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Chapter 1 of Ben Cocker

Updated: May 24




“Didn’t hear your truck pull up, Ben.” 


The wood floor creaks under my boots until I drop into a sun-warmed seat, “Walked here,” green eyes landing on the retreat house that has hosted countless travelers. Taking note of the beauty of its sunny outline, I mutter, distracted by what I came for, “Mom at Sunflower?” 


I’m hoping she’s at the retreat house.


I’d rather it just be him for this.


I can feel him watching me, and that his deep voice is pensive tells me he knows something is wrong. “She and Silvia are prepping for a new group that arrives this afternoon.” I hear him sip his coffee, taking his time like he’s giving me some. “Marcus has been harder to reach.  Didn’t show up to bring the last group back to the airport. Your mom and I had to use my truck and her car to get everyone to the airport in time to catch their planes. At least we had enough room to get all the luggage there easily, but people were practically on each other’s laps.”


I glance over. “He’s never done anything like that. What’d he say when you got ahold of him?” 


“He’d forgotten what day it was.”


“When’s a new group coming?” 


“This afternoon.”


I blink. “Is he picking them up?”  


“Promised he would.”


“That a gamble you wanna take?” 


Dad brings his coffee cup to his lips, doesn’t drink and lowers the cup. “He’s given us seven years of service. Faultless. If that doesn’t deserve a second chance, I’m not sure what does.” 


A second chance. 


I need one of those.


I nod, “He’ll be there,” though I don’t believe it. 


And that’s part of my problem. 


Lately that thing called ‘trust’ hasn’t been my friend. 


“I came here to talk to you about something.” 


Our eyes lock on his frown. “I’m here.”  


Numb, exhausted, haggard, but not surprised, I hunch over and blink at the walnut dining table stained with so many memories I wish I could disappear into. I long to go back in time. Maybe make a different choice.


But Jonny wouldn’t be here if I had. 


“Dad…I’m…” Can’t even recognize my own voice. “Miserable.” Dragging both hands down my face just to feel something, I drop them and blink at the wood, rasping, “Have been for a very long time.”


There’s patience in his answer. A knowing. “I’ve been waiting for this.” 


I blink to him, shocked to discover relief has smoothed out wrinkles the Sun carved. I’m so messed up in my head all I can think of is, How can he be relieved to hear I’m miserable? 


Dad stands, kicks his jeans into a comfortable place, and jogs his chin toward the acres of sunlit long grass with a path carved to Sunflower House. “Walk with me, Ben.” He heads for the stairs. 


Depression is a powerful thing and at first, I don’t want to go. Returning home is on my mind. Keep things how they’ve been for years. Don’t change. Don’t look at, don’t accept, how bad it’s gotten for me. Just keep staying in a marriage that suffocates everything about me. 


He stands at the ready, watching me. My body rises of its own accord and I walk over and follow him down the three steps of my childhood, onto land that feels more like home than my own. 


The shiny black manes of Dad and Mom’s horses they got two years ago, shake as our approach inspires curiosity. “Looks like they’re getting used to you.” I offer through gritted teeth. 


“Yup, have for some time now. But we haven’t seen you in a while.” 


I stop walking. “Why are you relieved I’m miserable!”


“I’m relieved you’re coming to me about it.” 


“So you know?” 


From his profile, Dad eyeballs me and stops walking. “You think I should’ve tried to help?” 


“Yeah!” 


“Does it have to do with your wife?” 


I blink. “Yeah.” 


“Do you think you would’ve listened to me?”


“Of course I would’ve!” 


Dad faces me. Crosses his arms. Waits. Aragorn strolls closer. Neighs for recognition.


Neither of us move or even glance over. 


My father, who’s always been the rock of the family, exhales through his nose, trying to contain his…who knows what he’s thinking?


“See this stand-off? You think I wanted this earlier when I hardly even get to see you as it is, and you live within walking distance? I know how stubborn you are, Ben!” He steps closer, leaving only one foot between us. “Why do you think I ask you to help me around here when we both know I don’t need the help? Because when you come over I get to see that dark cloud you walk under, lift. It takes too much time, longer and longer, every day you showed up until you stopped saying yes.” We stare at each other a few heated seconds. “You think I needed to paint that barn twice in two years? Hell no! It took me inventing something on a large enough scale for your wife not to make a stink about it.” He raises his eyebrows at how quickly mine just rose. “Oh, I know she wants to keep you over there all to herself. We both know, and your mother has begged me to talk to you, and to let her do if I won’t, but I told her that a man can’t hear bad words about his wife without raising his hackles. Until he’s ready and there’s a good enough reason. And there was, but we had to wait until you came to us. So your mom and I devised ways to get you over here with our grandson to help me fix the fences, extend the chicken coop, Rewire the milking stations. Deliver hay.” He cocks his head. “The delivery guy was available. I lied. And all of that because when we asked your family over for dinner, for lunch, even something that would take as little time as having a morning coffee, the answer was no.”


Feelings are foreign to me. Been numb for way too long. It’s a struggle to grunt, “Why didn’t you say something.” 


“You’re pissed. But not at me. You’ll hear what I just said later.” Aragorn has walked off, instinctively knowing this isn’t time. And he neighs when Dad shouts, “Ben, if you ever need to talk, I’m here! You know that! You remember the time when I said, Ben, why don’t you all come over for dinner anymore? Ben! Are you happy? And your mom even said, If you and Jonny ever need a place to stay, we’re here. Remember how you reacted to that? Silence. Then you walked out.”


“I was tired of everyone giving me a hard time about Shelby!” 


“You mean you were tired of everyone who loves you holding up a mirror to what you didn’t want to see.” He grabs my head with both hands, bringing our foreheads together, voice a rasp of pain. “I needed you to come to me. I needed you to want to. There was no other way you’d listen.” 


Tears fight their way out, hovering.


Dad hugs me and says, “Now tell me what you want to do.” 


“I want out.” 


“We’ll do whatever we can to help.” 




The end of Chapter 1.


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