Cooper stood at the side of the grave, looking down at the white casket that had been lowered, the dirt and roses scattered on top of it. His mother's arm was linked through his and he could feel her trembling. He knew she was afraid of what would happen now. Without Jacob, there was no one to take care of the farm. She couldn't do it alone and she couldn't afford to hire anyone to run it for her. She would have to sell it and move out of the only home she'd known for 32 years. Cooper knew this because it was just about all Marcia could talk about. Worrying about the farm kept her occupied, didn't leave room for her to miss her husband, to cry herself to sleep.
He was twenty and had just finished his second year of college. He'd been going to Northwestern, majoring in political science. He had aspirations of working on the next Democratic presidential campaign, but after he found out that his father had died, he knew his only course of action could be to come home and work the farm for his mother. It wasn't his dream, it never had been, but he knew how to run it. He knew what needed to be done and he knew how to do it with an efficiency his father would be proud of.
She'd fought him on it, of course, but when he'd told her that he'd already dropped out of school and there was no going back, she relented. Her son could be very stubborn when he wanted to be and she knew there would be no changing his mind. She was elated to have him home with her once again. The idea of being alone in the farmhouse had frightened her more than she cared to admit and knew she would feel safer with her big strong boy there to protect her.
Cooper was a good farmer. He'd learned a lot from his father and he worked hard every day. But despite the companionship of his mother, he felt alone. And then one day, she showed up at his door. Her auburn hair pulled back in a ponytail, a light smattering of freckles on her cheeks. "I heard about your dad," she said. "I'm sorry." He nodded. For some reason, he'd never found himself able to speak much in her presence. Even now, a few years after he'd graduated from high school, nothing had changed. "Anyway, I brought you some brownies. Heard you were back, helping your mama on the farm and thought you could use a friend. And some brownies." She flashed him a radiant smile and he felt color spring to his cheeks.
"Come in," he said, the first and only words he would speak to her that day. He sat at the kitchen table, a pitcher of cold, fresh milk gathering condensation to his right. A paper plate of gooey brownies with bits of melted chocolate in them separated the two. He reached for one and took a bite. It might have been the best brownie he'd ever had. His raised eyebrows and wide eyes spoke volumes to the girl across from him. "Good?" she asked and he nodded quickly. She smiled and took a brownie of her own. He watched her nibble the corners and then take a long drink of cold milk. He laughed when the glass came away and she had a white moustache on her upper lip. She blushed and wiped it away with the top of her hand.
"Well," she said, after they'd both eaten a brownie and guzzled a glass of milk, "I'd better get going. See you around?" He nodded at the front door and watched her until she disappeared.
A week and a half later he went into town to get some nails to repair part of the fence where the cows kept getting out. He saw Luke following Lara, negotiating with her to go out with him. Coop watched them, watched Lara getting more and more annoyed with him, watched him become more and more obnoxious. They reached Cooper on the sidewalk and Luke came up short, a wicked grin breaking out over his face. "If it isn't ol' Gooper," he sneered. Coop said nothing and moved to skirt around the other man to head back to his truck when he felt a tug on his sleeve. He glanced over his shoulder and found that Luke was holding onto him.
He looked at the man's hand and then back to his face, a clear warning written there. Let go of me or else. But Luke had never been one to take a warning. Cooper might not have felt he could get away with hitting someone, even in self defense, back in school, but they weren't in school now. "Now don't walk away from me, Goop. We got some catching up to do." Coop wrenched his arm, and his sleeve, free of Luke's grasp and turned to face him. "Well?" said Luke, throwing up his hands. "How ya been? How's your boyfriend?" Cooper sighed, rolled his eyes and turned his back once more, walking away.
"Don't turn your back on me, Goop." He kept walking. The man was as cocky and arrogant now as he'd been in school. He felt like everyone owed him something. But Cooper didn't owe him anything. He kept walking all the way back to his truck, but Luke kept pace and when he stopped to open his door, Luke slammed him against the side of his vehicle. "I was talking to you, trying to have a nice conversation. Why'd you gotta be a prick and walk away, huh?"
Cooper settled his hand on Luke's chest and pushed him back. The other man didn't like that, not one bit, and his fist came up and slammed into Cooper's jaw. He took a second to recover from the blow, working his jaw back and forth to be sure it wasn't broken, then he tossed the bag of nails into the bed of his truck and advanced on Luke. He grabbed him by the front of his shirt and brought him up close enough so that he could hear what he had to say. "I'm not afraid of you, Luke. I never was. But I'm not a kid you can push around anymore. You ever touch me again and I'll break your fucking fingers, do you hear me?" Luke tried to punch him again and Cooper caught his fist, uncurled it and began to bend the fingers back. "Do we have an understanding, Luke?"
Luke's knees had buckled and he was nodding furiously, "Yes, yes. Fuck, yes. Let go of me!" Coop shoved him hard and he went down on his ass in the middle of the street. "And leave Lara alone, she doesn't like you, she never did." He looked back and caught Lara's eye. She gave him a small smile and a nod. He nodded back and climbed into the cab of his truck, roaring home and leaving Luke in the dust.