Saturday morning while Evan picked
up the house, I went out to the barn and dug out all the miscellaneous lawn
furniture I could find, which turned out to be a lot. After I hosed it all off,
I left it out in the sun to dry while Evan and I ran into town to get
groceries. As we rounded the corner from the cereal aisle to the dairy case, we
Evan eyed the baby food before asking cautiously, "Is there something you need to tell us?"
"Oh, God, bite your tongue," she replied with a roll of her eyes. "That'll be the day. No, some creep dumped a kitten in the alley behind the house, so I'm feeding it till I can find a home for it." Her gaze sharpened suddenly. "You two live on a farm. How about a cat?"
"I don't know." I looked at Evan. "How about a cat?"
In the afternoon, I got the grill cleaned up and parked it under the big tree near the garden. With the lawn furniture arranged near it, I was pleased with the way the yard looked. Years ago, someone - probably Becky - had planted rambling rose bushes along the left fence and they were covered in small pink blooms. The whole area -- the garden along the end of the old barn with the roses rioting along next to my picnic spot under the tree -- looked very inviting.
As I stood there thinking what else I needed to do, something came to mind. Well, the ladies'll like it, I thought as I gathered up what I needed and pulled the green Jeep up under the tree. As I was climbing up the ladder that I had propped in the back of the Jeep leaning against a big branch, Evan came sprinting down the front steps and across the yard.
"Please tell me your goddamn insurance is paid up," he barked, as he climbed into the Jeep to steady the ladder.
"I'm only fifteen feet off the ground, for Christ sake."
I knotted one end of the rope securely around the branch, threaded it through the two holes I'd drilled in the seat board, dangled it down to check the length, then tied off the other end and climbed down the ladder. Evan smacked me hard on the ass when I got within reach.
"If you break your neck before we have at least fifty years together, I'm gonna be really pissed," he said.
"Me, too. Let me move the Jeep so you can try it out before I put everything away, in case it swings crooked or something."
As I pulled forward and watched from the Jeep, Evan sat down on the board and pushed off with his feet, swinging higher with each pass. The knots creaked a little as they settled in, but everything looked good. Evan looked at me with a big smile as he soared by.
"God, I haven't done this since I was a kid. You wouldn't think something so simple would be so much fun."
He let the swing slow enough to jump out, flying through the air before landing on his feet with a laugh. "Try it. It's a blast."
It'd been at least twenty-five years since I'd been in a swing, but once I remembered how to pump my legs correctly, I enjoyed it as much as Evan had. So that's what we were doing -- taking turns swinging and leaping out into the grass - when Bill came down the drive leading a gimpy horse. They stopped when they got near, looks of amazement on both his face and the horse's, which'd probably never seen anybody sailing through the air before.
"Well, isn't this nice," Bill said with a grin. "Is it recess?"
Evan chose that moment to leap from the swing, but he was going a little too fast and rolled to a stop not far from Bill and the horse, which threw up its head and took a quick step back.
"Easy, easy. It's just our foolish neighbors." He patted the horse on the neck as Evan got to his feet and brushed off his jeans. "I'm gonna put him out back with the mares. He's got a stone bruise, so he needs to be on grass for a while."
I'd been studying the horse, trying to guess which one it was, but it didn't look familiar. This one was big like Tess, but solid brown, and looked young to me, experienced horseman that I now was.
"Who's this?" I finally asked.
I gave Bill a `duh' look as I chuckled. "How fuckin' original. Bet that took you a while to come up with."
"Up yours," Bill laughed. "You try thinkin' up good ones after you've named a hundred of 'em. Anyway, it suits him."
Evan was scratching Brownie's neck. "What's a stone bruise?"
"Just like it sounds. Stepped on a stone the wrong way and it bruised the soft part of his foot."
Evan looked skeptically at Brownie's rock hard, dinner-plate sized hooves. "There's a soft part?"
"Yeah. Come `ere, I'll give you two city boys a lesson."
Bill turned to face the horse's rear, leaned into Brownie's shoulder slightly as he squeezed the back of his front leg. When Brownie obediently lifted his foot, Bill grabbed it in both hands and turned it bottom up as Evan and I leaned in for a look.
"This here's the hoof wall," he said, tapping the hard outer ridge. "This here's the `frog,' the soft part in the middle. And this here," he said, pointing at a slightly darker spot, "is the bruise. A week in the field'll fix him up."
We all straightened up and walked Brownie to the gate, where the mares and foals had gathered to welcome the newcomer. Max tried to make a break for it when Bill pushed the gate open, but he swung the end of the rope at him and Max backed off. Brownie limped into the field and immediately dropped his head to graze while Max and Linda checked him out. Bill watched them for a moment before heading along the fence line toward his place.
"Thanks. See ya in a week or so," he said.
When Evan and I went out after dinner with the evening carrots, Brownie was right there with his head hanging over the fence, looking like he knew he was waiting for something but wasn't quite sure what. He was enthusiastic about the carrots, earning himself a hard bite on the neck from Thelma when he tried to swipe her piece from my hand.
After the last chunk of carrot had been gobbled up, Evan and I assumed our positions on the back porch with a glass of wine as dusk fell and the yard darkened. Now that the weather was warming up, we spent more and more time back here, talking or reading. The horses wandered away, and as Chewy got tired of chasing bugs and came up to lie at our feet, Evan took my hand in his with a sweet smile.
"This was a good day," he said.
"It was," I agreed, returning his smile.
"You suppose they got a dog?"
I shrugged. "Prolly woulda called."
Just then Evan's cell rang and we grinned at each other.
"Yo," he said, putting it on speaker.
"You have a nephew," Kenny announced. "Elvis."
"Elvis?" Evan and I said in chorus.
"I know," Kenny laughed, "but he already knew it and he kinda looks like an Elvis."
"What is he?" I asked.
"He looks like a cross between a terrier and maybe a border collie. Kinda smallish medium with short curly hair. Mostly white. Bushy tail and eyebrows like Chewy. One blue eye."
There was a silence as Evan and I tried to picture him.
"Uh...ok," Evan finally said.
Kenny laughed again. "You'll see him tomorrow. He's a cutie."
We all said goodbye, and since Evan and I had a big day ahead of us meeting our new nephew and entertaining our friends, we went in to bed.
Sunday dawned warm and clear,
perfect for a day out in the yard. By ,
we'd put the finishing touches on the house, marinated part of the chicken in
teriyaki sauce and part in Italian dressing, put three big jugs of sun tea to
brew on the back porch, and were just starting to think seriously about
breakfast when a car pulled up in front of the house. By the time I made it to
the front door, Callie was climbing out of a brand new, bright red Honda
When she called, "Hi, I'm early," Chewy launched himself out the door and down the steps to run barking circles around her as she laughed and clapped her hands at him. He finally slowed down enough for her to pick him up where he wriggled and whined in ecstasy.
"Wow," I said as I walked down the steps to the car. "It hurts my eyes."
She put Chewy down and hugged me, laughing. "I know, but I've always wanted a red car and when my old one needed some work, I thought, `oh, hell, I'll just get a new one.'"
"What kind of work did it need?" I asked, figuring only a blown motor or something equally expensive could have provoked Callie into spending the money on a new one.
She hid her face in her hands for a moment before admitting, "A new windshield."
I laughed. "And you probably had, what -- a fifty dollar deductible or something?"
"A hundred," she said defensively.
"Oh. Well, then..." I waved a dismissive hand and rolled my eyes. "How do you like it?"
"I love it."
Evan had joined us by that time and got his own hug. "Great looking car," he said as he strolled around it. "I always liked these."
Callie opened the rear door and started handing us bags. "Here's my gardening stuff for later, and here's some things for your freezer. And here," she handed me a warm, fragrant, towel-wrapped parcel, "is breakfast. Or a snack, if you already ate."
"Cinnamon rolls?" Evan's eyes lit up.
"Yes," Callie confirmed. "I thought you might be missing them by now."
"Excellent! We were just trying to decide what to eat. Go start bacon and eggs," Evan ordered, prodding me toward the house. He showed her around while I got stuck in the kitchen again. So we had bacon and eggs with Callie's cinnamon rolls, eating quickly so that we could go plant shopping.
"Did I tell you I won a poker tournament?" Callie mentioned as we cleaned up.
"No shit?" Evan asked in a startled tone, but it didn't surprise me a bit, the way she'd skinned me alive the one time we'd played.
"$5000," she nodded. "I bought a Jacuzzi with it. I'm not getting any younger, you know, and it feels great on my achy joints." She caught my narrow look and laughed. "You're not still mad?"
"No, no. I loved being embarrassed in front of my new boyfriend by an old lady. At poker, no less," I added sourly.
"She beat me, too, remember?" Evan said, squeezing the back of my neck as he put the milk away.
"She beat me worse," I grumbled with a smile. "So, what are we buyin' today?"
"Well, I know what you like to eat, so I just need to see how much space you have and what kind of sun you get."
We headed out the back door for a look at the garden. When the screen door slapped shut, the horses, who were halfway back the field, threw up their heads, catching Callie's eye. She squinted at them for a second before turning to me in delight.
"You didn't say they were Shires!"
I snorted out a chuckle. "And why would I think you'd know a Shire from a Chevrolet?"
"Well, I do," she replied, marching across the yard for a closer look.
The horses had learned that a new face usually meant more carrots, so they lumbered up to the fence to snuffle at Callie. She scratched their faces for a minute or two, but when they realized she didn't have any treats, they wandered off. We finally made it to the garden where Callie walked around looking at it with a critical eye, glancing up at the sun, and then picking up a handful of dirt to crumble it through her fingers.
"Well, you can grow damn near anything here. Good light, great soil. It should be tilled, but we'll just dig it up good. You'll have a lovely garden when we're done today."
"Yippee," I said, knowing I'd also have blistered hands and a sore back, but the thought of fresh tomatoes tipped the scales.
We left Evan to clean up breakfast, hopped in Callie's little red car and roared off to raid the garden center. As we headed toward town, we zipped past Sonny watering the flowers along the side of his drive. The usual bevy of dogs watched us go by as Callie gave Sonny a friendly wave. He lifted a hand automatically, although I doubted he could tell it was me in the passenger seat because Callie was channeling Dale Earnhart as she barreled down the road.
"Slow down," I finally yelled over the wind noise from the open windows.
She let her foot off the gas abruptly enough that we both sagged forward into our seat belts. "Sorry. I don't know if it's the color or the newer engine or what, but I speed everywhere in this thing."
We arrived at the garden center in
record time, grabbed a big flat cart, and set out for the vegetable section, a
sprawling area to the right of the main building. In under thirty minutes, we
filled the cart twice, spent three-quarters of the gift card she'd given me for
Christmas, and loaded the entire back of the
"So when the bok... bok..."
"Bok choy is ready, you're gonna come cook it for us, right? Cause I sure as hell don't know what to do with it."
"It's the stuff in Chinese food that looks like cabbage."
"The stuff I put on Evan's plate when he isn't looking? Great... and why did we get Brussels sprouts? I hate those things."
"Everybody hates them till they've had `em fresh from the garden. It's a whole different thing when they're fresh."
"It'll have to be real goddamn different for me to eat them," I groused as we drove back to the Farm, "but maybe Evan likes them. And we're gonna have tomatoes coming out our ears."
"Can't have too many tomatoes," Callie said. "I'll come and help you freeze some. Then you can have almost-fresh tomatoes all winter."
I cheered up at the thought of tomatoes in January, wondering where my slightly grumpy mood had come from. There was nothing odd going on with Evan and me. My business with Kenny had gone from mildly successful to a home run; we had a waiting list of people wanting to hire us. I finally decided that I had just gotten up on the wrong side of the bed and that seeing Callie again had made me a little homesick, even though I couldn't really think of anything I missed about life before Evan.
On the way home, Sonny was still out front, so I asked Callie to stop. He wandered over and stuck his head in the window to say hi when I introduced her, then surveyed all the greenery in the back of the car.
"This all goin' in at your place?" When I nodded, he added, "That garden ain't been tilled in years. Best do that first."
Callie elbowed me in the ribs. "Didn't I say that very thing?"
"I'll bring it down now and you can keep it till you're done."
Before I could protest, Callie thanked him and pushed me out the door to help him load it into his truck.
"I don't suppose you're gonna stick around and run it for me, huh?" I asked as we lifted it into the bed.
He set a gas can in next to it, flipped up the tailgate, and faked a punch at my stomach. "Boy, you're half my age. I'd make you come back here and do mine `cept I finished it yesterday."
"Fat chance," I said, as I grabbed his wrist and twisted it away. "I'll have Callie do it."
"Prolly a good idea" Sonny agreed with a smirk. "Don't want you breakin' a nail or somethin'."
Sonny followed along behind us, backing his truck in near the garden when we got to the Farm. We unloaded the tiller, and Sonny got it ready to run while Callie and I lined all our plants up in the shade.
"Jesus Christ," Evan muttered when he saw all the vegetables. "You are gonna need help if you expect to get all that in the ground today."
"She made me get Brussels sprouts," I whined. "And bok chew."
"Bok choy. Fresh Brussels sprouts are great -- you'll love `em."
I didn't have a chance to reply
because just then the tiller fired up with a sputtery
growl. When I offered to take it from Sonny, he shrugged me off and began
chewing up the garden, leaving behind rows of dark, rich soil just begging to
grow something. After he had gone both directions with the tiller, Callie made
row markers from some slats she found in the barn and a black marker from my
office, and we began to plant. Tomatoes -- Sweet 100s, Early Girls, and Romas -- filled up one row. Peppers -- red, green, and
By then it was almost , so we went in for a drink while Sonny took the tiller home to get his beans and his dogs. He asked if it was ok to bring them and we said sure, figuring all the dogs could entertain each other. He said there were only seven of them, although it had seemed like twice that whenever I'd seen them. Two of them were blind in one eye and one was three-legged, something I had never noticed since they were always in a pack. People dropped them along the road and they just ended up at his place. He couldn't bring himself to take them to the pound, so he now had seven dogs, and aside from training them to poop in a certain section of the yard, he claimed they didn't require much more work than one or two.
Right after he left,
We turned when another car crunched down the drive. Raf came to a stop, Kenny's door opened, and one of the most comical-looking dogs I'd ever seen hopped out onto the grass. He was about the size of a small border collie, lean and leggy, with a feathery tail that curled up over his back. One ear stood erect while the other flopped over his eyebrows, which fluffed out from his forehead in big tufts of white fur, giving him a startled appearance. His curly white coat had a few patches of brown and black, including one across half of his face. A white mustache sprouted from one side of his muzzle, a brown mustache sprouted from the other, and he looked like parts of five different dogs all thrown together. I grabbed Chew's collar.
"Oh, my god,"
"I don't think there's a name for it," Evan said doubtfully.
"Elvis?" I called.
His tail gave a tentative wag, but he was staring at Chewy as we walked toward them. Kenny had him on a leash that he handed to Raf as he got into his chair.
"Isn't he a riot?" Kenny asked with a grin. "Makes you smile just lookin' at him."
The two dogs were sniffing noses, Chewy all stiff-legged and territorial, Elvis still wagging his tail about two inches in each direction.
"Be nice," I reminded Chew as I let him go.
Elvis and Chew progressed to the butt sniffing stage and both tails were wagging now. Suddenly Chewy dropped his chest to the ground, front legs spread, in the universal dog signal for `let's play.' Elvis took a couple sideways hops, Chew leaped up, and they both streaked off across the yard as Raf looked down at his empty hand where the leash had been a second ago.
The dogs made a couple high speed circuits of the yard, Elvis in the lead with his leash flapping behind him and Chewy in hot pursuit, before flopping onto the grass at our feet. Kenny reached down and unclipped Elvis's leash. "I don't think he's going any place. Too much fun here."
As we were throwing sticks for the dogs, Kathryn pulled in next to Raf with Sonny right behind her. Before I could holler `wait,' Sonny opened his door; dogs poured forth onto the drive and galloped toward us. When Chew saw them, he headed their way with a happy bark, but Elvis ran straight for Kenny, leaping up into his lap as the pack surrounded Kenny's chair. Now that I knew to look, I spotted the three-legged dog right away. His right rear leg was gone entirely, but he dashed around as good as the rest of them. It took a lot of sniffing and a few growls, but eventually Elvis hopped down and joined the pack on a tour of the yard.
We had just gotten everyone introduced to everyone else when Don and Maggie pulled in, so we did it all over again and then went inside to get more drinks. Back under the tree, Maggie lit up when she saw the swing, turning to Evan with a smile.
"Did you put this up for me, honey?"
"No, that's Jeff's doing. I test drove it, though. Works great."
She sat down in it and pushed off, smiling as she said, "Makes me feel five years old again."
The guys gathered around the grill while Sonny worked in the garden with Callie and Sharon. Kathryn and I went back in the kitchen to load up the coolers so that we wouldn't have to traipse back and forth to the house every time we wanted another devilled egg. The dogs tore around for a while, sniffing every tree and all trying to carry the same stick at once, but finally flopped down in a pile under the rose bushes and fell asleep.
Before long, steaks, hot links, and chicken were piled on platters and we were digging in as nine -- Jesus, nine -- dogs watched us intently, eighteen eyes following our hands from our plates to our mouths. Callie was the first to break under the pressure.
"God, will you please give them something to eat," she wailed, "or lock them in the barn or something? Otherwise I'm going to end up feeding them my lunch."
When I set out a few bowls of dry food, they set to with a vengeance, growling at each other through mouths full of kibble. A few stern words from Sonny put an end to that as we watched the pecking order assert itself. Chewy brazened it out with the two bigger dogs while Elvis shared a bowl with a couple of the younger ones. The final two ate with the three-legged dog.
When everyone was full -- dogs and people -- we lounged around for a bit, but Callie couldn't stay away from the garden, and it wasn't long before everyone, except Don and Evan, was helping. They sat talking quietly, chuckling together now and then, and I began to have the feeling they were talking about me, at least part of the time.
Callie said some things were better raised from seed, so we'd come home with about twenty packets of the things. Kenny could reach pretty far into the garden with the hoe, so he scraped little ditches in the soil while Kathryn and I followed along dribbling seeds and patting the dirt back over them. Rafael and Sharon were putting in the flats of marigolds that Callie claimed every garden should be bordered with, and they did add instant color.
By we had every single plant and seed in the ground, and still had room left for a second planting of some things. All that manual labor had made us hungry again, so we made coffee and broke out Kathryn's pies - one apple, one pecan. As he licked the last bit of pecan pie from his fork, Don said he had to get home to get ready for an early flight, but Maggie wanted to feed the horses first.
Once they'd downed the carrots, Evan said, "This one's new," as he patted Brownie. "He has a stone bruise."
"Show `em," Evan said to me.
I eyed Brownie's monstrous hooves. "You show `em."
He gave me a little push toward the fence. "Go on. You've handled them more than I have."
So I slipped between the fence rails in next to Brownie and turned him around so that his foot would face the fence if I managed to get it picked up. I bent over and leaned into his shoulder as I'd seen Bill do, then ran my hand down the back of his leg, squeezing lightly. As I got to his ankle, he lifted his foot right into my hand. Magic!
"Right here," I said, pointing at the dark area. "He stepped on a stone. Stone bruise."
Just as everyone was commenting on the size of Brownie's hoof, Max bit me in the ass so hard that I yelled out loud in surprise and pain. All the horses scattered as I turned to chase Max.
"You miserable little son of a bitch!" I screamed as I ran after him, but he galloped well out of range, kicking his heels in the air in a final `fuck you.'
"Jesus, are you all right?" Evan helped me back through the fence.
"No, I'm not all right! That fucking horse bit a chunk off my ass!"
When I straightened up and looked at Evan, his lips were pressed tightly together and his face was turning red, but Rafael didn't have as much control and burst into laughter. That was all it took for everyone to join him, yukking it up as I gently rubbed my poor butt. That pretty much brought back the lousy morning mood I'd had earlier.
By , we got everybody except Raf and Kenny packed up and down the drive with a lot of happy `g'byes', and went into the house.
"Ok, let's see it," Evan demanded. "Did he break the skin?"
I undid my shorts and let them drop to the floor, then tugged down my boxer briefs to expose my ass.
"Oh, my god," Kenny said. "He did a number on you. You're gonna be sittin' on a pillow for a week, at least."
"Nice ass, even with the bite marks," Rafael added. "Maybe especially with the bite marks."
Evan handed me a mirror and then traced the outline of the matching set of teeth while I peered at my butt. Two arcs of dark purple welts made an almost perfect circle in the white meat of my left butt cheek. It stung like a bitch and was starting to ache every time I moved.
"You should get some ice on that," Rafael suggested, running his fingertip gently over the bumps before giving my right cheek a friendly pat.
When Evan came back with a bag of frozen peas, I tugged up my underwear and very carefully sat down on the sofa on my right hip with the peas tucked under my ass.
"Ahhh, shit, that hurts. I'm gonna kill him."
"That's three times he's gotten you, isn't it?" Kenny asked with a smile.
"Yes, and thank you very much for pointing that out. Like I said, I'm gonna kill him."
They left about an hour later. By that time, my left ass cheek was bright red and ice cold from the peas, and starting to throb. I swallowed a handful of Ibuprofen, then limped into the TV room and lay on my right side on the couch while Evan channel surfed and rubbed my back.
"What were you and your dad talking about?" I asked as Evan paused for a moment on Jeopardy to see if he could get the question in the category of `Fictional Trios,' which was `They befriended Boo Radley.'
"Who were Scout, Jem and Dill," he told Alex Trebek. "You and me, mostly. Before, when I was with Luke, he accepted it, but he was never comfortable talking to me about it. With you, he's different, probably because we're older. I think he felt that it was worse somehow cause Luke and I were underage.... well, all but the last few months we were together."
"Who the hell is Scout, Jem and Dill? How do you know these things?"
"The kids from To Kill A Mockingbird. Great book, you should read it."
"Ok. Was he asking specific questions, or just wanting to know how we were doing, or what?"
"Both. He started out by saying that he knew I was an adult and that I didn't owe him any explanations or anything, but that he was curious."
I sat up a little so I could see his face. "Curious about what? Like, sex?" I couldn't imagine Don asking something like that, but just the thought freaked me out a little.
Evan laughed and pushed me back down. "No. Jesus. I think he has a pretty good idea what we do together, hot shot. No, he asked about little stuff, like who does most of the cooking and what TV shows do we like. It was like he was trying to get a picture of us around the house together, maybe trying to get a feel for if we're pretty much like the straight couples he knows."
I thought about that for a minute. "Don't you think a lot of straight people wonder that? I mean, when I read about someone who thinks homos should be kept away from kids, I figure they think all we do is fuck all day and plot ways to convert teenagers. It's like they can't imagine that we have to do laundry and buy groceries and all the other normal day-to-day shit like everybody else."
"Well, my dad's not that bad, but yeah, I know what you mean. I think he really just wanted to know if I'm happy, if we have a good relationship, like he has with my mom."
I waited, but Evan was staring at the tube, listening to Alex read off the categories for Double Jeopardy. "And?"
He smiled without looking at me. "I told him the truth." He turned his face down to meet my eyes, his smile growing wider as he spoke. "I told him I was wonderfully happy with you and that you're every bit as right for me as mom is for him."
"Yeah. How's your backside?" Evan nodded as he lifted the waistband of my shorts to look at my ass. "Looks pretty grim." He pushed me gently onto my back as his hand slid around into the front of my shorts and began to rub my belly. "How's your front side?"
I closed my eyes with a smile as my dick woke up. "My front side is just fine."
"Mmm, good," Evan murmured as he shifted around until he was kneeling over me, facing my feet with my cock in his mouth.
"If he ever bites your front side," he mumbled around my stiffening dick, "I'll kill him."