The boy was slapped awake by the hoarse and repetitive pitch of his alarm clock. He massaged his eyes with his thumb and index finger before he slowly opened them. It was never easy getting up before light on the weekend. He silenced the clock and slid out of bed.
Dressed and fresh, he finished his oatmeal and left home for his job at the farmer’s supply. High school graduation loomed and for six months now he had filled orders from fifty-pound bags of feed to eighty-pound bags of concrete mix. He stacked bricks and mortar for the masons and packs of shingles for the roofers. He weighed out nails for the carpenters and helped the sheetrockers fill their trucks with gypsum board. The pace was unrelenting. Contractors lined the front entrance with a time-is-money look on their mugs and they demanded expedient service. He learned how to move with efficiency.
The farmer’s supply was owned by a local family who had a son the boy’s age and today was his eighteenth birthday. The son, Carson, pulled into the store parking lot in his brand new shiny Ford Mustang just as the boy was locking up his bicycle. The boy was in awe of the vehicle as Carson got out and chirped the alarm with a look of pride.
"Nice ride," the boy offered.
"Dude, when you gonna trade that bike in for a car of your own?"
The boy did not have a chance to reply as Carson’s father walked out and opened up the front door to the store.
"G’morning boys. How’s the car son?" The father beamed with satisfaction.
"Love it, Pop, but I think it needs a better stereo," replied Carson.
The boy retreated to the rear of the store, hammered his card in the old time clock, and set out to the loading dock where he began hefting large bags of grain on to a dolly. It was a busy morning; after loading orders for a few hours the boy caught a slight lull in the action. He surveyed the yard for Carson but couldn’t take his eyes off that shiny car. Its brand new qualities carried an unspoken sense of accomplishment and the boy couldn’t help but smirk as he examined the new tear in his jeans from running around all morning. He’d broke his back the last few months saving toward the purchase of a used foreign car in the for-sale section of the town flyer.
Carson had gone to the upstairs office to use the internet as had been his morning ritual until his father barked.
"Coming, old man, I’m coming."
Carson trudged down the stairs to the front end where his father rang up a steady line of customers. The moment his son made an entrance the father smiled and called him over to attend to an elderly lady who’d bought a heavy bag of bird seed. Carson grabbed the bag and struggled to put it over his shoulder.
"Sheesh, how you gonna get this outta your car ma’am?"
"Cup by cup."
"Really? That’ll take all day. You should just buy a bunch of smaller bags, Miss."
"Son, time, I have. Money’s a bit harder to come by these days."
Carson patronized the old lady with a smile then rolled his eyes at his dad. Carson’s father missed the cue and continued to check out the next customer. As Carson carried the seed out for the old lady he saw the boy loading up bundles of shingles in a roofer’s pick-up. The boy bent down, picked up a bundle and slapped it down on the back of a truck bed in one steady motion, like that of a derrick out in the oil fields of Texas. When the boy completed the load he wiped the sweat of his forehead back through his hair. Carson called him over.
"So when’s your old man going to buy you some wheels? We can race."
The boy looked at Carson, red-faced, "Gonna buy my own, that’s why I’m here."
Carson shook his head with a smirk and retreated into the store again. The boy headed to the warehouse to fill another feed order.
Later that night the boy had gone home to eat dinner, his appetite in line with his output as he devoured the spread his mother had prepared. The boy’s father watched him until their eyes met.
"What’s the rush?"
"Busy down at the farmer’s supply?"
"Just like every other day. Morning was a blur but the afternoon dragged."
"I see the kid got a new car?"
The boy slowed down for the first time that night.
"Carson must have worked hard for that?"
"His father bought it for him. Carson moans at the thought of work."
"Yeah, well, a car given can’t beat a car earned."
The boy frowned and went back to finishing his supper. The father changed the subject by complimenting his wife on the meal.
It was years when the boy returned home from college. He wasn’t home long when his mother asked him to the pick up some bird seed down at the farmer’s supply. He obliged and climbed into his aged Honda Accord.
As he pulled into the parking lot of the supply he felt an eerie sense of deja vu. He’d left his job when he went away to college and had not been back since. He entered the store and though he’d only been gone four years, the owner looked as if he’d aged decades.
"Mr. Goldman! Is Carson around?"
The old man shouted for his son and just like old times, Carson made his way down from the upstairs office after light protest. At first glance, the boy didn’t recognize Carson. Carson, wiped the scowl off his face and greeted the boy with raised eyebrows and not quite a smile.
"Look what the cat dragged in."
"Hey Carson, how ya been?"
Carson looked out at the parking lot spying the Honda. "You still drive that old piece?"
The boy smiled politely and replied, "She’s been good to me."
Carson shook his head in disapproval and waved the boy to follow him out to the back of the store. Out back sat Carson’s latest ride, an obsidian black BMW Three Series. Carson chirped it open and displayed a trunk full of stereo equipment.
"Now this…this is a ride!" Carson cranked his stereo.
The boy politely complied with a nod.
"I racked up the other one. Cops said I was dragging and drinking, but my lawyer said different, heh."
"So how was school? You like State, how was it?"
"School? State’s got the best parties, but the actual school was a bore."
Carson’s father called over the supply store intercom, "WHAT’D WE SAY ABOUT THAT STEREO DURING BUSINESS HOURS?"
Carson gave a half-hearted middle finger toward the speaker and turned off his stereo.
"I left school. No need for it. This is all gonna be mine soon, so why waste time with a bunch of books and bull?"
The boy smiled graciously again as they went back up toward the front of the store. At the front Carson’s father greeted the boy with a proud smile.
"We miss you around here," The old man offered.
"Well, Sir, it was your store that gave me the build to play college ball."
The old man looked at his pudgy son who met his look with cynicism. "Anybody can take the field at those Ivy League sissy-versities."
The boy smiled and hefted a bag of seed up on the counter. The old man waved his money off and offered the bag gratis. "That bag’s on the house. It’s the least I can do for one of my best workers. Lots of contractors been asking ’bout you and where you run off to? I tell ’em you moved on to bigger and better things." The old man’s smile was genuine.
The boy took the compliment and walked out of the store. On his drive home he got the time-travel feeling again. It was as if he had just taken a trip back to high school distantly watching the past four years go by in the course of four minutes. He’d time travelled from his twenty-two-year-old self back into his eighteen-year-old body. Back then, Carson was a prince, now the boy only saw a jester.
As he pulled into his parent’s driveway he saw his father in the living room reading the paper. He parked and went inside. His father saw him come in, greeted him with a warm smile and asked him, "How goes it?"
"I went down to the farmer’s supply to pick up Mom’s seed."
"Yeah, how’s old Carson making out? I’ve seen his name come up in the police log a time or two over the last couple years."
"He dropped out of school to take over the store from his old man."
"Doubt there’s gonna be much a store left."
"How’s that?"
"Well, with the stagnant construction, contractors aren’t buying like they used to. The old man had to take out second mortgages to pay for the kid’s indulgences."
His father put the newspaper down and looked the boy in the eye. "Indulgence is a cruel thing and it takes discipline so that you never hurt the ones you love."
"From the day you were born there’s not a single thing I didn’t want to run right out and get you. It was almost like a compulsion for your mother and me; we wanted to rope the moon for our boy."
The young man blushed. He had never heard his father speak so open.
"But gifts are like blankets, they provide warmth, but too many, all at once…well, they’ll smother you. Your mother and I had to help each other in order to give you the best gift of all."
The confession was an exhale of sorts; his father’s sincerity seemed to melt what the boy had mistaken for reticence all those years. He saw his parents in a new light and understood they had given him the most loving gift a parent could ever bestow upon their once helpless child: Nothing.
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