On the first day of school, Justin became quickly aware of several things: his fight with Chris Munson hd turned him into a celebrity of sorts, and some of the coy hi-Justin’s from girls, even those he was sure he had never met before, were warm to the point of being blatant come-ons. The celebrity thing Samantha would find amusing; the come-on’s, probably not so amusing.
To his and Samantha’s delight, they had three classes together-home room, and the last two of the day. They also decided that there was one class he could walk her to, since he would be passing it on the way to his class anyway.
“This borders on togetherness overload,” he joked to her during their last class.
“I know,” she replied. “Isn’t it wonderful?”
The next day when they walked into the lunch room, they spotted Chris Munson sitting at a small table by himself. Actually, his two cohorts were with him, but as far as Justin was concerned, he might as well have been by himself. Nudging Samantha with his elbow, he signaled in the direction of Chris with his head. “Let’s go cheer him up,” he said.
“That would be mighty Knightly of you,” said Samantha.
As they got close to the table, Justin caught the attention of the Munson pets, and signaled them with his head and eyes to take a hike-please.
They took a hike.
“What do you want,” asked Chris moodily as they placed their trays on the table.
“Just to talk to you,” Samantha told him. “How’s your nose?”
“It hurts,” said Chris. “How did you think it would feel?”
As Justin was examining Chris’s bruised and swollen nose, he had a sudden flash of inspiration. “How would you like a little revenge?” he asked Chris.
“Forget it,” said Chris. “I’m not stupid enough to fight you again.”
“No, no,” Justin reassured him. “I’m not talking about fighting. I’m talking about your nose. That’s a pretty big eyesore you’ve got there. How would you like to be the most popular and talked about guy in the school?”
“Oh, they’re talking about me, alright. Laughing, actually.”
“How would you like to turn the tables on them?” pressed Justin.
“What’s up your sleeve?” asked Chris, curious.
As Justin told him, Chris and Samantha smiled, then chuckled, then laughed out loud at Justin’s proposal.
The idea was even more effective than Justin had thought it would be, for the next day at school, Chris Munson showed up with a huge bandage over his nose. Clearly printed on the bandage in what was meant to look like advertising, was, “Billings Custom Nose Jobs. Call 123-OUCH”.
Justin and Samantha were sitting at a corner table when Chris came into the lunch room. With him were several girls, obviously making a big fuss over him because of his injured nose. One of the girls was carrying his lunch tray.
“Oh, my gosh!” exclaimed Samantha, laughing in delight at the sight. “Would you look at that? Mister Popularity. I would never have believed it.”
Chris spotted Justin and Samantha in the corner. Turing to the girl who was carrying his tray, he said, “Put the tray over there, my dear,” indicating a table not far from where Justin and Samantha were sitting. Then to all the girls, “You ladies have a seat and guard the tray while I have a quick word with my man Billings here.”
Giggling, the girls sat down. “Don’t be gone too long,” one of them said.
“By heck, Billings,” Chris said with a huge smile as he sat down at their table, “I haven’t had this much fun in years. Your nose-job ad idea was brilliant. I’ve got girls following me around, carrying my books for me, and of course you saw the lunch tray thing-can’t be putting too much undue stress on the old nose by burdening myself with the weight of a lunch tray, you know. I’m milking this for all it’s worth. In fact, last night, I decided to add something extra to your idea. Have a look at this. I printed several dozen.”
Justin took the calling card from Chris’s hand. “The Chris Munson Broken Nose Fan Club?” he read out loud, then laughing, “You’re pulling my leg.”
“Hey, I’m not kidding,” said Chris, as if he still found it hard to believe. “This thing is big, and getting bigger. I tell the girls that it’s not a fan club for me, it’s a fan club for my broken nose. Anyway, I just wanted to thank you for an absolutely, insanely brilliant idea. Now, I better get back to my fans.”
Samantha and Justin watched as Chris walked to his table. No sooner had he sat down than a group of girls who had just come into the lunchroom spotted him. “Look,” said one. “There’s Chris Munson! Let’s go see his nose!” Grinning widely, Chris looked at Justin and Samantha, and gave a big two thumbs up.
“Well,” said Samantha, turning her attention to Justin, “it looks like you’re going from Who’s-Who to Who’s-He pretty rapidly.”
“The sooner the better,” replied Justin. “Now everyone will be in his business instead of mine. I-what?”
Samantha was looking at Justin with slightly misty eyes. “Do you realize what you’ve done for him?” she asked.
“Yes,” said Justin. “I’ve made him insanely popular-and better him than me. Maybe that will make up for breaking his nose. I really felt sorry for him after I did that, so I’m glad my idea worked.”
Samantha looked in the direction of Munson’s table again. He was pointing to his nose and explaining something to them.
“Well,” she said, turning her attention back to Justin, “this can’t last all school year, so I hope he doesn’t go back to the old Chris when everyone’s fascination with his nose wears off.”
“He won’t go back,” Justin assured her.
Samantha looked at him questioningly.
“He won’t go back, because I just had another idea,” he replied. Standing up from the table, he held out his hand to her. “Want to come with me?”
Grinning, Samantha took his hand, using it as an aid to stand up. “I smell more fun coming up,” she said.
“Good afternoon, ladies,” said Justin as he and Samantha reached the table. After he was sure that he had their attention, he said, “I have an announcement to make about Munson’s nose.” If there were any who hadn’t given him their full attention before, they did now. “I’ve heard rumors that Chris’s nose is going to run for student body president. Of course, since the nose is attached to Chris, he’d have to go along also.”
“It is? I am?” broke in Chris, then correcting himself, stated positively, “Yes, of course I am. Absolutely. With all this attention my nose has been getting, I guess it forgot to tell me what we were planning. Thank you for reminding it.”
Justin continued, “Personally, I like the idea. And of course, the Broken Nose Fan Club would run his campaign. With your help, he would be a shoo-in.”
For a few moments, there was dead silence. Then one of the girls said, “Chris Munson’s nose for president, with him included and the fan club running the campaign.”
“Yep,” said Justin.
The girl brightened. “That is totally wild,” she said with a giggle. “I love it!”
“Me too,” said another girl, catching the enthusiasm. Several more voiced their approval, and soon the whole group at the table were making plans, discussing campaign meeting times, posters, cards perhaps, and numerous other ways to get his nose, and him, elected.
Justin took Samantha’s hand and gently led her away from the table and out of the lunch room. “That ought to keep the interest alive for awhile longer,” he said.
Samantha looked around, then gave him a quick but affectionate peck on the cheek.
“What was that for?” he asked.
“Because you deserve it,” she said.
“Hooooo-AH! SU!…SU!…SU! Up and at ’em! You know the routine by now!” Justin was pleased that the Billings Bovine Bellow-as he had named it-was beginning to work. All but one of the cows was getting up and starting towards the milking parlor with no herding on Justin’s part necessary. Now, if he could just get that one to cooperate. “Good morning, ladies,” he said to the herd as they passed by him on the other side of the fence. Then, “Come on, 42,” he yelled. “What are you waiting for, limousine service?”
At this point, Justin had been hopping over the fence and walking towards the cow, who would always rise before he got to her. This morning, he decided to wait for a minute and see what she would do. When the last of the herd had walked past her, she watched them heading purposefully towards the milking parlor. Realizing that she was the only one left, and using whatever logic it is that cows use, she lumbered to her feet and followed them.
“Way…to…go…number 42!” Justin sang out, pumping his fist in the air. Tomorrow he would not get as close to the herd before calling them. If that worked, then he would increase his distance the next day, and the next. When he had proven that he could stand at the open gates of the parlor and call them in, then he would show off his accomplishment to Lloyd Barber.
It was Saturday, and milking was the only chore Justin had to do until the evening. The rest of the time he would spend with Samantha.
Two weeks had passed since he had told Samantha of his love for her. Justin was certain that she was in love with him too, though she had yet to express it. Rather than worrying as to the reason, he was more amused than anything else. Slow, as Connie had told him, and as he had discovered almost from the beginning of their relationship, was definitely more productive, and he wasn’t going to throw a wrench into anything at this point by putting pressure on her or acting out-of-sorts. He remembered the song from the musical, Camelot, “How to Handle a Woman”. The secret, as the king had sung about and as Justin had fortunately discovered, was to love her-just love her. Well, he reflected, that wasn’t hard for him to do-not hard at all.
After breakfast-minus Lloyd, who Connie informed him was running an early morning errand in town-Justin slipped on his coverall’s and headed out to the parlor. For three days now, all the cows had been responding to the Billings Bellow, coming to the parlor and into the holding pen without being herded. He opened the gates of the pen, then stepped into the parlor to check that everything was ready before calling the cows.
“Hello, sleepy head,” said the most pleasant voice he had ever heard at this hour of the morning.
Laughing with delight, he said to Samantha, “What are you doing here this early?”
“I hired her for the morning,” said Lloyd, stepping out from the other room, grinning broadly. “Actually, it was her idea. Said you two were spending the whole day together and an early start on it would be nice. The Pipe truck is yours for the day if you want it. Now I’ll leave you two to get the cows and start milking.”
“Don’t go just yet,” Justin told him. “You may want to stick around for a few minutes. Both of you follow me.”
Justin walked out of the parlor and to the open gates of the holding pen, a curious Samantha and Lloyd behind him. Standing to one side of the gates, Justin cupped his hands to his mouth and let go with a loud “Hooooooo-AH! SU!…SU!…SU!”, repeating it several times before stopping and listening.
“What in the Sam Hill…?” began Lloyd, then stopped as it suddenly dawned on him what Justin was up to.
“What’s he doing?” whispered Samantha to Lloyd.
“Just listen,” said Lloyd, quietly. “I think we’re about to find out.”
To Justin’s pleasure, he heard the sound of cows coming down the short lane from the pasture to the milking parlor, the sound becoming more distinct the closer they got.
“He calls the cows in to milking?” asked Samantha in surprise.
“Looks like it,” replied Lloyd. Turing to Justin, he asked, “How long have you been doing this?”
“Couple of weeks,” admitted Justin. “Today is the fourth day that they’ve come in, with me calling from right here. We’ll need to step aside a little further, now. And number 42 will be the last one in the holding pen.”
“Well I’ll be smoked and hung,” said Lloyd, shaking his head in wonder. “That’s about the slickest thing I’ve ever seen.”
“Me too,” said Samantha, looking at her Knight with new respect.
Back in the parlor, and after a warm, lingering hug and an even warmer kiss, Justin asked Samantha if she would like to sit on a folding chair in the milking area while he milked.
“Didn’t you hear what Mr. Barber said?” she replied. “He hired me to work, not sit on my dignity. Now, show me what to do, and let’s get at it.”
“Yes, m’lady,” replied Justin. He pulled down on the rope that opened the small double doors connecting the parlor with the outside holding pen, letting four cows in before releasing the rope and allowing the doors to shut again. When the four cows were locked in their stalls, Justin showed her one of the four identical milking devices.
“They look kind of like four-legged mechanical spiders,” commented Samantha.
“That’s what I thought when I first saw them,” said Justin. “You’ll notice that each ‘leg’ is actually a rubber hose with a suction tube at the end. Just grab one tube at a time, like this, then slip the tube up and onto the cow’s, well, you know.”
“For heaven’s sake, Justin,” said Samantha, grinning wickedly at his sudden discomfort. “These are cows, not women. The ‘well, you know,” are called teats. That’s what milk cows have-teats. Now stop blushing and let’s get to work.”
They settled quickly into a routine that allowed the milking to go smoothly. Justin ran the entry door and took care of two cow stalls while Samantha ran the exit door and took care of the other two stalls.
“So what do you want to do today?” asked Justin, letting a cow into the parlor to take the place of one he had just released.
“Oh, I’ve already got the day planned, or the morning, at least,” said Samantha. “After that, it’s whatever sounds peachy at the moment.” Pulling the milker off of a cow, she opened the stall gate and let it out. “Another cow, please,” she requested.
“You make good plans,” Justin told her, letting another cow in.
“‘Whatever sounds peachy at the moment is a good plan?” asked Samantha, teasingly.
“If it involves you and me being together, it is,” retorted Justin.
“Good point, Sir Justin,” admitted Samantha.
They had finished the milking and were cleaning up when Connie Barber came into the parlor carrying a picnic basket. “I don’t know what you two have planned for lunch,” she said, setting the basket on the milk tank, “but common sense says that you are not going to spend your entire Saturday here on the Barber farm. So, I’ve packed you a lunch.”
“Awww,” said Samantha, touched. “You didn’t have to do that. But thank you.”
“Yes, I did have to do it,” said Connie, assertively. “Lloyd and I never had kids of our own, so having Justin here has kind of been like the son we never had. And now that you two are an item, it’s like having a daughter, also. So, don’t deny me the pleasure of some mom moments.”
“Okay, mom,” said Justin, laughing with pleasure. “Thanks for the lunch-and, ah, can I borrow the car?”
Samantha promptly slugged him on the shoulder.
“Ow!” said Justin, putting a hand up to his shoulder and feigning pain. “What was that for?”
“Bad humor,” said Samantha, grabbing the basket from the tank. “Let’s go, Billings. We’re burning good togetherness time.”
“Thanks again for the lunch, mom,” said Justin as they walked out of the parlor.
“Yeah, thanks mom,” echoed Samantha.
At Samantha’s command, Justin signaled and turned left onto a dirt and graveled road that led into a small forest. At the edge of the forest, the road turned from dirt and gravel to shallow wheel ruts through grass and leaves on rich, dark soil.
“Just follow the wheel marks until they end,” said Samantha.
After parking, Samantha grabbed the basket and led them along a foot path that opened into a tiny clearing a short ways from the truck.
“What a perfect place,” commented Justin, looking around. “There’s a peace here. I can feel it.”
“I used to come here often as a child,” said Samantha, setting the basket down near an old and large log.
“Do you want to eat now, or later,” Justin asked.
“Talk first, then eat,” replied Samantha.
They both sat on the log, Justin’s legs on one side and Samantha’s on the other, and both turned sideways so that they were almost facing each other.
“I sense that you brought me here for a reason,” Justin told her, taking her hands in his.
“Yes,” said Samantha, idly caressing his hands. “I need to tell you a story-a true story-then we’ll talk about it, and some other things. As I was saying, I used to come here often as a child, and even into my teens. Ever since I was very young, I’ve had a strong impression-very, very, strong-that someday my Knight in Shining Armor would come, and I would know him immediately. I’ve never dated much, and there was a reason for that. If my Knight was coming, I knew that no one else could hope to measure up to him, so I had no interest in boys romantically. As friends, yes. Romantically, no. I was saving all that for my Knight. Then you showed up, sooner than I had planned on or expected, and threw a wrench right into the middle of my life and jammed everything up.”
Samantha paused, getting control of her emotions, then continued. “But then you did everything perfectly, right from the beginning, just as I knew my Knight would do when he came. And this little clearing? This is where I vowed I would bring him when the time was right to tell him the story.” Samantha stopped, looking at Justin.
“I’m him, aren’t I?” Justin’s words, spoken in solemnity, were more of a statement than a question. “From the first time I met you, I’ve felt that we knew each other in a different time and place. When you began referring to me as your Knight in Shining Armor, I took it very seriously, even though at first, I thought I was just another guy to you. But I wasn’t, was I? I was him all along. I’ve been him since before we met, even. That’s why you left so suddenly that fist time. It all makes sense now.”
“Yes, Justin, you are him.” Putting her hands around his neck, she pulled him to her. “I love you, Justin Billings,” she said. “I just had to have time to sort out everything in my mind before I told you. Thank you for being so patient with me.”
Justin pulled back his head and smiled at her in the way she liked, wrapping her in his warm, chocolate brown gaze. “The easiest thing in the world for me to do,” he told her gently, “is to be patient with you. I think I already knew you loved me, but it’s definitely nice to hear it.”
They sat for a time in silence, enjoying their arms around each other.
“Where do we go from here?” asked Samantha, after a while.
“I think about spending the rest of my life with you,” said Justin, “and it seems like the most natural thing in the world.”
“I guess I feel the same way,” said Samantha.
After another silence, Samantha sighed. “I like this,” she said.
“Like what?” asked Justin.
“Being in love.”
“But of course,” said Justin, disengaging himself from her arms. “I mean, what girl couldn’t help but love Justin Billings?”
“That does it,” said Samantha, shoving him hard enough that he fell from the log and onto his back. “It’s time to eat.”
“Ow!” said Justin. “I think you just broke my appetite.”
“And you’re going to ruin mine with that bad humor,” Samantha shot back, playfully. “Now, quit acting like a man and let’s eat.”