Chapter 2: Mayfield
Ed stepped out of the lawyer’s office with his arms loaded with paperwork. He raised his face to the sun and took a deep breath of the clean fresh air. A bird chirped in a nearby tree, and its cheerful call reflected his mood. He looked around the town square for Joe. The old-time styling of the well-maintained shops and the aged brick-paved streets were appealing, and it appeared that the buildings were all occupied. Mayfield looked to be a nice little town. It was easy to picture he and Joe being happy here.
He placed the load of papers on the seat of Joe’s pickup and walked up the street to look around. He wandered past the hardware store and the pharmacy toward the grocery store since he didn’t know what food there’d be at the farm for their lunch. He found Joe checking out the prepackaged deli meat options and crept up behind him.
“Great minds think alike,” he whispered in Joe’s ear.
Joe started at the sound of his voice and dropped a package of ham. “Jesus, Ed. I wasn’t expecting you yet.” He glanced at his watch. “Well, I guess it has been an hour and a half.”
Ed picked up the ham. “Yeah, plenty long enough for me. What else do we need? Bread, mustard, chips?”
“Yeah, and maybe some Gatorade since we’ll be out wandering the property.”
They found what they needed and brought it to the checkout counter.
“Good morning.” The middle-aged woman at the register eyed them curiously. “Find everything you were lookin’ for?” As strangers in a small town, he expected they’d be scrutinized. She paid particular attention to him, though, and kept peeking at his face with captivated interest.
“Yes, ma’am.” Ed shuffled his feet a bit but resisted the urge to grimace. He might as well just get it over with. He took a deep breath and gave her his best friendly-guy smile. “I’m Ed Jamison, and this here is Joe Durham. We’re possibly settling here in Mayfield.”
Her eyes crinkled as she smiled in return. “I’m Ruby Owens. I’m not surprised to hear your name is Jamison. Figured you was kin. You look a lot like a younger version of Fred Jamison. Terrible tragedy, that. Dying so young. You settling out on his farm, then?”
“Yes, ma’am. I inherited the place.”
“How’re you related, if you don’t mind my askin’?”
“He was my father.”
Her eyes registered genuine shock. “We all knew he was married for a short time, over in Omaha, but I don’t think anyone knew he had a son.” She shook her head. “Secrets like that are hard to keep in a small town like this.”
Ed nodded. That was no lie. She’d likely be the star of the town gossip grapevine this afternoon.
“How is it that you never visited while he was alive?”
Joe’s eyes widened, but Ed knew he understood the small-town score, too. Better to give the straight facts rather than let the gossip mill fabricate its own. Ed took a calming breath and pressed on. “My mother told me he’d died before I was born. I never had any reason to disbelieve her. I don’t know why she did that, and since she died eight years ago, I can’t ask her. I’d rather like to know why he never contacted me.”
“Huh. So you’ve learned that your father was alive only recently?”
“Yes, ma’am. Lawyer had papers delivered to me yesterday. That’s the first I knew of it. I guess he never remarried, then, since I’m the sole beneficiary?”
She seemed somewhat amused by the question, her brows rising slightly and her mouth quirking at the corners. “No, he never remarried.” She squinted at him, flashed a peek at Joe, then back to him. “How about you? You married?”
Ed’s shoulder’s tensed, and he cast an uneasy glance at Joe. They didn’t want to live in a closet, but how much should they give the townspeople up front? He’d hoped to be friendly and get folks to like them a bit as people before letting that particular cat out of the bag. “No, ma’am.”
“So, have you done much farming, Ed?”
He drew and expelled another breath, relieved she’d let the subject drop. “Uh, no ma’am. I’m an auto mechanic, but Joe was raised on a farm and has been doing seasonal farm work. He’ll be in charge of running things while I learn the ropes.”
“Ah, I see.” She smiled at Joe. “Well, Fred ran the farm well. It’s in good shape, although I hear the second hay cutting is overdue now.”
Joe replied. “Thank you for the heads-up, ma’am. We’re heading out there now to assess the situation.”
Ed paid up, and Ruby handed him the bag with a smile. “It was very nice to meet you boys. Welcome to Mayfield.”
“Thank you, ma’am. Nice to meet you, too.” They both smiled and bobbed their heads politely before making their exit.
Ed carried the bag as they walked to Joe’s pickup. “I figured I must look a little like him, the way she kept staring at me. Maybe there’ll be pictures at the farm. I’d love to see a photo of him.”
A man and woman executed a double-take as they strolled past on the sidewalk, then had their heads together whispering before turning a corner.
Joe looked back. “Yeah. I imagine there’ll be some.”
Ed tossed the bag of groceries on top of the paperwork in the middle of the bench seat.
Joe nodded toward the papers. “How’d it all go at the lawyers?”
“Fine. Lots of stuff to sign. Oh, we need to stop by the bank to complete the account transfer. We need to add your name to that account, too. You’ll need access to it for running things.”
Lines formed between Joe’s eyes as he opened then closed his mouth. He took a moment before replying. “Well, I guess that’s true. I hadn’t thought about that stuff. I feel a little weird having my name added to your account, though.”
Ed’s stomach clenched. Had he read too much into Joe’s willingness to move here with him? Was he not interested in some kind of partnership? “Well, I don’t know how else to handle it.”
“No, I guess you’re right. I just hadn’t thought about it.”
What should he say? After signing dozens of papers, he’d asked the lawyer to work up whatever was needed to add Joe’s name to the property. It wasn’t a done deal yet, of course. The paperwork had to be generated, then they’d both have to sign it. His instructions to the lawyer wouldn’t mean anything if they decided against going forward with their plan, or even if Ed decided he’d jumped the gun and misjudged the strength of their relationship.
He hadn’t done anything to earn all this himself; it had fallen into his lap. Going forward, they would be working equally hard running the farm, so it seemed only fair that Joe should be a full, equal partner.
But if Joe was troubled at the idea of having his name added to the bank account, then how would he react to all that?
“I figure we’ll both be giving up our paying jobs to run the place, so besides needing access to the account for farm expenses, it’s only fair we share the profits for personal spending. It made more sense to me than treating you like some kind of employee with a set wage.”
Joe’s nose wrinkled, as it often did when he reflected on something. He paused, then gazed carefully into Ed’s eyes. “Thanks. I do appreciate that. I just hadn’t thought about the finances. Now that I am thinking about it, I guess I see your point.”
Ed swallowed hard, feeling like he was going out on a limb. He had to know, though. They couldn’t go forward with this move if Joe didn’t feel some level of commitment toward him. “We’re partners, right?”
Joe’s expression became inscrutable. It took him a moment, but then his easy, warm smile put Ed at ease. “Yeah, I guess we are.” He put the truck in gear and drove around the square to the bank.
Joe’s smile widened as they walked toward the farmhouse. Partners. Ed had called them “partners.” He glanced at Ed and caught him staring with a cheesy grin on his face. “What? You look like the cat that got the cream over there.”
Ed laughed. “I was just thinking the same thing. You look so incredibly happy right now.”
Happy? Hell, he was floating on cloud nine. More so over the “partners” comment than anything else, but everything in his life was coming together perfectly. “This is great. It really is. It’s been very well run. It’ll be so easy to step in and take over.”
“Yeah.” Ed surveyed the land. “I’ve got a really good feeling about this place.” He looked into Joe’s eyes. “Shall we consider the final decision made? We’ll do this?”
“God, yes. There isn’t a thing anybody could say that would make me happier than those words.” He laughed. “It’s funny, I was perfectly happy with my life yesterday, but the thought of going back to it now is almost depressing.”
Living on a farm, though, with Ed—life couldn’t get much better than that. Ed looked happy to be there, too. Hopefully it would last. Joe had grown up on a farm, but did Ed know what he was getting into? Their lives would be completely different in Mayfield from how it’d been in Omaha. Hell, they were at least fifty miles from the nearest movie theater.
Ed laughed again. “I guess I’m a farmer now. Do I need to buy some overalls?”
Joe grinned. “Hell, no. You didn’t see me leaving in overalls every morning, did you? Overalls are for old farmers. Jeans will be the perfect uniform for us. Sleeveless shirts in the summer.” He winked and effected a cocky double eyebrow flash. “Sexy thermal plaid flannel in the winter.”
Ed snorted. “Whatever. That beats a starched shirt with a tie any day.”
“There are definitely some things to catch up on, like that second hay cutting, but it looks like your dad got the soybeans and field corn fertilized before the accident. We’ll be able to move on to cultivating the soybeans after the haying is caught up.”
As they got close to the house, Ed spoke again. “I’d like to take a better look at that vegetable garden and those fruit trees after lunch. What else do we need to accomplish today before heading back?”
Some of Joe’s concerns melted away. Ed’s intuition was spot on. He knew without being told what things—like that large garden—would be priority. He just needed to learn the details of how to do things right. Yeah, Ed was smart and levelheaded. He knew what they were getting into. “We’ll want to make sure the dogs and those barn cats have some food in their dishes, and we’ll add more fresh water to the cattle’s trough and haul out some corn and put it in the feeder. We’ll put the horses back in their stalls and make sure they’re taken care of, too.”
Joe pressed his lips together and stared blankly at the barn. He hated to broach this next subject, but he didn’t really see many options. “You know, I’m going to need to be here every day now to take over the daily care of the animals. Well, one of us needs to, anyway, and it does kinda make more sense at this point that it be me.”
Ed sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “I know.”
They hadn’t spent a night apart in years. Joe’s chest tightened at the thought of not seeing Ed for days on end. He continued reluctantly. “And, of course, one of us needs to take care of canceling our lease and packing up our stuff to get us moved out here.”
Ed’s grin turned upside down. “I know. I’ll take care of it.” His mouth quirked into a wry smile. “It’ll be the fastest move on record.”
Joe grinned, warmed by the knowledge that Ed dreaded their separation, too. “Good. I’ll pack the clothes and other shit I’ll need for the near future and head back here early tomorrow morning.”
They stepped onto the wide front porch and into the house. The large shade trees around the abode kept it fairly cool inside. Cooler than out in the sun, anyway. They washed up and made quick work of several sandwiches and bottles of Gatorade.
The house was uncomplicated, functional, and humble. The furnishings were simple. Some were timeworn. All were sturdy. The door opened into an airy sitting room. The large eat-in kitchen was at the back of the house, and a hallway to the left led to a spacious bathroom and the master bedroom. Four additional bedrooms occupied the four corners upstairs.
Touring the house, they decided which furnishings and appliances should be kept and which should be replaced with their own possessions. There was no sense in hauling stuff out here to replace perfectly good furniture.
“Hey,” Joe said. “Let’s see if we can get your dad’s truck started before we leave today. If it’s running good, I could use that for any hauling that needs to be done around here. That way, I could return in your car and leave you with my truck for the move. We could tow one of those trailers in the machine shed back with us. You should be able to get everything we’re moving loaded up on that and the truck bed.”
“Good idea. I’ll check it out. The battery might need charging.”
Ed went to tinker with the truck in the garage while Joe walked toward the barn. As he approached, a blue Silverado pulled up beside it. A man stepped out, but stopped short when he noticed Joe.
“Hello there,” Joe called and waved. This had to be the friend of Ed’s father who’d been taking care of the animals, but if his stony face was a clue, he didn’t seem particularly happy to see Joe coming toward him.
“You gonna be taking care of the animals from here on out?” the man hollered.
“Yes, sir. I’ve got it covered now.” Joe smiled as he approached. “Thank you so much for taking care of them. I really appreciate it.”
The man’s frown deepened. He gave Joe a once-over before spitting out his reply. “Didn’t do it for you.” He slid back behind the wheel and shut the door. In an instant, he had the truck turned around, kicking up gravel as he barreled down the drive.
A knot twisted in the pit of Joe’s gut, watching the truck as it turned onto the road and drove out of sight. Why would Fred’s friend hate them before ever meeting them? Was it tied to the reason Fred had never contacted Ed?
He jumped at the unexpected voice and turned to see Ed come around the side of the house.
“The truck started just fine. I backed it out of the garage. I want to let it run for a few minutes.”
Joe shook his head to clear his mind. “Oh, good. That’s great news.”
Ed tilted his head and raised a brow. “What were you looking at?”
He ran fingers through his sweat-dampened hair and exhaled. He hated to say what had happened since Ed had pinned his hopes on the man being a source of information about his father, but there was no point in hiding it. “Well, ah, the guy who’s been taking care of the animals was just here.”
“Shit, I wanted to talk to him.”
“I know. But it was weird. He was almost hostile. I greeted him and thanked him, but he made sure I would be taking care of the animals, then took off.”
“You’re kidding. That doesn’t make any sense.”
“And you know, it wasn’t just ‘almost’ hostile, he was hostile. The man—I didn’t even get his name—actually rebuffed my thank-you and literally kicked up gravel peeling out.”
They stared at each other a few moments. Joe swallowed and pasted a smile on his face while hoping local behavior toward them would tend to be more like grocery-store Ruby, rather than this man. Small-town “values” might make their reception rockier than it’d been in Omaha. He hitched his head toward the machine shed. “Come on. It’s time for your first farming lesson.”
Ed blinked, then smiled back. “Sweet.”
2017 Addison Albright