I stood facing the back wall of our tack shed, standing at the work bench with a bridle in my hands. The check piece was broken, and I’d bought a replacement for it at a swap meet yesterday. Tavros, my younger brother, about shit when it broke and his horse took off.
The shed was lit mostly by the sunlight flooding in the doorway. This was an old building, so old it didn’t have electricity. So old the building had sank a good eight inches into the ground.
I heard a car pull up our gravel driveway, and I knew right away who it was. My boyfriend had said he was coming out to see me today since I was needed on the farm.
I heard his car door shut and he called my name.
“In here!” I shouted. Moments later his frame shadowed the doorway.
“Good afternoon,” he grinned.
I crossed the room and hugged him, placing a chaste kiss on his cheek. “Afternoon.”
“What are you up to?” He asked as I separated from him.
“Oh, same old,” I replied, “fixing this, mending that, swearing at cows.”
He laughed a little, and I noticed the smile he’d shown up with hadn’t gone away.
“What’s new with you?” I asked.
“Oh, well, I’ve spent the better part of my morning at work,” he answered.
That explained a lot. He and Meulin Leijon were coworkers, and she was always contagiously happy.
“Rufioh! Can you, uh, help?” Tavros projected his voice so I could hear it through the hundred year old wall. He was supposed to be feeding his 4-H bottle calf in the building attached to the back of this one. Leave it to him to get into trouble.
“Coming,” I called back, and motioned Horuss to fallow me.
Tavros was sitting on the ground, straw in his mohawk, out of his wheelchair when I opened up the calf shed. His heifer, only about a week old, was asleep with her head in his lap. My steer was laying in the straw not far away. Both of them were White faced Herefords, brown with white faces just like their name.
“How’d you get out of the chair, dude?” I huffed, shooing the calf away from my brother.
“I did it on purpose. I wanted to hold her,” he said, sort of hesitant. He was lucky he was light enough I could lift him without help. His calf came hopping back over on knobby knees. She shoved her head in to Tavros’s limp leg for more treats or milk or whatever. He reached over and scratched her head.
“She’s yours?” Horuss asked, standing in the doorway. He was a city boy. Livestock sort of scared him.
“Yeah, her name’s Tinker Bell,” Tavros said sheepishly. He was proud of his cow, but he hadn’t spent much time around Horuss. He had always been a shy kid.
I smirked, “more like Tinkerbull.”
Tavros didn’t reply, frowning. He didn’t much like my teasing.
Horuss took a few steps into the room. Shyly, he reached out to touch the heifer with just his fingers. When she didn’t protest, he pressed his palm on her and petted her in earnest. “What’d you name yours, Rufioh?”
“He doesn’t have one,” I shrugged.
“I call him Peter,” my brother ducked his head. “Like as in Peter Pan?”
I rolled my eyes. “Dude, he’s a market steer, don’t name him.”
“I can’t help it, not really, I can’t,” Tavros muttered. He scratched his cow behind her ear and she was loving it.
“You sell them?” My boyfriend asked, looking up.
“I do, yeah. Dad lets Tavros bring his home though,” I answered.
“I’m lucky,” Tav added, “my dad lets me tag my cows with special tags. So we can set them apart when the other cows go uh, well, to, you know.”
“You good, little brother?” I asked. He nodded, shoving his wheels out of the ruts in the straw. The three of us left the shed. My brother had other chores to do so he left us right away. Horuss and I returned to the workbench.
He liked horses. Him and his little brother both, and he was interested to know how the bridle worked. I showed him a little about bits, the metal part that goes in the mouth. Then I talked a little about brow bands and types of reins.
“Rufioh, I don’t you don’t much like to talk about it, but could I ask about Tavros’s accident?” He asked, sort of suddenly. He still the screwdriver in his hand and he fumbled with it before he got the Chicago screw set correctly.
“Sure,” I muttered, straightening my posture, “if you really want to know.”
“You don’t have to tell me,” he urged, but I shook my head.
“It helps to talk about it,” I told him, “besides, it was years ago.”
If he wanted the story, okay. Besides being a little on edge about it still, I didn’t have any objections.
“It was getting ready to storm one night, and Dad was up on his horse and I was on the ATV. Tavros was in charge of the cow chute. Dad was cutting cows out from the heard and I was chasing them in, and Tavros would close it on them and then tag their ear.”
I cleared my throat and turned over the bridle so he could see the other side of the screw was spinning freely. I held it for him, allowing the screw to tighten.
“So they were already pretty agitated. And then this big ol’ crack of lightning lit of the sky and scared the cows. Cows ain’t like pets, they’re kinda wild. So, when we lost control of the herd, they went straight through the panel fence. Tavros ran, and he figured he’d get behind a gate. They tore the gate off the hinges and Tavros was under it.”
“Wow,” he was speechless.
“Yeah,” I agreed, but then, I smiled and tried to perk him up.
“Tavros can still do stuff though. Stupid kid always got the easy chores anyway,” I laughed, “he still rides and we show cows at the fair, hell, the only real change was the ramp on the front of the house.”
“Oh, does-,” Horuss began, but he didn’t get to finish.
“Rufioh!” My dad hollered.
“In the shed, dad!” I shouted back. I couldn’t catch a break today, could I?
“Good. I got that son of a bitching woodchuck, get the twenty two and take care of it for me!”
Sighing, I pulled the varmint rifle off of the shelf above my head. Next, I pulled a couple shells from the drawer beside me. They were old, wrapped in paper instead of plastic.
“You're going to shoot it?” Horuss asked.
With an expression that conveyed my regret, I looked from the gun in my hands to him. “Well, unfortunately, yeah.”
“Do you have to?” He questioned, his face scrunching up in…concern? Malcontent?
“Yeah, sorry about that,” I replied. “They dig holes and the cows could break their legs if they fall in one.”
He nodded but he didn’t look very happy still. I wasn’t happy either. I didn’t want to shoot it. Shooting stuff made me feel… Wrong on the inside.
I left out of the same side door, holding the rifle pointed down for safety. All five foot eleven of my dad was stood over a have-a-heart trap, and inside it was the offending woodchuck. Horuss stood in the doorway, watching.
“Dad,” I muttered, “could you?”
I held out the rifle to him. I hoped Horuss standing, watching, was a good enough excuse to get out of it.
“Sure,” he agreed. He took the rifle, but then he dug something out of his pocket, intending to trade. He handed me a small stick of dynamite, from great grandad’s stash in the barn.
“Take care of that stump out in the field for me,” he instructed, fishing out a lighter for me. “Don’t blow your hand off, yeah?”
“Sure, pops,” I grinned, laughing a little, “Anything else?”
“Nah, you can knock off after that,” he grinned back, “have fun.”
Anything I didn’t get done today would still be there tomorrow. “Thanks, Dad.”
I trotted back to the doorway and retrieved Horuss from his awkward position off to the side.
“Where are we going?” He quizzed as I pulled him along by the hand. He stumbled a little, muttering something about ‘fiddlesticks.’
“You’ll see,” I grinned, and pulled my keys out of my pocket. I tried not to flinch when the gun went off.
We drove my old beater of a truck out across the freshly baled hay field. Horuss had buckled his seatbelt, and I think he might have been regretting it now since the field was so bumpy. I was probably only going fifteen miles an hour, but the truck jostled like I was flooring it down a mountain. I bounced too, but not nearly as bad with the wheel to brace myself.
I stopped the truck about twenty feet back from the stump in question, and shut the truck off.
“What are we doing all the way out here?” Horuss asked. He looked a bit pale in the face. I wondered if he was car sick.
“You’ll see,” I grinned, and bailed out. He followed me.
The stump was huge, probably as big around as the hood of my truck.
Tavros had sat and counted it’s rings, and it ended up being a hundred and twenty some odd years old. The stump’s bark had all fallen off. The bare wood was riddled with tunnels dug by the bugs that had killed the tree. My dad and I cut it down last winter and used it to heat the house.
I pulled the stick of dynamite out of my back pocket.
“Is that what I think it is?” Horuss asked in disbelief.
I laughed as I got down on my knees, scooping dirt out from under the roots. “Yeah, it is.”
“Rufioh!!” He exclaimed, and took a few large steps back. His long hair was out of its ponytail, and it sort of splayed over his shoulders.
His brown eyes were huge.
“It’s chill, don’t worry. I’ve been around this stuff since I was in diapers,” I assured him, “relax, Doll. I wouldn't do anything to hurt you.”
I could see him blushing, he adjusted his glasses, and frowned. I knew it made him melt when I called him that.
I drew a packet of matches out of my pocket. I situated the dynamite under a root, and angled it to blow away from my truck. I struck the match, held it to the wick, and shot out of there like a bat out of hell after it lit. Horuss was on my tail.
We hid behind my tailgate, and watched it blow.
There was a pop, and then in a cloud of smoke, the stump rocketed out of the ground. It flew about ten feet until it hit the ground and tumbled. In its wake, a crater had formed from the black dirt, with smog of a similar color billowing out of it.
“That was,” my boyfriend paused, “rather eventful.”
“Farm work is officially done for the day,” I chatted, and reached out for his hand.
“And what are you planning to do with the remaining hours?” His eyebrows rose.
I pulled him closer via his hand and leaned in. I pressed my lips to his.
His free hand snaked around my hips as mine tangled into his hair.
Our lips met and separated with wet pops. I kept my tongue out of the way, because any tongue was almost always too much.
His body was warm. His lips were warm. He smelled like American Eagle body wash, and tasted like earth. I felt grounded with him. Nothing with Horuss was ever forced. It was true I had cheated on Damara to be with him, but Damara never felt like this.
Horuss felt like love.
I pulled away from him, watching his eyes flutter open. He was smiling again, but now I was sure it had nothing to do with Meulin Leijon. “I plan to take you on the dopest date you’ve ever been on.”
Before I knew it, we were piling back into my truck and driving across another hay field. I drove slower, using the headlights, and tried to catch less bumps in the fading sunlight. This time we stopped on the bank of the creek that ran through my property.
I’d left the canoe out here, along with a pair of fishing poles baited with rubber worms.
I think he would have rather took the horses trail riding, but I hoped this was good enough.
I left my shoes in the truck and rolled up my pants, shoving us off the bank once Horuss and the pokes were safely inside. I climbed in, only a little wet, and used the single oar to steer us down stream.
It was almost completely dark by the time I found the fishing spot. It was marked by a long strand of binders twine my dad had thrown up in a tree. We didn’t have an anchor, but I knew where and old piece of concrete was on the riverbed. I beached us on it, and hoped I wasn’t putting holes in the bottom of the canoe.
I liked it out here in the sticks. The moon was bright, and big tonight. It lit the night sky like a lantern. Stars dappled the pitch colored heavens. We were far away from the city on the farm that no lights interfered with them. Paired with the lighting bugs, we didn’t need flashlights to see tonight.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many stars,” Horuss hushed. I’d set him up with his pole, but he was still holding it wrong. I let it go.
“They’re there every night, Doll,” I grinned.
I laughed a little and looked down at his pole. “Am I doing this right?”
“Sure you are. Just uh, flick it a little. Move the bait, you know?”
“Oh, I see,” he looked over and observed what I was doing and copied.
“This horizontal, er, fiddlesticks, what did you say this was called again?”
“Vertical jigging,” I filled in for him.
“This 'Vertical Jigging’ thing is sort of fun,” the look on his face made me smile. Sort of a bemused concentration that was just so him.
I settled down on the floor of the canoe, lazily leaning back against the water repelling sides.
“What should I do if I get a bite?” Horuss asked, distracting me from a firefly on my arm. “How will I know if I have a bite?”
I chuckled lightly. “The top of the pole will go down, and you’ll feel it. Just, jerk once to set the hook and reel.”
He stared at his pole with the utmost concentration. I couldn’t help but laugh at him. That attracted his attention. He cracked a smile.
“What happens if we don’t catch anything, Rufioh?”
I shrugged. “Don’t matter.”
“Isn’t that the point of fishing though? to catch fish?”
I shook my head. “Nah. The point of fishing is relaxing and spending time with somebody you love.”