By Waddie Greywolf

Chapter 44

We arrived at the double ‘R,’ I unlocked it and let us in.  I sat my bag down,  took the one from my granddad and set it down next to my other bag.  I turned back into my granddad’s arms.  We hugged and kissed a long gentle kiss.

“Welcome back, Son.  I missed you some’um fierce.”  he said.

“I’ve missed you, too, Grampa, and believe it or not,— I missed the ranch.” I smiled at him.

“H’it gits in yore’ blood, Son. Ain’t nothing you kin do about it.”

“I’m so glad you wanted to come and spend the evening with me. It means a lot.”  I told him.

“I figured I better or you might not have no rear left.” he laughed.

“I never compare the men I love, Grampa, but our sheriff,— he’s one hell of a man.”  I grinned at him.

“Is there any left for yore’ poor old grampa?” he smiled.

“Oh, hell, yes!  There’s always plenty for my granddad.”  I winked at him.

“How’s yore’ dad, Son?”

“He’s doing fine. I took a bunch a’ pitchers while I’s home and downloaded ‘em into my ‘lectro-willie-gates.  I bought dad a new, handmade, rodeo saddle for Christmas, and I got pictures of him sit’n his pony with it.  I have to say, Grampa,— my dad sits a fine pony.”

“He always did, Son. When he was a young man, he was a fine looking cowboy.  He turned many a head of all three flavors.”

“I didn’t mention I had a letter for him.  I kept yore’ letter locked up in my lap top carrying case.  I was waiting for a good time to give it to him.  I wasn’t sure when a good time would be, but I prayed for guidance.  Seems we weren’t the only men what got a visit from my uncle.  Christmas eve Uncle Seth came to dad and talked with him.  Dad said an archangel by the name of Urial had his hand on me to keep me asleep.  I wasn’t suppose to be privy to what they had to say to one another.

Later,  when he woke me to tell me about it,— he quietly told me I could leave your letter on his dresser.  I didn’t say nary a word to him ‘bout have’n no letter.  He told me to sit it on his dresser, and he would read it; but, he wouldn’t tell me when.  I didn’t push, I jes’ did as he told me and left it on his dresser.  It was still there, unopened, when we left.   

“I’ll be damned.” said my granddad softly,  “Sounds like some’um Seth would do.  He worshiped his big brother.”

“Dad didn’t share a lot with me about their meeting.  As far as I can make out from what he did tell me, I guess my uncle done pleaded with dad to read yore’ letter and consider forgiving you.  Right now,— it’s a matter of time.  If’n you know my dad, you know when he gits his mind set on some’um, he ain’t likely to change it right away.  I’m pray’n he will this time.”

“I been pray’n the same, Son.  I feel so terrible ‘bout what I done to him.”

“H’it was a long time ago, Grampa.  You ain’t that man no more.  Yore’ my granddad.”

Curtis hugged and kissed me again.  It was cold in the coach.  I turned on the heat and asked granddad if he’d like a little toddy.  He smiled and nodded.  By the time I made our drinks, it was warming up in the coach.  We took off our heavy jackets, and I hung them in the closet.  I got out my lap top to show Curtis the pictures from my Christmas visit.  Once again, he cried when he saw the full shots of my dad on horseback.  He was amazed how wonderfully my dad seemed to overcome his limitations from the loss of his legs.  I  had a couple of dad in his wheelchair.

I showed him pictures of Bart and my little buckaroo buddy Brent.  He was really taken with the pictures and said he was looking forward to meeting Bart.  Curtis was really interested in my pictures of Dwayne and Lamar.  He wondered about Lamar’s size, and I began to tell him the story of the Colonel and his abuse of Dwayne.  I had a copy of the DVD my little brother edited and burned from the two tapes.  I asked if he wanted to watch it or would it upset him too much.  He assured me after what he watched his cowboy/ biker buddy go through with his abusive Master,  nothing would upset or surprise him.

We watched the DVD and I forgot how sensual and stimulating the bathroom scene was between Lamar and my brother.  It seemed like, within the context of what was happening to them, and the abuse he was ordered to perform on Dwayne, Lamar managed to turn it into an incredibly powerful, beautiful, sensual and loving experience.  At the very end when they climaxed together as they were locked in the kiss of death, I thought my granddad was going to shoot his load in his Wranglers.  I could see he was hard as a rock.

“Wow!” he exclaimed softly.  “That’s pert-damn powerful stuff, Son.  I was this close to soiling my Wranglers.”

“Glad you didn’t.  I wanna’ wear it inside me all night, Grampa.”

“You can say the most loving things sometimes, Casey.”

“That ain’t bad,— is it, Grampa?”

“Lord, no!  I’m like a starved pig what found hisself locked in the feed house overnight.”  he laughed.

By the time we finished watching the DVD, it was getting late. I got into the shower to clean myself.  I helped him off with his clothes, and we went to bed.  After catching his cowboy cream, we drifted off into a deep sleep.  Neither of us woke up until I heard the click of my coffee machine.

* * * * * * *

Vince drove home at a leisurely pace.  He wasn’t in any hurry.  He had a lot of things to think about.  He thought about what he told Casey about taking the job of manager of the ranch.  Vince didn’t have quite the same idea of clinging to his son as Casey might have thought.  He always knew there might  come a day when he had to let his boy go.  His little brother Seth was right.  Vince did teach his boy unconditional love.  He taught Casey he could love many people.  Casey seemed to understand Vince’s relationship with Spence Wenchester.  Like everything else Casey did, he took the ball and ran with it.  He made it his own.

Seth Quee was also right about Vince not being totally convinced about the strength of such love. So many years he’d tried to live the cowboy way only to have his simple beliefs crushed by Curtis.  It wasn’t unconditional if you were selfish and wanted to keep someone only for yourself.  ‘It just weren’t the cowboy way.’ he chastised himself.  Vince remembered telling Casey he learned how to be a dad from him.  He fought constantly with himself to become more like his boy.  Vince found himself believing Seth’s suggestion he should learn from his boy.  He remembered telling Casey during one of their heated discussions about his son’s curiosity about his granddad,— Casey was a better man than him.  He knew his boy wouldn’t  accept it for a minute, but Vince felt he spoke the truth.

 He certainly enjoyed Casey being home.  It almost ripped his heart out to tell him goodbye, but he knew he had to.  For him and his boy to grow strong into a mature life together,  they needed this time apart.  Vince began to realize he needed this separation as much as Casey; not because he didn’t love his boy, but because he understood he had to grow on his own; so, when they were reunited, they could bring new strengths to their relationship.  He hated to admit it, but he realized Seth Quee and the men of his extended family were right.

He could see Casey was changing.  He was so much different than he was before he left.  His experiences were expanding his knowledge of the world and his relationship in it.  He was more mature and easier to relate to in some ways.  He just seemed to be comfortable with himself.  Casey was becoming his own man and Vince felt proud of him and himself for allowing Casey this time to grow.  Rather than seeing it as Casey being taken away from him, Vince was now beginning to see it as a greater bond he was forming with his son.  He trusted Casey to do the right thing.  Whatever his boy’s decisions in life, Vince knew beyond a doubt, Casey would never leave is dad behind.

Vince pulled into the gravel parking space next to the house, walked inside and saw his answer phone blinking.   He smiled to himself.  He knew who left the message before he pressed the button to listen.

 “Hey, Dad,— it’s me.”  Vince smiled as he heard Logan’s voice, “I don’t have a class today, but I have an appointment with one of my advisors.  He wants to go over some things with me.  I done told him I had me the best advisor a student could have.”  he heard Logan laugh.  Vince knew Logan was referring to him, “I should be through with him early afternoon and come on by the ranch.  I ain’t gonna’ do no shopping until I talk with you.  We need to sit down and make us a shopping list for the week.  I can get the shopping done later.   In the meantime, I’s got me a small problem I need to talk over with ma’dad when I git home.”  he heard Logan chuckle.  Vince laughed.  He knew what his boy’s problem was and what he needed. “Anyway, gotta’ run.  Don’t wanna’ be late.  See ya’ this afternoon.  Love ya,’ Dad.”

Vince smiled to himself.  He thought himself fortunate and blessed to have three fine young men who loved him and he loved in return.  He was looking forward to being with Logan again this evening.  He always enjoyed helping his boy with his problems.  Logan and him fit together like a hand in a comfortable glove.   Logan took his big brother’s visit in gracious stride.  He didn’t intrude and went out of his way to give them their privacy.  Vince thought he’d have to do something small but thoughtful for him.  Logan was such a sensitive man, the smallest gesture of appreciation would break him in two.

It was getting on toward lunch time.  Vince made himself a sandwich and ate it with a big glass of milk.  Afterward he felt a bit tired.  He was emotionally drained from having to say goodbye to Casey and two men he’d come to think on as extended family in a brief time.  He laughed to himself thinking about Sticker’s comment when they got off the plane.  Casey was good that way,— picking up family as he went along in life.  He had to admit, his boy only picked the finest folks for family.

After lunch, Vince decided he’d do something he rarely did.  He felt like he might like to take a nap.  The excitement of the holiday and emotional exhaustion from watching his boy fly off to Texas was catching up with him.   He had a hundred things to get done, but he knew Bodey and Flynn probably had half of them done all ready, and it wasn’t even noon.   He was pleased with their work and loyalty.  They worked hard with limited supervision, and he saw fit to reward them for their efforts.  Vince paid them well above what the average cowhand made.

He adopted Sid’s philosophy of taking care of those who worked hard for you and made you money.  Sid truly believed in and practiced the trickle down theory; which, outside their community was a national joke and laughed about in wealthy circles.  While the concept, in and of itself, had some merit it counted too heavily on the monied class altruistically sharing their wealth with the working class.  It was a farce from the beginning.  In reality, the rich only got richer, hung on to their wealth, and adopted the attitude: fuck the working man, we got ours and his, too.

Vince walked up the stairs to his bedroom, and sat down on his bed.  He thought he might do something he hadn’t done in ages.  He was a bit tired from all the activity and emotional drain from seeing his boy off to return to Texas.  As he sat there he saw Curtis’ letter sitting propped up against a small wooden box he kept his medals and other memorabilia in.  Vince suddenly saw the small envelope looming large on his bureau like one more ‘Everest’ in life he had to climb.  He wondered what his dad might have to say to him after all these years?   When did he plan to read it?  Would he put it off and pretend he just forgot about it?  He couldn’t do that, he promised Casey. Was he afraid to read it?

Vince felt the adrenalin pumping into his system.  It was a combination of hatred and fear mixed with curiosity and dread.  How could this happen?  In his mind it wasn’t suppose to happen this way.  He was so sure if Casey should run across his granddad, he would quickly come to his senses when he got a good glimpse into the rabid insanity of Curtis’ tightly closed mind.  Vince was hedging his bet on his boy’s low threshold on crazy people.

Vince sat looking at the letter, and felt beads of sweat form on his brow.  He felt his pits begin to perspire.  It wasn’t the usual hard work, healthy man smell his boy loved so well.  This odor was rank.  It was a scent  that triggers fear and flight in all creatures.  For all his heroism under fire in Nam, for all his medals which attested to his bravery, for all his self-assured cowboy swagger, he realized he was afraid to open his dad’s letter.  

Then it hit him,— for all his macho bravado about cutting his dad out of his life, he still remembered Curtis as the cold, stern, harsh, unbending, rigid task master he was all those years ago.  He remembered the religious sermons he and his little brother had to endure as a child, and his blood ran cold.  He could almost hear Curtis’ voice spouting scripture and chastising the boys for some small infraction.  Vince recalled the self-righteous, religious diatribes, with which, Curtis would harangue his boys for hours until there was no spirit left in them to hear his words let alone give a damn.

He smiled to himself remembering his little brother standing on a bail of hay with an imaginary bible tucked under his arm, pulling it out from time to time to pound on it to make a point as he gave a performance of one of his dad’s more powerful sermons.  Seth Quee was a natural born mimic and clown.  He would have Vince, Rance, Ocie, and Bubba rolling around in the hay laughing their ass’s off at his accurate and biting portrayal of Curtis, even to the point of foaming at the corner’s of his mouth.

That fond but poignant memory, only caused more of an upwelling within him of an almost sick, moribund feeling of fear and disgust.  Suddenly, he realized he wasn’t just Vince Longhorn, the cowboy whose legs were blown off in Nam;  a strong man, who, only through shear strength of will and his strong faith, learned to walk again to rise up and take on the world.  There was someone else inside him,— a little boy who was very much afraid.  He realized he was looking at it from two perspectives,— the man he had become, and a frightened little boy who dwelled within him; a little boy to whom he made a promise many years ago. That little boy kept screaming in his mind for him to listen,

‘No,— don’t!  Don’t even think about it, Vince!  Don’t open it!  Don’t read it!  At least not right now.  I’m afraid for you to read his words.  He was an awful man, Vince.  He done hurt us some’um awful.  He’s a bad man, Vince. You promised me you’d protect me from him and never allow him to hurt us again.  I’m still in here, Vince.  I’m a part of you.  You can’t jes’ forgit about me.  It still hurts just as much as it ever did.  I’m a’ begging you, Vince,— don’t give him the chance to hurt us again.   Gotdamn it,— you promised!  Look,— you got plenty a’ time.  It was enough you promised Casey you’d read it.  You didn’t say when.  You can postpone it indefinitely if you want,— just tell ‘em you ain’t gotten around to it yet,— but promise ‘em you plan to read it,— in time,— sometime soon.’

But the adult in him answered,

‘Okay,— okay,— I hear you.  Calm down, I feel your pain.  I understand your fear,— I’m right here with you.  Ain’t gonna’ let nothing bad happen to either one of us.  You’re right, I made ju' a promise before my boy come along, and I’ll admit,— I recommitted myself to that promise after he was born; but, things have changed, buckaroo.’

‘No, Vince, no,— don’t buy it!  They ain’t changed none!  He only wants back in our lives so’s he can make us miserable again.’

‘You don’t know that.  Perhaps he really has changed.  Our boy is a pretty shrewd judge of character.  We trust his judgement,— don’t we?  Our little brother done come to us and told us he weren’t the same man what hurt chu’ years ago.  You know our little brother wouldn’t tell us wrong.  He jes’ ain’t like that.  Ain’t chu’ curious?  Don’t you think we should at least read the letter?’

‘No, Vince.  He always could fool us.’

‘All right,— how ‘bout a compromise?  We’ll read it together, then we’ll sleep on it.  When we wake up, we can do the mature thing and discuss it.’

‘Fuck maturity!  I’m afraid!  You’s the mature one,— I’s jes’ a little kid, Vince, and he scares the crap out a’ me.’

‘Look,— I know I made ju’ a promise, and I aim to keep it.  I won’t let nothing happen to you.  If’n we feel the least put off by him, I won’t give him the fuck’n time of day.  How’s ‘zat?’

‘I donno,’ Vince,—’

‘Ahh,--- c’mon, little buddy,— I’ll protect you.’ Vince cajoled him.

‘Okay,— I guess.  Do I git equal say?’

‘Of course you do.  Who was it went all though Nam with me?  Who was braver than I was most times?  Who was it made me do them things I probably would’ve never done otherwise?  T'was you what done won all them damn medals,--- t'weren't me, honcho.  You's the one what done took care of me.  You looked out for me, and I took care of you,— didn’‘nigh?  Well?  Didn’‘nigh?’

‘Yes, Vince.  It’s just,— ’ his inner child said hesitantly.

‘Shuuu,— ‘at’s enough now.  You was the one what always told me to do the right thing.  You always believed in the cowboy way more’n I did.  Who’s all the time beat’n me up about the damn cowboy way?  You know in our heart, we gotta’ read it, ‘cause it jes’ wouldn’t be right to promise our boy and not make an effort.  You with me, buckaroo?’

There was only silence, but Vince could still feel the apprehension from the small boy within him.  He took the letter from the dresser and sat back down on the bed.  He turned it over in his hands to look at the back. It was sealed and on the front it had his name ‘Vincent’ written in his dad’s unmistakable handwriting.  He took the letter out and held it for a minute,  looking at it like a kid on the edge of a swimming pool looking into the cold water,  dreading to take the first plunge.  He slowly unfolded it and began to read,

Dear Vincent,

I never could write so good.  That’s why I done lived most of my life as a cowboy.  Cowboys don’t have to write much.  I’ve started this letter fifty times or more only to tear it up and start again.  Meaning no disrespect,  I started to write, ‘Dear Son,’ but I didn’t know if I should address you as my son or not.  We been dead to each other for almost a quarter of a century.  I didn’t want to offend you none right off the bat by presuming you still think on yourself as my boy.  I can understand why, if you never wanted to think on me as your dad again.

Over the years, I got to thinking, if my daddy done what I done to you, Vince, I would’ve done the same thing you did.  I would’ve made damn sure he never laid eyes on me again.  He would’ve been as dead to me as I’ve been to you.  I tried, over the years, to rationalize my actions as a man caught in the grip of an unholy alliance with the Devil,  because of something what happened  between Tom Harris and me years ago, but them words is empty.  They have no meaning for what I done.  I ain’t got nobody to blame but myself.  I allowed it to happen, and as bad as the things I done were,  I alone take full responsibility for my actions.

I’ve asked myself a thousand times, how does a man go about asking forgiveness from his son when he turned his back on him, judged him falsely, called him horrible names, threw him out of his home before he was fully grown, and told him he never wanted to set eyes on him again; all in the name of religious piety?  I don’t have no good answer to that question.  I don’t know if any words I might say would make a difference, but I have to try, Vince.

Even though I thought you was dead,— for years I asked myself the question: What would I say to you if I had the chance to tell you how sorry I was?  I thunk on it a lot the past twenty-five years and everything I thought of sounded hollow or empty; however, my heart kept coming back to one simple phrase: I’m so damn sorry, Vincent, I was such an ignorant asshole.  I would get down on my knees and beg your forgiveness if I could.

Before he walked out of my life, your little brother Seth Quee, roped and tied me to my bed one night and made love to me.  He told me he was going to love me the way he’d always wanted to and by giving his love to me, he would be forcibly taking from me what should have been freely given to him all along.   He didn’t emasculate me or do nothing to me I didn’t enjoy.  I wouldn’t admit it to him at the time, but the more I protested the more exciting the experience became for me.  I begged him not to, and I threatened him every which way I could to no avail.  His mind was set,— he was going to have his way with me.

After stimulating me to climax three times in various ways, he finally untied me and let me go, but not before he gathered his things and Bubba was driving up the road to pick him up to stay with him and his family.  I probably could’ve overpowered him, forced him to stay, but I didn’t try.  There was something deep within me what was so confused.  It made me realize, for all my self-righteous, religious piety, what my boy done to me was what I secretly yearned for all them years.

I wanted him to stay.  I begged him to stay, Vince; however, my wounded, stubborn, masculine pride wouldn’t allow me to tell him how much I loved him, and what he done was the most wonderful thing I’d shared with another man since Tom Harris.  To tell him that, would’ve made me the ultimate hypocrite after years of thumping the bible, denouncing that sort of thing; especially, after having  thrown my eldest boy out for the same urges what dwelled within me.  I couldn’t even tell my youngest boy I loved him.

By then, it was too late.  Seth made up his mind.  He was leaving me for throwing you out for something, he felt in his heart,  he was just as guilty of; however, he told me he would never allow me to kick him out and turn my back on him.  He would be the one to leave and turn his back on me.  Seth made it clear, he was the one what was leaving me, and he swore I would never lay eyes on him again either.  He hammered home his point,— when I kicked you out, I lost him, too.

That night as I watched Seth drive away into the night with Bubba I realized what I’d done.  My world came crashing down around me.  I sat on the front stoop and cried ‘til dawn.  Because of my stupidity, arrogance and rigid religious beliefs,  I lost the greatest treasures of my life; the love of a good woman and the love of my two sons.

Seth lived with Bubba and his folks just long enough to join the Army.  He lied about his age and forged a birth certificate.   The military never checked.  Hell, they didn’t care.  All they wanted was gun fodder.  I never heard from him again until I was notified of his death several months later,  and they shipped him home in a box.  We couldn’t even open his casket to say goodbye.

I looked for you, Vince.  I tried to find you for years.  I wanted to try to set things right between us if I could, but I never found you or Frances.  The government wouldn’t give me any information.  I asked everyone in town if they knew where you and Frances might be.  Folks hated me so much they wouldn’t give me any information.  Hell, they wouldn’t give me the time of day.  Can’t say’s I blame them none.  I was an insufferable bastard in them days.  When I couldn’t find no trace of you, I assumed you were either killed, your body never recovered, or you were missing in action.

I couldn’t live around the area what reminded me everyday of my loss.  I sold the ranch to Bubba.  I gave up everything to go out into the greater world to find myself.  If I didn’t find myself, I didn’t care.  I had no more life left.  I didn’t care whether I lived or died.  I renounced all ties with anything what smacked of organized religion.  I didn’t walk into a church or pray to God for ten years.

I won’t bore you with the depths I sank to, or the pain I went through thinking I’d lost both my sons before I could try to make things right with them.  As I look back on it now, I deserved the pain I suffered.  I bought me a motorcycle, and joined the world of nomadic bikers.  I was forced to live by the biker code which was, for all practical purposes, the cowboy way.  Living it every day and seeing it in action made me realize that’s what I really believed.  I was comfortable with it before I allowed myself to become sucked into the meaningless vacuum,— the empty, mindless stupidity of rabid fundamentalism.

By a process of introspection and with the help of a fine young cowboy what had his face almost blown off in Vietnam, I learned about the power of unconditional love in its purest form.  Then, and only then, did I slowly began to change.  I owe Waddie Claymore and his biker family a great debt.  I can only hope and pray I ain’t the man today I was the night your little brother Seth Quee walked out on me.

Recently, I come to know a young cowboy who captured my heart and imagination before I knew anything about him.  He was kind, thoughtful, considerate, generous to a fault, believed in and practiced the cowboy way.  He seemed to have the capacity to love and be loved by others unconditionally; all that, and to be a fine cowboy made him one of the most attractive men I ever met.

I would watch him rodeo and think to myself, ‘Dear God in heaven, if’n I had a grandson, I’d want him to be just like that young man.’  Then I’d chastise myself and think if I hadn’t been such an uncompromising son of a bitch all them years ago,  I just might have me a grandson like him.  The beauty, talent and unassuming humility of the young man stabbed me through the heart like a knife.  I couldn’t take my eyes off him, his beauty broke my heart.

I wanted to get to know him better, so I offered him a job as a cowhand on the Lazy 8.  To my surprise and joy, he accepted.  I’m glad I offered him a job, because of his quick thinking and selfless actions,— he saved my life.  How could I not fall in love with a man like him?   Can you imagine my joy, not only to ultimately find out Casey was my grandson, but also to find out my son, while badly wounded in Nam, was still alive, doing well and was the father of the finest young man I could ever hope to meet.  I cried like a damn baby, Vince, the first time Casey called me ‘granddad.’

I told Casey one time, for all the horrible things I done to you boys and the lack of love I showed you, beneath it all, you maintained a dignity and generosity of spirit I knew I didn’t have.  At the time, I couldn’t understand your unconditional love for your little brother and your other brothers, Rance, Ocie, and Bubba.  I knew in my heart, even when you was a boy, you was a better man than me.  You proved it to me every day, and in my ignorance, rather than be proud of my boy,  I resented you for it.

I knew, without a doubt,  you’d make a better father than me, and so you have, Vince.  The proof stood before me and took me into his heart with all the love and generosity he learned from his dad.  Casey is the most wonderful miracle of my later life, Vince.  You couldn’t have raised him no finer.  I see within him the best of you and Seth Quee; but, I also see a side of him neither of you have that could only come from his beautiful mother.

Casey done told me he belongs to you.  I believe him.  He makes no apologies for his love for his dad,  and he leaves no doubt in my mind of his sincerity.  To him you are the alpha and omega of his life.  You share something with each other I can only dream about.  I can imagine what a great joy he must be to you.  In the brief time we’ve come to know each other,  he has brought joy, happiness and love to me.  I love Casey very much, Vince.

I’m so sorry for the man I was then and the things I done.  I’ve asked myself many times how I could have the temerity to ask your forgiveness  when I can’t even forgive myself.  Then a thought come to me: Maybe you don’t have to ask Vince’s  forgiveness.  If you and him can agree to hate the man you were, then perhaps,— just maybe,  he might find it in his heart to give the man you are today another chance.  That’s all I’m asking, Vince,— another chance.  If you give me that chance,  I promise I will do everything in my power and with all the love in my heart to make sure you never regret it.

That’s about all I have to say,— except to tell you I love you, Vincent, and no matter what you decide, it won’t never stop me from loving you.



Vince sat there for a minute and then broke into uncontrollable sobs. He threw the letter on the bed and pulled himself into an almost fetal position.  He sobbed and sobbed until he was more exhausted than he already was.  Slowly, he began to pull himself together, and lay there wondering why he reacted that way?  He knew he was stronger than that.  Was he sad?  Did he find joy in his dad’s words?  What was going on?  Then, he realized it was the little man inside him who couldn’t handle Curtis’ letter.

‘You always wanted to hear them words from him.  Now how do you feel?’

‘I don’t know, Vince,— kinda glad but sad at the same time.  I was glad to hear he changed, but I was sad for what we went through.  I felt sad for the wasted years.  I guess I felt cheated and angry for what might have been.”
‘Yeah, me, too, little buddy, but we can’t bring back the past.  We can’t change it none.  ‘At’s what we done,— we put him behind us and moved on.  We slammed the door on him same’s he did on us, and you know that ain’t the cowboy way.  You glad we read it?’

‘Yeah,— I reckon.  T’weren’t as bad as I thought it might be.  Sorry I’s so scared,— but I weren’t the only one cry’n,  you’s cry’n too, Vince.’

‘I know I was,— I’s jes’ let’n you git it all out,— hope’n you wouldn’t notice,  is ‘zall.  The letter t’weren’t bad a ‘tall, little buddy.   Why ‘ont we sleep on it?’

‘I think it would be a good idea, Vince, then maybe we could read it again tomorrow.’

‘We could do that.’

‘You think’n on forgive’n him, Vince?’

‘Too soon to tell, little buddy.’

‘Do I still git equal say?’

‘Have I ever gone back on a promise to you?’

‘No,— you always done took good care of me.’

‘I always will.  Let’s us sleep on it,--- maybe read it a couple more times,--- think on it,— then we’ll decided together.  We done kept our promise to our boy, we don’t have to give him no answer right away.  He knows it’s gonna’ take a while.  You happy with that?   You okay now?  We still buddies?’

‘Yeah,— I’m okay.  Of course we’s still buddies, silly.  Let’s us git out a’ here, Vince,  and go do some’um.  Let’s go see what Bodey and Flynn are up to.’

‘You don’t wanna’ take a nap?’

‘Naw,— I ain’t sleepy no more.’

‘Me neither.  Okay, ‘at sounds good to me,— and by the way, little buddy,— I’m proud of you.  It’s like you always tell me, no matter how bad some’um you need to do seems,— instead of worrying about it and put’n it off,— jes’ git ‘er done.’  Vince laughed at and with himself.

* * * * * *

The drive to his parent’s farm near Spring Hill was interesting for Bart.  His mother asked a lot of questions, but once in a while his dad would ask him one.  Bart watched as his mother’s head would turn sharply to glare at his dad like, ‘how dare you ask a question?’  Bart’s dad ignored her.  Bart was laughing inside.  He never realized what might be going own with his parents.  He was fascinated, kept addressing his dad, and talking more and more with him.  His mother became very quiet.  She reminded Bart of a broody hen who was just pushed off her nest.  Every feather was ruffled to make her look menacing and bigger than she really was in an attempt to intimidate the usurper of her straw throne.

Bart continued his conversation with his dad after they got home.  He followed his dad into the living room, and Brent went with his grandmother.  She was going to get him some milk and cookies.  Bart thought he might like some milk and cookies, but she didn’t offer him any.  He laughed to himself.  Bart’s dad, Hank Conners, was thrilled to be having a conversation with his boy.  Bart went on and on about meeting Curtis Langtry’s grandson Casey at the airport in El Paso.  Because it was the holidays, the airlines were booked solid, Bart couldn’t get tickets, and Casey offered Bart and Brent a ride to San Diego in Mr. Wainright’s private plane.  

He went on to tell Hank about how good Casey’s family was to them and how much they helped.  Hank was pleased his boy found some good men who came through for him in his hour of need.  They talked on and on until Bart told his dad he might check in on his mom to see if she needed any help in the kitchen fixing supper.  Bart went to the kitchen where is mother was working. He could see Brent playing in the backyard.  He was in his swing he never used because of his condition.  He was swinging and having a ball like any normal kid.

“Do you need a hand, Ma?  Can I help with anything?”

“No,— no,— I’ve got everything under control. Thanks anyway.” she answered coldly.

“What’s wrong, Ma?”

“Nothings wrong.  Why would you think a thing like that?”

“Uhh,— maybe it’s ‘cause I’m yore’ son, and I know you pert-damn well.”

“Don’t you use language like that in my house, young man, I won’t have it.  You know better’n ‘nat.”

“Sorry, Ma,— but I said it to make a point.  You know I never curse in your house.  Now,— you wanna’ tell me what’s wrong?”

“I don’t care if you were making a point, you don’t use language like that to do it; furthermore, I done told ju,’— there ain’t nothing wrong.  Now, go join your father,— you seem to like talking with him so much of late,  and I’ll let cha’ll know when supper’s ready.”

“Okay, Ma, I promise I won’t never ever use no foul language in yore’ house again, but I should a’ been talking with my old man years ago when it might a done me the most good.”  Bart turned and walked away.

Bart rejoined his dad in the living room.  Brent came in hollering for his dad and ran into the room.  He had a horned toad in his hand and his grandmother was right on his heels admonishing him to get that filthy critter out of her house.

“Dad,— Grampa,— look what I found.  Can I keep him, Dad?  Huh, Dad,— please, can I keep him?”

Bart laughed to see Brent so interested in something.  He’d never seen his boy with such enthusiasm and spirit about anything.  

“H’it’s okay, Ma,— I’ll take him outside.”  Bart scooped Brent up, horny toad and all, and walked out the backdoor with him.  He admired Brent’s toady friend and showed his boy how you could make a horned toad go to sleep by rubbing him between his horns.  Brent was wowed his dad knew such magical things.  Bart told him he must return the toad to the yard; he can’t live outside his environment.”

Brent reluctantly released the toad, and it promptly scurried away. Bart told Brent he appreciated him showing him his toad, but next time, maybe it might be a good idea to holler for Bart to come look at what he found instead of bringing it in the house.

“I’m sorry, Dad,— I won’t do it no more.”

“‘At’s ma’boy!  C’mon, let's go in.  H'it’s time for you to warsh up and git ready for supper.  Grandma’s almost got it ready.”

Bart sent Brent off to wash his hands and face and to report back to him.  He wanted to see if Brent did a good job; if not, he was going to take him into the washroom and do it himself.  Brent promised he’d do a good job.  Bart returned to the livingroom and sat down.  He smiled at his dad and winked,

“I always thought this was ‘our’ house, Dad.”  he said quietly.  His dad immediately  knew what his son was talking about, slapped his knee and fell out laughing.  It was the first time, Bart could ever remember sharing a male moment with his dad.  It was the first time he ever saw his dad laugh about something Bart said.  It made Bart feel good.  They talked for a few minutes and Brent came running back into the livingroom for inspection.  He washed his hands pretty good, but he only gave his face a lick and a promise.  Bart took one look at him,

“No,— no,— now you go back in ‘nair,— get chore’self a warsh cloth,— use soap and water, and clean 'nat grubby little face a yore'n.”  he reached out to tickle, Brent.  The boy squealed and ran back to the bathroom.

Bart and his dad talked some more.  His ma came to the door to tell them supper was ready.  Brent came running back in, and he really did clean his face, and his hands looked cleaner.  He might have done better, but Bart wasn’t going to nitpick; instead, he complimented Brent on his job.  They sat down and Bart addressed his dad.

“Dad,— would ju’ mind if’n I said grace before we eat?”

Bart’s mother pulled back from him like she just discovered he was a leaper and looked at him questioningly.  Bart ignored her.

“Why, no, Son,— I wouldn’t mind a’ tall.” replied his dad.

Bart took Brent’s hand.  Brent knew the drill and took his granddad’s hand.  Bart held out his to his mother,  she reluctantly took it and then her husband’s.  Bart prayed,

“Our gracious Lord, thank you for your goodness to us.  Thank you for a safe journey and the angels you sent to me’n my boy.  Thank you for the wonderful doctors and staff at the Children’s Hospital who gave my son a second chance.  We thank you for the food we’re about to eat.  Bless our family, Lord, and keep us safe from strife and harm.  Amen.”

Bart’s dad echoed his son’s ‘Amen’ and so did Brent.  He learned it from his buddies Casey and Mr. Longhorn.  He wasn’t real sure why they said it but he knew he liked ‘them men.’  Mrs. Conners loudly said nothing.  Instead, she got busy adjusting her paper napkin in her lap.

“Nice blessing, Son.”  his dad said quietly.

“Yeah, Dad,” Brent chimed in, “ya’ think he hear’d ja’?”  

“Thanks, Dad.  I think he did, Son.  He done heard my prayer when I prayed for a miracle for you and me at the airport and a cowboy angel appeared out of no wheres.”

“I wondered if Casey was an angel, Dad, the way he learned me to talk and all.”

“I don’t think we should talk about that right now, Son.  Some folks might not be ready for that miracle.”  Bart rolled his eyes towards his mother.  Brent picked up on it right away and nodded his head, “We’ll talk about it later,— okay, Son?”  pleaded Bart.

“Sure, Dad.”  Brent replied and smiled at his dad. He got Bart’s message.

“So,— Dad,— how’s the fishing down to that big hole on Windmill Creek?”

“Was pert-good about a year ago.  Ain’t been in a while.  Last time I was there,  I caught me some nice catfish and sun perch what was a purtty good size.  They’s good eat’n.”

“How’s ‘bout you, me’n the boy, here, moseying on down ‘nair some afternoon this week and wet’n us a hook?”

Bart heard his mother squirm in her seat.

“Y’ain’t a’ gonna’ take that baby down to no creek, Bart Conners.  H’it’s dangerous down there.  He jes’ got out a’ the hospital, for goodness sake.  He might git hurt.  Then you’d really have to call on yore’ angel buddies, for sure.” she barked sarcastically.

Bart noticed his dad didn’t even look up from eating.  He suddenly felt very sorry for his old man.

“Yes, Ma, I am.”  Bart stated firmly.  “I mean you no disrespect, Ma, but Brent ain’t never had hisself no chance to do the things a normal kid his age should be doing.  One a’ them things is goin’ fishing with his dad and his granddad.  Look at him, Ma,— does he look sick or weakly to you?  ‘At boy ain’t never looked better in his life.  I didn’t beg money from poor folks to help save my son’s life to keep him cooped up in no house all the time.  Some fresh air and sunshine will do him good.  I only got me one week before I have to meet the ranch truck in Chapel Creek.  I’m going to work for the Lazy 8 so’s I can bring home money for you and dad to help me take care of Brent.  You’ll have him all to yourself most of the time, but two weekends a month,  he’ll be with his dad and his granddad.  

I don’t want you keeping his granddad away from him neither.  Dad has as much right to know his grandson as you, Ma.  I want him to git to know his granddad; a man, who, until recently, has been practically a stranger to me all these years.  If’n you don’t mind, I want to git to know my dad, too.  Brent’s my boy, and I plan to be a major part of his life.  I’ll make the decisions about Brent’s life, but when I ain’t around, his granddad will make those decisions.  So, count on it, Ma, — we will be going fishing one afternoon this week.”
Helen Connors let out a big, “harumph,’ pushed her chair back, rose dramatically like Brunhilda about to walk into the fire-ring of the Valkyries,  and stormed out of the room.  What followed was a deafening silence like the eye of the storm.  Bart looked to his dad for help.  Hank Conners didn’t look up, he was still looking into his plate, sopping up some black-eyed pea juice with his cornbread.  Bart was silent for while.  He knew better than to say anything.  Finally, Hank looked up at Bart with a quixotic grin on his face.

“Leave her be, Son.  She’ll git over it.  She’ll make it hell for me for several days after you leave, but I’m use to it.  There’s things you don’t know about, Son,— things you should know.   I’ll tell you when we go fishing.  ‘At’s a time when men folk kin git away and talk without worrying about what the women folk’s gonna’ think.  ‘At’s why she ain’t never wanted you to go fish’n with me.  She’s afraid we might git our heads together and talk.”

“I’ll look forward to it, Dad.  I was serious about what I told her. I want Brent to git to know you.”

“I promise, Bart,— he will.  You done gimme’ the strength to stand up to her.  You were right when you told me on the phone I need you and Brent.  I do need you two,— now, more’n ever.  We’ll talk later, Son.”  

Bart wrapped his mother’s unfinished plate of food in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge.  He got busy and cleaned the kitchen for her and put everything away.  He questioned himself why he was doing it.  It wasn’t because he felt guilty about what he said to her.  He meant every word.  He was doing it to try to say to her, ‘I know you’re upset, Ma.  I think you’re being unreasonable, but I love you anyway.’  He didn’t really care how she might look upon it.  He felt like, in someways, she robbed him of something valuable in his life by not allowing him to have a closer relationship with his dad.  He felt cheated.  He saw how Casey and Vince related to one another and wondered why he and his dad didn’t have more between them.  He knew he loved his dad.  He always secretly admired Hank, but his mother always came between them.  After a while, Bart just gave up.   

The next morning his mother was up at the crack of dawn fixing breakfast.  Bart got up, dressed, and went downstairs to see if he could help.  He left Brent to sleep a while longer.  He found her in the kitchen breaking eggs into a large mixing bowl.  He walked over to her, gently placed his hands on her shoulders, and kissed her on the neck.

“Anything I can do to help, Ma?”

“I don’t think I got enough eggs.  Would you mind running out to the henhouse and collecting what’s there?  Mind that big red hen, she’s decided to get broody in the last couple a’ days.”

“Sure, Ma,— be happy to.”  he found the egg basket on the back porch and headed for the henhouse.  He collected all the eggs under the hens.  The red hen was broody and didn’t want him taking her babies.  Much to her consternation, he took them anyway.  He took the eggs back to the house and gave them to his mother.

“Thanks.  That’s more’n I figured they’d lay, but with this warm weather the last couple a days maybe they’s decided different.  By the way, Bart,  thanks for cleaning the kitchen for me last night.”

“Yore’ welcome, Ma.  Glad to help.”

He got the feeling she was waiting for an apology from him.  She wouldn’t get it.  He knew he would never get an apology from her.  He felt cleaning the kitchen was apology enough.

It was a very quite breakfast with a lot of deep sighs from his mother.  She could be so obvious sometimes she was almost funny.  Bart remembered all the times he catered to her every whim trying to gain her love.  She would treat him fine for a while and then get mad at him for the smallest infraction, reject him and tell again how dumb, stupid, and worthless he was,— just like his father.  Bart was feeling far from worthless these days.  He didn’t know why, but he felt like he was doing the right thing and everything was going to be all right.

That afternoon, Bart, his dad and Brent drove down to Windmill Creek.  It was a beautiful place.  It had been a mild summer and they had better than average rainfall that fall.  Everywhere you looked, everything was lush green.  It was one of the prettiest places Bart could remember from his childhood.  He and Nick used to swim and play up and down the creek for hours.

Away from home and his wife, Hank Conners was a different man.  Bart never had a chance to see this side of his dad.  He was more alive.  He talked more and had a good sense of humor.  He kept Bart and Brent laughing as they drove to the creek. Once they got there, Hank taught Brent how to undo his line and bait a hook.  He told Brent to be careful of the hook.  If it accidentally got hooked into his skin, they’d have to cut it out.  That didn’t sound too great to Brent so he was very careful.

Bart and Hank took it easy and finally got their lines in the water.  To Hank fishing was more than catching fish.  Fishing was more of a religion to him.  If he caught a fish or not made no difference to him.  It was a means of communing with the natural wonders of the world, and it made him feel closer to his maker.  Sometimes he could almost swear he could hear the voice of God whispering to him though the sycamore trees  that lined the bank to the whirring accompaniment of a lone cicada punctuating the end of each phrase; fading out at the end like a soft ‘Amen.’  Hank called them 'katydids.'  It was a place where Hank could relax and renew his waning interest in life.  Bart never remembered seeing his dad so happy and relaxed.   

Brent caught on to fishing right away.  It was like a wonderful game to him.  He watched his plastic bobber like a hawk for the least sign it was moving.  He began to catch fish; one after another.  Hank and Bart caught a couple, but they were so small they tossed them back.  Brent’s fish were all stringers.  They were good size fish.  Bart wondered to himself,— naw,— probably jes’ coincidence.  He leaned back against a big Sycamore tree and relaxed.  He didn’t really come fishing to catch a lot of fish anyway.  He came to be with his dad.  Hank couldn’t have been more relaxed.  Bart saw his dad reach into his back pocket and retrieve a small silver hip flask.  He undid the top and handed it to his son.

“Pull a’ Comfort, Son?” he asked.

“Thanks, Dad.  A little one.”

Bart took the flask and took a small sip.  It was sweet and burned all the way down.  It made him feel warm and good inside.  He handed it back to his dad and watched him take a small pull from the flask.  It was like a holy communion between them,— an acceptance of Bart by his dad into the male fraternity of manhood.  Bart never knew his dad imbibed.

“I never knew you took a little snort, Dad.”

“‘S’far as yore’ ma’s concerned, I’m a teetotaler,— understand, Son?” he grinned.

“I’ll take yore’ secret to my grave, Dad.”  Bart grinned and winked at him.

“I hide this in my truck and enjoy a little while I’m fishing.  Don’t help me catch no fish, but it sure makes fish’n a hell of a lot more fun.”

Bart laughed at his dad.  Hank laughed with him.

“Cain’t gainsay that, Dad.”  they laughed again.  Brent caught another good size fish and hollered for his grandpa.

“Grampa!  Grampa,— hi’s caught me another’n.”

“Easy, Son,— don’t lose ‘em.  Hold the line tight.  I’ll bring the net.”

Bart didn’t know his old man could move so fast.  Hank had the net ready when Brent pulled his catch to the surface of the water.  It had to be a pound or more striped bass.  Hank held it up for everyone to admire and reached for the string of fish they already caught.

“I wanna’ catch a catfish, Grampa.  Does they look like cats?”  Brent asked enthusiastically.

“They’s got long whiskers like a cat.  ‘At’s where they git ‘ter name, Son.  To fish for catfish you gotta’ have yore’ bait on the bottom.  They’s like a lot of our politicians in Washington, Son, they’s bottom feeders.”   Hank laughed. Bart damn near fell in the creek he laughed so hard at his old man.

“Lemme’ adjust yore’ line and you kin throw it back in the water.  Now, h’it’s a little different fish’n for cats.  Yore’ bobber won’t giggle like it does with them other fish.  When ‘nat sucker hits,— it runs with yore’ bait and yore’ bobber’s gone,— like that.”  Hank snapped his fingers, “If that happens, pull back firmly with yore’ pole to set the hook.  Once you got ‘em hooked, you can work ‘em until he tires and we can git the net under him.  Can you remember that?”

“Yes, Sir, Grampa.”

Hank walked back to Bart with the biggest damn smile on his face.  Bart could tell his old man was in heaven.

“I got a ten spot, old man, what says his first one is two pounds or better.” Bart laughed.

“Yore’ on, boy!”  Hank giggled, “Howsomever, I got me a feel’n ‘at kid’s a natural.  I hope you win, Son.  Way I see’s it, I win either way. You checked the price of catfish in the stores lately?” Hank laughed again. Bart was really having a good time with his old man.

“I think you may be right, Dad.  I got some’um to tell you about him y’ain’t gonna’ believe ‘til he proves it to you.”

“What?  ‘At he kin talk with animals?”

“How’d ju’ guess, Dad?”  Bart said in amazement.

“Yore’ old man ain’t near as dumb as yore’ ma makes out he is.”  Hank chuckled,  “I didn’t guess.  I thought some’um was mighty strange when ‘nat boy come running in the house with a horned toad.  At five years old he’s a little young to be catching horned toads.  Them critters is fast.  You gotta’ sneak up on ‘um and grab ‘em real-quick-like to catch ‘um.  I wondered how he could a’ caught one on his first try.  I done figured it out from what he said at supper the other night when you shut ‘em up real quick,— he somehow talked that dang toad into let’n him catch it.  H’it went right over yore’ momma’ head.  She ain’t got no clue.  You think ‘at’s why he be catch’n all them fish?”

“I’ll be honest,— h’it’s shore’ ‘nuff got me to wonder’n.  I don’t know fer’ sure.  I’m almost afraid to ask ‘em.” Bart laughed.  His dad shook his head.  Bart continued,  “Casey Longhorn has the gift, and he taught Brent how to use his.  He can talk to Casey anytime he wants, from anywhere he is, without no phone.  Brent was inside Casey’s head the whole time he was being operated on.  I don’t know how it happens, Dad.  All I know is he can do it.”

About that time, Hank saw Brent’s bobber disappear.  He saw Brent’s quick reflexes pull back firmly on the line.  Hank could tell the boy set the hook from the way the line pulled.  Hank pulled his line from the water and grabbed the net.  The fish must have been a good size,  it was really bending Brent’s pole.

“Hold him, Son.  Don’t lose ‘em! Let ‘em run with it!  That’s part of the fun.  You got chore’ hook set,— let ‘em run a spell,— then pull ‘em back.”

Brent did as his granddad told him and the cat took off swimming away. Brent pulled back again and the pole began to bend once more.  Bart was going to take the pole from him, but Hank hollered for him not to.

“Let him do it, Son.  He’s gotta’ learn.  If’n he loses it, he’ll catch others.  He ain’t a’ gonna’ learn less’n you let ‘em try.”

Bart smiled at his dad.  His dad had never given him a direct order before, but it felt good.  He realized his old man’s advice was sage.  Brent worked and worked the big fish until he could bring it to the surface.  Hank took one look and whistled.

“Well, I’ll be danged!  ‘At’s some cat chu’ caught ‘tere, Son.”  he shook his head and laughed, "H'it's a keeper."

Hank deftly slipped his net under the big fish and brought it out of the water.  He held it up.  It was a big catfish.  Hank allowed it was at least three pounds or better.  He handed the net to Bart to feel the heft of its weight.

“I think you jes’ done lost yore’self ten bucks, old man.”  Bart laughed.

“‘At fish is worth ever’ damn penny, Son.  It was worth twice that jes’ to watch my grandson catch it.  Way to go, Son.” he complimented Brent and rubbed his head. “Afore you go and put chur’ line back in the water come sit a spell and let yore’ old grandpa jaw with you for a minute.”

Brent did as his granddad asked.  He was really taken with his new, improved grandpa.  Now, Hank had the same appeal to him as Vince Longhorn.  They sat down and Hank pulled Brent up into his lap.

“Yore’ daddy done told me ‘bout  yore’ gift, Son.”

Brent looked down at his hands in his lap and nodded his head he understood.

“You been talk’n ‘em fishes into bite’n on yore’ line, Son?”

“Yes, Sir, Grampa.  H’it’s easy. They ain’t real bright.  They’s kinda stupid.  They don’t think much.  They jes’ smell and taste.  You’re right about catfish, Grampa,— they’s feel with their whiskers and find food that a’ way.  I jes’ put the smell of the bait in they’s heads and lead ‘um to it like they’s on a string.”  Brent laughed.  His dad and granddad couldn’t help but laugh, too.

Hank shook his head and looked at Bart.  Bart turned his head away to keep from laughing more.

“Do you know what ‘fair play’ means, Son?” Hank asked the boy.

“I think so, Grampa.  It’s when you’s playing a game, and you don’t cheat none to win.”

“‘At’s right.  Now, think about them fish you talked into bite’n yore’ line.  Was you play’n fair with ‘um?”

“They’s jes’ fish, Grampa.”  Brent said in his defense. Bart turned his head again when he heard Hank chuckle.  Bart almost broke up.

“I know, but they’s God’s creatures, same’s you and me, Son.”

“I guess it was cheat’n a bit, Grampa.  You and dad ain’t caught much, though.”

“Yes, but that’s the sport of it, Son.  ‘At’s the fun.  You take’s yore’ chances.  Sometimes you catch a fish, sometimes you don’t, but fishing is more’n jes’ catching fish, Son.   H’it’s get’n out in the open air, enjoying the beauty of nature, but best of all, it’s being with folks you love and sharing a nice afternoon.  If you don’t never catch a fish all day, it’s still worth the trip, because you git to spend time together.  Look how much fun we done had so far.  Now, what do you think we ought a’ do with them fish you caught?”

“Eat ‘um, Grampa!”  was Brent’s quick reply.

Bart was having a hard time trying to keeping a straight face.  He wanted to roar with laugher in the worst way.

“I’m sure they’d taste mighty good, Son, but remember,— you didn’t play fair,— you cheated to catch ‘um.  H’it’s almost,— but not quite as bad as stealing.  You had an unfair advantage over them critters.  What do you think the fair thing to do would be?”

“Let ‘um go, Grampa?” Brent hung his head like he was ashamed of himself.

“‘At’s a good boy.  I think we should,— don’t chu?”

“Yes, Sir,— I guess I wudden’ play’n fair with ‘um.”

“Okay,— you go over there and take that string and let ‘um go, Son.”

“Yes, Sir.  I promise I won’t cheat no more from now on,— but how will you know if I’m cheat’n or not, Grampa?”

“You gimme’ yore’ word you ain’t cheat’n,— ‘at’s good enough for me.  Always remember, Son, a man is only as good as his word.  If you gimme’ yore’ word,  I’ll trust you until you gimme’ a reason not to.”

Brent walked over, pulled the string of fish out of the water, and apologized to each one as he let it go.

“Thanks, Dad.  You not only taught my boy a lesson, you taught me one at the same time.”

“T’weren’t much of a lesson.  Play’n fair with everything, from critters to the rest of our natural resources,  should be everyman’s responsibility.”

“‘At’s true, I agree, but the other lesson you taught me, is my dad is a wise old bird, and a good hearted man,  a fine man I’m proud to call my dad.”

Hank turned his head away from Bart, pulled out his old bandanna and wiped a tear away.

“I think that calls for another pull a’ Comfort, Son. What’d ya’ say?”

“Wouldn’t gainsay that, Dad.”

They shared another sip of the fiery, sweet, amber liquid.

“Gotta’ talk to that boy some more, Son.  I don’t want him tell’n his grandma about his gift.  In damn near thirty years of marriage I still cain’t predict how that darn woman’s gonna’ react to anything.   She’s libel to think Brent’s possessed with the Devil and go off the deep end.  She might bring some bible thump’n fool of a preacher into our home to cast out the boy’s demons.  I don’t want ‘tat boy put through nothing like ‘at.”

“That’s exactly why I want you to watch over him, Dad.  I know how she can be.  I lived my life with her tell’n me, one minute she loves me, and the next I cain’t do nothing right, I’s dumb, stupid and worthless,— jes like my old man.  All I can say is, if’n I am like my old man, I’m in damn good company.”  Bart winked and smiled at his dad.

“I told ju’ on the phone the other night, y’ain’t dumb or stupid, Son.  I never got on yore’ case for your grades.  I didn’t know why at the time, but I knew you was like me.  I’s jes’ like you, I had a Devil of a time learn’n in school.  T’weren’t from lack a’ try’n neither.  I’d spent hours at my books, but it all looked like jumbled nonsense to me.  I could barely make heads or tails out a’ things I was suppose to be learning.  You got the same thing I got,— a learning disorder.  I’m sorry, Son, but you inherited it from my side of the family.  Yore’ little sister got her mom’s smarts.  I never know'd about it until recently when I’s watching a public television show what talked about kids with learning disorders.  H’it rang a bell with me, and I watched it.  The things they was describing was the same things wrong with you’n me.

When we’s jes’ kids,— yore’ momma and I,— we’s fresh out a’ high school,— we went and done some’um stupid. The only good think come of it was you’n yore’ little sister.  H’it was a hot, summer’s night and we went to a drive-in movie.  We’s date’n our last two years in school, and she thought I was hot, ‘cause I was like you, I’s pert-damn good with a ball.  I’s captain of the football team.  We done us some purtty hot pet’n and a kiss’n at the drive-in.  After the movie, she wanted to drive down here to the creek in my dad’s pick-um-up and make out a bit more.  I was all for it; cep’n, one thing led to another, and we ended up in the bed of my dad’s truck.  Long story short,— I done what I thought was the right thing at the time, we got married, and you’s born eight months later.

After yore’ little sister was born, your momma changed.  She started git’n all uppity,— like I’s beneath her.  Your ma started withholding sex from me, and doling it out to me only if’n I’d been a real good boy and done ever’ thing her way for months at a time.  I got really tired of her nonsense,— me have’n to beg ‘er all a time and get’n nothing,— and even more tired of have’n ta’ lope ma’ole mule.”  Hank chuckled and Bart roared with laughter.
“Now,— what I’m about to tell you is some’um only one man should share with another.  I think you’s old enough, been around enough, y’ain’t gonna’ be overly shocked by what I got to tell you.  I wouldn’t ordinarily tell ya’ some’um like ‘iss,  but you deserved to know why I didn’t and couldn’t stand up for you all them years.

You know our neighbors over across the way, the Hargraves?  You graduated from high school with one a’ their daughters.  Well,— ole Waylon and me,— we go back a long ways.  We been best buds all our lives and still are.  Ole Waylon and I was like any normal country boys, we used to play around with each other when we’s kids.  We grow’d up a’ doing it.  We didn’t think nothing of it ‘cause we’s so tight with one another.  Hell,— we’s closer’n brothers.

As we got older we stopped ‘cause we both got interested in girls.  We might git together twice a year in high school, but we told each other it was ‘cause we couldn’t git no girls, and we’s all the time horny as hell.  We’d tell each other we’s jes’ help’n a buddy out.  Well,— h’it was more’n ‘nat, but back then, we’d never admit it to one another.  Truth is, Son,— today I realize I loved ole Waylon, and I know he loved me.  We still do after all these years, but we ain’t ashamed to admit it to one another now.”

Bart had tears running down his face.  He wouldn’t look at his dad.

“I’m sorry if what I told ju’ upset you, Son.  I don’t have ta’ gone on with my story,— we can stop right there.”

“No, Dad,— I want chu’ to go on.  H’it ain’t about chore’ story,— h’it’s about me.  H’it’s, jes’— I never,— well, me’n Nick Chambers,— one night after our senior year,— we came down here to the creek in his daddy’s pickup, and I fucked him.  What’s worse,— God help me dad,— I think I got feelings for my new cowboy brother, Casey, I don’t understand.”

Bart started crying again.  Hank put his arm around him and pulled him close.  It was the first time Bart’s dad ever touched him.  Bart turned into his dad’s arms and let it all out.  Hank consoled him and tried to soothe him.

“Shuuu,— h’it’s all right, Son.  Ain’t nothing to be cry’n ‘bout. Hit’s normal for young men to experiment with each other.  Some folks might not agree with that, but they be the idiotic, lunatic fringe of our society.  I always wondered ‘bout you and Nick.  I found myself hoping you and he might a’ shared some’um.  Cain’t say’s I didn’t check out that fine little ass a’ his more’n a couple a’ times.”  Hank laughed and got Bart laughing. “I saw what passed between you and yore’ new buddy.  H’it was more’n just friendship.  You love each other, Son.  Ain’t nothing wrong with that.  All I kin say is, my boy’s got hisself some mighty fine taste in cowboys.”   Hank laughed to lighten the mood.  

“Go on, Dad,— I wanna’ hear the rest.”

“Well,— Waylon and me,— we used to do us a lot a’ fish’n together.  We’d git away,— come down here and relax a little.   One afternoon, after we shared a pint ‘a Comfort,  he got to rant’n and rave’n ‘bout his old lady never want’n to have no sex with him no more.  She used sex as a weapon against him.  I told ‘em it was the same damn thing with Helen.  She wouldn’t have no sex with me less’n  I was a very, very good little boy for several months.  She had me cut down to once ever’ six months at one time.  I told old Waylon,— she done planned it by the calendar.  If’n it was coming up on a blue moon and I’d been especially good, I jes’ might git me a little.

We got to talk’n about how much fun we used to have suck’n each other off and me butt fuck’n him.  Waylon never cared much for fuck’n, but he shore’‘nuff loved to ride my old pony.”  Hank laughed.  “Neither one of us had much sex with our wives in the last six months, so one thing led to another and before we knew it, I’s butt fuck’n ole Waylon ‘til hell won’t have it.  It became a regular thing with us.

One afternoon we threw bedrolls in the back a’ his truck and headed off down here to fish.  At least ‘at’s what we told our wives.  We was parked in the shade, laying in the back a’ his truck.  I’d jes’ finished fuck’n him for the third time, and we was git’n dressed.  Yore’ momma comes walk’n up the road and catches us pulling up our pants, with our dicks still dripping.  Come to find out she was spying on us.  She suspected some’um was going on when I didn’t do no more beg’n for a piece of her holy cunt.

She asked what we was doing.  I told her we went for a swim in the raw and was laying in the back a’ the truck to dry off.  Now we’s put’n our clothes back on.  What the hell did she think we’s doing?  I could tell,— she weren’t buy’n it none.  Hell,— she didn’t need no table of contents to tell what the book was all about.  She knew damn well what we was doing.  Fuck,--- if’n she’d been even five minutes earlier she would a’ seen old Waylon’s legs in the air wave’n ‘um about like he’s pedal’n a bicycle, jes’ a’ yell’n and a holler’n for me to fuck him harder.  My old cowboy dick was jes’a’ pound’n away on his ass like a West Texas oil pump.”

They shared a laugh at Hank’s colorful description. Bart looked at his dad and shook his head.  He really felt sorry for him.

“Well, Son,— things went from bad to worse.  I went through hell with her for damn near six months.  She was gonna’ make a big to-do over it and leave me.  That would a’ been all right if’n it hadn’t a’ been for you and yore’ little sister.  She was gonna’ take my kids away from me.  I finally talked some sense into her.  I told her she would be destroying Waylon’s marriage as well.  Did she want that on her conscience?   She agreed to stay as long as I agreed to abide by her every wish.  I would become nothing more than a provider.  She would have all say when it come to you kids.  I agreed not to interfere, and fer years, I ain’t.  Yore’ ma and I ain’t had no relations in years.  I done it so’s I could be with you and yore’ little sister, Son.”

Bart couldn’t believe what his dad was telling him, but he knew in his heart it was true.  It all made so much sense.  He shed a few more tears, but this time Hank joined him.

“‘At’s why I done promised you, she wouldn’t keep me away from my grandson.  I figured I done paid her enough for my sin.  Since you grow’d up,  your little sister’s married and moved away, there ain’t nothing for her to hold over my head no more.  ‘At’s also why I done told ju’ ‘bout Waylon and me.  If she pulls that card from up her sleeve, you all ready done know’d about it.  If’n she wants to pack up and move tomorrow, I’d tell her to make damn sure the gotdamn gate didn’t hit her fat ass on the way out.”  Hank didn’t laugh about that, he was serious. “You’ve seen how upset she gits if’n she don’t git her way.”

“I’m so sorry, Dad.  I wish’t I’d a’ know’d.  I could a’ been more of a son to you.  I always knew you loved me.  You done taught me to be a cowboy and about the cowboy way.  Do you think ma would really leave you now?”

“To be honest, Son,— I hope she does.  We ain’t had no sex in nigh on to ten years.  She ain’t even attractive to me no more.  I don’t think I could do nothing with her if’n she was to offer; which, I have no fear of,— she won’t.  What can she do for me anymore, I can’t do for myself?  If’n you’s worried ‘bout yore’ boy, don’t be.  Him and me’ll git along jes’ fine.  I couldn’t wish me no better buddy.”

“That’s the only way I’d want it if’n ma decides to leave.  My boy stays with you, Dad.  I love you, old man,— now, more’n ever.”

“I love you, too, Son.  I’m so proud of you and who you’ve become.  Yore’ momma don’t know diddly-squat ‘bout what makes a man.  I’d lay down my life for you and Brent.  I love you both that much.”

“Tell me, old man, do you and ole Waylon still,— ?”

“What ‘da you think?”  Hank grinned wickedly.

“Ever’ damn chance you git!”  Buck slapped his dad on the back and roared with laughter.

“‘At’s about right, Son.”  Hank confirmed and blushed beet red.  Bart never laughed so hard in his life.  He was loving every minute of his exchange with his dad.

“I kind a wish’t I had more with my buddy Nick.  H’it sometimes breaks my heart when I see him today.  I know he still loves me.”

“Life’s funny, Son.  Maybe he’d be more open to it now.  I hear he ain’t git’n along too good with his wife, Evelyn.  He’s got a couple of nice little boys he loves more'n anything.  He's so proud a them kids.  Couldn’t do no harm, jes’ to take him fish’n one time when you’s home from the ranch.”

“I jes’ may do that, Dad.  I shore’ as hell will listen to my old man’s advice from now on.  You know, I’d give a lot jes’ to kiss you one time, Dad.”

“Okay,— but for now,— jes’ a quick one.”

Bart leaned over and placed his lips against his dad’s.  His heart jumped to his throat, and his eyes began to water.  Hank gently pressed back for only a moment, and then, they broke apart.

“Thanks, Dad.  That meant a lot to me.”

“Me, too, Son.  We’ll have more time for that later.  We shouldn’t be doing it in front of the boy.”
Brent caught another fish, but this time he swore he didn’t cheat.  His granddad believed him, and it went on the string.  They caught several more nice fish that afternoon before they decided to call it a day.  Brent was excited he caught the most fish, and he did it without cheating.  That afternoon the three men bonded as family.  Nothing could ever break that bond asunder.

* * * * * * *

It was obvious to Helen Connors, when the men returned, there was a noticeable easiness between them.  Bart had always been civil and respectful with his dad, but now something was different; he was more polite, called Hank ‘Sir’ a lot and insisted Brent do the same.  She told herself, she would soon set things right.

The next day Bart took his dad downtown, and opened a savings account under Bart’s name with Hank signed on as able to make withdrawals if his dad needed money for anything.  Bart deposited four hundred and gave his dad a hundred dollars cash from the money Casey gave him for Christmas.  Several of the other men in Casey’s family slipped him money, too, so he had enough to get by on until his first paycheck from the Lazy 8.

He also still had the money several folks in the town donated for airfare for him and Brent.  He got several envelopes and in each, Bart put the amount of money he and Brent were given from each person or family with a nice ‘thank you’ note, telling them how grateful he was.  They helped save his son’s life, and he would always be in their debt.  He told his dad to keep the envelopes, and the first weekend he came home from the ranch, Bart, Brent and his dad would go to each person, return their money and thank them personally.  Hank put the envelopes in his personal safety deposit box at the small bank. He told Bart, his mother knew nothing about his safety deposit box he’d been secretly stashing cash away in for years,— just in case.

The men went fishing one more time on Friday afternoon.  That afternoon Bart would remember for the rest of his life as one of the happiest times of his young manhood.  It was a great day,  and he and his dad talked about many things for hours.  There was no longer a wall between them.  They could be totally honest with each other and spoke of their dreams and hopes for each other.  By the time Bart was ready to leave for the ranch, Brent was almost completely healed and his bond was so deep with his granddad, Bart wasn’t afraid to leave him.

At first, his mother wasn’t going to go with them to take Bart to Chapel Creek.  She announced officiously, she would stay home and take care of Brent.  When she found out the men had every intention of taking Brent with them,  she quickly changed her mind.  Bart threw his best, most comfortable saddle into the back of his dad’s pickup.  It had a crew cab and Bart and Brent rode in the back seat.  It was a quick trip to town.  Spring Hill was only eighteen miles from Chapel Creek.  They pulled up in front of the sheriff’s station and several of the cowboys who had the weekend off were gathered waiting for the truck from the ranch.

“Hey,— are you Bart Connors, Son?”  a big ugly bear of a cowboy called to him as he started to walk towards him.

“Yes, Sir,— that’ud be me.”

The big man stuck out his hand and took Bart’s to shake.

“Wade Mulligan, Son,— jes’ call me Wade.  I’m Mr. Langtry’s second at the ranch.  Hear’d some good things about chu.’  Mighty glad to have you join us on the Lazy 8.”

“Thanks, Mr. Mulligan,— I’s jes’ Bart, Sir.”  he smiled real big.  

Bart was introduced to the rest of the cowboys, and he introduced them to his parents and his son.  Brent was in heaven.  All these big men were genuine cowboys,  just like his daddy.  They were interested in him, too.  He showed them his scar from his operation.  He remembered each of their names and called them all, ‘sir.’  Bart’s parents said their goodbyes.  He got a hug and a kiss on his cheek from his dad and his boy.  He got a noncommital hug from his mom.  Brent broke into tears and told his dad he loved him.  Bart got choked up and assured Brent he loved him, and when he got his first weekend off, they were going fishing again with his granddad.

  Wade had him ride up front with him so he could get to know Bart a little better on the way to the ranch.  He answered some of Bart’s questions and volunteered some helpful information.  Bart liked Wade.  He and the rest of the cowboys made him feel like family.  He couldn’t wait to get to the ranch to see his brother Casey again.  He asked Wade how Casey was doing?

“Aww, hell,— he’s fine. You gotta’ go some to keep up with that cowboy. He’s all over the place git’n things done.  Mr. Langtry’s his granddad.  Casey could probably have my job if’n he wanted it.  He told me he don’t. ‘At’s the kind a’ cowboy he is.  He’s an amazing man in lots of ways.  He’s said a lot of good things about you, Son.  I hope yore’ gonna’ like work’n for the Lazy 8.”

“I’m sure I will, Sir.”  Bart replied.

They made good time back to the ranch.  Will always waited Sunday supper until the truck got there.  Casey and several of the younger hands were helping Will in the cook shack.  It was still pretty cold and all the men had on heavy, sheep lined jackets.  Casey saw the headlights from the truck come up over the hill, excused himself from Will, donned his heavy jacket and walked out to meet the truck.  Bart had a grin on his face as wide as Texas when he got out of the truck and saw Casey waiting for him.  Casey didn’t hesitate, he walked up, threw his arms around Bart and kissed him on the cheek.

“Welcome to the Lazy 8, brother.  I ain’t the official greeter, but he’ll be along in a minute.”

“God,— h’it’s good to see you again, brother.”  Bart said.

“Aww, yore’ such a flatterer, cowboy.”  Casey laughed, turned in time to see Curtis walk up behind him.

“Bart, this here fine looking man, is Mr. Curtis Langtry, our foreman, or straw boss.  He jes’ also happens to be my granddad.”  Casey smiled “Mr. Langtry, Sir, I’d like to introduce you to a fine cowboy and a good man, Mr. Bart Conners.”  

The two men shook hands and Bart was mesmerized by Curtis’ eyes.  They were the same damn color as Casey’s.

“Good to meet chu,’ Mr. Langtry,  hear’d good things about chu,’ Sir.”

“Good to meet you, Son.  Welcome to the Lazy 8. Hear’d some good things about you, too, Mr. Conners.”

“‘Bart,’ Sir, please,— jes’ call me ‘Bart.’”  he grinned real big.

Curtis didn’t tell him he could call him by his first name.  Bart knew better anyway.  A cowboy always addresses his straw boss as ‘Mister’ and he’s shown proper respect by addressing him as, ‘Sir.’  I never refer to our straw boss as ‘Granddad’ or ‘Grampa’ unless Curtis and I are alone, in private.  Around the other cowboys, I show him the proper respect any cowboy should show his foreman.  I refer to him as ‘Mr. Langtry,’ ‘Straw Boss,’ ‘Ramrod,’ or ‘Sir.’  However, I do wish he wouldn’t grin at me like he does when I refer to him as my ‘Ramrod.’  I blush every damn time.  Other than that, we get along just fine.

“Since you two already know each other, I’ll let Casey and Wade git chu’ settled in, Son.  We’re about to have supper, so Casey, git his stuff put away and ya’ll come on over to the grub shack.”

Wade and Casey showed Bart where to put his saddle and gear away. He locked it up and went with them to the grub trailer.  He was introduced to the rest of the cowboys and the cook, Mr. Will Shott.  Will and Bart hit it off right away.  Since he’d been back, Curtis started a tradition for the evening meal.  All the cowboys, took their hats off, bowed their heads and either Curtis or one of the cowboys he asked would give the blessing.  That evening Curtis asked Casey.

“Heavenly Father, thank you for a good day and bringing us a new cowboy brother, Bart Connors,  to ride with us.  Bless him, Father, and be with him on his new journey.  Thank you for the food we’re about to eat. Bless us every one, Sir.  Amen.”

All the cowboys echoed Casey’s ‘Amen.’  Bart felt good about the place.  He felt like he’d found a home.

* * * * * * *

The days began to roll by.  Bart became a fine hand for the Lazy 8.  He worked hard and was always in good spirits.  He soon became one of the favorite cowboys on the ranch.  No cowboy had anything bad to say about Bart Conners.

The weeks began to roll on as well.  Bart took every paycheck home and deposited it into his and his dad’s account.   Hank sat a maximum amount per month for taking care of Brent, but it was far lower than what Bart wanted to pay him.  They worked it out.  Hank was constantly running interference between his wife and Brent.  She began to take her frustrations out on the boy.  Hank stood up to her and told her things were going to be different.  If she didn’t like it, she could leave.  He didn’t plan to ever have sex with her again anyway.  She choked all the love he ever felt for her out of him.

Helen left the beginning of that spring never to return.  She never bothered to divorce Hank.  Hank didn’t care, he never planned to marry again anyway.  Besides, he had his hands full raising his grandson.  Helen went to live with her widowed sister in the next small town over.  Hank was relieved.  He and Brent had the place to themselves and wallowed in their new found freedom. A bonus Hank hadn’t considered was his daughter brought her family over more often to visit.  She secretly admitted to Hank she was glad her mother was gone and her children could get to know their granddad.  Hank got along fine with her husband.

When Bart came home it was like a weekend of fun and family; something Bart never had before.  He didn’t forget his mom.  He took Brent to visit his grandmother every other weekend he was home and gave her a check for a hundred dollars each visit until she was old enough for Social Security.  She was always glad to see them, but she seemed like she was also glad to see them go.  Brent got to where he dreaded going to see his grandmother, but Bart insisted.

* * * * * * *

I was happy for Bart.  His life turned out to be good and comfortable for him.  He was a bit remorseful he couldn’t be there more to watch his son grow, but he had faith in the future.  While he genuinely loved being a cowboy, he didn’t want to be a cowboy for the rest of his life.  He talked with me and my granddad about all sorts of possibilities.

We became best buds.  Bart became another brother to me like Dwayne,  Logan, and O.C.  We rode as a pair and worked well together.  In all the time we worked together, I never heard a discouraging word from Bart.  Since his life changed for the better, he was grateful for and comfortable with his place in the scheme of things.  I had a feeling, Bart and my life would be interwove together in the fabric of time.  Curtis came to think the world of Bart and knew when he had a job he wanted done, he could give it to me and Bart and it would be done right.

Bart and I had the same rotation of weekends off.  I was still seeing O.C., but O.C. never assumed we had a relationship going.  Hell, he was my uncle. He would wait until I called and invited him up to come visit which I did often.  I talked with him several times a week.  We always had something new and interesting to talk about.  Bart kept after me to spend a weekend with him and his family.  Since his mom left,  he kept telling me how easy and comfortable life was now when he went home.

“Why the hell would I wanna’ spend a weekend with you, cowboy?  I see yore’ ugly face ever’ damn day a’ the week.”  I joked with him.  He reached across from his pony and frogged me on my arm.

“Ouch! ‘At hurt, brother!”  I yelled and laughed while rubbing my arm.

“I meant for it to.” he grinned, “Ain’t right to talk that a’ way ‘bout chur’ cowboy brother what loves you.”

“I know it ain’t.  I’s jes’ fool’n witch‘cha, hoss.  You be one of the easiest cowboys to look on I ever did see.   I’m sure I’d enjoy spending a weekend at chore’ place.   How’s ‘bout our first weekend we git off after the roundup’s over?”

“That’ud be great, Casey.  I’ll look forward to it.”

* * * * * * *

Spring roundup time came, the last two weeks in May,  and once again we had a bevy of extra help.  Sticker flew in from California.  To my surprise he brought Cousin Rance with him.  Rance was now managing Sticker’s rodeo stock company and one other company.  Sticker was soon to give him another company to manage.  Rance wanted to get away from it all and  come play cowboy for two weeks.  Sid and Sticker thought it might do him some good.  

All the regulars were really looking forward to roundup this year.  O.C., Bubba came and while it was a lot of hard work, it was like being at summer camp for two weeks; we had a lot of fun, too.  Everyone had a good time.  Sticker came riding up to me one morning and rode with me for a while.

“You given any thought to what Sid and me talked with you about while you was home for Christmas, Son?”

“Yes, Sir.  I hope you and Mr. Wainright don’t mind, Mr. Wiggins, but I’d like to work as a cowboy for another year, Sir.  Then, if’n it’s all right with the two of you, I might leave the option open to cowboy for another year after that.”  I replied. Sticker chuckled, but smiled at me like he was pleased with my decision.

“I done told Sid ‘at’s what you’s gonna’ do.  I even told him you might decide to work another year as a cowboy.  He don’t never listen to me.  You jes’ won me a fifty dollar bet, Son.  Thanks.”

“Will my decision inconvenience ya’ll, Sir?”

“Not a bit, cowboy.  In fact, I was kind a’ hoping you’d wanna’ cowboy for at least another year,— maybe two.  If’n you wanna’ go for three, we ain’t in no hurry.  This is a time you’re always gonna’ look back on as the best years of yore’ life.  Hell,— you’s still a’ growing.  I know,— I know’d you’s an adult at twenty-one but ‘at ain’t what I’m talk’n ‘bout, Son.  You know what I’m talk’n about.

Don’t let nobody, force you to grow up faster’n you feel comfortable with.  You three men, Dwayne, Logan and you was forced to face the harsh realities of life pert-damn quick with what ya’ll went though with the Colonel.  Cain’t say’s you men didn’t handle it admirably.  Ya’ll won the hearts and love of a community of devoted and powerful men.  Anyone of ‘um would go to the wall for you and proved it.

“Yes, Sir,— I know what you be talk’n ‘bout.  There’s a difference in reaching the age of being a legal adult and grow’n up.  I was kind a’ forced to grow up earlier than most kids when my mom passed away.  I had to take on a lot of her responsibilities when I was only fourteen years old.  I had to or dad wouldn’t a’ had the life he’s enjoyed.  We became a team.  I never questioned it.  I never considered myself burdened at the time, and I certainly don’t today.  As a results, I have something with my dad very few men have.

I don’t give a shit I own a third of the damn company, Mr. Wiggins.  ‘At ain’t what’s important to me right now.  I pay my board a good salary every year, and we’s comfortable to sit back and collect dividends.”

“What?  You pay Dwayne and Logan a salary?”

“Why, yes, Sir, Mr. Wiggins,— they be my brothers and h’it’s a great tax right off.  Why not?”

Sticker slapped his knee and roared with laughter.

“I’ll be damned.  ‘At damn Sid don’t even know about that.  Thanks, Son, now I got me one up on ‘em.”  he laughed.    

“Anyway, what I’m trying to say is, when I’m cowboy’n, I don’t have to worry about  nothing.  I know what I need to do to put in a good days work as a hand.  For all the hard work, the lousy weather,  bed’n down at sunset, git’n up two hours before dawn, and being dog tired at the end of the day, I’ve never felt more alive or free in my life.  I got the family and companionship of my cowboy brothers.  I’d do anything in the world for them men, and I know they feel the same about me.  There’s days I ride all damn day and nothing particularly eventful happens, but for some reason it’s just a perfect day.  ‘At’s when I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life I’d love more.

I done me a lot a’ think’n on why I wanna’ be a cowboy right now, when h’it ain’t an easy life.  As you know, while yore’ punch’n cows, you got a lot a’ time to be think about things.  My point is,— I come to a conclusion—  being a cowboy has become a chance for me to be a kid again.  I guess h’it’s become a chance for me to recapture some of the carefree days of my youth I should a’ had but didn’t.  I was forced to grow up right then and there when mom died.  I ain’t compain’n none, Sticker, but I had to give that up to become a support for my dad.  Can you understand that, Sir?  Does ‘at make sense to you?”   

Sticker didn’t answer, but I saw him reach for his bandanna in his rear pocket to wipe his eyes.

“Sorry, Son.  I must a’ got some’um in my eye.” he said not really trying to hide his emotions. “I fully understand what you’re talking about. Sid and me,— we’ve discussed that very thing several times.  Sid’s a pretty shrewd man.  He can see what’s happening, and we support you a hundred percent.  Otherwise, we’d be doing a high pressure number on you.  We ain’t that way, Son.  We know you’ll come around when you’re ready, but it has to be on your time schedule you set for yourself,  not ours.”

“Then, maybe you and Mr. Wainright can also understand the depth of my love for my little brother.  If’n it weren’t for him, I would a’ never had this opportunity.  I cain’t tell you how much I love him for that.  For them reasons, I jes’ don’t think I’m ready to take on responsibilities that big for a while yet. Maybe I could, but I jes’ don’t wont to right now, Sticker.”

“‘At’s perfectly all right, but Sid asked me to talk with you about becoming  more active in board decisions for the ranch.  You men had Sid and me going for damn near a year trying to figure out jes’ what the fuck ‘Hensley Agrocon’s’ business strategy was.  We ain’t never figured you didn’t have none.”  Sticker laughed, “We wondered,  what corporation would invest that kind of money and not expect to have some say in the way it’s run?  Silent partnership, my ass.”  Sticker roared with laughter and got me laughing.

“‘At damn Sid,— ‘at little Kevin what works for him is a bright man and he done figured it out.  Sid said he damn near shit his pants the day Kevin brought him that information.  He said him and Kevin laughed their ass’s off. By the way, if Kevin is real-extra courteous to you,— Sid done doubled his salary and give him a new title for that little discovery.  He’s no longer Sid’s secretary,  he’s now Sid’s personal assistant.  Sid said he took Kevin to lunch that day and they shared a bottle of expensive wine.  Kevin got a little tipsy and Sid drove him home.

For some reason, Sid didn’t bother to tell me.  Hell, old Will knew before I did.  I don’t know how that old coot does it, but he knows ever’ damn thing what goes on around here.  I weren’t upset about it none.” Sicker looked at me and grinned mischievously, “I jes’ cut ole Sid off for a month, s’all.”  Sticker and I shared a laugh. “You know I ain’t like that.  I cain’t fault Sid none. He’s been too damn good to me. Sid has his ways, but I noticed he stopped being concerned about what was going on with our third partner.  I done figured he had it under control and weren’t bothered no more.  Then, you gave Will the go ahead to tell me who the owners of ‘Hensly Agrocon’ was.  It all made sense in an instant.  I laughed my cowboy butt off.    

 Anyway, Sid wanted me to remind you,  as a third partner in the Lazy 8 you have an equal say in what goes on around here.  You can be a voting member of the board, and still be a cowboy.  You don’t have to attend no meetings.  If some’um comes up Sid can have Kevin call you, talk with you about it and git chur’ input.  If you wanna’ bring some’um up, git in contact with Kevin and let him know, or talk with Sid and me informally when we git together.  Nobody has to know other than the men you choose to tell you’re helping to drive things behind the scenes.  Hell, yore’ granddaddy don’t even haf’ta’ know.

“Well,— I done got me some ideas a’ cogitate’n in my head,— ideas about how to make the Lazy 8 more attractive for the cowboys,— make ‘um wanna’ stay on longer than just a year at a time, and how to have a more pro-active recruitment program.  I got me some long term ideas, but they’s jes’ dreams.”  

“Well,— ‘at’s good to hear.  Your ideas can become your input,— your goals.  ‘At’s why we want you to ultimately take over managing the ranch.  You’re young and you’re bound to have some new, innovative ideas Sid and I never thought of.  If you got big ideas in mind, once you take over, sit down with yore’ partners,  git chore’ little brother to teach you how to make a presentation, and let’s us talk about it.  I’ll tell you one damn thing, ever’ idea I done had about improving the ranch and making it better for the men, Sid done went and rubber stamped it.

As a results, we’ve had record profits and outside of the trouble last roundup, Curtis tells us the men seem to be in pretty good spirits.  We need to pick up a couple more hands as we’re sure little Gip and Waddie Buck are gonna’ call it quits after this roundup.  Same with the the Sawnsey boys and them other three young’uns.  We do pert-damn good attracting hands at the Tucson and Chapel Creek rodeos.  We want you and Curtis to interview anyone interested.”

“What about Wade Mulligan, Sticker?  It jes’ wouldn’t be right leaving him out.  He’s granddad’s number two man.  I don’t wanna’ usurp his position.”

“See,— ‘at’s one a’ the reasons we want chu’ to consider managing the ranch. You think like a cowboy, Son.  You’re right, Casey, it wouldn’t be right. I jes’ wasn’t think’n.  I ain’t been cowboy’n enough lately to remember little things like ‘at.  How ‘bout I tell ‘em,  Sid and me wants a regular line cowhand to be there to give an opinion.  He don’t know you’re ‘Hensley Agrocon, does he?”

“Naw, Sir,— ‘at’s been kept a pretty close kept secret; cep’n , my partner, Bart,— he knows I own some stock in the company.  He don’t know how much.  Even if he knew, Bart wouldn’t tell nobody if’n I asked him not to.  He’s a real cowboy, Sticker,— he lives by the cowboy way.  As a matter of fact, Mr. Wiggins, he reminds me a lot of you,— minus the ‘Caynonero,’ of course.”  We shared a laugh.

“He’s a good cowboy.  Damn fine look’n man, too.  Ju' two ever,— ?”  

I grinned at him real big.

“Now, Sticker,  you know damn well cowboys don’t never kiss and tell.”

Sticker threw back his head and roared with laughter.  I continued.

“H’it ain’t because it ain’t never crossed my mind, Sir.  I'd be a damn liar if’n I was to say different.  To be honest, I don’t know if Bart thinks on that sort a’ thing.  On top a’ that, we jes’ ain’t never had us no time to git away together.  He’s always busy with his family on his weekends off, and I got my responsibilities to my Uncle Ocie and buddy, Sheriff Claymore, and his family.  Bart’s invited me to stay a weekend with him and his family; however, we jes’ cain’t seem to find the time.”

“Trust me,— he thinks on it, cowboy.  Will, O.C., Bubba, Curtis and me,— we’s all watch’n you two walking yore’ ponies back to the remuda the other evening and Bart was walk’n several steps behind you jes’ a’ check’n out yore’ fine little cowboy ass. ‘At’s what we’s all laughing ‘bout that afternoon.  Not only that, we watched his big ole cowboy dick shoot down his Wranglers and a wet spot appear at his crotch ‘bout the size of a fifty cent piece.”  Sticker slapped his knee, and roared with laughter.  “Take it from me, Son,— ‘at cowboy’s jes’ ripe for pick’n.”  

Sticker grinned real big, tipped his hat and rode away.  My partner saw Sticker leave.  He was out chasing a maverick and got it back to the herd. He rode up to me to ride along beside me.  We went brush popping together a couple of time that afternoon to round up some strays.  We didn’t say much.  Sometimes you just want to be alone with your thoughts, but you don’t want to be alone.  Bart was a good partner for me that way.  He was a sensitive man who respected my right to privacy and let me be.  He was secure in himself and my love for him, he didn’t require me to keep him entertained.

That day turned out to be one of those days I told Sticker about.  We worked out butts off,— by the end of the day, I was damn tired but I was happy.  I couldn’t imagine anything I’d rather be doing.  As Bart and I headed for the cook shack, the heavens were filled with the most beautiful sunset I’d seen in a while.  It was a glorious end to a perfect day.  While I knew it wouldn’t,— I wanted it to go on forever.

End Chapter 44 ~ Texas Longhorns

Copyright 2005 ~ Waddie Greywolf
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