Lancelot and the Big Bang

by Rick Beck

Chapter 9

Lonesome Rider

After they finished their coffee, Bang drove Lance over to Brenda's to get the pickup. They were told that there would be a special dinner for them after church on Sunday afternoon. Bang asked if he could just wait there. Lance left for Rivers' place and told Bang he'd meet him back on the farm in an hour or so.

"Come on in for some coffee. I got some biscuits left from breakfast if you like," Brenda said.

"Oh yes," Bang said. "Lance's coffee is more like syrup and we haven't risked biscuits yet."

"He still determined to stay out there?" Brenda asked, setting fresh churned butter down in front of Bang. He lathered up his biscuit.

"He's going to bring in the corn."

"Figures. Boy's as hard headed as my father, when it comes to that godforsaken piece of dirt. I tried to get him to come up here and live with us, but he had to stay out there by himself after mamma died. We might have found him in time if he'd had his stroke here. Out there, no tellin' how long he laid before Rivers found him."

"Rivers told Mr. Lan… Lance that your father said he didn't want to live if he couldn't dip his hands in the soil every day. Rivers said he died just like he wanted to die. It doesn't sound like he wanted to take up space somewhere once he couldn't farm any more."

"I was never a farm girl. My brother couldn't wait to get off that farm. Him and Daddy had awful fights about him not pulling his weight out there. Then I got married right out of high school. I guess Daddy and mamma got a couple'a lemons all right. They deserved better. They were good people."

"Seems to me you do pretty good for yourself. Taking care of kids is about the best thing anyone can do. Especially kids no one else wants or can't care for anymore. I can't think of anything more honorable myself," Bang said. "I have a hunch your mother and father were pretty darn proud of their daughter."

"Thank you," Brenda said, putting her hands on top of Bang's. "I never once thought of it that way. I do all I can. I did raise Lance and he turned out good. Millie's a regular princess. She helps out like I never did. That does make me feel better. Let me fix you some eggs. I've got some fresh bacon Roy just picked up. Just needs some warming up. That'll be just the thing to go with those biscuits."

"That would be wonderful. We're living off hot dogs and hamburgers. Canned beans. Some regular food would be great. Maybe a couple of pieces of that bacon on a biscuit while I wait for the eggs," Bang suggested, pushing the last of a biscuit into his mouth.

"Coming right up. Good seeing a boy eat."

"His daddy came by."

Brenda stopped and turned around to look at Bang.

"What happened? You didn't let them fight? Lord I knew he'd find out that boy was out there. My brother ain't no good. He does any harm to that boy and I'll… I'll…."

"No, ma'am. I didn't let them do anything. They pretty much did whatever they wanted. Mostly they just insulted each other a little and he left saying he'd send the sheriff out to get him off there."

"I hoped it wouldn't come to this. He'll do it too," Brenda said. "He'd let them lock up his own son and wouldn't lift a hand."

"Not if you stop him he wouldn't. As far as I can see you're entitled to an equal share once your parents are dead. He can't do anything you don't let him do. As for having Lance arrested, well, if it's partially your land and you want the corn brought in, then that'll fix that for the time being. I have a hunch a court would be rather favorable to that outcome. That'd be my guess."

"Is that what I want?"

"It's what Lance is going to do come hell or hurricane. If you don't back him up, he's going to do it anyway. If you love him I think you've got to give him the chance to finish what your father started. That's what he wants. I think he'll let go of it after the corn is in."

"My brother is a mean and hateful man. I don't like to be around him."

"You'd probably have to talk to a lawyer to find out the details. He can't take it and sell it without your signature and certainly if you live here and he lives somewhere else, the sheriff will probably lean in your direction because he knows what it's all about. I'd say you are in a good position to keep Lance out of trouble and let him finish up with his granddaddy the way he sees it. Lance's mind is made up."

"He'll cause me as much trouble as he can if I go against him. My brother is not a nice man."

"Well, then I guess he'll have Lance arrested if you don't stand up to him. The law is the law and once they decide on something, it'll be too late to stop it. You've got to let your wishes be known. The will is probate next week. That's according to your brother."

"Next Thursday," Brenda said. "I got a letter from Fred Baldwin. He's got an office over the general store. He's there Thursdays for the farmers. I wasn't going to go. I didn't want a fight."

"Lance says the land has been in your family for generations.

"Lan makes the sixth generation that's been out there."

"That's a long time just to let it go. I'd think your father might not think much of it being sold off."

"Lan took to the farm like none of the rest of us ever did. Maybe it was the love and affection he got out there. My father loved that boy. After mamma died, he was good company and they spent a lot of time together. They were both happy out there."

"Sounds nice," Bang thought out loud.

"He craves attention. Anyone pays any attention to him and he follows them around like a little puppy. He was such a sensitive boy. He always seemed so lonely. I did the best I could."

"It's that way when your parents aren't there for you. You want that and nothing can replace it. No matter how nice people are to you and how good you have it, there's always a void. I didn't make many friends. Lance is one of the few. I keep wondering if we are friends. I don't have much experience with friends."

"He did take to that boy Craig once he took up soccer. Him being so much older bothered me but Lan and him was inseparable so fast. It was good seeing him take up with someone. Always kicking that ball around. Never saw either one of 'em without a soccer ball. He did love soccer. So you know what Lan went through. Sounds like your parents weren't around for you either," Brenda said, remembering parts of a previous conversation.

"Even worse. They were there for nine years. My life was hell because they were fighting all the time. Then I got shipped out. I haven't spent a month total with both of them since. I guess they did the best they could, but that didn't help me any. I had to make it on my own. I prefer being on my own. I did anyway."

"If you'd have been here I'd have taken you in."

"I wish I had been. You are quite a nice woman. Lance was lucky to have someone like you care for him."

Brenda made a point to hug Bang before he left, after she fed him a breakfast he kept bragging about to Lance. She hugged him to reassure him that there were people in the world that cared, but she also hugged him for making her feel better about her life and how she'd lived it, and how he made her see she needed to help Lance most of all.

Bang blushed before going out to drive back to the farm. Brenda made him feel at home and that took some doing. Liking what it made him feel also made him uncomfortable. Bang liked everything about being in Nebraska, except for maybe Lance's father, but every thing else was like nothing else he'd ever experienced.

He didn't need to think or work at anything, just being Bang was all he had to do, except maybe for Lance, who was never all that happy with anything he did. He didn't want to like it too much because he knew he would have to go back to the life he knew one day soon and he calculated Lance wasn't going back with him.

Lance stopped at Rivers' and picked up the chickens and roosters. Rivers led the milk cows over and they took the time to give Bang another chance to sit on top of Jezebel. It took another day for all the livestock to find its way home. It created a lot of work to do.

Bang found the pigs the most interesting; he stood watching them wallow in the mud as Lance tended to the machinery. By the end of the week there were enough eggs for breakfast and Lance let Bang make the collection and try to outsmart the rooster who didn't like Bang coming into the hen house.

Even with Lance doing the cooking, the fresh ingredients were all wonderful to Bang's taste. At first things seemed a bit strong but after a few bites, he couldn't recall ever eating as well as this. Even the air was amazing to him in spite of a slight fragrance that came from the cows and the horses.

On Saturday they took the horses out across the twelve hundred acres. Bang had been on Jezebel almost every day, but Lance had been too busy to saddle up for a longer ride. Bang wanted to walk a while after one of the many stops they made to examine the soil and the corn; it seemed to grow several inches over night each day. Bang stared for a long time at one plant, thinking he might catch it growing, but the process remained mysterious, and he gave it up once Lance asked him what in the hell he was looking at.

On Sunday they got up before sunrise so they could get in all the chores before going over to Brenda's for the "special" dinner. Bang wasn't sure what made it special but he thought it had something to do with Aunt Brenda's cooking. He was anxious to get back to where the best food was although he was sure his waistline was suffering.

It was directly after Brenda served them fresh lemonade that two girls came in through the kitchen. One came right to Lance where he was sitting in the living room. He stood and embraced her.

"Shelley! How are you? You look swell."

After kissing Lance on the lips, she held his hand as they sat beside each other on the couch. They were obviously fond of one another.

"I'm really glad to see you. This is Cassy. Cassy this is Lance."

The other girl moved toward Lance, but there was no hug in their future. They shook hands politely before Cassy retreated to a neutral chair.

"This is my friend Bang. This is Shelley. I told you about her, and this is her friend Cassy."

There were nods and smiles and discomfort to some degree with each of them. Cassy watched Shelley and Lance while Bang watched Lance and Shelley, figuring her to be the girlfriend he'd left behind. He hoped Cassy was not brought along for his benefit. He got caught glancing at her and they both blushed and returned to watching the other two, who watched one another.

"So how have you been?"

"Fine. I'm going to school over in Lincoln."

Brenda came in with more lemonade. The girls each took one, but this time it came with straws and a lemon slice looped over the edge of each glass. They both sipped from the straws.

"Nebraska! You were always the one with the brain," Lance said.

"Yes! I know I said I wouldn't, but I did anyway. Nothing to keep me around here once you were gone. I met Cassy over there. She knew her way around and we ended up sharing an apartment," Shelley said.

"That's great. Bang's my roommate at school."

"He play soccer?" Shelley asked.

"No, he plays the iMac."

"Is that a new sport?"

"Computer. He's a computer geek. He's nice though. Mostly."

"That would make you the odd couple," Shelley said, smiling at Bang. "I'm sorry that was rude. I was going for humor."

"I suppose it does. We get along pretty well. Mostly."

"Good. I know you don't make friends easily. He must be nice if he came all the way out here with you."

"Oh yes, Bang is something else. Nice would describe him."

"Bang's right here, and he's old enough not to trade on old labels. I thought we were finally getting beyond them, but I've thought that before. Can't I just be your friend or your chauffeur or whatever it is I am?"

"I didn't mean anything by it, Bang. We speak plain talk here. They're easy terms to describe us. No one cares about geeks or jocks around here."

"Right," Shelley objected. "Once a jock always a jock."

"Amen!" Bang said, immediately sensing he had an ally.

"Outnumbered in my own house," Lance said.

"Cassy plays hockey. She's very good."

"We're just getting organized on campus," Cassy said. "I'm not that good. I like the game though."

"What are you going to do, Lan?" Shelley asked after taking a long sip of lemonade.

"I don't know. Hang around here. Go back to school. I'm in between right now. I want to get in granddaddy's corn."

"You back out at your grandfather's?"

"Yeah, he got the corn planted before he…. I need to get that done for him. There are always loans against the crop."

"Soccer?"

"I can't keep up, Shel. I'm not a star at Maryland. I'm having trouble holding my own. I had to quit spring practice because of an injury. There's so much talent out there. It's not going to get any easier either," Lance said, sipping his lemonade and giving some thought to the words as everyone watched him speak.

"You never cared much for school, Lan. Maybe you should think about staying and taking care of the farm or something liked that. You always seemed happy out there."

"The old man's going to sell it."

"Oh!" Shelley said, sitting back and setting the glass down for the first time.

"He did pretty good the last semester," Bang said. "He just needs to apply himself. I'll help him."

"You carried my ass, Bang. If you hadn't been on me every second I'd have bombed out on two courses. I wouldn't even be eligible for sports. I don't know if I want to go through that again. You've got your own future to think about."

"I don't mind. It made the year more interesting."

"Yeah, you get off on helping the dumb jock."

That left little for anyone to say. The ice rattled in the glasses, the noise of the kids playing out back filtered into the living room, and the pots and pans banged. The living room remained devoid of conversation while everyone looked in their glasses for a conversation piece.

"Good lemonade."

"Yeah."

"Delicious."

"A little tart, I think," Bang said.

The dinner went well and there were hugs all around once it was time to leave. There were no discussions about further get-togethers. Bang handed the keys to Lance as they stepped out of the light of the back porch.

"You want me to drive?"

"Yeah, I ate too much. I shouldn't drive," Bang said. "might get cramps driving so soon after dinner."

"You're certifiable. I ate more than you did," Lance said.

"But you hold your food better than I do. I want to savor it and I can't do that if I'm watching my speed."

The car maintained the speed limit and Lance enjoyed the experience, but he was deep in thought most of the way back.

"She's a nice girl," Bang said, looking up at the clear blue sky that was just then starting to fade to black.

"Yeah, she's super. One of the few people I could talk to," Lance said.

"You looked nice together, but you weren't very attentive," Bang said. "I expected a bit more hand holding and kissing for your girlfriend."

"What, you wanted me to throw her on the floor and slip the wood to her? You're too much."

"Cassy was quiet," Bang said, wondering how he always managed to hit a raw nerve without really trying.

"Yes, she was. Being around a lot of strangers is uncomfortable."

"Yeah," Bang agreed.

The hum of the car and the breeze it created furnished most of the background noise. Bang was amazed at how quiet the noise of the farmland could be. There was a definite sound even when it was quiet. There was always a faint breeze and insects and birds. Each had a distinct way of blending into the silence. The harsh and disturbing noises of the city that you learned to ignore were gone completely. Everything was natural on the farm.

"We never did it," Lance announced as they turned into the driveway at the farm.

"Did what?" Bang asked, knowing he should know but didn't.

"Shelley and I, we never did it. I was her cover at school."

"Her cover? I'm way too slow for direct talk. Cover what?"

"Cassy isn't just her roommate. I mean they're like…."

"She's not?" Bang asked as the car eased to a stop next to the stairs.

"No, they're… well, they're very close friends. The closest."

"I thought she was a lesbian, but I didn't want to say anything. I figured it would piss you off if I asked, Shelley being your girlfriend and all. I can't believe we just went through that and none of it was real. I'm going to need a shrink after I leave here."

Both boys laughed as they fought to be the first into the kitchen. For a minute they were just two regular guys.

"God, I can't wait until the morning and more of the sucky coffee you make me drink. Not to mention the good old fresh burnt fried eggs," Bang yelled loudly. "I want to marry Brenda. I'm in love with her cooking."

"Roy might have a problem with that," Lance said. "You can cook if you want. Brenda won't mind."

"Right! We'd starve, dude. I can't boil water. I do know, however, where water comes from. I'm not totally helpless."

"That an'a buck'll get you a sucky cup of coffee."

As Bang read in the living room, he heard Lance go out the kitchen door at a time when they'd usually be going to bed. Bang listened for a long time after he went to bed but fell asleep before Lance came to bed. He knew he was there in the night because the snoring woke him up a half a dozen times, but when he woke up after the sun was starting to light the bedroom, Lance was gone again.

Bang lay in bed and listened to the tractor's running. There was a certain comfort hearing something mechanical penetrating the plains silence. He poured two cups of coffee once he got to the kitchen and carried one out to Lance who was leaning over the engine of the Farmall, making an adjustment to the carburetor.

"There! That sounds better," Lance said as he shut off the engine.

"All those brand new shiny machines in the barn and you're always working on this one," Bang said.

"This is the one we use most. Those are for the harvest. This is for every day."

"How much are all these machines worth? The ones in the barn?"

Lance leaned his butt on the big Farmall tire and wiped his hands as he calculated in his head.

"I suppose a half a million. They're a couple of years old, but we only use them for a few weeks a year. Most are fairly new. Brand new, the Harvester was quarter of a mil."

"How much for the land?" Bang asked.

"Twelve hundred acres. Use to go for $2000 an acre but that was a few years back. Land goes up and down like crop prices. Two and a half to three mil. I don't know if there are leans."

"How much for all that corn?"

"He planted eight hundred acres. Depends on the bushel price at harvest. Half-mil maybe more or less. "

"Darn, that's big business. You're sitting on three to four million dollars."

"Most years you make enough to pay the loans, fix the machinery and buy a pair of shoes or two and feed yourself until the next harvest. Not a lot left after that. I doubt he had a few thousand dollars in the bank. Bad years you don't even break even. You just keep working and hope you don't have two bad years in a row. The machinery wears out. You buy new. You borrow to buy the seed. It's always a gamble."

"What happens if you do have two bad years?" Bang asked.

"Bankers start coming around and checking out everything you own. They start auctioning it off until your debt is paid or they own the farm, whichever comes first. Lots of folks used to be farmers."

"That's cold," Bang said. "Why do they do it?"

"Farm? It's not something you do. It's something you are. It's in the blood. Helping things grow is an art. Giving it the time to grow, the proper nourishment, the water when the rains don't come, that's an art. My grandfather was an artist and this was his canvas. It was a beautiful picture and I was part of it for as far back as I have a memory. All good things come to an end."

"And now your old man is going to sell it?"

"And now my old man is going to sell it."

"Doesn't seem fair."

"Life isn't fair, Bang. Haven't you figured that out yet? You of all people should know life is never fair. No pain no gain. Being beaten and bashed gives you character. Isn't that what they say? Of course those are the people doing the bashing and the beating who say that."

"If you say so. You're starting to sound cynical. Might help if someone decided to take a stand against your old man," Bang asserted.

"Yeah, I suppose. Want to go for a ride?"

"Why can't we at least talk about it? Put up a fight, Lance."

"Too much work to do. What's going to be is going to be. I've got to go out to check on irrigating the lower sections. If we don't get rain by the end of the week, I'll need to start watering."

"You aren't going to make me ride on the back of this thing again? My ass is still sore. Don't they have padded saddles?"

"No! No! I've got something else planned for your ass. Wait here."

Lance led the two horses out of the smaller barn. They were saddled and seemed way bigger than when Bang sat on one.

"Here's the keys," Lance said, handing him the reins. "You remember Jez. She needs to be aired out every few days. You up for a ride this morning before breakfast."

Jezebel nuzzled her head against Bang's shoulder as Lance was handing him the reins.

"Cut it out," Barn giggled.

"She likes you," Lance said.

"That's 'cause I'm a pushover."

"Horses are good judges of character."

"This one needs a shrink. I don't have any character," he giggled as she pushed him with her head so he'd pat her head. "I'd rather eat breakfast."

"You don't get a choice," Lance said, sliding up on Spindle and looking down at Bang. "You remember how to start her?"

"Yeah, I think so. I'm not stupid," he said, smiling and sounding a lot like Lance. "Now I remember. This is what made my ass so sore. I'll be back in a minute. I want to get on my boots."

They took one of the tractor trails and rode out toward the rising sun. The corn stood three feet high and had started to blot out the soil for the first time. The leaves flowed out gracefully from the corn stalks and the rich green color was like no green Bang could remember seeing before.

He watched as Lance rode easily in the saddle just ahead of him. He inhaled deep fresh breaths of air and thought of how out-of-place he was on a farm. He'd always lived around concrete and steel and glass. He could never see beyond the next corner most of the time, and now he could see almost forever. He felt alive, more alive than he had ever felt. The horse shifting under him gave him a sense that he was part of the land.

All his senses were tuned in to the environment. He saw and heard things that he had never experienced before. There was no need to filter out any noise or unpleasantness if you didn't consider the fragrant droppings the horses left behind. He shifted in the saddle so he could see all around. This was a different world.

In a little over an hour they had checked the field Lance was concerned with and were riding up to the back of the house.

"You take them into the barn. Take off the saddles and bridles and hang them where I showed you. You can brush Jez down and I'll brush Spindle once I fix us some grub. We'll need to knock some hay down from the top loft so the horses and cows have enough. Can you take care of it?"

"Sure," Bang said, taking Spindle's reins and walking the two horses into the barn.

"Hey! See if there are any fresh eggs, Bang. We're starting to run low in the house."

Bang savored the food. He even thought that Lance's cooking was improving. They drank more coffee as Bang did the dishes before it was time for chores.

After they tended to the horses, Lance climbed in the loft and tossed hay down on Bang, instructing him how to distribute the piles. They both had to shower after they got finished tossing and wrestling in the hay. The horses watched the playing boys curiously.

Lance taught Bang how to milk the cow and turned that chore over to him along with other food gathering chores. At first Bang was a bit apprehensive, but he came up with almost a full bucket of milk when all was said and done. The hens seemed happy to be home and were laying up a storm, only sometimes the eggs got stepped on while Bang was searching for them. He didn't realize hens were so good at hiding things.

Each day was as busy as the last and the boys were seldom done with all the chores when they ran out of daylight. They found themselves dropping in bed about the time it was getting dark. The bed seemed more comfortable and the sleep was deeper every night. Bang started tuning his ear so he could hear Lance get up in the morning, then dragged himself out of bed and got to the coffee pot about the time it was ready to pour.

Wednesday was a particularly busy day with Rivers coming by to chat over coffee in the afternoon. Lance had started to water the lower fields and was working his way up top after almost two weeks without rain. His looks skyward told the story; the crisp blue was interrupted only by a few wispy white clouds that Bang couldn't take too seriously. There was one more day without rain.

On Thursday morning the bed was empty when Bang woke up. He dressed quickly and raced to the kitchen. Lance sat shirtless at the table, leaning with his arms stretched out around his half full coffee cup. He looked up at Bang and nodded as he rushed into the kitchen.

"Morning!"

"Morning."

"Why didn't you get me up?"

"I never really slept. No sense in getting you up. You'd just drink all the coffee."

"You going."

"Where?"

"Come on, Lance. It's Thursday. You going or not."

"I got chores. You can go."

"For God sake Lance, fight the bastard. Go make your case. Let him know he just can't get his way. What's wrong with you?"

"I've got work to do. I don't have time to waste."

"You love this place. Go get Brenda and fight him. I won't let you give it up without a fight."

"Brenda has no stomach for it and I sure as hell don't want to watch him gloat. You don't want me and my father to be getting together any more often than is absolutely necessary. You've seen how it goes. You want that in a lawyer's office? I'd get my ass locked up for sure."

"God, you're so hopeless."

"Hopeless or helpless? It's none of your fucking business anyway. What do you care? You're just passing through, Bang. It's nothing to you. Let it go."

"I care about you. I care about what's right. You can't just let him win. Fight him."

Lance laughed as he leaned on the stove after pouring more coffee.

"You told me the law is on his side, Bang. You think people have nothing to do but fight other people over stuff. I don't care. The law's the law. Nothing I can do about it. I got work to do."

"Now you're lying to me. You do care. I'll go with you."

"I've got to irrigate up top today. Can't go another day without rain. Corn's starting to wilt. You helping me or you going to sit here and bitch? We can get in the corn if we get it grown."

Thunder rolled across the sky in a distant rumble. Lance walked out on the back porch as the first rain drops started to gently fall. He looked skyward into the black morning sky. There were only clouds that he'd been waiting for weeks to see.

"Maybe it's going to rain," Bang said.

"Good bet. That'll save a day's work."

"It's settled. Now we can go to the lawyers."

"You don't hear too well. I'm not doing this. What's going to be is going to be. I don't have anything to do with it. It's between Brenda and my father."

"You're an asshole. I can't believe it."

"Believe it. I thought you were going to Seattle. I'm getting tired of fighting with you. Why don't you just go?"

"Is that what you want?"

"Why put off until tomorrow what you can do today? I've got a lot of work to do and it isn't getting done standing here."

The rains started as sprinkles and then turned into showers. Bang stood at the kitchen window and watched Lance leaning on the barn door looking out at the sky. He didn't come back in the house until lunch time, and by that time Bang had concluded it was best to let things alone. It was none of his business.

The meeting was scheduled for ten a.m. and it was no doubt over. Bang felt pretty bad because he knew how it probably went. Lance was the big loser and no one else cared. He felt bad for his friend. He knew Lance wanted to keep the farm going for his grandfather as much as for any other reason, but all things had a season and his grandfather was gone.

Lance changed clothes and came down to the table as the rains started to pour.

"You don't have to worry about watering for a few days."

"Nope," Lance said, staring out at the rain.

"Isn't always this dry for so long?"

"Nope!"

"I'm sorry. I should have kept my mouth shut."

"Yep!"

Bang let it drop. He took Lance a cup of coffee as he leaned on the sink. By the time he sat down he could hear the car wheels on the gravel.

"Shit!" Bang said. "I hoped he wouldn't come right out here."

"Oh, he couldn't wait to get out here and put it in my face," Lance said with a sob grabbing hold of the gulp of air he was taking.

"He'll come in?"

"You bet your ass. He'll come right in. Probably brought the sheriff with him to make it final."

"Only one car," Bang said.

"You do listen some times," Lance said.

The kitchen stayed silent except for the rain on the roof. Both boys listened for the car door but the driver was waiting for the rain to let up. Bang hoped it would rain harder and keep raining. Then the kitchen door burst open and Brenda came dashing in with the newspaper over the top of her head.

"Lord have mercy. We got us a gully washer for sure."

"Hi Lan," she said warmly and hugged him as he kept a reluctant distance. "You been cryin' son?"

"No!" he sobbed. "He coming. That what you come to tell me?"

"Better look at those eyes, Lan. They're all red. You might'a caught something out here. Don't want to get caught caring about something."

"I haven't caught nothing. He hasn't shown up yet."

"Yeah, I went to the lawyer's office, Lan."

"You did?" he asked, wiping tears out of his eyes. "What happened?"

"Bang said I had to go to make things right. He said I owed it to my father and I owed it to you. He said if I let my brother rule the roost, I'd live to regret it. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but one day. I want you to know I went. I tried Lan. There wasn't anything I could do. Mr. Baldwin even called a judge over Lincoln. Judge Prentice. We asked about harvesting. He wanted to help, but said it depended on how the will was written. Mr. Baldwin tried to argue me out of the call but I told him what Bang said. I made arrangements to go early to see him so this was before the time the will was to be read. That was officially at ten and he wasn't about to reveal anything he knew. Turns out there was nothing I could do anyway. It was all spelled out in black and white. Even the judge couldn't change any of it."

Lance slumped down into the chair across from Bang.

"Sorry, Lance!" Bang said.

"You'll have to go into Mr. Baldwin's office though."

"Me? I'm not going up there. I'd have gone if I was going to go. I'm here."

"Well, you've got to go. It's the law."

"I don't give a shit about the law," Lance said. "Sorry, Aunt Brenda. I don't care. I don't care."

"You better. Your granddaddy left the farm to you as long as you intended to stay and work it. He said you were to be working it within thirty days of the day the will was read or it would revert to your father and me. I think you need to go sign some papers so they can make it official. You can tell Mr. Baldwin you're working it."

"I'm not twenty-one until next week," Lance said, surprised at this turn of events.

"I'm your guardian and I don't know it matters. It's your farm. Your grandfather took care of it last spring when he started feeling poorly. Mr. Baldwin couldn't tell me what was in the will, but there were no doubts that Daddy thought you were the one to take care of the land."

"Great!" Bang said, patting Lance's arm. "You won."

"Wow! He left it to me? I never figured he'd do that."

"I got some of that ham we had for dinner Sunday. I brought some biscuits for Bang. I'm sure he'll let you have one. They're in the car if one of you boys want to go bring in the cooler from the backseat. I thought it might be your last meal out here. Glad I was wrong."

"Biscuits!" Bang said. "I'll get them. You wouldn't be willing to fix a pot of coffee, would you?"

On Sunday there was a celebration at Brenda's. She baked Lance a huge twenty-first birthday cake. There weren't many presents, but the farm seemed to be adequate for Lance. Bang did go to the general store and bought him the gaudiest cowboy shirt he could find. Everyone laughed when they saw the shirt as it came out of the Christmas wrapping paper.

"Gee, Bang, you shouldn't have. I mean you really shouldn't have. Weren't there any cow bells or flashing lights that come with it?"

"They had to back order them. They'll give you a call when they arrive."

"That sounds pretty final. You could just drive there to get them."

"I won't be here," Bang said.

"What are you talking about? I thought you were going to stay through harvest," Lance said.

"That's when you were a poor kid against the world. You're a man now. You're a big time landowner. You can hire some help. I'll just be in your way. You've made that clear any number of times."

"Bang, you know I never mean half of what I say. Why are you being difficult?"

"It's the other half that I worry about. It's time for me to get out of here. The summer's half gone. I'm supposed to be taking a vacation."

"Bang, you seemed so happy here. Please stay for a while," Brenda said, hugging him from behind.

"I've made up my mind. Once Lance got the farm he didn't need me any more. It's time for me to get out of his way."

The ride home was silent and neither Bang nor Lance had much to say the rest of the day.

After they took a ride out to see how the different fields were doing on Monday morning, Bang went to take a shower and to pack. Lance stayed out of the house and stood leaning and watching the hogs after dumping some garbage into the pen.

"Hey, I got to get out of here. I can't take any more of this sappy lovefest," Bang said, looking around but not looking at Lance as he squatted and ran some soil through his fingers.

"Yeah, I know. If I thought it would do any good I'd have let you spend more time with my old man. Sort of remind you how miserable parents can be. Look, I want to thank you again. I didn't expect this and of course you've got no interest in this place. I just hate seeing you go is all. I know I'm hot headed and say shit that pisses you off, Bang. I'm sorry."

"Don't even. I thought we sorted that out somewhere in Pennsylvania. I said I'd bring you home and here you are. I've been here way too long."

"Smithton," Lance said. "It was in the motel in Smithton, Pennsylvania."

"You would remember that. All those answers gone begging on all those tests, and you remember some podunk town in the middle of nowhere because it was such a landmark in human history."

"It was in some ways," Lance said softly. "Look, come back one day. I'm going to work the farm and make a life here. You were right. It's where I belong. I love it here. I wish… no…I just haven't made many friends in my life. I know you're one of the better ones. I'll think about you. If you ever need a place to call home, you know where to find me."

"Yeah, me too. When things start going too well and I start thinking too highly of myself, I'll think of you, and that will bring me back down to earth."

"I do have that quality, don't I?" Lance said, standing and reaching out to shake his friend's hand and then hugging him instead. "You drive careful and don't pick up any hitchhikers unless they got big hooters, yea hear."

"Yeah, I'll keep that in mind," Bang said. "Big hooters. Words to remember you by. You and Jenny Lovemedo have a good life."

"Who?"

"Whatever her name will be. You'll settle down and have half a dozen kids you can boss around and make feel lousy about themselves. It's your duty. You'll be good at that."

"I will?"

"Sure."

"Drive safe," Lance said softly as Bang started his walk to the car.

"Hey, Bang."

"Yeah," Bang answered, turning and walking backwards in his cowboy boots.

"I'll leave the light on for you."

Lance waved and Bang waved back.

Backing out of the driveway, Bang spun a tire, creating a cloud of smoke as he tore up the lane in the direction of the Interstate, leaving Lance feeling a bit lost and lonely. He hadn't had many friends he believed in, but he had believed in Bang. He was sorry he hadn't been nicer to him. Good friends didn't come by every day.

Lance went directly to the chores that had piled up. He tossed hay down to the horses and brushed them both. The emptiness inside didn't leave him. He had felt the same way when he found out his grandfather was dead. Now, he'd lost his only real friend. He'd buy Jezebel from Rivers in case Bang came back one day.

Brenda came out and brought some fresh food. She was sorry she missed seeing Bang off. They sat and talked, then Lance found himself alone again. He could handle things up to harvest and then he'd need to hire a couple of hands.

Each morning, in the weeks that followed, he rode one of the horses out into the fields. He watched the corn as it grew. He rode back and brushed both horses lovingly.

The crop looked good. It would be a fine year for corn, but he still kept an eye on the sky for any signs of early rains. The field needed to be dry to accommodate the large machines, but so far so good; everything had gone as planned. He was almost sure they could beat the rains this year.

Lance was proud of the fields and he felt his connection to his grandfather, who trusted him to carry on. He knew that it was an important trust, but he had never thought there would be a time when it was he and not Gran who tended these fields. Along with the pride was the sadness that the connection would start to fade with the harvest of the corn he had planted and left for his grandson to harvest.

"What's on your mind, Lan," Brenda said as the screen door banged in back of her nephew.

She always knew when something was eating on him.

"Nothing. Just wanted to see a friendly face."

"That shirt was a joke, Lan. I don't think he expected you to wear it out in public."

"Yeah, I kind of like it. Reminds me of…."

"You miss him, too, don't you? You got that same look on your face when Craig would go off to scout camp in the summers. Daddy'd drop you off here and you'd wander around like you were lost. Good friends are good to have and hard to give up, son."

"I s'pose. Nobody out there but me and the horses… and cows… and chickens. Rivers drops by now and again. Don't think he can take too much of my coffee though. I'd hate to be the cause of him dying," Lance said, not being serious. "Bang hated my coffee. Never could make it himself. Boy was helpless."

"He was one fine boy. Maybe he'll come back this way one day. He's got to go back to Maryland, don't he. He might just come this way."

"I don't think so. I wasn't very nice to him. I think I was trying to run him off. I was afraid he was going to leave me. I can be a jerk. I don't think he knew how much his friendship meant to me and I couldn't tell him straight out. He use to say I was an asshole. He was right. I am."

"What are you talking about? You two were like peas in a pod. You could see by the look on your faces how fond you were of each other. He knew you cared about him."

"I wouldn't call it fond."

"Some times you just need space between two friends. You see clear when you got space. He was a fine boy. I know that much."

"That he was but we weren't fond of each other."

"Well, that's what I call it. You looked fond of each other."

"Have it your way, Brenda. He's gone now."

"It's the same look you had around Craig. I know fond when I see it and you can't hide a thing like that," she said, looking over her shoulder as she washed the breakfast dishes. "Want some breakfast, Lan?"

"Yeah, I guess. Got any biscuits?"

"When have you come in here and there not been fresh biscuits."

"I don't know. We have to play twenty questions?"

"Sit! I'll pour you some coffee. I'll let you take the rest of the biscuits back with you."

Brenda hugged her nephew and kissed his cheek.

He blushed and felt good to be with someone who cared about him..

The pickup truck backfired twice after he started it to go home. He knew the engine needed work. It had needed work for years. Gran had kept it running just well enough to get him to town and back. He listened to the engine and wondered if he could adjust it well enough to keep it going until after harvest.

He spent time under the hood before going back to the chores. The pig pen was starting to dry up and he thought he ought to make some mud so the pigs could get relief from the now relentless sun. There was still the apprehension about too early rains, and he turned his eye skyward frequently. The stray shower from time to time was just the ticket to get to harvest time.

Lance had the hose stretched completely out so he could stand up on the fence around the pigpen to wash down the pigs. They appreciated the cool shower during the middle of a hot day almost as much as he enjoyed watching them chasing the stream of water, trying to get a drink from the spray. He whistled as he squirted one pig and then another. Much to his surprise the biggest sow bolted in a spastic motion and banged into the fence, sending a shiver through the railings and Lance's legs, sending him sprawling head over heels into the muddy mess he'd just made.

"You damn dumb pig. Fuck!" He screamed to the top of his lungs. He pressed his back deep into the muck and the mud. He laughed aloud and was happy to have living things to keep him company. Now he smelled like pig….

Lance looked up from the mud as one of the pigs walked across his face. He laughed harder and flailed his legs, pushing the sow away from his face.

"Dumb fucking pig," he yelled and laughed at the same time.

Then he wiped his eyes and stopped laughing. He stared up and saw the blurry figure standing in front of the sun and leaning on the fence where he had only a minute before been standing.

"I knew if given enough time, you'd find your level in life, Lancelot. If nothing else, you are predictable."

"I thought you were in Seattle."

"I was. It's only a few days up the road a piece. It doesn't take long to see Seattle. Nice town."

"The way you drive. Give me a break. It's about a week one way. You haven't been gone long enough to go to Seattle and come back."

"Have it your way. I saw Seattle. It's a nice town. I couldn't go much farther west, so I came back this way. Next thing I know I'm turning in here. Lord knows what I was thinking."

Lance stood up shoveling the mud off his clothes with his hand and feeling a bit foolish that Bang had heard him acting the fool. He waded through the ankle deep mud and leaned on the fence across from his friend.

"You look good," Bang said looking at the layer of mud it would take a hard shower to get off. "Better 'an usual. You could use a bit of deodorant for those of us down wind of you."

"What are you doing here? I thought you were pissed at me?"

"Visiting a friend," Bang said, leaning down on his elbows and looking at the serene pigs wallowing in the fresh mud. "I kind of missed the smell of horse shit in my nose. It's the kind of thing you can get addicted to."

"What are you doing here?"

"I've been in school all my life. I figured I might work a spell. Find out what that's about."

"Where you going to work?" Lance asked, letting his eyes meet Bang's in an intense hopeful gaze.

"Well, come to think of it, if you don't offer me a job, I'm up the creek for sure. There isn't a damn thing I know how to do."

"Farming? Bang, you don't know a damn thing about farming. I'd have to carry you for sure. I'm not saying I won't. You carried me."

"I don't know much about much, but I know where I'm happy. I'm happy when I'm here. I don't think I knew what happy was until I came here and then left. Happy can be scary. It's all I thought about while I was driving. When you stack happy up against another year of book learning, you know, happy sounds pretty darn good to me."

"Damn good! You sure you know what you're doing?" Lance asked. "I'm still going to act like an asshole. You're still going to get pissed off at me."

"I've spent the whole time thinking about nothing else."

"Me too. It gets pretty lonely out here without someone around to bitch and moan about the way I do everything."

"Me! You're the one bitching and moaning all the time," Bang protested vehemently.

Lance leaned forward to put his muddy face against Bang's. Placing his mouth beside Bang's ear, he reached over the fence to wrap his arms around his friend. "Welcome home, buddy," he whispered so softly Bang strained to hear the words. "You can't believe how much I missed your ass." "About the same as I missed you, I suspect," Bang answered.

Bang reached to return the hug and he found himself going airborne. Lance didn't need to strain to lift Bang across the fence, but once he got him there, Lance lost his balance and stumbled back a few steps before they both landed in the mud. "Lance! You asshole," Bang bellowed. Lance laughed uncontrollably as Bang looked at the mud he'd sunk into. When he looked at Lance, casually leaning back on his elbows, he began laughing too. If anyone had come by they'd have figured them for daft.

The boys wouldn't have cared. For the first time in their young lives they both felt like they were home. Their friendship lived there with them as life unfolded in the days that followed. Each night they went to sleep to the sounds of the crickets singing and the frogs croaking. Each morning they awoke to the roosters crow.

The End

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