I've posted here the first three chapters to give you a taste. If you like what you see you might want to go to amazon and get the first two in the series so that you're up to speed when this story is published.
And remember, that first book in the series is always FREE so the only thing you risk to start is a little time!
I hope you enjoy!
ps: Had a little trouble copying and pasting into the post... it jumped paragraphs and punctuation around a little. Arrrrggggghhhh. Fixed what I saw best I could, quickly...
Volume #3 in the Ben Jensen Series
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and events are the product of the imagination of a fevered brain. They are used fictitiously and are not to be taken or construed as reality. Any resemblance to actual events, incidents, locales, organizations or persons, living or dead, is tee totally, coincidental.
Published by B.K. Gore
Copyright 2018 B.K. Gore
This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If youre reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return to Amazon.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
**End of Winter**
Three wolves trotted along through the timber. A big black and a white female, accompanied by a young gray male, climbed a path that lead to the top of the ridge. They crossed over the crest and angled downslope a few hundred yards to where a rocky outcrop penetrated out through the tree cover. From that overlook they gained a wide view of the entire valley spread out below them.
Smoke curled into the sky from the chimney of a large log lodge. A few dozen mares with that years colts grazed in a pasture that ran up close to the lodge. Three huge white dogs, moving in single file trotted easily along the pasture's northern fenceline.
It was still nearly an hour before the sunrise of an early summer day. Visions of a similar day some few years before stirred in the black's memory. His breath as he scanned the country below produced a faint plume that quickly vanished on the morning breeze. Though it was summer mornings were still cool and crisp this high.
Uneasy, he prodded the white female with his muzzle, urging her to move on as he turned and trotted off. The white and gray followed along.
Though he only wanted to cross the valley, he lead them on a wide detour that took them around the western end of the valley of the lodge. The black moved cautious and nervous until the valley faded amongst the trees behind them.
He held little fear of the great white dogs that lived at the lodge. He'd killed dogs before. They had been lesser creatures than those white beasts that guarded the lodge, but he'd killed them just the same.
What he feared wasn't those dogs. Something else lived there and it was lethal. Few wolves that entered that valley ever returned.
The big black trotted with a slight limp. He'd tested fate there in the valley and barely escaped with his life. He'd been drawn that spring by the temptation of an easy meal of horsemeat. Farther north he'd learned that young colts are easy prey. He'd thought they'd be as easy here. He only first had to defeat the dogs and was moving to do just that when he recieved his instruction.
He hadn't known of the greater risk. That unknown and unseen beast had nearly taken him two years before. The slightest movement in the dark had warned him. An instnctive ducking jump to the side at the last moment saved his life. A killing shot was transformed into a cracked bone in his shoulder that hadn't healed quite right.
He was left with the memory of how close he'd hunted to the great mystery. His limp would always remind him of the danger that lived at the lodge if he should ever forget the lesson. The old black had survived by having an excellent memory.
As the Alpha male of his pack he taught them all to keep clear of the valley of the lodge. For his kind, death lurked there among its shadows.
His thoughts didn't form words, he was a wolf. But with that base hunger of all intelligent creatures to survive, an indefinable instinct whispered to him of the danger that lurked in that valley.
The pack would not permit the presence of another pack on the same ground they hunted for their own subsistence. When they found the trail of an interloper they hunted it down and either killed it or drove it away. They submitted only to superior force.
That same instinct warned him away from the valley of the lodge. It was not their range. Within its boundaries lived a superior force. He knew without being able to form the words that the valley was the home of a beast that he could not defeat. It warned that if one of his pack made the error of hunting there... the beast would come raging out of that valley seeking them all.
Lifting a thin screen of dust the big, red dun gelding loped around the pen in an easy rythmic circle. With his head carried high he seemed to be looking toward the mountains through the narrow space between the rails.
A small, seemingly insignficant gesture from the man standing in the center turned him into the fence to lope off in the opposite direction.
"Pay attention to me Dude. Not those stony mountains" the man said softly.
After making a pair of circles that way another small gesture stopped him. Ben took a step toward him as the gelding turned and walked to the center. The horse nickered softly and came to him. Ben raised his hand to the horses' face and rubbed his forehead. His other hand scratched on his neck.
"I know Dude. Me too. My mind is some'eres else."
The Cowboy stood in the center of the round pen holding the big horses head, rubbing his face and gazing off at the surrounding mountains. He wondered at the unsettled feeling that seemed to have been growing inside him for weeks. Even his horse seemed to know something was off.
This was different than the ghosts of his past though they still trailed along. It was something other than the wolves that existed as a constant nuisance. Though he couldn't see it, identify it or show a single proof that it was a real thing, he couldn't deny it. Some unknown threat, deadly and dangerous, was prowling around in his world. All that he had was the warning in his guts that said it was coming.
The thought plagued his mind yet wasn't a thing he could share with anyone. Folks already thought he was "half a bubble off of plumb". Should he start talking about "voices" and "whispers" they'd just figure he'd finally tipped over the edge and completely lost what little mind he'd managed to salvage. "Hell" he thought; "Maybe I have!"
"I'm tired of fightin' Dude" he told the horse. "I heard a kid say it t'other day. "I don't want to 'people' any more". Been one fight or another my whole dang life and I'm weary of it. Problem is, no matter how hard I try to stay out of the way I can't seem to fight my way clear. The bastards come hunt me down and leave me with no choice."
It had been a long tough winter if a quiet one. Rehab had been slow when he'd woke up from the coma. A persistent infection in his wounded leg had required a pair of surgeries. That was now finally healed. The stiffness and pain of it were nearly gone. It was but a few days into summer. The sun was shining and he had plenty of colts to work__so why had this growing sense of approaching trouble dogged him for weeks?
He'd begun to notice an uncommon tension in his horses. Even they were picking up on it. They'd be looking off to the treeline or the mountains when he worked them rather than being focused on him. They were searching for the source of the danger they were sensing as well.
Ben could feel their tension as clearly as his own. It was a queer deal. He knew they were only picking up on that uneasy rustling that was coming from inside his own head. Try as he might he'd failed to push it away.
"I'm getting as fretful as an old woman Dude" he laughed. "Gotta leave this crap behind. You an me'll take a ride right after breakfast."
The first rays of the sun pierced the day as it climbed above the horizon. They sliced in under the roof of the porch to slam against the logs of the lodge wall. They hit with a dazzling brilliance that proclaimed the hope and possibility that each of her days began with.
She stood leaning with her back to the kitchen counter, silent and unmoving. A slow, deep breath pulled in the aroma that steamed out of the mug held cupped in her hands beneath her nose.
In the chill of the morning, watching through the window that opened up the front wall of the Lodge's great room, her eyes were focused on Ben. He sat on a bench outside on the porch. He stared at the horizon, unblinking and unmoving; as he often did of late.
His eyes were strangely unfocused as he gazed off across the meadow. It was as if they were seeing something that wasn't there. As if he was looking into another world that she couldn't see or comprehend. The sight of him gave her a sense of disquiet.
She'd watched him grow increasingly distracted for weeks. More and more he sat for long periods like that; distant, distracted, somewhere else.
Several times she'd seen him start off for the barn only to get out into the yard, hesitate, turn back, walk a few steps and turn again. It was as if he was confused or lost. He'd finally stop and stand just staring off at the mountains.
She feared to speak of it to him. That was what she hated most, this strange inability to speak to him. She'd felt such great relief when he'd awakened from the coma. Now, once again she lived with something akin to fear rekindled.
He'd changed somehow. Since he awakened from his coma and come home he was different. He had seemed fine at first, if physically weak. But as time went by and his body strengthened something inside him seemed to fade and grow ever more silent.
Ben had always cut loose with his feelings. If he felt something you heard about it. But now those emotions had gone quiet. The change had her uneasy.
It reminded her of an eagle she'd seen that had been 'rescued' by some bird lovers. It had been struck by a car and crippled. It could no longer fly. Condemned to a perch it would never lift into the air again. The apathy birthed by that loss in its life had shown through its eyes.
She had a sense of the same blankness in Ben's eyes.
The idea that such a thing could be happening to her Ben, that some unreachable and unseen injury inside was crippling him, was a torment. The thought that he'd never again "lift into the air" filled her heart with regret.
His speech had become stilted, reticent. Conversation was almost non-existent. Often, if she asked him a question, what he thought about something or other, his response would be either a "what you think best" comment or just a non-committal shrug and a mumbled "I don't know"; before he simply turned and walked away.
That he was struggling with some inner battle was obvious. Her torment was that she'd no idea what he needed or how she could help. Her feeble attempts to ask him were met with a monotone; "I'm fine."
When he was finally able to begin riding again she thought that would be the best rehabilitation possible. Yet the more time he spent with his horses in the mountains the quieter and even more distant he seemed to become.
Physically he seemed almost back to normal. He looked good. Emotionally he'd become a stranger. His body was right there in front of her but the man she'd known was absent. He'd gone off somewhere leaving only the empty husk of her man walking around.
When he'd been wounded she'd feared he was lost. When he survived past those first few difficult days she'd enjoyed a short lived relief that he'd made it. Then as he endured in a coma she'd lived each day with that fear strung out tight and hanging over her. His awakening from his coma had given fresh relief and joy.
But in that joy was a heavy dose of work. Rehab had progressed slowly. A pair of infections had set him back. An infection in the bone of his leg had flared and then when that had been cleared up he'd been struck with pneumonia. They kept on. It was the only way they knew.
It was near the end of his recovery from the pneumonia that Ben had simply refused to stay in the hospital another minute. He got up, dressed and just walked out in the middle of a snow storm.
Angry doctors and nurses attempted to block his way; telling him he wasn't permitted to leave until a doctor signed a release.
Ben handed the angry Doctor a pen; "I suggest you go find whatever piece of paper you think you need to sign." Then putting a hand on the Doctor's shoulder he moved him ungently to the side and walked out into the storm.
The winter was finished out with Ben slowly pacing the lodge like a caged animal while successive storms raged outside. He walked to the kitchen to refill a coffee cup and back to the window where he stood staring out into the swirling wind. It was in that time that he seemed to begin slowly retreating inside himself.
She'd prayed that when spring broke and he could get outside and return to his horses he would throw off whatever was pulling him down and the Ben she knew would return. For a short time it seemed so. He seemed to brighten but it didn't last. Ever so gradually he became more silent, more distant. Ever so gradually, to her eyes, he had started to fade away.
Amanda couldn't stop her own slide back into that constant gnawing fear of his loss. She feared she was losing him all over again. This time into some dark place inside his head from which she couldn't reach in to pull him back.
Amanda had no one to confide her fears in. No one except Roger.
The change in Ben hadn't gone unnoticed by the packer. He commented to her that Ben had grown unusually quiet lately. He seemed hesitant and awkward in mentioning it.
When she spoke of that distant look she'd seen in his eyes Roger had responded with a nod; "Thousand yard stare."
"What?" she asked.
"Thousand yard stare" he repeated.
"You already said that Roger. I heard you" she'd replied rather shortly. "I'm sitting right here. What does it mean?"
They talked that afternoon sitting on one of the benches that lined the porch wall. She thought he took on a bit of that "stare" himself when he looked off across the meadow.
"Damn it Roger! Not you too!" she exclaimed.
His eyes changed, softened. They grew sad and he looked down at the floor.
"A man like Ben sees too much Amanda. More than the rest of us. Endures too much...it's like...It's like he goes somewhere to another place. It looks like he's staring off a thousand yards away because willing or not, that's where his heart, his soul has gone off to. Somewhere far away, looking for some peace. He's not there with his body. They're worn down. Tired Looking for a place to"
"Dammit roger. You think I don't know that? You talk like I don't know the man." Amanda cut in." He gave me my life back! He didn't know me from... from anything. He just rode out of the woods and crushed four men with a force and brutality that was stunning; and then touched my son in the next second with a gentleness that was even more stunning... and not because he was out to get anything or prove any damn thing. He was just being... Ben."
Roger looked up at her and nodded, then back off across the meadow. She saw his eyes fill. He coughed and wiped a rough hand across his face.
"Listen Amanda. You can want to but you can't pull him back. He has to find himself. Either he does or nobody does. All you can do is hang tough. Be here and wait and hope It's how it is girl."
"He's the love of my life! I'm standing here watching him wither and suffocate and I feel helpless. Now you tell me I am helpless! I'm dying inside watching him fade away. I can't just sit around watching Roger! There must be something I can do? There has to be!"
Roger just slowly shook his head. "I don't believe so girl. Just love him. Be here. Take care of things and wait.
If you go at him too hard you can..." he said haltingly. "Look. You said wither and suffocate. He's not like that. You've got to be like he is with one of his colts. If he runs straight at it the damn thing will run off or stampede right over the top of him. He's got to slide up slow and easy. It's a delicate thing. It has to be that colt's choice. You can give them a hand, but they have to want to reach for it. And, in their own time. Understand me Amanda?"
She shrugged unsure. Tears welled up in her eyes. "I thought we'd gone past this. That he was better. That... he'd put all that to rest. You know?"
"People like to think that. That you heal men like Ben. You cure them and make them as good as new; and that if they fail to "heal" it's because they're weak and chose not to. People that think such things__don't have the faintest breath of a clue!
It's not something that heals up and goes away, like a cold. It's a thing that stays with them. Every moment of every day. It's a part of them burned into memory. They simply learn to cope and to deal. I believe Ben has done a pretty fair job of coping, all things considered.
You know some about him. I know some. But I promise you, we both together know a fraction of what there is to know. In spite of all that he remains the most treasured person we know.
You've had some awful hard times. I have... hell, everyone has their tales of woe... but what happened to us is a pale shadow Amanda, compared to what was done to him. What we will never ever know... do you grasp that?
People curse him for gettng drunk or moody? or "down"... or volatile? You know what I say Amanda? I say Fuck them. FUCK.THEM." Rogers voice rose with a rumbling of anger.
"What happened up on that mountain last year somehow tore open that wound inside him. His grip on things slipped. It tipped the scale out of balance. His grip slipped but he caught hold again."
"He caught hold again." Roger repeated for emphasis. "He's kept on going. Even if we don't find our own pleasure in how. How can we do anything else but keep on with him? I'm not quitting him. I hope you don't.
What he's dealing with are scars that aren't going away. It's not something that ever goes away. They see life through a dark screen Amanda. Have you any idea of how wearisome it is for them to hear people say; "That was a long time ago. It's ancient history. Put it down and go on!"?
How willfully naive is that? How arrogant? How damn selfish and callous?" Roger said standing up angrily. "How do you "put it down" and walk away from what they've seen? How do you erase such things from your mind? Or clear the echoes from your ears? I defy anyone to explain the mechanics of that to me. How do you erase scars carved into a shattered soul?
Such foolishness is too arrogant and cold hearted to think; let alone speak it... I want to slap the damned fools who burden those men with that fantasy bullshit. Don't they realize that's just one more assault on a wounded soul? Hell, you might as well just spit on them and tell them "You're just weak and self-pitying" ... and it's a damned fucking LIE! They're weak? We couldn't carry for five minutes what they LIVE with, mostly unseen__Forever."
Roger stopped and closed his eyes. He took a deep breath and slowly turned it loose.
"Yeah. Wow. I'm sorry Amanda...Didn't mean to go off on you. I've had other friends... I get... never mind... just...You either love him enough to struggle through the storms with him... or you admit you're not strong enough, it's too inconvenient, that you're the one that is weak and you turn your back on him... And if that's how it is, he's better off without you. It'd be better if you cut him loose now and be done with it quick and clean if you're going. He's got enough to carry."
"I ain't leavin' the man Amanda. Are you?"
The tears ran a river down her face. "No Roger... I'm not leaving."
"Look, I know it don't mean much and it's just words but I dont' see him quitting us Amanda. He's not the sort.
But... listen. For Ben and them like him it's never over like people want to think. It can't be put away behind them. It's with 'em every minute of every day. They see the world through a curtain you can't pull back. It's always there. Sometimes... sometimes it just gets too heavy and they get tired.
They have to find a new way of dealing with it. A fresh way around. Give him the time and the space he needs to sort things out and find his balance again." his voice trailed off.
"You said if I push too hard what happens? I can't sit here and do nothing." she said, fearing his reply.
"I'm no head doctor Amanda and honestly, I don't trust them, but I've lived 'round men like Ben my whole life. You might think he's solid iron. We both know he's strong but hidden inside he's like cracked china.
He gets to feeling backed into a corner and like one of his colts, push too hard and they break in two. He'll bolt. Who knows what that could start? You understand? Trust me Amanda. Believe me. What you do is walk quiet like he does with them horses.
Keep the option of you right there in front of him. A softer option. Wait for him to come to you. Wait for him to tie back on girl. I swear, just like he does with those horses. Poke too hard and he'll crash through the fence."
"What if he doesn't Roger? What if he doesn't tie back on?" Her eyes filled and overflowed.
"You have your boy. You have this lodge. You go on with your own life. Just like lots of others have done."
The days passed with little change. The sun rose. Chores got done. Guests were seen to. Life around him moved on as Ben rode the mountains in his silence.
A few of the Lodge's guests attempted to engage him in conversation with little success. He wasn't rude or aggressive but his answers to their questions or comments, though polite were reticent. Mostly he kept his distance from them. He worked his colts in the corrals. He rode long, wide circles. He left early and returned late.
Mostly he just silently rode through that distant valley his soul had drifted off to.
***A Way Around***
Sunrise welcomed another day. Amanda sat silent, unmoving, her breath coming at a slow, deliberate pace. Her elbows rested on the wooden arms of the weathered chair.
Once again a cup of steaming coffee was held up against her lips. Its aroma was breathed deep into her lungs as the steam spiraled out of the cup and its heat soaked through into her fingers. It was her morning ritual from which she drew the strength to walk through each day.
Only her eyes moved when Roger's truck came rattling up the county road and turned in through the gate. He parked his old truck and walked to the steps where he stood unspeaking with his foot resting on the first tread.
"Coffee's on" Amanda said quietly. Her gaze stayed on the sun rising over the horizon. Its light glittered in her eyes.
"Where's Ben?" he asked.
"Already gone. Riding a colt up in his mountains" she answered. "Rode one, ponied another. He says goodbye when he rides out. He says hello when he comes home. Sometimes he even holds me for a while at night... but he's not here Roger."
Roger nodded with a frown before stepping through the doorway. A minute later he returned from the kitchen with his own cup. He sat quietly in the next chair drinking his coffee.
For several minutes they just sat taking in the dawn. No words spoken. Their only motion, watching the sudden hard light of sunrise soften into the early hope of a new day, was to lift a cup to their lips.
Roger coughed softly. He wiped one hand across his mouth as the other set his cup down on the arm of his chair. His eyes turned to Amanda.
His unspoken question stirred her to reply; "What are we going to do Roger? We had a life here. For the first time, Timmy and I, we had a chance What are we going to do?
What am I going to do?"
"I don't get your question. You act like there's a choice you have to make." He said.
"There is Roger! If Ben... if he... what are we going to do?"
"That right there is your problem girl. You're doubting that bar fightin' bastard! You been with him long enough to know better than that. He's a fighter pure and simple, and he's in a fight here for sure. But, if he was gonna fold and drop out of this game he's not the sort to stew on it. He would have just let go.
Well, he didn't let go and he ain't gone. He's just not found his way around the roadblock yet. So, what you do is keep on keepin' on with your own deal just like he's doin' in his own way."
"But I need him. He can't be... I can't run this place by myself. I don't know the first thing about packing. Even if... Damn it I just need him" A tear trickled down her cheek.
"Hold right there! You talk like you're all alone in this. You act like I've packed up and gone off. The man hired me to do a job. The job is still here waiting to get done. I'm still here. Maybe the job needs me more now than ever. So rather than us stewin' over all the what ifs and maybe's how about we just set about doin' the job?"
"You mean just start running things around here without without Ben?"
"What do you mean start? Ain't that what you've been doin' since last summer?
You've asked him about things, I've heard you. I have to ask him too and what's he do? Most times he just tells us to do what we think is best or shrugs and walks away don't he? Well then if he won't or can't haul his freight around here we have to until he's ready to hang a pack again." Roger said. "Or whatever happens. Hell, with all you've done it's more your place than his anyway."
She sat up straight and took a swallow from her cup before she set it down. She was looking off across the pasture. Like the rays of sunrise when they first burst over the horizon, the light of an idea could be seen breaking through the darkness in her eyes. The doubts and confusion in her heart were beginning to weaken.
"But you can't do the job by yourself Roger. Ben couldn't either. That's why he hired you." Amanda argued.
"Nope. I surely can't. I was thinking that very same thing on the ride out here this morning and Amanda, time's wasting. I got three pack trips on the schedule coming up in the next month. We ain't got any idea when__or if__ Ben'll be back in the game. Till then it's up to us to take care of business. He's not gettin' it done, so you and I will!"
"So I was thinkin' if you'll allow me, I know a good kid that lives up in Shelby. His family used to ranch over east of there but lost the place. Slickered by the Bankers and the Lawyers. His folks packed up what they had left and moved to New Mexico. He don't want to leave Montana but making minimum wage in a hardware store don't really suit his abilities or his needs. He's a pretty good hand."
"I was thinking we could hire him on for say a thousand a month. He can't live on that even if there was somewhere 'round about to rent so we put him up in that empty old cabin down behind the barn. The one the old hands used to bunk in back in the day. He can clean up in the bathroom in the barn. Same as they did back then. All tallied up he'll come out a hell of a lot better than he's doin' in town. No payin' rent and buyin' groceries and no sellin' nuts and bolts for minimum wage."
Amanda looked at him like he was a bit loopy. "I dont think the money would be a problem but Roger, that's not a cabin! It's a rundown shack! And that bathroom is... it's awful! A man can't live in that!"
"Aw it ain't that bad. I looked at it yesterday. It needs a little work. A new window maybe, and some chinking. The roof needs some help but the stove is sound and the bathroom only needs some elbow grease. But the rent is cheap for him! We can put him to work cleaning it up and getting it squared away himself the first week or two. And anyway a man won't be living in it. He's a cowboy and a cowboy don't look at things the way a reg'lar person does" he grinned.
Her eyes went back to the horizon. Her thoughts tumbled over all the things they needed to do with Ben lost inside himself. Roger sat silent drinking his coffee giving her time to line out her thoughts.
"Do you think he'd take the job for that amount of pay? It's a lot of work and not much pay." She said.
"Dinero isn't his motivation. Hell girl, he'd pay you for the job. Out here is where he wants to be. Not in town hawking plumbing parts. And truth is, 'less I miss my guess he's the sort that'll do just fine on tips from the Dudes. It's a good bet he'll double his wages or better. He's a good kid Amanda."
Amanda looked square at Roger unblinking. Ideas started tumbling in her head. Slowly the pieces began to fall into place until the decision was made.
Roger waited, watching and sipping his coffee while wondering if he should say something or just get up and go to work.
"Ok." She set her cup back down with a decisive clunk. "Ask him. I'll go over the books and let you know how much we can afford to budget on fixing up that hovel you claim is just fine."
"Excellent! I'll get my phone." Roger said as he stood up and headed toward his truck. He'd walked out a few steps when he stopped and stood looking down at the ground. Amanda watched him stand there scratching the back of his neck for a minute before he slowly turned back.
"Amanda, I think I'd rather just drive on up there and talk to him in person. Face to face kinda deal. If that'd be all right with you? Then I'll get straight back here and start to work on the shoeing that needs done."
"Of course" She gestured with her hand as if brushing something away. "You know better than I what has to be done and how to deal with packers" she smiled. "Ben trusts you and so do I."
Roger started once more for his truck but turned back yet again. "He's got a couple of horses of his own. Be my preference if we just throw them in with ours. I mean they'll be working for us. It wouldn't be right to charge him for feed."
"Roger! Seriously? You really thought I'd bill him for that?"
"Yeah... right just trying to keep it all laid out clear" he said. His hand made a flat, slicing, level motion. "Want us to be on the same page. You know? Tell the truth, I never worked for a woman before. Not exactly sure how to go about it."
"Well, I've never been a 'Boss' before. The job doesn't change because I'm a woman does it? Here's an idea. How about you just keep on doing things the way you always have. Tell me what you need and things like that? You know how a pack outfit should be run and I don't. We'll just figure it out as we go" Amanda said with just a hint of sarcasm in her voice.
"Ohhhh Kayyy." Roger replied sheepishly.
"Here's the thing Roger; I don't know that I am a "Boss". I don't believe Ben has looked at you for a long time as if you're an employee. With him it's more of a working partner. So why don't you and I look at it that same way? Partners? You run the packs and I'll run the lodge." She stood and held out her hand. "We can sort the details out later. Work for you?"
"That works for me right down to the ground" Roger said. He climbed back up the stairs and took her hand. Amanda almost flinched expecting a bone crushing grip. But Rogers grip though firm was not what she feared. He reached out his gnarled calloused hands and held her hand in both of his.
"Aw hell" he said and pulled her in to wrap his arms around her in a hug.
"Amanda we'll figure this out. We'll hold this place together until Ben is back on his feet again. Hell, maybe we'll even show him how things could be if he'd just listen to us a lil' bit more! Have faith girl. We'll make this work."
"Thank you Roger" she answered awkwardly. He released her and she took a step back from his unexpected embrace. "I was worried about the future. I was scared really. You're a good friend. Thank you for shaking me out of that. Yes. We'll do the job. For Ben."
"And for yourself Amanda" he added jabbing a finger at her. "For yourself."
A short awkward silence filled the space between them.
"Well then I better get myself to Shelby!" Roger exclaimed. He rubbed his nose and sniffled a bit as he turned and trotted to his truck. His hand wiped at an eye. "Damn. I hope she don't see that. Ruin my reputation havin' to explain cryin' like a girl." He thought.
Amanda went into the kitchen and poured herself a fresh cup before returning to her seat on the porch. Roger's words echoed in her head. "We'll make this work."
Her gaze turned to the cabins which this week were sitting mostly empty. Only two had guests and those would be checking out today right after breakfast. More were scheduled to arrive in the next few days. More yet would be arriving for the pack trips scheduled over the coming weeks.
Between the cooking for guests, shuttling those arriving by plane to and from the airport , cleaning cabins and all the shopping for supplies and other chores that the place demanded she was stretched thin.
"I can't keep this up much longer. Even if there were more houmrs in the day I haven't the energy." She thought. "But what choice do I have? I have to keep it up. There's no quitting."
She sat sipping her coffee in the morning sun attempting to conjure up ways to do her job more efficiently. It kept coming back to the same issue; There was more work to do than there was her to do it.
The entire time she tormented over that problem a question kept echoing in her head. It was just background noise until she finally stopped thinking long enough to hear it; "If Roger can hire a hand__ why can't I?"
The decision was made before the words were fully formed in her mind. She raced on to new questions.
Where could she find a girl that would fit into the place? And how could she house that new hand? She knew they were too far from town to expect someone to commute. And anyway, she'd want someone to be more than just a maid. Even Roger was trying to sell the little house he owned in town. He and Ben had discussed building a cabin for him right there on the place.
She rose from her seat with a fresh focus and walked in to sit at the desk in the tiny room they used as an office. For the next hour she poured over the books, hunted details online and made notes on a legal pad.
As she emerged from the office Timmy came out of his room asking; "When's breakfast?"
"I swear, as much as you eat you should weigh three hundred pounds!" she teased.
"I don't think so!" he retorted. "I'm always starving! You can't get fat if you're starving!"
She had breakfast well started when the guests came in from the cabins and sat down at the lodge's big community table in the dining room.
As soon as the meal was finished, the dishes cleared, and the guests had checked out and driven away she told Timmy; "Grab your hat and coat boy! No guests gives us a day off! We're heading for Choteau!"
~ Stay tuned. I'm focused on completing the book this summer.