Chapter One: Education.
Robert Bach. Robert Bach. Robert Bach. He turned the page and continued looking through detailed forms, looking for the next place he was required to sign. A slight right leaning tilt on the last name, emphasizing the larger and attractive shape of the capital B. He finally liked the way he signed his name, after doing it so many times in the past year. A whole year? It seemed like nearly a lifetime ago when he started the college application process. At least it was nearly finished! The callous on his thumb might start to wear off. He hoped he would never have to write so much with a physical pen for the rest of his life. Why hadn’t this process been moved online like most everything else in life?
He pushed the chair back from his desk and stretched. Looking around his bedroom, he wondered how much of it would be the same in another year from now. The thought of moving away from his home both excited and scared him. He had lived in Colville for his entire life and even though he had traveled with his parents to visit his grandparents in Seattle and a few trips to National Parks during summer vacations, he had never been out of the small town for any significant period of time. He couldn’t wait to leave. The place felt stifling in a strange way he wasn’t able to explain fully to himself, much less his friends or parents.
He wondered what it would be like when he lived in Boise. He had been there to visit the university twice with his parents and found it very exciting to see all the new and different things and people. It seemed similar to the amount of people in Seattle; with nearly constant traffic and movement of people from one place to another. But Boise still generated feelings of home when he saw the way people dressed and frequently greeted each other on the street. In fact, it was while crossing a sidewalk after getting Starbucks for his mother that stuck in his mind. The grandfather-aged older man stopped his antique model pickup truck even though he had the right-of-way, and motioned Robert across the street. Just like home.
He wondered what the girls would be like when he lived there. Did girls in college get less scary? He was attracted to a few of the girls in Colville but never felt brave enough to do anything more than kiss them, and that only happened twice and very quickly with great trepidation. What should happen after they kissed him back? He preferred not to think about it. He knew he wasn’t ugly and in fact it was possible he was good looking, but none of that made intimacy with girls any less terrifying. He didn’t want a baby! And there was no way he would be able to buy condoms or get the injection without his parents finding out.
Colville had changed greatly in the past fifteen years but it was still a rather small town with a close community. The population had been relatively stagnant through most of the 20th century and into the first ten years of the 21st, but like many other rural areas in America it had started growing after Prail had revolutionized the way businesses, especially small ones, could transport goods within and to the borders of North America. Prail’s fleet of computer-driven trucks had nearly completely replaced all human-driven trucks and enabled a resurgence of rural craftsmen to compete in a worldwide marketplace. The company’s founder, Vikram Prail, had worked at Alibaba for almost ten years prior to starting his namesake company in the US and took the process of enabling crafters and merchants to distribute goods globally even further.
Robert wondered if he would like to work at Prail after his degree was completed at Boise State University. Now wasn’t that a joke? He didn’t even know if he could finish his degree, much less his first year or even first semester. Besides, he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life. He knew that Prail had operational centers in many different areas in the US, and the prospect of living in different places appealed to him. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life yet, but he knew he loved to travel and explore new places. Actually he wasn’t sure if he loved to travel exactly, but he knew he wanted to get away from Colville.
The thought of leaving his family and friends behind did cause him to worry that he would miss them. He was an only child so he wouldn’t miss any siblings, though he shared a close bond with both of his parents. His friends at school certainly always seemed to be close to him. But for reasons he had never quite been able to understand, he didn’t feel very attached to them. Their interests and activities frequently felt alien to him, and he genuinely didn’t understand why they would act certain ways. He had felt this way since about the time he became a teenager and it both intrigued and frustrated him. Like kissing girls. Why were his own emotions so mysterious?
He smiled and thought of how excited Zeus and Leto would be to see him. Nothing complicated or mysterious about that. Now that he thought about it, he felt more at home spending time with Rebecca’s dogs than he did with most of his friends. They didn’t say stupid things, they missed him when he left and he could speak with them for hours at a time without any interruptions. He was sure they listened to him, though the downside was they couldn’t give him any critical feedback. He laughed out loud. If Zeus and Leto could talk, it’s very possible they might be better conversationalists than his friends.
Back to the task at hand. He needed to finish his acceptance paperwork and get that in the mail. At least he could scan and email this paperwork. He tried to think of the last time he had used his actual mailbox to send a letter or document and nothing came to mind. On the other hand, he had worked at Rebecca’s long enough for her to trust him with handling some of the smaller shipments this summer. He loved knowing that Rebecca trusted him and the three shipments he had sent off so far seemed have gone very well. It was tough for anyone to mess up with Prailship, but he was sure he would have found a way if it was possible.
The sun was shining directly through the blinds in his window and making him squint. Almost noon. He would do one more review of the paperwork before scanning it, then would bicycle to Rebececa’s farm to start work at 1pm. He was happy it was finally starting to be warm and hoped it would be a nice summer without being too hot. Not much chance of that happening. Every year the summer was hotter and drier, and he doubted this year would be an exception. At least the dogs seemed to enjoy it. Many of the dogs his friends owned seemed to relish laying in the shade, but the Salukis that Rebecca bred seemed to take pleasure in the sun. They didn’t lie in the sun for hours, but certainly had no reservations about galloping through the fields and working up a sweat.
He grabbed a banana from the kitchen to eat on the way to the farm. Would his dorm have fresh fruit deliveries every morning? What would his roommate be like? What would he eat every day? What sort of part-time job would he get? What would the girls be like? Would he make any good friends? So many questions! He almost shivered in excitement. Just like Zeus and Leto before he gave them dinner. Oh, to be a dog, wouldn’t life be simpler?
As he cycled through the center of town, thoughts of what he would have to do at the farm wandered through his mind. The first thing he would do is feed them, which would take at least an hour to prepare and serve. Serving dogs always made him smile. He figured he treated the dogs better than many restaurant servers did their customers. Maybe that would be a job he could get in Boise? Anyway, as he prepared their food he would get the handoff from Sammy. Was Sammy working the morning shift? He thought so. Sammy was a good guy and had treated Robert well when he started working at the farm. Not many adults treated him as a peer from the beginning and he appreciated the gesture greatly.
After he found out if anything interesting was happening for the rest of the day, he would probably have to go clean out their rooms and then do a circuit of the fences. The dogs would sometimes try and dig their way under the fences if a cat, squirrel, possum, tumbleweed or gust of wind interested them on the other side. Where did they get all that energy anyway? They would lie around acting like cats for hours and then suddenly race in the back fields for twenty or thirty minutes at a time. One time after he first started he had tried to race with them on his bike. That didn’t last long! The dogs outpaced him easily and he blushed a bit, remembering Rebecca laughing at him from the porch of the main house. She wasn’t a bad looking older woman.
Only afterwards did he learn the Saluki’s were an ancient breed that were originally used as hunting dogs for nomadic tribes, chasing down gazelles and jackals. He cycled often and thought of himself as a strong and speedy rider, but he doubted he could outpace a gazelle and certainly not any of the adult dogs. When he first started working at Rebecca’s farm it had taken him a few weeks to gather the courage, but finally he’d asked why in the world she had decided to start a dog breeding farm in the middle of nowhere. He was surprised to learn that Rebecca actually enjoyed being away from big cities, since she had apparently grown up in Dubai and Zurich and didn’t like all the noise and commotion. People were strange. He wanted to leave and she was happy to be here.
Arriving at the farm, he thought about how curious he was about the place when it first started. Nearly five years ago, she had bought the house and land and started putting up the out-buildings for dogs and replaced all of the existing fencing. He frequently bicycled down this road so he saw things progress on a daily basis. He was one of the few locals interested at first, though interest raised quickly when she started hosting groups of men from the Middle East who would arrive by flying in to the tiny Colville Municipal Airport in their private airplanes. He remembered even his parents talking about it at the dinner table, and he felt like an adult when he would share what he’d seen that day during his bicycle rides.
It gave him a special feeling of being “in the know” to see what was happening at the farm when it started. The groups of men in their bright white robes were fascinating to him, since he had never seen them other than watching shows on the net or in VR. He would slowly pedal by the farm, watching them follow Rebecca around the different buildings and appearing to inspect them intently. These visitors arrived frequently for the first six months, but since then they only traveled here every year or so and never in such numbers as they were in the beginning.
What a trip down memory lane. He almost passed the gate! After quickly asking his iPhone the time, he was relieved to know he was nine minutes early. Perfect. He hated being late, almost as much as he hated when his mom nagged him about it. Her nagging worked though, because he was rarely late and didn’t like it when anyone else was either. Thanks, mom.
He parked his bike outside the main barn to see who was working today. As he suspected, Sammy was inside and filling out the logbook for the morning shift activities. As they chatted about what dog had been doing what, Sammy explained that Tracey would be stopping by sometime this afternoon to do one of her normal sessions with some of the older dogs. Maybe Leto or Juno or even Helen. None of them were due to whelp currently, and all of their pups were nearly a year old and could easily afford to be apart from them for an hour or two.
Robert’s stomach suddenly seemed to be filled with butterflies and he was thankful his face was already flushed from the bicycle ride here. The thought of Tracey always made him feel embarrassed and nervous, no matter how many times they talked or how cool he thought he acted around her. She was four years older than him but it seemed like a huge gap. She was so smart, beautiful and poised and basically famous on top of that!
He tried to refocus on what Sammy was saying. Something about Rebecca being on a business trip for a few days? He asked for more details and realized he needed to go see Rebecca later this afternoon to learn about a Prail shipment he would need to take care of while she was gone. Great, something to make him even more nervous. He finished the handoff from Sammy and after saying goodbye, went to say hi to the dogs.