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|-- TRACER --|
"I'll have the rib eye, medium-rare, with the garlic mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli," I told the waiter.
The waiter looked at Will. "I'll have the fried chicken with coleslaw and applesauce," he explained.
"How about the fish and chips with a side salad?" Erik requested.
"Hmmm, the rib eye sounds good. I'll have that medium, with fries and green beans," Ryan added.
"I'll bring out fresh bread in just a moment," the waiter replied.
As the waiter left, Ryan turned toward Will and exclaimed, "Congratulations to the star catcher!"
"It's a team effort," Will said defensively.
"Well, you're the one that hit the game-winning homer," I replied. "I can be the proud big brother!"
"Seven and 'O'," Ryan continued. "Ya'll might make it to the state championships if you keep it up!"
"I'll be glad to just win district. I don't want to push our luck dreaming of more!" Will answered.
Erik and I had made an effort to go to all of Will's home games. We'd gotten to see them win four games, and the local paper was already talking about the team being a state champion contender.
Will had confided in me that being on the team meant a lot to him. His position on the team, and the level of play he'd had to date, had done a lot to help him fit in at school. He finally felt he wasn't riding Ryan's coattails to popularity.
"How about 'To a Winning Season'?" Will threw out.
"Deal!" Erik and Ryan replied in unison.
"So, two college acceptance letters for each of you so far. A great start. Any thoughts on where you want to go?" Erik asked Ryan and Will.
"Dad, we've only heard from North Carolina A&T and Bluefield State." Ryan sounded a bit irritated.
"And your point?"
"Dad, we've been over this before. We're going to Virginia Tech unless we both don't get accepted there. And don't start on the idea of us going to different schools."
Will took his cue from Ryan and said, "Erik, Ryan's right. We've agreed that Tech has programs for both of us. We did what you asked, we looked at other schools – even ones that neither of us had any interest in. We're not interested in places like UVA, VCU or William and Mary."
"I know, but you did like the other schools you saw when Tracer took the two of you touring in December," Erik responded.
"We liked A&T a lot. Bluefield was nice, but I think Tech would be better," Ryan answered.
"I guess I always knew you'd end up at Tech," Erik commented. "You've been a Hokie fan since you were a little boy."
"Tech has a program for both of us," Will added.
"So you've decided on a major?" I asked Will.
"Yeah. If I get accepted, I'm going into the agriculture and applied economics program," he replied.
"That's the same program as Ryan," Erik responded.
"Yeah, but we're looking at different specialties," Ryan answered.
"Oh?" I asked.
"Yeah, I'm doing agri-finance and Ryan's doing agri-management," Will answered.
"Oh, big difference," Erik added sarcastically.
"Dad!" Ryan started. He gave Erik a bit of a nasty look. "Will wants to be ready to help run the farm once we graduate."
Deciding to tease them both, I added, "Oh? You're coming back in four years?"
The conversation devolved into a series of not too witty and somewhat sarcastic teasing remarks. I'd known a long time that Will and Ryan were planning to come back to the farm once they graduated. That had been Ryan's plan for years – Will just added it to his life plan after he committed to staying with Ryan.
After we'd finished our entrees, the waiter returned.
"Anyone save room for dessert?" he asked.
"With these three bottomless pigs? What all do you have this evening?" Erik asked.
"We have a death-by-chocolate cake, coconut cake, lemon meringue pie, chocolate mousse pie and a hot fudge sundae," the waiter explained.
"I'll take a slice of the chocolate mousse pie," Erik answered.
"Make it two," Ryan added.
"Three," Will followed.
"And you?" the waiter said turning to me.
"I hate to follow the crowd; I'll have the death-by-chocolate cake."
"Certainly," the waiter said and quickly left.
The desserts were delicious, but we got home later than normal.
Ryan and Will both headed towards the stairs.
"Night, Guys," Erik called out after them.
"Night!" they both replied.
"Ready for bed?" Erik asked me after the boys disappeared.
"Not really," I replied. "After all that food, it's too soon."
I led Erik into the den and grabbed the remote.
"In the mood for something specific?" I asked.
"South Park should be on Comedy Central," he replied.
We settled down and watched the show. As always we were laughing hard enough to make our sides hurt. It actually made cuddling up with each other impossible. Instead we ended up with our heads at opposite ends of the sofa and our legs tangled. As the show neared the end, I started yawning as much or more than I laughed.
"Stop yawning so much!" Erik teased me.
"Sorry, I am finally sleepy."
"Well, Cartman's been foiled again. Why don't we go to bed."
I shut off the TV and followed Erik to the bedroom. We both followed our normal preparations and climbed under the covers.
Erik rolled to face me. "Night," he said. He followed this with a quick kiss.
"Night," I responded once the kiss had ended. We snuggled up and drifted off into the world of sleep.
The following week, a lot of people were calling the weather an Indian Summer. It was unusually warm, for early April, with temperatures going into the mid-eighties each afternoon. The evenings were crisp and cool with lows in the upper-fifties.
Unfortunately, I was stuck in the office! Again!
Throughout January, February and March, Erik had spent many hours teaching me the ins and outs of running the business. The preparations started well in advance of Erik's second surgery and I was able to handle all the office work while Randy kept things running out in the stables. Erik continued the lessons after he recovered.
Originally, I figured Erik would return to running the office full-time once he'd recovered. Instead, he put me in the office in increasing amounts until we'd reached a fifty-fifty split. I couldn't blame him as he'd been handling all the office work solo for years.
This fine Friday morning, after dealing with orders and making sure the invoices that we'd received were ready for Janet, I walked out to the stables to see how I could pitch in with the manual work.
Dr. Cranston was in the first stall examining one of the horses.
"Morning, Doc. How's things today?" I asked.
"Good. Good. I love coming out here and getting away from all the dogs and cats. It's a nice change of pace for me."
"I can imagine," I replied. "See any problems today?"
"Nothing special, but I've only checked about half the horses so far," he answered.
"Well, that's good to hear. Can I get you anything?"
"Nope. Hank just went off to get a couple things for me. I'm just waiting for him to return."
"OK. Have a great morning if I don't see you again before you leave."
"Thanks, Tracer. You too," he replied.
I wandered on and found Randy and Erik in conversation. They turned to me as I approached.
"Office work done?" Erik asked.
"Yup. So what should I start working on?"
"Can you do a muck run through the trails?" Randy asked.
"Oh, joy!" I said with mock glee. "Sure, no problem."
I walked over to the barn and hitched up the cart to the ATV. I headed out to the outer trail and kept my eyes peeled for muck. As the usage of the paths was light of late, there wasn't much to clean up; however, it still took me nearly two hours to cover both trails.
As I pulled the ATV up to the barn, I noticed Janet's car pulling into the parking area. I walked over to chat.
"Morning, I mean afternoon, Janet."
"I guess it is afternoon, isn't it."
I smiled. "To what do we owe the pleasure?"
"Taxes. I'm trying to get everything done for filing," she replied.
"You finished your own taxes?"
"Yeah, two nights ago. Mine are very easy – income, withholding, refund," I answered.
"Want me to review them for you?"
"That's not necessary."
"If they are truly that easy, it won't take me that long. Go get them and I'll do them while I'm here."
"If you're sure."
I took off into the house to grab my tax forms. I'd stored them in one of my dresser drawers since I didn't want anyone in the office to stumble upon them. After our first anniversary, Erik had raised my salary to five hundred a week. I'd fussed with him that it was too much as I didn't really have any expenses. He just ignored me, which had frustrated me at the time. At this point, at least, I felt that I was doing enough to earn my salary – well almost.
When I got back down to the office, Janet was reviewing papers with Erik.
"Just set them there," Janet said. "I'll look at them when I'm done reviewing this with Erik."
"Might as well pull up a chair, Bub. I want you in on this too. Time to learn more fun things about running a business."
As Janet reviewed different aspects of the farm's tax return, I kept being surprised. I had no idea how much money moved through the farm. I guess if I'd ever sat down and added things up, I wouldn't have been surprised.
After the review was done, Janet had Erik sign a bunch of places. I stood up to leave as she started to go over Erik's personal tax return.
"Where you going?" he asked.
"These are your taxes, Erik."
"Well, I can't marry you and file jointly, but there are no secrets here."
Once again, I was surprised at what Erik earned. He actually paid himself a lot less than I expected. He must have seen the puzzled expression on my face.
"I have the company invest most of the profits into the farm. I don't need a big salary – the house is paid off and we live a simple life," he explained. "If we need more, I can always give myself a raise!"
"True," I laughed.
Janet finished her review of Erik's finances and then picked up mine. She spent a few minutes reviewing my very basic forms.
"Trace, it looks like you did everything correctly. Have you thought about investing some of your earnings?" she asked.
"I was thinking about opening a savings account at the bank so I could earn a bit of interest," I replied. "My checking account is about to burst – Erik doesn't let me spend much on the household and mostly I just buy presents for folks.
"Honey, what have you got in your checking account?"
I told her what I thought the balance was and she looked at me with a wild look in her eye.
"Monday morning, you come down to the office. I'll review some basic investing options with you – IRA, money market, CDs, etc. You need to start saving for retirement!"
"Retirement," I chuckled. "I'm only twenty!"
"Always a good time to start! Just come down on Monday."
"OK," I relented. "I'll be in for some other business Monday after lunch and will swing by."
"Janet, you're one motherly woman," Erik interjected.
"With five boys and two girls, you best believe I've a fully developed mothering instinct!"
"How do you keep up with them and your own business?" I asked.
"I love being busy!"
We talked for a while about Janet's children. I'd never realized that Janet was sixty. I knew all her children had left home.
"Trace, Honey, I've got a grandson that's graduating from high school this June."
"He's in school with Ryan and Will?" I asked, confused.
"No, my daughter and her husband are out in Arizona. I'm going to fly out for his graduation."
"That's great," Erik put in.
"I'm really looking forward to it."
Janet left a short time later. After she left, I turned to Erik.
"What do you think about this retirement savings stuff?"
"I think it's a great idea. Why?"
"I don't know. I'm only twenty, it feels kinda early."
"Look. Planning for your future only makes sense. You never know what's going to happen. You could decide to leave me. I could lose the farm. You just don't know."
"Um, OK, but you have to know that I don't want any of those things to happen."
"Sometimes you don't get a choice. Anyway, it's just smart to be prepared. Maybe you'll have so much money that you and I can buy an island to retire on."
I leaned forward and kissed Erik as the door to the office opened.
"Get a room!" Will jeered as he and Ryan came inside.
"Now that sounds like a great idea!" Erik replied.
"Ewwwww. Bad pictures in my mind!" Ryan teased.
"What? Tracer's a handsome guy!" Erik pushed on.
"Yeah, and you're my dad!" Ryan pushed right back.
Erik threw his arm around Ryan's shoulder. "Love ya, Stinker."
"Love you too, Dad."
"Time to get back to work," I interjected.
"That it is. You two have lots of homework?" Erik asked.
"Not a bit, it's the start of spring break and they were good about not crushing us!" Will explained.
"Nice of them. Y'all got plans for the evening?" Erik asked.
"Nothing special," Ryan replied.
"Why don't you two take care of fixing dinner for around six o'clock. Maybe the four of us can go into town and see a movie this evening." Erik suggested.
"Sounds good," Will agreed.
With that, Erik and I turned and walked out to the stables to try and finish up work for the evening. Ryan and Will fixed an excellent dinner and we did get into town to see a movie.
With Will and Ryan out of school for the week, Erik and I had a bit of a cushion on the workload. I didn't feel guilty spending an hour with Janet going over different options. She convinced me to open an IRA and a money market savings account. She talked me through what to do and then sent me to the bank to open everything.
I was gone about four hours in total that afternoon. When I pulled up to the house, the skies opened up and I was drenched just getting from the truck to the backdoor. Standing in the kitchen, I debated running out to the barn to see if anyone needed help or going upstairs for dry clothing. I chose dry clothing.
Before I could go upstairs, Erik, Will and Ryan came barging through the back door, completely soaked. All of us ended up stripping down to our underwear so we wouldn't track water across the wood floors up to the bedroom.
Dumping their wet clothes in a pile, Will and Ryan ran for their bedroom. I couldn't help but notice how much more muscular Ryan had gotten since I'd seen him in the hotel room in Memphis so long ago. I guess he'd been working out with Will at the school gym.
I gathered up all the wet clothes and threw the pile down the basement stairs. I'd do the laundry later. I followed Erik up to our bedroom and into the bathroom. The bathroom began to fill with steam as the water in the shower heated up. I joined Erik in the shower.