I’ll have to haul ‘em off.” She looked around the table at the handsome faces and her eyes landed on Vin’s. “You must be Cady’s son?” she said softly, with a warm smile.
Vin nodded shyly. “Yes, Ma’am.”
“Nettie,” she corrected. “Cady was a spitfire if there ever was one,” she smiled as she spoke. “If you’re anythin’ like your ma, you’ll have this place in ship shape before the year’s out.”
“Now come on, Nettie,” Buck complained, “it ain’t that bad.”
“I noticed you’re usin’ my old bathtub as a waterin’ tank for the weanin’ calves?” She raised a questioning eyebrow. “That was somethin’ that your pa said he’d never do because it cheapens up the place.”
Buck rolled his eyes and nodded in agreement. His father would be disappointed with that fact—but he shouldn’t have died.
“I’m guessin’ by the looks of ya, that you’re Jenna’s son?” She looked at JD with a stern face. “You’ve got her color.”
JD ducked his head bashfully and smiled warmly, trying to hide the hint of sadness in his eyes.
“Lincoln spoke a lot about you,” she said, looking at Josiah.
“He could talk with the right incentive,” Josiah replied with a grin. Though he’d never met his father in person, over the years they’d managed to develop a good relationship.
Nettie’s eyes increased in size and she chuckled: “Oh yes.” She got to her feet and headed to the sink to wash out her now empty coffee cup. “I take it the other one is Maude’s boy?” she asked, moving back around the counter.
“Yeah,” Chris confirmed. “He’s…not much of the ranching type.” He tried to make light of the situation but it ate at him. He watched through the window, as Ezra left the house through the back door with a black bag in hand.
“Neither was his mother from what I understand.” She turned and headed for the door. “It was good to finally meet all you boys…your father was right, you’re all good lookin’.”
“I’ve lived here 29 years and I ain’t never had a compliment from that woman,” Buck complained, wiping his plate with his bread.
“It’s because you’ve lived here 29 years,” Chris replied, with a grin.
Vin jumped up and headed out the door Nettie had left through, leaving five questioning brothers in his wake.
“Wonder what’s gotten into him?” Nathan asked, looking out the window as Vin jogged up to Nettie and her old Ford truck.
“Looks like someone is searching for answers,” Josiah replied, placing his silverware on his plate. “Who’s going to clean up?”
“Nettie!” Vin called, jogging to where the older woman was preparing to leave. He stopped at the door and ran his fingers through his hair.
Nettie smiled and leaned back in the driver’s seat, resting her left arm out the window. “What is it, Son?” she asked softly.
“Did you know her well?” came his hesitant question.
“Well enough, I suppose,” she answered. “Your mother used to come down to the dairy when she was livin’ here with Lincoln, and help me milk the cows, feed the calves… She was a good woman, your mother.” She sighed and took a good look at Vin. “Your father told me once that you were five when she died?”
Vin nodded and refused to meet Nettie’s eyes as he looked into the distance.
“Ain’t nothin’ wrong in wantin’ to get to know your mother,” she said, starting up the Ford. “Come on down to the house one of these days… I’ve got a few pictures I think you’d like to have.”
Vin smiled and said, “Thank you.” He watched her drive out. Maybe this really was the opportunity he’d been looking for.
Ezra slipped the harness on and fitted it securely to his waist and thighs. His custom-made black pants held hidden pockets and allowed him the flexibility he needed in order to move at all angles. His tee shirt clung tightly to his well-trimmed physique. Muscles moved and flexed as he finished strapping on his thin-soled auto racing shoes. Everything he wore allowed him the ability to move without hindrance.
Preparing for a job was harder than actually doing it. Ezra always managed to do everything he could to stay in shape. He ran, lifted weights, and whenever he had the opportunity he would study up on his tae-qwan-do. He ceased drinking alcohol a week before a job to prevent migraine attacks. The physical aspect was only part of the job, the rest was a matter of knowing where to look and how to break codes. Both of which came natural for him. When it came to being suspicious of things, Ezra wore the crown. He was skeptical to a fault and more times than not his skepticism interfered with his personal life…on all levels. He took what most people had to say with a grain of salt. His motto was ‘believe half of what you see and none of what you hear’. It was safer that way…or so he thought. He’d been hurt enough in his life and he did what he could to prevent it from happening again.
Ezra laced the black nylon rope through his harness and quickly started making his way up to the barn rafters. He seemed to think better when he was up high…maybe that was why he enjoyed his job so much. Muscles strained and the nylon grew taut as he climbed up the rope and wall. He liked being in control of every aspect of his life…he didn’t like depending on others for help…because he knew that eventually they’d fail him…just like everyone else.
He couldn’t answer his own questions when it came to his reasons for staying. It was as though his mind was playing tug of war with fate…his mind was losing. He liked his brothers for the most part…as long as they kept their distance.
That was the important part.
It was the smell of brewing coffee that woke Chris from his restful sleep. He knew without looking, it was just before dawn, when the sky wasn’t black but had yet to show any hint of light. He stood up, noting the time on his alarm clock and slipped into a pair of jeans. The cold nip in the air bit at his skin relentlessly and he covered himself with a flannel shirt; just something to keep him warm.
When he stepped out of his bedroom, he noticed the light from the kitchen cascading down the stairs into the basement. Buck’s golden retriever, Goober, still lay silent at his master’s door. His tail wagged faster when he saw Chris, but he made no effort to leave… He’d wait for Buck.
The kitchen was warmer than the rest of the house, particularly the basement. Chris sometimes wondered if he hadn’t made a mistake in regards to his bedroom choice. It was always the coldest downstairs. He was surprised to see Vin sitting at the table looking through an old photo album, but maybe he shouldn’t have.
“You all right?” Chris asked, stepping up to the coffee pot to pour himself a cup.
“Couldn’t sleep’s all,” came the soft-spoken response.
Chris nodded; he’d had a few nights like that.
“Is there anybody in this state that Lincoln Larabee didn’t fuck?” The bitterness in Vin’s voice was harsher than he’d anticipated.
Chris’ jaw clenched, he knew a little bit about the pain Vin was in…granted he didn’t know a lot, but he did know a little. “I wish I could tell you no,” he whispered, feeling betrayed by his father. Chris shrugged and took a deep breath, not knowing the answers, and moved to take a seat at the table. “Dad always tried to make sure us kids were fed and clothed, but sometimes he missed on a few of the better things.”
“Do you think this is worth it…worth all the trouble?”
“Hell, Vin,” Chris sighed. “Growin’ up… It was always important to Dad that family was the most important thing in life. If you have family…you’ve got the world. That was his attitude…and he instilled that in Buck, Nate, and I. He just wanted us to know that if we were ever in trouble…and no matter what kind of trouble, someone would be there…” he sighed, “…no matter what.”
“That’s a nice thought, Chris…but is it practical?”
Chris looked hard at his brother, and seeing that confusion and hesitancy, decided to be honest. “When my wife and son died…” he leaned forward and rested his elbows on the table, “…I didn’t want anyone or anything getting close to me. Dad saw what was happening, and he tried to knock some sense into me but…but it took Buck and his stubbornness to bring me around. He would sit there and listen to me rip him apart—blame him for everything from the fire…to my mother’s death.” Chris shook his head, not believing what he was saying. “And Buck…he’d just sit there, listen to me bitch and moan about my life and how awful it was…and all the while I never thought of what it was like for him. Some folks in town never let him forget his mother was a prostitute, and yet, he takes it like water off his back. As a four year old kid, he watched his mother get beaten to death with a tire iron.”
Vin leaned back, understanding a little bit more of what was being said.
“No matter what happens outside of this family, Vin… we stand by each other.”
“No matter what?”
Vin nodded in acceptance. “Bout five years ago, I had a chance to try out for the Olympic shooting team…”
Chris leaned forward, interested in Vin’s story.
“…I was pretty good with a rifle—had one hell of a time at the tryouts…didn’t deal with the crowds too well though.” Vin smiled, remembering back.
Vin smiled, trying to hide his embarrassment. “I ah…got arrested for pot, intent to deliver—or some shit like that.”
“That’s a big charge, Vin…”
The younger brother nodded: “I never did drugs—just wasn’t my thing, but this friend asked me to drop off this package for him—said he’d pay me a hundred bucks—so I did.” He shrugged, not knowing what else to do. “Got kicked off the Olympic team for it…Hell, I was only twenty-one at the time.”
“Did you need the money?” Chris asked, and then he took a long sip of his coffee.
Vin nodded: “Yeah. Never had a lot growin’ up you know…wanted to get some decent clothes before the games.” He shrugged, feeling more disappointed in himself than anyone ever could in him. “Shootin’ team didn’t get the amount of sponsors that the gymnasts did.”
“Ain’t anything wrong with that,” Chris said softly, “You just went about it the wrong way.”
Vin laughed: “No shit.”
Both men looked up when the door opened and Ezra stepped through. He wore sweat pants and sweatshirt that was soaked through. He ran his fingers through his wet hair and nodded politely before disappearing down the hall.
“Didn’t think he liked mornings,” Chris said under his breath.
“Don’t think he went to bed last night,” Vin surmised, watching as Ezra entered the bathroom with an armful of clothing and toiletries.
Chris shook his head: “That one’s going to take some getting used to.”
Vin chuckled: “He ain’t the only one.”
Josiah entered his new office and looked at the plain walls. He smiled, seeing the possibility that lay before him. JD entered behind him, carrying two gallons of paint and brushes. The soft colors he had planned were for his patients…not him. He wanted them to feel comfortable.
“Where do you want to start?” JD asked, setting the paint on the floor.
“Wherever it pleases you, Brother,” Josiah said happily. He looked out the window towards the playground of the school nearby. He smiled, smelling the paint JD was stirring. Josiah could see—in his future—books on his shelves, pictures of his brothers on his desk, children’s games in the corner of the room, and two stuffed chairs…comfortable enough for people to sit and speak with him about things that bothered them most.
JD poured some of the soft hazelnut colored paint into the pan and dipped the roller brush into it. With both of them working, it wouldn’t take long to finish.
Buck kicked the manure spreader’s wheels in anger. At eight o’clock in the morning the machinery was already breaking down. Vin had gone to town to buy a few tools for the repairs on the stackwagon. Chris was at his office doing some last minute paperwork. With JD helping Josiah in town and Nathan at the Indian reservation offering medical care to those who couldn’t afford it otherwise, that left Ezra, who was still sleeping and probably would be for some time. Buck kicked the wheel again and grabbed a screwdriver.
Goober pounded his tail on the ground while he watched his master move around the funny looking wagon. Obviously he wasn’t happy. The old dog barked once and lay down on his side, trying to soak up the warm sun on the cold ground.
Buck got down on his knees and crawled under the tractor while sliding onto his back. He looked up at the axel and gear shaft, wondering how he was going to fix the problem. “Goober,” he called to his dog that jumped to his feet to help.
Buck stuck his arm out from under the wagon: “Get me a wrench,” he ordered confidently.
Goober moved over to the toolbox and dug around a moment before clamping down on something hard. He trotted over to Buck’s outstretched hand and laid the cold steel onto fingers.
“Atta boy,” Buck said softly, tightening a few of the bolts that he thought might be loose. He heard the shaft move just a bit and something slip through the metal parts. He looked intently at the chain links and noticed the stripped bolt that was causing the problem. “Should have gone to mechanic school,” he muttered under his breath, while reaching up to grasp the loose item.
Goober barked just as the shaft moved, pressing Buck’s arm up against the wagon frame and the spreader chain that was positioned just above the gear shaft. “Sonofa…” he groaned, trying to free himself from the links. The more he fought the more the metal dug into his forearm. “Damn it!” he yelled, prying the wrench between the chain links and the floor of the wagon. His skin tore open, and he could hear his shirt rip as blood started to move down his arm.
Buck sighed and lay back, not wanting to rip his arm completely off…he knew that wouldn’t happen, but it felt like it. He kicked the bottom of the wagon for good measure. It didn’t help, but it made him feel better. He could see Goober looking at him as though he knew something was wrong. The old dog’s tail pounded the ground as worried eyes stared intently on his master. Buck sighed, wishing he’d spent more time teaching Goober about using the phone rather than tools.
The old dog barked a couple of times and lay back down. Buck moaned, feeling his arm swell as blood clotted around the wounds and dried on his skin and clothing. The jagged edges continued to puncture his skin, and he knew Nathan would make him get another tetanus shot. He groaned aloud, causing his dog to bark again.
“EZRA!” Buck yelled, hoping for some kind of a response. He knew his younger brother was still asleep and would be for some time, but he had to try anyway. “Ezra!” He grabbed the wrench again and carefully placed it on one of the links, hoping that one would break. He knew it wouldn’t, this kind of machinery only broke when you needing it working…it was just the way things worked out. His arm throbbed as he continued to try and free it.
Oil leaked onto his fingers and clothing making it difficult to keep a firm grasp on anything. Frustrated, Buck laid back, pounding his head onto the ground harder than he anticipated. “Shit!” he yelled. He didn’t have time for this. The cattle needed to be fed, the springer heifers needed to be brought up from the bottom pasture, and that was only a few of the things that needed to be done.
Goober suddenly jumped up and started barking when the sound of a truck and trailer filled the air. Gravel snapped and moaned as heavy tires moved across the ground. Doors were slammed shut and the familiar tone of Casey’s voice called for the golden retriever. Goober held his position and continued to bark.
“CASEY!” Buck yelled, kicking out with his right leg.
“Hells bells, Buck Wilmington,” Nettie said, getting down on her knees to take a look at the trapped rancher. “What have you gotten yourself into?”
Buck sighed, dropping the wrench. “Thank God,” he gasped.
“Casey!” Nettie called to her niece. “Get me some towels and you’d better call Doctor Jackson and let him know we’re bringin’ Buck in.” She grinned while speaking, despite the severity of the situation.
“It ain’t all that bad,” Buck said, clenching his teeth.
“Yeah,” Nettie agreed, “looks like it.”
Buck rolled his eyes at Nettie’s sarcastic comment.
“Watch yourself,” she said, getting to her feet, “I’m going to release this chain.”
Buck sighed when the chain released in tension and his arm dropped to his chest.
“Can you get yourself outta there, Buck?” Nettie asked, retaking her place near the front of the wagon.
Using his legs and back, Buck managed to wiggle his way out from under the manure spreader. He sighed gratefully when Nettie placed her hands under his arm and carefully helped him to his feet. Casey raced from the house with an armload of towels and helped Nettie wrap the deep gashes on Buck’s arm…just below his wrist.
“Come on,” Nettie ordered, “I’ll drive you to town.”
“We can take the old truck,” Buck said, holding the towels tightly. “Your heifers should be all right for a while.”
“Won’t be the first time they’ve been stuck in a trailer.”
Nettie helped Buck get situated in the truck and Casey slipped in beside him to drive while Nettie did what she could to keep the wounds from bleeding too much. The engine started right up and young Casey slipped it into gear.
“Where’re Chris and your hired hands?” Nettie asked.
“Chris had an emergency in town this mornin’. Steven’s with his family for the week and Don won’t show up until next month when we start irrigatin’. I thought I could handle everythin’, and with Dad’s passin’ I didn’t want to deal with a lot of shit.”
“Well,” Nettie sighed, “you’ve got crappy timin’ when it comes to gettin’ injured.” She looked out the windows and watched as the fence posts started blending together the faster Casey drove. She knew most of the farmers in the area, and she knew just about everyone was facing a hard season this year. “What about all those brothers of yours? Can they pick up some of the slack…surely you won’t be over-workin’ that arm too much?”
“They ain’t ranchers, Nettie,” Buck sighed. “We’ll make do.”
“Like hell you will and you know it,” her voice took on a harsher tone. “You best whip those boys into shape, maybe keep Chris home a few days a week. With spring plantin’ comin’ up, all the kids in town are goin’ to be too busy to make trouble.”
“Maybe you should tell him that.”
Nettie grinned: “I reckon not.” She knew better than to step on Chris’ toes.
Buck sat on the exam room table and watched his brother stitch up the wounds on his arm. Thankfully, none of them were very deep and his blood loss was minimal. That didn’t, however, make up for his stupidity. Chris would let him have it for sure.
“I’m going to give you another tetanus shot,” Nathan said flatly.
“Don’t start,” Buck warned, knowing he was going to hear about it from Chris.
“I’m not going to say anything, Buck…other than you have the worst timing of everyone I’ve ever met.”
“I’m sorry for pulling you away from the reservation—it’s not like I set out to do it,” came the sharp response.
“I didn’t mean it that way,” Nathan tried to sound apologetic. “It’s just…just too close to everything that’s going on.”
Buck nodded: “Things ‘ill work out…I know they will.”
“I hope so Buck…because if they don’t…I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
The room went quiet as Nathan prepared the shot, neither one knew quite what to say.
“You need to rest that arm, keep it braced for a few days, just until the edema comes down.”
“Yes,” Nathan answered softly “Swelling… I’m prescribing you some pain medications, and some antibiotics.” He looked hard at his brother. “I’ll know if you’re taking them, Buck…so don’t try and be anymore human than you are.”
“Should I salute you or shake your hand?” Buck asked, slipping off the table with a slight hop.
“It’s just that…”
“It’s just what, Nathan? The fact that we can’t afford to hire anymore help? Or maybe the fact that we can’t afford to keep the help we’ve got…?” Buck ran his fingers through his hair and sighed, sorry that he’d snapped.
“What about JD, Vin, and Ezra? They can help out…just until things start turning around.”
“They’ll help out as much as they can…but I’m not goin’ to force them.”
“What about Chris?” Nathan asked, carefully putting his things away.
“We’ll see.” Buck headed for the door and paused when Nathan stopped him.
“Let me take you home,” Nathan said, slipping off his coat before leaving through the door.
“What about the clinic?”
“Dr. Kress is here this weekend.” Nathan walked down the hall and stopped in front of a door and knocked a couple of times.
JD opened the door. His cheeks were splattered with paint, but he wore a grin just the same.
“What do you think, brothers?” Josiah asked, standing in the center of his office.
The soft hazelnut walls were bright in spots as the paint continued to dry. The brushes and rollers had been shoved in plastic bags and the plastic floor coverings had been pulled up. The office would be perfect for patients who needed an ear to speak to.
“Didn’t know you were a craftsman, Josiah,” Buck said, smiling.
“What’d you do to your arm?” the eldest brother asked, ignoring the comment.
“Let’s go grab some lunch,” JD said, picking up a few bags of garbage. He left the room, not waiting for his brothers.
“Better do as the kid says.” Buck chuckled and left the room, following the youngest.
Food sounded good at the moment.
Ezra woke and stared at the dresser that rested across from his bed. He didn’t want to get up, but he needed to. Sometimes, getting ready for a job wasn’t worth the hassle. He could hear the dogs barking outside, but the house was quiet. He knew everyone would be out doing their own things, and that was okay, he preferred it that way.
Slowly, he stood up and grabbed a tee shirt and a pair of khaki slacks. His wardrobe was minimal, having only three good suits and a few ‘everyday’ clothes. It was too much of a hassle trying to move a lot of things, so over the years Ezra discovered a few techniques for minimizing his belongings. If it couldn’t fit into his suitcase and computer satchel…it didn’t go.
He slipped on his boots and headed for the kitchen; thinking about his horses and the off chance that he could belong here. Could he allow himself that privilege? His horses were the only things he owned of value. And, he took pride in them…they’d always meant more to him than anyone. He poured himself a cup of hot water and added the Postum he drank instead of coffee and he grabbed a bagel from the breadbox.
He could tell it was past ten and the early spring sun was warming the bitter ground. He could see the dust stirring in the distance and he knew someone was on their way home. The dogs gathered in the front yard, waiting with bated breath.
One year and he’d be free…to do what? He didn’t know. But a million dollars would be a nice bonus. Maybe he would settle down, buy a house…
No, that didn’t quit fit his style.
Ezra ran his fingers through his chestnut hair, really not understanding his reasons for coming. He watched as Nathan parked his truck and slipped out. Buck soon followed, his arm wrapped in white bandages and held securely in a sling against his chest. Josiah pulled his Bronco in beside the Ford, then he and JD slipped out, both looking content with their day.
The front door opened and the sound of voices filled the air.
“Hey, Ezra,” JD said, heading for the sink to get a drink of water.
“JD,” Ezra replied, looking toward Buck. “What happened?”
“I was tryin’ to fix the spreader and got caught in the rib chain,” came his unenthusiastic answer.
“You all right?” Ezra asked, genuinely concerned.
“He will be,” Nathan answered. “But he’s going to be sore for a while.”
Buck shrugged and took a seat at the table. “I’m goin’ to need some extra help around the place…just until this heals up.” He moved his arm gently, trying to ignore the pain he was in. Without asking, Nathan poured him a glass of water and handed him the pain medication.
“Like what?” JD asked, grabbing a chair to sit in.
“Most important thing is gettin’ the springer heifers up before they start calvin’…and that was five days ago. It’s startin’ to warm up enough to plow up the backfields and start plantin’…we’ve got to get the corn in ASAP and we’ve got start movin’ the steers out onto the BLM land before we lose it. The health inspector’s comin’ out and we’ve got to get the medicine room up to standards…we’ve got vaccinations to give, blood to get taken…and I haven’t even started with the horses.”
“We get the picture, Buck,” Nathan said, shaking his head. “What about Steve and Don? Where are they?”
“Won’t be back for a while and…” Buck sighed, “I don’t know if we can keep them on.”
The room went silent for a moment before JD spoke up. “Why can’t we do it…I mean there’s seven of us on one ranch…can’t be that hard,” he said softly, if not naively.
“Before we make any rash decisions we need to go through the books…see what we have to work with,” Nathan said, trying to think clearly.
“I’ll do it,” Ezra volunteered.
“You any good with taxes, bills—accounting in general?” Buck asked, looking toward Ezra.
A grin appeared on Ezra’s face: “I know the ins and outs…of sorts.”
Josiah smiled and shook his head: “It is legal…right?”
“It all depends on how you look at it,” Ezra replied softly.
“We’re not going to do anything that may cause this ranch to fall out of our hands…no matter what,” Nathan said defensively.
“Let him do it,” Buck said, getting to his feet. He looked hard at Ezra and nodded slowly. “Take a look at the books, see if there’s anything we can do to…” he didn’t know how to finish.
“Well, Brother,” Josiah started, “it looks as though you’ve got a job.”
Buck unconsciously jumped when he heard the door of Chris’ Blazer slam shut. He knew instinctively that Chris wasn’t in the best of moods. It didn’t matter why: something went wrong in town, one of his deputies called in sick, or maybe the high school kids were out drinking again…it just didn’t matter. Buck looked out the window and watched his brother head toward the house. He could hear the TV on in the basement and knew Vin and JD were probably watching a movie. Nathan was upstairs going through some files and Josiah and Ezra were working in the office.
The front door slammed shut and Chris entered the kitchen. He tossed his jacket over the back of one of the chairs and grabbed a cola out of the refrigerator. He didn’t need to look at Buck to know something was wrong. “What happened?” he asked. There was a harshness in his tone, he was tired and didn’t have the energy for sympathy.
“I was workin’ with the spreader and got my arm caught—Nettie came by and helped—”
“Damn it, Buck!” Chris snapped. “You know better than to go stickin’ your arm in a piece of machinery without anybody around!”
“I didn’t do it on purpose!”
“I don’t have time to run this ranch and the sheriff’s office both. This has to be up to you…”
“You haven’t taken interest in this ranch since Sara and Adam, Chris. So don’t go blamin’ me because you feel bad about your responsibility to Dad.” Buck moved toward the sink to get a drink of water. His arm still braced securely to his chest.
“What if Nettie hadn’t been there?”
“She was there.”
“What if she hadn’t?!”
“Shit happens, Chris. You can’t be everywhere at once…you can’t save everyone!”
“Fuck you!” Chris snapped, angry with his inability to control the situation.
“It was an accident,” Buck said softly, and speaking of more than just his injury. “I may have to fire Steve and Don. Ezra’s workin’ on the books as we speak…but I don’t think the ranch can handle expenses of hired hands….”
“What are you goin’ to do?”
“I’m puttin’ JD to work feedin’, Vin said he’d be willin’ to take a look at the machinery and try and get it fixed before harvest. Figure we’ll move the yearlings onto the pasture up north, and bring the springers down. We’ve got to start plantin’…”
“What’s Ezra doin’?”
“He’s got a job to do—remember,” Buck said, “He’s leavin’ on Thursday.”
“Why can’t he work drivin’ truck or somethin’…until he goes?”
“I ain’t askin’ you to drive truck until somethin’ happens in town and you’re needed. I wouldn’t ask that of Josiah or Nathan either…”
“We all work here…”
“When it’s convenient!” Buck snapped, directing his statement toward a sensitive subject. “I ain’t askin’ Ezra to give up his job…and neither are you!”
“Then how’s the ranch goin’ to survive?!”
“For a member of the law enforcement community you have shit for brains!” Buck looked hard at Chris. “This ranch has been hurtin’ for quite some time…it isn’t anyone’s fault. You should have taken the time to notice before now.” He shook his head. “I don’t know what we’re goin’ to do…but we ain’t losin’ this land,” he replied softly, leaving the kitchen.
Chris sighed, running his fingers through his hair. He leaned back against the kitchen counter, unsure of what to do. His father wasn’t supposed to leave him with this mess…this was Lincoln’s responsibility—not his.
The room was quiet as the brothers started to gather. Nobody had slept through the night, having heard the argument between Buck and Chris the night before. Vin sat at the table, drinking his cup of coffee, observing the situation. He watched JD enter the room, wipe his brow and grab the now empty container of orange juice.
“Is there any more?” he asked quietly, looking toward Josiah who was fixing some eggs.
“In the freezer, JD,” came the big man’s response.
The kid moved toward the refrigerator and grabbed a frozen can of juice. He made it back to the sink when he stopped suddenly and sat down on the floor next to the counter. Josiah stopped what he was doing and looked at his youngest brother.
“You all right, JD?” Josiah asked, noticing how pale the kid had become.
JD nodded his head and pressed the frozen orange juice up against his forehead. He felt hot, dizzy, and weaker than a day old kitten. Nathan stood up from the table and moved to his brother’s side. Acting on instincts, he grabbed JD’s wrist and checked the medic alert bracelet.
“Your blood sugar low, JD?” Nathan asked, knowing it was.
JD nodded and stood up slowly. “Just need some juice,” he said softly, moving towards the sink. His mind continued to relay to him his need for sugar, but his body wouldn’t cooperate.
Josiah took the frozen juice from JD’s hand and grabbed a clean pitcher from the cupboard. Nathan guided a reluctant JD to a seat at the kitchen table.
“I’m fine,” JD responded, reluctantly sitting in the seat the Nathan pulled out for him.
“How long have you been diabetic, JD?” Nathan asked, squatting down in front of him.
Josiah reached out and handed JD a tall glass of juice. He drank it down quickly, wishing he could hide behind the counter, away from all the worried faces. He noticed Chris standing in the entryway from the basement into the kitchen and he slowly nodded in greeting. The front door swung open and Buck slipped in between his brother and the doorway.
“What’s goin’ on?” Buck asked, noticing how pale JD was.
“JD’s got a low blood sugar,” Nathan responded, getting to his feet. He watched as JD finally started becoming aware of his surroundings.
Buck paused, watching, as Chris stood unsure of the situation. “I’m goin’ to need some help today haulin’ the horses up to the top pasture to start runnin’ the heifers down,” he said, grabbing a cup of coffee. He slipped a cube of ice into the hot substance and took a tentative sip, testing the temperature. He watched JD with a critical eye, and tried to act as through nothing was wrong.
“Not with that arm,” Nathan said, resuming his position at the table. “They’ve waited this long, Buck, a couple more days won’t hurt.”
“But it will hurt when it comes time to haul ‘em off to the sales…we can’t afford to lose any cattle to cold temperatures, coyotes, or cougars.” Buck took another drink. “I’ll get JD and Vin to drive up with me, we’ll saddle a couple of horses—Vin can bring the truck and trailer back and JD and I can bring the first bunch in… If we hurry we can be back before three.”
“If you hurry you could spend the next couple of days in the hospital,” Nathan argued. “You go and tear out those stitches you’ll be in a world of hurt.”
“We don’t have a lot of options right now, Nathan.” Buck sighed heavily, leaning up against the counter. “Ezra come up with anything?” he asked, looking around the room.
Josiah cleared his throat and placed a plate of bacon and eggs on the table. “He was up later than I was doing some bookwork…I’d imagine he’s got something for you to look at.”
Chris grabbed a seat, unsure of what to say…and with so much on his mind, he wasn’t sure where to even start. “I’ll do it,” he said sternly. “You stay here and get some of this other work done… Do as Nathan says and take care of that arm.”
“Don’t see why the rest of us can’t work on the fence that needs to be repaired while Chris and JD bring the heifers down,” Vin offered. “It won’t take long to fix the stackwagon or the manure spreader…and it don’t seem like we’ll need it anytime soon.”
“Vin’s right,” JD jumped in. “Why not hold off on some of the other things and concentrate on what needs to be done now… With all of us working, it shouldn’t take too long to get things finished.”
“Gettin’ it done isn’t the problem,” Buck said. “It’s keepin’ it goin’ that is.”
“Maybe not,” Ezra said, stepping into the room. His hair was disheveled, eyes dark, and he wore the same clothes that he’d had on the day before. He tossed a file and some papers onto the table and ran his hand through his hair. “Part of the problem is you’re spending thirty thousand each year on personal property taxes that can be avoided…with the right—transfah of ownerships, so to say. I also did some research and discovered a buyah for beef cattle that are not given growth hormones…they’ll pay a highah price—”
“But?” Chris pushed.
“They want blood samples of all animals sold so they can prove liability.”
“How much more a pound do they pay…? And would it be worth selling to them rather than beefing up our own stock?” Buck asked, slightly surprised by Ezra’s findings.
“On average they pay ten to fifteen cents more a pound.”
Buck and Chris whistled together, shocked by the price difference.
“Is that a lot?” JD asked.
“Yeah…” Buck sighed, “it’s a lot.”
“Anything else?” Chris pushed.
“Plenty,” Ezra answered.
Buck sat at the kitchen table with Ezra, going over the books. Unpaid bills, due taxes, and uncollected payments sat in three different piles, while inventory lists rested in another. Two steaming cups sat near the table’s edge, one filled with coffee and the other with Postum. Goober lay in front of the dishwasher, completely content with his spot. Buck could see Nathan, Josiah, and Vin out working on the fence and the shoot, reinforcing the railroad ties that kept the cattle from killing anyone while the veterinarian worked on them.
“I think there’s somethin’ wrong with JD,” Buck said, looking over some of the papers. “More so than what he’s sayin’.”
“And just what are you implyin’?” Ezra asked, making notes on his notepad.
“I came upstairs last night—to get a late night snack, and he was in here lookin’ as pale as a sheet on a cold day and sweatin’ up a storm…thought he was sick…” Buck sighed, thinking about what had happened. “Said he just needed somethin’ to eat so I made him a sandwich and he drank the rest of the orange juice. And then that whole bit this mornin’.”
“Seems to me Nathan took care of the situation.”
“What if somethin’s wrong with him?”
“There could be somethin’ wrong with most of us, Buck, but that doesn’t mean there is.”
“We don’t have health insurance, Ezra. We make too much for state help and not enough to pay out of pocket… That’s why we’re always goin’ to Nathan. Shit, I hate to see what our medical bills would be if we didn’t have a brother in the medical profession.”
“Then why are you worried?” Ezra asked, not really understanding.
“What if somethin’ happens that Nathan can’t handle?” Buck questioned. “Diabetes isn’t somethin’ you can put on hold…stop treatment on for a couple of days… He could step on a nail and lose his foot, go blind…then there’s heart disease and kidney failure on top of it.” He sighed and looked out the window, rubbing his arm all the while. “Did JD ever say anything to you?”
“I think it would be best, Mr. Wilmington, to ask JD rather than myself about his ‘medical issues’.” Ezra continued to write, never taking his eyes off of the paper.
Buck sighed, realizing he wouldn’t get anything out of his brother. “Why do you drink that?” he asked, moving the direction of the conversation.
“That.” He pointed to the cup of brown fluid.
“I prefer not to drink coffee,” Ezra answered simply.
Ezra gripped his pencil tighter and sighed. “I get headaches,” he answered honestly, all the while debating his sense of trust. Maybe he was too tired, perhaps he should take a nap…clear his head and think about what he was saying.
“Have you ever seen anyone about them?”
Ezra tossed his pencil onto the tabletop and leaned back. He was angry, tired, and annoyed at Buck for asking personal questions. “Yes, I’ve seen someone about them.” He stood up and headed for the sink to grab a glass of water. Was a million dollars really worth all of this? He needed that money, it would help dig him out of that hole he’d buried himself in.
“Are they serious?” Buck asked. He was only concerned; there wasn’t anything manipulative in his questions.
Reluctantly, Ezra nodded. Yes, they were serious… Serious enough to lay him out flat for days on end, make him sick to his stomach, and have to rely on others for simple things…like walking. Unwilling to talk anymore about his headaches, his life, or the ranch’s lack of funds, he headed to his bedroom to lie down for a while, leaving a questioning Buck in his wake.
Chris rested his arms on his saddle horn and looked out over the land as the cattle slowly moved toward home. JD rode a few feet away. Every once in a while the kid would gallop off and gather up the strays that had other ideas when it came to returning home. The kid’s face seemed to beam while on the back of his horse. Chris laughed to himself, remembering the first time he went on a round up with his father…wishing he’d had the chance to show his son.
Ranching was a good life…an honest life, but in a world full of technology, there just wasn’t enough room anymore…or so it seemed. The cows moved slowly across the land. Several had already calved and their babies trotted next to their mothers.
“I thought it would take a lot more people to bring in the cows,” JD said, slowing his horse to a walk as he rode up next to Chris.
“They’ve made the trip more than once,” Chris answered. He pointed toward the lead cows. “Those old gals we keep with the younger stock just because they know the land…but all these heifers traveled this a few times.” There was a smile on his face as he talked, thinking about the better times. He moved gently in his saddle as his horse took graceful steps creating a methodical rocking motion. He seemed to have been born in the saddle.
“Do you miss him?” JD asked, needing an answer as much as wanting one.
“Dad?” Chris asked, just to make sure. When JD nodded, he continued, “Yeah, I miss him.”
“Was he a good dad—I mean…” JD sighed, trying to find the right words, “Did he ever try and find Vin, Ezra, and I?”
“I can’t tell you why Dad did what he did, JD. I wish I could,” Chris’ tone was soft…honest. “When your mom left—I didn’t know why at the time, but I knew it had something to do with Dad…maybe Nathan, Buck, and me…I don’t know—But I do know that Dad cared for your mom. She was a real nice lady who made our lives really great for the time she was here.”
“Did he love her?”
Chris sighed, wishing he had the answers. “I don’t know, JD.”
The kid nodded and reached into his saddlebag and grabbed a small blue pouch. While sitting astride his horse, he proceeded to take his blood sugar level. He noticed Chris’ cocked eyebrow…a silent question. JD smiled and shrugged his shoulders.
“It ain’t a big deal…I just have to check every once in a while,” JD said softly, replacing his pouch in his saddlebag.
“How long have you had it?” Chris asked, knowing without asking what ailed his brother.
“About fifteen years,” came the quiet answer. “It’s not a problem though.” He didn’t want Chris to overreact, like so many had before. “I know this morning—”
“I’m not worried about it,” Chris said, moving his horse slightly to the left to warn the cows he was still paying attention. “You should talk to Nathan about finding you a good specialist…I’m sure he could handle anything that might worry you, but it might make you feel better going to someone else.” He knew from experience.
“I’ll do that,” JD answered softly. He cleared his throat and looked out over the cows, wishing at times like these that he was braver.
“Out with it,” Chris said, knowing the kid had questions.
“Do you mind it…? Do you mind having the rest of us around?” JD fingered the reins and gripped the saddle horn nervously. “I mean, it can’t be easy knowing you’ve got brothers you never knew about.”
“Way I see it, JD, Dad may have made some mistakes, but the ones he made were good ones.” He turned a comforting smile toward his younger brother.
Nathan laughed when Josiah pulled the plank off the post and fell back onto his butt. “I’m sorry,” he apologized, not wanting to poke fun at the situation. “But damn if you’re all not city people.”
“Well hell, Nathan,” Vin gasped, hitting the post with the hammer claw, forcing it into place, “mind tellin’ us what we’re doin’ wrong?”
Nathan reached down and helped Josiah to his feet. “We need to get you some decent shoes,” he said with a chuckle.
“I must admit, Brother, that I hadn’t planned on participating in the ranching life when I came out here,” Josiah said with a sigh, looking out over the land. “But I must say the hard work is good for the soul.”
Nathan chuckled and crossed his arms over the top rail of the fence. Vin slipped his jacket on after the chill in the air nipped at his skin. The afternoon sky was starting to darken and the clouds gathered for the impending storm. Chickens ran and squawked around the yards as the puppies chased after them. Josiah rubbed his lower back and then ran his fingers through his hair. The shoot was repaired and ready for vaccinating cattle, but there was still a mile of fence on the other side of the pasture that was still in need of repair.
“Before you say it,” Nathan said, “it never ends.” He pointed to the pasture and then to the fields. “You finish one job here, and there’s another one waiting for you.”
“That why you became a doctor?” Vin asked, scrapping the bottom of his boots on a fence rail.
“I guess so,” Nathan replied softly, looking out toward the corrals. He pointed in the direction of the mountains to the north. “Here comes Chris and JD.”
The cattle moved at a slow steady pace through the open gate. Once inside the pasture, they galloped toward the watering hole, bucking and playing all the while. The small calves butted their heads and nursed their mothers. JD galloped up, his face glowing with pride. His first cattle drive had branded its way into his mind and he loved it. He’d remember this day for the rest of his life. He slipped down out of the saddle and patted Josie’s neck. The little mare tossed her head and reached for a tuff of grass.
“That was so cool!” JD yelped, watching as Chris slowly made his way toward the crowd.
“How many did we lose?” Nathan asked, looking toward his older brother.
“Fourteen or so…not too bad, considering,” Chris responded, dismounting his horse. He shook his head, spotting the dirt stain on Josiah’s butt and Vin’s cockeyed grin. This was going to take some getting used to.