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Darren started slightly when the back door slammed hard enough to rattle the framed photographs on his desk. Great, more drama. He sat back, knowing he was going to be dragged into the never-ending war. Just as he’d feared, Ben appeared in the doorway.
“I don’t have to put up with this shit! I’m not your fucking servant.”
Darren put his pen on the desk with an audible click and swiveled his chair to meet Ben’s angry expression.
“What are you talking about? No one is treating you bad.”
“The hell they’re not! I’ve been working my fucking ass off all day on the goddamn fence. And I don’t get paid a fucking thing.”
“You mean the allowance, food and a place to live don’t count for anything?” Darren crossed his arms and felt the anger bubbling up from inside him. The young man who had been living with them since last fall was pacing back and forth. His face was flushed red and obviously beyond any reasonable conversation.
“Benji, why don’t you clean up and I’ll finished supper. Then we can talk about what’s bothering you,” Darrin said.
“Ben! I’ve told you my name is Ben! Not Benji! I’m not some little kid. I’m a grown man.”
Darrin scowled. “So this is grown man behaviour?”
He hadn’t thought it was possible, but Ben’s face turned an even deeper shade of red. “Fuck you! Fuck you, you old man!”
“Real mature. I can see why you consider yourself an adult,” Darrin said.
He heard the door open and close again. Mitch had followed for the fireworks that were about to set everything ablaze. His husband stopped in the kitchen doorway, crossed his arms and smirked at Darrin. He’s wanting me to rip him a new asshole. I might just be able to pull it off too. He changed his focus back to Ben and realized he was starting up again.
“I’ve done nothing but be your slave since I got here. Everything you want some shitty job done you dump it on me. I can’t have my friends over. This whole thing is total bullshit.”
Darren considered his response. One thing was certain, there was going to be a response. He frowned and studied the quivering youngster standing in front of him.
“I’d be careful about throwing the word slave around. We offered you a place to stay. Fed you. Mitch and I took you in when you got to be too much for Trent and Josh. There’s nothing you’ve done here that we haven’t been working side-by-side with you. Running a ranch is hard work. You have to pull your weight. There’s nothing else to it.”
Darrin thought for a moment he’d gotten through, but knew that wasn’t the case when Benji started off on another tirade as if he’d not heard a word that was said. Darrin listened to the profanity filled diatribe for several minutes before he turned and started down the hallway.
“Hey! Old man! I wasn’t finished.”
Darren popped open the door to Ben’s room and motioned inside. “You’re welcome to leave anytime. We aren’t going to make you stay if you don’t want to. But if you stay, you are going to have to follow the rules and help with the work. No one gets a free ride.”
Ben studied him for a moment before walking past him to grab a duffle bag and begin filling it with clothes. Darrin wondered if it occurred to the kid that everything he was packing had been given to him by one of them. But after a minute, he realized this had gone too far for Ben to step back.
He turned and walked back into the living room to find Mitch occupying one of the chairs.
“Didn’t go too well from what I heard,” Mitch said.
“No, it went piss poor.”
The crashes and cursing flowed from the bedroom with Darrin and Mitch both cringing at some of the noises. Then there was a minute of silence that was almost the worst. But when they heard footsteps coming down the hall and they stood to meet him.
“Yeah. I guess I’ll take off. Hmm, thanks. You know. But I can’t stay any more.”
“How are you getting into town?” Darrin asked.
Ben shrugged. “Hitch, I guess. Someone will pick me up.”
Darren stood and grabbed his keys. “Come on. I can at least take you to the bus station. From there it’s up to you.”
“Yeah, I do. Come on, I’ll give you a ride.”
There was a moment of tension and then Ben relaxed and nodded. He followed Darrin and soon they were traveling to his destination. There was no conversation as the two drew closer. The silence had not broken as they pulled into the parking lot where the bus would pick up passengers.
“This is it. The bus comes by sometime late afternoon,” Darrin said.
“Yeah. Guess so.” Ben opened the door and started out.
“Hey, this is yours.” Darren held out a large envelope that was filled to capacity.
Ben took the packet and turned it in his hands. He looked back at Darrin with a quizzical look on his face. “What is it?”
“Nothing much. Emergency kit I guess.”
Ben opened it and peered inside. He looked at it for a moment, then looked back at Darrin as he reached in. He pulled out a pile of bills and a cell phone.
“Mitch and I thought you could use a little extra cash in case there was an emergency. The phone’s one of those Go phones or something like that. No contract and we prepaid for some minutes for you.”
Ben nodded and Darrin thought for a moment there was going to be a hug. But Ben seemed to withdraw. He jumped out of the pickup and closed the door behind him. He walked to the bus stations without a backward glance.
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