A few years passed. The grandkids came to the ranch more often. They were getting older, wiser, and more confident in their lives with each visit. This was being carefully spoon-fed to them by a couple of loving grandparents who were more than just pleased or happy with the way the kids were maturing and finding their way in the world. They were proud.
Jim was seventeen now and would graduate high school in the spring. He was wavering between college and learning a trade. Both of his parents were still trying to dictate life to him, each insisting on a college of their choice. In a show of stubborn oneriness he was leaning in the opposite direction, keeping both of them completely perplexed. Somewhere in the middle of all of this Jim had picked up a banjo and taught himself to play and was becoming pretty good at it. Neither Sam nor Eva could tolerate it. The sound just wasn’t sophisticated enough for their erudite tastes. Jim…., he just smiled and kept playing.
Jenny…, well, Jen had turned into quite a rebel. She involve herself almost totally in sports, ignoring both parents, especially her mother’s demands to participate in scholastic or social clubs at her school. Her academic grades were excellent, in fact, she was an honor student, but where she really excelled was in soccer and softball. Coaches loved her. She turned out to be the best goalie on the soccer team for years, and at softball she had become a master at getting on base and stealing bases, not a home-run hitter, but she could place her hits anywhere she wanted them to go. She even tried basketball for a while and was good enough to make the team. Her first love though was still horses. She would rather ride than anything else. She lived for her visits to her Gramps ranch. Over the past few years she and Jim had become really close to each other, supporting each other as much as they could. For these few years there had been an unspoken truce at home. Parents were not fighting and yelling, but, all the same, the kids could feel trouble bubbling just below the surface.
It was time for another trip out to the ranch. Sam nor Eva were not in the mood to take them. The ranch was an almost 300 mile drive and took between four and five hours, depending on the weather and the traffic. Once away from metropolitan areas it was mostly two lane country roads which their parents hated to drive. School was over for the semester and since neither had jobs, they loaded Jim’s car with clothes and enough food for the trip and started out. This wasn’t going to be the usual one week stay this time. They planned to spend a month. It was quiet in the car for a while, except for music on the radio, but then Jen broke the silence with a question…
What d’ ya think is goin’ to happen to us if Mom ‘n’ Dad divorce? Y’ know she’s determined to go back east an’ Dad’s dead set against it. They’re pretty quiet right now for some reason. Seemed to happen a couple of years ago. I remember Gramps gave each of them an envelope when we were leavin’.
Yeah…, I remember that. Always wondered what was in the envelopes and I noticed things quieted down a lot at home after that trip. If they decide to divorce, I’m more concerned for you, Jen. I’m gonna be out of high school and I really think I’m going to go to a trade school. Talked to Dad about it and I think he understands my reasons now. You still have another two years to go and I know you want to go to college. Still thinkin’ about goin’ to vet school? Hear it’s really tough.
I really want to be a vet, I think, Jim. I like being around animals, especially the horses. I haven’t even considered anything else. That’s why I keep my grades so high…, so I can get all the scholarships and grants available when the time comes. I don’t want to rely on anything from Dad or Mom.
Jen, do you think they’d really get a divorce?
Yeah, I think so. You’re gone a lot so you don’t see or hear a lot of what goes on in the house anymore. They don’t yell at each other anymore but when they think we’re not around they are really cruel to each other…, not physically, but in the things they say and do to each other. I’m thinkin’ it’s gonna happen, and pretty soon now.
Jim became silent, concentrating on driving. Jen closed her eyes and snoozed. Both knew this might eventually happen but had never talked about it in terms of an actual event or how soon it might occur. He knew, when it happened, the house would become a battleground and anyone in proximity would become a casualty, kids included. How could he protect Jen and himself from being caught in the middle of what he knew would be vicious. Might be something he could discuss with Gramps and see if he had any ideas or suggestions.
He was getting tired and knew he wouldn’t be able to get there without a stop but an idea came to mind. Jenny was almost 16 and had her driving permit. She could use the practice and there wasn’t much traffic out here. Just had to watch for the cattle as this was open range. He woke his sister.
Jen…, wake up!
She stirred and looked over at him grumpily.
Little sister, it’s your turn to drive. I can hardly keep my eyes open and I don’t want to fall asleep at the wheel, so either you drive or we stop while I take a nap. What’s your poison, sis?
Really? You’re gonna let me drive…, your car? Yeah, I’ll drive. I wanna get to the ranch as early as we can. You can get your beauty sleep…, and don’t worry. I know the way, and I won’t wreck your precious car!
Two hours later she slammed on the brakes and ran to embrace her grandparents who were walking out toward the car, Jim followed after he woke up and figured out where he was.
Jen, if I didn’t know better, I’d think you’re glad to be here. How you doin’ Jim boy? Looks like something’s eating at him. Looks like he just woke up too. Jen, when did you start drivin’?
The hugs, questions and greetings just didn’t stop…, all the way to the house. Then, as an afterthought, Jim went back out to the car to get their bags, with Gramps help. Stories and questions and answers abounded til a happy foursome gathered around the dinner table that evening, sharing, what else, ranch stew. Jim was noticeably quiet after dinner. He’d gone in the den and started a fire in the fireplace and was now slouched in Gramps chair, brooding. It was a typical behavior when something was really bothering him. The old man watched from the doorway before entering the room. Wasn’t polite to interrupt a good brooding session too quickly. After a few minutes Jim looked up and saw him.
I’m sorry Gramps. I didn’t mean to run off and leave everyone…, well, yeah, I did. Just got a lot on my mind and needed a good spot to think. This always seemed like a good spot for you.
Well, sonny, that old chair, that fireplace, and I have had some really long conversations. You picked a good spot. If you’d rather be alone I’ll just mosey along and catch up with the girls.
No, Gramps, stay. I always feel like I’m unloading all my problems on you but you’re about the only one who seems to listen to me and talk with me, not at me.
Well, Jimbo, you keep that fire company for a few minutes. I’ll tell the girls that we’ll be out here for a while and be back. Less chance of bein’ interrupted that way.
The old man went out to the kitchen where the ladies were busy gathering and cleaning supper dishes and indicated that he and Jim would like to have a few minutes alone for some “man talk”. Ellie nodded and smiled, but not so, Jen. Sensing what Jim may be wanting to talk about, she decided that she wanted to be in on this conversation.
No way, Gramps. If he’s going to be talking about what I think, I think I have a right to be there too. I’m kinda involved in the whole mess; don’t you think?
Ellie raised her eyebrows at him, lowered her eyes and chuckled with her own response.
Well, I think we may as well make this a family discussion, seeing as we’re all affected by it. We may not come up with any answers, but I think we all need to air our feelings on the issues.
He just nodded, sighed, and motioned for them to come along. This had all the promise of being either a very long…, or very short night. He couldn’t wait to see Jim’s reaction.