Chapter Seventy-Four

- Erik -


"No! No! No! That's not what I meant at all!" Noah's voice sounded stressed.

I was just walking into the office, so my guess was he and whoever he was speaking to were standing at the doorway into the stable.

"So what exactly did you mean?" Will's voice asked.

I didn't note any irritation in Will's voice, so I wasn't sure what I was overhearing. Then I stopped and thought. "I'm not working today, and I'm not going to get involved," I said to myself, so I turned around, went back outside, and turned left into the stable through the main door.

I could hear Noah and Will around the corner and realized that they were heading towards the back of the stable.

I got to thinking that a quiet, solo ride was just what I needed. I'd just started toward the tack room when I heard Randy ask, "Should we check with Erik?"

I ducked into the first stall I could.

"Not necessary," Tracer's voice replied with confidence. "I'm sure he'll approve. Plus it's not just his decision anymore."

I saw them walk by and head into the office. I wanted to ride, but more importantly, I wanted to avoid work. I really, REALLY needed my day off. I stood in the stall for a moment before the light bulb above my head turned on! I went to the tack room, grabbed my gear, took it and dumped it into the bed of the truck. Then I backed the truck around and got the Featherlite trailer attached before I went back to the stable, grabbed Sir Galahad from his stall, and led him out. Once I had him loaded, I ran back into the stable and grabbed some carrots and apples for Galahad.

With everything ready, I was about to go into the office and let whoever was in there know I was heading out, when I noticed Christine's car coming down the drive. I waited for her to park.

"Morning," I said.

"Good morning to you. Heading out for a ride somewhere?"

"Yup. It's my day off and I haven't had the opportunity to ride for fun in a while. I'm going over to the Breaks and ride for a few hours. Would you let one of the guys know I'll be back in plenty of time for dinner?"

"Sure thing!"

I got in the truck and drove off. About forty minutes later as I was driving through Grundy, I realized I didn't have a lunch with me. I remembered something I told Will when Tiffany got the job at Hurley High School "Tazewell County wasn't the most affluent, but Buchannon was the one of the poorest counties in the state." As such, the options for lunch in such a remote, underdeveloped area were few and far between. Finally I drove into the Hardees parking lot and walked in; but before I got to the counter I heard, "Erik!"

I turned toward the seating area and saw Patrick at one of the tables.

"Hey! Let me get my order placed."

It was too early for their lunch menu, so I ordered some sausage biscuits. Once I had my order, I walked over and sat in the booth across from Patrick.

"What are you doing in Grundy?" Patrick asked.

"I could ask the same of you. I'm on my way over to the Breaks to do a bit of riding."

"Micah had a checkup this morning, and it was easier for me to take time off. I'm grabbing a bite to eat before heading over to Haysi."

"How's the little guy doing?"

"He's fine. He's up to thirteen pounds twenty-three inches in length."

"He's growing. Hmm... he's a little heavier than Ryan was at birth, but he's just catching up in length."

"Well, he's technically five months old, but being a preemie he's a bit behind. The doctor is really pleased with his progress."

"That's great. Don't blink too many times - he'll go from crawling, to walking, to graduating in a heartbeat."

"I hear you. I'm still waiting for the crawling at this point. The doctor said Micah probably wouldn't start till about nine or ten months, which is a bit later than most."

"Makes sense," I agreed. "How's the job?"

"It's alright. I spend a lot of time haggling with the mine operators. They don't seem to understand that rail cars aren't ships they don't get to the ports instantaneously and more importantly, all of this doesn't happen for free!"

"The joys of business... More! Faster! Cheaper! Free! I get tired of it."

"You get that kinda shit too?"

"Of course! Ours are more complaints about service, but it happens. You know, things like my horse wasn't docile enough, or my horse wasn't fast enough... then they want a refund."

"What do you do?"

"Typically, we give the refund. But we put the customer's name on file. Next reservation, if we get one, we confirm all the details, and someone goes over everything with them to make it clear that we hit all right buttons. They get the idea that we've covered all the bases, so no refund should be requested. Usually, the second visit is either perfect... or their last."

"Damn, I don't remember seeing anything like that."

"It doesn't happen often, and mostly with our rentals. Boarders are a different breed, either they like the service provided or they move their horse. That checklist we use each day for the boarding of horses is reviewed with the customer up front, so they know the services we offer and the services they're paying for. Uncle Phil had that going, and I've used it since I took over. How're things for Tiffany?"

"The school year has started out good. Of course, she's gotten teased a lot about abandoning last year's class, so now she's got them again."

"Huh?"

"She's got Junior English this year, so she's got the same students as last year."

"Gotcha. They gonna give her Senior English next year?"

Patrick looked at his watch, "Shit, I need to get to work. It was great running into you. Tell everyone I said hello."

We both stood, me grabbing my bag and him taking his tray.

"Good running into you. Y'all should come down and visit one weekend soon."

"I'll call and find out which one works. Your schedules aren't that easy."

"With it being October, things get quiet much earlier..."

"Sounds good," he said.

We walked out to his car, where he gave me a hug and I waved goodbye as he drove off. I got back to the truck, checked on Galahad, and took off for the park.

I pulled into the parking area, noted that I wasn't the only vehicle with a horse trailer, and was walking back to the trailer when I heard my name called. Instinctively, I turned to find the voice, and saw a woman coming out of one of the trails on horseback. I recognized her from somewhere, but couldn't place her.

"Erik, it's good to see you," she said as she rode up.

"Good to see you," I agreed, a bit of hesitation in my voice.

"You don't remember me?"

"You're very familiar, but I can't quite place you."

"My husband and I boarded with you about ten years ago until we moved to Kentucky. I'm Sue," she explained.

"Good to see you again, Sue."

"We're not far from here; so, I pull the trailer over once in a while for a ride."

"Where are you located in Kentucky?" I asked, trying to be polite.

"We moved to Elkhorn City, just over the state line from the park; so, I can get here easily."

She had dismounted while we talked, and I got Galahad out of the trailer.

"He's a big brute," she said.

"This is Sir Galahad.",

"Howdy, Sir Galahad," she spoke to him as she petted his nose. "How's your little boy?"

I let out a big laugh. "My `little boy' is now taller than I am. In fact, he graduated from Virginia Tech this past spring."

I started putting my tack on Galahad.

"How time flies," she said. "What's he doing?"

"He's helping manage the farm. Ten years... hmmm... We've added another hundred acres, brought in another family, incorporated the farm, improved and expanded the trails, expanded the stable, and added staff and horses. We now offer rentals, more riding classes, and expanded our boarding options."

"Wow! I'm impressed. I'll have to drive over and try your trails out some day."

"That would be nice."

"Well, I need to get loaded and head home. Enjoy your ride!"

"Take care, Sue."

I mounted Galahad and pointed him towards the trails. I rode south for about an hour, my mind focused on all the changes that had occurred in the last ten years. Memories of the good times and the bad; like where my life would be if Tracer hadn't joined me. It was a good time to let my mind think, process, and digest.

I'd been doing this for about an hour when my stomach started growling. I slowed Sir Galahad down to a slow walk, reached back into the Hardee's bag inside my saddle bag, and pulled out one of the biscuits. I ended up eating all three as we moved along the trail at a quiet pace. My review of life over, I started focusing on the beauty of the park.

I was following the Russell Fork River... well sorta it was about a five or six hundred feet drop down to the river from the path. It was so tranquil, and no one had come along on the path and at this point in October I didn't expect anyone to appear. There were birds chirping, and of course, the sound of the rapids below. The fall color had peaked about a week earlier, early for the area, and the oak trees last to drop their leaves - were deep red to russet brown. So many other trees had lost most their leaves, so the evergreens stood out.

We came to a small clearing where the path was following the cliff face. The clearing gave access to one of the many overlooks in the park, so I dismounted and pulled out a carrot to feed Galahad. I kicked myself for not bringing a camera, as the views were spectacular from this point. Next time, I thought. I stood there looking down towards the river below... where at this point, it was more tranquil than up where it hit the rapids.

I saw a small brown bird flying below me just above the tree tops along the banks of the river. I was trying to figure out what small, brown bird it could be, when my mind finally woke up to the fact that this small bird must, in fact, be rather large - given the nearly thousand foot drop from me to the tree tops. With that realization, I also figured out that it must be a red-tailed or Coopers hawk out searching for prey. I watched the bird fly for a bit before it eventually moved out of range.

I climbed back up and resumed riding, heading south generally through the park. At a few points I had to dismount to save my knees. I was a bit disappointed that the park had not kept the trail wide enough for both horse and rider. There were also a couple of steep points, where I got off to let Galahad handle the footing without a rider an awkward balance situation. After one of these times, I glanced at my watch after remounting... we'd been gone for over two hours.

"Time to head back," I said to Galahad.

Taking the same trail back, I took the pace up a bit in most places. I had Galahad loaded in the trailer and was ready to head home by one p.m. Almost four hours in the saddle had felt wonderful.

The drive home was uneventful... I pulled the trailer around in front of the stable and parked, got Galahad out, and led him to his stall.

"Want me to disconnect the trailer and park the truck?" I heard Tracer ask from behind me.

"That would be great! I can start grooming."

"Be right back."

I secured Sir Galahad to the stall and grabbed the hoof pick. I ran my hand down his left front leg, gently squeezing his tendon until he lifted his foot. I used the pick to remove the accumulated gravel and dirt from the hoof. I was starting on his second foot when Tracer returned.

"How was your ride?"

"Phenomenal!"

"You really needed some time to yourself... hell, just some time to relax; and I'm hoping you got it."

"Yeah! I feel refreshed."

"It shows."

I finished the last hoof, and went to reach for the curry comb in the bucket, but found that Tracer was already getting started. His hand moved in quick circular motions down Galahad's left flank. You could see bits of dirt, mud, and loose hair being dislodged.

"Where'd you go?"

"I went up to the Breaks and rode down one of the trails for about two hours. I took it a bit faster coming back."

"See anything interesting?"

"Not really. I mean, the view along the gorge is always nice; but I didn't see anything new or unusual - at least, not on the ride."

"Huh?"

As he finished one side, I grabbed the dandy brush from the bucket and started working over the same area. I moved around, letting the dandy brush flick the loose material off Galahad's coat.

"Well, first I ran into Patrick at the Hardee's in Grundy. He'd taken Micah for his check-up this morning and was grabbing a late breakfast before driving to Haysi. I told him they needed to come visit."

"Anything surprising in the check-up?"

"Not really. Micah's growing, and almost as big as Ryan was at birth. Other than that - not really."

"I'll call them and see what we can set up for a visit."

"I also ran into a woman that had boarded here before you came along. She was getting ready to leave when I arrived. We had a brief chat to quickly catch up."

"Cool."

"She lives in Kentucky now."

"Ah. Thus we aren't too convenient."

"Exactly."

Tracer was working the soft brush over Galahad's coat to get rid of any of the small stuff that I'd missed. Done with the dandy, I started sponge cleaning Galahad's nose and eyes. Tracer was already combing out the tale when I finished the face. I left the stall and grabbed another comb to do the mane.

"What's for dinner?" I asked. "I can get stuff prepped, if you like."

"Not sure. Will mentioned to me this morning that he and Ryan are meeting some friends in town for dinner."

"Then why don't we go in and have something somewhere?"

"Sounds good; I could go for some Tex-Mex... how about El Mariachi?" he asked.

"Fine with me."

Our team work made the grooming go all the more quickly.

After Tracer finished up his work for the day, we both cleaned up a bit, and he drove us into Richlands. We sat at a table in the corner, and the waitress came over to greet us.

"Bottle of Bud," I indicated.

"Sweet tea," Tracer requested. "I'm driving..."

"I'm starved," I admitted. "How about we start with the chorizo dip and nachos?"

Tracer shook his head in agreement, and the waitress walked off.

"What are you having?" he asked.

"I'm getting my usual, the Enchiladas El Presidente. What about you?"

"The Pancho Villa Buritos sound good to me."

We ordered and sat talking quietly about our day while waiting for the food. Once it arrived, conversation effectively stopped as we cleaned our plates.

"We've got a Death by Chocolate pie at home," Tracer said, just before the waitress came over to clear our plates.

"Sounds good to me."

He paid the check, left a tip, and we headed home. I sat at the counter while he pulled the pie out of the fridge.

"Who made this thing?"

"Will... he named it too."

"Why does he call it Death by Chocolate?"

"It has a chocolate cookie crust, then he poured a dark chocolate ganache on the bottom, a layer of dark chocolate mousse, a layer of white chocolate mousse, another layer of dark chocolate mousse, and finally chocolate shavings."

"Holy cow... that sounds amazing."

He cut slices for each of us and we sat at the island. I took a bite and was overwhelmed.

"I'm glad you didn't cut big pieces this thing is so rich!"

"It's really good," Tracer agreed.

After finishing our desert, we cleaned the kitchen, turned off most of the lights, and went upstairs. I stripped down, climbed in bed, and grabbed the remote control.

"Ummm..." Tracer started. He stripped down and got into bed next to me.

"Yes?"

"Instead of TV..."

I noticed the growing tent in the middle of the sheets and decided that instead of a verbal response, I'd just take action. I lifted the sheets and dived onto his cock.

"Oh, FUCK!" he let out, as I smashed my lips into his pubes.

I kept my mouth buried and let my throat muscles massage his dick as long as I could. Finally, the need for air won out, and I pulled back until my lips were wrapped just below the head of his dick. Swirling my tongue around the tip, I elicited more moans and groans.

While I continued sucking his cock, I threw back the covers and pivoted around a bit until I was between his legs. I hooked my hands under his knees and pushed them towards his chest.

With access to his ass, I let the head of his dick slip out of my mouth and started licking down the shaft. I got to his balls and sniffed a bit smelling the built up musk from the day. I sucked one ball into my mouth, letting my tongue rub over it. I played with it for a bit before switching to the other one.

Moving on from his balls, I let my tongue slide between his ass cheeks. I worked up and down his ass trench, again getting a mild musk that had built up during his day. Spreading his buns good, I worked my tongue in and out to open him up.

"Let me at that cock," Tracer begged.

"Oh?" I teased back.

"Damn right! Let me get it wet for my ass."

I pivoted around and dropped my dick into Tracer's mouth. He wrapped his lips around the head of my dick and sucked it in deep. He worked his mouth all the way down my shaft.

"Aw, yeah!" I moaned.

I got back to work on Tracer's ass, working my tongue and spit into his hole.

"Oh fuck, that feels good," Tracer groaned. "Your goatee is tickling a bit, but your tongue soothes things back down."

I made sure my tongue was good and stiff and continued to push it in and out of his hole. I sped up my pace to tease and pleasure his ass. Periodically, I'd aim a little spit right at his hole and push it in with my tongue.

"Fuck me!" he begged.

"Not yet."

"Grrrr..."

I put a finger on each side of his wet hole and pushed my tongue in a bit deeper.

"I want to get this hole nice and ready for a long, hard fuck!"

Tracer just moaned around my dick at that.

Working my fingers on the outsides and my tongue in the middle, his hole started to open up nicely. Finally, feeling that he was primed, I spun around a bit and got back between his legs.

"Shove it in!" he ordered as he squirmed a bit.

I let some spit drop down onto the head of my cock and pressed it into his hole.

"That's it, Baby," Tracer confirmed. "Fuck me; give me that hard dick."

I pulled my dick out till the head remained barely in his ass, then I pushed it back into his hole quickly.

"That's it... nice long strokes," he commented.

Buried deep in his hole, I thrust a few times to bury my shaft as deep as possible.

"Oh, Oh, OH!" he moaned.

I pulled most of the way out, then started a series of short thrusts.

"Fuckin tease!" Tracer complained.

"That I am!"

I started fucking his ass with long strokes that left the head of my dick barely in his hole on the out swings and buried deep on the in strokes.

I leaned over and started to nibble at Tracer's tits while I fucked his hole. I could feel his hard dick wedged between our bellies. He started both bucking back on my dick and pushing his dick harder and harder into my belly.

I continued fucking his hole - my hands now using his body to pull him back deeper and harder onto my dick as I moved my lips up to his and started kissing him deeply.

"Mmmmm..." he moaned.

I figured he was enjoying the kiss along with the other sensations; especially, when I felt a warmth between us and realized he was cumming. As his dick shot spurt after spurt of cum between our stomachs, his ass clenched down tight on my cock.

I was getting really close when the phone rang - a very unusual occurrence at our house at this time of night. I buried my dick in Tracer's ass and looked over at the phone to read the number.

"Shit! It's Ryan."

Tracer reached over and grabbed the handset.

"Hello."

There was a moment of silence.

"Understood. I can come get you."

Another moment of silence.

"No worries. Bye!"

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"The Jeep broke down in the restaurant parking lot. All their friends had left before they realized that they're stuck."

"Well, you're gonna be a few minutes later than they guesstimate."

He chuckled at that.

"I don't think we're done quite yet."

I pulled my dick back a bit and started building up my pace again. Even though he'd cum just moments before, I guess the stimulation got Tracer hard again. He reached over and grabbed the lube off the nightstand and squirted some into his hand.

I lifted up a bit to let him stroke his dick while I fucked his hole. Having lost my edge a bit when the phone rang, I picked a new rhythm and started working his ass over with a vengeance. It seemed I'd picked the right pace as Tracer started moaning again.

Once again, I felt Tracer's ass clench my cock as his dick started spraying my abs with cum. This time it triggered me. I leaned down and kissed him as I flooded his ass with my cum. As the last of it seeped into his hole, I broke off the kiss and looked down at him.

"I think we need a quick shower before we get the boys."

"Why?"

"I don't want to reek of sex when we get there!"

"Shower together?"

"Sure!"

I climbed off Tracer, and we both strolled to the bathroom. I got the shower running while he got fresh towels. Instead of a nice leisurely shower exploring each other's bodies; we both scrubbed down quickly, shampooed our hair, and got out fast.

"You don't have to go with me," Tracer said.

"It's late, you're probably a bit tired, and I want to..."

We drove over to Cedar Bluff and found Ryan, Will, and the Jeep in the restaurant parking lot. I was concerned that they would ask what took so long... a topic I wanted to avoid.

"Any idea what's wrong with the Jeep?" I asked as I got out of the truck.

"Won't turn over," Will responded.

"Like it needs a jump?" Tracer asked.

"No, more like something else is wrong."

"Pop the hood," I said.

I'm no mechanic, but having farm equipment, you learn very quickly some of the tricks to get something going.

"Well, I think this one is obvious... the fan belt appears to have snapped. I'm surprised you didn't break down on the side of the road. Well, let's go home. We can call the garage tomorrow, have it towed in and the belt replaced."

As we got into the truck, Tracer asked, "So how was your evening?"

"We had a lot of fun," Ryan said. "Just the eight of us catching up on what's been going on."

"That's good," I replied.

"Y'all have a nice evening?" Will asked.

"Yeah. Dinner at El Mariachi and pie at home. Speaking of which, where did you get the idea for that thing? It's decadent!"

"I kept hearing about Death by Chocolate cake but the ones at restaurants are just a chocolate cake with chocolate icing. Sometimes it's good cake, good icing, and most importantly, good chocolate; but often it's not all that good. So... chocolate pie crust, chocolate ganache, chocolate mousse, and all made with good chocolate!"

"It's really rich and really good," Tracer chimed in.

"Glad to hear it!"

We got home and said our goodnights. Stripping down, I snuggled up to Tracer and drifted off to sleep.

The next day I was sitting in the office going through paperwork when the phone rang and Christine quickly answer it. I put it out of my head and went back to the invoices.

"Erik?"

"Yeah?"

"Some lady named Sue just made a reservation; she mentioned she'd boarded here a long time ago."

"Oh... yeah... I ran into her at the Breaks yesterday. When's she coming?"

"Saturday afternoon. She asked for an experienced-level horse."

"She's got horses and has ridden for a long time, so that makes sense. Put her on Rogue Rose or Sky Rocket, she'll be able to handle either of them."

"Will do, boss."

I finished up reviewing the invoices and handed them over to Christine.

"If you'll get the checks and envelopes ready for these, one of us can sign everything before the postman stops by."

"Sure thing."

"I'll be in the barn, if you need me."

She just smiled at me. After working for us these past few years, she knew how little any of us liked being in the office. But it was, to all four of us, a necessary evil.

I walked over to the barn, grabbed the clipboard from the nail, and started to check inventory. I'd made good progress when I heard Ryan's voice yell, "Dad!"

"Up in the hayloft," I shouted back.

I heard him climb the ladder.

"What's up?"

"Wanted to ask you about the pump."

"Something wrong with pressure in the stables?"

"No... the one for the house. Haven't you noticed that showers aren't as good? I mean it feels like nothing's coming out."

"Can't say I have, but I don't take long showers."

"I think it needs to be looked at - could be the pressure tank, the pump, the neutralizer or the softener. We always kid that we have our own municipal water system."

"Have Christine call, schedule someone to come out, evaluate things, and see what needs to be fixed."

"Should we have them check the stable's system too?"

"Good idea, it's been a few years since we put in the new pump for that system. Plus it's on the old pressure tank."

"I'll tell Christine, then."

I smiled at him as he climbed back down the ladder and disappeared. I stood there for a moment and thought about what had just happened. My `little boy' had identified an issue with the house, proposed a solution, and discussed it with me as an equal. It made it much harder to think of him as my `little boy,' but more importantly, it made me proud.

I finished up the inventory and took the list to the office. It was just after noon, so Christine had left for the day, but I found Tracer sitting at his desk.

"Here's the barn inventory. I haven't checked to see if anyone has done the stable."

"Thanks, I did the stable earlier. I'll put together an order and fax it over to Southern States," he replied. "Christine told me she scheduled Rorrer Well for day after tomorrow. She said there was something wrong with the house pump?"

I noticed a bit of puzzlement in his voice.

"Ryan talked to me about it earlier. He'd noticed that the pressure for showers wasn't as good as it had been. I figured if anyone paid attention to showers - it was him spending twenty or more minutes waking up under the spray... plus it's been years since we had any of the equipment checked out; so, I figured it was good preventative maintenance."

"Oh, OK. I wasn't sure why, but that makes sense."

"I had one of those parental moments when he told me..."

"Parental moments?"

"Well... we had this discussion like adults, not as father and son. He'd identified a problem, a solution, and explained it to me. It hit me that my `little boy' wasn't all that little anymore."

"Just looking at him, you can tell that..."

"No, no... that's not what I mean. It's the maturity factor. Not the rash, young, fly-off-the-handle Ryan, but an adult Ryan that presents things to you. He's been this way since he got home from college, but this time it really hit me."

"Got it. Your baby's all grown up... old man!"

"Hehehehe... don't start that, you young whippersnapper..."

"Changing the subject, have you thought any more about Halloween costumes? We're running out of time fast."

"There's always cowboys," I teased.

"Not funny!"

"I was actually thinking kitch'd up... you know, make it look like a little kid."

"That might work... how about zombie?"

"Huh??"

"We could be a pair of zombies... you know, tattered clothing, grey face paint, dark eyes. We could get the makeup from Wal-Mart, and the clothing from the thrift store."

"I like it. I like it. Any idea what Will and Ryan are doing?"

"No!" His answer seemed quite sharp. "They've been working on their costumes for weeks with their bedroom door locked. They both won't talk about it, and keep saying they want it to be a complete surprise."

"After their costumes last year, I'm wondering what they'll do to top it."

"Those were awfully popular with the crowd."

"We'll have to wait till the party for the grand unveiling, I guess... When's the rain supposed to start?"

"Last I checked the storms should be starting soon, so I'm figuring we'll have more staff than tasks. I guess I should check to see where they are and how bad."

I glanced at the task board Will and Noah were out back working fence maintenance; Ryan, Randy, and Marty were working up at the picnic area; and Hank was supposed to be in the stable finishing up some of the general tasks.

Tracer's hands moved swiftly over his keyboard.

"It's a lot closer than I expected," he admitted "And the storm cells on radar look menacing. I don't remember the forecast saying this was gonna be bad. Should we bring everyone in?"

I moved a bit behind Tracer so I could see his screen. Looking at the radar screens, I agreed, "Yes, let's get everyone back now. How many horses are out in the pasture?"

"A dozen or so," he said.

"I'm thinking we should get them in as well."

Tracer grabbed the mic for the base station. "Attention! Attention! Thunderstorms approaching... everyone return to the stables immediately. Anyone available, please help bring in horses from the pasture. Attention! Attention! Thunderstorms approaching. Everyone return to the stables immediately."

"I'm going to go bring in some of the horses," I said.

"I'll help."

We walked out of the office and found the sky looking ominous. I grabbed a couple leads and handed a pair to Tracer. The winds started to whip up a bit as we made it to the back of the pasture. Marty and Randy were just behind us as Tracer and I each hooked two horses and turned back to the stable. We were half across the field when I saw Noah and Will come running towards us with more leads.

Hank met us at the door of the stable... we traded his two leads for my two horses, and I turned and ran. The last two horses had followed me to a point so, I didn't have far to go.

With everyone in the stables, we had all the horses in their stalls and things cleaned up quickly. The storms moved through very quickly, and a little before quitting time the sky brightened.

The four of us were sitting in the office as the last of the guys said good night.

"I need to run into town for some groceries," Tracer said. "Anyone need anything?"

"Grab some soda?" Will asked.

"How about getting a big roast that I can do in the crock pot tomorrow," Ryan added.

"Sounds good."

"Mind some company?" I asked.

"Not at all," he responded as he stood up and grabbed his keys.

Tracer drove us into town and got us to the Food City in Cedar Bluff quickly. I grabbed a cart and we started through the store. He grabbed some produce, a large rump roast, and headed down the dairy aisle. He was looking at the display when a woman, who looked a bit older than me walked up.

"Excuse me," she said.

"Oh, hello," Tracer's tone made it clear that he wasn't comfortable.

"I've been trying to call Jacob, but his phone always goes to voicemail. And he never returns my calls..."

"If you're calling during the day, I would assume he's at work."

"So, he did get a job... good!"

"He's with a small manufacturing firm in North Carolina," Tracer explained.

The woman, I assumed to be Kirk and Jacob's mother, looked like she was about to cry.

"How's Kirk doing? He's not causing you any trouble, is he?"

"No ma'am," Tracer said, then stopped. I was wondering if he would give her details or not. Then he continued. "He's not living with me any longer. He left for school last month."

"School?" she sobbed a bit. "So the letters I gave him that day..."

"Were both acceptance letters."

"Where did he go?"

"He's at William and Mary."

"How??? How???" she sobbed more.

"He got a nice financial aid package. Jacob's friend Ryan took him to school."

I could tell that Tracer was trying to keep things as vague as possible.

"I need to finish shopping," Tracer continued. "I'll call Jacob and let him know you really would like to talk to him."

"Thanks," she said. She glanced at me, but said nothing.

Tracer grabbed a container of sour cream, put it in the cart, and we moved off. We finished the shopping, checked out, and put the bags in the truck all in silence.

"That was nice of you," I said after I closed the truck door.

"Huh?"

"You could have told her nothing. You know... not told her that Jacob has a job... not told her that Kirk's at college... told her that Kirk's got a boyfriend. You gave her highlights that she needed to hear, and not the ones she didn't need to know."

"I hadn't thought of it that way. I was actually trying to make the point that both of her sons were doing well in spite of her and her husband."

"I think you made that point too. And I still think you were pretty nice about it all. I'm also glad you kept the details sparse."

"Well, she knows I'm a friend of Ryan's from the day in the parking lot. She saw us, Ryan, Will, Jacob, and Chet at Kirk's graduation. I just don't want her spreading gossip that will cause us problems."

"I doubt she will... I'd be more concerned if her husband found things out. He sounds like a piece of work that would - regardless of the damage that it would do to Kirk."

"Yeah."

Once we got home, we told Ryan and Will about the meeting at the grocery store, and Ryan offered to call Jacob later in the evening.

The next morning at breakfast, Ryan gave us an update.

"I talked to Jacob for nearly an hour before bed last night. Man is he baked."

"What?" I asked.

"Baked. Done. Finished. Over it. Use any term you want - he's through with his folks. He told me he'd talked to you about growing up and comparing his life to Tracer's."

"What do you mean?" Tracer asked.

"The night of Kirk's graduation when I drove Jacob home, we talked," I explained. "He said that while Kirk and your situations seemed similar on the surface, there was one major difference. While you would say that up till the day your dad caught you, things were happy, loving, and overall good; but with Kirk and Jacob's dad, they never had any of that."

"Exactly," Ryan chimed in. "Jacob said that the good memories he has about growing up relate to times with Kirk, or friends, or school. I guess his mom tried... a little, but didn't really make a difference."

I continued. "Jacob said that seeing how our family worked made him realize how much he and Kirk missed out on... he seemed really sad."

"Essentially, he's divorced himself from his parents," Ryan said. "He won't return her calls, won't go visit, wants nothing to do with them."

"I feel bad for her," I said. "She looked so distraught, and seemed so torn."

"I guess if she leaves a message saying she's leaving his dad, Jacob might call her... but I'm not sure that would even do it."

"Damn," Will said.

"Agreed."

As a parent, I sat there and thought of what it would be like to never hear from your kids. She was caught between her husband and her sons. Then I thought about Kaitlynn and how she had abandoned Ryan. I never understood her decisions, and I would never know why. Then I got up and hugged Ryan.


Copyright 2008 - 2016 BndgDawg (BndgDawg@gmail.com). Do not reproduce or distribute this story without the author's permission.

NOTIFICATION LIST: If you would like to receive a notification notice when a new chapter is available, please contact me and I'll add you to the distribution list.

This is Chapter Seventy Four of Double Trails. I attempt to respond to all feedback. Contact me at: BndgDawg@gmail.com

Rock deserves a lot of credit for all the assistance he continues to provide. His feedback leads to a much more readable story! Thanks as always to him.