Today would be even worse thanks to Mark and Jett and the bottle of bourbon they filched from their dad's cabinet. Tom's friend Mark was the ring leader of their little crew, and more often than not the one to slip away from trouble when he saw it coming. That didn't stop Mark from pulling Tom and Jett into all sorts of misadventures that usually resulted in one or both boys having their hides tanned. Jett always got the worst of it, Tom was sure. His Dad was a raging drunk and a lightweight meth chef. He never cooked enough to get on the radar of big guns at the state level. But the local cops knew where to look if there was a string of meth heads breaking any store windows. Either way - when Jett's Dad brought the hammer down - you sure as hell didn't want to be the nail he was aiming for. And Jett was always the nail.
As a secondary qualifier, he was breathing. Breathing well, that is. Tom's mother and father had both taken ill several times over the last couple decades, and each time the symptoms worsened. Tom loved his parents, certainly. Could he love them more? Maybe. Should he love them more? Again, maybe. The question wasn't over his love for his folks, or their love for their children. The only question that needed answering was "Who's gonna get the job done?". And when you start coughing up blood by four thirty in the morning you almost instantly get your name stricken from the list. Similarly, when your legs are too weak to carry you more than a few steps and your back spasms until it gives out sending you crashing to the floor in a heap, you are also excused from duty. Not Tom. Tom was healthy, in a manner of speaking, and breathing. In any case he was sure working.
And in the final evaluation, his labor was free. The family farm wasn't what you'd call a nest egg. There were no bright and shiny dreams on the horizon for any of the Larimore kids. Further education would almost certainly happen at the local technical college, if at all. Clothes were hand me down, gender neutral, and a bland earth tone gray color from years of washing and wearing. More often than not, the only new clothes to pass through the house wound up being fancy dresses to doll up one of the girls for a church function, school dance, or family funeral. Even then, the dress made it's rounds to everyone who would fit into it. Then Tom's mother would slice it up into some other functional piece of what she called clothing. Tom's dad hadn't contracted any outside labor for more than twenty five years. The costs of running the farm ran too dangerously close to the profit from selling their birds that it wasn't worth taking on added help.
Clomping onto the bottom stair Tom hesitated - breakfast? He glanced up and looked through the glass window at the top of his family's farmhouse door. The stained glass was bought by his grandfather, installed by his grandfather, and under the threat of death by his grandfather maintained in pristine condition. That old coot was long gone though. On cold days in the winter, before the fire stove was being used or the extra blankets were taken out of the attic, Tom's grandfather would sneak into the dark bedroom early in the morning. Tip toeing across the creaking floorboards he would sometimes wake Tom, but Tom never flinched. Even when he knew what was coming. It was odd somehow - but he enjoyed the attention perhaps. And a moment after the creaking stopped, a wheezy old breath would inhale a deep labored breath. The very next instant, heaving from some strength deep inside his frail body, Tom's grandfather would shout aloud a blood curdling scream as he hefted a basin filled with ice cold bath water onto Tom's all-but-sleeping head! Tom missed him.
Sure, why not grab a little something to beat back this hangover. Oh, is the morning after ever worth the night before? Maybe last night ... When she stepped out of Jett's car Tom knew the River was going to be different. The guys had hung out down at the River since they were just boys. Fishing, gigging frogs, camping out, building forts, biking, and shooting. But their games had changed the more they aged. Boozing, smoking cigarettes, betting on sports, playing cards, talking trash, and figuring out the finer points of the female anatomy from their collective knowledge. Understand, the vast collective knowledge this crew had about the opposite sex of their species was limited to what they gleaned from sneaking a peek at magazines on racks, and scrambled pay-per-view channels during overnighters. Not a one of them ever had a serious girlfriend, and none of them had ever been further than first base outside of a dare. Well - there was the time Katie Muhlraney let Mark up her shirt - but that was a dare too - and she only let it happen because her then-boyfriend was a jealous quarterback with a taste for poor white trash farm boy blood. Mark paid dearly for that little feel-me-up. And it made him a bit skittish from that day forward.
Into the kitchen, straight for the orange juice. But last night at the River. Who was that fine thing with Jett? No - not with Jett either. She came with Jett, but they were cousins or neighbors or something. Jett hadn't shown her more than a passing interest to ask what she wanted to drink or smoke. And what was her name? It was easy - not that she was easy - although Tom hoped so. It was beautiful too - like something from an old song - but she was fresh and young and alive. It was on the tip of his memory - more to the point on the crease of his lips. The kiss she'd laid on him after they all started partying and forgetting themselves was more than memorable. He'd nearly forgotten himself in that kiss, let alone her name...
"Donna!" Tom blurted out as he smirked and shook his head in pride at having found the lost gem.
"What dear?" his mother asked, sitting in her worn out dining room chair. The plastic seams had worn with age; dry rotted with time, and popped open to reveal the hidden cushion beneath the grimy plastic seat cover. Any padding his mother was enjoying in that seat was less from the manufacturers suggested retail stuffing and more from the rolls of cushion with which the Lord had so richly blessed her.
Tom rolled his eyes. How could he be so stupid? She'd want to know everything and drill him until he told her. Instead of falling victim to her game of Twenty Questions he reached for his back pocket to remove the iPod and ear buds. Quickly fixing one ear bud into place and turning to look at his mother, Tom said, "Four today?" Letting his expression go slack, he hoped his face would set a mood for the conversation. His mom took the bait.
"Yes. Four this morning, but five and two need a final pass before the trucks arrive in the morning. You done good on them, but you know how the chickens can get right before pick up. It's like they know or somethin'. I think they'd all rather drown themselves in their drip pans than head off on that truck to the plant. Ha ha ha - but they ain't got no choice do they? Ha ha ha ... No. No I guess they don't either."
Tom's palm pressed on the kitchen screen door, breeched the threshold, and let the morning light spill into the room. He was seriously late today. Even he was disgusted with himself at this point. By the time he got four complete it would be nearly lunchtime. After a quick lunch break, and maybe some ibuprofen to cut the edge off whatever headache was still trying to take root at that point, he'd have to wrap up the other houses. No time. Never any time. Never enough time. For himself anyhow. All the time he had went to this farm.