"This is ridiculous, you know that, right?" I threw a bale of hay over the fence with so much aggression it hit the ground on the edge and bounced a few more feet into the field.
"What's ridiculous?" Luke asked, coming up behind me with a salt lick block to drop into the field with the cattle.
I glared at him over my shoulder and climbed back onto my horse. Of course he would act like there was absolutely nothing different going on. Luke was the baby of the family and the quintessential mama's boy. Anything mama cooked up, Luke was most likely going to follow right along with, no matter how annoying the situation was for the rest of us.
"The fact that David’s gone to Tennessee with his girl. We’re never going to pick up the slack. I haven’t managed to find time to set up the computers, and it’s going to be a challenge to make sure the ranch keeps running properly during the transition. We don’t have enough hands. Sucks he left us hanging."
"He didn't up and leave us hanging," Luke said, climbing up on his horse so that we could ride to the next field. "He went to get his career started. Besides, Dad put you in charge for a reason. He thinks you can handle it."
I scoffed and pushed my horse into a slightly faster pace. With my older brother's work now on my shoulders on top of my own, I needed to get through each of the chores faster to make sure that I was able to get everything finished before the sun went down. Cramming in computer work didn’t seem realistic, but I wasn’t ready to admit that to my father just yet, not when he’d been against them for so many years. As it was, I had to skip fixing two fences and hoped none of the herd figured it out and decided to head out on their own adventure. That would mean having to chase them down, and I had too much shit to do as it was to embark on an impromptu cattle drive anytime soon.
"Do you think Sarah’s going to jump-start his career as promised? I can’t see him doing anything in Tennessee other than small shows and maybe sing at the occasional open mic night. Oh, and Sarah, of course. I'm sure he'll be doing her plenty."
"Bitter are we?" Luke asked.
I didn't want to admit it, but I was feeling bitter about my older brother's recent escape from the responsibilities of the family ranch. It wasn't necessarily that he had gotten the opportunity to go to Tennessee. It was more that it happened so damn quickly none of us even had the chance to figure out what was going on until it was already done. One night he was singing on the little stage up at Kinsey's Bar, trying to keep himself from going stir crazy from living the same day over and over again on the ranch, and the next he was shacking up with some tiny little music agent named Sarah in our grandfather's cabin.
Now he had packed up his jeans, boots, and guitar, and was off on his quest to Tennessee to make a name for himself in the music industry. It seemed like I was the only one in the family who saw how utterly absurd this whole situation was. It wasn’t like he was broke or even a struggling artist.
Despite our never getting with the times when it came to technology, my dad had built our cattle and horse ranch into a lucrative business that ensured our comfort for years to come. My other two brothers and my mother and father had the same feelings toward his singing hobby from the time he started singing at Kinsey's, and even when Sarah first showed up. Finally, Dad gave David his blessing to pursue his dreams before Mama was released from the hospital.
My heart ached thinking of my mama being ill. Colon cancer was a tough battle, but thankfully Mama’s always been a fighter. She seemed real proud of her sweet Davey, but I hated that he hadn’t even stayed a full day to welcome her home. Of course, they fell all over him when he returned like he was already some big star.
If he had only given me a bit more time to get used to the whole idea it might not have been so difficult. Or, more likely in my opinion, time for Sarah to figure out that he was not too terribly much more than a carbon copy of the other singers that swarmed around Tennessee and head on back home without him. Don’t get me wrong, my brother has an amazing voice, but I still wonder if that was her plan all along. She had to know the kind of money my brother had, and I wondered if it was solely his talent that she was interested in. Her career had been in trouble, so was he like a built-in insurance policy? Regardless of my brother’s situation, it sure left me in a bind.
The sun started to slide down as I finally finished up the last of my chores and headed in for supper. It was tense around the table like it had been for the last few nights. We all sat in stony silence as Mama brought in the platters of food and placed them in the middle of the table for us to pass around. She moved much slower than normal but insisted on returning to her kitchen as soon as possible, and there was no arguing with her to take it easy.
"Did you get those fences fixed today, Ted?" my father asked in between bites of mashed potatoes.
I shook my head and shoved a bite of pork chop into my mouth.
"No, I didn't have the time."
"Don't talk with your mouth full, Ted," Mama said from her place at my father's elbow.
"You haven't had the time for three days now. What about that fancy computer program that’s supposed to make things more efficient?"
I sighed and took another bite of my food. This conversation had become the bane of my existence. There was always something that they didn't think I was doing the way I should be or a list of things that I hadn't gotten to that they thought I should have.
"I know, Dad. Unfortunately, there is always a new list of things to do in the morning. If I could find time to set it up, it would make things a whole hell of a lot easier. But that, like everything else around here, is going to take time. Time I just haven’t had. I can’t even put Luke or Mason on it. I need them in the fields. "
“Well, you boys put that work on yourselves. We’ve been running things just fine on paper until you boys decided to spring this little technology mutiny on me. You took advantage of our weakened condition to do it.”
My blood boiled. “That’s bullshit, and you know it. Besides, it will work, but I need more hands. I’m not only down David since you’ve been scarce in the fields yourself.”
“Watch your tone with your father, Teddy. You two are going to have to work it out,” Mama said. Her demeanor changed enough already with shaky hands and a tight set in her jaw that I could tell she was upset by our tone. She didn’t need the stress, and I didn’t want it.
It was all too much. David had only been gone for a few weeks, and I was already tired of the walking on eggshells around my parents to not upset the balance.
"It's all right, Mama," I said, taking a final bite and pushing back from the table so that I could stand up. "You know he’s been dreaming of retiring from the time Luke was born. After all, you gave him four sons, and that's all we meant to him—free ranch hands. I mean, he had Mason giving the calves their shots by the time he was three. You can't expect that he wants to put forth any more effort than he absolutely has to now."
"What the hell is your problem?" Dad demanded in his growling, furious voice that always made Mama tremble even though everyone knew he would never raise a finger to her, and if he did, he would be minus a few of the vital body parts he has been quite fond of over the years.
"All I've heard my entire life is 'loyalty to the family, loyalty to the family.' We grew up being lectured about taking care of the ranch and how it was our family's legacy to us. Then, some little so-called agent shows up, and you let David run off to Tennessee without another thought, leaving me to pick up the slack. We were already stretched thin, and now you're expecting me to do another person's work, and all you can do is bitch and moan when I'm not able to handle every single thing on the list.”
I let out an exasperated sigh and started toward the door. I heard Mama calling after me but didn't bother to stop.
"Where are you going?"
"I'm going up to Kinsey's. It seems to be the place to go to get away from here."
I was almost to my truck when Mason caught up with me.
"Want some company up at Kinsey's?" he asked, shrugging into his denim jacket. “I’ll buy you a drink.”
"You can buy me several." Mason gave me a strange look. "Well, hell, Mason, if I’m going to drink I want to feel it. I'm going to sidle myself right up to the bar, drink a few beers, and flirt with the bartender. Maybe I'll find some girl to take me away, too, and then you can take over the ranch."
"Are there any girls left in this town that you haven't had in the back of your truck?"
I climbed up behind the wheel of my truck with a laugh. He might be right. If I were going to find someone willing to settle down with me, she was probably going to have to come from a different state. Not that I had any interest in settling down anytime soon. There was only one girl I’d ever imagined could bring me to do that, and she wasn’t talking to me.
My tires kicked up dirt as they spun against the driveway before we backed out and headed down the road toward Kinsey's.