Evan threw together quesadillas while I built our first fire. There was a good-sized wood pile outside the back door and I remembered seeing more out behind the barn, but eventually, I'd have to get out Grandpa's axe and learn how to chop. When it was burning nicely, I poured us each a glass of the Chardonnay Sharon had left for us. We ate sitting on the floor in front of the fire, toasting our toes and smiling every time our eyes met. It was hard to believe that only a week ago, I'd been sure Evan and I were over.
That thought sobered me up; I turned to Evan, his smile died and he reached for me. I pushed our plates out of the way and lay him down so that the firelight flickered across his face and shimmered in his gray eyes, soft and dark now as he watched me. I traced a fingertip along his hairline, down his cheek, until I could cup his face in my hand. He looked up at me, his eyes wandering over my face for a long, still moment before reaching for the back of my neck and pulling me down to his mouth, wet and warm and so familiar. I closed my eyes and gave myself over to the sensations of kissing him, savoring the insistence of his tongue, his lips, as they sucked gently at mine.
We went slowly, gradually undressing each other until we were naked there in the golden glow of the dying fire, warmed by the embers, and by love. Eventually, Evan rolled onto his stomach and I settled over him, my legs bracketing his, my cock sunk to the hilt inside the smooth heat of his body. I kept most of my weight on my elbows as I slid my hands under his chest and nuzzled my face along the contours of his upper back, licking his skin and savoring the faintly salty taste of him.
After a bit, Evan arched up into me, pushing himself up onto his elbows, and I slid my hands up to hold his wrists. My hips rocked steadily as Evan moved in counterpoint, and slowly, slowly, we brought each other to quiet, intense orgasms, holding tightly as we shuddered together. As our breathing calmed, we could hear the old farm house creaking slightly with the freshening wind, and the muted tick-tock-tick-tock of the old clock. When we began to get chilly, I pulled Evan to his feet and led him by the hand to the bedroom, where we crawled beneath the sheets and slept soundly our first night in our new home.
I woke up early Sunday morning. At first, I was totally disoriented by the unfamiliar shadows on the ceiling, but then my brain kicked in and I grinned. Evan was just stirring next to me when I rolled out of bed, pulled on sweats, and went to get a fire going. With Chew trotting at my heels, I walked down the hall to the front room. The house faced east, so the room was filled with early-morning sunlight, gleaming the length of the dining table, warming the colors of the sofa and chairs. When the fire was blazing, I watched it for a few minutes, then let Chew out for a morning whiz.
The sound of the coffee grinder must have awakened Evan, because he came wandering in just as the water came to a boil. He blinked sleepily at me, patting my butt as he walked to the sink and gazed out at the field, hazy white with morning frost. We puttered in the kitchen for a bit, enjoying the lazy start to the day, toasting English muffins and re-arranging some things that we used frequently.
After a few minutes, Chewy barked at the back door, bounding into the room when Evan opened it for him. He had a twig in one bushy eyebrow, and his tongue lolled from his mouth as he panted, smiling at us. He obviously liked it here, especially since it was time for food in his dish.
A top priority, since football playoffs were upon us, was getting the TV room squared away. Evan's dad had promised us a big flat screen once we decided what size we wanted, so we rearranged the furniture at least five times, taking into account traffic patterns, fireplace heat, and window glare, before settling on a layout we liked. Evan figured that a 47" TV would be ideal, and when we called his dad, Don told us to go pick one out and send him the bill.
By the time we got back from the electronics store, it was almost noon, so Evan and I decided to run up to my place to get the rest of my stuff. We took his bike. I'd never been a passenger before and it was pretty neat. Once you're cruising along, you don't really need to hang on, so I was free to play with Evan's crotch, conveniently spread around the Fat Boy's big old gas tank. He swatted my hands away at first, but I persevered and soon we were bombing down the freeway with two massive boners in our jeans. He had to steer, but I indulged myself by grinding my hard dick against his butt most of the way.
Being behind him on a bike reminded me of our first time in the garage, and I probably could have shot my load two or three times during the ninety minute ride, but I decided to hang onto it for one last frolic at my place, where it had all begun.
We stopped to pick up the truck I'd rented and drove over to the house, which already looked empty and forlorn with a couple newspapers on the porch and a screen that had come loose in the wind. We picked things up and tightened the screen, then loaded the rest of the boxes and what little furniture we had decided to take with us, mostly my office stuff. Goodwill showed up as scheduled, and twenty minutes later the house was bare. We wandered through it one last time, lingering in the bedroom where our relationship had taken its first tentative steps.
I put my hands on Evan's shoulders and pushed him down onto the floor, kneeling to straddle his hips with my hands on his chest. I felt the thickness of his cock under my ass, and rocked on it a little as I looked down at him. His face was still, almost sad, and I raised an eyebrow at him in silent inquiry.
He shrugged, quirking up one corner of his mouth. "I don't know. I feel like something's ending. I mean, I know we're starting our life together at the Farm, but... I don't know... I'm going to miss the drive up, thinking about being with you the whole way here; the kick of seeing you on Friday night, the way you'd open the front door with a big grin and a bigger hard-on. I loved all that, and I'll miss it."
I smiled at him, a little sad myself now that he had put it into words. "Yeah, I know what you mean."
I looked around the room at the lighter squares on the wall where pictures had hung, at the smushed-down spots in the carpet where the legs of the bed had sat, solidly supporting Evan and me as we made love. I would miss it, too.
We didn't fool around after all. I lay down next to him and we talked about things we wanted to do at the Farm. It was wonderful to have so much to look forward to together, and before we knew it, the afternoon light was fading. We still needed to say goodbye to Callie and load all my stuff at the garage, so I stood up and pulled him to his feet. We walked slowly out of the house, and I locked the door for the last time. As we walked next door to give Callie the key, Evan draped an arm over my shoulders and squeezed reassuringly.
At the garage, we got everything loaded with the help of a few guys who were there working. The Pan went in last, safely tied down to several rings set into the floor. I took a long look at my empty bay, at the very spot I'd first seen the toes of Evan's shoes, back in February, then flipped the lights off and walked out the door. Evan took off for home in the truck, and I rode his bike into town cause there was one last thing I wanted to try and take care of.
Luck was with me when I spotted Mark's BMW outside the diner; I'd seen it there a few times before. I'd been thinking about this since the night he'd pounded on Evan in the bathroom at the bar, and I smiled grimly knowing that tonight was the night. I settled down a few cars away to wait, figuring he was having dinner and then he'd head to a bar for the rest of the evening. After about thirty minutes, the door swung open for the 10th time; finally, it was Mark and he was alone. He was walking slowly, working a toothpick in his teeth and window shopping. I moved from the dark doorway of a store, stepping out in front of him as he drew even with me.
"Hey," I said in a soft, 'wanna fuck me' voice.
He looked startled to see me at first, glancing around for Evan, and turned back to me when he realized we were alone. "Where's your boyfriend?"
"Cut him loose. Too fuckin' territorial for me," I said, purposely using Evan's phrase from that day in the dog park. I ran my eyes slowly down Mark's body until I got to his packed crotch, which had always been his best feature. When I brought my gaze back to his face, he was smiling confidently at me, a knowing look in his eyes. I returned the smile and edged past him into the alley next to the building, not watching to see if he was following because I knew damn well he would.
Guys who think only with their dicks are so predictable. I should know.
As we got out of the light, I felt his hand on my shoulder and turned to him with everything I could put into it, landing my right fist square in the middle of his nose. It exploded all over his face with a satisfying crunch, and I followed it up by sinking my left low into that bulge he was so proud of, dropping him to his knees. He sank down with both hands cupping his mashed nuts, and making wet, gagging noises. I squatted down next to him, putting my mouth close to his ear.
"That's for Evan, you piece of shit. And this is for me." I planted my boot in his ass before I walked away, knocking him onto his face on the scummy blacktop of the alley. Basically, I'm a pacifist. I mean, I'd much rather fuck than fight any day, but it felt really good to have evened the score with Mark. Now I could leave town with no loose ends.
I mentally dusted off my hands in a job-well-done gesture, jumped on the bike, and roared out to the freeway, hot to get home to Evan. Fighting had given me a brutal hard-on and burying it Evan's ass was all I could think about. I'd already been horned up from the bike ride, and then we didn't get off at my place, so by the time I coasted down the long drive of the Farm, my nuts were boiling and I had cum practically leaking out my ears.
Evan was in the kitchen eating left-over pizza when I blew in the back door. It must have been all over my face, because he took one look at me, swallowed his mouthful of pizza with a quick chug of beer and stood to meet me. I held his head and kissed him hard, growling into his mouth when my tongue met his. Then I grabbed a kitchen towel and hauled him into the living room, which was the closest place with carpet. Thanking God he was wearing only sweat pants, I tugged them to his ankles and followed them down, sucking his semi-hard cock into my mouth when I came to it. When he was rigid, I pushed him down onto his stomach, pried my aching dick out of my soggy shorts, and began to push into him. My drooling cock provided enough lube to get things going, and I leaned over to drop a big mouthful of spit into his crack, working it into place with the head of my dick.
Neither of us had said a word so far, but now he was grunting out a soft 'unh' each time I pushed a little further into him. I was taking short strokes, going a little deeper as things loosened up, and it wasn't long before I was thrusting steadily, leaned over him on tense arms, watching the muscles of his lower back flex as he arched up to meet me. I knew that this position was good for him, and soon I heard the change in his breathing that meant he was close.
I angled a little more steeply into him and he shoved his hand under himself to grab his cock. A minute later, when he started to blow, the contractions of his ass muscles put the finishing touches on me. I pulled out just as I began to cum, hanging over him on quivering arms as my nuts ejected one blast after another. It looked good - my creamy splatters on the smooth, white skin of his butt - and it felt so fantastic that I began to chuckle right in the middle of climaxing, something I'd never done before.
Evan pushed up onto an elbow, twisting around to look at me. I started to laugh harder, and he rolled onto his side to look into my face as I pushed back to sit on my heels.
"What's with you?" he asked. "First you're late, then you fuck me like you haven't gotten laid in a month of Sundays, and now you're on a laughing jag. You're a weird dude sometimes."
I was winding down from my post-fight, post-fuck euphoria enough to lean over and kiss him more gently. "I ran into some unfinished business on the way out of town. Guess who?"
He looked at me for a second, his brow wrinkled in thought. "Mark!" he said triumphantly, as it came to him.
"Yup," I agreed. "I left him something to remember us by." Evan looked at me and tilted his head questionly. "A broken nose, sore balls, and a bruised ass."
"God, I'd just about forgotten that night."
"Well, I hadn't. Felt good to fuck him up."
We cleaned up with the towel, got our pants pulled up, and went back to the kitchen. I was starving now that I'd taken care of my aggression and my nuts, and we sat back down to the pizza with a couple new beers.
"My mom called," Evan said. "She wants to know when she gets to see the place."
"I dunno. Next weekend? Why don't we have everyone over on Saturday? We can do a ham or something."
"Well, I gotta work, so you'd have to do most of it."
I waved a hand in the air while I chewed and swallowed. "No problemo," I said when I could talk.
So Evan called his mom and Sharon and Kenny. Raf hollered something in the background, and then Kenny asked if Elena could come, too, since Rafael's dad was out of town. That handled, we watched a little TV and went to bed early, well-satisfied with the weekend.
Monday morning early, I set up three 'puters in my office and dove into the mountain of work that had been piling up the last couple weeks. With three computers going at once, I could run tests on one while I programmed on another and surfed porn on a third. Evan worked late Monday and Tuesday, so I was able to put in twelve-hour days, only stopping to eat lunch standing up in the kitchen, and let Chewy in and out occasionally. When I heard Evan's car at 7:20pm on Tuesday, I rolled my stiff shoulders and pushed back from my desk with a sigh, caught up enough to take a break.
Christmas was just a week away and I was starting to think about doing some shopping. Since Kenny worked at home, I gave him a call that night after supper, and we decided to hit the mall first thing Wednesday morning, knock out our gift lists, and then go have lunch. Well, the fucking mall was packed, so we didn't even bother parking, not that we could have found a spot anyway, and started driving slowly back home, bummed and desperate.
As we drove by the community college, a sign caught my eye. I pulled a U-y and whipped into the parking lot. Kenny saw the "Arts & Crafts Sale" sign and raised his eyebrows, but beggars can't be choosers, so we parked and went in. There were a lot of tables and displays set up in the gym, and we wandered the aisles looking at pottery, paintings, jewelry, and a few things I couldn't readily identify.
I chose a handmade wooden pencil holder/desk organizer thing for Maggie. It was made from Koa, beautifully finished, and would look great on her desk. It had lots of little compartments to hold all the crap I'd seen the day she'd given me the picture of Evan and me. I had no idea about Evan's dad, and decided to let Evan buy for Don.
Kenny bought Raf a coffee mug that had the suggestion of masculine shoulders, back, and butt in the glaze. It was very subtle and vaguely erotic, and I bought a similar one for Evan. I found a necklace made of lace agate for Sharon, each small oval stone separated by an etched silver bead, delicate and feminine. It was probably a bit much for someone I didn't know well, but I thought what the hell and bought it.
Kenny caught up with me as I stood in front of a case of men's rings, some plain silver, others with designs worked in the metal. I kept coming back to one that was fairly wide with two grooves cut all the way around. The grooves were close together and just off center, and I really liked it. I asked to see it, and as the artist handed it to me, he tilted it so that I could see that it was engraved inside. I angled it to read 'unity' in flowing script.
Kenny looked up at me. "It's perfect. Get it."
"A ring? Jesus..."
It wasn't that I didn't think we'd be together forever - I did - but a ring just seemed like such a big step; a thing that came later on, somehow. Something that maybe you ought to discuss. But as I rolled it in my fingers, I knew I had to give it to him. It would probably be way more than he'd give me, but that was ok; I knew I'd be happy with whatever he got me.
At lunch, Kenny was quieter than usual, toying with his fork and staring at the table, and I finally put my hand over his. "Got the holiday blues?"
He turned his hand over so that we were palm to palm and gripped my curled fingers. "Yeah, I guess. Being around you and Evan made me realize how much I love Rafael... and how much I take him for granted." He waved a hand to indicate his legs, his chair. "It's not every guy who could handle this."
He fell silent again, and I looked at him carefully. Handsome, smart, successfully self-employed. So he couldn't jump up from his chair and dance on the table. That obviously didn't matter to Raf, and I thought that I would be fine with a guy like him, too. Life would be different, but it could be just as good.
"He's lucky to have you," I said. Kenny looked up, and I locked eyes with him. "I think you would've ended up together anyway, accident or no accident. It might have sealed the deal, but the two of you are really good together. I noticed it the first five minutes I met you, that night at the bar."
He was smiling now, running his thumb over the back of my hand. "Yeah, we are good together."
Our burgers arrived, and we talked computers for a while. He knew some stuff I didn't and vice versa, so we decided to get together one day a week and trade secrets. I took him home, holding his chair steady while he negotiated himself out of the Jeep. By the time I got home, it was time to do something about dinner, so I threw together Maggie's tuna casserole recipe.
When I'd packed Evan's condo, I'd found the little cookbook she'd written up for him when he went off to college, his body healed but his emotions very fragile. It was full of all the foods he'd loved as a kid, and this was the first chance I'd had to make something from it. She'd written little notes next to most of the recipes (these are the cookies Grandma always makes), (be sure to use real butter in this one), (bake a little longer for a crispy crust), and I ended up sitting there at the kitchen table, reading the entire thing while the casserole baked. It was an intimate glimpse of a mother's love for her son, something I'd never experienced, and it gave me a little ache in the middle of my chest.
The kitchen was starting to smell good when I heard Evan's car crunching up the drive. Chewy and I walked out to meet him, breathing in the nippy December evening. Chew ran circles around us while we nuzzled our faces together, something that had become our little welcome home thing. When we came into the house, Evan's head shot up immediately and he sniffed the air, turning to me with an expectant look on his face.
"Tuna casserole?" he asked. I nodded as he grinned. "God, I used to love that. It smells just like my mom used to make."
"It's her recipe. I found her little book."
He smiled. "Sometimes, when I was... lonely or homesick, I'd read through it. Certain recipes made me think of particular things, ya know... kinda like a song can do."
It tasted wonderful as we ate it in the kitchen nook, listening to the wind whistle through the bare trees. We lit a fire after supper and decorated the small tree I'd picked up on the way home. We didn't have a whole lot of ornaments, but it looked pretty with the white lights blinking and the tinsel reflecting the firelight.
I glanced at Evan; he was gazing at the tree, his eyes unfocused, with a dreamy expression on his face, and I studied his profile from where I sat on the floor. He needed a haircut, his dark beard was in the 5 o'clock shadow stage, and his mouth was relaxed, his lips slightly parted. I clicked a mental snapshot of him, wishing I had a camera handy.
The next day while he was at work I put his little ring box into the mug, wrapped it, and put it under the tree. I noticed later that evening that he'd added a foot-square box with my name on it. It wasn't ring-sized, but then I'd put his in something larger, so maybe he'd done the same. I gotta admit I was hopin' hard.
That night he came in the door sorting through the first batch of mail to arrive since we'd moved. He paused at one envelope, and then a slow smile spread across his face as he looked up at me.
"What?" I asked.
He handed me the envelope. In Sharon's neat printing, I read:
Evan & Jeff
1207 Hamilton Road
Inside, in addition to some real estate documents, a note from Sharon said that people of her grandparents' generation had always included the name of the property when they addressed an envelope. I smiled at our names together - Evan & Jeff - for a moment, then sat it on the windowsill behind the clock where I could see it each day.
When Evan handed me another piece of mail, my smile died and my surprise must have been evident because he stopped sorting through the circulars and looked at me. "What is it?"
I shook my head in disbelief. "It's from my sister. To this address."
He blinked. "Really? I thought you said you two weren't really on speaking terms."
"We're not. This is weird." I took the envelope over to the couch and sat down with it still in my hand, unopened. Evan sat down next to me, looking back and forth from the envelope to my face.
"Are you, uh... gonna see what it says?"
I didn't imagine it could be anything good, but I tore the flap open and pulled out a Christmas card featuring a fat Santa stuck in a chimney. Inside, Barbara's untidy script slanted down the left side.
I'm sure you're surprised to hear from me after all this time. First off, I owe you an apology for the last time we talked. I should have been a lot more understanding, but I had my own problems at the time and just didn't have any sympathy to spare right then. Anyway, I'm truly sorry, and I hope you'll think about forgiving me. And I don't think homosexuality is a sin or a sickness or anything else awful.
Honest, I don't.
I re-married about 3 years ago. His name is Mike, and he takes good care of us. Remember your nephew? Brendan will be 15 in April. I know it's been forever since you've seen him and he was just a baby then, but you'd recognize him in a heartbeat because he looks just like you. At least, how you looked when you were his age. He's a great kid and he's very curious about you.
Well, that's it, I guess. I've been thinking about you lately, and with Christmas and all, I just thought I'd send you a card. In case you're wondering, I tracked you down through the public land records. Looks like you just bought a house with an 'Evan Tanner'. Boyfriend?
I hope you're well and happy - I really do. It would be good to hear from you, and I know Brendan would get a kick out of it.
You could have knocked me over with a feather. I would have bet they'd be ice skating in Hell before Barbara would send me a Christmas card.
"Well, that was nice, huh?" Evan said. "You gonna write back?"
He was smiling at me when I turned to frown at him. "No!" I winged the card and envelope across the room.
Evan looked at them for a moment and then back to me, his smile fading. "Why not? Looks like she's trying. Maybe you oughta meet her halfway."
"Evan, she practically ripped my heart out and stomped on it right when I needed her most. Why the fuck should I meet her anywhere?"
"Because she trying. She apologized." He studied my face for a moment. "You're always telling me you wish you had family. Well, here she is. And a nephew. I'd love to have a nephew. Just... just don't be so goddamn hasty about it. That's all I'm sayin'."
With that, he got up and went into the kitchen, leaving me to stew on the couch, staring at the card which had sailed under the dining table, and the envelope which had ended up under the bookcase to the left of the door. Hearing from her stirred up all kinds of old thoughts and feelings that I'd been working to distance myself from for years, and it sure seemed easier to leave it be. Besides, I had no idea what to say to her after all this time. Finally, I retrieved the card, shoved it into the envelope and tucked it under the corner of the keyboard in my office.
We were quiet through dinner, and Evan left the room as soon as he was finished eating. After a moment I heard the TV click on. Obviously he was leaving me to figure this out by myself, so I did the dishes slowly, letting my mind wander around. I wasn't really ready to think about Barbara yet, but I have to admit I was curious about Brendan. I tried to remember what I looked like at 15. Skinny mostly, I think, and long-haired. Probably pretty much like every fifteen-year-old who thinks he looks cool.
Big dicked, though, even then.
That thought made me smile, and I dried my hands and went in to join Evan on the sofa. I settled in at the far end with my feet in his lap, studying his profile as he watched a public TV show on the building of medieval churches. He'd told me once he might have become an architect if his dad hadn't already been a lawyer. He rubbed my feet firmly, running the ball of his thumb up the sole, then circling it at the base of my toes. I'd planned on reading, but the foot-rub zoned me out, so I scooted down and snoozed through the church program.
I awoke when Evan turned off the tube. He didn't turn the light on, so I could just see him in the faint moonlight coming in the windows on either side of the small fireplace. We sat in companionable silence for a while before Evan spoke.
"You decide what to say yet?"
"Why are you so sure I'll write back?"
"Cause it's the right thing to do and you're a decent guy. Besides, I don't think you can resist a nephew who looks just like you. Hell, I wanna meet him so I can see what you looked like back then."
I sat up at his words. "Meet him? Nobody said anything about meeting them. Forget that."
"Ok, ok." Evan slid further down onto the small of his back with his long legs stretched out over the big old trunk we used as a coffee table, and closed his eyes.
I managed to let a whole three minutes go by before saying, "So you think I should write back to her. Ok - what the hell would I say? 'I forgive you. Tell Brendan Hi. I'm still a fag. Love, Jeff'?"
He was chuckling by the time I finished. "You're such a jerk." He pinched my big toe hard on 'jerk.' "Tell her about the Farm. Tell her about Chewy. Ask her to send a picture of Brendan."
"All right, all right. I'll think about it, ok?"
We sat there until Chewy whined to go out, and we went with him, standing on the back porch watching our frosty breath billow out onto the still night air as he dashed to the row of trees at the right side of the back yard and piddled quickly. Back inside, we lit a fire and lounged around until bedtime, talking about things we needed to do.
Build a ramp for Kenny.
Unwrap the old Jeep and see how much work it needed.
Restock the firewood pile at the back of the house.
Replace the small tub in our bathroom with a big shower stall.
I wanted to do everything at once, but we decided Kenny's ramp was most important. He'd joked about it, but it had obviously made him uncomfortable having to be lifted up and down the steps the day we moved in. By then it was time for bed, so we locked up the house and went down the hall hand in hand.
Thursday morning I went into my office, intending to get some more work done, but Barbara's envelope stared at me from the desk, and I couldn't concentrate worth a damn. Finally, I yanked on a jacket, blew out the back door, and headed off across the field. Chewy trotted happily along beside me, unburdened by surprise Christmas cards from bitchy, half-forgotten sisters.
I angled off to the right, figuring I might as well go a direction I hadn't explored yet. The stream was wider here, and slower, flowing blackly between mossy banks. I followed it until I reached our property line, marked every so often by trees with orange tags stapled to their trunks. I ambled along, tossing sticks for Chewy and mentally composing a letter to Brendan. Replying directly to Barbara wasn't something I thought I could manage, at least not this first time. But a letter to a nephew who looked like me - that, I figured I could do. I'd write back to him with just a line or two in there for her, and get the whole thing behind me.
Suddenly Chew stopped in his tracks, head up, eyes focused dead ahead where the woods thinned out a bit. I looked carefully, but couldn't see anything scary, so I walked on past him into the small clearing. As I got closer to a tree stump in the center of the space, I noticed several irregular mounds under the leaves, which proved to be large rocks from the stream. They were in a rough semi-circle around the stump.
I called Chewy to me, but he stood his ground and averted his eyes, his way of saying 'I hear you but I don't wanna do it,' so again I looked around the clearing. Nothing weird, at least to me.
It should have hit me right away, but at first I couldn't imagine what the hell the rocks were doing here in the middle of a clearing 100 yards from the creek. I squatted down near the far left one and brushed the leaves away. Carved into the smooth face of the rock was the following:
Sleep Well Old Friend
A chill shot up my spine and I glanced at Chewy, still standing stiffly at the edge of the clearing. When I uncovered the next rock, it read:
A Good Dog
The stones, seven in all, marked the graves of the dogs that had called Brookside Farm home before Chewy moved in. Buddy, Jeannie, Belle, Rusty, Pearl, another Buddy. Pearl had lived only three years, and her stone read:
Sweet but Dumb
I smiled as I wondered what had befallen sweet, stupid Pearl. 1987. Sharon was probably living here then, she might remember. Many of the dates overlapped as younger dogs joined old timers; the last dog, Tucker, had died in 2005, just a few years ago.
Chew had finally come to stand next to me. He was only slightly more relaxed now, and he obviously sensed something about this place. As I looked around the clearing, I could see the crumbled outline of a low stone wall, and I walked it slowly, enjoying the quiet of the little cemetery. It was a solemn place, but peaceful, a fit resting place for the old man's beloved dogs.
I hiked back to the house in an entirely different frame of mind than when I'd set out this morning, and instead of going back to my office, I turned into the barn and began sorting through some old lumber for enough good wood to build Kenny's ramp. As I worked, my thoughts kept drifting back to the graveyard in the woods. The stones had been crudely carved, done with a hammer and chisel by hands perhaps shaky with grief, and I could still see them clearly as I tossed rotted 2x4s into one pile and good ones into another.
The next time I checked my watch it was 2:15pm, hours later. I'd been back and forth to the front steps numerous times, measuring and trying the fit of the framework. I had only hand tools to work with, so it was slow going. I stopped for ten minutes to chug down a glass of milk and five Oreos, then went back to it. Finally I hauled everything around to the front of the house, nailed it all together, and was testing it out by rolling Chewy up and down it in the wheelbarrow when Evan pulled up. He watched with a grin as I tipped Chew out and gestured toward the ramp with a flourish.
"Great job. Jesus, I didn't think you'd do it all in one day."
"I got inspired."
That evening after dinner, Evan opened a fat file folder on the dining table and dove into a stack of resumes two inches thick. He was gearing up to get the family law department open May 1st. The firm needed him in his current capacity through tax season, but during that time he could begin to hire staff, set up offices, do all the things that needed to be in place before the doors could open. The current batch of resumes was from prospective secretaries with a heavy background in family law. An experienced secretary was a must since Evan would be so new at it.
I wandered into my office thinking to get some of this morning's work done, but Barbara's card was still tucked under the keyboard. Just fuckin' do it, I thought. I didn't read her card again; I just pulled out a small legal pad and began to write.
Actually we bought a farm. Ten acres, a stream, a big old barn, a ramshackle chicken coop, and a house built by the grandparents of the woman we bought it from. It's a beautiful place - maybe I'll send you a picture when we get around to taking some.
We have a dog, Chewy. He's a scruffy brown thing I got from the pound when he was just a puppy. He loves it here. Lots of rabbits to chase and a fireplace to snooze in front of. What more could a dog want?
So Brendan looks like me, huh? Poor kid. (just kidding) Tell him not to worry - he'll be totally handsome when he gets a little older. Hope he's smarter than I was back then.
Well, I have to go get some work done. Say hey to Brendan for me.
The handful of sentences looked pitiful, even on the small sheet of paper, but I couldn't think of anything else I was comfortable saying to her. Even this was a stretch, and I was only doing it because I knew Evan was right, and because the cemetery was still with me, softening my mood enough to be able to write to her. I read it over once, then shoved it into an envelope and sealed it before I could change my mind. I stuck a stamp on it and carried it out to the little table by the front door where we kept our keys, the outgoing mail, Chewy's leash - the miscellaneous stuff we used every day.
Friday morning I kissed Evan goodbye, and handed him his keys and the mail after he'd shrugged into his coat. He sorted through it like he always does, shuffling past the electric bill and my car registration before stopping at my letter. He looked at it for a moment, then glanced up at me, his mouth curving into an approving smile as he kissed me again.
Then he was gone for the day.
Many thanks to David of Hope for his editing suggestions.
And a warm thanks to those of you who shoot me an email now and then - they make my day.
Note - the Yahoo group is closing down, so visit my new blog instead. Nothing to join, just take a look whenever you get the urge. I'm currently auditioning pictures for Jeff and Evan. Got one you think'd work? www.qwb224.wordpress.com