Mark Edwards slipped the poolside waiter one of the moist bills he’d stashed in his shoe for tips. The man passed a piña colada to Mark and one to his brother, plastic glasses filled with ice and decorated with mini paper umbrellas. “Keep them coming, Juan,” Mark said. Juan smiled and headed back to the bar.
“How many of these do you think we can drink in one afternoon?” asked Mark’s brother Blake, pulling the umbrella out of the top of his glass and setting it with the rest, in the pile they’d accumulated over the afternoon.
“All of them,” said Mark. “This place is all-inclusive. When you think about it, we’re saving money drinking them.”
“Maybe,” said Blake. “But who knows how much our wives are spending in that spa?”
Mark laughed. “Don’t rush me,” he said. “I’m not getting married for five more months.”
Even so, this trip felt like an early honeymoon for Mark. His fiancée Jody had been thrilled when he’d given her the news.
“Both of us? Are you kidding?” she’d asked.
He wasn’t kidding. In early December Mark’s employers, the Hanson family, had offered Mark and Jody a week-long trip to a resort in Veradero.
“Think of it as a bonus for your hard work during one of the longest harvests we’ve ever had on this farm,” Jeff Hanson said when he gave Mark the resort brochure.
Mark had felt guilty at first, knowing the Hanson’s wouldn’t have a great year, financially. They’d have to sell most of their durum wheat for feed, and the crop insurance adjustor had written off their pea crop altogether.
But Jody reminded him of the long, cold evenings he’d spent outside, emptying the grain cart, and how every time the rain finally stopped for a day during the wet fall he’d gone to the Hansons to work rather than even thinking about taking out his boat. Then Jody reminded him that she had a week off coming up, and he couldn’t think of any more reasons to refuse Jeff’s offer.
“We’ll still pay you the harvest bonus in your contract,” Jeff had said. “We just want to make sure you know how much we appreciate you. Especially this year. There was some pretty harsh language out in the field some days. I’m still feeling bad about what I said the day Mom got the combine stuck.”
When Mark’s brother heard the news, he wanted to join in. “I’ll bring Brenda,” Blake said. “It’ll be a chance for us to get to know Jody before the wedding.”
Blake had just been laid off from his job in Calgary, where he worked as an engineer for an oilfield company.
“Are you sure this a good time for you to go on vacation?”
“It’s the best time,” Blake said. “I got a payout. And when I find a new job, who knows when I’ll get vacation time?”
The two couples met up at the resort, where they had rooms down the same hallway. Jody and Brenda hit it off immediately and the four of them were having a great time.
They spent their mornings on the beach. On Monday afternoon they went snorkeling. Tuesday was a bus tour to Havana. Deep sea fishing was Wednesday afternoon, and golfing was on Thursday. On Friday, Jody and Brenda made plans to spend the afternoon at the spa at the resort and Mark and Blake decided to relax at the pool.
“We deserve some time off, after the hectic schedule you’ve had us on all week,” Blake said when the women left them after lunch.
At the pool, the brothers alternated piña colada-drinking with trips down the waterslide and a competitive game of water volleyball with some college kids from Manitoba.
Back in their lounge chairs, Mark reapplied sunscreen while Blake gazed past the pool deck, out at the ocean. Blake had drunk more Cuban rum than he was used to and was contemplating life.
“Jody’s great,” Blake said. “I’ll give Mom and Dad a good report.”
“Of course she’s great,” Mark said.
“So what are you going to do next?” Blake asked.
“Next?” Mark said. “You mean after the wedding? Have some kids, I suppose. Jody likes kids.”
“I meant about a job. What are you going to do about a job?”
“What are you talking about? I’m the only one of us Edwards brothers that has a job!”
“You know what I mean.”
Mark didn’t, and he said so.
“You can’t be happy there. On a farm? Working for someone else?” Blake asked.
“I worked for someone else when I worked in the oilfield,” Mark said.
“I know. But this seems different. You’re not the boss’s kid. You’re never going to take over the business.”
“You weren’t exactly taking over the company at Husky Energy,” Mark said. Then he dug the knife in a little, in retaliation for what he thought of as rude questions. “And you’re certainly not going to now that you’re laid off.
If Mark hit a sore spot, Blake didn’t let on. “Being a farmhand just doesn’t seem like the kind of job you would have dreamed when you were a kid.”
“Look around,” said Mark, looking out at the glistening swimming pool. He held up his drink. “Who has a better job than me right now?”
“Good point,” Blake said.
“And ‘farmhand’ makes it sound like I wear overalls and feed chickens with a metal bucket every morning. It’s not like that. Do you know I was in charge of all of the precision seeding equipment this year? I’m looking after all of the data collection, and we’re using some pretty high-tech stuff. Last week they sent me to the farm show to look at a new monitoring system we’re thinking of buying.”
Blake could see Mark’s eyes light up as he kept talking about the new ag technology he’d seen at the trade show, and the system he’d decided the Hansons should invest in. It had been a while since Blake had felt as excited about his work as Mark looked right now.
“I might not be part of the family, but I’m part of the team,” Mark said.
The phone Mark had shoved under his towel on the edge of the chair started to ring and he picked it up, wondering if Jody was finished early at the spa.
But it was Jeff Hanson. Blake watched as Mark listened to Jeff’s question, then grinned, then gave a long and complicated answer that seemed to involve software.
By the time Mark hung up Blake had started in on another piña colada, adding one more umbrella to the pile.
“Sorry about that,” Mark said. “Jeff needed help pulling the yield data off my laptop so he could make sure we have enough fertilizer for spring. And I wanted to make sure he remembered we’d talked about changing the fertilizer program on the land north of the house.”
Blake took another swig of his drink, wondering if maybe this was his chance to take a shot at a farm job.
“Come on,” Mark said. “Let’s hit the waterslide again while there’s no lineup.”