Storms Never Last
Chapter 9: Terry
Copyright© 2010 by Jake Rivers
Wow! I couldn't believe I'd committed the revenue from my next three books on a ranch in Wyoming. Yeah, I had the first book in the editing process, but the second, my first western, "Death Rides the Range," seemed to be taking over my life. Last night I'd had another dream—one so realistic I remembered everything when I woke up in a sweat.
I awoke in a feverish daze, glimpses of reality coming to me in fitful spurts. The room was feminine, curtains, flowers, several handmade dolls on a large dresser. The pillow smelled like Millie, so I made the not unreasonable assumption that I was in her bed. The memories came to me only occasionally; eventually I was able to piece together what had happened. Millie's father, Colonel Tom, had sicced the dogs of war on me. I remembered that phrase from the story I'd read once by that Englishman, Shake Spear, or somthin'. It seemed that this guy, Antony, felt guilty about what he'd done to that Caesar fellow and cried out, "Cry 'Havoc, ' and let slip the dogs of war; that this foul deed shall smell above the earth with carrion men, groaning for burial."
The door opened, and a snowy vision—Millie in a white gown, looking like a vision of an angel—came through the door and sat on my bed. Her hand cool on my forehead, she asked, "Are you feeling any better, Lane? The doctor said with rest you should be fine, but that I had to watch for fever."
As she tended me I looked at her, marveling over the miracle that she shared her love with me. "Millie, your dad... ?"
"I know, Lane. Do what you have to do. I love my father, but he hasn't been himself since mom died. He fired all of our old hands and hired a bunch of gunslingers. I hate them. They don't do any ranchin' at all."
She left so's I could get some sleep, but her presence stayed with me. I got to thinkin' more about that "dog of war", that had shot me from ambush. Well, I knewed whose those dogs were that had shot me, and I knew who had done the siccin', that damn rustler, Tom. Millie had given me my .44 Russian S&W, to slip under my blanket. I guess she really did love me, since she knew I'd use it if I had to—even on her dad.
Later that night, I was awakened by the noise of the door swingin' slowly open, just a slight squeak. My hand slid over the familiar feel of the bone handle and I pulled the hammer back automatically. I saw from the dim light from the lamp in the hallway, the barrel of a shotgun sneaking around the corner of the door. I quickly fired three shots through the door, just to the right of the shotgun barrel, and a dirty, long bearded man crashed to the floor as the door swung in.
I reached over to turn the lamp up just as Tom rushed into the room, pistol in hand. "You damn killer, I should have taken care of you when you were a whelp, just like I killed your dad."
He raised his pistol, but my shot took him under the chin before he could pull the trigger. I slid my legs over the side of the bed, trying to stand up. I felt the blood start anew, and as Millie ran in the room, screaming, I collapsed on the bed.
I hurriedly typed it all into my computer as I remembered it—hell, as I'd lived it, it seemed. As I wrote about Millie, it came to me. Millie was Acey. I damned sure wasn't Lane, though. I was about the age that Lane was in my story, but I felt ten years older. It came to me then that Acey had been on my mind a lot. I wasn't sure exactly how that night in the cabin had happened; I figured it was the combination of the wine, my loneliness, and a beautiful woman. I felt bad—she was so young!—but she had been more than willing.
I was excited about moving to Wyoming. There would be so much to do to make the place the way I envisioned it. My mind was dwelling less and less on Annie. She was gone. I had to live—live without her. One thing I felt bad about was that we had never had any children. One thing for sure, the ranch would be a great place to raise kids. Of course, it never occurred to me what problems I would be facing just now if I had kids to deal with on top of everything else that was going on.
"Death Rides the Range" was in final edit except for the last chapter. I was still thinking about whether to split the long final chapter into two parts. Jerry, my agent, was excited about it. Talking it around to publishers was generating a lot of interest. He mentioned that there had been a couple of calls about a movie. I had mixed feelings about that. Several authors I knew had problems with screen writers butchering their stories. I vowed that I would never give up creative control, even if that cost me money from film rights.
My dad helped me pack things up getting ready for the move, and I was astounded I had so little for the years I'd lived. I left the boat there for him to use. Jerry and one of his other clients I knew, Eddie Dawson, also expressed their willingness to help keep it from gathering dust. I didn't bother with a moving company, just rented a trailer and took off heading east. I didn't need a GPS for this—just get on I-80 heading east and go about a thousand miles. I stopped in Winnemucca and Rock Springs at generic interstate motels: starchy sheets and food. The rooms were clean though, and I slept well.
I went straight to my new ranch, turning south on a county road a few miles before Laramie. It was mid-afternoon on a cool, drizzly April day, and I was surprised to see a truck from Gene's ranch parked in front of the house. I assumed it was Gene, and tapped my horn to get his attention. To my surprise, it was Acey, looking good in a sweater and jeans. I jumped out and walked out up the stairs.
"Welcome home, Terry."
I gave her a brief hug and answered, "Hi. I didn't really expect to see you here?"
"Oh, I had time, so I brought over the clothes you left at Gene's. They are hanging in your closet. I also stocked up on some food and put in some sheets and blankets. Gene came by a couple days ago and checked out the heater, and brought in some logs for the fireplaces. Are you hungry? I brought some pizza and beer with me."
That drew a smile from me—I could already taste the pizza and god knows the driving had worked up a thirst for a cold beer, "You're gonna make some man a great wife."
Acey gave me a funny look for that, but like most men I had no idea what that particular look meant. They should provide a manual so we men would at least have a clue. Deciding to quickly change the subject, I commented on her obvious increase in her waistline, "Damn, Acey, you look like you're gaining a bit of weight."
Okay, maybe that wasn't the most delicate way of putting it. Acey had been putting a couple of plates on the tile counter and now both of them were on the floor in innumerable pieces. The noise from the crash was totally out of place in the quiet ranch house. Acey ran from the kitchen, crying like her heart was broken. I followed her down the hallway and saw her laying on a freshly made bed in one of the guest bedrooms.
I sat down next to her, gently rubbing her back. "Acey what's the matter? You haven't really gained that much weight. I'm sorry for mentioning it."
She looked up; her teary eyes making me feel like a heel. "Dammit! I'm gaining weight because I'm pregnant."
Well, shit. This was a surprise. "Uh, whose is it?"
She stared at me, confused for a minute, then in a voice heavily dripping with sarcasm—which I totally missed at the time, "How the hell should I know!"
Well, that silenced me. I felt a vague disappointment as I got up and left the room. Jeez, I never expected this of her. I didn't figure Acey for one to sleep around. I went back to the kitchen and called my real estate agent and asked her if she could send a couple of handymen over to help me unload. While I was waiting for them I grabbed a pen and pad and walked over to the barns and corrals. I needed to be organized on what needed fixing right away and what could wait. I already knew the barn needed a new roof and to be painted. I got a better than expected price for the place by taking it "as is." So I could begrudge spending the money I'd saved to fix the place up.
I was away from the house for about a half hour when I heard the workmen's truck driving up. I saw that the ranch truck was gone. This surprised me, I had assumed Acey would take a nap and we'd talk later. That's what Annie had done whenever she had shed tears: go sleep it off and awaken refreshed and ready to address whatever issues were between us. So I thought I knew how women's minds worked after being with Annie since we were kids. But then, maybe not.
After the guys had helped me unload the trailer and the back of the truck, I gave them the pizza and beer and drove into town to drop the trailer off at a rental place. Later that night I drove over to Gene's to talk to Acey. Gene didn't know where Acey was and we talked for a couple of hours and he gave me some good ideas on priorities for my new ranch.
"Particularly get someone to plant hay everywhere you can. Alfalfa does particularly well around here. You can't have too much hay—what you don't use you can sell anywhere."
As we were talking, Ann and May came in.
I asked them, "Have you seen Acey? I need to talk to her."
"I thought she saw you this morning?"
I was somewhat uncomfortable, since I didn't know what Acey had told the girls. "Well, yeah, I did. There was just something I needed to tell her."
May piped in, "Well, she's gone."
"Gone?" Gene said.
I echoed, "What do you mean, gone?"
Ann said, "Well, it's a simple concept. We helped her load her stuff in the truck and she took off. Dad, she asked if it was okay to borrow the truck. I told her it was fine, but if it's not, May and I can go down and pick it up."
Gene shrugged his shoulders and waved it off. "Well, tell your mom. She will want to call my sister and figure it all out." With that he left, shaking his head.
Ann grabbed some beers and gave me one. Looking at both of them, I said, "Umm, I'm confused. I saw her while ago and she didn't say anything about leaving. She's ahh—well—she's pregnant."
"Well of course she is. She was pretty upset, just what did you say to her?" May threw at me.
"Well, I asked her who the father was. She said she didn't know."
"Oh, great. Men can be so dumb. You doofus, it's your baby!"
"Mine, but how..."
"Well, the boy has a penis and the girl has a..."
I interrupted Ann with, "Dammit! That's not what I meant. I should have said—oh, damn! Thanksgiving. It's my fault. I'm the father. No wonder she was so upset. I'd kinda forgotten all about that."
With a heavy dose of sarcasm, May responded, "I guess it was a real memorable occasion for you, huh?"
"Well, I didn't mean that. It just, kinda, sorta, slipped my mind."
"Oh, I see." Ann helped me out. "Like you kinda, sorta got her pregnant and she kinda, sorta got highly pissed at you and kinda, sorta went home to Amarillo to kinda, sorta get as far away from you as she can."
"Oh, man", I groaned. "I'm so screwed." This time I grabbed the beers. "What should I do?"
May contributed, "Do you love her?"
"Sure, I think?"
"You think? Now you think. You should have thought earlier, before you opened your mouth."
"Well, yes. I love her. I'm pretty sure of that. How does she feel about me?"
"Boy, you're really into this love and romance stuff. If you wrote a story about this, no one would believe you. I'll tell you one thing; don't try to see her for a while. Otherwise you might never father another child. She is hurt, bewildered, hurt, pissed, mad ... and hurt," May advised.
I decided I needed to go home and think this over. I got her address and asked the girls to have her call me if they talked to her.
I spent the evening organizing things and making more lists. I tried not to worry at this like a dog does a bone, but to put it aside until I was ready to address it. I found a steak in the icebox and a grill on the deck, so I put the two together and had a nice dinner. I called dad to let him know I got there okay. I called Jerry Cantwell and let him know that "Death Rides the Range" was progressing nicely. I was finishing the last couple of chapters and resolving the editing issues. I invited him out for a visit for Independence Day. My mom and dad were coming out at that time.
At sunset I sat on the deck looking over my ranch. It was a bit cool and I had a thermos of coffee with me. I felt Annie's presence so strong it was as if she were there. I told her all about Acey and asked her what I should do.
I could hear her voice in my head. "I can't be with you, Terry. I'm sorry for leaving you the way I did. I know it was hard on you. About Acey, she sounds like a fine person. I'm glad you are getting a chance to be a father. I'm jealous of her for that.
"Don't worry too much about trying to figure out the love stuff. You are a good man and I know you will do the right thing. In a class I had, the professor defined love as, 'a strong positive emotion of regard and affection, ' and I know you feel that for her. Make her feel wanted, and cared for. That's mostly what women really want anyway. Don't worry Terry. You deserve a good life and it will come to you."
I knew Annie wasn't really there but I felt her presence somehow and these thoughts came into my head somehow. It had been just a few weeks short of a year since that totally unforeseen landslide had taken my life and love from me. I felt ashamed that when I pictured Annie the edges were fuzzy—I had to refer to old photos to recreate the images of our life together. Along with that fuzziness had come over me recently a profound loneliness. Not that I didn't have people around me; I did, but this was a different kind of being alone. This was reaching over in the middle of the night to touch a warm loved one, only to find a cold pillow at best.
I ached to wake up in the quiet mornings with someone I cared about next to me. I had been through unbearable pain—but now it was a constant ache. Uncomfortable, but not enough to call for relief from a Vicodin or a nice, twenty year old, single malt. I wanted to be with someone; in all senses of the word. Be close to, be a part of, be intimate with, be in love with.
Maybe I was infatuated with the idea of love. Did I love Acey? I had no idea. No question she would be a pleasant handful to reach for in the long dark hours of the night. I'd learned from living with and loving Annie for all those years that there are rhythms to life and love. What were the rhythms of sleeping with a pregnant woman? Different? For sure! What would it be like to lay with Acey—to reach out in the quiet hours and touch her swollen belly and feel a healthy kick for your efforts?
I knew Annie would want me to actively father the child I was producing with Acey. She knew how disappointed I'd been with her miscarriage and the resultant finding that we couldn't even try again. Now I had a child coming with seemingly no effort. Which led me to try to understand how it had happened? Not in the sense that Ann and May were teasing me about; Christ, I knew how it had happened. But why? Was my loneliness that desperate? Obviously it was. Was it hormones? Or did I have some deeper feelings for Acey, feeling that had snuck up on me unawares. I remembered a stanza from a poem called, "Aspects of Love and Desire," by Joel Ash: