The Apprentice

by Sahypo

Chapter 44

Eric and Gloria talked for quite a while into the early evening. Saturday was coming, and Eric would be going to live on the Wiedemer farm. He still had mixed emotions about leaving Gloria, but the more they talked, the more at ease he became.

"Granma, I'll be back in a while. I want to talk to Buddy, okay?"

"Take your time, baby. I'm going to watch a movie."

"Want me to put in it for you?" Eric asked.

"It's in my purse. The one I picked up at the store."

"Got it." Eric said as he tore the plastic wrap off the disc and popped the case open.

The tray on the disc player whirred open, and Eric placed the disk inside and closed it. Handing the remote to Gloria, he said

"It's ready to go. I'll be back."

"Thank you, sweetheart."

Eric left the house through the kitchen and back porch. If Buddy was out puttering with projects, he would most likely be in the screened in deck on the back of his house. The lights were on, and Eric could see the back of Buddy's head poking above the recliner he was relaxing in. He was drinking beer from a glass mug and watching the ball game on a small TV.

Eric knocked lightly on the screen door and waited.

"Hey, Eric! Come on in, big guy!" Eric walked in, and made sure the screen door was closed behind him.

"Wanna watch Kansas City wail on Pittsburgh? Pull that chair over and sit down."

Eric moved an old kitchen chair from the other side of the porch over next to Buddy's recliner and sat down.

"What's up?"

"Buddy…I'm going to miss you." Eric said quietly. Buddy could tell Eric had things on his mind, and replied

"I'll miss you too, big guy." Buddy picked up the remote and turned the TV off. "But Don's got a lot of things to keep you busy on the farm, and you're probably going to be too busy to be homesick. We'll be gone a lot, on a bunch of short trips at first. Here, look at this, Eric."

Buddy handed Eric a brochure for a large goose neck travel trailer. "I signed the papers on that a couple of days ago."

"Geeminy Buddy, that thing is huge. Oh my God, does it look like this inside?"

"Yup, just like the pictures show, son."

"Man, it's like a palace. It's got a real bathroom, too." Eric said, staring at the brochure pages.

"Full size shower, and a full kitchen with a stove, oven and microwave."

Eric sat and read the brochure for several minutes, then gave it back to Buddy. "Well, it looks like it has plenty of room inside."

"More than enough for three."

"Three?"

"We would like to take you with us when the summer comes, Eric. We were thinking of doing a loop around the country."

"That would be quite a trip."

"12,000 miles actually."

"That sounds totally awesome, thanks." Eric's grinned faded, and a look of concern and worry crossed his features.

"Buddy…. What if something happens to Granma while you guys are on the road?"

"Eric…That's a real good question, and we thought a lot about that, too. Your grandma is a lot more likely to have something happen here at home, because we will be home more days than away…and assuming we aren't in the middle of nowhere, they have ambulance service and hospitals just about everywhere we will be. Here, let me show you something." Buddy got up and went into the house. Eric followed, and saw a large collection of maps and papers on the kitchen table. Buddy pulled a map out of the pile and laid it flat for Eric.

"Here is a plan for a trip, right?" Buddy said. Eric nodded

"This is the route, here in red, and these are the overnight stops where we will be in RV parks. Here are the local hospitals in each area, and phone number is always 911, right?"

"Yeah"

"I chose to go with a goose neck because we can unhook the trailer at the RV park. If anything happens, we have the tow vehicle free to bug out on a moment's notice. That's why we didn't go for a motorhome, Eric.

"Whoa, that makes a lot of sense."

"We also have a Life Flight insurance policy in case we need a helicopter. The odds of getting help on the road or here at the house are the same statistically. Eric…we thought about all these things. Your grandma and I have been friends and neighbors for over thirty years. She raised your mama in that house, you know. She could sit there, get too old to do anything, regret that she didn't experience the things she always wanted to, then die. Or she can do things she loves while she still can. This is all about time, Eric. In a few short years you won't be a kid anymore. And I don't mean kid as a put-down, son. God knows you're smarter than any three of us put together, but things change once you're an adult. The world is going to demand things of you…job, bills, rent. Hold you accountable. All that grown up shit that you're gonna spend the rest of your life doing. You only get to be a kid now, Eric. And only once."

Buddy turned toward Eric and pulled the boy into an embrace and patted him on the back.

"Thanks…I just wanted to be sure I'm doing the right thing." Eric replied. "What you said about it being worse if she doesn't go with you makes sense."

"Eric…It was very important to me that we had your support. Thank you, son."

"I'm not going to worry then, if she's doing what she wants to do. Whatever will be will be, right?" Eric asked.

"Right…You know, Eric…I never had kids. If I had had a son, I would have been very proud if he were like you…Wise, kind, thoughtful."

"You've always been my grandpa too, Buddy." They held the hug a moment longer, then Buddy let Eric go and said.

"We've got to go on a little errand tomorrow morning before the barbecue, okay?"

"Um, sure, what is it?"

"Nah, it'll be a surprise. You'll see. Hey, would you like to split a beer?"

"Um, sure, I'll get it." Eric said, then turned and opened the fridge. He pulled out the can and shut the refrigerator, then opened the freezer door and retrieved two frozen thick glass mugs from the supply Buddy maintained. Buddy was passionate about beer served as cold as possible, and his favorite way of enjoying beer was in a frozen mug. Eric loved it when Buddy would pull two mugs from the freezer, pour himself a beer, and make Eric a root beer float. He always told Eric he should never put ice in root beer. It waters down the "bite."

Buddy cleared the maps and papers so they had a place to put their mugs, as Eric opened the beer. He had watched Buddy fill mugs practically his entire life, and showed the old man that he had been watching all these years, gently pouring half the can of beer into each mug.

"Very nice pour, Eric." Buddy grinned.

"You taught me everything I know." Eric joked, holding up his mug. Buddy brought his mug up to Eric's with a clink.

"Here's to good times and hard work on the farm, until we see you again this summer." Buddy proposed.

"To safe travels and wonderful sights to see." Eric countered.

The old man and the boy sipped their beer in silence, just enjoying each other's company. Eric had never had a drink with Buddy, so this occasion was significant. They were saying goodbye before Eric's first extended absence from home.

After he finished his beverage, Eric stood up and put his mug in the sink. He went out on the porch and collected Buddy's other mostly finished mug and brought it in.

"Oh thank you, Eric."

"I think it might be warm by now."

"Just dump it, son. Thanks." Buddy said as Eric dumped the tailings down the drain.

"I gotta go check on Grandma. Thanks for the talk, Buddy."

"You too, Eric. I'll see you in the morning, Take Care."

"Bye" Eric said as he made his way back to his house. The sun was almost down when he walked in the back door, and saw Gloria turn from her movie.

"Is your movie still on?"

"Uh- huh. It's got about half an hour to go. Did Buddy talk to you about this summer when you get out of school?"

"Yeah, that sounds like an awesome trip. Are you hungry, grandma?"

"Could you heat me up one of those Stouffer's dinners in the freezer, Eric?"

"Sure…um what kind do you want?"

"Surprise me….I like all of them."

Eric busied himself with heating up two of the dinners, made a tray with one of them and brought it out to Gloria. He sat at the table and ate the other dinner, while watching the movie.

"Did you and Buddy have a drink together?" Gloria asked

"Well, we split a beer between us, yeah." Eric replied and Gloria smiled.

"Well, that makes it official, I guess."

"What's that?"

"Buddy is going to miss you, Eric."

"Yeah, we talked about that a little, Grandma. Oh! Did you see the size of that trailer he showed me?"

"I helped him pick it out. Yes, it is impressive."

"I should finish packing for tomorrow, I guess."

"Go ahead, baby. I'm fine." Gloria replied.

Eric went to his room, and got undressed. It felt good to be out of his school clothes at last. He looked around at his boxed-up clothes, and personal items of which there wasn't a whole lot of. He was most concerned about his cherished book collection, which filled three medium sized cartons. The load had to be busted up into six cartons, however, because the filled ones became too heavy for Eric to lift on his own. He stood and looked around, and determined that the only things he needed to pack were his bedding, today's clothes, his toothbrush and toiletries. He had begun to use deodorant a bit earlier in the year, when he began to detect a funk from his smooth armpits. He no longer had the yeasty bready smell of a child who needed a bath, and his grandmother insisted that his track clothes hit the washer the instant he got home.

Eric stood in the middle of his room, thinking that this may be the last time he would sleep in this room in the little house on Brazos Street. He looked over at the mirror on his closet door, and regarded the blond boy with the blue eyes and small patch of ginger pubes staring back at him. So much had changed in such a short time…

He stood with his hands at his sides, and looked at the smooth scrotum visible like a half moon behind the left side of his penis. He used to feel asymmetric looking at himself naked in this mirror. He had hoped the doctors would find his other testicle and put it where it belonged. That wasn't able to happen, but now that his friends had seen his asymmetry, touched his asymmetry and remained loyal and supportive the deformity had lost its power to depress him.

He lay back on his bed, put his left arm behind his head and closed his eyes. He found his testicle with his right hand and gently felt the surface of the organ through the skin of his scrotum. He surveyed the entire gland until he was satisfied that nothing was amiss, nothing had changed from the last time he had checked.

His manipulations eventually stirred an erection, and Eric moved from checking a testicle to caressing his scrotum to rubbing himself. He paused and found his baby oil, and applied the lubricant before continuing. He made a note to himself not to forget to pack the bottle as soon as he finished. He pleasured himself according to his routine while thinking about Craig, Timmy, Sammy and Scotty. As he neared his climax, he raised his head and bent his penis towards his chest so he could watch his male opening… Half a dozen strokes later, a few drops of clear viscous liquid flew a few inches onto his belly. Eric lay back to rest a few moments as a smile crossed his face and he remembered the first time his seed came, on the farm with Timmy.

He got up, packed the bottle in one of the boxes, and wiped his hand on toilet paper. He had already washed all his clothes, except the ones he wore today, and had laid out what he would wear tomorrow. All he had to do is take his shower and wear the briefs he had set out to bed. He put his "house shorts" on before opening his door and crossing the hallway to the small bathroom. He took Gloria's shower chair out of the tub and folded it so he could take his bath, and began to run the water. The visiting home service lady helped Gloria bathe, which was a huge help to Eric.

When Eric finished his bath, he drained the tub and put the chair back in its place for Gloria, slipped on his shorts and went to kiss Gloria good night.

"Good night, Eric." Gloria replied. She would stay up another 30 minutes or so for the news before she turned in. Eric returned to his room, changed the shorts for the briefs and put the shorts in one of the boxes. In the morning before he left he would wash today's clothes, stuff his sheets, blankets and pillow into a trash bag and load that and all his boxes into Don's truck for the trip to the farm. It was all he had left to do…He turned off the light, lay down and fell into a deep sleep in minutes.

Almost instantaneously it seemed, Eric was rocked and shaken roughly and bounced up and down in the bed.

"Ahhh! What the ----!" Eric cried as a hand clamped over his mouth, and he heard giggling.

"Can't say that out loud Eric!" A boy's voice said in his ear.

"Scotty? What hell are you doing here?" Eric said as his eyes finally popped open.

"Get up, sleepy turd! We're here to kidnap your sexy young ass!" the boys busted out laughing, as they got off Eric's bed.

"Geeminy Christmas! What time is it?" Eric wondered.

"Like quarter to eight." Sammy replied. "Here…Your breakfast" He said, shoving two hot PoP-Tarts in a napkin into Eric's hand.

"Damn, did you guys leave home in the middle of the friggin' night?" Eric asked, as he bit into one of the pastries.

"Seven o'clock this morning, actually. Saturday starts at midnight oh- oh- one, so actually, we let you sleep in. You're welcome, Eric." Scotty cracked.

"You guys are such dicks…Why is it that I like you two again?" Eric wondered.

"Because we're magically delicious?" Sammy retorted, causing Eric to cackle in laughter.

"These all your boxes, dude?" Scotty asked.

"Yeah, um let me get dressed and…"

"We got this, slick." Sammy said as he looked at his brother "Two?"

Scotty nodded and picked up a box. Sammy picked up another box and stacked it on his brother's load. Scotty disappeared with the boxes as Sammy picked up another box and put it on the bed almost on top of Eric, who pulled his legs up just in time. Sammy was already stacking another cartoon on top of the first, then picked up the bottom one and turned to leave.

"Load coming out!" Sammy called.

"Come on out!" Scotty called back. He was safely ahead of his brother on the way out to Don's truck, so the narrow hallway in Gloria's house was clear.

Eric scrambled out of bed as Scotty came in and once he was standing, Scotty pinched Eric on the ass. Eric squealed and both boys giggled.

"We really missed you, dude. This is going to be so awesome!" Eric could see how excited his friends were, and double-timed it getting his clothes on.

"I gotta pack a few last-minute things and…"

"We'll carry the boxes out in the meantime, no sweat." Scotty said as he stacked his next load.

"Load!" he yelled.

"Come on out!" Sammy responded. Sammy left and Eric took the dirty clothes on the floor and put them in the washer with a minimal amount of detergent and turned the machine on. One thing down, next item, bedding!

Eric got a trash bag and brought it back to the room and stripped the bed, and stuffed the linens in the bag with his pillow. Can't forget to brush teeth….

Sammy came in, and saw Eric tying the trash bag.

"Trash goes too?" Sammy teased.

"Hey, I sleep in that trash!" Eric said as he chuckled.

"I'll put that up front and pile boxes up against it." Sammy said, as he swooped the bag and yelled.

"Load!"

"Come on, you big load" Scotty muttered.

Sammy stepped into the hallway and Scotty yelled

"I thought you had a load! You gotta tote three boxes next time to make up for that."

"Alright, Mister Snotty Pants!" Sammy retorted and Eric broke into a screech of laughter.

"I can tote three. You're going to load me though."

"Challenge accepted!" Scotty replied.

"Wait a minute…I'm the one who's gotta carry three, so how's that your challenge?"

"The challenge to load you with three boxes!" Scotty responded.

"That was merely a condition I insisted on to do three boxes, and you agreed to my terms, brother. Can't accept a challenge I didn't propose." Sammy stated, grinning at his younger sibling.

"Um, he's got you there, Scotty." Eric said, standing in the hallway.

"Really?" Scotty asked. Eric and Sammy nodded their heads and Scotty said "shit!" under his breath so Gloria couldn't hear him. The chuckles from the kitchen table were proof that she clearly understood Scotty's response. The boys took their loads out to the truck and returned to the house together.

"Come on Scotty, let's do this…" Sammy said, as he pulled on a box and the flap opened. "Wait a minute, this box is only half full! Dude!" Sammy looked at Eric.

"Well, yeah, I can't lift a full one, so I used more boxes." Eric stated.

"Okay…I'm going to win the challenge thusly…" Sammy declared. "I'm going to put the contents of four boxes into two, so technically that's a four box load."

"Meh, I don't know about that…" Scotty protested.

"Hey, hey, hey …A box is a box is a box as you find it, right?" Full, half full doesn't matter. It will still be the contents of four boxes as Eric loaded them."

"Okay. Makes sense…but how do I know "thusly" is really a word?" Scotty inquired.

"Um, it is…. It's like Old High French or something…yeah." Sammy teased.

"Oh, yeah. Like P-H-U-Q-U-E E-W-E S-A-M-M-Y?" Scotty asked.

Sammy, Gloria and Eric burst out laughing and Scotty looked quite pleased with himself as Don came down the hall.

"So how goes the loading, boys?" Don asked.

"Dad, these book boxes are only half full, so we're going to repackage all these books into fewer boxes. How many of these boxes are books, Eric?" Sammy asked.

"None… the boxes are all boxes." Eric stated matter of factly.

All three Wiedemers stared at Eric for a few seconds until Don asked

"Eric…how many of these boxes have books inside?"

Sammy closed his eyes and slapped his forehead. Don winced and Scotty stifled a giggle.

"Oh, Geeminy, I'm sorry guys…All six of these." Eric stated.

"I should have worded the question better, my bad." Sammy said quietly.

"Damn, Eric sure has a lot of books!" Scotty replied, trying to divert the topic.

"It's only three boxes worth, Scotty." Sammy reminded his brother. He put a box on the bed and opened the flaps. "Start handing me those books, guys."

"You guys got this under control. When you get done, Buddy needs us on an errand." Don said quietly as he turned to leave the room.

"We'll knock this out in about ten more minutes, Dad." Scotty replied.

It took the three boys about half that time to combine the boxes of books, and a few minutes more to carry them out. The brothers, being used to labor, did not consider the boxes all that heavy. Eric's track and field activity had increased his endurance and fitness, but he would find that actual strength increase would come from steady extended physical activity over time, good nutrition and a life style not centered around sedentary pursuits. A farm lifestyle.

"Looks like this is the last of it. Eric! You wanna check and make sure you got everything?" Sammy said.

"I will in a minute, yeah." Eric replied as he took the wet clothes out of the washer, and put them into the dryer and started the machine. He stopped to brush his teeth, and left the toothbrush on top of the dryer. He had to come back for these clothes anyway.

Don called the boys next door to Buddy's house, where the doors on one side of Buddy's Suburban were open. Buddy had set the charcoal up and lit it in the backyard grille and came back out front.

"Pile in, team!"

"So, what are we doing?" Eric wondered.

"We're going to the truck store, boys." Buddy replied, as belts were buckled and doors closed.

He backed the old Suburban out of the driveway, and drove down Brazos street, making his way to the Beltway on the other side of town where are the car stores were.

"So, we are going truck shopping?" Scotty wondered.

"No, son, not shopping. I bought the truck earlier this week. We're just running over there to pick it up. I needed Don to bring the Suburban back."

"Oh…Way cool, Buddy!" Eric added.

"Uh-huh, big guy. Have to have a tow vehicle for the camper." Buddy replied.

"Are you gonna trade the Subhuman in?" Eric asked, referring to the Suburban by his favorite nickname for the big people hauler.

"No, Eric. Trading in vehicles at a dealership is a paved path to a thorough screwing." Buddy replied, causing the boys to laugh. "You're much better off selling a car yourself, and you never do it as part of another transaction."

"So, are you going to keep this one?" Don asked.

"No, I'll sell it. We'll keep Gloria's Buick and the new truck. With the new truck we won't need this vehicle anymore."

"How many miles you got on this rig?" Don asked.

"A little under seventy-four thousand."

"And how old is it?"

"I've had it 20 years now, since new."

Don whistled "No wonder this thing looks almost new. You should have no problem getting a good price for her."

"I'll bet you've had some experience buying and selling trucks and equipment, haven't ya?"

"All my life, almost, Buddy."

"So, Don… what would you advise if you wanted to sell used equipment in excellent condition and get the best dollar for it?" Buddy asked.

"You could come out to the equipment auction with me, and run it through the line…They sell a lot of Subs out there, and farm people are always looking for these early model ones in good condition." Don replied.

"What kind of prices do they usually bring?"

"Oh, that would depend on the market at the moment, the season, how close the sale is to quarterly tax time, and all that. You can pull up the last 12 months of sale history on the internet, to get an idea where to set your reserve. I will tell you this, these things are in demand and they don't go cheap."

"Okay, where do I find this place?" Buddy wondered.

"I can send the address to Grandma in an email, Buddy." Eric piped up from the back seat.

Don nodded in approval and Buddy said

"That would be awesome, Champ. Thanks. Oh, looks like we are here." Buddy said as he turned into a huge GMC dealership lot. It took a few minutes of navigation to find a spot to park the Suburban. The boys got out and stretched and began to walk around and gawk as a young salesman in a suit made a bee-line for Buddy. Don saw him before Buddy did

"Incoming at your ten o'clock, Buddy." Don said quietly before the salesman got within earshot.

Buddy grinned at Don. "Good…I'll put him to work!"

Buddy walked away to meet the salesman, and Don looked over the lot and found the boys looking over a huge crew cab dual rear wheel pickup that probably had to sticker in the low '60's. He could not hear what the boys were saying, but there was a lot of pointing at various parts of the truck and discussion back and forth. Eric seemed to be laughing a lot at what the brothers were saying.

He turned back to Buddy, and heard a bit of the conversation.

"Right now, your truck is getting a fluids check, a quick wash and a tank of fuel, Sir" the salesman said. "I will call Sandy for you, and he'll be out in just a second." the salesman said as he punched numbers into his phone, and had a brief conversation with another employee of the dealership.

"He's on his way, Sir. Can I do anything else for you at the moment?"

"Thanks, Son. I think we're fine, No worries."

"All right Sir, well, thank you for purchasing your new truck with us." The salesman shook Buddy's hand and went back in the store.

A few minutes later, a red crew cab one-ton pickup slowly turned into the aisle Don and Buddy were standing in and pulled up to the men and stopped.

"Good Morning, Buddy!" the young man driving said as he opened the door. "Welcome to your new truck!"

"Don, this is Sandy, Sandy this is a friend of mine, Don."

"Good to meet you, Don."

"Likewise, Sandy"

"We have three teenagers running around here somewhere too." Buddy observed.

"Oh, they're pretty much in love with the big dually over there!" Sandy pointed. One of the boys must have seen him, because they began to make their way over to where Don was looking over the new truck. Sandy began giving Buddy a familiarization tour, explaining features and locating items for him, like the jack and tire changing tools. He explained all the service points in the engine compartment and talked about the vehicle warranty as Buddy asked questions.

After about ten minutes, Sandy said "Well, I think I covered everything important with you, I gave you the second set of keys, your temporary tags are good for two months, you have a full tank….and …is there anything else I can answer or do for you, Buddy?"

"No, Sir. I appreciate your time, and it was a pleasure doin' business with you, Sandy." Buddy replied as he shook Sandy's hand.

"Well, I appreciate your business…If you think of anything, you still have my card?"

"I do indeed. I'll call you when I can't figure the radio out or something." Buddy joked.

"You've got three system experts here too, you know. You boys come back and see me in a few years, give me a shot at putting ya in a dually! Take care, Don." Sandy said as he waved and turned to walk back to the store.

"You too, Sandy. Thanks." Don replied.

"Wow this is sweet, Buddy." Scott said, as the three teenagers drooled and ogled and inspected every inch of the Currant Red paint and Buckskin colored interior.

"Check out the gooseneck hitch in the bed too." Sammy observed.

By now, Scott and Eric were reading the window sticker in the rear window and Eric whistled to himself. "Wow."

"What?" Scotty wondered.

"You see the basic price of the truck, right?"

"Yeah."

"Okay, and the total down here?"

"Yeah, I see."

"There is a…" Eric paused for a moment "Thirty-nine percent difference between those figures."

"Did he just do that in his…?" Sammy began.

"Head, yeah." Scott finished, shaking his head. "Damn" he said to no one in particular.

"Whoever's coming, load up" Buddy commanded as he gave the keys to the Suburban to Don.

"Now, Eric…If you really want to see the pros at work, try to buy tires sometime." Don said.

"Oh yeah, Jeez Whizz…" Buddy agreed.

"You think that window sticker is a swindle…I've never seen a hundred and twenty-dollar tire that didn't cost one eighty-five out the door…ever." Don said.

"This is true…Anyway, Eric, don't worry too much about those figures…that's stuff's all fiction." Buddy stated.

"What do you mean, Buddy?" Eric asked as he climbed into the front seat, and Scotty got in the back seat. Sammy stood next to his dad and decided to ride back to the house in the Suburban.

"None of those numbers have anything to do with reality. The vehicle information and list of options is what you really want off that sticker so you can price the vehicle." Buddy said.

"See you back at the house, Don?"

"Right behind you, Buddy" Don replied as he waved and turned to get in the Suburban with Sammy.

"So, like how do you know how much you should pay and all that?" Eric wondered. They all closed their doors and put their belts on as Buddy started the engine.

Buddy put the truck in gear and began to cruise the vast lot slowly, looking for a path to the exit.

"Well, big guy, you have to know three things going in…"

Both boys listened with their undivided attention as Buddy talked about car shopping, and explained how he kept "hard" numbers, like the cost of the vehicle and options to the dealer in one column, "squishy" numbers such as incentives and bonuses and cash back, in another column. He called them "squishy" because they could change depending on the day of the week, the buyer's creditworthiness, and other factors.

"There's something I don't get, Buddy." Eric said.

"What's that, Champ?"

Buddy stopped for cross traffic in the lot. They were closer to the exit now, and traffic was beginning to converge.

"Well, why do they do all this rebate and cash back stuff…That costs money to advertise and keep track of, right?"

"Yes, it does, son."

"So, wouldn't it be a lot easier for everyone if they just lowered the price of the truck?" Eric wondered.

"Sure, you could do that, absolutely. But then the game wouldn't work, Eric."

"The game?"

"Selling cars to people who don't need one. They want people to trade cars in as soon as they pay the old one off…So they make it look like they can get something for nothing."

"Buddy, they gotta be smarter than that…" Eric protested.

Buddy chuckled at that. "The more you kids go out in the world, the more you will see that they aren't. Just about every bad guy I ever caught got caught because he did something stupid."

That comment stimulated a change in topics and the boys started to ask Buddy about things that happened when he was a Deputy Sherriff. He was usually always asked That Question when he talked to kids and young people, and sure enough, Scotty rose to the occasion now.

"Buddy, did you ever have to fire your weapon at a person?"

"I was very fortunate, Scotty. I never had that situation come up in my career, and I'm glad it never did. The only time I had to shoot for real was one call where my partner got cornered by some dogs in an alley. I heard him shoot once, and drew my weapon and responded to him from a back yard I was searching for a suspect. He had one of the dogs down, and two others still threats, so I shot the one closest to me, and he got the third one."

Buddy paused again to concentrate on traffic.

"When it came to people, we could usually always talk them down, well, back then we could. I don't know how it is for cops nowadays. Most cops in my day never pulled their weapons except at the range…People are a lot quicker to shoot at cops these days. We got away with a lot more stuff back then too, that would never fly today."

"What kind of stuff?" Eric asked, and Buddy chuckled.

"Okay…Tell you boys a good story. I remember this one time it was years and years ago, a car came down the road at night going the other way and the bastard didn't dim his lights. So, I turned around and pulled him over and went through the whole routine calling him in for warrant checks and so on. This was long before computers, so that was gonna take a while, right? Anyway, there's three people in this car and they must have been going somewhere because the car is fully packed with luggage and stuff. So, I get everyone out of the car and they're standing in the ditch where they won't get run over in traffic, and I start a vehicle search of this car. They're unloading the whole damn thing right there on the side of the road, and the guy is like "just tell me what you're looking for" and so on. I got my flashlight out, and I'm looking under the seats, over the sun visors, in the ashtray, the hoods up and I'm looking in the air cleaner, for God's sake…you guys get the picture. Now, you guys gotta remember this happened before all this dope searching stuff that goes on today during traffic stops; in those days we almost never searched cars, so this is some doins' going on hyeah." Buddy's imitation of a stereotypical redneck southern sheriff had the boys grinning, and they waited in anticipation of a good punchline to the story.

"So, finally…I ask this guy "So, … where the hell is it?" and he says "Where's what?" and I says "the dimmer switch!" So, he turns red and starts yelling "It's on the mother effin' floor where they always are!" Buddy did an impression of the man's outburst for the boys and they broke out in laughter.

"So, I say, "If you knew where it was, why didn't you use it? It's the law to dim your lights to oncoming traffic." Then I wrote him a ticket and left him to load his car again. Man, if cops did stuff like that today, people would video tape it and sue the living snot out of them."

Meanwhile, in the Suburban, Sammy and Don had been chatting about the barbecue, Eric and getting him situated at the farm, and other general things.

"This is really a nice Suburban, drives really good." Don remarked.

"Yeah, it's too bad we can't really use it…Could have saved Buddy the hassle of selling it." Sammy replied.

"Listen, when we get Eric moved in, you guys keep an eye on him, right? I don't think he's ever been away from home longer than your camp-outs this summer, so you and Scotty stay tight on him until he's good with being here." Don suggested.

"No problem, Dad. Me and Scotty talked about this already. You know we're gonna make sure he's allright."

"Good…I know you two have this under control."

"Yes, Sir." Don sometimes forgot that Sammy was only fifteen years old, and was more mature than a few adults he knew. Both boys had to grow up quickly after their mother passed away and the brothers had only grown closer after that difficult time.

Both vehicles rolled down Brazos street and Buddy parked the truck up close to the house, while Don parked the Suburban behind it in the single lane driveway. Eric went over to his house to let Gloria know they had returned from the dealership, and the rest of the party was in the backyard getting the grill ready. He packed his change of clothes from the dryer and his toothbrush in a bag and took it out to The General, as Don's diesel pickup was named by the boys.

All hands re-grouped to the backyard as the grill was loaded with chicken, hamburgers and hot dogs. The boys played a improvised game of football with Don and Eric standing against Scotty and Sammy. The boys decided to make this a game of "tap" football, to protect Scotty's retainer. He didn't want to remove it and risk leaving it there, and he didn't trust the safety of his pockets while they were playing.

Eric proved to be surprising quick on his feet and made several "tackle" taps on the brothers, and ran the ball to the end zone a few times, and caught a couple of passes from Don to score. In the end, the young brothers beat Eric and their father by three points, and by then it was time to eat.

Late in the afternoon, it was time to say goodbye, and Eric kneeled next to Gloria's chair and gave her a huge hug.

"You're gonna keep me caught up and how you and Buddy are doing, right?"

"I'll email you as often as we can, Eric. Promise."

"I said I wouldn't worry, Grandma."

"Eric, …Worry is useless. All that will do is make you miserable, and it can't change anything. Just don't do it. Whatever is going to be will be, and we will be alright."

"I know Grandma. I love you."

"I love you too, Eric. No matter how far you go, you'll always be my baby, and I'm proud of you. I'm also proud of the man you are turning into." She kissed Eric on the cheek. "You better catch Buddy too, before you go."

"Yes, ma'am."

Don and the boys gathered around Gloria, as Eric went over to stand next to his oldest friend. Buddy put his arm over Eric's shoulder and they both stood for several seconds before Eric spoke.

"It's gonna be weird not being next door anymore."

"It's gonna take some getting used to you being away, Eric. At least until our summer trip"

"Yes, Sir. I can hardly wait."

Eric hugged Buddy and began to sniffle. Buddy embraced the boy and let him have his minute.

"It won't be that bad after you get busy at the farm and find things to do, Eric. Just remember the trip coming up, and keep looking forward to that."

"Yes, Sir. I will."

"Until then?" Buddy asked, offering his hand.

"Until then." Eric replied, shaking Buddy's hand. Don, Scotty and Sammy took their cue to make their own farewells with Gloria and Buddy, and everyone made their way to the street where the General was parked at the curb.

"Eric, did you want to make one last trip in the house before we leave?" Don asked.

"No, I think I got everything, and I can't think of anything I missed."

Don and the boys got in the General and buckled up as Gloria and Buddy watched the truck start and leave up Brazos Street. They watched until the truck disappeared around a corner, and Buddy held out his arm for Gloria as they went back to the house.

"You doing okay?" Buddy asked.

Gloria turned to her friend and replied. "Yes. I really am. Thanks. They all have to leave the nest sometime you know. And he'll be back for summer."

On the way to the farm, Don stopped at a small grocery store to pick up a few items. The boys decided to get out and go in, and after a few aisles of browsing Don stopped at the beverage cooler in the back of the store.

"Eric, what brand of beer do you and Gloria make your chili with?"

"W.O.S" Eric replied.

"Never heard of that one" Scotty said.

"Whatever's On Sale…It's grandma's favorite." Eric cracked, grinning. Don chuckled and grabbed a six pack of the most inexpensive beer in the case, and put it in the cart as the brothers groaned and complained about Eric's joke.

After arriving at the farm an hour later, the boys unloaded the General and got Eric's clothes stowed in the spare bedroom upstairs, across the hall from Scotty and Sammy's "loft". The boys would share one bathroom on this floor, but it had been expanded to include a shower stall in addition to the tub, so it was possible for two people to use the bathroom at one time.

It was decided to leave Eric's books boxed for now until suitable shelves could be made, and plans were to tackle this chore on the coming weekend.

After the evening meal and as it began to get dark, Eric went out to the front porch and sat on the top step and began to experience the night noises and the more perfect night sky, one that he couldn't appreciate in town with all the lights. Scotty saw Eric go out the front door, and sit on the steps. He followed, turning off the porch lights as he went outside. He sat down next to Eric and looked up at the twilight sky.

"It's so peaceful and quiet out here." Eric said.

"Yeah, it is right now. As soon as it gets dark it will be noisier. The bugs and frogs and stuff. You'll hear owls and coyotes and all that, too."

"Yeah, I guess they're out there watching us." Eric said, and both boys laughed.

"You got a lot of stuff going on in your head? Want to talk about things?" Scotty asked.

"Nah…Um, I'm just enjoying how different this all feels right now. Sometimes I just want to shut off stuff and not think, if that makes sense…it probably doesn't, but…."

Scotty put his finger against Eric's lips to stop him from getting wound up, and said

"Yes, it does, I get it… And, if I had moved to your house from here I guess I would be feeling the same way, right? New places and things to get used to."

"S'pose so." Eric replied. The boys just sat there for a while, enjoying each other's company without speaking. It was Scotty who nudged Eric's elbow just as dusk fell.

"Hey, the show's about to begin. Watch just over the trees over there." Scotty whispered.

Soon, small black shapes began to gather, flitting, swooping and diving in a random and seemingly reckless melee in utter silence. It was impossible to fix one's gaze on any individual because of the speed at which the creatures flew, and the low light level.

"Wow, what are those?" Eric whispered to Scotty.

"Mexican free-tail bats. There is a small colony in a sinkhole on our neighbor's place."

"Friggin' cool! You guys have your own bats!" Eric said as Scotty giggled.

"My own bats…Eric, you kill me sometimes, dude." Scotty replied with a grin.

"I've never seen real bats before…Just, you know, fake ones." Eric said in all seriousness.

Scotty broke out in laughter in response, and Eric looked at him in confusion "What?" he asked.

"Man, we got so many things to show you out here." Scotty said as he put his arm around Eric's shoulders and gave his friend a squeeze.

The boys watched the bats until it got too dark to see much of anything, and sat together for a long time without speaking. Finally, Scotty put his hand on Eric's back, and announced that he was going in to get his shower. Eric decided to go in as well and get ready for bed. He still had to find his toiletries in his boxes, and find clothes to wear tomorrow.

Arriving at his new quarters, Eric found that Don and Sammy had prepared a bed for him, and had cleared the small closet and a chest of drawers for his clothes. Eric pulled a change of clothes out for the next day, and decided that putting everything away would be a task best left for later. He undressed down to his briefs and turned the light off, and got into bed. When Scotty finished his shower, he looked in on Eric and found his friend asleep.

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