Stud XII

It takes no effort whatsoever to unravel Jasper’s evil embezzling scheme. He has two icons on the screen helpfully entitled ‘real books’ and ‘fake books’. Another two are called ‘mistress’ and ‘contacts’. I thought they *had* to be plants because no one is that stupid. But no, he really *is* that stupid. He’s been padding the books to explain where some of his and Camille’s money has been going, and he’s been taking Cynthia’s share and spending it on his mistress a couple towns over and salting it away for a getaway to a high class city life. The odd thing is, he hasn’t been cheating on their taxes. He’s been faithfully filing the extra income. This has been going on since the old man died. There are emails and instant messages saved, and a journal of sorts. He says that no one knows or even suspects that he’s doing it. Who would’ve guessed even Sharon hadn’t wanted to steal Cynthia’s inheritance? For all these years everyone thought Jasper was faithfully sending Cynthia her rightful share. It makes the persecution slightly more bearable for her, I think. They might not have wanted to see her, but they didn’t want her to starve in the streets.

Actually, it’s not really that surprising. The more time I spend around Sharon the more I see she isn’t an evil bitch, just misguided, not unlike most parents. I think she honestly thought she was doing what was best for her children. She’s warming up to me. We’ll never be best friends, but she’s polite and she’s seeing that I only want what’s best for Cynthia, too. She’s not trying to break us up and she’s kind to Cynthia and that’s good enough for me. The Jasper incident has really shaken her up.

“What should we do about Jasper?” Sharon asks at the family meeting in Martha’s room. We’d called everyone together to tell them what we’d discovered.

“Well, it’s definitely enough for a divorce. If Cynthia wants, she can have him arrested since he’s been stealing her money. Everyone else pretty much got their rightful share. He’d probably still get visitation rights, but I doubt he’d get custody, but he might. It depends on the judge. Since no one saw any abuse, there’s only Camille’s word against his. A judge may or may not consider that good enough. The event we all saw any halfway decent lawyer could brush off as an aberration due to extreme emotional distress. It’s doubtful he’d get more than a year or two at best for the embezzling, despite the maliciousness with which it was done. I’m not familiar with Montana’s laws, but that’s my best guess of how things would go,” I say, laying out the facts as I see them.

“Do you think he’d give Camille a divorce and severe his parental rights in exchange for the money? I make a good living and so does Syd, so we don’t need it.”

“It certainly sounds like he’s more interested in money than family,” Sharon ventures. “But that’s money you deserve. I have some savings I can offer instead. It’s my fault he’s had the opportunity to do this. If I hadn’t been so concerned with what people thought and listened to you girls in the first place, none of this would’ve happened.”

“We really don’t need it. There’s only the two of us and I make more than enough just by myself to handle any emergency we might have. Your daughter will never want for anything. You have grandchildren to spoil.”

“Couples just starting out always need things -- buying a house, the wedding, the honeymoon…”

“Mom, I’m a senior vice president in a huge firm. I made that much in five years. Syd doesn’t earn that much, true, but pretty much only because she’s not materialistic. She’s also very modest. She’d never tell anyone this herself, but she turned down a chance to be a full time chef at that restaurant you’ve always wanted to go to. She was literally begged by the owner, but she refuses. She turned down a partnership to a huge firm simply because she didn’t think they did much to help people who actually needed it. A friend in our legal department happened to go to law school with her and told me she graduated first in her class and could’ve gone anywhere. She just doesn’t see the point in money for money’s sake. Yet, if I were ever in trouble that required money, she’d have three jobs within an hour. Between us, we really do have enough to do pretty much what we want. Let’s make him an offer.”

“I’d like to be the one to do it, at least,” Sharon insists.

“Okay, but go through your lawyer and I’ll come along in case he gets violent.”

“I’ll call Mendel in the morning.”


“You are such a braggart,” I tease Cynthia later when we’re alone in bed in the bunkhouse. “I’m going to have to talk to Hawkins about telling tales out of school.”

“Hey, leave the poor woman alone. You’d give the poor thing a heart attack. How such a mousy little thing ever made it this far, I don’t know. You two are too nice to be lawyers. And someone has to brag about you and as your fiancée, that’s my solemn duty.”

“Darlin’ I called myself ‘Stud’ for years; if that’s not bragging, I don’t know what is.”

“That was hiding behind sex so you didn’t actually have to get close to anyone. You dropped it quick enough when you decided to break that cycle. You’re the least self-promoting person I’ve ever met.”

“I don’t like to talk about myself and I really was taught not to brag, probably for the practical reason of not drawing attention so my biological dad couldn’t find us. Mama always said, ‘Keep your light a candle flame under a bushel and people will search for the merest glimpse. Set up a floodlight and people will complain about the light coming into their windows.’”

Cynthia giggles. “She was probably right. I don’t think I’d find you as charming if you were always talking yourself up. But a little bragging now and then doesn’t hurt anything.”

“I do -- I brag about how lucky I am to have won your heart.”

“Smooth talker. You know, I’ve never gotten lucky in the bunkhouse. Care to indulge me in a teenage fantasy?”

“Well… You *have* indulged me in my teenage fantasies quite a bit… What does it involve?”

“What’s yours?” She asks, puzzled.

“Being held by someone who loved me and wouldn’t hurt me or make me do stuff I didn’t want to do,” I reveal.

“I’m always willing to indulge that one,” she says, snuggling impossibly closer.

“So what was yours?” I ask, curious.

“Considerably lewder than that,” she laughs.

“Did it involve something like this?” I ask, rolling us over and giving her a kiss she wouldn’t soon forget.

“It might have been something like that, but maybe you should try again so I can be sure.”

I kiss her again. Wouldn’t do to get it wrong. “How’s that?”

“Exactly right. A whole lot more of that, please.”

I happily oblige. I love kissing her, as I may have mentioned once or twice. Just everything about it -- her taste, her scent, how she feels under me, how she holds me so tightly. She slips her hand onto the back of my neck and rubs it with her thumb. Oh yeah -- I especially like that. “Did it involve any kissing anywhere else?” I ask hopefully after several minutes. “Like maybe here or perhaps here?” I suggest, kissing her ear and her neck.

“Definitely both,” she confirms breathlessly, turning her head slightly to give me better access.

We’re so on the same page. I’m so turned on; I’m not stopping tonight. Lefty’s seeing some action one way or another. I don’t care *whose* pants she goes in. I trail kisses along her jaw to her ear. I haven’t really tried this since the first time, but she seems to be quite willing. We have moaning! Her ears must be sensitive. Good to know. I spend several minutes exploring her delicate ear and her neck. That gets even more moaning. Her pulse is racing beneath my lips; she’s panting. My heart is racing. All systems seem to be go; I very tentatively shift positions slightly and put my hand over her breast. I’m not quite sure it’s okay -- other than that first night, I’ve never gone this far without express permission -- but it seems like a good time to try making a move. I mean, she’s willing to marry me; surely I can go to second base without needing an engraved invitation, right? She’s not asking me to stop or moving my hand, so I assume it’s okay. I rub her breast very gently with the palm of my hand, not even cupping it. I don’t stop my kisses. Her perfume is driving me crazy. I shift again, moving my attention to her other side. If I don’t go further soon, I’m going to burst into flames, I swear. I try to think of anything but what I’m doing. I don’t want to rush this. Her breast is so damn soft, except for the nipple poking into my palm, demanding attention. No, don’t think about that. Baby bunnies. Her breasts are softer than baby bunnies. Argh! It’s no use. “Can I put my hand under your shirt?” I ask hopefully, not at all certain she’ll say yes. We’ve only gone this far once and that didn’t turn out so well. She might want to stop. God, please don’t let her want to stop!

“My teenage fantasy didn’t go that far.”

“Okay. We can stop.” Please, if there’s a god in heaven, don’t let this mean she wants to stop!

“I don’t want to stop.”

“Then we won’t.” I have my hand halfway there when someone pounds on the door. “No!” I groan. “Not again! I’m going to kill whoever that is.” I’m not kidding. I was *that close* to naked skin!

“Please do, then hurry back.” She’s looking about as murderous as I feel.

I get up and go to the door. “What?!” I growl as I throw open the door.

Yep, it’s Jasper. “Let me guess -- you want to kick my ass and get your wife back.”

That deflates him a bit. “Yeah!”

“Lucky for you I’m ready to solve this quickly. Take your mistress and your stolen money and run. Give Camille her divorce and sever your parental rights. Stay far away from the ranch, the city, and any Harvey anywhere. Or I swear to god I’ll kill you and hide your body where it’ll never be found. If you don’t get out of my sight within five minutes, I’ll do it right now. You’ll go to Mendel’s in the morning and sign the paperwork and be out of Montana by the day after. Now, get going before I change my mind.” I’m not just threatening -- I haven’t felt this murderous in years. This guy hits all my buttons anyway and my extreme sexual frustration is not helping matters at all.

Jasper apparently has a death wish, though, because he’s just staring at me. “You know about the money?”

“Everybody does. You’re lucky Cynthia’s generous enough to let you keep it without arresting your ass. I’m nowhere near that generous. If it were up to me, I’d just beat it out of you and have whatever was left arrested, so don’t press me. Just sign the paperwork in the morning and get the hell out of my sight.”

“Okay, deal. I’ll go to Mendel’s first thing and be out of Montana by the end of the week. Can I get my things from the house sometime before then?”

“After you sign the paperwork. I’ll have Camille pack up everything and I’ll call you when you can come pick it up.”

“Fair enough.” He turns to leave, but turns back again. “I really loved her, you know. Cynthia. I loved both girls, but Cynthia was special. There was just something about her. You know. When she rejected me, I just went crazy. I just couldn’t stop being an asshole and I don’t know why. I know it makes no difference; I just wanted to say I was sorry. I’m not at all proud of myself. Especially not of how I treated poor Camille. She’s a good woman who never deserved how I treated her.” He shakes his head, giving me a look full of regret, before slowly walking back to his truck and driving away.

I glare in disgust at the receding taillights before closing the door and returning to my anxiously waiting love. “No blows were exchanged and he left peacefully. He’ll sign the papers in the morning. I told him we’d pack up his stuff and call him when he could pick it up.” I don’t bother telling her about the bogus apology. I just want to get the conversation over with so I can go sooth the other women and get back to maybe take off where I left off.

“Least the bastard could do. I couldn’t look at him again. I’d have killed the son of a bitch.”

“I damn near did. God, the jackass has brass ones, that’s for sure. Beating up women and stealing from them. If he’d swung, I’m not sure I could’ve stopped beating on him. But none of you have to see him again. I made it clear what would happen if he bothered any of you again. I’d better go let everyone else know it’s okay, then I’ll be back and maybe we could cuddle?”

“Hurry. I’m kinda scared to be alone.”

“It’s okay, I swear. You can come with me if you want.”

“I’d have to get dressed. Just hurry back.”

“Get dressed?” I gulp. She had clothes on when he knocked.

“Yep. Go on, now. Camille must be scared silly.”

I run.

Camille and Sharon are standing by the front door of the main house. Camille is clutching a baseball bat and Sharon a fireplace poker. They relax when it’s just me. “It’s okay. He’ll sign the papers in the morning -- all of ’em in exchange for the money -- and he’ll be out of the state by the end of the week. I told him we’d pack up his stuff for him. I thought it’d put us in a better position if we agreed to reasonable requests. I’ll deal with him, however. You never have to see him again.”

“It’s over?” Camille says weakly.

“Just about. You’re pretty much free.” I awkwardly pat her on the shoulder.

Camille crumples. I manage to catch her before she hits the ground. She comes to quickly, thank god. Sharon sends me back to Cynthia, saying she’ll take care of her and let Martha know every thing is okay.

I acquiesce, knowing there’s not much I can do and Cynthia needs me. Hopefully in the fun way, but I’m not holding my breath.


“It’s all right, baby. I’m fine, everything is just fine,” I croon to my crying and shaking -- and clothed -- beloved a few minutes later. I have her wrapped tightly in my arms, rocking her slightly.

“I know it is. I just can’t believe all this crap. I’ve spent nearly half my life thinking my family hated me so much they didn’t care if I had enough money to live and now I discover that isn’t true; they just hated me; they didn’t want me to starve. I knew Jasper hated me and was a jackass, but I never thought he was a thief. I didn’t realize he was beating my baby sister, either. I thought she loved him, at least a little bit, even if Mother pushed her to marry him. And now Mother is being nice to us and apologizing for kicking me out. It’s all just so overwhelming. I don’t know what I would do without you.”

“I know, baby. I have you. Just let it all go. I’ll always be here for you if I have to battle every angel in heaven and every demon in hell to manage it, I swear. Even if everything else changes, my love for you never will.” I’m at a loss as to what to say or do. I’m not good at this. She’s crying. I’ve never seen her cry before, not really. I’ve seen her upset; I’ve seen her worried, but she’s never been so… lost… before, not even when we first got here. Now *I’m* freaked out. I don’t know what to do except hold her tight and stroke her hair and hope my touch provides her the same comfort hers does me.


“What’s that you’re humming?” she asks some time later.

“I don’t know; I didn’t realize I was humming.”

“It was nice, whatever it was.”

“Feeling better, sweetheart?”

“Yeah, thank you, baby. I’m sorry for breaking down on you. I know emotional scenes freak you out. I’ll try not to do that again.”

“Baby, it’s okay. I always have a shoulder for you to cry on. Always. Never be afraid to show your feelings. I know I’m not very good at this comfort thing, but I’ll get better.”

“You’re a natural, Syd. I’ve never felt safer or more loved anywhere than your arms.”

“Good. I feel the same way about yours. I love you so much.”

“I love you, too.”


“I hear we had some excitement last night,” Martha greets me in the morning.

“Yes, ma’am. Mr. Mendel called a few minutes ago. Jasper is signing papers as we speak. He’s -- Mendel -- is going to bring out a few papers Camille needs to sign this afternoon,” I explain, blearily pondering the recuperative powers of the huge ass mug of coffee I’m cradling. I couldn’t sleep last night. Cynthia finally dropped off, but I was too worried to sleep. I couldn’t stop thinking about all the changes in my life, about her family and mine, and worrying that Jasper would try to pull a fast one.

“Then it will be over? He won’t bother her again?”

“Not if he knows what’s good for him. It means jail, loss of the money, and a friendly chat with me if he does.”

“I know where to hide a body where it’d never be found.”

“I don’t think that will be necessary. He’ll fold like a cheap lawn chair with a couple punches. There’s only one person in the world I’d deliberately kill and I wouldn’t even do that if there were any way around it, and it’s not that fourth-rate bully. I almost feel sorry for him, in a way. If Cynthia had shot me down like that, I might go a little crazy too. He just carried it *way* too far.”

“The Houstons’ always have been off their rockers. Good ranchers, but bullies and a few heifers shy of a herd. Jasper’s never been anything but a bully. Whether he meant to be or not only he and his conscious know.”

“Yeah. I’m not going to lose much sleep over it.”

“If you ever want to talk, I’ll listen,” she says.

How do they *know*?! “I --” I stop. I don’t even know where to start.

“Whatever you say stays between us. I know plenty about keeping secrets. You’re family, even if you haven’t officially married my granddaughter.”

“I’m not used to talking about myself. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have to keep secrets. I’m trying so hard to change, but a lifetime of conditioning is a hard thing to overcome. I’m not sure I completely want to get over that. I want to learn to be open with Cynthia and the rest of your family, but I don’t think I necessarily want to be open with anyone else,” I struggle to explain. She’s so much like Cynthia, yet something about her reminds me of Mama. I want to talk to her; maybe she can help me figure out how to talk to Cynthia better. I’m trying, but there’s so much I haven’t been able to tell her. I guess I’ve made a good start, but I want to be able to just tell her things immediately without withholding anything.

“It’s all right, Sydney. No one ever said you had to. As long as you’re both happy; the details are irrelevant. She knows the important things. Just tell her what you can, when you can, and don’t shut her out. Who you are now is what’s important.”

“I hope so.”

“I’ve never seen her so happy. Not even when Roy was alive.”

“I’ve never felt like this either.”

“Where *is* Cynthia, by the way?”

“She’s helping Sharon and Camille pack up Jasper’s things and tend the children. I tried to help, but crying women and children kinda make me nervous. Both at once, especially this early in the morning, were a little too much. She took pity on me and sent me to drier climes.”

Martha laughs. “I’m surprised she didn’t join you.”

I grin. “I guess she’s just a better person than I am. I ran.”

Martha laughs again.


After Martha’s doctor leaves, clearing her to sit in a chair for a little while as long as it’s a soft one and she doesn’t walk, I offer to carry her into the kitchen so she can see something different and keep me company as I cook.

“I *would* like to get out of bed for a little while, but I’m too heavy to carry.”

“I have a chair all set up already. If I can sprint a block carrying Cynthia, I can carry you into the kitchen.”

“Do I even want to know how you discovered that?”

“Probably not. You know what a little troublemaker she is.”

She laughs and gives in, rearranging her nightgown.

I carefully pick her up. She’s skin and bones and considerably lighter than Cynthia, who’s too skinny herself. I carry her into the kitchen and gently place her into the armchair I’d already placed by the kitchen table. “Chicken and noodle or vegetable soup?”

“From scratch or from a can?”

“From scratch, of course. I’m a chef; I don’t do canned.”

“Chicken and noodle, then. I haven’t had good chicken and noodle soup since Jonathon’s mother died. I never could make a decent homemade noodle.”

“Well, it just so happens I’m not bad at them, so chicken and noodle it is.” I bustle around, putting a whole chicken into a pot and covering it with water, then put it on to boil. I scrub some potatoes and put them into another pot on the back of the stove. It’s too early to start them boiling for mashed potatoes, but it doesn’t hurt to have them ready so all I have to do is turn on the burner. “I think I’ll put a roast on for supper before I make the noodles. That doesn’t take long and the chicken will take a while to cook.”

“That sounds good.”

I find still another pot and set it in the sink to fill with water as I hunt in the fridge for the roast Camille told me is in there. I smile, remembering how happy she was when I offered to cook. I’m pretty proud of myself for thinking of a way to help without having to be around any crying people. Ah, there it is. I unwrap the large roast from the butcher paper packaging. “Do you butcher all your own meat here?” I ask curiously. I turn off the water and pour some out. It took me longer than I thought it would to find the roast.

“We don’t actually butcher here, but yes, it’s our own beef. We barter with small farmers for butchering, pork, chicken, vegetables. With thirty hands, we need a lot and the locals are happy to trade with us. We don’t end up needing to buy much but flour, sugar, salt, and a few spices.”

“Cool. I love homegrown food when I can get it. It’s kinda hard in the city.” As we talk, I rub the roast with oregano, garlic, salt, and sprinkle it with pepper. I’d rub that in, but I don’t like to touch pepper. I don’t really like it -- it looks too much like roach shit -- but most normal people love it, so on it goes. I carefully set the meat in the pan of water and set it on the stove. I cover the pan and turn the burner on low. Roast is best slow cooked. I’ll add some potatoes and carrots later.

“I bet. We pride ourselves on growing our own food. Almost everyone barters like we do. Those that don’t end up buying mostly local meat and produce anyway since the storekeeper buys or takes in trade from local farms. We’re big on tradition. It’s a blessing and curse. It’s a good day for soup,” she changes the subject.

I look out the window at the pouring rain. “Yeah, that’s what I thought. Something simple, hot, and comforting. Chicken and noodles is what my mama always fixed if I was sick or upset. I don’t think anyone is really hungry.”

“No, at least not until they smell it cooking. I love Camille, but she’s not the world’s best cook. Neither is Sharon. I haven’t had the strength in a long time.”

“I love cooking. I learned a little from my mama and I took classes when I was older. I didn’t always bother for just me, though. I’ve really enjoyed having someone else to cook for.”

“I always had a houseful and I got pretty tired of cooking. But that’s what women did in my day -- took care of the children and cooked. Now that I can’t anymore, I miss it.”

“Isn’t that always the way?”

“Do you think Cynthia will ever come back here for good?” She asks out of nowhere.

“I don’t know. I told her I’d be willing if she did. I can work anywhere. I don’t really have ties anywhere. If we stay in the city, y’all are welcome to visit any time, for as long as you want. I’m sure we’ll visit too. At least, I hope so.”

“Family is really important to you, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Just like Jonathon. He wasn’t the most open-minded man, but family was everything to him. He’d like you. If Cynthia *had* to love a woman, he’d have chosen someone like you. Once he did some thinking about it, he decided character was more important than gender. I think if he had lived a little longer, he’d have called her home. He never would’ve stood for all this nonsense. I should’ve stood up for her more. That’s the only regret I really have in my life.”

“You did the best you could. They would’ve just made her miserable here as well. You can’t change a closed mind.”

“That’s what I’ve told myself all these years, but I can’t help thinking Jonathon would’ve done a better job at it.”

“He sounds like a good man.” I give up for the moment trying to change her mind.

“He was. I miss him. I hoped to join him, but I had to set things right with Cynthia first. Now, I think I’ll wait a little longer. He’d want it that way.”

“For a very long time I did my best to rejoin my family. It’s not easy to be a survivor. It took -- well, that’s a story for another day. I can’t even imagine losing a spouse, especially after all those years.”

Before she can reply, there’s a knock on the door. I get up and open the door, wondering who would be knocking. It’s Mendel. “Hey. Sit down; I’ll go get Camille.”

“Thank you. How are you doing, Martha?”


“These are the best chicken and noodles I’ve ever had,” Mendel enthuses. The paperwork hadn’t taken long, but it’d been close to lunch and we had asked him to stay to talk things over some more.

“Thank you,” I reply, rather embarrassed. Everyone has been very complimentary and I feel awkward with all the attention. I mean, it’s just chicken, water, and cooked flour paste with egg. No big deal at all.

“Cynthia, you’re quite the lucky woman to be able to eat like this all the time,” he continues, just to make me blush harder, I’m sure.

“I know, I’ve had to start working out more to keep from turning into a blimp.”

“You’re too thin,” I protest. “My fingers shouldn’t curl that much around your sides when I span your waist.”

“I don’t know why you did that in the first place.”

“Because you’re too thin,” I explain patiently. Isn’t it obvious?

“She always has been. She’s never had a big appetite,” Sharon says. I would’ve thought she would be all for being as skinny as possible.

“I still don’t unless Syd cooks. I still forget to eat if she doesn’t remind me.”

“Jonathon was the same way. If I didn’t remind me, he wouldn’t eat. I packed him a lunch every time he was away from home riding fence, but he never remembered to eat it.”

“I wish I could skip a few meals,” Camille groans. “I’ve never lost the weight from JD.”

Conversation switches to the evils of pregnancy and childbirth. Mendel and I look at each other. We flee to the study. Cynthia will tell me how many we’re having later.


“Are you and Cyn going to settle down here now that it’s suddenly okay to be gay?”

“Don’t know; she hasn’t told me yet. Wouldn’t mind if we did,” I reply lazily, contently puffing away on a cigar. Mendel is a cool guy. I’ll escape from the womenfolk with him any day. Unless it’s Cynthia and she wants to get naked, then he’s on his own.

“Would you consider working with me if you do? Shouldn’t be too hard to get you licensed here if you wanted. I never would’ve thought of half those tricks you pulled with Jackass.”

“I don’t like bullies, particularly ones that beat their pregnant wives. I especially don’t like people who fuck over my woman,” I shrug.

“Her family screwed her over and I didn’t try harder to stop them,” he points out honestly. “Yet you seem to like us just fine.”

“I’m giving y’all the benefit of the doubt because that’s what she wants. They didn’t know she wasn’t getting her money, so I’ll pretend they didn’t fuck her over maliciously. Your hands were tied. Jasper raped a young girl to trap her into marriage so he could get his hands on the Harvey money, then he beat her. Then he maliciously stole Cynthia’s livelihood. The rest of them were just narrow minded.”

“True. I tried to talk Sharon out of basically paying her to stay away, but she’s a stubborn woman. I’m utterly amazed she changed her mind and admitted she was wrong. Don’t get me wrong -- she really does love the girls and just wanted what was best for them -- but she’s never been one to admit she was wrong.”

“Yeah, me too from what I’ve heard, but she’s been nice to me.”

There’s a knock on the door and Cynthia peeks in. “Got room for one more? I can’t take any more.”

“C’mon in. Welcome to the No Maternal Instinct Club,” Mendel jokes.

“If my biological clock hadn’t ran out of batteries, it has now,” Cynthia shudders.

“I wanted kids once, but Walter was fresh out of eggs,” Mendel says wistfully.

“Kinda hard to find a surrogate around here, yeah,” Cynthia says.

“Just a tad. Especially when no one is supposed to know. Fag ministers don’t go over well.”


“We’re going to have to go back soon and I don’t wanna go,” Cynthia pouts later as we cuddle on the porch swing, looking up at the stars.

“We don’t have to if you don’t want to. Not for good, anyway.”

“I don’t want to quit my job or give up our life in the city, either,” she sighs.

“There’s always long weekends and vacations.”

“I know; it’s just not the same.”

“I know, honey. I wish I could give you both.”

“I know you do. I think you like them more than I do. You’ve been so good to them. Camille and Grandma think you hung the moon and even Mother thinks you’re a good, upstanding person and a worthy partner. Can we have them down for Thanksgiving or come up here? Would you do the cooking?”

“I’d like that. I’ve never had a traditional Thanksgiving. I’m not really sure what’s involved, so I’ll have to look up some recipes.”

“I’ll be happy to do taste tests.”

“You’re such a giver,” I tease, stealing a kiss.

“Settle down, there, Stud. The last time we tried that Jasper showed up, and the time before that Grandma almost died. God only knows what would happen tonight.”

I sigh in disappointment. “You’re probably right, but you’re so beautiful I can’t help myself.”

“Well, they *do* say the third time’s the charm.”

“It’s okay, baby. We don’t have to if you don’t want to. I’m enjoying stargazing. I wasn’t trying to lure you inside.”

“I’m enjoying it too. I’d forgotten how much clearer the sky is out here. I spent so many nights out here, staring at the stars and dreaming about love and what life would be like when I grew up. I’d sit out on this swing with a sweetheart, watching our children play. Our children would dream on this swing and be courted here, like my beloved did me so many years before. I was pretty idealistic when I was young, like most kids. I thought life was fair and good things happened to good people and all that rot. For a while, I thought I could conform, but I couldn’t. I thought maybe it’d be all right to be different, but different doesn’t do well here. The Supreme Court might say it’s illegal to discriminate against gays and we have all the rights in the world heterosexuals do, but that’s not how it works here. I probably wouldn’t have been happy here if I’d come back after college. I don’t know that I really would now, permanently. It’d be nice to try some day. Nice to think it’d work and we could raise a family here as generations of my family have done.”

“I never liked boys, but I wasn’t around other kids much, so I never really thought about it. On the street I didn’t have much choice at first. I’d have liked a swing like this; a place like this. I still would. But the city has plenty to commend it too.”

“If you want to talk about it, I’m listening. You aren’t going to make the decision for me, are you?”

I consider. I’m in make out mood. Confessions can wait. “Nope. It’s not mine to make.”

“It affects you too.”

“I can work from any where and I have no family or particularly close friends. You’re the one with the job that requires you live in the city.”

“I don’t know that I really want to do that much longer now. I’m getting so tired of the traveling and backstabbing and the stress. But on the other hand, I don’t want to be a quitter either and I’d go crazy if I was unemployed.”

“Whatever you decide, I’ll support you regardless. I don’t care if you want to live in Alaska and do nothing all day but eat snocones with a herd of reindeer.”

“Reindeer aren’t native to Alaska.”

“I know that; that isn’t the point.”

“I don’t want us to be all about me and what I want. What you think and need and want are equally important.”

“Yes, but in this situation I’d be happy either way and I can work either place. It’s a win-win situation for me.”

“I don’t want to be solely responsible for our future either.”

“Fair enough. I really want to be part of a family again. I like yours and I love you. If we ever decide to have a family of our own, I want to raise it here. But I want you to be happy more. Why don’t we both think about it some more and revisit the subject regularly? There’s no rush.”

“You want kids?”

“I do and I don’t. Why don’t we discuss it later? Right now… I’ve never made out on a porch swing before. Can anyone see us?”

“Not unless they come outside. Perhaps we should retire to bed and pretend we’re outside under the stars?”

“Okay. I’m flexible. As long as I get to kiss you I’m not choosey where.” I rise and offer her my hand. She takes it and lets me help her up. We stroll back to the bunkhouse hand in hand. I close and lock the door behind us.

We get ready for bed. By the time we settle into bed my fire has banked and I’m willing to just cuddle if she wants.

“I want a sky light.”

Right now? “I’ll see what tools they have in the morning.”

“No, in our house. I want a skylight.”

“Okay.” Why is she telling me this *now*?

“I want it right over our bed so we can make love every night under the stars.”

Ah, that’s why. “Okay, baby, I’ll make sure of it.”

“Wanna pretend there’s one now?”

I consider -- sleep, or make out with my girl, *then* sleep. “I think I can handle that.” I spend many happy minutes kissing her, forgetting that I’m supposed to be imagining a skylight. I don’t know how I could see out of one any way since I’m on top. I stop before my hormones make sleep impossible. “Good night, baby. I love you.”

“I love you, too, Syd.” She reaches over and turns off the lamp.

Feedback is greatly appreciated: Join my Yahoo group:
Copyright © 2006 by S. Berry. All Rights Reserved.

part 13

Return to the Academy