Farm Girl: Bounties Innumerablebyldrequiv©
From the instant Dan Childress returned to the examination room with Allan's patient file clutched in his hand, Allan knew the news would be bad. He gripped the edges of the exam table and braced himself as best he could. Childress slouched into the metal chair at the other side of the room and released a weary sigh.
"It's you, Allan."
Allan nodded. "I thought it might be." He dismounted from the table and reached for his jacket. "Is it treatable?"
The doctor grinned wanly. "If only. Deb and I tried for a fourth for ten years before I went for a test." He laid the file folder on his lap and steepled his hands. "Age gets all of us eventually."
What about my capacity for erection? How long can I count on that? Allan didn't say. He zipped his jacket closed and pondered. "Well, so much for the easy part."
"You only had to tell me, Dan." Allan grinned. He held out a hand, and the doctor rose and took it. "I have to break it to Kate."
Childress's face tightened in vicarious discomfort. "Good luck with that."
Allan parked and locked his truck, immediately went around the house to the fields, and found Kate in the barn, laboring over their tractor, doing something incomprehensible to an assembly he couldn't even name.
"Nellie not well?"
Kate looked up, startled. "Oh!" She set her tools down delicately, ran to him and wrapped her arms around him. "No, she's okay. I was just resetting the valve gaps and the timing so we could run her on cheaper fuel. Costs about five horsepower, but for what I use her for, that's okay."
"Why bother? We're not hurting for money."
"So we should spend it unnecessarily? What kind of farm boy are you, sweetie?"
He swallowed and dropped his eyes. "A sterile one."
He heard her breath catch, felt her arms tighten spasmically.
"No doubt about it?"
Allan shook his head. "None. No treatments for it, either."
She buried her face against his chest.
She wanted babies so badly. What will this change? Will she stop wanting to be with me? Stop loving me?
"It doesn't matter." The words were muffled against his chest.
"It doesn't matter!" She tilted her head back to look into his eyes. "We have the farm. We have what we grow. We have each other. That's enough for me." Her jaw tightened visibly. "Is it enough for you?"
He stroked her back and shoulders. "Kate, you are the only thing in this world I really, truly need. I'd have loved to give you children. I wanted them just as much as you. But if you can bear this, as hard as I know it must be for you, then I can do it easily." He ran his fingers through her hair and laid his palms along the sides of her face. "As long as I have you."
She stared hard into his eyes, and he grew briefly afraid.
"Oh, you have me, all right," she whispered. "It's a good thing that's okay by you, 'cause I'm the one thing you can't get rid of. You could burn the house down and salt the ground, and I'd stand by you. You could bring home a second wife, and I'd stand by you. This disappointment is nothing compared to how I love you."
She nudged him out of the barn, slid the door closed, and pulled him up the incline toward their house.
"And I mean to make you feel it right now."
"Dear God," he gasped.
She pressed herself more firmly against him. "Was it good?" she murmured against his shoulder.
"You have to ask? I've never come like that before. Not even when I was one, giant, perpetual teenaged hard-on. It felt like everything inside me was flowing into you, that there'd be nothing left to keep my skin inflated." He stroked her back and settled his palms against her rump. "How do you hold it all?"
She canted her head back and smiled down at him. "Love and willpower. You are the finest man I've ever known. I don't want to waste one molecule of you."
He chuckled. "My farm girl."
She laid her face against his chest and nuzzled him. "My farm boy."
He basked for a time in the greatest and least expected of all his life's blessings.
"Do you want to explore alternatives?"
A quick current of tension ran along her frame. "What kind?"
"There are places you could go for...seed."
"Do they have any of yours?"
"Huh? No, of course not."
"Then no." She squirmed delicately against him, partly reviving his flagging erection. "Any baby from my body has to be from you."
He had no doubt that she meant it, but the plaintive note beneath the words underlined her disappointment, making him cringe.
"Allan," she said, "we made our choices not knowing where they'd lead. Just
because we've dead-ended in this one way doesn't mean the choice was wrong. I'll adjust. Trust me."
"I do," he whispered.
I have to adjust, too. I wonder how long it will take me.
They were lounging before the television, Kate snoring faintly against his side, when the knock on the door came.
Allan carefully shifted his wife aside and went to answer it. He found Nat and Cal Compton, the teenagers from across the road, standing on his porch. Both tall, lanky Nat and chubby, still-awaiting-his growth Cal were wet-eyed and confused.
"Mr. Fitzgerald," Nat said, "we need some help."
Allan's brow furrowed. "What's up, Nat?"
Cal's young face convulsed. Tears immediately coursed down his cheeks.
"My God," Allan said. "Come in, come in!"
He ushered them into the living room, where Kate was reluctantly emerging from slumber. Her eyes lit on the Comptons and flashed immediately to Allan's. He bade them be seated and turned to his wife.
"We've lost a neighbor."
"Oh my God." She leaped from the sofa, went to the bereaved teens and immediately bundled them in her arms. "I'm so sorry, boys!" Presently they were all crying together.
Art and I were barely well acquainted enough to use one another's first names. We got along, but I probably know the mailman better than I knew him. I'd have thought Kate knew him even less well than that. But she's the one crying and offering his boys comfort. Is it a male-versus-female thing, or is it a flaw in me?
When a semblance of possession had returned, Allan said, "When did he pass?"
Nat was still sniffling against Kate's shoulder. Cal looked up and said, "Just before dinner time. The sheriff only drove off a few minutes ago."
Kate became alert. She dried her eyes on her sleeve. "Have you boys eaten
"Uh, no, Ma'am."
She rose, pulling them with her. "Come in the kitchen."
Silence reigned as Kate set the table, Allan defrosted leftover stew in the microwave, and Kate put out glasses and soda. The Compton boys sat motionless, obviously unsure of the protocol of the situation. When laden bowls had been set before them, the boys made to attack their dinners, but Kate held up a hand.
"First things first." She made the Sign of the Cross, steepled her hands, and bowed her head. The teens followed suit.
"Lord," she murmured, "we give thanks for the bounties You have granted us. Even in the midst of tragedy, we give thanks. May You bless and keep those we love, especially those who have gone to their eternal rest. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen." She raised her head and smiled. "Have at it, boys."
They ate with obvious appetite. The Fitzgeralds waited in silence.
"So how can we help?" Allan said as they finished.
"Well," Nat said, "the sheriff told us there'd be a lady from Child Welfare tomorrow."
"Oh. You're --"
"Sixteen in two months," Nat said. "Cal turned thirteen last week."
"Mr. Fitzgerald," Cal said, "we don't want to go anywhere."
Kate reached for Allan's hand and gripped it tightly.
"Then you won't," she said.
She turned a gaze of steel on him.
"Can you handle disposing of their farm?"
The teens' eyes went simultaneously wide.
Huh? "Well, yes, but you know it's not going to be --"
"Easy to deal with the CWP bureaucrats," she said. "Yes, I know. You leave that part to me." She turned to the boys. "Have you had your fill? For the moment, at least?"
Nat looked uncertainly at his younger brother. "Yes, Ma'am, we have."
She rose. "Then let's get to work. Allan, may I have the keys to the truck?"
He fished them from his pocket and passed them to her without speaking.
The boys didn't have much. Their clothes and their few amusements took only one trip to bring across the road. Kate installed them in the two unused bedrooms without any hesitation. It was as if she'd already planned for the eventuality and was merely carrying out a long established procedure. Allan assisted as she directed, without offering comment on either the arrangements or the wisdom thereof.
When all was settled, and the boys had closed their doors to sit in the privacy of their new rooms, Allan pulled Kate into the kitchen, seated the two of them, and took her hands. "How are we supposed to pull this off?"
She shrugged. "We'll manage."
"And when the CWP busybody comes calling?"
"Do you think she'll come here, Allan?" She smirked. "I doubt she'll think of it. I dealt with those folks in Kansas. They're barely bright enough to pee without assistance."
"And if she does think of it?"
She frowned. "Aren't you a lawyer? Doesn't she need a warrant to come onto our grounds without our permission? Or are you opposed to making Nat and Cal part of our family, now that they have none of their own?"
She stared hard into his eyes. Her resolve was clearly unbreakable. She'd weighed the rights and the wrongs, had decided on her course, and wouldn't yield even before overwhelming force.
He'd never loved her so much as in that moment.
"Kate," he said, "I'm with you on this. The problem isn't 'should we,' it's 'can we.' The CWP gal won't be prepared to find them gone, but she won't stay stupid forever. She will come here. And when she does, I'm going to have to do some fancy stepping to prevent her from finding the boys. If I can't, our next visitor will be the sheriff, with a warrant."
She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and released it slowly.
"Allan," she said, "we have to do this. It's basic. It's Golden Rule stuff, just like with that dead lawyer you pinch-hit for last year. Besides, these are two innocent kids. Farm kids. They're good kids, you can tell they're good kids just by looking at them. The foster care system treats kids like tokens. Like little counters you can exchange for monthly checks. They don't deserve to be shoehorned into that. It would ruin them, and I will not permit it."
He recoiled from the anger in her voice.
She rose and paced irregularly around the kitchen. Allan did his best to stay calm and let her think. Presently she stopped and looked him full in the eyes.
"How many men are there in the sheriff's department?" she said.
"Hm? I don't know. I doubt it's very large, since Onteora doesn't have a state prison or reformatory."
"Would the police assist the CWP bitch?"
"I don't know."
"Find out. I have some errands to run."
She strode out of the kitchen.
It was nearly eleven PM when Kate returned to the house. She did not return alone. Accompanying her was a tall, broad-shouldered man of middle years with a mop of red-brown hair, a pleasant, open face, and a Smith & Wesson revolver belted at his hip. His shirt bore the legend Integral Security in tasteful embroidery.
"Allan," she said, "I'd like you to meet Kevin Conway. He runs the best private
security force around here." She smiled hopefully up at Conway. "I brought him here to discuss what we can do to make ourselves...safe."
Conway held out his hand. Allan took it.
"It's a pleasure, Mr. Fitzgerald."
"Likewise," Allan said. "Tell me please, how do you know Kate?"
Kate's face darkened.
"We met at Jack Taliaferro's office," Conway said with no trace of hesitation. "My people provide security for his market."
"Ah. Of course." Allan beckoned the big man into their living room and bade him be seated. Kate remained standing a little way off.
"Mr. Conway --"
"Very well, Kevin. Please call me Allan. Has Kate told you about the specific hazard we're worried about?"
Conway nodded. "In detail, Allan. There are a few complexities, but I think we can handle the matter. If you'll allow us, that is."
Allan's eyes moved to Kate. She stood with arms crossed over her breasts, her expression stony.
"Are you conversant with the legalities, Kevin?"
Conway nodded. "CWP does need a warrant to enter your premises. More, since you're not related to the Comptons, they'd have to show extraordinary cause to get a judge to grant one."
"What if they see the boys out in the open, say from a low-flying helicopter?"
Conway's mouth tightened. "That would probably constitute sufficient cause, by current standards. Do you have a reason to think that might happen?"
"I can't keep them indoors all the time, can I? And what about when school starts? Isn't that pretty soon?"
A flicker of uncertainty passed over Kate's features.
Conway nodded. "That would pose a problem, if your legal arrangements aren't concluded by the time school resumes...and if you allow them to return to school."
"There are alternatives, Allan," Kate said.
Allan started to expostulate, halted himself.
"What near term measures do you have in mind, Kevin?"
Conway looked at Kate with an expression of abashed amusement.
"They were actually your ideas, Kate."
Allan rose and faced his wife squarely. "Well?"
She told him.
"The window of vulnerability closes," Conway said as he rose, "when the next-of-kin sign off on everything. As an attorney admitted to the New York bar, Allan makes a suitable guardian ad litem until then. The one and only thing you must not do is display any personal interest, pecuniary or otherwise, in the disposal of the Compton farm."
Allan smiled. "Easy enough. We have none."
Conway nodded. "And the boys?"
"Leave that to me."
"Then I'll have two men here in plainclothes tomorrow morning at eight." Conway grinned. "Don't expect any farm work out of them. It's not their skill set."
Allan chuckled. "Not a problem."
Conway shook hands with Kate and Allan in turn. Kate showed him out, bade him good night, and closed and locked the door behind him. As she returned to the living room, her shoulders slumped in undisguised fatigue.
Allan could see how much a successful conclusion to the affair would mean to his wife. What he struggled with was why. It seemed unreasonable that Kate should be so protective of two teenagers about whom, before that evening, she'd known little beyond their names.
She says it must be. I mustn't doubt her. She didn't doubt me when our positions were reversed.
She might be a better Christian than I am. God knows, she's a better neighbor. But how are we going to deal with two teenage boys and all the work of the farm at the same time?
He sat next to her and laid an arm around her shoulders. She leaned into his
"Your job starts tomorrow," she said.
"You have to track down the next-of-kin. At this point, we only know them by their relations to the boys. And once that part is out of the way, you have to establish a homeschooling claim with the district."
He reeled, tried not to show it. "We're going to educate them ourselves?"
"Why not? Abe Lincoln got by with less. Who's better qualified than a lawyer and a farm wife?"
"How do we do that before the rest of the arrangements are in place?"
Her eyes flashed. "You want your part to be easy? Sorry, Allan. It's going to be tough all around." She rose and faced him. "I'm going to have to deal with CWP creeps and sheriff's deputies. With mercenaries for security. Want to change places?"
"Time for bed, Allan."
The drive to Cattaraugus was arduous. Allan had little idea where he was headed, the Compton teens had been there only once before, and the roads could be considered marked only by a considerable extension of courtesy. There were several stretches of road that could hardly be distinguished from the grasslands around them. Worst of all, the truck was never meant to seat three, much less three as large as Allan and the Compton boys.
Six spine-abusing, kidney-bouncing hours later, some three hundred miles from Onteora, Allan pulled into the driveway of a clapboard bungalow whose curbside mailbox said Compton in letters he'd had to stop and squint to read. A battered Buick of ancient vintage was parked there. Fields that appeared to have been cultivated years ago, but had been allowed to lie fallow since, stretched in all directions, up to tree lines impenetrable to the eye.
As the truck came to a stop, a tall, stooped figure in overalls emerged from the little house and strode up to the driver's side. Allan rolled down the window and forced the tension out of his features. The boys remained silent.
"Who might you be?" There was little welcome in the weathered face and less warmth in the words.
"Mr. Compton," Allan said, "my name is Allan Fitzgerald. I'm a neighbor of your cousin Arthur, in Onteora. These are his sons, Nathaniel and Calvin. I'm afraid I have bad news for you."
Compton's expression softened fractionally. His eyes flicked to the teens, who held their tongues, and back to Allan.
"Best come inside, then."
He turned and strode back to his door without waiting for them to dismount.
Elias Compton bowed his head over his folded hands. Allan and the teens followed suit.
"Lord," he said, "may his soul rest forever at peace in Your arms, and may we who loved him, however imperfectly; always remember him in the fullness of his strength. In Christ Our Lord, amen." He raised his head and straightened up. "What's next?"
Allan sat forward on the battered old sofa. "Well, sir, we have a couple of matters to get squared away. The first is Art's farm. By law, since he died intestate, that would pass to the boys as his next-of-kin, but since they're underage, they could hold title only under the supervision of a guardian of legal stature. Until certain...matters in progress are resolved, I'm that guardian. But I have to tell you, the boys are in some legal danger themselves, so it might be best to arrange an immediate property transfer to your name. I've brought the necessary forms with me." He glanced at Nat and Cal. "Should you sell the farm before they come of age, it would be proper to share the proceeds with them."
"The greater problem," Allan said, "is the boys' permanent residence and guardianship until they come of age. New York law allows you to assume guardianship as their godfather and Art's nearest blood kin. They would then come to reside with you, and you would become responsible for their upbringing and education." He watched Compton's face closely, caught the microscopic flinch, and braced himself. "But it also allows you two other options."
"The first, which I don't recommend, is that you abrogate your custodianship and turn the boys over to the state's Child Welfare and Protection service. CWP would assume immediate custody, place the boys in state facilities, and begin the hunt for families to foster them. Whether their placements were immediate or delayed, quite likely they'd be separated and kept that way until Cal has turned eighteen. That's a rough row to hoe for any child, sir. For boys as well bred and behaved as these two, it would be a tragedy of the first water. The second, which I exhort you to consider strongly, is a private fostering arrangement with a family you trust to see to their well-being until they've reached their legal majorities."