I don’t know why I expected her to come after me, but deep down inside I hoped she would. It solidified the fact that she was done with me and no amount of my apologizing was going to make it better. I was a real asshole for spilling my guts only to be refused, but she can’t say I didn’t try and that whole long, drawn-out issue over apologies was over as far as I was concerned.
I went through our side gate and hurried my steps toward the office. I had so much work to catch up on, and I’d wasted enough time for the day.
With all intentions of getting back to work, I found Luke in the office on his phone. He glanced over and held up a finger in a wait a moment gesture. I sat in my chair as he finished his call and tried to put Lauralee’s blank stare out of my mind. It wasn’t likely the last image I’d ever see of her, but I’d never forget it.
“Guess who’s coming home next weekend?” Luke said shoving his phone back in his pocket. It wasn’t like my search for answers was going to take too long considering David was the only person we knew that had flown the coop, so he didn’t give me any time to respond. “David and Sarah are stopping in on their way back from Dallas. That son of a gun has been meeting some major country music stars. He rattled on about them like they were the same as anyone else. Lucky bastard.”
I couldn’t help not being impressed. I’d never given two shits about famous people and even less about country music. I liked my fair share of rock, but music wasn’t ever a big deal to me. I preferred the sound of nature, like water in a stream, bubbling softly over stones, or birds chirping on a spring day. Maybe that’s why David and me weren’t that close other than our ages. He’d spent his time playing his guitar and singing while I spent mine chasing after Lauralee.
Maybe he’d had the right idea all along because his hobby had turned into a career, while my pastime had proven a colossal waste. Him coming home was another reminder of the failure I was, and I couldn’t even say I had the farm duties under control. I’d taken a huge step backward allowing Lauralee to come on and should have been smart and hired two men from the start.
“What’s the matter with you?” Luke’s tone gave me a verbal nudge out of my head.
“Nothing.” I wasn’t good at spilling my guts, not even to my baby brother who spilled his to anyone who’d listen.
“You know you can talk to me. You’re terrible at keeping things bottled up.”
“Apparently I’m terrible at many things. Farming, computers, romance, apologies, pouring my heart out, and last but not least, people in general.”
“You’re not so terrible at farming, and computers is totally not your fault, but I have a feeling that romance and apologies are what’s really eating at you.”
“Yeah, and it can eat at me while I stack hay and mend fences.” I headed out into the barn, but my doting brother followed.
“Or you can talk to me about it while we both stack hay and mend fences.” I’d forgotten he had the same schedule as me for the day and imagined he took my absence as a phone break instead of getting a head start.
I climbed up in the loft where I’d haphazardly thrown our excess the day before. “Or, we can stack this hay while you mind your own business.”
Sure enough he was on my tail, climbing the loft’s ladder and ready with a response. “Why don’t you just marry her and get the divorce over with.”
I moved some buckets and paint rollers aside to start clearing the wall space. “What the hell’s that supposed to mean?”
“You two fight like a married couple. Hell, you have since you were kids. You’re either perfect for each other or terrible for each other. I wish you’d figure it out for both of your sakes.” He grabbed a box of old jars Mama had long forgotten about and moved them aside.
I stacked the first bale into the space we created. “I don’t have to worry about it. She’s done with me. Said so herself about half an hour ago. How’s that for a divorce?”
His laughter echoed off the walls, rattling the cobwebs above us. “Yeah, like that will stick.”
“You don’t think it will?” I asked, hefting up another bale and walking it to the empty space calling its name. If Luke could have hope, why couldn’t I?
“Look, you two were made for each other. Neither of you could live too long without the other, and no matter what she said, she’s probably thinking about you at this precise moment.”
“Or getting cozy with her Daddy’s hired hand.” I didn’t think she’d be on him that fast, but I wondered if it was in her near future. He had already seen her half-naked, so they were off to a quick start.
“Yeah, about that, not too smart. You know Daddy would skin you if you caused more trouble with Mr. Langston. All the drama between you and Lauralee aside, even though it’s bad enough you’re fucking his daughter, but come on, man, assaulting his hired help?”
“I’m not fucking his daughter anymore, so the old hard ass should be happy.”
“I don’t know. I think her old man wanted the two of you together. He’s never interfered with you and her, has he? I think he knows as well as any of us, that you and her were destined.”
“I was destined to throw hay like you were, so why don’t you shut your yap and let’s get this shit done. The fence awaits.”
“Whatever.” He held his hands up and then made busy with me stacking hay.
After a few minutes of silence, I realized being in my head with my own thoughts wasn’t working out in my favor. “So what’s David coming home for anyway? You think he’s knocked up his city girl?” I could only imagine that if he came home for a surprise visit, he’d have some wonderful news to share. Even though they weren’t even married, the pitter patter of little feet would certainly speed things up a bit. It was the most logical next stop on David’s tour of life.
Luke tossed the last bale to me, and I stacked it in place. “You are completely messed up in the head if you’re wanting to talk about David. He’s never been your favorite topic.”
“Stop analyzing everything.” The words had come out like a growl, and I realized that was only showing more of my frustration.
“Do you want to hear about David?” He paused until I met his eyes with a hard look. He knew I didn’t give two shits about David. “Good, because I don’t know why he’s coming, just that he is.” He sized me up and continued. “Prisoner of your own mind, huh? Well, there’s one sure way to cure that. We’ll go out to Kinsey’s later, and I’ll help you drown your sorrows. Mason wants to go out tonight.”
“Mason always wants to go out. But yeah, count me in.” I wondered if Lauralee would be there and if she’d be alone. I’d make sure to keep my temper in check, no need to fly off the handle where she was concerned. I only hoped I could. It wasn’t like my bursts of anger had ever had much thought behind them. Not where she was concerned.
We finished up the day mending fences and cleaned up to go out to Kinsey’s. I was surprised at the crowd when I entered the bar. We found our usual spot in the corner by the bar where a few of Mason’s girlfriends awaited. I took a chair and gave the waitress my order. I’d never seen her in the place before, and she looked more like she belonged on the cover of a magazine. Mason nearly got whiplash straining to get a look at her as she walked away, but his attention was quickly pulled back to the table by laughter.
I scanned the bar looking for Lauralee, but she wasn’t in her usual spot. I did see her Daddy’s hired hand, whatshisname, Tyler, and wondered if he was spoiling for revenge. Another familiar face caught my attention as something crashed to the floor.
“Oops,” Bailey said, as he doubled over laughing. The new waitress didn’t think it was funny, and when I realized it was our order that had spilled to the ground, neither did I. Bailey went straight-faced and apologized, promising to pay for it all. He reached into his wallet and threw down some money, way more than necessary. He was already drunk out of his mind. I thought about going over but saw his hired man coming to his rescue. I’d let whatshisname, Tyler, do his thing and mind my own business.
Finally, the waitress returned with my beer, and after passing the other drinks around, she headed back to the bar. Bailey slapped her ass as she passed by, and she shook it off and kept going, letting some of her dollars fly off the tray and land on the ground. I got up and gathered them off the dirty floor and approached the bar.
“Here you go, miss.” I tapped her shoulder. “You dropped this.” Suddenly someone tapped my shoulder, and I was certain it would be whatshisname, but instead, it was Bailey.
“Hey, man, I heard you knocked this stupid son of a bitch out.” He held his stomach and laughed, but Tyler didn’t seem amused.
I shrugged, but before I could speak, Bailey continued, “Boy was Lauralee mad at you.”
“You’d have done the same thing, man.” I patted his shoulder and tried to walk away.
“I’d do it too.” Bailey spun around to face Tyler. “You better know it, mother fucker.” He tapped the man beside him, who was just as hammered as he was, and the two men shared another hearty laugh. Tyler stood up and got in Bailey’s face.
“Do it, you drunk bastard. I’m tired of taking shit off you and your old man anyway.” I didn’t know what had gone down on the farm or if it had anything to do with me or knocking him out, but I stopped and listened.
Bailey narrowed his eyes. “You talking to me?” Tyler postured over him. “I know you ain’t talking to me like that, you smug bastard. It’s no wonder Ted knocked your ass out.” He bowed up to the other man, and I hurried over to diffuse the situation. Bailey was too in over his head this time. Tyler wasn’t a small guy or drunk, and if Bailey didn’t watch it, he’d become the newest floor mop at Kinsey’s.
“Come on, Bailey. Settle down.” I stepped to his side and hooked my arm with his.
Tyler smirked. “Yeah, get your boy under control.”
Bailey bowed up, pulling me back with him. “Who the fuck you calling boy?” He nudged me. “You know my Daddy shit-canned this mother fucker, right? Said he knew that punk was up to no good with Lauralee if you knocked his ass out.”
One glance at Tyler and I believed it was true. I’d cost him his job and his pride. He shook his head and turned back to the bar with his smug look. “That slut wasn’t worth it anyway. She’s probably been passed around to every hand your old man’s hired.”
My blood boiled, but before I could make a move, Bailey swung, jerking me forward where our arms were locked. I broke loose about the time Tyler punched him, knocking him on his ass.
Mason, Luke, and a slew of others crowded around, but I picked Bailey up and brushed him off. “Come on, let’s get you home.”
Tyler turned toward me. “Yeah, you don’t want any now that I’m not distracted. That was a lucky punch before and you know it. Run along now, you piece of shit.”
It had taken every bit of strength I had not to react and calling me a piece of shit was the final straw. I pushed Bailey toward Mason and turned on Tyler. I smiled as he flinched, and then I stepped toe to toe with him.
“That’s enough, fellas.” Kinsey stepped in and threw his arm between us. “I’m calling the cops if you don’t break it up, and I’m sure neither of you wants a trip to the Perryville jailhouse.” The old man commanded attention, and I wasn’t about to dispute him. I’d known him all my life and even eaten Sunday supper with him more than once. Besides, I didn’t need any of this getting back to my Daddy or worse, Mama.
I stepped away and saw Luke and Mason dragging Bailey to our table. His cheek was bloody, and by his expression, he was still seeing stars. Any other day, a sober Bailey would have given Tyler a run for his money, but at the moment, Bailey was a little worse for wear.
Luke shook his head. “He’s really out of it.”
“I’ll take him home. Help me find his keys.” I patted his shirt pocket, and Luke stood him up. After retrieving his keys from his pants, a task I didn’t want to perform ever again, Mason helped me get him in the truck and buckled in.
“You want me to follow and bring you back?” Mason’s tone told me he didn’t want to do that, and the way he kept staring back at the door of the bar like he missed something, told me he wasn’t prepared to leave.
“No, I’ll drop him off and walk home. He shouldn’t be driving anyway. You call if you need a ride later and tell Luke to take it easy.”
Mason shut the door, and I started up Bailey’s truck and headed toward home. Bailey came around about halfway there. I heard him shifting in his seat and glanced his way.
“Man, you need to do something about your drinking. You can’t keep getting this wasted, and I know your sister hates it.” I hated to lecture the guy, but someone needed to say something.
“I know, man. I’m drowning in my sorrows. You wouldn’t know what that’s like. My sister’s loved you since the day you met.” His use of the word love got my attention.
“She’s done with me. Probably deserves better anyway. At least I don’t have to worry about her dating Tyler. Tell your Dad thanks for firing his ass.” It eased my mind knowing she wouldn’t be spending her days with him lurking around getting cozy, and after his words back at the bar, I felt better about my previous decision to knock his ass out.
Bailey laughed until he coughed. Once he caught his breath, he sat up in his seat. “I’ll pass that along. Now tell me what you did to my sister this time, and spare me any mushy shit.”
“She’s about sick of my shit, I guess. So much for love.” That wasn’t a word we’d used often. No matter all the time and things between us, that word had somehow skipped our vocabulary. We’d never admitted that to each other, but we’d never denied it either.
“So how are things going on the farm since you fired my sister?”
My shoulders slouched as I deflated. “I wish I could take that back. Funny thing is, I wanted to hire you.”
“Me? For what?”
“I need someone to help me set up the computer program so I can get with this decade.”
“Why didn’t you ask my sister to help? She’s the one who set up ours. Lauralee’s taken classes for all that shit. Hell, she even taught Granny a few things.”
“She didn’t say anything.” I pulled into their drive and parked Bailey’s truck where I’d seen it left a million times and glanced up at Lauralee’s bedroom window. Why hadn’t she told me?
“Her light’s still on if you want to come inside. I’m sure she’ll love you playing hero to her drunk and bloody brother. Check out this shiner. Mother fucker left a hell of a mark.”
“Yeah, she’d probably think I’m the one that hit you.” I slid out of the truck and walked him to the porch making sure I didn’t need to help him up the stairs inside. Once I was sure he’d be okay, I patted his back. “I’ll see you later, man.”
As I walked around the house, I glanced up at her light and, as if she knew I was watching, it went dark. I couldn’t believe she’d known how to operate the program the entire time. Chalk that up to one of the many times I’d underestimated her. And now, it was too late to make things right.