It was strange having breakfast with just my parents. I was the youngest of four sons, and the whole time I’d been growing up, the house had verged on chaos. The only thing keeping order around the place was the respect that we had for our parents and the fact that with the farm work that we did, there was rarely any energy to spare.
Things had really changed lately, though. It had all started when my oldest brother, David, met a girl and decided to move with her to Nashville to really get his music career going. They’d turned my grandfather’s cabin into their home with a recording studio here on the farm so that they could be close to the family at least part-time, but they’d spent a lot of the year doing promotional events elsewhere, and now they were on tour.
They weren’t even coming through Oklahoma, which I kind of understood since Oklahoma wasn’t exactly the music capital of the world, but it kind of pissed me off, too. David was as humble as ever about his music, but it was starting to feel like he was forgetting where he came from.
But it seemed as though his departure had kicked down the doors for my other brothers as well, making them realize that there was a great big world out there and they didn’t have to stay here on the Dawson family farm for the rest of their lives.
Ted had been the first one, but when he and Lauralee first got married, there wasn’t much change. Ted stepped in to take over David’s duties, plus supervised the expansion of the place, including hiring new hands. Of course, you’d still catch him and Lauralee canoodling in the office sometimes when you stopped in to check on what else needed to be done for the day. But there weren’t any major changes.
At least, not until Lauralee started talking about taking a trip together. She wanted them to go out and explore the world, to see something more than Oklahoma. Now, while they were still young. And even though Ted was one of the biggest homebodies I knew, he’d started to listen to her. They were bringing in family to help. Our family. Guess we had a shit ton of cousins no one had mentioned from daddy’s side.
To be honest, Ted could use a break. He’d taken on way more than he could handle once David left, and we could all see how it was wearing him down. He had gotten snippy in a way that he had never been before. And fussy about the stupidest things on the farm.
The trouble was, once they got out, I guess they realized there were so many other things they wanted to do together. What was originally supposed to be a two-week trip had turned into a month-long trip now, with no sign of their impending return.
But I couldn’t exactly get mad at them, because it wasn’t like they were just joy-riding. They deserved a break, and had planned to stop by a few farming communities to see how other people did things. Lauralee and her damn technology. They had sent me some postcards, but it was just a reminder that they were gallivanting, and I wasn’t..
I couldn’t blame them for wanting to explore and to make the world a better place, or whatever the reasoning was behind it. I had a feeling they also just needed to get away from the farm so that they could build their relationship some more. Things had been busy over the past year. But all the same, the fact remained that I was a little bitter about all of it. With Ted gone in addition to David, things were pretty tricky for me. We were through the harvest season, at least, and he promised he would be back in time for the planting later in the spring, but I just didn’t know.
We were already getting into spring at the moment, the days were getting longer and warmer. It was nearly time to start planting, and as far as I knew, he still hadn’t booked a return flight.
The farming was only part of what we did here. There were just as many horses and cattle to take care of through the winter and early spring as they were at other time of the year. Just as many stalls to muck out and bales of hay to haul and fences to mend. Only now, I was practically doing it all on my own.
Well, not all on my own. With the expansion that we’d had, Ted had hired on a couple of hands to help out around the place. I didn’t really know any of the guys well enough yet to really figure out who was good at what, and it felt weird to be the one in charge of delegating tasks. At twenty-one, I was younger than most of the guys, and it just didn’t feel like it was my place to be dishing out orders, even if it was my family’s farm.
Not for the first time, I wished Ted would just hurry up and get back.
Part of the problem was that I think he thought Mason was helping out more than he actually was. Mason was my third brother, and he lived at the Brock family farm. He’d helped them pull the place out of debt with this crazy haunted farm scheme. They’d had hay rides, hauntings, pumpkin carving, and more, all through the harvest season. It had been a surprisingly big draw, given that this wasn’t the most densely populated part of the country.
Now that the haunting season was done, I’d expected him to jump in and help out here with the animals and everything, but he was still splitting his time carefully, working on things over at the Brock farm. When I commented on it, somewhat heatedly, he had raised an eyebrow at me and reminded me that there was plenty more to working a farm than running harvest festivals. Something about repairing all the fencing and fixing up the barn.
I felt bad for snapping at him because I knew that he was just as busy as I was. But all the same, we needed him here, helping out the family.
“You’re quiet today,” Mama commented, as I inhaled my eggs and toast.
I shrugged. “Just thinking,” I told her. “Lots to get done, as always.”
Mama smiled. “We’re so proud of the way you’ve been stepping up lately,” she said.
I grimaced. “I just hope Ted comes back soon. This place is pretty quiet without him around, yelling out orders all the time.”
Mama and Daddy exchanged a glance. “You know, Luke, the two of us have decided that we’re going to get away for a while,” Mama said softly. “Now that I’m feeling better, I think it’s time.”
I stared at her, my fork clattering down on my plate. Were they serious? They were just going to up and leave as well? Not that it would affect the farm duties very much. Daddy had run the place for years, and he was still the one handling the books and things in Ted’s absence. But he’d retired from most of the more physical work in the past couple years, pulling back more and more with each passing month.
Still, it would make the place even quieter. Even more lonely. It would be just me and all the hands—these people that I barely even knew.
It wasn’t like I could argue with them, though. I could see how cautiously excited Mama already was at the prospect of a trip. I knew that she had been planning the thing ever since she first got sick. That she’d made up a list of places that she’d always meant to go, one day. She had to be feeling that now that her sickness was in remission, she had a second chance to try to get to all those places.
“You gonna be all right to handle the farm on your own today?” Daddy asked gruffly.
“You’re leaving today?” I asked in shock. Why hadn’t they told me about this sooner?
Mama laughed, though. “No, not today,” she said, shaking her head. “But we do have a big day planned.”
“Doing what exactly?” I asked suspiciously.
“We’re going to go look for a travel trailer so we can see the whole country!” Mama sounded proud and excited, and I realized with a sinking heart that there was no changing their minds about this. They had made their plans, and they were already mentally preparing to leave.
I wanted to be happy for them, and thought about the two of them cozied up in that travel trailer they were going to buy, exploring the country by day and just spending time together. What little time they had left.
I glanced over at Daddy, but his face was as neutral as ever. I couldn’t really picture him traveling; he was at least as much of a homebody as Ted was. But then again, Ted had left now too. Besides, I knew Daddy would do anything to make Mama happy. He had always wanted the world for her. This was just something he had to go along with, even if it wasn’t his idea of a good time.
“When are you planning to leave?” I asked slowly.
Daddy shrugged one shoulder. “As soon as we get everything in order,” he said. He paused. “You don’t have to worry about the farm. You know how to do the books, and I’m sure your brother will be back soon. Mason can help if you need it.”
It was more than he normally said, as though he’d been preparing that little speech in his head for a while now. They were really set on going. I couldn’t believe it.
“Well, I’d better get to work, then,” I said, standing up quickly and putting my dishes in the sink. I didn’t want them to see how upset I really was at the idea of them leaving.
It just felt like everyone was off doing whatever they wanted to do. Like they were all abandoning me so they could go after their dreams. I hadn’t even had a chance to figure out what I would want to do with my life.
All my life, I’d worked here on the farm. Day in and day out. Of course, there were days that were less busy. But there was always work to be done. We didn’t have time to fool around. In the evenings, I might go for a beer or two with some of the guys from town, but my whole life had always revolved around the farm. It bothered me that everyone else seemed to have forgotten that that was the way it was supposed to be.
What use was it, having a family farm, if there was no family there to help run the place?
Duck, one of my favorites of our dogs, came bounding up to me. She was still young and had a lot of growing to do, but she was getting bigger every day. She had plenty of time to run off all her energy around the farm, but she was still pretty poorly behaved most times. I wanted to train her better, but I just didn’t have the time. “Hey, Ducky-girl,” I sighed, crouching down to scratch the pup behind the ears. “Looks like it’s going to be just the two of us today. And for the foreseeable future, I guess.”
Duck woofed and jumped up against me, pawing at my knees as she tried to lick my face. She didn’t seem to care that it would be just the two of us. But why would she? She wasn’t going to feel lonely; she still had all the animals to chase around and the whole farm to explore. She was still going to get her meals at the same time that she always had; I could at least make sure of that.
Suddenly, the prospect of looking after the whole farm started to feel overwhelming. I would not only be making sure that Duck was fed, but also that all the horses and cattle were fed. That all the stalls were cleaned. That supplies were ordered. That the hands were paid. That the fences were mended. That the dirt in the horse yard was raked out. That—well, the list went on and on.
Duck was still trying to lick my face, and I pushed her back. “Sit,” I said. But Duck never listened to me. She barked and spun around in a circle, distracted by her tail for a moment. Then, she was right back trying to lick my face again.
I pushed her back again and stood up, heading for the tractor. I could already feel the loneliness setting in, and Mama and Daddy hadn’t even left yet.
They were leaving soon, though, I realized, when they came back at the end of the day, a nice, shiny trailer in tow. “We’re going to start packing it up tomorrow,” Mama told me, still looking just as excited as she had that morning. “And we’ll start planning our route tonight!”
She opened the trailer so I could see inside, and already she had a dozen plans for how things were going to be done and where they were going to go. I listened to her chatter away, wishing I could be as excited as she was for them.
Instead, I still just felt betrayed.