By Ellie LaCosse
It had been a bumpy ride across the rocky Texas outback. Emma didn’t remember so many potholes in the road. She wanted to re-braid her thick, dark hair, loosened from the jouncing ride, but there wasn’t time, so she tugged it free.
“It’s been awful dry,” her great aunt told her once they reached the old farmhouse out in the middle of nowhere. Then Aunt B took off. She had to get back to town to watch her stories on the TV.
Emma and Eric watched the dust plume and dwindle. Then nothing but stray grass and mesquite as far as the eye could see.
Emma kept grinning. She didn’t know what else to do. Seriously, Emma didn’t know what to think. She hadn’t been this far out in central Texas since she was eight. Things were different then. Her grandfather was a beekeeper. Mesquite honey had been one of his favorite. Hers too. She hadn’t had it in ages.
Once there was a little one gas station town not so far from his farm. It was gone now. So was the post office. Somehow her aunt managed. Emma sank into sad feelings about moving here. Eric was all smiles.
“Its gonna be great!” He’d been all adventurous on the way. They’d looked at ruins of old houses from lord knows when. Eric always got lost on a drive. He collected the names of mountains they’d seen on the way, like Baby Head Mountain. He loved renegade stories. But as he looked around the old place, she could see he thought nothing ever happened here. And what did happen dried up and blew away.
Of course, he’d said that about adventure before he reached the bumpy roads in their little red Honda Fit. She could see the look on his fresh face. He knew his car couldn’t take this everyday. As she gazed at his lanky body—he still seemed more of a teenager than a man, even if he was in his mid-twenties—she began to wonder just how long they could stay their youthful selves. Farming could take a toll on one. And Eric had never plowed in his life.
He was a city boy who wanted a good banking job, but that hadn’t panned out. What was she thinking to bring him out here? Being a journalism major, herself, meant she could have been a TA if she worked hard enough for the professors.
“Well.” They’d thought about it for weeks now. She’d watched him shrug about the possibilities. He was sick of working at a sandwich shop and living in their college housing. There number was up. They’d graduated. He was nowhere near finding a real job. Things were too slow. They were barely getting by. “We could see how the summer goes.”
“But we’ll be so far from everything.” She hated to be pessimistic about it. But it was true. And she knew it the moment she saw the old homestead.
Eric winced. Wind swept his of dark blond hair across his forehead. His sky blue eyes took in the surroundings.
“I thought we were staying with your aunt?”
“Oh, she likes that we’re here, but she likes living alone. She’s in bed by eight, you know.” Emma grimaced, remembering her aunt’s chicken fried steak and greasy hash browns for breakfast.
Eric pressed his lips tight, pondering. They took a walk around back. Yes, there was a life here once. A dried up garden spot. A root cellar. They hadn’t walked into the house yet. Emma sort of dreaded it. Eric was investigating the tin sheet door of the cellar. He pulled it open tentatively, as if something might be hiding.
There was. The singing buzz echoed up from the darkness.
“What’s that?” Eric tensed, looking at Emma, who took a step back. So did he, letting the door flop down, bang.
“Rattlesnakes.” Why was she wearing flip-flops and a sun dress? She knew out here one needed jeans and boots.
Eric scowled. “Rattlesnakes?”
A quick dash and they were standing in the middle of the dining room. The ancient fridge kick on, and Eric jumped back. At least the power was on.
Eric was hugging himself. “What are we suppose to do?” Emma knew what he was thinking: they needed to get back to the city and wait it out for better jobs. But things cost there. They wouldn’t have to pay rent here. The old house was a hunter’s cabin, simple and plain for weekend camping. It had the essentials, even if the stove was old and the bed lumpy and regular sized. Neither of their cell phones picked up a signal.
“I dunno.” Emma took his hand in hers. Yes, it was a risk. They were probably fools. But she did know her aunt needed someone around. She grinned. “We just got here. I thought you wanted an adventure?”
He nodded. “Until I heard rattlesnakes. I wonder how many are down there?”
“We’ll call someone.”
“But our phones don’t work.”
“I’ll use Aunt B’s phone.” It wasn’t like they could hightail it out of here, leaving a trail of dust. Her folks raised her better than that. Besides, her mother promised to send them a little money each month for groceries and gas until something worked out.
Eric inspected the locks on the door. The hinges hung loose. He looked back at her.
“You can fix that,” Emma said encouragingly. “And there are the bees.”
“Yeah, the bees.” Eric winced.
“Aunt B thinks you’d be perfect to learn the bee business, remember?”
“I guess.” Eric sighed.
“Sweetie, you were so excited.” Emma reached for him and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
“I know what I said.” He looked as if he weren’t up to it. Emma tightened the hug.
Out on the porch was a white dog with a black spot surrounding his right eye. Emma grinned. It looked just like the border collie her grandfather used to have. It couldn’t be Jack. Old age would have taken Jack by now.
She opened the screen door and the friendly dog trotted right in.
“What are you doing?” Eric backed away from the dog, as if it might have rabies, but Emma stooped down and rubbed the dog’s head. There were the markings: blue eye where the black spot was, the other brown.
Emma thought of happy times when she was with Jack, an outside dog, a sheep dog, always friendly dog, always ready to walk anywhere with her. She sighed.
“It’s a sign, Eric.”
“A sign?” There he went, all Mr. Pessimistic.
“I know he’s not Jack.” This dog was quite young, a grown pup. “He’s got to be Jack’s, though. Has to be.” There were burrs in the collie’s coat. What he needed was a good brushing, maybe even a bath.
“What are you getting at?” Eric squatted down and gave the dog a rub between the ears. It was instant gratification. “You want to keep him?”
Emma shrugged. “He doesn’t have a collar.”
“But he’s so friendly. He’s gotta have an owner,” Eric told her.
“Well, he can stay as long as he wants.” Emma settled it as she watched the collie.
“I dunno. Can’t he sleep inside?” They were not alone. She told Eric he’d bark if anything was out there.
Eric shrugged. “I dunno. He might like living on the outside.”
Emma didn’t waste time. She went to the bedroom closet to look for a blanket. She found one and made a bed on the porch.
Eric watched. “You gotta be kidding me. You probably named him, already? Didn’t you?”
“I always wanted a Bo.”
“Oh, really?” Eric smirked as if she’d found a new boyfriend.
The dog followed her into the kitchen. She ran the tap and filled a bowl with water.
Anything was possible now. Even beekeeping for Eric.
“There’s no need to be jealous of the dog.” She went back to the living room. He’d turned on the TV. Snowy gray filled the screen.
“I’m not.” It sounded like a promise. “We’ve got a lot to do.”
“Well, you better get busy,” Emma said. “Daylight’s burning.”
Eric tilted his head, giving her a look that said he couldn’t do this alone. She rolled her eyes. She’d have to go to the barn with him to look at the equipment. Somewhere in their stuff was Bee Keeping for Dummies.
“You know,” Emma said as they walked up the path by the grove of oak trees. The collie wasn’t far behind. “I’m thinking we should grow lavender. I hear there’s a market for it.” She looked out at the field near the barn. There was an old chicken coop near the house. “And chickens. Fresh eggs, you know.”
“Maybe.” Eric shrugged. He smiled at her and took her hand.