The sound of the screen door slamming shut echoed through the strangely quiet house. Joe knew Ed was home; his car was in the drive, but where was the usual classic rock spilling from the open door?
"Ed?" Joe walked back toward the kitchen. Ed looked up, a blank look on his face, when Joe entered the room. Papers were strewn across the old Formica topped table where Ed sat. He still wore his mechanic's coveralls and hadn't showered yet. Another bad sign.
Joe put the bag of groceries on the counter and sat down. "What's wrong, Ed?"
Ed took a deep breath and looked into Joe's eyes. "My father's dead."
Joe cocked his head. "Yeah, I know. He died twenty-five years ago." He looked pointedly at the papers strewn about the table. "What's this all about?"
"No, you don't know. I didn't know. According to this, he just died, as in less than two weeks ago."
"No way. I thought he died before you were born."
"So did I. That's what my mother said anyway." There were so many questions in Ed's eyes.
Joe swallowed. What could he say? "Jesus." Not very helpful, but shit, Ed had no living relatives to ask about any of this.
"Yeah." Ed waved a hand over the scattered paperwork. "Some lawyer from Mayfield, Nebraska, had this stuff delivered this afternoon. Apparently my father was alive and well until a motorcycle accident killed him instantly back on the third." Ed looked up again. "He left everything he had to me."
"Why didn't he contact me? I mean--ever. Not when I was a kid, not even when Mom died. Shit, I was only seventeen. I could have used a little help. And if Mom was keeping him from me, then why not in the eight years since she died?"
None of it made any sense. "And why weren't you notified sooner? If you're next of kin, wouldn't you have to handle the--well--the funeral arrangements and such?"
Ed shrugged. "Maybe he didn't go around telling people he had a son out there somewhere. Maybe he left some kind of instructions of his own for that stuff."
"Maybe. Would have been nice if you'd had the chance to at least attend his funeral." Joe sighed and nodded to the piles on the table. "So, why the need to contact you at this late date? What's all this paperwork about?"
Ed looked steadily into Joe's eyes before continuing. "He left me a farm outside of Mayfield. A section, six hundred forty acres. Apparently the inheritance includes a bank account, a farmhouse, and everything in it. Outbuildings, equipment, livestock. He even had a little life insurance policy listing me as the beneficiary so taxes and running capital shouldn't be a problem."
Joe's jaw dropped. A farm? And Ed was considering keeping it? What about the life they'd built here together? "So what does that mean, Ed?"
Ed looked pointedly at him. "You know I don't know anything about farming."
Joe held his breath. That was true. Ed was an auto mechanic, not a farmer. He'd certainly need help--at least at first. "But I do. You would know all about how to keep the equipment running, and you have a good head for business." Joe affected a grin and resorted to humor. "And you're strong and take direction very well."
Ed laughed. "In your dreams, bottom-boy."
Joe was relieved to see a little of the distress drain from Ed's face, but still, what the hell did that mean?
Ed's smile faded again. "It is your dream, though, isn't it?"
Hell yes, but the dream had evolved to include Ed. He'd much rather continue as a farmhand for hire, coming home to Ed each night, than face life under any circumstances without Ed. "I gave up on that dream long ago."
"I wouldn't mind being my own boss. And giving up hope of it happening doesn't keep you from wanting it. It's still your dream."
Joe took a deep breath. "You always wanted to go to college. You're so smart, Ed. With this, we could afford for you to quit work and go to college full-time."
"But my goals for that college degree have changed. I don't think I would like that anymore. Work in an office, wear a suit, schmooze with other suits. I've been an auto mechanic for six years, and you know what? I kinda like working with my hands."
"Ed, you need to think long and hard about this. If this isn't something you can see yourself doing, then sell the place. I don't want you to do this only for me." There was nothing like laying it all on the line, but he needed to know what Ed was thinking.
A little of the tension eased from Ed's shoulders, and with his steel blue eyes, he looked directly into Joe's soul as he spoke. "I've been thinking about it for the past couple hours. Like you said, I have a good head for business and can learn the business side of running a farm. I can also be in charge of keeping the equipment in good running order." He paused and grinned. "And yes, I know those things won't take up that much time, so I would be your very willing apprentice. I would actually like doing this, Joe."
The breath Joe hadn't realized he was holding expelled sharply. "You would?"
"Yes. We'd be our own bosses, make our own decisions. You were raised on a farm, so you'd have to be the one in charge of the day-to-day operations. I don't know anything about that yet."
"I do." Joe's grin split his face. "Let's do it, Ed. Let's look at it anyway. See what kind of shape it's in."
Ed's smile echoed the relief in his eyes. "Yeah. Let's do it." Ed paused a moment before sobering. "We're solid, right? I mean--shit--we don't talk about this stuff, but ... well ... you know ... This isn't something I can commit to without knowing you're with me for the long haul, or at least that you intend to be."
Jesus. Hell, he loved Ed. His thoughts spun at the realization, but the enormous relief washing over him as it became apparent that Ed definitely wanted him to move to Mayfield too attested to it. "Yeah, Ed, we're solid."
Ed cleared his throat and relaxed. "Okay, then."
"Oh shit." Joe sat up in his chair. "You say it's been almost two weeks? Is the place abandoned right now? Surely they've got someone taking care of the livestock?"
Ed nodded. "There is. According to this, a friend of my dad's is going over every day to take care of the animals, but I need to make permanent arrangements ASAP."
"Yeah? Maybe he'll have some answers for you about why your dad never contacted you."
"Maybe. I'd like to learn a little about him. I don't understand why he'd so completely abandon me, but then turn around and leave me everything he owned. It doesn't make sense."
No, it didn't, and Joe didn't want to speculate. He stood up. "I'm going to put these groceries away and hop in the shower"
"'Kay. I'm gonna call this lawyer and make arrangements to go check the place out tomorrow. We need to make some quick decisions. I don't know much, but I know we can't just let a farm sit like that."
"Do you want me to come with you to check it out?"
"God, yes. Between the two of us, you're the only one who'll be able to tell if it's viable or not."
Joe smiled. Why did it make him feel so good to know that Ed needed him? "I'm scheduled to join Roger Matthews's team baling tomorrow over in Hillsboro. I'll give him a call to let him know I won't be making it."
Ed nodded. "Thank you." He gathered up the papers, pulled his cell phone out of his pocket, and dialed.