*Author's note: Union is a fictitious town not too far south of Tulsa, Oklahoma; a town where football is king. All of the characters in this story speak with a soft, southern accent except for the boys, Bo and Chad, who are full-on southern. :-)


"Son, Union Electric is right proud to have you on our team," his new boss said as the room burst into applause.

"Anyone from this town knows football is king around here, and that means everyone in this town knows who Dalton Burke is. Am I right?" he called out to the audience.

There was another round of applause and some very loud hootin' and hollerin' for the young man who'd led Union to a state championship in A-level football the year before.

"Now Dalton isn't just a great athlete. He's also now a certified electrician, and we are happy as hell to have him on board!"

After some more applause, the company owner, Bart Clemons, said, "Come on up and say a few words, son!"

Dalton's mother, Samatha Burke, was in the front row and already hooping and hollering as her son stood up and accepted the microphone.

The owner slapped him on the shoulder and nodded, Dalton's cue that he had the floor.

Dalton looked at the fifty or so people in the room and felt like he was standing in front of thousands. His mouth suddenly went dry while his palms began to sweat. He ran his hand through his trademark long, unkempt hair then tried to speak.

There was a croaking sound that caused a few laughs before he found his voice.

"Hey, there," he finally said in his soft, southern drawl. "I uh, I'd like to thank all a y'all for comin' out."

"We didn't have no choice!" an electrician four years older than Dalton who'd been his mentor for the last three years said.

It took a few seconds for the laughter to die down so Dalton could try again.

He looked at the man who'd played linebacker four years before him and said, "I knew there was a reason you weren't already down at Mickey's hoistin' a few."

The crowd roared and there were a few 'oohs' at the young buck's boldly calling out the more experienced hand.

"Anyway, I just wanted to start by thankin' my momma. If it wasn't for her, I wouldn't be where I am today."

The same former player called out, "You wouldn't be anywhere if it wasn't for your momma!"

Samantha, who worked at Mickeys, turned around and said, "Good luck gettin' a beer delivered to your table tonight!" causing another roar of laughter.

Union was a small of town of about 2,700 people, and most of them had lived there all their lives. Everybody really did pretty much know everyone else, but that didn't keep the good citizens of Union from doing the kinds of things people everywhere did—both good and bad. It just meant that everyone knew what they were doing and with whom.

Union could have easily been the focus of the song Harper Valley, PTA sung by Jeannie C. Riley back in 1968. All one needed to do was change the names and there was someone to fit the profile whether it was the guy (or gal) who drank too much or the secretary who was sleeping with her married boss or some other equally scandalous going-on.

Sadly, Samatha and Dalton knew the town drunk all too well because he was her ex-husband and Dalton's father, Raymond Burke. He owned the only name car dealership in town, and was still holding onto it in spite of his out-of-control drinking, but neither Samatha or his son wanted anything to do with him. And he'd screwed his secretary, to boot. And that was just the only affair Samatha knew about for sure, as every now and then a secret managed to stay secret even in Union.

Dalton, however, was her pride and joy. He'd always been a calm, kind, easy-going, pleasant child, and he'd done quite well in school; well enough to go to college, but college cost money and money was something his family didn't have. It had had money before Dalton's father blew everything all to hell by choosing whiskey and affairs over his family. They weren't destitute or even poor, but without the athletic scholarship that never came, the University of Oklahoma was a little more than a dream on a cruise ship that had long since sailed.

Dalton was a natural athlete and had lettered in three sports every year since he started high school. He'd been scouted by OU as well as Oklahoma State, but being the best at the A-level didn't mean he could play at the college level.

He was a good-looking kid, too, and by far the best-looking boy in town. Then again, he lived in a small town, so it wasn't like he could move to New York or LA and find work as a male model. But because of his looks, his athletic ability, and the way he treated other folks, Dalton was also his class's homecoming king and voted both 'cutest boy' and 'most likely to succeed'.

At 16, the earliest age allowed, Dalton had followed up on his love of all things 'gadget' and secured an apprenticeship with Union Electric. By the time he finished high school, he was on the verge of earning his apprentice-level certification working after school and on weekends and still playing sports and earning mostly A's and B's.

Now, just five months later, and having recently turned 19, he'd worked non-stop to complete the requirement in terms of hours needed and passed the state examination the week before. The results had just come out that morning, so the company put together a little celebration for a town hero that evening.

Dalton thanked the owner for giving him a shot three years earlier then thanked his fellow former player who'd been razzing him for being such a good mentor.

"That means the beer's on you tonight, Dalton!" the man called out.

"Not until he turns 21!" Samatha called back, causing another round of loud laughter.

Dalton stood there sheepishly letting his mother answer for him, not because he needed her to, but because in small town Oklahoma, and all over the South, men of all ages revered their mothers whom they called 'momma'—and their coaches.

Dalton then thanked his high school coaches, as well, before saying, "I reckon that's enough," then handed the mic back to his boss.

There was one last round of cheers and jeers before the boss let everyone go after thanking them for coming out to support 'one of Union's finest'.

Within minutes, the crowd was down to a small handful of people, and Dalton was getting ready to excuse himself when someone tapped him on the arm and nodded toward the door.

Just one look at his father who'd stumbled in made his blood boil. Raymond Burke of Burke Motors, had just walked in late and started looking around hollering, "Who the hell changed the time on this thing?" as people passed him by either shaking their heads or avoiding even looking at him.

"Momma? Come on. It's time to get out of here," Dalton told his mother who was talking with her son's new boss.

Bart was recently single, and there weren't a lot of men of a certain age in Union, so it was only natural she'd want to at least thank him for all he'd done for her son. It didn't hurt that his momma had worn her nicest dress, and that she was still a pretty good looking woman at 42.

"You want me to say something?" Bart asked Samantha when he saw her turn and look.

"No, I got this," she said with a sigh.

She strode over to her ex-husband and there was a short-but-fierce exchange of words followed by his disgusted hand waving just before he walked out—or more aptly—stumbled out.

She walked back over to where she was and proudly announced, "Problem solved."

Dalton had always admired his momma. He'd admired his father, too, until his drinking and behavior had gotten so out of hand that Dalton no longer even respected him. Yes, he was still his father and he'd always love him, but he most definitely did not look up to him and hadn't for at least the last couple of years.

A local real estate agent was waiting patiently for Dalton to finish his official business, and once he'd said his goodbyes, the man sidled up to the newest electrician in town and said, "First, congratulations, Dalton."

Dalton shook his hand, thanked him, then said, "You got a place lined up already?"

"I do," the man told him. "It's that little duplex out on the east end of town. The one they just fixed up."

"Seriously?" Dalton said. "How much?"

"Six hundred a month; and that includes utilities."

Dalton would be earning between $25,000 and $35,000 a year depending on how much overtime he could get, a tidy sum in Union, and $600 a month was something he could easily handle. Not having to pay for electricity and water was icing on the cake.

"When can I move in?"

"I'll need a first, last, and a security deposit from you. As soon as you can swing that, you're all set."

"I won't get a full check for two weeks, but my momma can loan me the money."

"Just don't wait too long. I rented out the other unit a few days ago, and I've got someone else interested in yours. But I promised you I'd help you find a place, and the star quarterback is someone I'm happy to do that for."

"Well, thank you, sir. And I'm no star. I'm just another workin' stiff."

"Uh-uh. Not in Union. As long as you live here, you'll always be the man who brought home the state championship in 2017."

Dalton thanked him, shook his hand again, then waited for his mother.

That evening Dalton asked her about a loan, and she said, "You know I wish you'd live at home for another year or two, right?"

"I know, Momma. And I love you dearly, but I need to be on my own."

"You're only 19, baby. What's the hurry?" she asked, even though she knew the answer.

Her son had always been self-sufficient. He hated relying on anyone, so she knew it was killing him to ask her for the help. The only 'charity' he'd ever accepted was a used truck from his father on his 16th birthday. His dad had had someone drive a brand new Ford F-150 home to surprise him, but when Dalton refused to accept it, it was no surprise to his father. He'd finally agreed to accept a five-year vehicle with 75,000 miles on it, and Dalton cared for it like it was his baby.

His mother also knew her son would pay her back in full—with interest—so money wasn't the issue. She just couldn't stand the thought of her baby leaving home, even if it was only to move four miles away across town. The fact that he could stop by for dinner every night of the week helped, but Samatha loved taking care of her son.

The only positive thing for her was she'd be able to have...someone... come over without having to worry about her son finding him there the next morning. Of course, he'd hear about it within days of the first person who did find out, but that was life in Union, and she could handle the heat. Besides, if she didn't strike while the iron was hot, another lonely woman in Union would. Maybe several of them, as Bart Clemons was considered quite the catch.

Her son didn't say anything because he knew she knew the answer.

"Okay. I'll write you a check. But can you at least wait until the end of the month?"

"Momma, they're fixin' to rent the place out this week if I don't take it."

"Okay. Fine," his mother said knowing it was a losing cause.

Dalton moved closer and put his arms around her and said, "I'll still see you nearly every day. You know that, right?"

"Nearly?" she said, her eyes wide with disbelief.

Dalton laughed, hugged his mother and said, "I love you, momma."

"I love you, too, baby," she told him.

When she let him go, she kept her hands on his arms for a few seconds then said, "It could be worse, I suppose."

"How's that?" her son asked.

"Well, you could be joinin' the Army like Anna Springer's son, Joey. That poor woman hasn't stopped cryin' since he left home in July."

"No, I'm not cut out for the Army," he told her. "Or college."

"Maybe, maybe not. But you are a very smart young man, and you're goin' to be a fine electrician. Union Electric is lucky to have you."

"And once I've got 8,000 hours under my belt, I'll get my Journeyman's license, and that'll mean a lot more money."

The difference in pay was almost double, and in a small town like Union, that really was a lot more money. He'd be able to afford a decent house, a nice truck, and maybe even support a wife and have a kid or two. But for now, he was an apprentice making $13.50 an hour and $17 for overtime. Still, that wasn't bad at all considering how most kids his age were lucky to even find a job, and those who did mostly made minimum wage.

"I am just so proud of you," his momma said before hugging him again.

"I hope you always will be, Momma," he said.

"Just don't be like someone we both know, and you'll be fine," she told him.

There was no need to name names. It was painful enough just dealing with him.

"What'd Dad say tonight?" Dalton asked now that his mom had brought him up.

"He wanted to stop by and congratulate you. But I could smell the booze from five feet away so I told him to get the hell out, and if he ever sobered up to come see you then."

"It's just so sad," Dalton told her.

"Yes. Yes, it is, but no one made him pick up a bottle or keep picking it up, and it's for dead sure no one made him screw...."

"I know, Momma," Dalton said understandingly.

"So how much does my baby need?" she asked as she grabbed her checkbook.

Dalton dropped off the check during lunch the following day, and the agent had him sign some papers then handed him the keys.

"You, sir, are all set!" the man told him.

"Wow. Just like that, huh?" Dalton said as he pocketed the keys.

"I know your mom's good for the money and the check will clear, so...yes...just like that."

They shook hands one more time and...just like that...Dalton had his first place.

That evening he moved most of what few things he owned over to his new home then sat there looking at the walls wondering what to do next. The place was furnished, and while nothing was 'high-end', everything was more than adequate for a first home. In fact, it was nicer in some ways than the home his mother had after nearly 25 years of marriage.

He made a list of things he wanted, and the list started with a brand new flatscreen TV. The place already had a satellite dish in place, so all he needed was something to watch it on. He made a sub-note to be sure he got the football package so he could watch his favorite teams anytime he wanted. Other than sports, Dalton wasn't much for television, but every now and then he'd watch an action movie like Taken with Liam Neeson or something with Vin Diesel in it.

The full-size bed was more than adequate, and as he laid down around midnight to go sleep there for the first time, he wondered why it was so utterly quiet in the connected unit.

The next morning he went outside and didn't see another vehicle in the driveway nor could he see anyone through the front window that didn't even have curtains hung in it yet. He didn't have time to think about it let alone worry so he hopped in his pickup truck and headed to work. But because whoever'd rented the other side still wasn't there, that morning he put out the word there'd be a party at his place the following evening which just happened to be a Friday which was perfect for having a few drinks.

"Free beer is all you gotta say, Dalton my boy," his mentor, Jeff Mercer, said. "We'll all be there with bells on."

Dalton laughed then said, "Well, seein' as how you hit like Tinkerbell, why would that be any big surprise?"

The room filled with other electricians boomed with laughter.

"Oh, I got your number, New Guy," his mentor said.

Jeff had missed a tackle in the final game of his senior year, and as a result, Union High School hadn't gone to the playoffs that year for the first time in a decade. He was still living that down and probably always would.

Dalton used the last of the money he had to fill his gas tank, buy some groceries, then stock the house with enough beer and chips for all the guys from work. He had $12.76 to last him until he got paid, and he'd owe his mom, too, but that should be plenty to get by on.

People started rolling in around 7 pm, and by 10 o'clock most of them were pretty well lit. One of the guys had brought a boom box, and the music was cranked up loud as the suds flowed and conversation got louder by the hour.

It was somewhere around midnight when one of the guys answered a loud knock at the front door that Dalton hadn't heard because he was out back on the small concrete patio shootin' the breeze with a couple of the older electricians who were dispensing advice based on years of experience.

"Dalton!" he hollered out. "It's for you!"

Dalton meandered through the gaggle of guys and their wives or girlfriends inside the 1,200 square-foot unit to the front door where a woman he'd never seen before was standing.

There was a boy of about ten standing next to her, and Dalton said, "May I help you?"

The front porch light was on, but it was otherwise dark outside. Dalton could tell she was cute, but he had no idea how attractive this woman was during this first meeting. That and the fact that her face was all screwed up in anger didn't help, either.

"Are you the owner of this side?" she loudly demanded to know over the music.

"I'm...I'm renting it, so I'm not...."

"Then that makes you responsible," she said as she poked him in the chest hard enough to move his 5' 11" body that weighed a solid 185 pounds back.

"When I came down here to rent my side a few days ago, no one was in this side. I went back to Tulsa to get my things, and when we pulled in tonight, there's a damn frat party going on—at midnight!"

Dalton saw the U-Haul truck in the driveway and understood why no one had been home next door.

Before he could apologize the woman got in his face and said, "Listen up, cowboy. My son I and need to go to bed. I'm startin' a new job tomorrow, and I need to get some sleep. So you could please turn down the music so we could do that?"

A small crowd had gathered around and several other men were watching with great amusement as she read their young colleague the riot act.

"I'm really sorry, ma'am. I didn't know anyone was there," he said, still talking loudly so she could hear him.

"Well now you do!" she said as she jabbed him one more time. "Oh, and this damn sure better not be a regular thing. You understand me?"

Dalton rarely drank, and although he was nursing his second beer in three hours, he was pretty much stone-cold sober, but he knew there was beer on his breath, and that probably wasn't helping.

"I'll turn it down right now, ma'am," he said. "And I really am sorry."

She'd already turned her back and told her son to go inside.

The only other thing Dalton heard was, "Goddamn rednecks!" before she disappeared.

When he turned around, four or five guys all went, "Ooooh! That was brutal!"

Dalton pushed his way back through and found the boom box and turned it off. The silence caused all of the loud talking to stop within seconds and all eyes to turn toward him.

"Sorry, fellas. The party's over," he announced.

"What? What kind of bullshit is that?" one of the guys said. "It ain't even midnight yet!"

The guy who said that was too drunk to know what time it was, and Dalton no longer cared. His whole life he'd had it drilled into him that people respected their neighbors, and had he known they'd be home, he'd have never even had the party.

"That kind of bullshit is what's called respect," he said firmly and rather loudly considering the room was dead quiet. "My neighbors are home and the lady next door needs to get to sleep so finish your beer and head on out."

There was a lot of loud grousing and griping, but everyone drained their bottle or can and left.

Next door, the woman, who'd been shaking with anger, was finally starting to calm down. She'd heard every word Dalton said to his friends through the thin walls, and although she was still mad as hell, she almost felt bad for biting his head off. Based on his actual reaction rather than the one she'd anticipated, it was very possible she'd completely misread the situation and overreacted in the extreme.

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