Chris sheepishly climbed the steps of the bus. Immediately upon reaching the top stair, his eyes met a beautiful pair of blue eyes which were framed by black rimmed glasses and several tendrils of blond hair which were escaping from under a dark blue stocking cap. She was seated by herself in the first seat on the right; just behind the driver. Something about the moment their eyes met made time stop for Chris, and his feet stopped moving as well.
“Ok, Mr. Dresden, either sit or walk!” The bus driver broke the spell and the girl blushed while quickly averting her eyes.
“Hey Dresden!” came a shout from the back of the bus. “Back here!”
It was Cordell Autry, a junior who was on the basketball team with Chris. Chris began a slow walk to the back of the bus, but stumbled midway when the driver brusquely accelerated, after shaking her head with impatience and disgust. Regaining his balance, Chris shrugged off his backpack and slouched down in the seat next to Cordell.
“What’s up, Dres? This is the first time you been on the bus since… forever!”
“Yeah… Who is that girl up front?” Chris asked, evading the question and comment.
“Dude! That’s Mia Christianson. C’mon Dres, you KNOW her. She’s your neighbor, Dude!” Cordell responded with wide eyes and an astonished smile.
“What? Little Mia Christianson?” Chris asked. “Daaaaaannng… She’s grown UP!”
“Yup. She’s a sophomore this year and a JV cheerleader. But YOU wouldn’t know that, ‘cuz you a SEEENYUH!” Cordell teased, laughing.
“Sheeeut… I shoulda been ridin’ the bus all along!” Chris said, smiling, his eyes trained on the back of Mia’s head.
“She’s a friend ‘a mine if ya want a brothuh ta hook yuh up!” Cordell offered.
“Really? If you would, I’d let you bead me in line drills at practice later!” Chris said with a straight face.
“LET me! Dres’, you KNOW I beat all you seniors every day! How many extra line drills have you guys had ta run cuz a me!” he bragged, good-naturedly.
The basketball coach always made both junior varsity and varsity players run conditioning drills together at the end of practice, and every time an underclassman finished a drill in front of a senior, all the seniors had to run an extra drill. Cordell was fast, and all the seniors both admired and cursed him at the same time.
Cordell’s family was one of two African American families in the county and both families were related. Cordell’s grandfather moved to the community when he was 50 from Mississippi during the depression of the 1930’s. While the community was at first distrusting, Pops’ work ethic won them over. Pops had just enough money to buy a small spread outside of town a few miles, and he hired himself out to one of the larger dairy farms in the county. Pops asked his employer to pay him partially in cash, but also with dairy cattle. By so doing, he slowly built his own herd until he was self sufficient. Pops had two sons, who eventually took over the farm when he retired at 75. Cordell’s dad was one of those sons, and his uncle’s family was the other African-American family in the county.
Cordell was raised on hard work and faith in God. His family attended the small community church, where the difference of race wasn’t as important as their devotion to God and the community. Cordell’s family had no illusions about the power of racism, however. There were other people in the county who envied the relative success of Autry Farms, and occasionally somebody turned this jealousy into covert action against the family. Cordell was awakened more than once in the middle of the night to help herd the cattle back into the corral after a gate was opened or the fence had been cut. Once, several cows had even been shot. With each cowardly act, the Autry’s countered by upgrading their operation by installing a metal fence and adding motion sensitive lights to deter similar future action. With each positive response, the community reacted with either respect and support, or with anger and increased viciousness. Through it all, Cordell learned to be optimistic about the possibilities in life and courageously stubborn in response to opposition and adversity.
Chris’ family attended church with the Autrys. Hank and Molly grew up with Cordell’s uncle, so the families were close in a small town sort of way. Proximity and a lifetime of shared experiences made them more than mere acquaintances, yet less than relatives. Chris historically got along well with Cordell, but recently their friendship had cooled, due mainly to Chris’ hatred of life on the farm and in a small town. Chris wanted more out of life. He wanted the adventure of a large city. Cordell, on the other hand, loved his life and wanted nothing else than to take over Autry Farms when life gave him his turn.
It had been a long time since Chris had ridden the bus. At least two years, if he remembered correctly. Mia was in 8th grade then. She was in another social solar system than he back then. Chris remembered her as skinny and really quiet. The only reason he knew her then, was because her family lived a couple miles from his family, which was close for rural standards. Plus, they attended church together.
Chris shook his head when he thought of Mia’s eyes… Big, beautiful… and blue. Yes, he would take up Cordell on his offer to introduce them. And Cordell did.
“Dad, I’m quitting school!” Chris said calmly. “I’ve been offered a job in a marketing firm in New York City. I found out about it from a friend, whose dad owns the company. His name is Mercer Phillips, and he believes I’m a natural at marketing. It won’t pay a lot in the beginning, but Mercer says he knows I will move up quickly.”
Chris and Hank were sitting at the kitchen table. Dinner was over and Molly was clearing the table while the two guys drank a cup of coffee.
“So you’re not finishing your degree?” Hank asked.
“Maybe someday,” Chris replied quickly. “But this is just too great of a deal. Mercer said I could double my money within 5 years…”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa…” Hank interrupted. “Double WHAT money?”
Chris hesitated for a moment. “My share of the farm… I wanted to call you last weekend, but I figured it was best to talk to you in person, so I waited until Thanksgiving break.”
“Ok, how much do you want to borrow?” Hank asked.
“Actually, I don’t want to borrow it, Dad. I want my share of the farm. You always said it belonged to us. Frank is in a good spot here. He has a great job with the bank; the two of you will be able to figure out how much my share is. I figured it at about, Oh… two hundred thousand.” Chris began speaking more quickly, “Let’s face it, Dad, you and Frank like it here. I never have. I always knew that once I left for college, I’d never really come back. I want to work to live, not live to work! Besides, I can take this two hundred thousand, double it, and then reinvest it in the farm, if you guys want. It’s gonna be good, Dad. REAL good! And I want to start early, so I can give my kid the best…”
“Kid?” Hank fairly shouted, his eyes wide open, shoulders straightened, and head erect.
“Um, yeah… that’s the other thing I wanted to tell you… Mia is pregnant and we are going to get married at Christmas. She is telling her parents tonight.”
Molly had been listening as she cleared the table and loaded the dishwasher. At Chris’ last bombshell announcement, she walked over to Hank, and put her hands on his shoulders. Filling the silence, Molly said quietly, in a melancholy voice, “A Christmas wedding…” Her voice then rose when she asked, “When is the baby due?”
“Early July…” Chris quietly answered.
“When are you leaving?” Molly countered.
Hank jumped in, “About early July…”, he said with just a touch of sarcasm in his voice.
“We are leaving at the end of this year. We want to celebrate the New Year in New York City.” Chris stated boldly.
The room was silent, the only sound was the chime from the mantel clock, resting on the fireplace in the living room. As Hank listened to each chime, he was struck by the irony of the sound.
An old hour dies, as a new hour is born.
Hank looked Chris squarely in the eye and said, “I need to think about this, Chris.”
Chris met his gaze and responded, “There is nothing to think about, Dad. I want my share of the farm.”