By the time Stan Ellis was finished mucking out the stalls, his seventeen-year-old body was exhausted. After a full day at school followed by band practice, it was a lot of work. He made himself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, pulled out his homework, and began studying for a Physics test the next day.
Just as he finished reviewing the final chapter, Grandpa Ellis, a seventy-year old rancher, came in the kitchen. He still smelled of the outside, despite the shower he had obviously just taken.
“We’re having spaghetti tonight. Is that okay?” he asked as he pulled a pot and lid out of the cabinet.
“Sounds great,” Stan said. “Can we have a salad too?”
“If you make it.”
Stan opened the refrigerator and pulled out lettuce, radishes, and cheese. He got a tomato off the counter and bacon bits from the pantry. “So, Grandpa, are you going to give me the money or not?”
“Can you explain it to me again?” Grandpa dumped a handful of spaghetti noodles into a pan of boiling water, and then wiped his hands on his jeans.
“I’ve got to turn the money in tomorrow,” said Stan, “or I can’t go to Disneyland.”
“Why’re you going there?”
“I told you three months ago,” Stan said as he finished assembling the salad and flopped into a hand-hewn kitchen chair. “I’ve asked over and over, but you haven’t given me a dime.”
Grandpa Ellis stirred the noodles with a wooden spoon. “Well. Let’s see. What extra jobs have you done around the ranch to earn the money?”
Stan sighed and ran his hands over his lanky brown hair. “I dug the weeds out of the pony pens and I trimmed the bushes along the drive.”
“That’s your job,” Grandpa said.
“According to that line of reasoning, then anything I do around here is my job,” Stan said. “Look, Grandpa, I really want to go. I’ve got to pay the full amount tomorrow or I’m out.”
Grandpa slipped a loaf of French bread out of its wrapper and laid it on the cutting board. He picked up a knife and sliced off four hefty pieces. “Explain again the reason behind the trip.”
“The band’s marching in the Main Street Parade and performing on the stage in Tomorrowland.” Stan leaned his chin on his hands and looked at his grandfather with sparkling eyes. “I want to go.”
After popping open a jar of sauce and pouring it into a pan, his grandfather sat down. “How much are we talking about?”
“We’re flying, so that’s about $300. No hotel costs because we’re going to sleep in a gym at a local school. They’re feeding us breakfast and dinner. Admission to the park is about $100. The only other cost is for my lunch.”
“So about $500?”
Stan shrugged. “Yeah.”
“I don’t have that kind of money.” Grandpa walked over to the stove, poured a little oil into the water with the noodles and stirred the sauce.
“You sold a foal last week to Mr. Newton for over a thousand dollars.”
“I paid bills with that money. We still owe Smith’s Hay and Feed over two thousand and Bill’s been asking for his money since he fixed the truck last week.”
“But, Grandpa, everyone else is going. It’ll look funny if I don’t go,” Stan whined as he flopped his head down on his crossed arms.
“Set the table. We’ll be eating in about five minutes.”
Stan stood, shuffled to the cabinet, and with seemingly superhuman effort got down two plates and glasses. With an audible sigh, Stan set them on the placemats.
“Quit making a big show.” Grandpa Ellis strained off the water from the noodles and then dropped in a slice of butter. He tossed the noodles, poured in the sauce, and carried the pan over to the table. “Sit down and let’s talk.”
Stan scooped a mound of spaghetti onto his plate and sprinkled on a heavy layer of Parmesan cheese. “It’s during Spring Break so I won’t miss any school. You filled out the permission form and I turned it in. Mr. Hayfield’s already paid for my plane ticket. I can’t back out now.”
“I can’t recall filling out any form.”
“Well, you did.”
“What was I doing when you handed it to me?”
“Washing dishes. You told me to put the form on the table, so I did. When you finished, you filled it out and handed it to me.”
“You tricked me or I’d never have signed. You can’t go, Stan. I’m sorry.”
Without finishing his meal, Stan got up from the table and ran to his room. The slamming of the door shook the whole house.
After wiping off his mouth Grandpa cleaned up the kitchen and then went into the front room. He unlocked the small safe in his desk and pulled out a wad of money. Slowly he counted the bills. When finished, he locked the safe, closed the door and went upstairs.
“Can I come in?” he said after knocking on his grandson’s door.
Grandpa extended his right hand. “Here’s the money.”
“Really?” Stan’s face glowed with surprise.
“Yeah. I was hoping that you’d changed your mind and didn’t want to go all the way to California. Just in case, though, I put the money aside. I’m going to sell Misty to Steve Carlson this weekend. I’ll use that money to pay off bills.”
“Thanks, Grandpa! You’re the best!” Stan, even though he was a little too old for hugs, jumped up off his bed and wrapped his arms around his grandfather.
I love the little details of this story; the smells, the radishes, the noodles in the pot of boiling water.