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As of 28 February 2016, due to decline in my health and chronic illness

Monday, January 21, 2013

January 21 Short Story Challenge_"The Last Resort Dude Ranch" written May-June 2008

January 21, 2013 Writing Prompt:

"While vacationing at a dude ranch, a wealthy business tycoon's daughter falls in love with a young cowboy."

In 2008,  I wrote a longer story which was intended for inclusion in a proposed Anthology to benefit Breast Cancer Research. The Anthology was rejected by the approached organization, and then the organizer underwent some personal issues, so I don’t know if anything ever came of the proposition or not. The story I wrote was a little dfferent and since it’s scarcely seen the light of day (except in my Portfolio at I’ll append it here.

Originally composed May-June 2008


Chapter 1

         Nick Jagerman wiped his forehead with a dingy kerchief pulled from one faded jeans pocket. (WHAT am I doing here?) Glancing around at the land flat to each horizon, puffy cumulous barely stirring across the blinding blue, the emptiness resonated to the void in Nick’s soul. A quick twinge of pain over his left chest awakened too-vivid memories. Although it passed in seconds, the fear monster rose up again, wide-awake, its red fiery eyes shining in his mind. (No! It is NOT recurring! I won’t let it!)

         Nick was three months into his recovery period, two since his oncologist’s release. He understood the statistical probability all too well: he’d beaten the breast cancer this time, but recurrence was ALWAYS a possibility. Nick was 34 years old-far too young to die of a cancer that was always reputed to be a women’s disease. Why him? Why? Nick’s daddy had died at age 56 of a heart attack, a manly death taking him out in the field on the combine. Nick’s mom was still alive, nearing 60, with no signs of ill health whatsoever other than occasional troubling migraines.

         Nick’s mom’s older sister had died of breast cancer, though, at 22; and so had their aunt, at 50. But those were women! Why did Nick, of all people, contract such a troubling, and potentially fatal, disease-a “women’s disease”? Nick’s worst enemy right now was his conviction of unfairness. Life just COULDN’T deal him such a terrible hardship!

         Leaning back against his truck fender, Nick sighed as dust puffs blew up in the far distance. Finally his guide would show up. When he had arranged his reservation online, an email sent to him explained that the Ranch was so isolated that guests were expected to wait at Marvin Station, 25 miles distant, for a guide to lead them to the “Last Resort Dude Ranch.” Another sigh and a boot toe scuffing dirt, a snort: (“What kind of name is “Last Resort,” anyway? Feels like it’s what I need, though—if my cancer recurs, this will be my “last” resort and last recourse.)

         Another swipe of the kerchief across his forehead, shifting his balance, another twinge over the left breast (NO! Not again!) and Nick realized his own tension was only intensifying the twinging pain. Consciously deepening his breath seemed to help, as did concentrating on the oncoming dust vortices. (Wonder what it’s going to be like? Like a spa? A “dude ranch,” all riding and horse talk? Sure charges enough.) Nick wasn’t a wealthy man-he’d inherited his dad’s horse-breeding establishment-but he was a desperate one. Not until the first diagnosis-actually the first serious pains-did he ever consider life so worth clinging to as he had ever since.

         Up until the first pain caught him up in its vise, dragging him fully upright from a sound sleep one weekday night, Nick had sported a happy-go-lucky attitude. Sure, he’d take fun and pleasure when it appeared, but he didn’t go out looking for it. A beer in town at the roadhouse on weekends, maybe a little two-step with the tourists, rides on Stalwart, his loyal stallion and champion stud; that was the good life. Sunday dinner at Mom’s and occasionally church with her on Sunday mornings. Life was good, slow and easy. Life was good.

Not any more-now life is fragile, brittle, and questionable. Nick had jerked up out of a sound dream to blinding pain in his chest, his first thought (“I’m goin’ out like Daddy did!), doubling over just trying to breathe; rolling out of bed onto the floor, legs still tangled in the bundled sheets, gasping. He couldn’t reach for his cell phone on the nightstand next to his left arm, for his entire left side, chest and back, felt wrapped in a sheet of flame. His only recourse was to hang on, try to survive, and what felt like an eternity of blazing nightmare finally eased sufficiently for him to roll first onto his back, then scoot closer to the nightstand. He still could not reach up, so he continued to roll, bumping against the nightstand till the cell on the edge fell off onto his face, and then slid onto the floor. Immediately it rang, and through his haze he saw “Mom” on the screen. Forcing his right hand up, he pushed “on” and breathed, “Mamma, call 911.” Then he fainted.

         Looking back now, Nick remembered how the next day in the hospital Mamma revealed that she had dreamed of his danger. In fact, she had actually called 911 on his behalf before dialing his cell phone; her intuitive conviction was that strong. She, too, had thought of cardiac arrest, and so did Nick’s doctors at first. Localized on the left side, the pain had indeed spread from the heart area into Nick’s shoulder and rib cage, so heart attack was the immediate and most logical diagnosis. Blood work and an MRI revealed differently, however, and Nick was astounded when Dr. Caller announced that the accurate diagnosis was breast cancer.

         “But I’m a man!” he shouted. “Men don’t get breast cancer! That’s a women’s disease!” Sensing his mother’s dismay, he reached across himself with his right arm (his left arm and side were bandaged tightly) and patted her hand as it rested on his sheet. 

“I’m sorry, Mamma! I forgot about Aunt Laura and Great-Aunt Suellyn!”

“It isn’t that, son, I’m upset over. It’s you. Breast cancer is a near-fatal disease and I’m scared for you!”

         Dr. Caller cleared his throat and garnered their attention. “There are options, you know. We can try chemotherapy. We’ll first do a biopsy, on Monday, to be certain. If the biopsy proves malign, we’ll institute a course of treatment.” His voice was cool and somber, but his expression belied joy. Dr. Caller knew the odds better than either his patient or the patient’s mother. He could point to one or two recoveries, but the majority of the patients he’d referred to oncologists hadn’t survived. Electing not to share that particular statistic just now, he fingered his thick, in-need-of-trimming mustache and looked away to the end of the bed. 
“I’ll alert Dr. Swanson, the oncology specialist at Hought General, to look at your test results. Now, I must be away; I’ve got other patients to check on this floor.”

(And probably a golf foursome waiting!) thought Nick as he grimaced.

         “Thank you, Doctor,” whispered Nick’s mother, a softly-speaking lady at the best of times.

* * *
         Nick’s attention returned to the present as the sound of downshifting gears snagged his hearing. Closely approaching was a dusty gray pickup with long bed and wide high tires. Resting on the sill of the open window was a large masculine hand with prominent veins and long fingers, one of which tapped a continuous rhythm on the side mirror. Nick felt a twinge unrelated for once to his chest pain or to stress. He thought the hand and wrist awfully pale for a ranch employee, but then maybe it was just dust-covered. Difficult to tell under all that hair, anyway. Practically furred with pale strands-Nick felt himself twitching again and straightened up, pulling his Stetson down low to shade his eyes. All that dust kicking up made them water-or was it the dust and not his thoughts?

         The gray GMC pulled closer and coasted to a stop opposite Nick’s pickup. The driver was so tall Nick could only see a black denim shirt, sleeves rolled up, stretched across a wide chest, till the man bent over and peered out the open truck window.  A deep voice purred out at him: “Mr. Jagerman, I presume?” and a chuckle rolled out, coating Nick’s nerves in liquid dark chocolate. The twinge had passed into a life of its own now, and must be pretty obvious to any observer. The other man didn’t seem to notice, though, just continued to smile and wait on Nick’s response. Too tongue-tied to speak, Nick just nodded silently.
“All righty then. Soon’s I turn this heifer around, pointing back in the right direction, you can follow me, okay?”

         Speechless, Nick nodded again and waited till the GMC’s long base passed, then climbed into his regular-size Silverado and closed the driver’s door. Horrible as the cancer was, one good result had come out of it, if he got to see an appealing sight like this. Nick shifted, easing the friction in his jeans, and waited for the GMC to pass him again. As it came alongside him, the passenger window purred down and Nick saw a long arm waving in the direction he faced. He nodded again and dropped the pickup into gear, staying just far enough back not to have a windshield constantly fogged over with the other pickup’s dust.
Chapter 2

         Nick’s treatment had not progressed smoothly, nor had he been an oncologist’s patient ideal. Instead, he was rough, bitchy, and smart-mouthed. Right up until almost the end of treatment, he had insisted breast cancer was a women’s disease that men had no business getting. He informed Dr. Caller and Dr. Swanson on more than one occasion that their diagnosis was severely mistaken, and nurses had been known to leave Nick’s private room in tears. Although intended as a semi-private, Hought General had fallen on tough times and didn’t draw the patient clientele of its heyday, so arrangement for the mean-spirited Nick Jagerman to keep the room on private status was simple. Any patient rooming with him would no doubt suffer a relapse, all the nurses thought, and privately the physicians concurred.

         Dr. Swanson adjudged Nick’s cancer to be pervasive, and instituted an aggressive radiation regimen. Despite his natural affinity with Deity, the oncologist also evinced compassion for his patients and wanted them to succeed in recovery. Nick’s impossible attitude sorely tried his resolve, though. The root of his inspiration to see Nick healed was entwined with the dismay he experienced whenever he had to approach the attitude-ridden patient. Swanson often considered that Nick carried more attitude and meanness in his system than he did cancer cells.
Meanwhile, Nick’s mother Jane had enlisted her church women’s circle in a prayer chain. Each hour on the hour, each day, one of the women lifted up Nick’s name in prayer, right along with Jane, whose kitchen clock chimed hourly to remind her it’s time to pray. Every Sunday service Pastor Janway prayed for Nick as well, and the Wednesday evening Missions Board meeting always included his name in their opening prayer. If the combination of prayer and the oncologist’s drive to see Nick healed worked, then he would be free and clear of the disease he insisted was not possible for him.

If it failed, then Nick would learn the truth about male breast cancer’s survival rate.
Chapter 3

         The ride out to the Last Resort Ranch seemed an eternity, till Nick reminded himself that he had only missed out on actual eternity by a hairsbreadth. Unconsciously stroking his left hand across his chest, he remembered his last days in treatment with a frown. Even when Dr. Swanson revealed the prognosis for recovery, Nick had feared to believe it: this, from the patient who had insisted from the beginning that “breast cancer’s for chicks, not guys.” Dr. Swanson chuckled to himself, careful not to let his star patient see him.

         Nick had eventually come around to the necessity and purpose of the aggressive chemical and invasive internal radiation treatment, even if he refused to admit that he might have the “chicks’ cancer.” Sometimes he speculated that he might actually have cancer, only in some other virulent form: maybe lung or stomach, perhaps bone or brain. Why his pains were concentrated on the left side of his chest he couldn’t fathom. Maybe the cancer hid in the walls of his heart.

         Another sigh and a shake of his head and Nick’s mind returned to concentrating on the drive. Suddenly he realized he’d let the faded gray GMC fly too far ahead of him and it was nearly out of sight; no, it was missing! He’d lost the guide! Now he was really worried. (Did I pass a turn-off I didn’t see? Why was I thinking about the hospital, dang it all? I’m such a stupid fool!) Just then he noticed the clouds of dust before him were thickening again, roiling, so the GMC must be closer than he’d thought. In fact, the dust was shifting, sinking, so maybe—yes, the truck ahead was slowing, and Nick could see a vague red blinking through the dust, on the left side. Okay, left turn then. Nick signaled too, then chuckled to realize he’d acted unnecessarily, as no vehicles were anywhere behind him for miles!
Why they’d turn on this dusty track Nick couldn’t tell, as no buildings could be seen and again, the flatness just stretched in all directions. What he wouldn’t give for a mountain or two as he’d see in the distance back home, and a huge stables with Stalwart neighing for an apple and rubbing his jaw against Nick’s shoulder. He yanked out his cell and checked for a signal, thinking to call his mother, then discovered no bars at all.
(Last Resort, all right! End of the earth, likely!)

         Another half-hour passed and finally beyond the dust billows Nick spotted buildings spread out on either side of the track: a bunkhouse on each side, a stables beyond (not as big as the Jagerman Stud Farm boasted, he thought smugly), a cookhouse, and farther down, a cow barn (cow barn?) and then on the right, a blindingly whitewashed two story farmhouse, opposite a two story fancy bunkhouse, painted gray with white trim.

(Oh, that must be the guest house, and the first two bunkhouses are for the employees. Or maybe this was a working ranch back in the day; that’d explain the cow barn too. Now it must be just a horse-riding operation for the guests.)

         The gray GMC pulled up near the farmhouse and that long arm and long-fingered wide hand popped out of the driver’s side window, first pinwheeling to indicate Nick should come ahead, then index finger pointing toward what Nick had assumed was the guest house. Indeed, apparently he was correct. He stopped in a space by the far end of the building and hopped out, waiting for the other driver to approach. Instead, that same index finger rose in a “one moment” gesture, and the GMC sped away!

(So NOT what I expected! So much for the possibility this might be a spa-type establishment. Now, think, just what did that brochure I downloaded last week say?)

         Nick walked around to the passenger side, unlocked, and reached into the truck pocket for the brochure. Of course it wasn’t there. (Where did I leave it? Didn’t I bring it? Oh! In my overnight bag!) Of course, that’s where it was, and Nick leaned heavily against the door frame while he flipped the pages. (Hmm—swimming? Don’t see no sign of a pool, unless it’s behind the Big House. No spa stuff: oh well, no massage with hot oils then. Riding? Yep, but I could have done that at home. Wrestling--wrestling? Sure enough, employee-guest matches on Saturday nights, at the Old Bunkhouse. Okay, that would be one of those two I passed when we drove in, I guess. Hmm-doctor’s permission required. Ah, a doctor on staff-Herman L. Jenkins, M.D. Okay. That’s good-in case any of the guests get heat stroke, or hearts give out while horseback-or rasslin’.)
“Hey! Hey there! We’re in here waitin’ on ya!”

         Nick almost jumped, then caught himself and looked around. No one in sight-oh, over there at the guest house door, must be-the door was open, but its angle hid whoever had called out. So, either the speaker was invisible, or petite. Nick preferred to go with the latter option, since even after recovery from a potentially fatal disease, he remained a rationalist. He shut the truck door, still carrying the folder, and walked toward the guest house. As he reached the far side of the door, he spotted a petite flame and blinked two or three times to clear his vision. Oh, no-that was hair, blazing red hair-curly, moppish, big hair-over a faded-to-white flannel shirt and pale jeans. Just as he tried to decide what-and who-it was, its mouth opened and another bellow issued forth.

“I’m standing right here in front of you, double-dang it!” Nick’s attitude had not appreciably improved with his recovery. “I’m right here! Wake up!”

Head rose, eyes locked on his, mouth opened to bellow again-
“Stop right there!” Nick held up a hand. “Just tell me what you want without all that hollerin’, please!” He’d thought the curls were on fire, but that was nothing compared to the look in those blue eyes. Like gas flames on an open burner, he thought now.

         Her mouth opened yet again, but the sound of a golf cart approaching from the far distance up the track interrupted. The gargoyle-in-disguise glanced in that direction and turned away unspeaking, back into the guesthouse. The door slammed behind her. Nick turned to watch for the golf cart, now approaching from behind his own pickup. (Hmm, hmm, hmm. What a fine piece of horseflesh.) His lips curled and his jeans twitched. The guide who had brought him out to the dude ranch drove the cart as he did the truck, fast and loose-handed, one arm draped over the wheel, gaze locked on Nick. Surely the man saw everything Nick felt and thought at that moment!
Chapter 4

         Frannie Vinson was an angry survivor. Not lost in questions of her recovery, as Nick was, Frannie railed and roared at fate. Frannie knew she should have succumbed to the cancer, but instead, two years later, here she still was, still furious, still mean-spirited, still bearing an attitude that drove away any man except the doctor. "Jake," as the Last Resort owners and staff called him, was as gentle and long-suffering as the mountains in the distance overlooking Nick's horse farm. Jake treated everyone he encountered with unconditional acceptance and the attitude of the Colorado River carving the Grand Canyon over the course of millennia. Jake was steady, assured, and deep.
Frannie's first diagnosis occurred three-and-a-half years ago in St. Louis, where she worked as a graphic designer with an occasionally cohabiting boyfriend. Jerry was suave and sexy in a bad-boy mode, and Frannie was obsessed with keeping him happy. She supported him, gave him intimacy whenever he demanded it (often at first but soon only seldom requested), handed him cash and loaned him her credit cards.  Frannie did nearly everything for that boy, calling it love, but truly it was obsession. A void in her could only be filled by the corresponding jagged edges in Jerry, her beloved "bad boy." Jerry took and took and never gave. In fact, Jerry was the first to spot the lump in Frannie's right breast, but rather than mentioning it and urging her to have a mammogram, Jerry kept silent to Frannie (although he did mention it to one or two of his other "chicks on the side.")

         Frannie discovered the lump herself a few weeks later in the shower, after a steady absence of Jerry. Each time she dialed his cell, voicemail picked up; he never came by when she was home-and she often worked from home-but when she'd leave to deliver a CD of her assignments, or shop for groceries, she'd come home to discover some of his clothes were missing, his toothbrush, the photo of the two of them she'd had taken at Branson. Little things here, and never all at once. She knew he must be stopping by, but why always when she was out, and how in the world could he know? Her schedule was, purposely, unpredictable. She liked life that way, unsettled. When she found the lump, "unsettled" became the tenor of her entire existence. She waited another three weeks, then made an appointment at the Women’s' Health Clinic for a mammogram. The technician recommended Frannie schedule a physician's visit immediately and a diagnostic mammogram.
Next she knew the diagnosis was just as negative as she’d expected, and she settled herself to wait on the real unpredictability of life: the approach of death. She stumbled through radiation therapy expecting nothing, and that seemed to be what she received. But six months after the treatment, she still lived, still designed, and had not seen or spoken to Jerry in a year.  An oncology nurse who had befriended her met her for coffee one morning and mentioned Last Resort Dude Ranch, run by a physician who himself was a cancer survivor. Frannie leaped at the opportunity to change her life, geographically and vocationally. She’d settled in immediately, ripping the skeleton staff regularly with her flaying tongue, but the owner understood her rage against nature and Deity and simply let her be-yet another survivor. The Last Resort Ranch seemed to collect survivors.
Chapter 5

“So you met our Resort Ranch spitfire, I see,” grinned the giant hunk as he hopped down from the golf cart in a graceful gazelle step and held out his hand. “Now you can meet the doctor.”

“You-you’re the Doctor? Doctor-umm” Nick stuttered.

“Jake Jenkins, at your sah-vice,” drawled Mr. Sexy.

“Jake?” Nick crumpled the brochure as he tried to unfold it.

“I thought it said uh Herman.” Clearly all his blood supply had gone south and nonsense poured from his brain.

“Sure, but would you want to be called Herman, except by your lovin’ mama?” Jake chuckled. “Come on, Nick, grab your bags and let’s get you settled. Bout time we introduced you to the Spitfire-Frannie.”
That liquid chocolate chuckle again; Nick wondered how he’d get through his stay without igniting. He hurried back to his Silverado and pulled his carryon, laptop carrier, and big suitcase from the floorboard, then followed Jake to the Guesthouse door.

                 Once inside, Jake led him to the kitchen where sassy Frannie cooked and introduced the two, suggesting Frannie moderate her usual spicy tongue-lashings, at least on Nick’s initial day. Frannie grumbled but complied, showing Nick to his room on the second floor at the rear corner, overlooking more unending flat horizon. (Oh well-next time I’ll book a resort stay at home. Oh-won’t be a next time; I’ll not be contracting cancer and having to recover again! That stuff is for sissies, not for men who get real diseases-like my Dad did. Heart—maybe lung cancer. Not this stuff I got, not ever again.)

                 Nick unpacked and showered, setting his notebook computer up and plugging into the Resort’s wireless setup. Then he hopped downstairs, two steps at a time, and came out into the hall to find Jake taking up wall space, smiling that same slow sultry come-on grin. Nick couldn’t stop smiling in return and blushing.

“Hey, pahdner, want to ride? You do ride, don’t ye?” (Oh that chuckle! My jeans just tightened two sizes!)

        “Sure I do. I own a stud farm.”

        “I know. I read your vitals when you applied. Come on, stables are beyond the cow barn. Yes, this was a working ranch in the 19th century, with real, honest-to-goodness cowboy studs. Horses, cattle stampedes, the whole business.  Folks that own it now bought it four years ago from the estate of the last heir, a ninety-year-old dude whose dad and granddad and great-uncles ranched here all their lives. Kind of sad in a way,” Jake pushed back his Stetson as they strode to the golf cart, “to realize all that history is –pffft- over and gone now. Just us “dudes” now.”

That sexy smile slid across Nick’s face like warmed molasses, catching at his eyes and lips, then Jake looked away and turned the key, maneuvering the cart around in the drive and heading toward the distant cow barn.

“Is anything on a small scale here? Everything seems so distant.”

        “That’s how it is out here-them ol’ ranchers liked their space. Takes a lot of acres to herd cattle, or sheep, either one; and don’t even let them get too close together and start poaching on each other’s land or worse one guy’s herd drinking out of the other’s guy creek, oh no. Wars were fought over such.”

That warm look came again and Nick blushed and turned.  Eventually they wove around the end of the abandoned cattle barn and found the stables, much bigger and more polished than expert Nick had expected. Hopping from the cart, Jake asked, “Do you want a stallion or a gelding?” Even that had a hidden meaning to Nick’s ears. 
“Stallion, please. Back home I have Stalwart-he’s a beauty, black. His sire was Pride of Araby, remember he placed in the Triple Crown six years back?”

        Jake nodded. “That’s great. I bet you do miss him though. Get a lot of riding in?”

        “Not near enough. Night and day wouldn’t be enough. And I—lately I haven’t been out on Stalwart much.”

        “While you were ill?”

        “How-how’d you know”

        “Told you. Read your application.”

        “It’s not on there. It’s not.”

Nick turned away and fought to hide the upswell of water in his eyes. He would NOT cry-not here, not ever. He was not a sissy. He was a man. Dang it all! Here come the tears anyway, racking his shoulders, while behind him Jake continued saddling a bay gelding for himself and a sweet roan for Nick.

“I’m a doctor, man, remember,” he purred softly. “I  know these things. I saw you. I’m lookin’ at you right now, and I know you’re hurtin’ big time. But that’s okay-that’s why you came here, to hurt, to grieve, and to heal. Yes, heal. You’re in recovery but now it’s time to heal your spirit and soul. First you got to face it-then you can release it. Then you’re becoming whole.”

                  Nick felt a strong hand touch his back, then reins wrapped his hand and tugged gently. He wiped his face and looked up, into the roan’s eyes.

“Here, give him a sugar cube. He’s a soft touch for it.” Jake pressed the cube into Nick’s hand and turned away to lead his horse, Marmaduke, outside. “Come on, Nick, let’s enjoy the afternoon.”

Chapter 6

         Nick mounted the stallion and followed Jake back into the sunlight, a stray tear or two still tracking on his sun-lined cheeks. Somehow-some of the knot he carried in his heart area had loosened. Just a little, just a tad bit—but the edge of the anchor of pain and heartsickness had let loose, maybe only for a moment, maybe for a while. Here he’d make a fool of himself in front of another man, a sexy gorgeous physician at that, a guy who had the world on a string-and he’d survived. He wasn’t a soppy gooey mess puddling on the floor. He’d survived the embarrassment, just as he’d survived the cancer. THAT cancer. Oh, dear.
Jake led Nick on what seemed another eternity of a ride (does he do EVERYTHING at such great length?) but eventually they fetched up at a quiet little pond and both dismounted to let the horses drink their fill. Jake unfolded a picnic spread from one of the saddlebags-Nick had been too distraught at the stable to notice-and laid it out on a flat rock at the edge. 
“Come on, man, take a load off, settle yourself, feed up and then talk to me. Meanwhile, I’ll talk at you,” he said laughing. “You know-I told you this spread was bought from the estate of the last heir to the original ranch, right? Well, the current owner, believe it or not, is also a survivor, as is our feisty cook.”

         Nick took a big bite of the roast beef sandwich-admittedly Frannie could cook, despite her mean spirit and sharp tongue. He looked away toward the pond, hoping to conceal his irritation at the topic. He certainly didn’t care to discuss any kind of survivor-and wait a minute, had Jake just specified the owner and the cook? The cook? Frannie? Mouth open, he spun back. “Frannie?”
“Yep. Breast cancer survivor-and hating it. And the owner is a survivor of prostate cancer. So there, Nick my man. So there. It can be done-and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

         To his dismay the tears began to roll again, a flood pouring out like a waterfall just when he most wanted to be manly. Arms enwrapped him and he felt his head pushed to Jake’s shoulder. “It’s okay, buddy, it’s really going to be okay.”
“I’m so ASHAMED! Real men don’t get this disease!  I feel like such a sissy.”

“Shh,” Jake rocked him gently. “You’re beautiful just the way you are; you’ve a good, gentle spirit. Nothing wrong with that. Everybody don’t have to be a he-man stallion; some of us got to be geldings. You know, I kind of felt that way too, once-when I was diagnosed.”

Nick leaned back and rubbed his sleeve across his face. “You?”

“Yep. Told you the owner had prostate cancer once.” Jake plucked unseeingly at grass blades. “Thought it might turn out to be AIDS-scare of a lifetime.” A sardonic chuckle, then he looked Nick full in the eye and palmed his face. “It was just prostate-life-altering, yes, but not fatal. Not yet, and maybe not ever. I’m not planning for it to be. And you-whatever you had-and I’m guessing by your attitude it was something similar-testicular or maybe breast? You’re a survivor too, dear Nick, or you wouldn’t even be here at “The Last Resort.” That sardonic chuckle sounded again, and Jake enfolded Nick in his arms. “Survivors-it’s all about the healing, the attitude, and the point of view, Nick. We survived-you, me, Frannie. Every day is one more day of life. We’ve another day to rejoice, to love, to learn, to laugh, to excel. One more day, and every day is precious. Nick, live it; listen to me. Save your precious moments, don’t waste life on grieving for what was or for what you think should not have been. You’re here now, and that’s no accident. You were drawn here, just like I was-and Frannie, bless her.  Live for me, Nick; live for yourself.” Jake stroked a finger down Nick’s wet cheek and kissed him softly. “Live: the entire point to life. Live.”

         Nick gazed up into the deep gray eyes that so magnetized him and wondered. Could he? Would he even consider it? Maybe the surviving was a signal to him; maybe he ought to try living life differently. Maybe he could stop being so anxious about being manly and just trying being himself. Maybe he could stop just surviving-and start living, just one day for now. Just one day at first. He smiled back at Jake and leaned forward into the embrace. Just living, at last.

wc 5,169

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