The sun was high in sky as Collin pulled up to the dilapidated remains of his childhood home. He had known his mom had been struggling with some of the maintenance, he just hadn’t realized that meant all the maintenance.
Collin got out of the car and took in the peeling paint and front porch, which was struggling to hang onto the main house. Collin could see into the house through the holes in the siding and the roof didn’t look much better.
“Wow.” It felt like a stone had settled in Collin’s stomach as it churned with regret and guilt. He climbed cautiously onto the creaking porch before turning to survey the rest of the buildings.
Neglect lined his sight for miles, as the sagging fences, peeling paint and leaning outbuildings dotted the landscape.
“Mom, how could you not have told me?” Collin whispered softly.
He turned to look back at the front door holding on by a wish and prayer, and blew out a long breath as he ran his hand through his hair.
“No, why didn’t I visit more. If I hadn’t been so busy trying to be partner, I would’ve known you were dying and the ranch too.”
The rumbling and crunching of gravel in the distance alerted Collin to a truck in the distance ambling up the driveway.
An older man cut the engine of the diesel truck before climbing down.
“Collin Knight? Is that you?” The man asked.
Collin wasn’t sure how this man knew him. “Yes, it is. But I’m sorry, I don’t recognize you.”
The older gentleman chuckled. “It’s me, Willie O’Brien, I own the ranch next door. I saw your car drive down the road, and figured I’d take my chances. Our ranches are the only ones for miles.”
Collin smiled and walked down the steps to shake his hand.
“Mr. O’Brien. Wow, it’s been years. Sorry, I didn’t recognize you,” Collin explained.
“Not visiting in close to 14 years will do that. But then again, your mother wasn’t too eager to have you come home and visit. She’d much rather visit her boy in the city,” Willie stated eyeing the house.
Collin looked down at his shoes and kicked at the gravel. A flush crept up his neck onto his cheeks. Why the hell hadn’t he ever bothered to visit?
“I didn’t know things were this bad. If she had just told me, I couldn’t given her the money,” Collin told Willie.
“Margaret admitting she couldn’t handle herself, and asking for money? That would’ve been a sight,” Willie chuckled.
Willie seemed to know a lot more than he did about the ranch. Hell, he seemed to know a lot more about his mother’s situation than he did.
“Tell me, how long has the ranch been struggling?” Collin asked. He wasn’t really sure he wanted to know the answer.
“Since you went off to college,” Willie replied.
The air rushed from Collin’s lungs. “What?”
That couldn’t be right. Mom would have told him if things were bad. Then again, look at what all she had kept hidden from him.
Willie gestured for Collin to sit down on the sagging steps.
“The ranch took a hit right before you went off to college, you know the cattle industry. One minute things are great, and the next, everything is crap.”
Collin nodded. He understood the ups and downs of ranching, what he couldn’t wrap his mind around is why his mom kept it a secret.
“But she never said anything. She paid my college tuition every year. I only got a partial scholarship to law school, so she paid the difference,” Collin stated.
“You had a college savings account, so I recon that’s how she paid for it. She’d never have taken that money from you. I believe she truly thought she could weather the storm.”
Willie looked out at the devastation neglect had wrought over the years to the once proud Knight Ranch.
“Beef prices fell, but that’s nothing new,” Willie continued. “However, five years ago Margaret learned she had stage two ovarian cancer. The doctors felt confident they had caught it in time, and she underwent treatment for almost a year before they declared her in remission.”
Collin began to construct a timeline in his head.
“That was around the time I was made a junior partner at the firm. I told her I wanted to visit her before my case load increases significantly, but she said she wasn’t feeling well, and would see me in a few weeks.”
Collin sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “Actually, any time I mentioned coming to the ranch she insisted it was better if she visited me.”
“That’s because she didn’t want you to know she couldn’t keep up with cattle ranching, especially not over the past four years. I offered to help her time and again to get everything back on track, but she declined,” Willie lamented.
As he gazed out over the landscape, Collin could tell he was somewhere else in his mind.
“Then last year, the doctors said her cancer was back and had spread, and they weren’t sure if she could beat it again. So, she sold off all the bulls and breeding cows to pay for everything. And she mortgage the property to the nines,” Willie recalled.
Both men sat in silence for a moment with their thoughts. A soft breeze rustled leaves on the ground, pulling Willie from his trance.
“If she hadn’t passed away, she would’ve lost the ranch in foreclosure. She was already a few months behind on the payments,” Willie told him.
Anger coursed through Collin. She had been so proud she had almost cost them both his father’s family’s legacy.
“I close deals worth millions of dollars every day. I make insane amounts of money each year, I would’ve taken care of her! Why did she never ask?” Collin ran a hand through his hair, he was exacerbated with this entire situation.
Willie patted Collin on the back.
“I’ve known Margaret my entire life, and she wouldn’t have wanted you to worry about her as she slowly slipped away. Especially not her boy.
“She sacrificed for years to build that college fund, and if you wanted to be a lawyer, then she was going to have the funds for your dream. And she’d rather eat soap every day for the rest of her life, than interfere with the career you worked so hard to build,” Willie explained.
The men sat in silence, taking in the ranch and the vastness of it all. It would take years to get the ranch back on track. Not to mention thousands of dollars.
“What are you going to do with the ranch?” Willie asked quietly.
Collin sighed. “I haven’t met with the lawyer yet, but I plan on keeping it. I thought I’d only be here a week, two at most, just until I found a foreman to run the place. But I can see now that it’s going to be much more than that.”
Willie chuckled softly. “You want some help?”
“Yes. I have money and can buy whatever, but it’s been years since I’ve had to do anything dealing with cattle. Plus, I know next to nothing about home repair!”
Willie patted Collin on the back. He could tell the younger man was struggling under the weight of his grief and family legacy’s crumbling around him.
“Well, I’ll make a few phone calls on your behalf and see if I can’t get someone out here to fix the front porch and get a new roof on all the building before the storms start coming. In the mean time, where are you staying?”
A wave of despair washed over Collin.
“I was planning on staying here, but if the inside looks anything like the outside, it probably wouldn’t be a good idea.”
“If I know Margret, everything is tidy, but worn. I’m not sure what the plumbing is like, or if there is electricity. She only paid the mortgage most months. If there was money left over, then other things got paid. You can stay at my ranch house with me,” Willie declared as he stood up.
“I wouldn’t want to impose. I know there is a motel in town, and I -“
The older man interrupted Collin mid-sentence. “It’s just me in that big house, Emma, is currently off traipsing the globe, and is due to drop in without warning sometime in the next few months.
“It’s nothing fancy, but at least you’re guaranteed running water, electricity, and a roof that doesn’t leak. And it would be easier to help you from my place, because everything you’re going to need to learn is there,” Willie finished.
Collin hesitated a moment. He stood up and looked back at the house before running a hand through his hair.
“If you’re sure it isn’t an inconvenience,” Collin tentatively said.
“I wouldn’t have offered if it was.”
“Alright, I’ll stay. But only until we can get the main house in a livable state,” Collin quickly stated. “It wouldn’t sit right with me to impose on you longer than need be.”
Willie laughed. “You are your Mother’s son. Sounds good to me.”
Willie checked his watch before climbing into his truck. “Dinner is in an hour. Why don’t you finish up here, and join me. Then after, you can unpack and handle any lawyer business type things you need to.”
Collin realized he hadn’t eaten anything since last night and hadn’t really planned ahead for dinner. “Sounds good to me.”
As Willie was closing the door to his truck, Collin stopped him. “And thank you. I don’t know what I would have done without your generosity.”
“It’s what neighbors do for each other.”
Collin waved to Willie as he drove back up the driveway. He then turned and made his way to the front door.
Collin unlocked the door, then took a deep breath before carefully stepping inside.