It Just Happened Ch. 01byREGade©
Chapter 1: When home is the only option
Ed met me at the bus station, shook my hand and talked incessantly. I pretended to listen.
He saw me looking at the side of his van as he tossed my luggage in the cargo area. "That was Jen's idea. She set up the web page and keeps track of how many hits it gets," he explained. The URL was printed below the telephone number, but that's not what had captured my attention. Above the telephone number was printed 'Ed Crumbly and Sons, Contractors'.
"It's my tool bin. Everything I need is here, secure and orderly," Ed said, as if he needed to explain his reason for graduating to a van. That's not what I wanted to know; why had he chosen to keep the name our father had painted on his truck the day I was born? Why didn't the name read: 'Ed Crumbly Jr., Contractor'?
Riding through town stirred something I hadn't felt in years. It started deep in my chest and pumped upward, like an artesian well. Ed assumed I was looking at the changes. I wasn't.
"That's Stew Mercer's sub-division. He built forty homes on twenty-two acres. I did the siding and most of the roofs, but he had to give Johnny Evans some of the work because I didn't have...you can't get qualified help any more. The kids the technical high school turns out need a year on the job before they're productive. You remember Stew, don't you?"
I nodded, recalling that Stew Mercer was in my graduating class although he had attended the technical high school while I had taken the college course. I had excelled in high school; apparently, Stew had excelled after graduation.
At twenty-nine, Ed's hair was beginning to thin and his forehead was showing a distinct set of worry lines. Is that what I can expect in four years? He seemed more animated than I remembered. Was it to mask the awkwardness between us?
"The old house looks the same, doesn't it?" he asked as we turned into the driveway. It didn't. In addition to the new, three-car garage at the end of the drive, the roof and siding looked like they had been replaced recently. Maybe he had forgotten how long I had been gone.
Inside, the house looked totally different than I remembered. I followed him upstairs to our old room. "Change into something comfortable and join me on the porch," he said as he set my two pieces of luggage down. The room looked the same as I remembered, small, bunk beds, a desk and a closet that was never large enough for our clothes. I quickly put on jeans, a sweater and sneakers before taking a final look at the room. It was the only place in the house that hadn't been updated. In the hallway I glanced at what had been Mom and Pop's room. Unable to resist, I opened the door and peeked in. That same ache hit the empty pit in my chest and rumbled around. They sleep here. The bed looks new.
I can't do it, I thought. Sleeping across the hall from Jennifer Hawley and her husband was going to be impossible. But I would have to make the best of my plight: I didn't have any place else to go.
"I suppose you noticed the kitchen? We did a major renovation last year," my brother said when I joined him on the porch. I was too busy noticing that the 'porch' was no longer a porch to respond. It was now a room.
"Oh this," Ed said when he saw me looking at the sky-lights, ceiling fan, carpeting and paneling below the windows. "I enclosed it a couple of year ago during a slack time. We use it three seasons. The windows open...say...I couldn't remember if you like to open your own beer...some guys are particular about things like that. I left the cap on yours."
What does he have to be nervous about? Why doesn't he shut the fuck up?
"For future reference, I don't have a hang-up about who opens my beer," I said as I extracted the cap from a cold bottle of Heineken. After taking a long swig from the bottle I had an urge to say more. "I have plenty of other hang-ups. Who opens my beer seems too trivial to waste time worrying about," I said, perplexed with my self for talking so much. What I had said was true though. I did have other hang-ups, like finding out my older brother had fucked my girlfriend the minute I turned my back.
Ed saw me looking at the rolling lawn and beyond where new homes blocked out the view of the lake. "We built houses on the land, Ben. Dad needed the money to pay Mon's medical bills. The project was good for him, too. We worked together until he got sick. I finished them after he died."
I nodded to show that I understood, hoping he would stop talking. I didn't need more explanation. Who was I to mourn the loss of the majestic view?
As I watched my brother take the empty beer bottles and leave the room, presumably to get two more beers, I realized that down deep, we loved each other. He was the consummate older brother, being a pain in the ass, always treating me like a dunce, while claiming he was doing it for my own good.
"Go for it, kid," he advised when I told him we were on the verge of having sex. It was Ed's advice that instilled the confidence in me to take Jen's virginity. She was my first, too.
Ed was always the giver; I was the taker, or so he led me to believe. He went to work for our dad after high school and financed my first three years at college. I don't believe he kept track of the amounts he shelled out; I know I didn't. I worked summers with Ed and my dad and used the money for incidentals, clothes and spending. Our parents sent money for my trips home, two holidays and summer vacation.
Jen attended a local junior college for two years and then went to work in a bank. We had a strict rule; no fooling around with anyone else. I never broke the rule and believed her when she said that she didn't either. We were each other's first and promised never to stray.
I still blame my college roommate for what happened, but down deep, I know it was a bad decision on my part. Oscar was a stocky kid with a gruff personality. We got along great because I was the only one at school who could put up with him and he was the only one who would listen to me expound about my love for Jen. Looking back, he was probably the only one at school who knew I wasn't gay because, for the first three and a half years, I never even looked at another girl.
As the summer before our senior year approached, Oscar began working on me with an invitation to join him harvesting grain. His uncle owned three combines and did custom work throughout the mid-west. He was looking for help. I told Oscar there was no way I could be away from Jen for the entire summer, not even at double the wages my Dad paid me. Oscar persisted and eventually I caved. It was the worst decision of my life.
The only redeeming aspect of that summer was that I made good money and got to see parts of Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska. The money and travel didn't come close to offsetting my absence from Jen. I wrote to her often, but only two of her letters caught up with me. They were filled with regret that so much distance separated us. A question near the end of the second letter caught my attention, 'Eddie says you won't be home until Thanksgiving. Is that true? Benny, my darling, I don't think I can live without seeing you before Thanksgiving'.
When did she start calling my brother Eddie? Why would he tell her such a thing? I wrote back saying I planned to swing by home on my way back to school, ending my letter, 'I can't wait to see you'.
Oscar drove one of the combines and I drove a truck that delivered the grain to a silo on the farms where we worked. We tolled long hours under the hot sun, went to bed early and slept under the stars.
It was in Iowa that I made the second worst decision of my life. After the silos on the farm were filled to capacity, the farmer sent his daughter to direct me to the nearest grain dealer, about fifteen miles from the farm. Amy was home for the summer, having completed her second year at the University of Iowa. Besides being cute, she was a flirt. We talked about school, our courses of study and our interests on the way to town. While we were waiting for the grain to be pumped out of the truck she changed the subject.
"How far do you think a girl should go on the first date?" she asked, crossing one leg over the other, exposing the bare skin of her thigh. Do all farm girls wear short skirts in the fields?
Gulp! I looked in the rearview mirror for no particular reason, wondering if the guy behind us could see Amy's blond ponytail. "First dates are always awkward."
"They can be. I think it depends," Amy said. I couldn't help but see that she was rocking her foot, making the skirt glide back with each movement of her leg.
The operator pronounced the truck empty and told me to proceed to the scales to weigh out. I collected the trip ticket and we headed back to the farm.
I don't know why I felt obliged to ask, "What does it depend on?"
Amy had changed her position to make sure I could see the color of her panties, blue. I found it difficult to keep my eyes on the road.
"Girls want to protect their reputation and most guys like to talk. Everyone in the dorm knows when a girl goes all the way on the first date. Is it that way at your school?"
She was right. Guys liked to talk. We all knew when a couple hooked up for the first time in our dorm. "Word gets around," I agreed.
"That's why you hear stories about the farmer's daughter and the traveler that stays the night. She knows he'll be gone the next morning. Who's he going to tell?" she asked, teasingly poking her chest out.
I laughed and Amy seemed pleased with herself, having made her point.
"Will you be able to find your way back to town or should I make another trip with you?" she asked when we got back to the farm. I assured her that I wouldn't get lost. She moved to the far side of the truck seat, pouting.
"See that barn over there?" she asked as she got out of the truck. "That's where I brush my horse after supper," she said, grinning mischievously.
I was too stunned, or too naive to recognize her offer for a first date. I made another trip to town and when I got back Amy was riding through the field on her horse, dispensing cold water to the workers. She rode up to the truck and offered me a drink.
"We finish supper about seven, but I have to clean the kitchen before I brush my horse. Do you remember which barn I pointed to?" she asked.
"I have a girlfriend back home," I said and saw Amy's smile turn dark, like a cloud before a thunderstorm.
"So?" she spat out. "I have a boyfriend at school, but that doesn't make we wear one of those habit things when I'm not with him."
"We promised each other that we wouldn't fool around," I said and watched Amy give her horse a mighty kick to the flanks.
Later that day, I saw her chatting with Oscar.
As we would be moving on to the next job at daybreak we worked late and I didn't leave for town with the last load of grain until dusk. When I got back the other hands had gone to bed, all except Oscar. His air mattress was empty.
For years I've masturbated thinking of Amy and her blue panties.
Oscar's uncle kept us captive by withholding our pay until he was ready to release us, which was the day before school was to start. I wrote to Jen, boasting about the amount of the check I had earned, assuring her that I would be home for Thanksgiving.