He's a Keeper
Important Notes: John – Scotland, Oliver – Wales, Connor – Ireland, Chloe – N. Ireland
Daer Pen Pal
My Naem is ALFRED F. JONES. I am in 2 grade. My favrite things is hambergers and football and my dog His naem is Spike and I like carots. But you cant tell no one! Its not cool to like carots you know?
My techer says I haveto put here that I live in UNITED STATES in NEBASKRA the statE. Yep.
My name is Arthur Kirkland. I live in London, England, which is in the United Kingdom. I think I received your letter by mistake. I am in my sixth year.
I highly suggest you work on your spelling. It doesn't seem to be your strong point.
It is okay to like carrots, I like them myself. But my favourite vegetables are pickled cabbages.
Your Pen Pal,
And that was how it all started; with one horribly misspelled letter, and a strangely forgiving response. Whenever Alfred thought about it now, he was surprised that Arthur had ever responded to him in the first place. He must have been a lot more kind and calm when he was kid.
At the time, Alfred had only been seven and Arthur was ten. It was strange – at least Alfred thought so – that his small elementary school of thirty students (Kindergarten through Fourth Grade), even had an international pen pal program. But from what he understood, Arthur's school of over a thousand students liked the idea of American pen pals that live in the middle of nowhere. Not that Alfred minded. He figured there was a reason Arthur was his pen pal (although more recently it had become more and more email pals). And Alfred wasn't the type of person to ignore fate.
The young American laughed bitterly to himself as he went through his Friday ritual when he returned home from school, rifling through the mail as he walked up the excruciatingly long driveway to the front door of his house. Almost immediately he spotted an envelope he knew to be from Arthur. It was a plain envelope with nothing more than his name and address and a return address. But the red and blue stripes along the edges of the envelope and the strange – yet sometimes amusing – stamps that stuck half-heartedly to the paper, gave it away.
"Pa, I'm home," he shouted when he made it inside, tossing the rest of the mail onto the kitchen table. He immediately went to his room, shucking his backpack off and dropping it onto the floor before falling unceremoniously onto his bed, letter in his hands as his fingers worked expertly to open the parcel without damaging the paper within.
It wasn't often that he and Arthur actually wrote each other letters these days. And when they did it was to send silly things like photos, gifts and sometimes Alfred liked to send his English friend some crayon drawings (an inside joke they shared about Alfred's mentality). So he was curious to see what Arthur had up his sleeve.
Alfred, the letter started out – they were long past the stages of using 'Dear' – and Alfred smiled nostalgically at the swooping, cursive that was Arthur's handwriting.
I found this while visiting a museum in downtown London. They had a new exhibit over WWII, so naturally I had to visit and see it for myself. It wasn't horrid – they surprisingly had a few interesting sets of old military uniforms. The odd part was that there was an American Air Force uniform with the name 'Jones' stitched into the neck. Perhaps you had relatives that fought overseas? Although I presume that Jones is a common last name.
But that is neither here nor there. Back to the reason for this letter: As I was going through the gift shop, I found these American dog tag replicas and thought of you. They asked if I wanted to have a name stencilled onto them, but I thought that that would be going a little overboard. Look, they have an Eagle on one side. That should be good enough.
Also, I don't know when this letter will reach you (I'm guessing anywhere from January 2nd to the 9th), and… It's the sixth year anniversary, so I know you're probably upset – or moping. I wanted to cheer you up. She is in our thoughts, Alfred.
When you get this, email me; I want to know if you like it.
Alfred couldn't contain the grin that spread across his face as his fingers dusted the bottom of the envelope and pulled out the clinking dog tags on a thin, metal chain. His thumb grazed gently over the eagle stenciling on one side, while the other side remained blank for name and address. Happily he pulled it over his head, admiring them once more before tucking them under his shirt.
Out of habit and routine, Alfred got up from his bed and shuffled to his closet, pulling out a fat shoebox from the top shelf and placing Arthur's letter inside – along with all the other ones that Arthur had sent him over the years. He was on his fourth shoebox. Ten years was a long time.
Now he had to email Arthur and let him know that the dog tags were amazing. He slipped out of his room and made way towards the basement where the family computer was located. One day he'd invest in a laptop, but seeing as he was still in high school (Senior year, mind you), he still couldn't afford much beyond gas and a couple spare bucks to save up for video games. When he graduated, he was definitely going to get a job. Well, hopefully.
Before he could sneak off into the basement, he bodily collided into someone else. He laughed to try and mask his irritation. "Oops! My bad."
"Oh, Al, I didn't know you were home already," Matthew, his cousin, replied airily, waving around a hand passively. "Have you seen your dad anywhere?" Alfred scratched at his sandy blond locks, his nose wrinkling a bit as he thought. "I guess that's a no. Today's… well, you know. He's probably at the bar, eh?"
Alfred deflated a little bit. "Ah… Yeah, he probably is." He grimaced and shrugged as they both shared a look. For only being cousins, Matthew and Alfred were remarkably similar, with sandy blond hair, strong jaw lines, a sweet upturn to their noses; the only physical differences they had were that Matthew grew his hair longer, and Alfred's eyes were as blue as the clearest sky, while Matthew's were darker – almost purple in the right light. Not to mention Matthew was a year older than Alfred, not that Alfred liked to admit it. "You should probably pick him up."
Matthew nodded solemnly. "Yeah. Last year I had to pour him into the backseat."
"Damn… Okay, well I've got to send off an email, and then I'll go ahead and finish Pa's chores. Don't worry about it," he said easily, shrugging off Matthew's worried looks. "I'll be okay." He paused. "Can we have hamburgers for dinner tonight?"
His cousin gave a gentle laugh. "Sure. Let me find your dad… I hope he didn't get too far…"
Alfred watched Matthew leave, twirling his keys around on his finger before hopping into the old, beat up truck they used mostly for hauling wood and crops and taking off down the driveway. He sighed a little mournfully. Six whole damn years… Alfred quickly crushed that line of thought and rushed down to the basement, booting up the computer with a sigh, and sat in his favorite swiveling office chair, spinning around multiple times as he waited.
Quickly he logged on and opened his email, composing a new message with ingrained familiarity.
To: Arthur Kirkland (Mystic_Grimoire a yahoo . co . uk);
Yo! I got your letter today! And I love the dog tags! I'm going to see if I can't find a place where I can get my info stenciled on them – at least my name. So, basically… THANK YOU SO MUCH! Today's… you know. Pa's missing, Matt's out to find him, and so I've got chores to keep up on, or the cows are going to be ornery tomorrow.
By the way, I graduate in FOUR months! FOUR! Six until my birthday! And then I can legally drink in your country. :P
Anyway, I'm off to herd some cows. Nova's probably fixin' for a good workout. Someday you'd really have to visit the ranch. I'm telling you, it's not as bad as I make it sound. ANYWAY… Later.
P.S. I sooo used spell-check!
- Across the Atlantic -
Arthur smiled lightly as his phone alerted him to a new mail message, the smile widened further when he noticed it was from Alfred. Good, his package had perfect timing. He glanced around the darkened, busy street, tucking his phone back into the pocket of his overcoat as his grip on his umbrella tightened. He disliked how rainy January could be. But he supposed it was better than snow.
Finally he spotted a small café that was still open and ducked inside, he ordered the daily tea special they offered in a to-go cup and took a seat in the corner of the cozy café. He plucked his phone from his pocket and set it on his table before shedding his slightly damp coat. John could wait an extra fifteen minutes to move his couch, although Arthur was pretty sure he could do it himself.
Arthur tapped the screen of his phone to wake it from its sleep mode and opened the email. He read the short letter with a small smile. Alfred had a way of doing that – making him smile. Ten years was a long time to know someone without actually knowing them. His brothers thought it was strange, queer even, but Arthur didn't care. He didn't care because he knew that Alfred would never judge him, would never leave him so suddenly, and would never laugh maliciously at his faults. And Arthur wouldn't give that up for the world.
Distracted, he hit the reply button. He disliked sending emails via his phone (it took so much longer to type out a proper message), but he'd make an exception for Alfred today.
To: Alfred F. Jones (all . american . guy a cox . net);
I'm glad you enjoy the gift, Alfred. Try taking it to a jewellery store. They do engravings, and if they can't stencil your name, perhaps they'll know somewhere that can. Sorry to hear about your father. I hope for your sake, that it turns out better than last year.
I thought you said the cows are always stubborn?
Maybe you should come to England, then. I know where all the best pubs are – I'll give you a guided tour.
Give Nova a scratch behind the ear for me.
Once he was sure that the message sent, he stood from his seat and wandered up to the counter for his tea before heading back out into the drizzling rain towards his brother's flat. The small smile that had placed itself on his face when reading Alfred's email slowly settled back into his custom scowl as he navigated the streets, sipping on his tea as he went.
John's flat was on the third floor, unlocked, and a right mess – as always. Arthur grimaced as he stepped inside, side-stepping a pile of dirty laundry by the doorway. "John?" he called out, hooking his umbrella on the coat rack, along with his overcoat. "John are you here?" he tried again, toeing off his shoes. He glanced around the flat. It looked like a monsoon had washed through the small space.
There was a low grumble from further inside the flat, and Arthur maneuvered around empty boxes of takeout, beer bottles, clothes – and he wasn't sure what that was. "John? What are you doing?" he asked, exasperated as he found his older brother lounging face first on the sofa that was supposed to be moved.
John grumbled again, turning his face to the side to look at Arthur with bloodshot eyes. "Urhh, the 'mote… stuck under th' couch…" He blinked slowly, pushing his hands against the worn, striped cushions. "Can't seemta reach…?"
"You're pissed," Arthur said flatly, standing over John with his hands on his hips. Of course, why else would John even bother speaking with him? He frowned heavily. "I'm not moving the couch for you. Get up and do it yourself."
Arthur's brother sighed angrily, ruffling his fingers through his red hair. "'M not." He stuck his face back into the couch cushions. "I hate you," he howled suddenly as Arthur began clearing a space to sit. "I always hated you!"
"Mmhmm," Arthur hummed in response, pulling a chair from the kitchenette and setting it in the cleared spot. "That's why you called me over."
"Yeah…" John turned to face Arthur again, who now sat on the wooden chair with his arms crossed over his chest, a scowl marring his features. "I hadta tell ya… Can't… don't want you ta think I… I like ya or something…"
Arthur nodded. How many times had they been over this? Too many for him to count. He crossed his legs as well, settling John with a sharp, displeased glare. "Yes, I know. Pray tell, John, why are you drinking so heavily tonight?"
For a moment John simply stared at Arthur as if he couldn't figure out why or how his youngest blond brother even got into his home. "I miss Oliver!" he wailed suddenly, smashing his face once more into the cushion. Arthur rolled his eyes. "W-why did he haveta go an' leave us like that?"
"Because, John, it's his job."
John sat up quickly, swaying visibly as he attempted to glare at Arthur. "I tol' him not ta join up – military… Fuck!"
Arthur sat back in his chair, watching John struggle with half phrased vulgarities and curses. Oliver, their brother, had joined the British Army about three years ago, much to everyone's surprise. Arthur had been confused as to what prompted the sudden decision, and when he asked Alfred about it all those years ago, the American had simply responded: 'It's about being a part of something greater than yourself.' Arthur sincerely hoped that Alfred wouldn't get any irrational ideas and sign himself up. "It's not like he's going to be across the pond forever, John," Arthur said coolly, attempting to reason with his Scottish brother.
He was never that lucky. "He's in fucking America!" John cried, his hand flying around until it came to rest on the neck of a bottle. "'Merica… fulla loons and… and… fat arses… Poor Ol'ver."
"Right. Recall that he said he'd only be in D.C. for two years? Only a year and ten months and he'll be back home. It's nothing to drink yourself stupid over."
John gave Arthur a hazy, shifting glare. "What would ya know? Wha- wit' yer queer 'merican friend. He… he prolly ain't even real!" John viciously pointed at Arthur, who immediately sat up straight in his chair at the insult towards Alfred. "I betcha he's fake! Like… like, them unicorns ya used to talk 'bout. Fucking queer!"
In a flash, Arthur was on his feet, ripping the half full bottle of ale from his brother's hand. "Shut up, you bleeding windbag," Arthur hissed, grasping the collar of John's shirt and pulling him close. "I suggest you sleep this off and never, never call me again; or I won't hesitate to drown you in your own bathtub." He pushed John away, and the redhead flopped back onto the worn couch with a belated stupor. "Do I make myself clear?"
John nodded stupidly as Arthur straightened his clothes, grabbed his coat and umbrella from the coat rack and left after stomping into his shoes. He could feel the anger roiling through his veins, and his hands shook from suppressed rage. How dare he call Alfred fake! Arthur sighed to himself as he stalked his way back to his own flat.
With shaking hands he set a kettle of water on the stove to boil. He needed tea to calm himself down, but even the promise of tea didn't soothe him. Maybe he had gotten a little defensive over Alfred – just a tad.
Something akin to guilt wedged itself in the spaces between his ribs. He leaned against the kitchen counter and fished his phone from his pocket once more, tapping along the screen until he found what he was looking for.
My brother John just said you are not real. Should I really be this mad?
[Message sent 11:36 PM]
Arthur sighed when the text message sent, allowing his head to roll back as he examined his ceiling with a calm gaze. Even if Alfred didn't respond right away with assurances, he already felt remarkably better. It probably wasn't normal, but Arthur didn't care at the moment. Soon he would have his tea and then shortly after he would be on his way to bed. Yes, that sounded wonderful.
Of course you should be! Im so real it hurts! Btw, youre up late, I can still see the sun here. Get sum sleep. And ty for the dog tags. Youre awesome!
[Message received 11:42 PM]
I'm sitting for tea soon, and then off to bed. It's been a long day. I'll wish you goodnight in about seven hours.
[Message sent 11:45 PM]
Wen ur getting rdy for work? Srry, shouldnt txt n ride Nova at the sme time. Shes gettin twitchy. :P Have a nice sleep.
[Message received 11:57 PM]
When I find out your cause of death was trampling, I won't be surprised. Focus on work, I'm off to bed.
[Message sent 12:01 AM]
[Message received 12:04 AM]
- In the Midwest -
Alfred stuffed his phone back into the pocket of his jeans, standing up on the saddle's stirrups to do so. Nova whinnied gently as she trotted along the pasture at a leisurely pace, dipping her muzzle every here and there to nibble at long grasses that had dried out long ago. Alfred suppressed a yawn and shaded his eyes against the sun with a hand. The cattle had wandered pretty far out into the field today, which wasn't surprising; it had been good weather – not too hot, not too cold, and just a brisk, winter breeze. Thankfully the snow had melted away into a mild winter (although that meant nothing now; they could have six feet of snow in three weeks).
He allowed Nova to trot along, scratching along her mane with his free hand until he spotted the tail end of their herd. Alfred whistled and tapped the heels of his boots into Nova's sides, stirring her into an easy canter as he approached the herd, circling around them until he was sure he'd found the best way to begin.
Soon enough, he pressed Nova towards the herd, making them reluctantly turn back around towards the feed barn. Once the majority of the cattle were turned, he whooped loudly, a sudden bark of his voice that startled many of the steer. Happily he rode behind the moving herd, whooping when necessary and tossing an untied rope at those that didn't find him frightening enough.
Nova licked her lips in contentment, leaning forward and nipping at a female steer that was lagging behind the rest. Alfred laughed, ruffling the Thoroughbred's mane in affection. He sat back in the saddle, running the rough rope through his gloved hands, the winter chill stinging his cheeks and giving them a healthy glow. As soon as the pasture gates came into view, his phone began to ring, obnoxiously playing Dude (Looks Like a Lady). Nova's ears pinned back at him, and she tossed her head in annoyance. "Ah, sorry girl," he apologized, standing up and pulling his phone from his pocket. "It's just Matt. He probably found Pa by now."
He sat back in the saddle, whooping again at the cattle for good measure. If steer could talk, he was pretty sure they'd be saying, "Yeah, yeah, we get it already, hush." He laughed, leaning down and swatting a slowing steer on the hindquarters. Quickly he glanced at his phone, thumbing through his options until he revealed his new text message.
Hey, I found your dad… Uhm… It's not pretty. He's asking for you, but I told him you'd be out for a while yet. Take your time.
[Message received 5:46PM]
Alfred frowned deeply. Distractedly he maneuvered Nova to the gate, stuffing his phone back into his pocket as he dismounted, ushering the few remaining cattle through the open bars. Nova wandered up to the barred fence, nipping at a few of the cattle through the bars as Alfred worked on closing the gate and latching it closed. He glanced up at Nova, then out towards the field. Alfred pulled his phone from his pocket once more.
Ya. Ill b gone 4 a whle. Takin nova on the trails. Txt me bk when hes sleepin ok? I dont want to deal with him when hes like this.
[Message sent 6:12PM]
…Okay. Be careful. Try not to stay out after dark, okay? I'm making hamburgers, remember?
[Message received 6:13PM]
With a sigh – it would be dark in half an hour – he set his phone to vibrate and pocketed it once more. "All right Nova, it's just you, me, and six hundred acres," he said, turning to the horse with a pinched look. "Let's go for a ride."
As if sensing his mood, Nova walked up to him, nibbling softly on his sandy blond hair and skewing his glasses in the process. Alfred laughed and scratched her just beneath the cheek piece of her bridle – Nova's favorite scratching spot. She heavily leaned into his hand, nearly knocking him over. "By the way," he muttered, moving his hand to scratch behind her ear, earning a happy toss of Nova's head, "That's from Arthur. He says hi."
Nova licked her lips as Alfred took up the reins and pat her on the small white splotch of fur between her eyes (one that Alfred swore looked like an eagle in flight – if you squinted), and mounted once again. Eagerly he dug his heels into Nova's sides, beyond happy that she was so side sensitive, and grinned as she took off down the empty field at a gallop.
The winter wind howled in his ears as he bent low over Nova's neck. He led her towards the back of the pasture, towards the gates that led into the small forest filled with winding trails. Alfred couldn't wait until summer, when he could properly go through the trails – camping out overnight with Nova under the stars.
Eager, he ushered Nova inside the leafless forest, ignoring the quickly sinking sun behind him.
- Across the Atlantic -
Arthur woke up at five thirty. He breathed in deeply, his hand brushing in a blind search across his nightstand for his blaring phone. It took a minute for him to find it, and when he did, he jabbed the 'dismiss alarm' button with more force than was truly necessary.
As per routine he pulled himself from his bed and practically crawled into the shower to attempt to wake up before sitting for tea.
Feeling refreshed after a hot shower, Arthur plucked his phone from the nightstand, rifling through his contacts.
Good morning, Alfred. Hope your day was well.
[Message sent 5:54AM]
He set the device back down before heading to his closet and picking out an appropriate suit for work. Today he felt like green. Just as he pulled the suit from his closet, his phone sounded off and he sent it a confused look. Alfred hardly ever responded so promptly to his morning texts. It was one in the morning over there, and if Alfred wasn't half asleep and delusional at this time, he was too busy shoving his nose against a telly screen, playing those blasted video games of his.
Curious, he set his suit on the foot of his bed and picked up his phone again.
Hey, Arthur. This is Matthew, Alfred's cousin. I have Al's phone. He's in the ER right now… it's nothing serious. No need to worry.
[Message received 5:56 AM]
In the Emergency Room! What the hell happened? He didn't get trampled by that bloody horse, did he? Matthew, I demand answers!
[Message sent 6:07 AM]
Arthur stared hard at his phone for eight minutes, pacing the length of his bedroom before giving up when no answer came. This was definitely not something he wanted to hear first thing in the morning. He tried to force himself to calm down, tossing his phone onto the pillow on the bed as he scooped up his suit and began dressing for the morning.
Alfred was fine, Arthur told himself over and over as he straightened his tie for the sixth time. Alfred was not sitting in some darkened hospital bleeding out on a gurney. "Or is he?" He groaned, running his fingers through his messy blond locks before yanking on a few strands in anger. "That git," he growled to himself as he decided to forgo his morning tea as his stomach was twisted into painful knots.
He grabbed his overcoat and umbrella before heading out the door. Why was this bothering him so much? He grimaced further, tucking himself into his coat. Alfred was fine, and even if he wasn't (God forbid), it's not like Arthur should care. The American was more of an idea than a person to him. But… even ideas could be cherished.
Alfred, Matthew, whoever has your bloody phone, someone had better tell me what happened, if Alfred's well, and why the hell no one told me sooner. I expect a f
[Message sent 6:36 AM]
ull explanation before the end of the day, or… or I'll curse you, Alfred. Don't think I won't.
[Message sent 6:37 AM]
Arthur allowed his furious anger pour from his body as he stabbed the keys on his phone. He finished his upset message in the foyer of his office building, setting the device onto silent before slipping it into his pocket with a look of nonchalance. He didn't need any of his coworkers thinking any more mentally unstable than they already did.
Quickly he made his way to the lift, riding to the sixth floor and inserting himself into his staple cubicle. This wasn't what he had hoped for in life – some dry office job. But a job was a job; it paid the rent and sucked away his motivation for ever finding anything greater. With a frown he booted up the office computer.
"Hon, hon, hon! And look who decides to work on Saturdays! What an excellent sheep you make, Arthur."
Arthur glanced behind himself sharply, definitely not in the mood to deal with people, let alone French people by the name of Francis. "Speak for yourself, frog," he spat with more venom than he had originally intended. It's not like he came in because he wanted to. If the higher ups wanted to offer paid overtime, then fucking hell, he was going to nab himself some extra cash. "I'm only here for a half day, anyway," he added for good measure.
Francis watched him with careful blue eyes, deciding to fill the silence by pulling his wavy blond hair into a loose ponytail as he thought. "Is something the matter, mon ami?" he asked gently as Arthur sat in his chair heavily, opening a manila folder that lay on his desk with more force than necessary, nearly spilling the meticulous spreadsheets within.
"Don't even pretend to be my friend, Francis," Arthur bit out, swerving his chair around to put his back to the Frenchman. "Mind your own business for once."
How long Francis stood there, staring at the back of his head, Arthur didn't know. But by the time he looked up from his work (two hours later) the other blond was nowhere in sight, and Arthur relaxed. It wasn't as if he disliked Francis (well, he did, but what they had was a twisted version of a love-hate relationship), but he wasn't well off with other people in general. He was too moody, too assertive, and too strange. People didn't know how to react around him, and he around them.
But then there was Alfred. What if he had met Alfred? Would the American find him repulsive? Or simply even too odd to be around? His thoughts turned pensive for a moment, but he was interrupted by an alert notification on his computer. He had two new mail messages. Carefully he opened his email, seeing with increased pleasure an email from Alfred and then another from… Francis? Odd indeed.
From: Alfred F. Jones (all . american . guy a cox . net);
Hey Arthur this is Al. im kinda tired right now. morphine does that. oh and it's 2 in the morning here. But to explain coz i did get your texts sorry I didn't kno matt had my cell. I broke my right arm the … the one that starts with a u. I have a cool cast. i talked the doc into wrappin with 2 different colors. its red and blue and the stuffing is white haha it's a flag. Oh but yeah… i broke it while out on the trails with nova. It was dark and she spooked whn a coon skittered past her feet. I fell but my foot got caught in the stirrup so she dragged me awhile. lucky all i broke was my arm. novas a good gal and stopped b4 anything perment could happen… neway. now u know so don't worry. i wonder if i could photocopy ur signature on my cast. that would be so awesome. love ya art.
For a long moment Arthur simply stared at the computer screen blankly, uncomprehending of the jumbled sentences before his eyes. But then his confused brain focused on one sentence in particular, reading it over and over until he thought his head might explode from sheer confusion. "love ya art".
Desperate to stop thinking about the implications of one, sleepy, drug induced sentence, he closed out of the window and began a new message altogether.
To: Alfred F. Jones (all . american . guy a cox . net);
Alfred, my dear, silly git. I thought you were half dead based on the lack of report from either you or Matthew. I suppose you're lucky you don't have school for the next couple of days. Enjoy your weekend.
He sent the message before he could spout anything else stupid. Enjoy your weekend? For heaven's sake, the boy just broke his arm and that's the best he can come up with? He groaned with frustration at his own lack of proper social skills when it came to strange circumstances. Meetings, etiquette, first impressions – those were the types of things he could handle with grace. Not comforting an American boy over the internet, hell, he probably couldn't even do that in person.
With a distressed and silent moan, he opened Francis' email just to give himself something to take his mind off Alfred.
From: Francis Bonnefoy (francis . bonnefoy a bindue . fr)
You seem in particular distress this morning, and I cannot help but to take notice. I extend to you an invitation to drinks whenever you feel you can.
Arthur frowned and deleted the message altogether. He didn't need anyone's pity. He was Arthur Kirkland; he didn't need anyone – not their pity, nor their company.
All he needed were his letters from one obnoxious American boy. And he supposed he could live with that.
- Prologue End -
Unimportant Notes: They say you should write about things you know. I know about long distance relationships, pen pals, ranch life, bat-shit friends and romps in the hay barn. Also, unbeta'd (please let me know if I messed up – I'm a fixer), and now I'm late for work. Such a shame.