Thomas Hopkins was a working man. He was not the kind you'd find on a construction site -though his physique left one wondering- but he was the kind that wasted time behind a desk pretending his promotion was going to come soon.

His slightly tinged skin gave one an inkling as to how he'd been raised; mostly outdoors probably. His brown eyes were normal by most standards and his mud-colored hair lacked any particular shine.

He was an average good looking man; 6"1' and clad in black. Every morning before work, he looked in the mirror and thought how easily he could skip work and attend a nice funeral or two. He certainly looked the part.

He would treat himself everyday to a secret pop of color in his attire. He'd wear socks that kept him smiling. Sometimes they were green or red, blue or yellow, even purple or pink.

Being the unsociable kind of guy he was, he lived alone in a small one bedroom apartment in the upper part of the city.

It was no New York, but it was certainly a haven for workers and dreamers. They'd spend all day working and dreaming and Thomas Hopkins was no exception. One tireless afternoon, he returned home from an exasperating day at the office. He'd spilled his boss' coffee on himself, he'd lost a client's paperwork, and he was caught in the ladies' restroom due to the men's room being clogged.

Outside it was raining heavily as if the sky had been watching him and could no longer hold back its sadness.

He opened his apartment door and collapsed on a bright red sofa.

One luxury of being virtually friendless was that he hardly had anyone over to mock his decorative choices. He adored home décor and wasted no time in sprucing up the old apartment to his likings. Baby blue walls, hardwood flooring, red furniture and ideal knick-knacks here and there covered the small space.

He picked up the remote from the mahogany coffee table in front of the loveseat he had collapsed on.

I wonder what time it is. I hope I didn't miss that movie. It looked so good!

He pressed the power button and wasted no time switching the station to the Lifetime channel.

Despite his rugged and plain appearance, Thomas was admittedly a raging homosexual.

Queer all the way down to his toes, but of course he was the only one that knew it. Well there was a boy or two back in his home town who knew how to keep his goddamn mouth shut if he knew what was good for him.

When his parents began to worry about his lack of female companions, he simply told them that money was more important than girls to which his parents couldn't logically combat, so they left it alone.

He left the small town and went on to be the first of his family to graduate from college. Unfortunately that was six years ago. He was now a 30-year-old closet-case loner freak who thought wearing pink socks was a kick in the balls to The Man.

He sighed as he dwelled on this irksome thought, but instantly brightened as he noticed the movie he anticipated would be coming on in 13 minutes.

He jumped up to grab a few snacks.

Just as he was in an upright position, there was the unfamiliar sound of buzzing coming from somewhere.

He looked down for a moment and was perplexed, until he realized it was his cell phone. It of course had slipped from his now discarded pants and slid underneath the couch while he was reminiscing on the failings of his past.

Diving for the adamant device, he read the caller ID.


"Hello?" he asked, more of a question than a greeting.

"Hey, Tommy boy! How you been?" came the familiar female voice.

"Beth, dear Lord it's been ages! The last time we talked it was your birthday. That was about ten months ago now? God, time flies."

The voice laughed and it continued on with a heavy country twang, "God, I know. It's just been crazy 'round here. Judy and Bill finally got married and Karen Sanders, you know that blonde one Hank used to fawn over? Well, can you believe that pretty little thing is a soldier in Iraq?"

"Get out! She'd always talk about becoming a teacher or a housewife way back when. Guess that just goes to show you," was his reply to the latest gossip.

"I kid you not! There's always somethin'! Little Molly is growin' up so fast and she likes to lie just like her Uncle Tommy. Mama and Daddy been struggling to set her straight while I'm away at work," Beth went on.

"You tell Molly that lyin' never got me nowhere. By the way, how are Mom and Dad?"

There was a short pause and a tired sigh from Bethanie's end of the line.

"Beth?" Thomas asked again.

"Well, Tommy, that's what I was callin' 'bout. Yesterday afternoon I come home from work and you know with Jake bein' a truck driver, it's just Mama and Daddy watchin' Molly and workin' on the farm for the most part. So, I come home and see Daddy on the floor and I damn near shattered the windows with how loud I screamed. I thought he was dead!

"Then Molly and Mama came in from shoppin' right then and there, and Mama just went out like a light, just hit the ground can you believe!? Molly started crying and I had to call the neighbor and he had me put them both in the car and he drove them to the hospital."

"My God, Beth don't you dare tell me Mom and Dad are gone!" Thomas felt tears began to well up behind his eyes. That would be the cherry on top of a perfect shit-storm of a day.

"No, thank the good Lord! Daddy had fallen off a ladder fixin' a light bulb because his hip was actin' up again and he ignored it till the last minute; he couldn't even get himself off the floor by the time I'd come home. Mama just had a faintin' spell and you know with her weak heart and all I think seein' Daddy like that was just too much for her. Doctor says it's stress and she'll need to take it easy for a few days," his sister finished with obvious worry in her voice.

"Oh good, that's just fine. Daddy always was the most resilient and stubborn farmer in the South. He'll probably come around and realize he ain't what he used to be," he added in a laugh and a snort continuing with, "He'll probably be up shoveling horse shit by tomorrow!"

"Well, about that Tommy. His hips is hurt real bad this time and Doc says he's gonna need a hip replacement, but we just ain't got the money right now, and because of it the farm is gonna suffer if he's out for too long."

"Damn Daddy is just stingy when it comes to money. If you can't grow something with it why waste you're money on it, that's how he thinks. Well, so what do you want me to do about that? I could probably help with half, did he ever get insurance?" Thomas was busy formulating financial plans in his mind that he didn't think twice about any other implications that Beth was giving off.

"No, he said he won't take any kind of help from someone he can't see…" she trailed off leaving the unasked question in the air.

There was silence.

"What?" Thomas asked, refusing to believe what she was saying.

"Thomas, you got a brain, you know what I'm tryin' to say. He wants you to come down here for a short while and work on the farm 'til he can find a permanent replacement." Bethanie spelled it out for him in a no-nonsense tone.

"A replacement for his hip or for a farmhand?" Thomas asked unconsciously delaying his answer.

Bethanie didn't hesitate, "Either or both. Please just come down here. Even if it's for a short visit, we need you! You know how Daddy likes to run the farm and Mama is always worrying over somethin'. If you're here I can tend to Molly n' Mama and you can deal with Daddy so I don't go crazy. If money's a problem, maybe I can ask Jake to pull a double shift one night or somethin' and pay part of your plane ticket."

"No! No, damn it!" He took a deep breath. He had left the drab, dry, and dreary farm life for a reason. If he got caught up in that drama again he'd be on the next plane out.

"Fine, but I'm doing this for myself. I need a vacation. Don't get all excited though, if I don't feel like doing something, I'm a grown man and I can say no!" He huffed uselessly.

"So you'll come? OH! Mama's gonna be so happy! By the way Thomas, I just wanted to say that we've all really missed you. I guess sometimes you just need a scare to bring the family back together. Hopefully it doesn't turn to anything more," she audibly smiled into the phone, excited to see her little brother again for the first time in years.

"I can't wait." Thomas spoke with all the excitement of a dying snail.

"Oh Thomas, you're such a downer," she laughed quietly into the phone as she looked out the window of her bedroom. "I love you, Tommy boy."

"Love you too, Beth Anne! I guess I'll be seeing you," he smiled genuinely to himself.

"Be seein' you," she replied almost somberly as they each ended the call.

"Yey…a dry, dirty vacation that I get to work during, how unfathomably exciting," he said wryly to himself.

It was hot.

He was disgustingly overdressed.

Thomas stepped off the airplane and readjusted his collar, pulling it as far away from his neck as possible. He wore a suit on the day of his homecoming as a pathetic subconscious attempt at separating himself from the farm life.

It was a stupid idea and he was paying for it. He new it would be blistering in southern Texas at this time of year, but this was ridiculous. Luckily he had brought a change of clothes in his carry-on for just such an occasion.

He ran quickly to the airport bathroom, trying not to slip in his own puddle of sweat and anxiety.

The businessman emerged from the safety of the restroom now clad in jean shorts down to his knees, a plain grey T-shirt, and tennis shoes. He donned a pair of sunglasses in order to maintain a little city flare to stand out from most of the leather-booted civilians in the airport.

Grabbing his luggage from the conveyor belt and securing his carry-on over his shoulder, he headed out front to where he knew his sister was waiting for him.

He recognized the old beat up blue pick-up instantly and smiled secretly to himself as he headed over to it. Slinging his bags into the exposed truck bed, he made his way to the single passenger door.

"Howdy Stranger!" chirped his older sister as she reached over and unlocked the door for him.

"Why hello there Beth Anne," Thomas replied with an exaggerated country accent. He hopped into the tiny truck and was greeted with an enthusiastic hug from tiny arms.

"Uncle Tommy! I ain't seen you since three Christmases ago!" piped his 9-year-old niece.

Thomas laughed and fastened the familiar seatbelt as he greeted his sister and niece. They talked and joked during the drive out to the farm. The familiar sights kept Thomas' stomach in a whirlwind.

He was nervous to see his parents again; especially his father. Their last encounter hadn't gone very well and it was enough to keep Thomas away for years.

He could feel his face going sour at the thought.

Molly bounced around between the adults over each bump in the road. She hummed the song on radio, carefree and excited.

Thomas smiled, wishing he could have that same light feeling.

"I talked to him for you. I asked him to be nice, but I can't guarantee anything. You know how Daddy is," Beth began, glancing over at her brother.

"Yeah, I know how Daddy is," he gave her a look. One that meant he knew exactly how that conversation had gone.

About 40 minutes from the airport and a few too many country songs later, Thomas found himself turning onto the dirt road that leant itself to many nightmares he'd had. The haunting familiarity of it all seemed almost surreal as the he watched the dust clouds rolling behind the truck from the rearview mirror.

Molly tried to stand in her seat belt in that way that restless children do.

"We're almost home!" she shrieked as her dirty blonde hair whipped around her.

Thomas instinctively reached his hands out as they went over a particularly large bump. She giggled and smiled up at him in thanks as he sat her back down.

"Yep, almost home sweetie!" he said in false excitement.

Bethanie laughed. "At least try to be happy! Just imagine the look on Mom's face when she sees you! Oh and did I forget to mention the special surprise?"

Molly's head flung itself to look at her mother in secret knowledge.

Thomas raised an eyebrow, "A special surprise?" Is it a man? He laughed at the private thought.

"Ooh Mama, let me tell 'im!" Molly pled as she squirmed in her seat, looking eagerly back and forth between the adults.

"Well, go on then!" was her mother's reply.

Molly beamed at Thomas, "Gramma made you peach cobbler!"

Thomas' belly seemed to rumble suddenly, as if he hadn't just eaten on the plane. His face was suddenly alight. His weak spot for sweets became clearly visible as he practically vibrated in his seat.

"SERIOUSLY?! Oh my God YEY!" was his unrestrained reply as he too began to bounce along with Molly in his seat. He clapped his hands together childishly which earned a hearty laugh from the girls.

They pulled up next to the freshly painted shed and unhitched themselves, making their way steadily to the lovely two-story building in white.

Thomas plunged his hands into the truck bed to grab his bags, eager for a taste of the best peach cobbler in the world. He'd had dreams about his mother's cobbler. It was admittedly a guilty pleasure for him and his mother often used it as a bribe to get him to mind his father.

He smiled as he recalled the many bribes his mother had made him. He glanced to his right, seeing something quite unexpected.

Across the street from the old metal mailbox that read "Hopkins", there was another mailbox that read "Northrop" and behind it, a single story house that didn't used to be there.

Bethanie stood at the doorway, Molly already having zipped past her. She stood with arms akimbo as her white blouse blew in the dry breeze.

Her brother nodded toward the strange house, slowly making his way to his own recognizable doorstep. "Who's Northrop?"

Bethanie smiled as she held the screen door open for Thomas to step in. She looked over to the house across the street with a wave of her hand, "Oh George? He works for Daddy on the farm. He's a great handyman and he's just the sweetest thing."

Thomas took one step at a time, slightly leaning on the iron railing as he glanced back at the simple and foreign structure once more.

"He came out from a ways away lookin' for work, but he didn't have no place to stay," Beth began, " Daddy and the boys built that house for him two years ago and he been there ever since."

Thomas scrunched his face in curiosity and slight disbelief. His father had actually helped someone else? He guessed since it had to do with the farm it made some sort of sense.

"Huh," was his dry reply as he turned and entered his old home.

Murmurs were heard from the kitchen as he neared, setting his bags at the base of the stairs, and turning left into the big, warm room.

"Hey, Molly Sue! You better ask your Momma first!" said the warm, slightly grainy voice of Deana Hopkins. She sat at the kitchen table fanning herself idly with a glass of ice cold lemonade in front of her.

Thomas smiled to himself. The kitchen still looked the same. White and blue and yellow and green. A crazy ancient color scheme that his mother couldn't live without. Porcelain roosters adorned the tidy counters and tables. Deana turned to the doorway as soon as she heard her son's laughter.

"Oh Thomas! Oh my baby, get over here!" She made to stand, but Thomas jogged lightly to stop her.

"Don't get up Momma!" he said, reaching down and embracing the seated older woman.

She laughed loud and unexpectedly. "You ain't called me Momma in years! You must'a heard about the cobbler!" she cackled sweetly as she kissed her son on the cheek, rubbing his arms firmly and with the strength only a woman who has worked all her life could muster at that age.

She gazed into his eyes, becoming slightly misty.

"I'm so glad you came, baby." She kissed him once more on the forehead.

"Me too, Mom. You just try to take it easy now. I don't want you getting up tryin' to serve me everything, ya hear?" he smiled that last part, affectionately mocking his mother with a finger wave.

That boisterous laughter pleasantly filled his ears again. "Yeah, I hear ya! Cobbler's on the counter, honey. It sure is nice to have ya back!"

The shared another hug before he practically skipped to the cabinet for a plate.

He poured himself a glass of ice water and grabbed a fork. It was on!

He dug into his excessively large piece of warm pie and quickly jabbed at a piece of cold ice cream and the combination was truly sinful. Eating this cobbler, he suddenly felt as if he hadn't eaten anything in years. He kicked his feet under him and giggled delightedly to himself, slowly swaying side to side humming joyously.

Bethanie snorted out her laughter as her brother's usual episode ran its course.

"Practically 30 years old and you ain't changed a lick, boy!" Deana piped as she began her welcomed chortling again. "Oh goodness, you know I promised George a piece of pie yesterday. I should call him."

Deana went to stand and was firmly pushed back down by her passing daughter.

"I will call him. You stay seated, young lady!" commanded Beth as she went to the wall phone in the hall.

Thomas was in a daze. Life was suddenly perfect despite the hot Texas sun and the grumpy old Dad who had yet to make an appearance. He only partially registered the conversation that had been geared toward the new mystery neighbor as he smiled into another blissful bite.

Bethanie rounded the corner, "He said he'll be right over, Mama. I'm gonna go check on Daddy."

"Alright, Honey. Thank you kindly," said Deana as she closed her eyes and smiled, she continued to wave her decorative fan in front of her. The multiple fans in the room had finally started to cool the place down.

Molly Sue slurped a glass of milk after her helping of cobbler.

"Oh boy, Uncle Tommy, you'll finally get to meet Uncle George! He's real nice. He was the one who took Gramma and Grandpa to the hospital the other day," she scooted her chair back quickly and she went to put her dishes in the sink.

"Oh yeah? Uncle George, huh?" Thomas slipped from his ecstasy to raise a questioning eyebrow at his mother. He had apparently missed all the family bonding session they'd had with their new neighbor.

His mother stopped fanning herself and leaned back against her wooden chair. She smiled gently and while nodding replied, "Yep, Uncle George."