'Who is that?' Danny's whisper was almost hoarse as we watched Joel's mother hug and kiss the cheek of Joel Reynolds. As shocking as it was to learn that she'd named her son after this guy, it was even more shocking to see him here, alive. According to Grandpa and Grandma, the guy had left town just ahead of a lynch mob led by his former best friend in high school.
'It's a long story.' I breathed, hoping it would be an even longer time before Danny heard the story. I sure as hell didn't want to hear it again myself. I'd grown up with it, and when... when I'd started knowing girls weren't really my thing, I'd gotten down on my knees and prayed to God that I wouldn't end up like Joel Reynolds, like the man standing in front of me now.
'What's he doing here?' Joel whispered as he stood up at the same time Danny and I did. His mother was squealing something about how good it was to see Joel Reynolds again.
'How should I know?' My whisper held a snarl and Joel flinched a bit. Joel Reynolds was a lot taller than I expected, almost as tall as I was. Unlike me, though, he was slender as a rail. His hair was salt and pepper, and he had a neatly trimmed beard. The guy standing next to him was a few years younger with brown hair that held a few streaks of gray. He was shorter, probably around five-ten and had a little bit of stomach to him.
'Oh my, it's good to see you again!' Joel's mother exclaimed for what seemed like the tenth time as she broke the hug she was giving Joel Reynolds and stepped back to look at the other man, who I noticed had circles under his eyes and was really pale. 'It's good to see you again as well, Elijah.'
'Who's he?' Joel asked and I shook my head again.
'Boys, come here.' Eugenia said in a commanding tone and the three of us moved around from the couches and made our way to where the four adults were standing. Joel's father had a slight smile on his face while his eyes shone darkly, almost as if he wasn't really pleased to see Joel Reynolds and the stranger.
'You must be Joel.' Joel Reynolds said to Eugenia's son. Joel just nodded.
'Joe, you managed to pick him out right away.' Eugenia sounded proud. 'Joel, this is the man I named you for, Joel Reynolds. Joel, you might recognize Eddie here, he's Mary Betschart's son, and Mark Hathaway's.'
'Hello.' Joel said in a tight voice as a frown filled his face at my father's name.
'It's a pleasure to meet you, sir.' I said as I held my hand out. He looked surprised at the gesture, and the friendly tone in my voice. I was proud of my self-control at that moment, because here was the man who my father had used as a boogey man more than once or twice in my life, and whose name had come up the last time I'd entered the house where I'd grown up.
'A pleasure. Please, call me Joe' Joel Reynolds said as he reached out and shook my hand with a firm grip. He didn't try to crush my hand, but gripped it firmly, pumped it twice and then broke the handshake. As his arm returned to his side, his head cocked to the side, pointing towards the man who stood beside him. 'This is my partner, Elijah Blake-Reynolds.'
'It's an honor to meet you too, sir.' I said immediately, doing my best to hide the surprise I felt at how... open he was in introducing this guy as his 'partner'. The shorter guy took my hand in a weak grip and barely pumped it once before it returned to his side. There was a look of pain in his face as he looked at me, and I wondered what that was about.
As I took a deep breath, I realized I should introduce Danny, and a wild idea came to my mind. The idea was squelched by my practical side, I still had my own plans for the future, and while I knew I could trust Joel, his mother, and even his father, and this weird little part of me wanted to trust Joe Reynolds and his partner, I just couldn't do it now. 'This is my best friend, Daniel Pemberle. His father is the preacher out at the Baptist church.'
'It's a pleasure to meet you, young man.' Joel said as he held his hand out. Daniel took it immediately, and then shook the hand of Elijah.
'Now that the pleasantries are done, would the two of you like some cider or hot chocolate?' Eugenia asked.
'Cider please, if you don't mind.' Joe Reynolds said.
'Why don't you guys make yourselves comfortable.' Arthur, Joel's father said with a half-smile. 'The highway patrol called a few minutes ago and they're bringing in a family of four that got stranded about ten miles out, so I'm going to wait for them. With you two and them, we'll be full up so I'll be in to join you in a little.'
'Thank you, Arthur.' Joe Reynolds said politely.
'Daniel and Eddie are stuck here in town, too.' Joel said as his father left. He led the way back to the couches, and sat down where he'd been earlier while the male couple took the loveseat across from Daniel and I. As they sat, Elijah sort of leaned into the older Joe, who put his own arm around the shorter man's shoulders. I knew I was staring, but I couldn't help doing that. They looked so comfortable together, so natural, and I wondered if there was any way I could look like that with Daniel in twenty years. It was mind-boggling, that thought - something I'd never really allowed myself before, except maybe in dreams I couldn't control. No, I'd find some girl and maybe I could look like that with her, but would I have that look of happiness in my eyes that Joe had as he looked down at Elijah for a moment?
'Wait a minute.' Joe Reynolds said as he looked across at us. 'Shouldn't you be a few years older if you're Mark and Mary's son?'
'You're thinking of my older brother, Mark Jr.' I told him as a smile formed on my face all by itself. 'He's married and Grandpa gave him a couple of fields to plow once he was married.'
'I remember your Grandpa very well.' Joel said with a fond smile. 'He was probably one of the most decent men here in town.'
'He still is.' I said firmly, catching his eye and holding it for a long moment. 'Your name came up when he and I were talking about something a few weeks back.'
'Oh really?' Elijah said softly. 'From everything Joel's said about the people in this town and how they treated him when he left, I couldn't imagine it was anything nice.'
'Grandpa told me how wrong it was that people had treated you like that.' I said directly to Joel, all but ignoring his partner's words. Really! The man didn't know my grandpa and had no right to say something like that. 'Grandpa said it wasn't right and he wouldn't stand for it happening again.'
'Now why would he say something like that?' Joe wondered aloud with a thoughtful look on his face and a look at me that made me want to squirm.
'It was probably because of that joke.' Joel offered, getting the attention of the two men.
'What joke was that?' Joe asked.
'It was a joke I played at school to piss off the stupid Principal.' Danny piped up with a smile on his face. 'I made it look like Eddie and I were a couple. Eddie's father didn't think of it as a joke though.'
'I'd imagine old Mark didn't react well to even the hint of one of his kids being gay.' There was a hint of humor in Joe's voice as he spoke. This time I did squirm.
'He kicked me out.' My voice cracked as this weird feeling filled me. There were fucking tears in my eyes, and I shrugged Danny's arm off of my shoulder when he touched me comfortingly.
'He's staying with his grandfather now.' Joel said softly and there was a look of sympathy in Joe's eyes as he looked at me.
'Here we go!' Eugenia's happy voice went over like a wet blanket as she came in the room. She sensed it and stopped, looking at all of us with a look of worry. 'What's wrong, boys?'
'Nothing, Eugenia.' Joe said quickly as he turned slightly in his seat. 'We were just talking about these boys' little joke and how it backfired on them. It sounds like Mark hasn't changed much.'
'He's gotten worse.' She said with disdain, moving again to hand the two cups she was carrying to the two guests. She sat down next to her son and shook her head. 'No offense there, Eddie, but your father's been a stick in the mud since the junior year of high school.'
'That's my fault.' Joe said sadly as he looked down into his steaming cup.
'So, Joe, what brings you back to town?' Eugenia said in a semi-perky voice, obviously trying to change the subject. It didn't work though as Elijah let out a sniff and tears formed in his eyes. Joe put his arm back around the man and pulled him tight.
'We needed a break from the city.' Joe said softly. 'It's been a rough few months.'
'You can say that again.' Elijah said ruefully. 'Why the hell does it have to be so damn hard?'
'What's wrong?' Eugenia's voice was filled with very real concern.
'Our son died four months ago.' Joe said and Elijah let out a small sob. Part of me wanted to laugh at the weirdness of this. How could two men have a son? Another part of me wanted to join Joe in comforting Elijah who was obviously in pain.
'You had a son?' Joel asked in a soft voice. 'How...'
'We adopted Rafael fifteen years ago.' Joe said softly while Eugenia fetched a couple of Kleenex for Elijah who was sniffling and had tears running down his cheeks. 'He turned twenty last spring. We were lucky; we got to celebrate his birthday with him before he shipped out.'
'Shipped out?' Danny asked softly.
'He had to prove how much of a man he was and go join the fucking Army!' Elijah spat out and Joe hugged him harder for a moment. 'He fucking goes to Iraq and a couple of months later we get a fucking Army Major staring down at us like we were fucking diseased while he tells us our son fucking died!'
'I'm so sorry.' Eugenia said softly, tears were in her eyes, and in my mind's eye, I saw a vision of some gung-ho military type staring down his nose at two fags in disgust. That major was probably wondering why the Army would have let the son of two fags into their ranks. A shudder tore through my body and I looked over at Danny for a moment. What would happen when he was a pilot in the Navy, and got killed? Would I even ever know? For a second, the room went dizzy, and it was Joe's voice I latched onto to get my bearings again.
'It took over a week for them to ship his body back to us.' Joe said softly. 'The funeral was just awful with all those military people staring at the two of us, and well, everything at the house just reminded us of him, so we decided to get away for a bit. We both love the mountains, and the snow, so we decided to come to the house here. I swear, I never thought I'd ever be coming back here.'
'Well, I for one am glad you're here.' Eugenia said with sincerity in her every gesture and word.
'I am too.' Danny said softly, gathering looks from everyone. 'I know I've never met you before, and we just moved here, but it's a beautiful place and I think it'll probably help.'
'Thank you.' Joe said softly. 'If only all the people here were as... nice as you.'
'You'll find it's not the same town you left.' I said softly, softer than I usually ever spoke, and there was a feeling inside of me that I couldn't quite put a name to right now. 'In fact, I'm willing to bet you'll find people are a lot more welcoming than you expected. I'm pretty sure Grandpa will want to invite the two of you over for dinner.'
'We'll be happy to accept.' Joe said softly. 'Although, I won't expect to hear from your father.'
'I think it'd be best if he never even knew you were back in town, although I expect he'll hear about it pretty quickly.' I said with a grimace.
'Did you know that you and I are related?' Joe asked and I nodded.
'We're like second cousins or something, right?' I asked. 'You and my father were cousins?'
'Yes.' Joe replied. 'He and I grew up together here. We use to spend almost all of our time together.'
'Wow, it must have hurt when he...' I started to say, but let my voice drift off.
'Let's not talk about that right now.' Joe said and I nodded my agreement. It was strange, I realized, how we knew adults, and parents, but sometimes we really didn't know that much about them. I imagined I could ask Joe what my dad was like when he was younger, and I'd heard a hint from Eugenia already, but I'd never really discussed it with my dad, what he was like when he was younger. He'd never volunteered any stories of his youth either, except to tell me how evil and fucked up Joe Reynolds had been.
'How did he die?' Joel asked and I wasn't the only one wincing.
'The Army said he was shot by an insurgent.' Elijah said, and surprisingly his voice was steadier and he looked at Joel. His eyes were still watery, but there was a look of pride on his face. 'He volunteered, you know, that morning. He took point when they were raiding a suspected cache of guns, and the guys inside shot him. The Army told us that he managed to shoot one of the bad guys before they got him. Rafael died a hero.'
'Yes, he did.' Eugenia agreed with sincerity. Everyone in town knew she hated the war, any war really, and had been opposed to our invading Iraq from the very beginning. 'All our young men and women who die over there are heroes.'
'But mom, you hate the war.' Joel said plaintively. 'You rant against it every chance you get.'
'I can be opposed to the war without denigrating the men and women who fight the damn thing.' She retorted with a hint of anger. 'No matter what, those young men and women are human beings just like everyone else and they deserve our respect.'
'Thank you.' Elijah said with a sniff, and the room was filled with silence as everyone sat there, sipping on their drinks and looking at each other. It wasn't an uncomfortable silence either, and as it continued I could feel some weird bond forming between us. Should I be surprised, I wondered, that I was feeling a strong liking for these two fags?
The conversation turned then to reminisces between the adults of their own time in high school. Joel's mother told several funny stories that I'd never heard before. My father was in a few of them and I had to wonder how he had changed from the person they described into the bastard that he was today.
'Well, we're all full up.' Joel's father said after several stories had passed and he gave us younger guys a look. 'Joel, the heater in room 3A is blinking out. Do you think you can take a look at it? Also, the water heaters on the north side seem to have a problem.'
'I'll help.' I offered as Joel got to his feet.
'So will I.' Danny offered and we all got an appreciative nod from Joel's father.
'Thanks boys.' He said and we got our coats on to spend the next few hours fixing up all the little things that were going wrong. Then there were the tons of questions from the stranded motorists about where to eat or buy groceries. With the storm that was still going on, the town would be pretty much shutting down as soon as the sun set, and there was a literal procession from the hotel towards the town center where the restaurants and single market were located. We went inside in time for Eugenia to have just finished fixing our own dinner.
Joe and Elijah disappeared to their room soon after dinner, and we ended up playing board games with Joel's parents. It turned out that Danny boy was a literal fiend when it came to Monopoly. In a five-way game he ended up with a collection of properties around the board that sent all of us into bankruptcy within a few hours. Luckily, by that time, we were all yawning and it was bedtime.
'You guys be good.' Joel whispered as Danny and I disappeared into the guest bedroom. Neither of us minded sharing a bed at this point, although as we stripped down, I wondered if we could keep from making too much noise. Danny looked so handsome in his briefs and I was rock hard by the time I crawled into bed next to him. It wasn't exactly the biggest of beds, and we were close together, our shoulders touching for a few moments before we turned and our lips locked in a passionate kiss. We both moaned as we kissed and our hands roamed over each other's bodies. What he saw in me, I'd never figure out. Sure, I wasn't exactly fat, but my stomach wasn't nearly as flat as his. He had a washboard for a stomach, and his legs were slender and all-too soft to the touch. I knew my skin was rough in places, but that didn't seem to scare his hands away.
'Oh god you make me feel so good.' Danny whispered into my mouth as my hand snuck under the elastic band of his underwear and found his hard cock.
'Same here.' I whispered back as he matched my gesture and we began to beat each other off in slow, perfectly matched movements. Our tongues flicked out to entice each other as we lay there, facing one another. Our bodies were close enough that we could feel the heat from each other.
'Get these off.' Danny said softly as he tried to pull my boxers down. It took a second to get them off, and another second to shuck his briefs before we were nude in front of each other. The covers had now been thrown back, and enough light was creeping through the curtains that we could see each other as we resumed our mutual masturbation.
'You are so handsome.' Danny whispered and I wondered if he was just being nice.
'Don't patronize me.' I said softly with a frown. His own lips curved downward.
'I'm not.' He said.
'Bullshit' I replied, remembering to not stop what my hands were doing. 'I know I'm not the best looking guy in school. The only reason anyone ever was interested in me was because of my grandfather.'
'Not me.' Danny said and I couldn't argue with that.
'Why are you interested in me?' I asked him and he chuckled softly while gripping my cock a little harder, eliciting another moan from me.
'You mean besides this?' Danny asked and I nodded, not trusting my voice to work at the moment. His hands were so soft, like silk gliding over my cock. 'You're funny, and you're good to people you like and tough on those you don't. You're honest in a way no one's ever been honest with me before. I know exactly where I stand with you, even if you don't put it in words. That talk we had, in your garage that one time, that told me you were someone who I could trust for the rest of my life, and I've never ever had that before. I've had friends, but they're temporary until we move on, but you, I know I'll always have a place in your heart, even if it's just as friends, for the rest of your life. All that, and when you walk, you're like a tidal wave. This huge, unstoppable force and God help anyone or anything that gets in your way. You'll wash over them and drag them back out to sea. It drives me damn crazy seeing you walk around the school and the way everyone gets out of your way. I've gotten hard just watching you walk, and that's sexy, you know.'
'I've never... I've never heard that before.' I admitted. His hand had slowed its manipulation of my cock as he spoke, but now he picked up the pace.
'Less talk now.' Danny insisted as he scooted down the bed, and when his mouth engulfed me it was all I could do to not scream out in pleasure. For some reason I didn't mind the fact that I shot into his mouth before he'd finished swallowing my cock.
Neither did he as he refused to stop, despite the way my entire body shook in overextended pleasure. It was almost too much to bear, but the post-orgasm sensitivity faded into normal sensitivity, and the softening of my cock was reversed as he kept going. I settled back on the bed, and he moved with me, never losing the rhythm of his ministrations as I laid back and settled in for the long haul.
The next morning, as we made it in time for church, I was struck by just how different Daniel behaved in church as compared to when we were alone. It was almost like he changed personalities the way I'd change clothes. Me, I couldn't do that and so I had to force myself to not look at him while his father preached about Jesus spreading the loaves and fishes out for all the people who'd come to hear him preach. The lesson was supposed to be about how if you trusted in the Lord, he would provide to meet your needs. It may only be fish and bread, but it would fill your stomach and prepare you better to hear the Lord's message.
That was different from the last preacher too. Pastor Pemberle didn't promise that if you were faithful the Lord would reward you with riches. No, he said faith only got you what you needed, not what made you rich. It was a good message for farm-folk to hear, I decided, because it fit our lifestyle much better than dreaming of getting rich in return for being a good Christian. Working a farm didn't make you rich. If you were lucky you paid the bills and had a little left over at the end of the year. Grandpa was the exception to the rule, mostly because he had saved money when he was younger, and he invested it smartly. Frugal living, not buying new equipment every year, just fixing what we had, had also helped him make more money than most of the farms around us.
'I'm glad you boys made it back safe.' The Pastor said to me as I followed my grandfather out of the church after the service. My father had rushed out with my mother right away, barely waiting for the Pastor to say 'amen' at the end of his closing prayer. He'd been doing that every Sunday since he kicked me out, and I was fine with that, overall.
'So am I, Pastor.' I said with a smile as I shook the hand he held out. Snow covered the ground, and a bunch of the younger kids had started a snowball fight while waiting for their parents to finish their post-service 'socializing'. Despite the recent storm, the service had been more crowded than usual, and a lot of faces from town were recognizable.
'Well, you have a good day, son.' The Pastor said as the line behind me began to grow with people waiting for their chance to shake the man's hand. Daniel gave me a smile and a nod, totally free of that simmering look he'd given me last night. I nodded at him with my eyes focused on the ground, so his mother next to him wouldn't see what was going on in my eyes.
'We better get home before that pot roast gets too done.' Grandma said as we walked away from the church. Twenty minutes later we were home and sitting down to the meal. After a short prayer, the conversation started.
'So, how was the trip?' Grandpa asked as we filled our plates with tender roast, potatoes, greens, and some of grandma's homemade rolls.
'We're doing better as a team.' I answered with a shrug.
'How is Eugenia and Arthur doing?' Grandma asked with a small smile. 'Sometimes I don't understand how they keep their motel running and then stuff like this happens and we end up not having enough rooms in town for all the people who need them.'
'They're doing good.' I said and knew that she hadn't heard the latest gossip. Well, Eugenia wasn't part of the regular gossip circuit for Grandma since she didn't go to the church. 'I got to meet someone whose moving back to town. He left a long time ago, before Mark was born.'
'Really?' Grandma asked with a twinkle in her eyes and her right hand twitched as if it was anticipating picking up a phone instead of a fork. It was hard not to smile at that. 'Who is it dear? Someone your mother went to school with?'
'I think so, although I think my dad was closer to him than mom.' I replied, unable to keep that typical smirk from my face. Grandpa saw it first and frowned.
'Stop the games and tell us.' Grandpa groused and the smirk slipped from my face while grandma looked like she was about to pout. She was obviously enjoying this game.
'Joe Reynolds is back in town.' I said without any inflection in my voice, something I was proud of doing. Before I'd met Danny, I wouldn't have been able to do that. Grandma's fork dropped with a clang onto her plate and grandpa's eyes bugged out as I continued. 'He and his partner Elijah are moving into Joe's parent's place.'
'Why?' Grandpa asked with a scowl. 'Why would he move back now, after all these years of staying away?'
'Their son died in Iraq.' I answered and grandma made a soft exclamation of surprise while covering her mouth. There were tears in her eyes before she realized that Joe's partner was another guy. It was almost funny watching her face change from an expression of sympathetic pain to disgust, then to confusion and finally back to sympathy.
'How awful for them.' She said in a choked voice while grandpa just stared at me.
'I hope you and your friends were at least polite to them.' Grandpa said sternly with hard eyes that barely blinked as they bore into mine. 'Your little game might strike people as being funny but I doubt they'd see that, and anyone whose lost a child to that stupid war deserves better.'
'We were very polite.' I said with a grim expression. 'All of us talked for a bit and were polite. Eugenia's kept in touch with them off and on over the years and likes them so she wouldn't have let us be anything other than polite.'
'How did Joe's son die?' Grandma asked and I told her what I'd learned, including their treatment by the Army officers. Grandpa frowned hard at that.
'I wish I could say everyone in this damn town would be as polite as you lot were.' Grandpa said with a shake of his head.
'Honey, we should do something to make sure everyone knows where we stand regarding Joe and his... friend.' Grandma said.
'The word they use is 'partner', grandma.' I corrected her, wanting to see how she'd react. 'I think they might be use to something else, but that's what they used in front of us. I heard Elijah, that's the partner, mention they'd gotten married in Massachusetts.'
'Be that as it may, they should know it's not legal here in Nevada.' Grandpa groused but he shook his head a moment later. Then he took a bite of the pot roast and chewed on it thoughtfully for a few minutes. 'Dear, I think you should bake one of your pies for tomorrow and we'll take it over there in the afternoon. Then we'll invite them into town for dinner with us. Eddie, you'll meet us at the restaurant. That should spread the news all over town where we stand.'
'Dad's not going to like this at all.' I said with a shake of my head. From everything I'd heard, I knew Dad had been friends with Joe, that they were cousins, and that Dad had been one of the people riding Joe out of town all those years ago.'
'Your father can simmer all he wants on his hatred as long as he doesn't act on them.' Grandpa said as he looked at me. 'You remember what I said the day you came here to live with us, I know that.'
'Yes, sir.' I replied with a nod of my head.
'I think this is a test from God himself and I'm bound and determined that I'm going to pass it with flying colors.' Grandpa said, biting off each and every word.
'What did you say dear?' Grandma asked and I was surprised he hadn't already told her. At times it seemed like they told each other nearly everything.
'I said it was a damn shame how they ran him out of town all those years ago.' Grandpa answered and shook his head before going on to explain it more fully. When he was done he shook his head again and began to eat with a vengeance.
'I'll bake my best cherry pie.' Grandma said with a smile. 'I remember how that boy always loved them. Eddie, dear, tell me, how does he look?'
'He looks good, grandma.' I said and blushed right away at the look Grandpa shot me while he was chewing his greens. 'I mean... he looks fit, like he keeps in shape. Not at all like Dad. Elijah, he's smaller and skinnier, but they look like they both take care of themselves. They have this sadness about them though that you can feel even when they're smiling.'
'That shouldn't be surprising.' Grandpa said with a hint of his own sadness. 'Any parent that loses a child like that is going to be sad, no matter what's going on with their lives.'
'How did they... have a son?' Grandma asked and I related the story of how they'd adopted the boy. Elijah had told it while they were reminiscing with Eugenia and I'd listened to it for a while. Grandma had more questions, some of which I could answer and others I couldn't. I was surprised at how quickly she adapted to the idea of a gay couple, and by the time she was putting a rhubarb pie on the table for desert, it seemed like she'd been dealing with gay couples all her life.
'How can you be so casual about them?' I asked grandma as we ate the pie. It was delicious, as always. 'When I first mentioned them, you were switching between disgust and sympathy for their losing a son.'
'I... this is the twenty-first century.' She said after a long pause. 'You hear about their type on television all the time, and I guess I just... I guess the idea isn't as disgusting as it use to be. Besides, the good pastor's said we should welcome all people, hasn't he? It's not our place to judge, just to love and welcome everyone. If what they're doing is a sin, God will deal with them in the afterlife. Until then, well I guess we should just show them love and the right way to live.'
'Exactly right.' Grandpa said with a nod. 'There isn't any room for hate.'
'But didn't the last pastor say we should hate the sin, not the sinner?' I asked, pushing for a reaction and trying to understand if they were just saying these things or really meaning what they were saying.
'If you hate the sin, you're still hating.' Grandpa said with a shake of his head. 'You know, we talked about that very thing in a Deacon's meeting with the pastor two weeks ago. Too often people let the hatred of the sin leak over to the sinner, and while it's important to keep a watch for people trying to lead believers astray, casting out everyone who doesn't agree with you isn't what Jesus would want. It's not like they're coming into our church and telling us we have to lead our lives like they do. If they're sinning, God will deal with them. We just keep our eyes open and know what we believe.'
'Huh.' I muttered with no little surprise. It was amazing how much influence a person like Pastor Pemberle could hold. A year ago Grandpa was giving money to help the campaign for an amendment against gay marriage, and now he was taking a 'wait and see' type attitude. It went over my head how he could be doing that.
'Did he say anything to you, about your father?' Grandma asked and I shook my head.
'Not really.' I answered.
'You know, this reminds me of something I was thinking earlier.' Grandpa said with a slight grimace before taking a bite of his pie. It was maddening to wait for him to finish chewing and to swallow before he continued. 'These last few years, you've been reminding me of how your father was his last year of high school. He was a decent boy before that, which was why I had no problem with your mother dating him.'
'He always says you hated him.' I interrupted him without really thinking about it and he frowned intensely.
'I disliked how he was behaving his last year of school, especially towards Joe.' Grandpa corrected me. 'Before that, sure he wasn't exactly well-behaved, but he wasn't really out to hurt people the way he was his senior year. I disapproved of that, but knew better than to protest too loudly or your mother would have run off with him. As I recollect, you started behaving a lot like him at school soon after Pastor Pritchard left. I didn't say much about it because you didn't act like that at home or on the farm too much, but I know damn well how you were at school. You beat up a lot of kids that didn't have it coming and I have to say I was always disappointed by that.'
'I...I...um...' I stammered by he shook his head.
'Don't try to say anything about it now, boy.' Grandpa said slowly. 'I think I've figured out at least part of why you behaved that way and it ties into your father. He's been like he is ever since Joe got caught with that field hand. I'm willing to bet everything I own that he felt betrayed by his best friend, just like you felt betrayed when the Pritchard boy left town so unexpectedly.'
'Yeah.' I admitted with a slight flush to my cheeks. I was looking down at my empty desert plate and trailed a finger to pick up some crumbs while both of my grandparents looked at me for a long moment. 'It hurt.'
'It always does hurt when someone does something you don't expect.' Grandma said softly, dragging my eyes to her as she looked at me with sympathy etched in every line and crease.
'Yeah, it does.' I said with a heavy sigh. 'You know, I hadn't really thought about it in those terms until this one night where Danny and I were talking and he was pissed because he thought I wasn't letting him in, you know, actually caring about him as a friend.'
'The Pastor's oldest boy is quite a smart young man.' Grandpa said with an approving nod of his head. 'You and he aren't exactly the nicest guys around the school, and you do more than your share of pranks and jokes, but I think he's been a good influence on you. So far the Principal's only called here a few times and nothing like when you beat up the Scroggins kid.'
'The little brat had it coming.' I growled, remembering that day from last year, but I calmed down at Grandpa's cold stare.
'I only hope you've learned some lessons and don't set yourself up to be hurt when Daniel moves on with his life.' Grandpa said softly, a lot more softly than I expected. 'His father says he's likely to be accepted into Annapolis, right?'
'Yeah, we've talked about that and I know he's gonna leave, so it isn't like before, you know?' I said softly, staring at the spot on the far wall instead of at either of them. There was no way they should see the hurt I was feeling at that. Damn him for being such a great guy! It would be bad enough for him to leave as a friend, but now... well, what did it matter? Even if he stayed we'd never be together like Joe and Elijah. I had to get married after all. There was no way I was going to disappoint my grandparents on that score. 'His leaving would probably be for the best, anyway. I belong here and he doesn't.'