Wesley Anderson was lucky in a way that a lot of people weren't. He had always known exactly where he belonged. He had spent his whole life on his family's farm in a small, quiet, town called Decatur, nestled just west of the Tennessee River. As the oldest of three boys, Wesley had never had to wonder what he would be when he grew up, for he had been told for as long as he could remember, that one day, the farm and everything on it, would belong to him. That he would be in charge of taking care of this land that had been passed down to him from his dad, who had taken over from his grandfather, and from his father before him. There was a long line of Anderson's who, apparently without protest, did exactly what was expected of them.
And Wesley would be no different.
The piercing sound of the alarm clock on his bedside table forcefully shook him from a deep sleep, just as it did every morning at exactly five-fifteen. He hit the clock and groaned as he tossed off the covers before slowly sitting up. Wesley yawned as he ran a hand through his shaggy, dark brown hair. It was beginning to curl up just at his collar and Wesley took great satisfaction in knowing how much it bothered his dad, who insisted that he needed another haircut. Preferably one that closer resembled his own short, neat, military style. That, however, was never going to happen if Wesley could help it.
"Welcome to another fun filled day on the farm." He mumbled sarcastically to himself as he stood up and pulled a clean pair of jeans from his dresser along with a dark blue t-shirt before opening his bedroom door and walking down the narrow hall towards the bathroom. Just before his hand closed around the knob, a small blur of a boy in blue pajamas flew past him and closed the door in his face, leaving Wesley to stare at the countless family pictures that adorned the panelled wood walls on either side of the door. Wesley rapped his knuckles hard on the old, oak door, not even trying to hide his annoyance.
"Dangit, Beau!" He called to his eight year old brother.
"Snooze, you lose, Wes!" Beau said, laughing. Wesley turned around and dropped his head back against the door. He could already tell that this was shaping up to be 'one of those days.' The kind where nothing went the way he had planned and left Wesley feeling like banging his head against a wall in frustration. He sighed and settled in to wait.
Fortunately, it didn't take long before Beau reopened the bathroom door and came out, he didn't notice that Wesley was still standing just outside, waiting on him. Suddenly, the younger boy was being lifted from behind and turned upside down as Wesley tossed him over his shoulder and began to carry him towards his bedroom.
"Wesley!" Beau cried indignantly as he beat his small fists against Wesley's back. "Put me down you big jerk!"
Wesley grinned and shook his head as he walked into Beau's room. "Na uh, squirt. You should learn to mind your manners."
Beau yelled furiously as Wesley began to turn around in circles, making sure to hold tight to the squirming kid.
"You gonna be nice, Beaugregard?" Wesley asked as he continued to spin around.
"I'm tellin' mom!" Beau yelled.
Wesley laughed and then abruptly stopped before tossing Beau onto the bed.
"She'd be on my side, kid."
Wesley reached down to ruffle the boys hair before walking out of the room, leaving a glaring Beau behind him.
Once he was showered and dressed, Wesley came down the stairs of his family's little white farmhouse and into the kitchen where everyone else was already seated at the table. His parents on either end and Beau and Tommy, his twelve year old brother, on one side, leaving his seat next to their dad open.
"Morning, Son." James Anderson addressed his oldest as Wesley sat down and began to fill his plate with bacon, eggs and toast.
"Mornin', y'all." He answered as he picked up his fork and began to dig into the food.
The breakfast table was always filled with conversation about everyone's plans for the day. The two younger boys would be going to school while James and Wesley took care of most of the work on the farm. Tommy and Beau usually started the day by feeding the animals and putting the horses out so that the stalls could be mucked and cleaned, while James and Wesley took on some of the harder jobs, like milking cows, checking and repairing the fence line, plowing the fields and fixing tractors. Ruth seemed to always have errands to run and there were plenty of things to do to keep herself busy, despite being primarily a stay at home mom. Between selling her canned fruits and vegetables, volunteering at the towns nursing home, managing the day to day paperwork and bills for the farm and her newest endeavor, arranging and selling the flowers she grew in her garden, her days were full.
"Boys, if you're finished eating, go ahead and clear the table for your mom. We've all got things to do before your bus gets here." James said as he drained the last remnants of his coffee.
Both Beau and Tommy groaned but got up to do as they were told and headed outside. James turned to Wesley and said, "How 'bout going into town later and picking up the order from the feed store. Hank said he'd have it ready when you got there."
Wesley nodded. "Sure." He stood up and took his own plate to the sink and looked out the window, noticing the dark grey storm clouds overhead. Thunder rolled in the distance and he sighed. "What's the weather supposed to be today? It's been storming for two days. Think it'll let up any time soon?"
Ruth shook her head as she made her way towards him. "The weather man said last night that it's supposed to keep this up 'til late tomorrow evening. This rain has all but destroyed my tulips." She said with a disheartened sigh. She pulled her sweater tighter around her as she shook her head and stared out at the sky.
Wesley put an arm around her small shoulders. "Ah, Mom, everyone knows you got the best tulips in the county. A little rain won't change that."
Ruth grinned up at her son before lightly pushing him away, laughing as she joked. "Go on now before you give me a big head. You've got chores to do and I've got green beans to can."
Wesley headed out the back door towards the barn where he found Tommy and Beau busy mucking out the stalls. It hadn't started raining yet so they took the opportunity to let the horses out into the back field. "Moving a little slow today, ain't ya, boys? Better get a move on if you wanna beat the rain." He said as he picked up the pitch fork to lay fresh straw down in the stalls.
"Then maybe you oughta think about gettin' down here to help a little faster," Tommy replied without looking up from his task. "You're gettin' as slow as dad."
Beau excitedly ran over to his brother, clearly over getting tossed around earlier, and said, "Wesley, you gotta see this!" His blue eyes were wide as he tried to tug Wesley over towards a stack of hay bales near the back of the barn, below them a large pile of hay lay in the corner where it had been pitched the day before so that they could use it on the floor of the stalls.
"Beau, I said to stay down here." Tommy interrupted shortly, annoyance clear on his face as he narrowed his eyes and pointed an accusing finger at his little brother. "You're gonna get hurt."
Beau stuck his tongue out at him before resuming his efforts to drag Wesley away.
"Whoa, kid. Hang on." Wesley planted his feet in the dirt, becoming unmoveable to the small boy. "What do you wanna show me?"
Beau grinned. "You have to watch me do the cannonball!"
Wesley looked over at Tommy who was shaking his head before turning back to Beau with a frown. "Don't you need the lake for a cannonball?"
Ignoring them both, Beau ran over to the hay bales and began to climb up them. "Would you just watch? I'm gonna try higher this time." He said as he stood above his brother, completely unafraid before taking a few steps back and preparing to jump.
"No, Beau! Don't!" Wesley cried as he ran over to the hay bales, but he was too late to stop him. Beau had misjudged the jump and was going to miss the pile of hay and instead land on the hard ground. Without thinking, Wesley reached out, catching the boy at the last second. Beau squealed with laughter as he wriggled out of Wesley's arms. "What do you think you're doing, kid? You could have gotten hurt!"
Beau rolled his eyes, the happiness from mere seconds ago vanishing as he shrugged his shoulders and said petulantly, "But I didn't." He didn't understand why nobody thought his cannonball was as cool as he did.
Just then, James came into the barn having heard the exchange between his sons.
"Just what in the world is goin' on in here? What's all this yellin' about?" His voice was firm but low, a deep baritone that carried easily across the barn and caught the attention of all three boys. He took in the scene before him, his eyes narrowing as he levelled a stern look on each of them that normally would have had them all ducking their heads in shame. However, Tommy still stood leaning against the stall door, while Wesley and Beau were glaring at each other. Wesley had his arms crossed over his chest and Beau looked as if he were two seconds away from stomping his foot on the sawdust covered floor and pouting.
Beau narrowed his eyes at Wesley so much that they were mere slits before he turned to James with a look that was clearly a pout. And a fake one at that, if Wesley had to guess. The change in the little boy's expression was so sudden that Tommy almost laughed. "I just wanted to show Wesley something cool, but he didn't care at all! He just yelled at me for no reason!"
"I do care and it wasn't for no reason. If I hadn't caught you, you'd have face planted the ground." Wesley shot back, throwing his hand up. "C'mon, kid, you think I want something bad to happen to you?" He asked, his voice much softer now.
"But Tommy said I could." Beau said, stubbornly. "And I wouldn't have hit the ground, Wesley. I was gonna land in the hay just fine til you got in my way."
James looked back and forth between them before his eyes settled on Tommy, who shook his head.
"No, I didn't. I said you could jump off the little one. I didn't say anything about jumping from the top ones." Tommy defended himself quickly and moved away from the door. He reached up and pulled off his black ball cap and ran his hand through his blonde hair that was now damp with sweat before replacing it and looking up at his dad. "I'm not stupid enough to let him jump from way up there, dad."
Now Beau's glare was directed at Tommy but before he could say anything, James interrupted. "Alright, that's enough. I don't want you boys arguing with each other." He walked over to stand in front of Beau, who squirmed under his dad's stern look, and dropped a heavy hand on the boy's small shoulder before crouching down so that he could look him in the eyes. "Beau, as fun as you thought it was, jumping from that high up is dangerous. Don't do it again, got it?" he said firmly. Beau dropped his gaze to study his boots and nodded. James squeezed his shoulder gently and gave a small smile before saying quietly, so that only Beau could hear. "Good boy. It's alright, we just don't want you gettin' hurt, Bud." Beau nodded and James stood back up and turned to say, "Now, c'mon, you boys need to finish up your chores. The bus is gonna be here soon. Hustle." All three boys nodded before turning back to the work at hand. James left them to head back outside and Beau just glared at them both before he picked up a bucket of feed for the chickens and marched out of the barn after him.
Wesley shook his head and turned back to Tommy who was already busy in the stall once again. "You know he gets his daredevil attitude from watching you, Half Stack. Maybe you should set a better example." He went back to tossing straw over the floor and Tommy rolled his eyes.
He answered with a smirk. "It's not my fault he thinks I'm so cool. Besides, setting good examples is what he has you for." He had finished filling up the wheelbarrow that was sitting outside the stall and was ready to push it outside.
Wesley stopped to look back at him with a raised eyebrow.
"Okay, okay, I'll try to be a little less cool around the kid."
"Obviously, that's all I'm asking." Wesley said sarcastically.
Tommy grinned and headed for the open barn door. "I gotta get ready for school. Gotta set a good example, ya know." His grin faded though as soon as he stepped outside. Wesley watched as Tommy tilted his head up towards the sky then called over his shoulder. "Rain's comin'."
"Great." Wesley grumbled as he continued to work. "It couldn't just hold off for a little longer."
Decatur would never be a big town. Not by anyone's standards. It had one red light, right in the middle of main street, next to the courthouse. A few shops surrounded the courthouse, the hardware and feed store, a barber shop, and the diner were on one side with the bookstore, a bank and the post office on the other. There was a gas station on the corner where Jesse Newman swears he saw Dolly Parton filling up her car about fifteen years ago. Noone believes him, of course. The police station and the town's only grocery store sit just past the main road, across from the High School. In fact, the only thing that Decatur has more than one of, is churches and farms. Those you can find all over, but most, like the Anderson farm, are scattered on the outskirts of town.
Past all of that though, south of town about three miles, on an old country road, stands a little, white, cottage style house with yellow shutters that could sorely use repainting. The front yard is neat, if a little overgrown. The flower garden on either side of the sidewalk leading up to the porch hasn't been weeded in over a year, but still a few flowers shoot up through the weeds to make themselves known.
Inside, Anna Davis was still in bed. She lay awake listening to the steady rhythm of the rain against her window as she stared at the blank, off-white walls and wished she could fall back asleep. It wouldn't be hard. Her bed was warm and inviting and, with the rain falling heavily outside, it would have been the perfect day to just laze around and do nothing. But working two jobs to take care of herself and her dad meant that it had been a long time since Anna had had one of those days and she knew that she had to get up and get ready or she'd be late for her shift at the bookstore. So she settled for hoping the rain would stop before she had to leave.
Finally, with a great sigh, Anna pushed her blankets aside, swung her legs off the side of the bed and stretched her arms above her head before finally standing up, the hardwood feeling cold against her bare feet.
It took Anna only about ten minutes to get ready in the tiny bathroom across from the room she had grown up in. She looked at herself in the mirror that was barely hanging on to the creme colored wall and noticed the dark circles forming under her deep brown eyes. Anna thought her naturally tan skin looked a little pale this morning but she chalked it up to just being tired. She finished pulling her long, dark curls into a ponytail as she walked out into the dimly lit hallway and down to the living room. She gave a heavy sigh as she surveyed the room.
Her dad, Mike, lay sprawled out on the couch, snoring loudly. The grey, wool blanket she had thrown over him the night before hung halfway on the floor. His dark, brown hair was disheveled and looked like it could use a wash, and judging by the scruff on his face, it had been days since he had last shaved. His blue flannel shirt and jeans were wrinkled from having been slept in and what looked like a mustard stain could be seen on his undershirt. Nestled in the crook of his arm lay a mostly empty bottle of whisky, and the table was littered with everything from empty cans and chip bags, to plates of half eaten food and papers.
Anna mentally berated herself for not just cleaning up the mess last night as she carefully removed it from his side. She took it into the kitchen and poured it down the drain along with the others before grabbing a trash bag and rushing back into the living room to start clearing away the rest of the mess from the night before. She hurridly began to sort through the papers, tossing the mail in a pile to look at later, not missing the "Past Due" stamp on the front of at least two of them. Then she gathered up the rest of the trash and threw it into the bag before picking up the dirty dishes to carry back into the kitchen.
Anna piled the dishes next to the sink and began to fill it up with hot, soapy water. She'd have to wash them before she could make breakfast. Glancing at the clock on the microwave, she wondered if she would have time to get everything done before she went into work at the local bookstore, Books and Brews. Not wanting to risk being late, Anna set the dishes to soaking as she moved about the kitchen, pulling out what she would need for breakfast. She would just have to clean as she went. As the bacon began to sizzle in the frying pan, Anna began washing the dirty plates and cups before leaving them to dry in the dish drainer.
By the time she had slid the scrambled eggs onto the plate, she heard her dad moving around the living room.
"Morning, Annie." She heard him say from behind her as he came in. Anna rolled her eyes at the seemingly chipper mood he was in now considering how angry he had seemed last night. She kept her back to him, pulling the dry plates and glasses back out of the drainer. "Looks good," he commented, pulling out a chair and sitting down at the chipped formica table. The table was round and an ugly, burnt orange color with a couple of white, metal chairs. It reminded Anna of something from a 1970's tv show and her mother would have hated it. It was just one more thing that had been replaced after she had died. Their old table, a sturdy, oak piece that had sat proudly in the dining room, had been sold a few months ago and Anna had found this one discarded on the side of the road with a free sign attached to it. She had loaded it into the back of her dad's truck and brought it home, cleaning it up the best she could. Mike had never even mentioned it or asked where it came from.
Anna just nodded her head.
"So, look," She started, taking her own seat and serving first him and then herself, "I've got an early shift today so I'm gonna head on out in a few minutes and I'll probably see if I can pick up a shift at the diner again tonight so I won't be home till late."
Mike looked up from his eggs. "I don't want you having to work all these extra hours. You should go out with your friends. Have some fun."
Anna gave a cold, bitter laugh. "But then who would pay the bills?" She thought to herself. Instead she asked, "Are you going into work today?"
Mike took a moment to chew his food before replying. "You know, Hun, I'm feeling a little rough today. Think I'll just hang around the house. I'll go tomorrow."
Anna stood quickly to scrape the leftovers from her plate out into the trash before taking it to the sink. "I'm surprised you even have a job at this point." She mumbled.
She heard his fork hit his plate. "What was that?" He asked, an edge to his voice.
Anna turned around and gave him a bright, if fake, smile. "Nothing. I gotta get to work." She planted a kiss to the top of his head, trying not to wrinkle her nose as the smell of stale alcohol hit her. Quickly, she picked up her purse and headed towards the door. "Bye, Dad. See you later."
As she stepped out onto the porch, she groaned at seeing the rain still coming down, though not as heavily as earlier. The sky was dark and grey, without even a patch of blue to be seen. Her usual thirty minute walk to work would take even longer if this weather kept up. Sighing, she grabbed her umbrella and set off.
A few minutes later Anna was walking down the road towards town. She didn't have her own car and she couldn't drive her dad's truck in case he needed to go somewhere, so she braved the rain with her trusty umbrella. Thankfully it wasn't storming, but because they had had so much rain over the last few days, the walk to town was much more muddy and slick than usual.
She had been walking for about half a mile when she heard the rumbling of an engine from behind her. Anna moved further off the edge of the road in an effort to stay far enough out of the way, but it was no use. As the truck went by, it drove through a large puddle of rainwater, sending it splashing up against Anna in one massive wave. She gasped in shock as the entire left side of her body was suddenly drenched. She dropped her umbrella and was attempting to wipe water from her eyes when she caught sight of the familiar red pickup truck that had pulled over onto the side of the road. "Way to go, Anderson!" She called out as Wesley opened the truck door and jumped out. She watched him race over to her, rain quickly soaking through his light blue jacket.
"I'm so sorry, Anna. Are you okay?" He asked, picking her umbrella up off the ground and handing it back to her.
She glared at him. "I'm just peachy." She said sarcastically as she made to walk around him, on down the road.
"Hey, where are you going?" Wesley asked, following after her.
"To work." She answered, shortly, without looking back.
"At the bookstore today? How 'bout I take you? I'm going right past there."
Anna laughed bitterly and shook her head. "Oh, no. I think you've done enough."
Wesley frowned and said, "I said I was sorry. It was an accident. Now will you please just get in the truck? There's no sense in you walking another mile and a half if you don't have to."
Anna stopped near the hood of the old Ford and turned back to him. He really did look sorry, standing there with his hands shoved deep into the pockets of his jeans, looking down at her with those big, puppy dog, brown eyes. She rolled her eyes and sighed. "Fine. But only because I don't want to be even later than I already am."
Wesley grinned and opened the passenger side door for her to climb in. After he was again seated behind the wheel he turned the heat on hoping it might warm her up some.
"Do you want me to take you home first so you can change?"
"No." She answered quickly and he looked over to her, eyebrows raised in question. "I mean, that's okay." She added, her tone softening. "I keep extra clothes at the bookstore since I walk all the time. It's not the first time I've been caught in the rain."
Wesley nodded. "Okay, then. Here we go."