My stomach was still full from Thanksgiving dinner, but I didn't want to sit around inside Grandpa's house watching television with my pants unbuttoned at the top and sleeping off the huge turkey dinner. It had been a nice dinner, as could be expected with mother, grandmother, and Mark's wife all working in the kitchen for most of the day. It might even have been nice to sit inside with Mark and grandpa, watching the last of the games. If father wasn't in there with them, I'd have probably been in there instead of in the garage working on the carburetor of my jeep.

'Eddie, you in here?' Mom's voice echoed in the large garage, originally a barn, and I bit back a curse as I nearly dropped the carburetor.

'Over here, mom.' I called out, putting it down on the workbench and dipping my fingers in degreaser before using a rag to wipe them clean. She appeared, walking around one of the swathers that I was working on in my free time. Her Thanksgiving Day dress was still as perfect as when she'd shown up this morning, and I was surprised once again at how much older she appeared. I knew she was barely forty, but she looked older with the gray that had appeared in her hair since I moved out, and there were more lines around her eyes. Still, she was wearing that gentle, loving smile that I remembered from growing up in her house.

'There you are honey.' She said with that gentle smile. 'I'd ask why you weren't inside with the rest of the guys, but I haven't gone senile yet.'

'You're too young for senility.' I snorted and her smile widened a bit.

'I've missed you lately.' She said softly and the smile ebbed.

'I've missed you too.' I admitted softly and the smile came back a bit.

'If it's any consolation, your father's life hasn't been easy since that night.' She said as anger crept into her tone and her eyes flashed with a firmness well remembered from whenever I upset her while growing up. 'Not that he's accepted he was wrong yet, but he will.'

'I...' What could I say to that? My voice drifted off after that one word and she shook her head, letting me know not to worry about saying anything. She came closer to the bench pulled out one of the stools and sat down while looking at the carburetor on the workbench.

'You always have been mighty handy with fixing things.' She said approvingly.

'It's not broken; I'm just fiddling with it.' I said with a shrug and a glance at the carburetor.

'How is school going?' She asked quietly, and I realized that she was trying to reach across the gulf that had grown between us since that night father and I had fought.

'It's going good, I mean it's going well.' I said, correcting my own English, something I had rarely bothered doing before. She smiled at that, and waited quietly for me to continue. 'You were at all the home games so you know how football went this season. It could have been better, but it could have been worse. I'm doing better with all my classes as well. More than likely I'll have almost all B's, and maybe a couple of A's.'

'That's a lot better than you did last year.' She said with an approving smile. 'Are the classes easier this year? I seem to remember that Senior Year was actually more difficult than the others.'

'No, the work's harder, but I spend more time studying.' I said with a slight blush.

'Ah, Daniel is still studying with you, then?' She asked.

'Yes.' I said, wishing my cheeks wouldn't flush quite so much. Her gaze was very penetrating.

'He's a good boy.' She said softly after giving me a long, silent look. 'I finally got a chance to run into Joe Reynolds in town the other day. His...partner? Yes, his partner Elijah was with him. He's an interesting man, that Elijah. So sad, but that's to be expected when a parent loses a child. Sometimes, at home, it feels like I've lost one of my sons and in those moments I think I can get a grasp on how they must feel. It makes me glad that Joe Reynolds thought to come back here.'

'Why?' I asked with wide eyes, trying to not think about how she went from talking about Danny to talking about Joe Reynolds and his partner. That was a little too close to home.

'I grew up with him.' Mom said with a far-away look in her eyes. 'When we were all younger, younger than you are now, we were close friends. Your father and Joe were inseparable, really. When your father and I started dating towards the end of our Junior year, he dragged Joe along, insisting I talk one of my girlfriends into going with us as Joe's date. There were times back then I didn't think I'd be able to get your father alone for some kissing without Joel being there!'

'Mom!' I exclaimed, horrified at the image of my parents doing that, but then they'd have had to if Mark and I were ever to be born.

'That all changed when Joel got caught with that field boy.' She said with a clucking sound and a shake of her head. 'None of us knew what to think back then. No, that's not right. We had definite thoughts, but that was twenty years ago. Your father took it as bad as anyone. Joe's parents were bad enough, but your father was worse. I can't count the number of times he got a few of the other guys and beat on Joe. It was like he'd betrayed your father.'

'I know that.' I said and the bitterness in my voice was deep.

'I always knew back then that Joe was a rival for your father's affections in a way.' She said and her words made my mind spin before I realized it was my father she was talking about. 'I know you've only known him after all that happened, but he wasn't the way he is now when we were growing up. He was a happy guy, always ready with a joke to lighten the mood. After the incident with Joe though, he grew bitter and angry, and he hasn't let up since.'

'Tell me about it.' I muttered, and felt ashamed at the look she gave me.

'For a while, after Mark was born, he did lighten up.' Mom said softly, the far-away look back in her eyes. 'But then he started working in the mine and he got bitter again. You know his parents died around that time, well his mom died first and his dad died a year after you were born. I think your gramps just couldn't live without your grams. They really did love each other, and in their own way they were just as devastated about the whole thing with Joel as anyone else was.'

My father's parents were rarely ever mentioned by anyone in my family. I knew that grams had died of breast cancer, and that it had been a particularly bad time. Part of me had always assumed that her death, with gramps so soon after had been part of what made my father such an angry and bitter man.

'They didn't like the way your father reacted towards Joel.' Mom said, giving me something I hadn't known before. 'You might say they were cut from a different cloth than everyone else in town. They helped Joel get out of town, helped him get through college, and I think that only made your father even more angry. They left Joel money in their will; here I am calling him Joel by habit. After your father beat him up the first time, he changed his name to Joe forever. We had two Joels in our class that year and we always shortened his name to make sure people knew who we were talking about, but after that Joe never responded to Joel again. I think it's because your father never called him 'Joe' until then. You could always tell when your father was referring to his Joel by the sound in his voice.

'Still, after they died, your father's parents left Joe some money in their will to help with college.' She continued. 'They even forced Joe's parent to leave him in their will when they had threatened to take him out and leave your father everything. Your paternal grandparents had made sure that they let Joe stay in their house, and made sure that Joe knew some people here still cared for them. I think their standing by Joe during all that made your grandfather rethink some of his opinions of... people like Joe. I know mother certainly was taken in by their thinking.'

'But not dad.' I said sadly and she nodded with a slight frown.

'Eddie, I'm not going to make excuses for your father.' She said softly. 'I've loved your father since I was a little girl. I think I spent half of junior high dreaming about what it would be like to be married to him. Certainly my dreams didn't quite happen the way I expected, but despite his bitterness and his anger he's a good man. Most men would have taken what my grandfather offered and used it to make his life easier, but your father persevered, working in the mines and paying for everything we've built together. You may not be comfortable hearing this, but he's always been a good husband to me, very attentive, and yes caring. I know he very rarely showed that side of himself to you kids, but it was there nonetheless or I'd have divorced him a long time ago no matter how much scandal it caused in this town.'

'I am glad he's at least been nice to you.' I said sincerely and she shook her head.

'He's made me happy over the years, but Eddie, you and your brother have been the highlights of my life.' She said and tears wanted to well up in my eyes. 'I've loved both of you, son, and will always love you and Mark. I can't say I'd ever be able to choose one of you over the other. You're both precious in your own unique ways, and I'll always love you.'

'I'll always love you too, mother.' I said in reply to the fierceness of her statement. There were tears in my eyes now, and she smiled sadly.

'Eddie, I miss having you at home.' She said softly. 'I know you're almost an adult now, and you'll move on with your life. It was the same when Mark was your age. You've always said you're going to stick around here all your life, but I've known deep down that if either of my sons were to leave this town, it'd be you?'

'Why me?' I asked in shock. When had I ever given her reason to think I'd leave town?

'Because you have never been as dumb as you try to pretend you are.' Mom said with a quiet smile that unnerved me as much as her words. 'You always were a bright, inquisitive boy. When you'd ask too many questions, your father would get upset and over time, you stopped asking. It's something I'm never going to forgive him for doing.'

'I don't remember...' I started to protest, but she put her hand on my arm.

'You were still a boy.' She said with a shake of her head. 'By the time you first went to school, you'd stopped asking questions. About the only time you did ask a question was when it came to fixing things. That was about the only thing your father never told you to shut up about.'

'I never realized that.' My voice showed surprise, mostly because her words had the ring of truth to them.

'You always wanted your father's approval, more so than Mark did.' Mom said with a shake of her head. 'Mark never wanted anything more than a farm, wife, and kids. For that, everything he ever needed was here.'

'I don't want any more than that, either.' I said, but even to my ears the words had the tone of not quite being true. Mom heard that too, and gave me a very flat stare until I shifted on my stool.'

'I think that might have been true once.' Mom said with a very slight frown. 'Can you really tell me that it is still true now?'

'I don't know.' I said with a slight hitch in my throat and I couldn't look her in the eyes.

'Good.' Mom said with a hint of approval in her voice. 'Eddie, you always sought out your father's approval, and because of that you limited yourself to things he would approve.'

'No I didn't.' I protested.

'Yes, you did.' Mom asserted herself and I looked up to meet her eyes. Her gaze held me like a rabbit caught in front of a coyote with no hole nearby. 'Just look at the way you've been behaving for the last few years. For a bit there with Jake I thought you might find the strength to break out of your father's shadow, but that all ended when his family left town, and you turned even more into a shadow of your father. I was so happy when Daniel came along and you actually stood up for yourself, even if it meant you weren't in my life as much as I'd like.'

'I do miss you, mom.' I said softly, hoping she'd change the subject. It was a little uncomfortable to be described as being so much like my father, and the mention of Jake just brought up more pain, along with a little fear. Had she known what was going on between us?

'I miss you too, son.' Mom smiled. 'I'll miss you more when you go away, hopefully to college, but at least I'll know you're living your own life.'

'I don't have the right classes to go to college.' I murmured with a hint of resentment.

'Oh Eddie, never sell yourself short like that.' Mom said with fondness and a smile that almost made me smile in return. 'You can be whatever you want to be, if you work hard enough. If you want to go to college, you might have to start out at a community college, but you can do it and transfer to a four-year school later. That's what they're there for, after all. Or you can take technical courses. You're a natural mechanic, maybe you could become a professional at that, or maybe you could become an engineer. There's a whole big world out there, Eddie. Don't throw it away because you've never dared look at it before.'

'But I've never wanted to leave town before.' That came out almost as a whine and she laughed at me. Her laughter should have made me mad, it would have a few short months ago, but now I found I was laughing with her.

'You do now, though.' Mom stated it as a fact, not a question.

'Yes, I do.' I said with a sigh. 'It's scary.'

'Yes, dear, it would be scary.' Mom said as she stood up and drew me into a hug. She smelled of turkey and fresh baked bread, bringing back so many childhood memories. When had I stopped letting her hug me like this, and how stupid had I been to do that. 'Eddie, it may be scary, but sometimes the things that are scary are good for us. Don't limit your choices in life because of what your father, or even I, might think. Be your own man, make your own choices in life, and follow the path of your dreams.'

'I love you mom.' I said and wrapped my arms around her, returning the hug. We stayed like that for a long time until we heard my father's voice calling my mother.

'He's probably wanting to go home and pass out on the couch again.' Mom said with a disgruntled look.

'Mom, is there something I can do?' I asked her and she shook her head sadly.

'I made my bed a long time ago, and now I have to lie in it.' Mom said grimly. 'Remember that, Eddie, when we choose to live our lives with another person, it should be forever, for better or for worse, not just as long as it makes us feel good. The time's coming when your father and I will have words about what he's doing, but that time's not here yet.'

'I'll see you Sunday, at church.' I said and she smiled.

'Sit next to me this time.' She said with a pat of my cheek before heading out to where Dad was standing in front of my grandparents' house, still calling her name. I could hear him bitching at her as they got into the car, and I wanted to storm out there and hit him again, but I knew that wasn't something my mother would want to happen. Instead, I turned back to the carburetor and resumed my project.

Hours later my head hurt from way too much thinking. Mom's words had opened a doorway in my mind that I'd never bothered to pass through before. What would life be like away from this valley? Could I really make a happy life away from here? The more I thought about it, the more I realized that mom was right. I had let my father's expectations rule my life.

The few times I'd directly disobeyed him or done things he didn't like, such as working for grandpa, those were times he had expected me to do just that. He'd expected I'd go work for grandpa as soon as I was old enough, and sure enough I'd done what he expected me to do when the time came. Even worse, I realized that I'd always done what he expected, whether it was good or bad.

'You better be careful of that preacher's boy.' Dad had said about Jake years ago. 'I expect you'll get to be friends with him and get yourself into all kinds of trouble.'

Sure enough, I'd gone and done exactly that.

'What are you doing crying over some boy?' Dad's voice had been sharp after Jake had left town. I wasn't crying over him, but I had been moping around the house for a bit. 'Next thing I know, you'll be causing trouble at school all because your little friend went away.'

Those words hurt just as much now as they had back then. It was two days later I got into trouble for my fight with Billy at school. Dad had come into the Principal's office with a smirk on his face, still covered in dust and grime from the mines. 'That no-good son of mine has really done it now.'

He'd whipped me that night, and told me over and over again how I was a fuck-up just like he knew I was deep down. When I got into trouble the next week for smashing Harry's nose in, he hadn't even bothered to come to the school, just had me go down to my friend, Joel's until he could bother to pick me up. That night, though, he and I had dinner in town, and he'd told me to order a steak for dinner. He'd never liked Harry's father and was chuckling as I told him the details of how I'd smashed Harry's nose in for being silly and mocking me.

'If you're going to smash someone's nose in, that's as good a reason as any.' Dad had said with delight and that night there was no spanking or other punishment. Since I was suspended the next three days from school, he took a day off and we went hunting up in the mountains.

'You're not near as smart as Mark.' That was another phrase Dad had said when I was in the third grade and brought home a report card with a 'C' grade. That was also the last year that I had ever gotten an 'A' in any course. Mark always got either an 'A' or a 'B' on his report cards, but I only got a 'B' in a few courses after that year. Dad had snorted every time he saw a report card, especially when the teacher wrote something like 'Does not perform up to his full potential'.

'Eddie, it's getting late.' Grandpa's voice came from the doorway after I'd long-since finished putting my Jeep back into order and was just sitting on a stool staring at nothing in particular.

'I'm coming.' I said as I stood up and walked to the entrance where he was standing, looking at me with a worried expression on his wizened face.

'You alright?' He asked me worriedly. 'I know it wasn't easy seeing your father today.'

'I'm fine.' I said with a shrug.

'Well, we better get to bed or your grandmother will have both our hides tomorrow.' He said with a gruff chuckle. 'She wants us to head over to the Pastor's for lunch.'

'What for?' I asked with a frown. I hadn't known we'd be going over there.

'The Pastor's wife invited us over to meet their family.' Grandpa answered as we reached the door.

'Oh, good night.' I told him. Grandma stopped me to give me a kiss on my way to bed and I stripped off my clothes, looking at the mirror over my dresser. What exactly did Daniel see in me, I wondered as I looked at my squarish face and my acne-scarred cheeks. What did I really want with him, and what could I really have? Men didn't fall in love with each other, I knew that, or at least I had until I'd seen the way Joe Reynolds and his partner Elijah looked at each other. Elijah was so sad every time I saw him, but his eyes shone when he looked at Joe. If I gave up what I'd always thought I wanted and chased after Daniel, would he look at me like that in twenty years?

That night I tossed and turned, not really able to sleep as my mind spun around and around on all the things I'd been thinking about earlier. When I did fall asleep, I had dreams about everyone turning their backs on me at school, or laughing at me when I put my arm around Danny, but there was also this feeling deep inside like I belonged there, at his side. I knew deep down that I was at a fork in the road of my life, and would have to choose one path or the other.

'Eddie, you better get a move on if you're going to be ready in time.' Grandma said from my doorway the next morning. I hadn't realized that I'd finally fallen into a deep sleep. The sun was already well up into the sky, and I realized that it was almost ten in the morning. I never slept in this late!

'I'm getting up!' I told her and she shut the door behind her with a slight smile as I climbed out of bed, looking in the mirror again. My morning erection was straining at the thin material of my boxer briefs, but I ignored it as I wrapped a towel around me and headed for the bathroom. Hopefully, the noises I made in the shower were covered by the running water. I'd spent some time taking care of business, and thoughts of Daniel were foremost in my mind.

'Eddie, get a move on!' Grandpa's voice came from the other side of the door just as I was turning the water off. My legs felt a little weak, but it was a good feeling. 'You need to get some work clothes on!'

'Why?' I shouted back.

'There's been a problem at the Reynolds's place!' Grandpa shouted back and I hurried up as I dried the water off of my body.

'What kind of trouble?' I asked as I exited my bedroom ten minutes later, dressed in an old pair of jeans, a warm, but old, flannel shirt and carrying a pair of work gloves in my hand. Grandpa and Grandma were both dressed in similar clothes and waiting for me in the living room.

'Someone thought they'd have a little fun last night and threw some eggs, paint and whatnot.' Grandpa said with a very sour expression.

'Dad...' I said softly, more like cursed softly, and Grandpa's eyes met mine.

'We're going to go help clean up there.' Grandma said as she stepped forward and handed me both a sandwich and a glass of orange juice. As we headed outside and got into Grandpa's truck I ate the turkey sandwich quietly before finishing off the juice. By the time I was done, we were at the Reynolds place and I could see for myself what damage had been done.

Both of their cars were covered in eggs, as was the front porch of the dark brown two-story house. A bucket of red paint had been thrown over the porch and the front door as well. When grandpa had stopped and we were all getting out, a familiar head poked out of the front door and Joe Reynolds stepped outside with a frown on his face.

'Mr. Betschart, what are you doing here?' Joe called out as we approached the porch. His house was really nice, having been designed by his mother and built by his father and a few other men from around the valley, including my grandfather. It was a shame to see what had been done to it now.

'We heard you had a bit of trouble, Joe, and we're here to help pick up a bit.' Grandpa said as we stopped in front of the porch. Grandma was standing between us and she had a smile on her face.

'I brought some leftovers too, for lunch when we're done.' Grandma said and Joe smiled sadly.

'That's mighty kind of you, but we'll get it taken care of on our own.' Joe said firmly.

'Don't be a fool, Joe.' Grandpa said as a car began pulling up the gravel driveway. I turned around and almost choked at seeing the Pastor's car with all his family inside come to a stop next to the truck. When he got out, followed by his wife and Daniel as well as their younger children, all dressed in work clothes, I turned to see a look of confusion on Joe's face. Pastor Pemberle had a smile on his face as he came up to the porch.

'Joe, I'd like you to meet Pastor Pemberle.' Grandpa said when the Pastor had stopped. 'He is the new pastor at our church.'

'Mrs. Betschart called Cindy and told her why you wouldn't be able to make lunch today, so we decided we'd come by and help.' The Pastor said to Grandpa with a smile. 'It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Reynolds.'

'I...uh...' Joe stammered as the Pastor held his hand out to him. With a look of total confusion on his face, Joe finally took the man's hand and shook it briefly.

'The wife brought some leftovers so when we're all done maybe we can enjoy some fellowship?' The Pastor said just as Elijah stepped out onto the porch. He looked as confused as Joe, as well as a little afraid.

'Hi.' Elijah said after glancing at each of us in turn. 'What's going on?'

'They're here to help clean up the mess.' Joe said flatly and Elijah's eyes narrowed. 'This is Pastor Pemberle from the local church.'

'Oh.' Elijah said as he turned to face the preacher who was now holding out his hand again. 'I'm...I'm Elijah, Joe's partner.'

'It's a pleasure to meet you as well.' The Pastor said without batting an eyelash or skipping a beat. Even I was looking at his face to see if he really meant the nice way his words sounded, and I couldn't find any hint of subterfuge on his face.

'Please, come in.' Elijah said as Joe studied Grandpa and the preacher carefully.

'Hey.' Daniel said as everyone else began to go inside and we stayed behind.

'What's your dad doing here?' I practically hissed. 'Is he going to help clean up and then stand in their own home and tell Joe and Elijah they're sinners and going to hell?'

'Give my dad more credit than that.' Danny smirked. 'He really is disgusted by all this mess. It's not what Christians should do, according to him. You can expect a fiery sermon on how evil this was on Sunday.'

'You're serious?' I asked with a little surprise.

'Yes, Eddie, I'm serious.' Daniel said softly as his little sister appeared at the door.

'Get in here you two.' She said with the snide lilt in her voice that only a twelve-year-old girl can really achieve. 'You're holding things up.'

'We're coming.' Daniel said with an exasperated sigh. Together we entered the Reynolds home. Grandpa, grandma, and Daniel's parents were standing around in the living room talking quietly to Joe and his partner.

'They told us not to do anything until they got here, but no one has shown up yet.' Joe was saying as we moved to stand by them. Grandpa's face looked like he was seething.

'What time did you call them?' Grandpa asked through clenched teeth.

'Just after it happened, around one in the morning.' Elijah said quietly. His eyes had a haunted expression still. 'They told us a deputy would be out sometime today.'

'Sometime today?' Grandma said with horror. 'What are they thinking? Eloise called me and told me about it happening and she doesn't even work for the Sheriff's Department. If the gossip circles are already spreading it around, they should have had a deputy out here by now.'

'Maybe there was a big accident or something?' Daniel's mom said softly.

'No, we all know why they haven't come out here yet.' Grandpa said coldly. 'Joe, do you mind if I use your phone?'

'No, I don't mind.' Joe said softly, although there was a look in his eyes of anticipation. 'Let me get it for you.'

'Agnes, where's the Sheriff?' Grandpa said after Joe had returned with a handset and he'd dialed the Sheriff's office. 'What do you mean he's busy? I'm at the Reynolds's place and there's no sign of him here. Look, you tell him he can either get his ass out here where a crime has taken place, or he can count on me finding a Sheriff who will actually do his damn job!' and promptly ended the call.

'Mr. Betschart, there's no need...' Joe started to protest softly, but grandpa cut him off with an angry wave of his hand.

'Joe, you're an adult now.' Grandpa groused while trying to calm his temper down. 'Call me by my first name. As for that good-for-nothing Sheriff, I'm sick and tired of him taking his position for granted. I should have done more when you were younger, before you left town, and I didn't. That was wrong of me, and I won't make the same mistake twice.'

'Thank you, Don.' Joe said with a heavy sigh while Elijah gave Grandpa a long, appraising look. His face held a look of approval on it, and I was glad to see that. When the phone rang a moment later, grandpa picked it up.

'Reynolds residence.' Grandpa growled. 'Yes, Agnes, we'll wait for him.' Grandpa hung up the phone with a pleased look. 'The Sheriff and one of his deputies will be out here in twenty minutes. While we wait, why don't we get ready to start cleaning, and I believe the ladies have some stuff in the cars that can be brought inside for lunch.'

'We appreciate all of you coming out here.' Elijah said about fifteen minutes later after we'd unloaded the supplies from grandpa's truck. He'd apparently packed them while waiting for me to get out of the shower and get dressed.

'It's our duty as Christians.' Pastor Pemberle said in a solemn tone that raised Elijah's eyebrows. The smaller man looked disbelieving at the Pastor.

'Forgive me for saying this, but I wouldn't have expected you to show up to help when the house is occupied by a gay couple.' Elijah said, surprising nearly everyone except the Pastor by his directness.

'If you knew more about us, you wouldn't be nearly as surprised.' Pastor Pemberle said with a quiet, dignified smile. 'If Jesus were here on this planet today, I would not be surprised to find him standing beside us, lending a hand to cleaning up this mess.'

'So you don't believe we're evil?' Elijah asked in a querulous tone.

'Evil?' The Pastor emphasized with a shake of his head. 'No, I do not believe you are evil. I do believe you are sinners, and that you risk your eternal soul by engaging in your behaviors, but you are no better or worse than a man who lies all the time, or who commits adultery. Jesus charged us with spreading his word to everyone, and that includes sinners. He also charged us with helping our fellow man, regardless of if they are believers or sinners, and we witness best for him when we do just that. I hope that when you see the love of Jesus through my parishioners, and me, and through our actions, that you will let the love of Jesus into your heart. Then you will give up your sinful ways and save your immortal soul.'

'You're more dangerous than all the well-known preachers in this country combined.' Elijah murmured with a wry smile.

'Dangerous?' Pastor Pemberle asked with a smile of his own.

'Yes, it's hard to counter an argument based only in love instead of that 'hate the sin, love the sinner crap.' Elijah countered and the pastor laughed.

'It is difficult to hate and love at the same time without one emotion contaminating the other.' Pemberle responded. 'That is a distinction that is often lost on most of my fellow Pastors. It is also the same attitude that led to the prodigal son.'

'Oh no.' Daniel whispered into my ear at that point as Elijah started to debate the parable of the prodigal son with the pastor. 'I think Dad's going to have way too much fun.'

'What's Elijah doing?' I asked in a little confusion. Why would he be debating the bible with the preacher when it wasn't likely to result in changing the opinion of either of them?

'He's going to be Dad's favorite person in this town even if he never shows up at church.' Daniel growled quietly as two Sheriff cars pulled into the driveway. 'Dad loves to debate this stuff and it sounds like Elijah knows what he's talking about! Crap, Elijah is actually quoting Ezekiel now.'

The biblical discussion was paused when the Sheriff, a portly man in his fifties got out of the lead car, and the young, buzz cut deputy got out of the second car. I knew the tall deputy because he had been a Senior the year I was starting the seventh grade. He was as tall as I was, and spent more times lifting weights than he did reading the laws he was supposed to enforce. The Sheriff meanwhile spent more time in the restaurants and bars in town than he did in his patrol car.

'It's about time you got out here, Ben.' Grandpa growled as he stomped over to meet the Sheriff with Joe in tow behind him. Elijah and the pastor joined them a moment later. Grandma and Daniel's mom were in the house with the kids, but they showed up on the porch as the Sheriff responded to grandpa's statement.

'Now Don, you know as well as I do that there's not much we can do out here.' The Sheriff replied with a frown. 'It's a right mess, though. I'll have Eric take a few pictures with that new digital camera. He's about the only one who's been able to get it to work.'

'Ben, do you really expect me to accept that?' Grandpa asked with a frown. 'We both have a good idea of who was behind this.'

'Do you really want me to go knocking on your son-in-law's door and asking him where he was last night?' The Sheriff asked shrewdly.

'No.' Joe said softly. 'I'm sorry to have bothered you, Sheriff.'

'You're damn right about that, Reynolds.' The Sheriff growled. 'Why you didn't expect something like this to happen when you poked your nose back in here...'

'I think that's enough of that, Sheriff.' Pastor Pemberle said with a frown. 'I, for one, expected better behavior of people in this town, and most especially from members of my own church!'

'You're too new here to understand, preacher.' The Sheriff said in a slightly weaker tone.

'But I'm not and I'm equally outraged.' Grandpa added. 'Have your boy get the pictures and do whatever you will. We've got real work to do today.'

Less than fifteen minutes later, the Sheriff and his deputy were both gone, and the work began to clean the mess that had been made. Elijah and Daniel's father continued their discussion for the entire time we worked. Daniel and I were both relieved when we got sent around back to shovel snow so that there would be a clear path back to the barn. When we were nearly done, Grandma and Mrs. Pemberle had heated up a respectable lunch, and we sat with Daniel's younger siblings in the dining room while the adults talked in the living room.

Something inside of me shifted as I ate, remembering mom's words, seeing what had been done to Joe and Elijah's house, hearing Elijah happily argue with the preacher all morning, and more importantly, seeing the looks that passed between Joe and Elijah as the day passed. When I looked at Daniel sitting next to me, chatting with his younger sister as she made faces at him, I knew I wanted to at least look at life outside the valley.

'Let's talk about college tonight, okay?' I whispered to Daniel as his little sister turned to chide their younger brother for not chewing with his mouth shut. Daniel's eyes lit up at my words and he nodded eagerly.

As for me, I realized I was afraid, but for some reason it felt good.


ANDREW (bigtool4u89)

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