Buck squinted in the blinding sunlight as he pushed aside the lightweight, white muslin curtains. He couldn’t believe that Mr. Holten had given him the guest room! The room was so nice. He even had his own bathroom. This was the first ranch he’d worked on and not had to sleep in the barn. The barn! He had chores to do and the sun already high in the sky! He spun, grabbed his boots, and bolted out into the kitchen. Mrs. Holten, wearing a light blue spring dress, stood at the stove stirring something in a pot. She looked up when he came in.
“I kept your breakfast warm.” She opened the oven and took out a plate.
“Thank you.” Buck set his boots next to the door and took the plate of scrambled eggs from her. He pulled a log chair out from the island, and sat, bowing his head to pray. When he finished praying, she slid a piece of toast onto his plate. He ate his breakfast quickly. Mr. Holten was probably already outside doing the chores. Wait a minute, today was Sunday!
“Buck, would you like to join us in church today?” Mr. Holten entered the kitchen in a pair of Sunday slacks and a button-up. He carried an expensive-looking, dark green tie and a large Bible. The boys and dogs tumbled down the stairs after him.
“Yes, sir!” Buck jumped at the chance of going to worship. He hadn’t been to even one church service in the last four months.
Buck climbed into the family’s van and sat in the bucket seat next to Bethany. She kept her head turned away from him and sat rigid as a board the entire way to the church. As soon as the van stopped, she jumped out without a backward glance. Buck watched as she hurried across the parking lot to an alarmingly large group of girls. Wow… she has a lot of friends! As he approached, he tried to skirt around them, but as he walked past, he was dismayed as they swarmed into the church around him like a hive of bees. He stood still and waited for the swarm to get by before he dared to move again. Buck looked around once he actually entered the church.
The sanctuary was simple, but quite beautiful! The pews were wood, but the seats were padded with crimson. On the platform, there was a shiny black baby grand piano on the left side. On the other side there was an oak organ. Behind the pulpit there were four long rows of choir chairs! Peace flowed through him, a quiet peace he hadn’t felt since… well, before his life had fallen apart years ago. Buck felt someone touch his shoulder and he looked up. Mr. Holten pointed him towards the 5th row back where the rest of the Holten family was already seated.
As he sat at the end of the row, next to Mr. Holten, the rest of the pews very quickly filled. Hearing hushed whispering, he turned his head to look down the row he was sitting in. Bethany and a couple of her friends were looking at him and pointing. Feeling a little uncomfortable, he pulled his attention towards the front as the associate pastor began the service with a hymn. They sang a few more hymns, and then the pastor started the service with a reference.
“Turn in your Bibles to Ephesians 6:5-9.” Buck opened his Bible and read along. ‘“Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers; but as the will of God from the heart; with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men: knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free. And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him.’ Let us pray.”
The sermon was very thought provoking. When the pastor concluded the message, Buck bowed his head, making his prayer from the heart. Lord, keep me honest and faithful to Mr. Holten. Help me to trust him and obey him as my boss and friend. I promise to work hard and earn my keep. Amen. The pastor dismissed them after a hymn and the isle filled with people. When there was a small break visible, Buck slipped out of the row and followed the flow of people out into the foyer. He shook hands with Pastor Jones. The man was in his fifties, with salt and pepper hair. His graying eyebrows were thick above wire-framed glasses.
“I don’t believe I know you, young man. What is your name?” The man smiled broadly.
“Buck Granger, sir.”
“Are you new in town?”
“Yes sir. I just arrived Thursday.”
“Do you plan on staying long?”
“Yes, I do. I have a new job with the Holtens.”
“Well, then I hope to see you here for more Sundays.”
“I hope so too.” Buck smiled and moved away. The Holten family soon joined him. Buck followed the family as they moved through the crowd, greeting people. An elderly couple soon approached them. The woman looked just like Bethany’s mother. They must be Bethany’s grandparents, he thought as the grey-haired women grabbed Mrs. Holten in a hug. He was right. The two boys, Kyle and Tommy grabbed the man’s arms.
“Grandma, Grandpa!” They shouted. “We have a man helpin’ Daddy with the horses!”
“Not so loud, boys.” Mrs. Holten gestured to Buck to step forward. “Mom, this is Buck. He’s come to help us out on the farm.”
He gently grasped the elderly woman’s thin hand and she surprised him by responding with a firm handshake.
“It’s nice to meet you, son.” Her voice was soft, kind; her eyes shining with peace and joy. She reminded him of his own grandmother who had passed away last summer.
Mrs. Holten’s father turned and stretched his hand out.
“It’s Buck Granger, right?” His handshake was firm.
“Yes sir.” Buck nodded.
“McKay. Good to meet you.” The man looked him in the eyes with confidence. Buck liked Mr. McKay instantly. Mr. Holten interrupted the conversation then, telling them that it was time to go home.
“I know that my wife has a delicious lunch waiting for us.”
Buck hung his jacket on a coat hook in the back mud room. He felt like he fit right in with this family, even though he’d only been here for two days. Kyle and Tommy had followed him around all afternoon yesterday while he mucked out stalls, watered the horses, and wiped tack. The only person that hadn’t welcomed him was Bethany. She hung aloof and refused to even look at him, let alone have a civil conversation.
As Buck walked through the kitchen, something caught his eye in the dining room. A large picture of the family hung on the wall above a beautiful black wood buffet cabinet behind the table. A tall china cupboard sat back in a corner of the room. Bethany sat at the table, her head bent over a book. Her blond hair hung down, partially covering her face as she read. Suddenly, Kyle and Tommy burst into the room, Kimo and Rex close behind. As they ran through the dining room, the dogs brushed against a chair. The wooden chair wobbled and fell into more chairs and they all fell with a deafening crash! Bethany jumped visibly. Buck, struggling to control his laughter, ambled over to pick up the chairs. As he bent to grab the first chair, he heard a rustle of skirts and Bethany swept past him, knocked him over, and flew up the stairs. His mirth vanished. What did I do to make her so upset? Puzzled, he got up from the floor as Mr. and Mrs. Holten entered the room.
“What in the world?” Mr. Holten picked up another chair and slid it in place at the table.
“It looks like Kyle, Tommy, and the dogs have been here recently.” Mrs. Holten grinned.
Buck smiled. “Yes, they have. I believe they went outside.”
“Oh? Would you call them in? It’s time for lunch.”
“Sure.” Buck placed another chair at the table, then opened the sliding glass door and called the boys. Behind him, he heard Mrs. Holten calling Bethany. He wondered if she was still mad at him.
Buck dipped his spoon into his soup and lifted it towards his mouth. Feeling eyes boring into him, he looked up to see Bethany staring. As soon as their gazes locked, her eyes hardened. She was trying to be angry with him, but he could see a glint of uncertainty in her gaze. He wondered why she disliked him so much. It couldn’t be because of her honest mistake that had caused her to tumble off her horse. Suddenly, something bumped into his arm and he dropped his spoon to the table with a loud clink! Vegetable soup splashed onto his white t-shirt. Mrs. Holten immediately jumped up and ran to the sink. Kyle, sitting next to him, had tried to sneak a piece of bread to the dogs, which were under the table, and had jostled his arm in the process.
Buck glanced back over at Bethany, but she was no longer looking at him. She was staring down at her soup and her hair had cascaded over her shoulder so he could not see her face. A cold, wet paper towel pressed into his hand, and he realized he’d been staring at the beautiful young lady across the table. He quickly blotted the spot on his shirt, thankful that he’d thought to remove his button-up before lunch.
“So Buck, what brought you here to our town?” Mr. Holten wiped his mouth with a paper napkin and laid it in his lap. Even though the man had asked the question in innocence, Buck felt a stab of pain in his chest. He had to answer him, but there was no way he was bearing his soul to everyone at the table.
“Let the man eat his soup. You’ll have enough time to question him later.” Mrs. McKay softly reprimanded Mr. Holten. Mr. McKay laid a gentle hand on his wife’s arm. She looked up at him, and then smiled apologetically at Mr. Holten. Buck could still feel the man’s gaze on him, the question hanging in the air. He chose his words carefully.
“Where I lived had absolutely no jobs available, so I traveled to different towns, trying to find somewhere to work.” He fingered his napkin in his lap. The instant shadow that crossed Bethany’s features told him she did not believe him one bit.
“I’m glad you found me, then. You now have a good job.” Mr. Holten retrieved Buck’s attention.
“Yes, I do. And I’m very thankful for it.” Buck smiled. Everyone was silent for the rest of the meal. Throughout, Buck stole glances at Bethany, but she kept her eyes on her food. As soon as the meal was over, she excused herself and dashed back upstairs. Buck guessed that she was hiding from him. The family made light conversation for a few minutes, but Mr. McKay kept an eye on his watch, it appeared to Buck. Soon, the elderly couple excused themselves, and explained that chores waited. Buck excused himself as well, once they left, and walked through the rustic living room and down the hallway to the guest room. After changing from his Sunday best to jeans and a clean t-shirt, he spread out on the bed to take a nap.
Buck woke with a start! Loud barking came from the kitchen! The dogs were carrying on about something. He sat up, slung his legs over the bed and stood. He quietly stepped over to the window and looked out. He thought about the dinner-table conversation. He felt a little dishonest about his answer to Mr. Holten’s question. What he’d said about there being no jobs at his hometown was true. He just had left out some important information that had been the real reason why he’d left. He did not want that out in the air now. He’d buried that hurt deep inside, right?
He turned from the window and realized the dogs had stopped barking. After slipping his feet into cowboy boots, he walked out into the family room. There was no one around! So, he started through the kitchen. Then he heard footsteps upstairs. The boys came thundering down the wood steps and almost ran into him.
“Whoa! Slow down, boys.” Buck placed a hand on each of the boys’ shoulders. “Where’s the rest of the family?”
“They’re all upstairs. Bethany’s changin’ and Mom and Dad are taking a nap.”
“Ok.” Buck ambled back into the kitchen and noticed that the dishes hadn’t been washed yet. The white dishwasher stood partway open, revealing empty racks. Suddenly, he felt sorry that he’d neglected the family to take a nap. Idiot! I should have stayed up long enough to help with the dishes. Well, there were dishes to do still, so he wasn’t a complete idiot. He stood in front of the sink. Switching on the warm water, he rinsed the dirty bowls and neatly arranged them in the bottom rack of the dishwasher. He then fitted the soup pot and serving bowls also in the bottom rack. The boys saw what he was doing and quickly gathered up the soiled silverware and dropped it into the dishwasher’s silverware tray. They were a big help, and soon the top rack was filled with glasses, cups, and serving utensils. Mr. and Mrs. Holten entered just as he finished wiping the last counter, the boys sweeping the small dirt pile into the trash can.
“Whoa! What a great job!” Mr. Holten smiled at Kyle and Tommy, “How nice of you to help Buck clean up!”
“Buck, you didn’t have to do all this.” Mrs. Holten gently scolded him, “But you did a wonderful job!”
Her compliment warmed him with acceptance. Not many people had complimented him on his work at the last few jobs he’d scrounged up. This new job was the best he’d had since leaving home.
Buck pushed the empty wheelbarrow back into its space in the barn and headed toward the tack room, where the sawdust was stored. Since he didn’t want to just filch off the Holtens, Buck had offered to pay for his own sawdust, but Mr. Holten had refused his money. He’d told Buck that since he was giving him free room and board, he might as well do the same for Buck’s horse. Buck felt lazy not paying for the stuff, but he assumed the feeling would probably go away soon. As he lugged a package of sawdust toward the extra stall, he heard hooves clomping on the packed dirt outside the main barn entrance. Bethany entered, leading her horse, Trigger. He stood there, watching her. Her face glowed with excitement and delight. Obviously, she just had a thrilling ride. She swung her long, blond hair over her shoulder to get it out of her way.
She looked up and met his gaze. Again, uncertainty and dislike filled her eyes. He wasn’t going to quit, though. Just because one of the family didn’t want him around didn’t mean he was going bail out. He moved to go into the stall, but didn’t see the door sticking out. He rammed it with his shoulder and the door clanged loudly. Behind him, he heard Trigger, spook. He turned around just in time to see Bethany fall to the hard barn floor! He rushed over to help her up, but she sent him a lethal glare. He backed up and let her be. He could tell when his help was not wanted or needed.
He returned to the stall and spread out a thick layer of sawdust; he also grabbed a five gallon bucket and filled it with water. When that was done, he left the barn and approached the pasture where Mr. Holten had let out his horse, Gunsmoke. After climbing through the fence, he unbuckled the halter he’d been carrying on his shoulder. All the horses scattered to the other end of the field.
Obviously, nobody wanted to be caught. But, his horse always came when he whistled. So, he whistled. And all the horses galloped to him and started sniffing and nudging him for treats. He reached into his pocket and pulled out treats for each horse, and then he quickly haltered his own and Goliath. After securing both horses in the grooming and tacking bay in the barn, Buck started on his own horse while he waited for Mr. Holten. Mr. Holten had asked him to go riding this afternoon. He supposed this was probably the interview for the job. The older gentleman had already told Buck that he had the job, but he wasn’t sure. Didn’t normal jobs require an interview? Didn’t you have to prove that you could do the job? He feared he wouldn’t measure up. Would he have to tell him everything about his life? Possibly. He would just buck up, just like his name, and face the worst. But, he still feared.
The she sound of the door opening alerted Buck, and he whipped around to come face to face with Mr. Holten.
“A bit jumpy, there, son?” The man chuckled.
“Sorry, I wasn’t paying attention.”
“That’s alright. We all do it.” Mr. Holten quickly tacked his horse.
Buck and Mr. Holten rode on in silence for a little while. Buck grew nervous the further they went on. What was he to say? What questions was the man going to ask? Mr. Holten finally broke the stillness.
“I have a couple questions for you, Son, before you begin work tomorrow.” The man gave him a level gaze. Buck attempted to swallow the extra saliva in his mouth and barely managed not to gulp. Why was he so nervous? He’d had jobs like this before, but they had all been with neighbors, friends he’d grown up with.
“I see you know how to ride, but have you ever worked with cattle before?” His tone was firm, but gentle, which put Buck at ease.
“Yes sir, I have. For about ten years.”
“Ok. Good, I won’t have to train you, I see.” Mr. Holten paused for a minute. “How well have you held jobs in the past?”
“Fairly well, sir. I have never been fired.” Buck felt like he’d just told another white lie, but then he started to relax more when Mr. Holten smiled.
“Ok. Everything seems great. But, I have one more question.”
“I need to know a little about your past. Who am I housing under my roof for who knows how long?”
Buck suddenly felt like someone was opening him up, and it hurt. Mr. Holten would know that he’d just told two lies in one afternoon. He could clam up, and not say a word. But, what would that do for his future employment? He should trust his fellow brother in Christ, shouldn’t he? He hesitated, and then opened his mouth.
Bethany watched from her bedroom window as Buck and her father rode out into the hay field. As she stood there, thoughts arose in her heart. She didn’t want it to go well. What would it be like for her to have that man around the house 24/7? He strongly resembled someone else, which hurt. No, she shouldn’t think this way. He’s probably not at all like him! She pushed down the feelings and forced herself to walk away from the window.
She found her mother in the kitchen, sitting at the table with a cup of tea. Bethany made herself a mug as well, and eased down into a chair at the foot of the table, cattycorner from her mother.
“I’m quite nervous about this guy that Dad’s hiring.” Bethany voiced her fears, fearing that her voice showed her butterflies. “Like, what if he’s not at all what he says he is?”
“I think there is nothing to fear, dear.” Mrs. Holten soothed. “He seems to be quite an honest, caring, and humble gentleman.”
Bethany opened her mouth to protest, but what was the point. She closed it before her mother noticed her mouth hanging open and let the subject drop. There was silence for a little while. Bethany gently sipped her peppermint tea. It calmed her nerves and she relaxed. There really was nothing to worry about. Or was there? A stranger appearing out of nowhere, it seemed. Then Dad went ahead and hired him, well sort of. She still hoped, deep in her heart, that Buck would not getpermanently hired.
Bethany rose from the table and took her now empty mug to the sink. She began unloading the dishwasher like a robot as the thoughts rose inside. What would she do now? Wasn’t she good enough to help with the cows? She knew Mom couldn’t help. Mom was busy with the garden, goats, chickens, and egg selling business. Besides all that, Mom also did all of Dad’s accounting work on the computer. She could barely keep up. Bethany was taking over the goats, but she was also going to be working at the vet’s office every day, so she couldn’t do anything with the cattle either. There were just too many cattle for one person to handle. So, Dad must hire someone. That is why Buck was here at the ranch at this very moment.
“So, we must think about Memorial Day soon. What are we going to make?” Her mother’s words pulled Bethany from her thoughts.
“I’m not sure. What are we doing?”
“Well, the church is holding a picnic at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.” She paused, “I think there will be about a hundred people there.”
Bethany thought for a moment. What could we make that would not be too expensive, and would feed that many people? Hm….
“How about fruit salad? And small ham sandwiches?”
“Wow, that’s a great idea! Let’s plan on that.”
“I’ll make a list for the grocery store. We’ll have to figure out what fruits to get and what kind of bread to get.” Bethany grabbed a sheet of list paper from the fridge and a pen from the holder on the counter. She sat next to her mother and started listing off fruits, and then paused.
“What kind of ham should we get? Lunchmeat ham or bake our own for fresh ham sandwiches?”
“Oh. We can get a picnic ham! You can just cook and slice those.” Her mother was a genius. Bethany finished off her list, and posted it on the fridge. That was easy. The door slammed and the boys and dogs tumbled into the kitchen. Her mother immediately rose and addressed them.
“It’s time for you guys to get ready for bed and get your snack. It’s 9:00 already.” The boys let out groans, but immediately obeyed. Bethany glanced out the window. The sun had sunk below the horizon. Scarlet, magenta, and burnt orange fanned out across the expansive sky. She worried. Dad and Buck needed to return soon, as it would soon be dark.
Just as those thoughts left her head, she saw her dad headed towards the house. Where was Buck? She wondered if he had left, but then she saw his silhouette against the darkening sky. His broad shoulders and lanky stride did things to her insides. She pushed it away. It was all because he strongly resembled someone else she had known back at school. I hope he didn’t get the job. No, she shouldn’t be thinking like that. What made that thought surface anyway? She wasn’t normally vindictive. What was wrong with her?