Goats and Bugs

by Nick Brady

Chapter 20

Although George wrote to his mother every week, her responses became more infrequent. After a gap of over a month, George began to worry. "Do you suppose something has happened to Mom?" he said to Bobby after supper.

"What? Why do you say that?" Bobby replied.

"I haven't heard from her in over a month. She's not great about writing, but she's never gone this long."

"I guess she's busy," Bobby suggested. "That's her usual excuse."

"I guess. Still, I would like to hear from her to be sure she's OK. She is my mother, after all."

"Do you have her phone number? You could call her."

"I looked for it, but I guess I've lost it somewhere. I tried to look it up on the Internet, but I would imagine it's unlisted," George frowned.

"If something had happened to her you would've heard from Ron, wouldn't you?"

"Yeah. I guess that's right. I worry about her wanting me to come up there. I should be pleased that she's forgotten that I'm down here."

"Right. Don't worry about it," Bobby yawned. "If she really missed you, you'd be in trouble."

George laughed. "You always get right to the point, don't you?"

"We need to get to sleep. Morning will come early," Bobby reminded him.

They cuddled together without even bothering to make love, and fell asleep.

As the end of their sophomore year in high school drew to a close, the farm was doing quite well. Ely had given up on raising soybeans and corn. Except for his small vegetable garden, everything had been converted over to pasture for the livestock. That took less time, and he was able to spend more time with the milk and egg business. By now that had grown to be more than Bobby and George could handle by themselves, particularly when school was in session. Ely picked up the slack, and everything ran very efficiently.

At the start of summer they sat down together and Ely reviewed their situation. "I guess you boys know that things are going pretty good," he said. "I'm paying off the loan faster than I need to in order to get it out of the way and save interest. We've got money in the farm's bank account and you have money in your individual accounts. You've been working very hard, and I appreciate it. I wonder how you feel about all this?"

Bobby smiled. "I think it's great, Dad. This is my farm as much as yours. I'm just glad things have turned around."

Ely looked at George. "How do you feel? I imagine this has been more work than you expected."

"Not at all," George said. "It's good honest work, and I love it. I'm having fun and making money. This is my home too. I can't imagine doing anything else."

Ely looked pleased. "You boys are getting along alright? No problems?"

Bobby and George looked at each other and shrugged. "I think we're good," Bobby said.

"I'm fine. Bobby's the best friend I've ever had," George nodded in agreement.

"Why do you ask, Dad?" Bobby wondered. "You already knew the answer to that."

"I suppose I did, but I wanted us to think about where this is going. As soon as I get this loan paid off we're going to be in the black," Ely said. "Where do you boys see this going? In another two years, you'll be out of high school and maybe thinking about moving on. I don't want you to feel like you're locked in here."

Bobby looked surprised. "I've always planned to stay right here. We talked about my working on a degree in Agriculture at the school in Magnolia after I graduate. There's nothing else I want to do." He paused and looked at George.

George leaned back. "I'm here as long as you'll have me," he said. "When I was living with my mother, I planned to get as far away from Magnolia as I could as soon as I graduated. I'm in a very different place now. What I'd like to do is get a degree in Mechanical Engineering at Southern Arkansas in Magnolia, and stay right here. There's no place else I want to be. That is if it works for you."

"I was hoping you'd say that," Ely smiled. "We should look at some things. With you both going to school, we're doing about all we can right now. But down the road, you two college graduates will have some better ideas. That will mostly be up to you. This is going to be your place eventually." Ely looked back and forth at both boys.

It dawned on George that Ely was talking about leaving the farm to both him and Bobby. He glanced at Bobby who was smiling. "Me and Dad have already talked about this, George. You're not obligated to stick around, but it'd be nice if you did."

George said quietly, "I'd like that but not too soon, Dad. You have to be here for a long time."

"I'm not fixin' to leave anytime soon," Ely grinned. "But I'd like to think that this place will stay in good hands." Ely straightened up. "That's all I had on my mind. You boys got anything?" They shook their heads, and that was that.

George indicated that he needed some air, and he and Bobby walked out into the midday sun and headed for the pond. "That's a lot to think about," George said.

"Don't agree to anything you don't want to," Bobby told him.

"Oh, I want to. I can't think of anything I rather do than to stay here for a long time. I guess what bothers me a little is we're making all these long-range plans for the farm. I'm not sure that you and I are going to hit it off over the long haul."

"You trying to tell me something?"

"It's just hard to predict the future, that's all," George looked down as they walked. "I know how I feel about you, but I don't really know where you're going."

"I'm not going anywhere, George. I'll be on this farm until I go out feet first."

"I don't mean that," George searched for the right words. "Let's be honest. We've had a lot of fun together. I believe that you care about me, and you enjoy the sex. I'm just not convinced that some pretty little girl isn't going to come along and show you a whole new world."

"Oh. I see what you're saying," Bobby looked straight ahead. "I don't know about that."

George stopped walking and turned to look at Bobby. "What I'm really saying is that I'm gay. I've known that for a long time. I'm probably too young to know much for sure, but I know that I love you, Bobby. I want to spend the rest of my life with you, either here on this farm or anywhere else. I'm not sure you can say that. I don't know if you're gay or just having fun because you're horny and I'm convenient."

Bobby stopped and looked startled by George's candor.

"This is important to me," George was upset. "Bobby, I can get hurt here. Don't play around with me just to lose interest and turn away later."

Bobby stared at George with surprise.

George turned abruptly and started towards the pond. "Shit!" he muttered under his breath.

Bobby waited for a moment then ran up beside his friend. "Wait. Don't run off like that. Let's talk about this."

George kept walking at a fast pace; his head hung down. Bobby grabbed his arm. "Wait! I'm sorry," Bobby said. "I'm not good with things like this. I never know what to say."

"No, no. I'm just being stupid," George blurted. "I don't have any business talking like this. I'm just stupid."

Bobby took George's arm and spun him around face to face. "Look at me, Dammit!"

George raised his head to look Bobby in the eye. Bobby's face was red and tears were streaming down his face. "Please, George. Don't talk like that. You know how I am. I'm not good with words. If you left here, I think I'd die. I love you. Please don't ever walk away from me. Please," his voice trailed off. He threw his arms around George and sobbed.

George returned Bobby's embrace, and they stood there for a long time. George had never seen Bobby cry before. Bobby never cried. George held him tight and rubbed his back. "It's OK, Bobby. I'm not going anywhere."

Bobby raised his head abruptly and looked away. He wiped his face with his sleeve and sniffed loudly. "Sorry," he said, apologizing for his uncharacteristic tears. After he took a few deep breaths, he composed himself. "Let's go on down to the pond."

They sat side by side on the flat rock. George waited for Bobby to speak first. "Gee. Where did that come from?" Bobby stared across the pond. "I didn't mean to be a crybaby."

"I didn't mean to be stupid," George responded.

"You aren't stupid. Don't say that."

"You aren't a crybaby."

Bobby sighed and thought about what he wanted to say. "Before I met you I never thought about being straight or gay. I guess I figured I was like everybody else and I'd have a girlfriend someday. But I never have been particularly interested in girls – or boys either for that matter. Living out here by myself I didn't much think about that kind of thing."

"I understand," George said quietly.

"When I got to know you, I felt different. You were fun, and I liked being around you. I wanted to be with you. I wanted to see what you looked like with your clothes off. I wanted to see all of you, you know? I was surprised by the way I felt. Then when we started to do things…oh man, I really liked it," Bobby took a deep breath.

"Did you think I was seducing you? Talking you into doing things?"

"No. You never got me to do anything I didn't want to do. If anything, I wanted to do more, but I was afraid. The way I felt scared me. I knew it was gay stuff, but it made me feel excited," Bobby sighed. "It's hard to explain."

"Believe me, I understand. I couldn't get you out of my mind."

"Yeah. Me too. I wanted you to be here all the time. I kept thinking about how to get you back out here."

"You didn't have to try too hard," George chuckled.

"We kept on doing more and more stuff, and it was really exciting. I thought about you all the time."

"Really? I didn't realize you felt that way."

"I don't talk much. Maybe that's why you didn't notice," Bobby smiled. "But it wasn't only the sex stuff. I liked doing everything with you, just being with you. I never had a friend like you. I'm not a big talker, but with you, I could talk about anything. You're everything I'm not. You're smart, George. You know a lot of things, and what you don't know you figure out. I admire that."

"But you actually know how to DO things. I've learned so much from you, Bobby. I really respect you."

Bobby looked at George and smiled. "See? We fit together pretty good. Don't you think?"

"You don't have to convince me."

"I need to tell you something. You showed me that porn site, and I said I didn't like it. Well, of course, I had to go back and look at it again. Man, it has everything: boys with girls, girls with girls, and boys with boys. I looked at all of it."

"Yeah?" George wondered where this was going.

"I have to admit that what turned me on was seeing guys do stuff together. I mean some of the girls were pretty, but it was the gay stuff that I wanted to look at. I felt nasty doing it, but that was what I wanted to see. You know?"

"Yeah. I know."

"You let me do it to you in the butt. God that was so hot! I couldn't get that out of my mind!"

"You let me do it to you too. I guess I talked you into that. I'm sorry."

"You didn't talk me into anything. I wanted to know what it was like."

"You didn't like it though."

"It kind of hurt, but I'm not saying I wouldn't do it again," Bobby admitted.

"So what are you telling me?" George looked into his eyes.

"I'm telling you I'm gay as a goose. I just have a hard time admitting it to myself. You've already figured that out," Bobby sighed. "I'm gay, and I love you, George."

"I love you too," George put his arm around Bobby's shoulder.

"But I'll tell you something else while we're being honest with each other. I'm not comfortable holding hands and being smoochy when anybody else is around. I don't like that. That doesn't feel natural."

"I understand that. I don't want to be a fairy either."

"You aren't. I wouldn't like it if you were like that. I guess I don't care if you know I'm gay, but I don't want it to show."

George laughed. "Right. I understand. It's our little secret."

"Yeah. I guess it is," Bobby laughed too. "I love you so much, George. I really do."

They hugged. They kissed. Then they did what came naturally.

Bobby and George had come to an understanding. From that time forward they accepted themselves as well as each other. There were no more agonizing discussions of gay or straight. They decided that as far as the rest of the world needed to know, they were friends and brothers. If they enjoyed sex with each other, that was their business and a private matter. While they had different last names, they lived on the same farm, and at school referred to each other as "my brother." The relationship was accepted.

Halfway through their junior year, they turned sixteen and were old enough to get drivers' licenses. With the licenses came a greater demand on Ely's pickup. Mostly it was for trips to town to run errands. Their idea of a wild time was to cruise through the Sonic and grab a hot dog.

At the end of their junior year, they pooled part of their savings and bought a fifteen-year-old yellow Jeep Wrangler. It was a beauty with roll bars and a snap-on canvas cover that enclosed the back and kept out the rain. When they had the time, it carried them over back roads, took them to hunt rabbits and to secret fishing holes. They always came back in time to do the evening chores and fix a little supper for the three of them.

With Bobby's coaching, George was becoming a good cook himself. They went through the old cookbook and discovered some dishes that were Ely's old favorites, and a few that were new to him. No matter what was prepared, Ely declared that it smelled good and tasted fine.

As they entered their senior year at Magnolia High School, they began to think seriously about college.

"You think we can get some kind of scholarship to Southern Arkansas?" Bobby wondered.

"We should. We've both got good grades. I guess we need to check it out," George began to tap on the keys of his laptop. "Let's see…here we go…just a minute. OK, here it is. If we can make a composite score of 27 to 29 on our ACT and have good grades, we can get a 'University' scholarship to Southern Arkansas. That's worth $4,500 a semester. If we can get 30 or above on our ACT, it's a 'Presidential' scholarship, and that's worth $5,500 a semester. Those are good for eight semesters. That's all four years. We need to get one of those."

"Yeah, but what does it cost to go to school there?" Bobby asked.

"Hang on. Let's see…in-state resident, live off campus, maybe a lunch ticket for 20 days a month and of course there are fees…the total cost per semester is... Hey, it's $4,500! We can do this!"

"Can we do that well on our ACT tests?"

"We'll find out. We're supposed to take them in November," George said. "We'll probably need to study for it."

"How do we do that?"

"I'm checking on that. This says that we can get sample tests. There are four parts - English, Math, Reading, and Science. You can score from 1 to 36 on each one then you end up with a composite score. That's what the scholarship is based on. We should take them and see how we do. Then, we can go back and bone up on the parts that need improvement. Hmm. The study material might cost a little money unless I can find it online. I'll have to check on that. We can get the sample ACT test online. We should do that soon, in case we don't do very well and need to do a lot of studying. I'll print some off."

"Great," Bobby grinned. "I knew you could figure that out."

They took the sample test, studied the parts that needed improvement, then sat for the official ACT at the high school. Bobby's score was 28 and George's was 31. Ely wasn't surprised at all. "I knew you boys could do it."

"This just proves that George is the smartest," Bobby grinned.

"It means that I'm better at taking tests," George replied. "That's not the same thing as being smarter."

"Or maybe you were just lucky,"

"Could be," George didn't argue.

A lot was going on at the end of the school year. There were tests, which did not trouble George or Bobby. They also discussed the senior prom.

"I don't want to go to the prom," Bobby complained. "We're supposed to have a date. I don't know a girl I'd want to ask."

"We could go together," George suggested slyly.

"Oh, no! I'm not doing that. You must be kidding!"

"I am, don't worry," George laughed.

"They'll still give us a diploma even if we skip the prom, won't they?" Bobby asked.

"I imagine so. I don't care to go either. If anybody asks, we'll just tell them we had a date with a herd of milk cows. That'll be the truth."

"Yeah, right," Bobby relaxed. "We can have our own party."

The night of the prom, Bobby and George went to the barn to milk. George was carrying something, but Bobby didn't pay much attention to it. After they finished and let the last goat out the side gate, Bobby turned to go back to the house.

George stopped him. "Wait a minute," he said. "I want to do something." He turned on his portable radio and tuned it to an easy-listening station.

"What's that for?" Bobby asked.

"It's for the prom," George said. "May I have this dance?"

"Are you serious?"

George took Bobby's hands and began to rock back and forth. "Come on, Bobby. Dance with me."

"I don't know how to dance."

"I'll show you. Just relax." They began to sway from side to side. George held his lover close and kissed him on the neck. "I've always wanted to dance with you."

Bobby looked doubtful then caught the rhythm and let himself dance as best he could. "I've never danced with anybody before."

"There's a first time for everything, right?" George nibbled on his ear.

"You're gross," Bobby laughed.

"Shut up. You're doing fine," George whispered in his ear.

Bobby found that this was easier than he thought. "This isn't bad," he admitted.

After a minute the song was over, and they stopped, still holding each other. George looked at Bobby, then he kissed him gently. "I love you, Bobby. Thanks for the dance."

That tickled Bobby, and he laughed. "You're crazy. You know that, don't you?"

"Crazy about you."

Bobby looked embarrassed; then he gave George a quick kiss. "Come on, George. Let's go to the house. I need to fix something for supper. Then we need to go to bed. We can talk about this later."

When they got to bed that night, the subject of the prom never came up. They found better things to do.

Ely came to see the graduation ceremony, as did several people from the little church. Phyllis sent a card with a nice check and apologized that she could not be there. There was a reception afterward, but the three of them decided they would rather have a quiet dinner and headed for the Corner Café.

Ely was beaming with pride. "I got to admit I'm real proud of you boys. Pretty soon you'll be going to college with a scholarship and everything. I expect that you'd have more fun if you stayed over there with all those other smart kids."

"No, Dad. I'd rather stay at home where I belong," Bobby said. "Who would cook for you? You'd likely poison yourself, the way you cook."

"Who would milk the cows? Who'd look after Pepper?" George asked. "We couldn't abandon you, Dad."

"Well, I don't guess I could do much without you boys. I'd sure hate to see you leave."

"Hey, Dad. We won't ever leave you," Bobby assured him. "Don't worry about that. We'll always be here, won't we George?"

George nodded and smiled. "Just try and run me off. I'm here for good."

Ely was all smiles.

When George and Bobby enrolled in college, they had freshman orientation and a composition class together. The rest were separate. As time went by, they would have very few classes together. They arranged their schedules so that they were in class on the same days, and rode to and from Magnolia in the old Jeep. They sometimes bickered about little things but never had a serious argument.

College was a new experience, and their studies accounted for all their free time. They still got up early to milk and gather eggs, and did the same when they returned. As a concession to the lack of time, they often stopped and picked up something quick for supper. Ely always thought it was fine.

Bobby learned things in the agricultural program that he knew would improve the farm. George had ideas from his engineering studies that could automate some things. They had big plans for the day when they had the time to put these ideas into action.

Their senior year Bobby grew a long red goatee, and George grew a thick black beard. It was both a diversion from the grind of study and also saved a bit of time. Life was good.

They often sat on the back steps and talked after the chores were done.

"How's Dad doing?" George asked his brother.

"He's OK, I guess. Why?" Bobby wondered.

"I don't know. He seems different somehow."

"Yeah. I know what you mean. He gets tired pretty quick. His father had heart problems," Bobby remembered.

"Your grandfather? What happened to him?"

"He died pretty young."

"Does Ely have a bad heart?"

"I don't know. I don't ever remember Dad going to a doctor." It was something that concerned both of them but wasn't discussed. Ely was in good spirits, and they put it out of their minds.

Then one evening they came home, and Ely was not waiting for them in the kitchen. Thinking that he was in the barn, Bobby started supper while George went down to bring him inside. He called to Ely and looked around but didn't see him until he went to the back door. There, by the old tractor was what appeared to be a pile of clothing. When he came closer, he saw Ely on his side. He was still and cold.

"Ely!" George screamed. "Ely, are you OK?" He rolled the old man over on his back and saw that he was gone. George dialed 911 on his cell then ran for the house as fast as he could.

"Bobby! Come quick; It's Ely." They returned to the barn and waited with Ely until the EMT's arrived in the ambulance. They confirmed that Ely had passed. Bobby was silent until they took his father away, then he walked up to the house with George's hand on his shoulder. They went into the living room and stood looking at each other.

"I'm so sorry," George told Bobby. "Maybe if I had gotten there sooner I could have done something."

"Bobby looked down and shook his head. "Nothing you could do. He'd been there for awhile."

"I'm so sorry," George repeated. "Are you OK?"

Bobby didn't look up but shook his head again. Then he looked at George and held out his arms. George held him tight as Bobby broke down and sobbed. It was only the second time George had seen Bobby cry.

After a long time, Bobby took a deep breath and sat down in his father's chair. "I'm OK now," he said. "I'll call the pastor at the church. He'll know what to do," Bobby said. They went down to the barn and did the chores without another word. Some things had to be done no matter what else happened. They went to bed without eating supper, and George held Bobby while he slept fitfully.

In the morning the pastor came with several ladies from the church bringing food of all kinds. They prayed together, and the preacher gave them helpful advice about Ely's final arrangements. Bobby quietly took charge and George did what he could. They notified Ely's sister, and she gave her condolences. George wrote to his mother and assured her that they were fine.

Three days later was the funeral, and the little church was packed with friends and neighbors. Ely was loved and well respected by all those who knew him. They buried him in the churchyard next to his beloved Ruth. The long line of mourners hugged the boys and tried to find encouraging words of comfort. Bobby thanked them graciously but had little else to say. Finally, they were all gone, leaving Bobby and George alone at last. They drove back to the farmhouse in silence.

"What can I do for you?" George asked.

"You've done it," Bobby sighed. "Thanks for being here."

"Of course. Where else would I be? This is my home. Ely was my father."

"Yes, this is our home," Bobby sighed. "It's just you and me now, George. We've got to do this. We have to keep this place going. You in this with me for the long haul?"

"You know it, brother," George assured him.

A week later they met with the attorney in Magnolia who had done a few things for Ely. There was a will. George sat quietly as the lawyer explained that Ely had left everything to the two of them equally. They were joint heirs of Ely's estate. George glanced at Bobby and saw that he was nodding his head. "That's the way our Dad wanted it," he said to George.

Ely left a big hole in the farm. Every day they kept expecting him to come in from the barn for supper. They thought they caught sight of him in the living room, then remembered he was gone. It took a long time for a new normal to replace the old, but they were busy, and they were strong. They made a good team.

They finished their final semester of college and graduated with honors. The graduation was bittersweet without Ely to cheer them on. They stopped for supper at the Corner Café and raised their glasses of ice tea in a salute to their father. Then they returned to the farm and got back to work.

It was time to put their education into practice. Bobby expanded the dairy and egg business, and they added pigs to the livestock. They sold the premium pork first to the local market, then shipped it out of state to fancy restaurants. George created some labor saving devices that allowed them to be more efficient. They were able to market several of these, and it became a new sideline.

Over time, G & B Enterprises became a growing concern. They expanded the barn and turned it into a production facility. They hired several young men to help with production, and the farm became very profitable.

They had the means now to build a new house and enjoy their prosperity, but they were not inclined to do so. They did remodel the kitchen, add a walk-in freezer and buy some new furniture. Ely's chair was never replaced. Other than that, the old farmhouse remained much the same. The bought a new mattress for the bed they shared but never considered separate bedrooms.

After a few years, they splurged and bought a brand new pickup truck. They could not bear to part with the old one and parked it in the far corner of the barn. Like Ely's chair, it contained too many memories of their father. George wrote to his mother from time to time and heard from her even less often. Ron had retired, and they spent much of their time traveling. She was happy, and George was glad of that. He was happy too.

Bobby and George made a good life for themselves. When Pepper died at the ripe old age of sixteen, they buried her at the pasture gate. They grieved the loss of their faithful protector. After several months, George brought home a black lab puppy. Pepper would not be forgotten, but a puppy is a puppy. They named her Pepper Junior and called her PJ. She showed promise of being a worthy successor. Life went on.

They were bachelor farmers, business partners and much more.

Bobby and George were a good team.

Ely would have been proud.

The End.

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