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was wider than the door. Haybaler looked on in disbelief as the cart collided with full force into the wooden framework of the barn door. The noise of metal and wood crashing together was mixed with the sight of boards and dust flying through the air in a great explosion. The huge wooden barn swayed perilously at the impact, but remained upright.
In a moment it was over. Haybaler ran up to the scene of devastation as the dust was settling. There before his eyes was Sugar suspended in midair, with her feet dangling about 6 inches off the floor of the barn. As she had leapt over the threshold, the old cart had struck the both sides of the barn door with a ferocious impact. The sides of the cart had come to rest, crushed and immobilized within the structure of the barn door. Incredibly, the cart and its heavy burden of firewood had become a fulcrum that held Sugar suspended in midair, lashed as she was to the protruding frame of the cart. Haybaler and the mule were both astonished. He was speechless at the sight of the wreckage and debris, not to mention the sight of his mule dangling from the leather lashings of the harness and the cart. Sugar, on the other hand, was equally startled as she stared unflinchingly at the fresh hay, which was lying in wait, just a few feet in front of her in her stall.
Without thinking, Haybaler began removing the logs and limbs from the cart, one by one. Slowly but surely, as the weight was removed from the cart, the fulcrum lowered Sugar’s ponderous body slowly to the barn floor. Finally, she stood with all four hooves on the ground, steadily gazing at the hay in her stall. Her ears were laid back in irritation, because she was tired of waiting for her dinner. Haybaler entered the barn and obligingly released her from the leather bindings. Sugar shook the dust off her hide and walked gracefully into her stall to enjoy her bounty of hay, as if nothing unusual had ever happened. Cursing under his breath, Haybaler surveyed the damages in pained disbelief. On Acorn Ridge a day’s work is never finished.
A word or two is in order to understand the complexities of Haybaler’s social development. Of course he grew up within the Stiles’ family unit, and he was afforded the richness of education attained from growing up on a working farm. He went to school in Pleasanton and was one of a small percentage of students that actually graduated from high school. He even went on to attend junior college for a few semesters, which if for no other purpose, left him with a fondness for reading and gaining knowledge about the world around him.
He was painfully shy during his teenage years. He tried smoking cigarettes behind the gym with the other boys, because he wanted to look tough and be accepted by his peers. Truth was he could never really inhale the acrid smoke without coughing. Add to that his disbelief that anyone could actually enjoy such a nasty habit, and it was evident that he was not to become a smoker. Even at a young age, he could discern that those youthful friends, who were most easily getting hooked on cigarettes, were the same ones that were getting into trouble for truancy and other misdemeanors. Getting into trouble with the law was not his cup of tea.
Upon reflection, it seemed to Haybaler that some of his friends and acquaintances were born under a bad sign. Or, as it would be said in Texas hill country, “There is trouble written all over them.” Dark clouds followed them everywhere. Even in high school, he could sense that some of his peers were in for a long and difficult life. It was not that he was wishing poorly upon them. Rather, He seemed to have been born with a natural gift of insight into people and their behaviors. Many years passed before he would understand if this gift was a blessing or a curse, because having intuition into people and their behaviors caused him dismay, as often as not.
During his freshman year of junior college he experienced his first romantic relationship. In retrospect, it was an intense case of infatuation, the likes of which were unknown to this simple country boy. He felt that the stars from heaven had fallen from above to form a beautiful halo around the crown of his beloved. She appeared to him as the most attractive and curvaceous woman on Earth. The very sight of her would send his heart and mind into a fantastic dream world, where he imagined all types of wonderful attributes about his beloved. At long last, it seemed like she would be the fulfiller of his deepest hidden needs.
This being his first indulgence into the world of romantic endeavors, he falsely assumed that he was experiencing, true love. He did not think otherwise, as his feelings for her had overwhelmed rational thought, and carried him deep into irrational idealization of the beloved. He had not yet developed the insight, that what he perceived as his lover’s beautiful attributes were really only the projections of his deeply personal unfulfilled desires. Little did Haybaler know, he was standing on the edge of the cliff of infatuation, without looking to see what was waiting in the shadows below. It turns out that no one was at the ready, waiting to catch the falling lover before he crashed painfully into to rocky crags at the base of the ravine.
The object of his desires was a girl from Poteet, Texas named Crissy. As she had gone to high school in the neighboring town of Poteet, Haybaler had not known her previous to their meeting in junior college. In many ways she was his new discovery. The intensity of his feelings for her was increased with each date night, during which they both enjoyed the peaks of sexual fulfillment, afforded to those young lovers who so easily throw caution to the wind. He had fallen so deeply in love with her that it seemed he had ceded his will over to her, as the sole giver of pleasure and acceptance in his life. He was not at all his usual self. It seemed her power over him reigned supreme. His feelings about himself hung on her every word. Good or bad emotions were triggered and relieved by her slightest acceptance or hint of rejection. He ignored the red flags, which occasionally showed up in this relationship, such as a rational fear of what would happen to him should she ever coldly reject him. His obsession with her was so complete, that rational thoughts about her and the relationship had faded into the background.
What he did not know, and could not have known about Crissy, was that she was the slut of Poteet High School. So much so, that she had garnered the nickname, “Sticky Buns.” She had been known by this nickname for as long as anyone could remember. The nickname was crass, but fitting. She had the dubious reputation of sleeping with boy after boy after boy. For her, the thrill of the next conquest superseded any emotional commitment to a single male. The excitement of acting out the persona of “the bad girl,” was her utmost goal. When confronted with the nickname “Sticky Buns,” by a jealous female classmate in the girl’s room, she would immediately launch into a rant about how men found her hot and sexy. More than one cat fight had resulted from such taunting, with both sides throwing lipstick and make-up cases in a wicked attack that was more wounding of feelings than flesh.
Poor Haybaler, had he but known the truth about his perceived beloved. He was only five weeks into his love affair with Crissy when he saw her walking down the hallway at the junior college, obviously flirting with some other guy. He was shocked into disbelief. A wave of fear and nausea overcame him. She feigned ignorance when asked about the other man, but it was the beginning of the end for Haybaler and Crissy’s romance. At first, not wanting to believe what he had seen, he became even more obsessed with Crissy and her every movement. He could not stop thinking about her, nor could he sleep at night due to tossing and turning with worry. The final blow came when she declined the opportunity to go out with him the next weekend. She became upset at his persistent questioning about the other guy, to the point that she indignantly said, “You are just so suffocating. I need my space.” Haybaler was as speechless as if she had physically slapped his face.
Now deeply wounded, he was thrown off the sheer incline of the cliff of infatuation, crashing into the pitiless rocks of harsh reality, which were lurking in the shadows below. Unending emotional pain and anguish were his new found companions. He thought to himself, “So, this is what falling in love means. You crash into a deep pit of despair and painful suffering, with no means of rescue or escape!” Reality had never been as painful as it was for the next f
ew weeks. Being abandoned by Crissy was like being shipwrecked on a desolate shore, with no way home. He was alone and no one was throwing out a life raft to save the lonely castaway. On an emotional level, he felt like he was dying. He was fragile and would choke back tears if he witnessed Crissy at the junior college, vamping with her new found friend.
Then an amazing thing happened. The next time Haybaler was at the junior college for class, he saw Crissy seductively flirting with yet a different male. In a flash of insight he saw her in a different light than before. Suddenly, he saw her without the rose colored glasses of infatuation obscuring his view. His obsessive thinking about her evaporated as quickly as the morning dew, which disappears when exposed to the revealing rays of the morning sunlight. In reality, she was the living persona of a girl acting out the drama of being the village tramp. Incredibly, she no longer looked pretty to him, and it was sad to see her displaying all the tawdry make-up and too tight clothing. Suddenly, she looked plump in all the wrong places. Haybaler could see that her drama and