The sun had set when I wound up the milking, cleaned up and turned to lock myself out of the barn. Milo was leaning, just outside the door on a middle-aged green Pontiac parked in the grass. He must have just arrived; the car was still ticking, settling in. I wiped my hands on my shorts. “I wish I had that beer now that you offered me,” I said.
“You been up to look at that hay?” Milo’s shirt was open to the waist and only half tucked. His arms were folded against his chest. He looked disheveled.
“I’ve already used four-five bales, yesterday and today,” I told him cheerfully.
“So yer sure it’s all right. I don’t want you or nobody else to have to buy stuff that’s second rate.”
“They aren’t leaving much,” I assured him. “You know I buy all my feed. Buy it all. This is pretty good hay, green and smells good, stems are thin and there’s not a whole lot of blossoms. I think it comes from a good farmer. I think you went to some trouble. I don’t want you to get cheated either. My checkbook’s up at the car. Just a second, will you.”
He followed me to the Fiat. I thought it noteworthy that I should lead and he should follow. I sat in the driver’s seat and wrote a check against the steering wheel the door hanging open. Then I inhaled deeply, filling my lungs with evening air, on Milo’s time, and ripped away the check, and got out of the car.
“I can probably do the trip again in ten-twelve days,” said Milo sliding the check into his crippled billfold. “We were dehorning all day today, twenty-seven yearlings, lots of fun.” He patted his belt buckle. “I had two beers. Then a guy cornered me, I couldn’t get loose.”
“You look a little done in,” I observed.
He could see my herd out behind the barn. He was looking at them when he said, “You got enough time off to go out with me tomorrow night?”
“No,” I said. “But thanks for asking. I don’t do any of that. Got no time.” Milo’s attention swung away from the cows and swung to me. I explained to him. “Well, I have all I can handle without the social whirl. Bob – that’s different. That’s fishin’; that’s way different. Besides, plain to see we are both running our tails off already, right? Then go out to a speakeasy and go through this ritual? Ducking around here and there so nobody’ll catch on? Just as well get jobs with the CIA and get paid for all that.”
“Well, ain’t that an attitude,” said Milo.
“No, it’s not,” I replied. “I’m not mad at anybody. I wouldn’t give you trouble. Of course not. I like the way you conduct yourself, no kidding. Tell you the truth; I’d like to go at you. Sue me if you want to. I just got so I had it up to here with all the games, some time back,” I said straight at him. “If you can’t abide what I figure out for my own self, I guess now is a good time to find out, wouldn’t you say?”
I thought he was about to turn and walk away, but then he didn’t. I took the four steps separating us. He watched me come. That’s what I was saying about control. If I screw up, at least, I’m doing it to myself instead of letting someone else do it. That way there’s no whining, not around me. I let my hand move languidly along the side of Milo’s face. “Maybe we should go up there and look at that hay,” I suggested. He went with me, somewhat willingly.