Excerpt for When Lightning Strikes Twice by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

This page may contain adult content. If you are under age 18, or you arrived by accident, please do not read further.


Published by EVERNIGHT PUBLISHING ® at Smashwords


www.evernightpublishing.com




Copyright© 2018 Kory Steed



ISBN: 978-1-77339-541-8


Cover Artist: Jay Aheer


Editor: Karyn White



ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


WARNING: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.


This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, and places are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.



DEDICATION


For Mark, who loved me first.



WHEN LIGHTNING STRIKES TWICE


The Lightning Series, 3


Kory Steed


Copyright © 2018


Section One

Picking Up the Pieces


Chapter One

Home


Monday, January 4, 2010, 12:30 PM

When Big Daddy cleared the ridge, and Jason and Aaron’s home came into view, Rod, the owner of Pacific North Air Transport, eased the lumbering, cargo chopper towards the helipad. Jason and Aaron barely recognized the place. The large, open, three-acre lawn contained within the fortified stockade had shrunk in size by nearly half, and the free-rolling grounds that Jason had so carefully designed were now nothing more than a muddied memory. A second helipad had been installed next to the original one to accommodate the increase in air traffic their home would see as supplies, materials, and personnel were flown in during the coming days and weeks.

In reality, the place looked more like a military compound than their home. Almost immediately, Jason swallowed any misgivings that rose up in his mind. All it took was for him to remember the spray of gunfire that could have easily taken Aaron’s life, threatened his billy goat, Jasper’s, and nearly took his own.

No sooner had the wheels touched down than Aaron was up and doting over Jason to ensure he was okay to climb down from Big Daddy’s hold.

“Braden, be careful with him!” Aaron’s voice cracked with angst. “I don’t want him stressed in any way.”

Braden smiled, tight-lipped. “I’ve got him, Aaron. Don’t worry.”

“I’m sorry I’m being a mother hen right now, but I won’t feel that he’s safe until we’re inside the protection of the stockade’s walls.”

“I understand, Aaron. I promised you that I would take good care of him, and I meant it. I’m going to take real good care of the both of you.”

Jason patted Braden’s arm as he looked deeply into Aaron’s eyes. “It’s okay, Braden. I’m fine, really, I am. I think Aaron’s been more traumatized by this whole ordeal than I have.”

As the rotors slowed to a stop, Aaron stepped out and began to scan the clearing around the stockade and the tree line beyond as he paced back and forth. The whine of a vehicle’s gasoline engine reached everyone’s ears. Jack, Rod’s righthand man, could be seen through Big Daddy’s cargo hold door, sitting behind the wheel of a decked out, six-seat ATV, as he came up the old path that had been expanded and paved with stone during Jason and Aaron’s absence.

The vehicle had barely come to a stop before Jack was out of the driver’s seat and running toward them. As Aaron cleared the rotors, Jack raced right up into the hold and grabbed hold of Jason in a gentle, but firm, bear hug.

“It’s good to see you, boy, so good to see you. God, I want to give you a real hug, but I’m afraid I’d crush you or break something. Is this okay?”

Jason returned the hug. “Sure, Jack. It’s much appreciated, and it’s good to see you, too.”

Jack released his hug and grabbed Jason by the arms, just below his shoulders, gently squeezing them as he spoke. “I can’t tell you how worried I’ve been about the two of you. I just can’t. Oh, you’re gonna be so surprised by everything we’ve gotten done. You’re hardly gonna recognize the place, but it’s exactly like you said you wanted it. Just you wait. Just you wait and see.”

Rod got out of the pilot’s seat. “Jack, that’s enough.” His normally gruff voice slightly softened. “Leave him be. There’ll be plenty of time to get reacquainted.”

“Oh, Jason,” Jack went on. “Wait ’til you see the kitchen, and the cottages, and the living room, and the—”

“Jack,” Rod said more firmly.

“Oh, right. Sorry.” Jack turned around and hopped down to the ground, just beyond the doors. “Hello, Aaron, my boy,” he said, spreading his arms wide for a hug as he walked towards him, but Aaron’s eyes were focused on the tree line. “Aaron, my boy,” Jack said, play-punching Aaron’s arm. “Aaron. It’s me, Jack.”

Aaron recoiled, but after a moment, his expression softened, and he smiled. Jack jumped into his arms. “Good to see you, lad. Good to see you.” Jack kissed Aaron’s cheek. “The place is fixed up real nice for you. Real nice.”

“Sorry, Jack. I was scanning for intruders.”

“Oh, there’s no need for that, my boy. Nobody’s gonna get anywhere near this place now. Wait ’til you see the armory!”

“Jack,” Jason called from the doorway. “Aaron’s got to do what he’s got to do. If you’d just give me your hand for a minute, I can climb down.”

Jack released Aaron and dropped down to the ground. “Oh sure, sure. Sorry, sorry. I don’t seem to know what to do with myself right now. It’s like I’m jumping out of my skin or somethin’.”

As Jack scurried back, Rod, raised his hand and opened his mouth to speak, but Jason shushed him with a wave before stepping down with Jack and Braden’s help, being careful not to bump himself. He was still sore along his left ribs where the chest tube had been placed.

Jason kept his right hand on Jack’s left shoulder and squeezed it. “Jack, I’d like you to meet Braden. He’s a nurse, and he’s going to be staying with us for the time being. Braden, this is Jack, one of my oldest and dearest friends. He’s an all-around good guy, but he’s also a joker so watch out for his pranks.”

“How you doin’ there, young fella?” Jack pumped Braden’s hand. “How you doin’? Good to have you here.”

Braden winced at the strength of Jack’s grip. “It’s good to meet you, sir.”

“Oh, none of that sir stuff. I’m Jack to just about everybody, and you’re family now. Welcome! Welcome! Now we’re gonna take it real slow gettin’ Jason down the path here.” Jack looked towards Jason. “I ordered this baby with a special suspension so you should barely feel a bump.”

As a man in his mid-fifties stepped down, Jason continued the introductions. “And this is my dear, oldest friend, Dr. Conrad Tolbert, whom I’ve spoken of often. He’s agreed to stay with us for a while until we get back on our feet.”

“Hello there, doc,” Jack said taking his hand into both of his own. “It’s a pleasure. A real pleasure.”

****

While Jason rode in the ATV with Aaron holding tightly around his back, he noted the changes to the stockade fence. “I see they’ve installed the surveillance cameras and security lights. I think I hear the generator running. How come?”

Rod turned around from the front passenger seat. “That’s because your solar system can’t power all the new stuff right now. All of the new solar panels haven’t been hooked up yet, but that should be completed within a day or two. It’s the overnight cold that’s been slowing down the work outdoors in the early mornings hours. We’re also running the furnace for supplemental heat in the main cabin, but we’re still keeping the wood stoves going. You’ll see it all, Jason. Don’t worry about a thing. Once you’re up to it, we’ll go over everything with you and Aaron.”

When they reached the stockade’s gate, Jack hopped out and punched in the security code. The door opened automatically, but instead of swinging outward on hinges, like it had in the past, it traveled along the stockade’s wall on a motorized, supportive rail system. After Rod drove through, a large, military-looking man in a uniform closed the gate with a switch on the panel inside the walls.

“Hello, Mr. Ackerman, Mr. Jaeger,” he said, extending his hand to each of them. “I’m Thaddeus Steinecker, your Chief of Security. My staff and I are pleased to be at your service. We’re at your disposal and ready to answer any questions you may have. Whenever it’s convenient for you, I’ll review all the changes and upgrades we’ve instituted.”

Aaron smiled tightly. “Thank you, Chief. We look forward to it.

Chapter Two

Miss Charity


Once they came to a stop by the front porch, Aaron hopped out and reached back in for Jason.

Jason waved him away and began to climb out of the ATV. “Aaron, you or Braden or whomever can walk behind me, but I can manage the stairs. I need to do this by myself. Please let me.”

Aaron hovered in front of him. “Okay, Jason. Whatever you say.”

Conrad placed his hand on Aaron’s forearm. “Let’s let him try the stairs on his own.”

Aaron nodded.

Jason paused as he placed his foot on the porch’s first step. “Rod, before I go inside, how’s Jasper?”

“He’s doing good, Jason. The vet said she’s never met such a gentle billy goat, but I think that's more because he was shot. She’s was real happy with his progress, and she’s signed off on him. Since I flew him back up here, after his week in the hospital, he seems to have settled back into his old cantankerous self. His horn looks a little funky though with that chunk missing, but it sure hasn’t affected his appetite any.”

“Good. Good. I’ll go see him later today or tomorrow, depending on how I feel.” As Jason climbed the steps, he noticed the rocking chair that previously shattered under Rod ’s weight during the attack had been replaced. “New rocker?”

“Yes, Jason. We’ve taken care of it,” Jack interrupted, as he lightly punched Rod in the arm. “I ordered a new, fortified one. I don’t think that even all of Rod’s two-hundred and fifty pounds could make a dent in this one.”

Rod rolled his eyes.

“Good afternoon, sirs.” Everyone turned their attention toward the faint, island-accented voice that originated from the front door. A tall, heavyset, middle-aged, African-American woman stood, holding it open. “I’m Charity Hopewell, your new Chief of Household Operations and cook.”

“Pleased to meet you, Miss,” Jason said as he walked toward her, extending his hand. “I’ve heard a lot about you from Rod and Jack. How would you like me to address you?”

“Oh, no, sir. You two have been through so much,” she answered as she softly pulled Jason into her big bosomed chest and rocked him gently. “I think a hug is in order, and Charity or Miss Charity is just fine.”

“And we’re Jason and Aaron, if you will.”

Charity released him and waved her arm. “Please, everyone come inside against the cold before we make any more introductions.”

“Hello there, Miss Charity,” Aaron said once the front door had been closed. “I’m Aaron. Thank you for agreeing to do this for us.”

“It’s my pleasure, Mr. Aaron. Now where’s my hug?”

Aaron leaned down into her arms.

After she let go, Charity rubbed her hands together. “I’ve prepared a little something to warm you up. Then we can do the introductions proper. Now let me help you off with your coats.”

Charity directed everyone to the new, sixteen-foot dining room table that occupied a section of what had once been the cabin’s common area while she hung their coats on several of the twenty, large brass and porcelain hooks that now ran half the length of the cabin’s front wall. Then she disappeared back into the kitchen.

A man whom Jason didn’t know rose from the table. “Hello there. I’m Lars, Rod’s brother-in-law.”

A huge smile spread across Jason’s face. He shook the offered hand and then pulled Lars into a firm, extended hug. “Finally, a face to go with the voice. Thank you for all the updates you gave me over the phone while Aaron and I were in the hospital. I would have lost my mind with worry without them.”

“Of course, Jason.”

“You dropped everything to come up here and help me, a complete stranger. I can never thank you enough for taking care of my animals. I don’t know what I would have done without you.”

“It’s been a pleasure. They’ve been no problem at all. Is it okay that I still call you Jason, now that we’ve met?”

“Oh, goodness, yes, yes, of course. Of course, it is. Lars, this is my partner, Aaron.”

“Hello there, Lars.” They shook hands.

“I’m a big fan of yours, Aaron. A big, big fan. Damn shame about your injuries keeping you from returning to the team. I followed your college career, and I was really looking forward to seeing you advance the Bighorns to the playoffs.”

It was the first time someone had mentioned what in truth was Aaron’s expulsion from the team in almost two weeks. A faraway look spread across Aaron’s face, and he was silent for a moment before returning his attention to Lars. “That’s very kind of you, Lars, but there’s more to the story.”

“There always is, Aaron.”

Jason brow furrowed. “So, how are my babies?”

“They’re some of the best-behaved livestock, um … sorry, Jason. I forgot for a moment that they’re more than that to you. They’re some of the best-behaved animals I’ve cared for in years. It’s obvious how well they’ve been treated, but I had a little trouble with the nanny goat, Heather, getting her to let me milk her. It wasn’t until Jack told me about the oats that things smoothed out.”

Jason smiled. “Sorry, that’s my fault. I’ve spoiled her. And Jasper? How’s Jasper doing?”

“He’s still a little weak, but the vet said he didn’t lose as much blood from the gunshot as you thought. Though he lost a fair amount, she thinks his reaction has been compounded by the emotional shock from the intruder’s attack, but he’s doing well. Still, I’ve been giving him extra rations of whatever he wants to eat to help build him up. I don’t know whether he’s just normally well behaved like all the other animals or whether it’s from the trauma, but he’s very gentle, especially with me, a stranger. That’s not very common for a billy goat.”

Jason smiled, and his face softened. “It’s probably a combination of the two. He’s always been very good with me, but then I’ve had him since he was a kid. The only time I’ve ever had to worry was when he got too affectionate. He’s knocked me over a few times with those horns of his. I got him the same time I got Heather, but he was really still a baby. They came from the same breeder, but I was sure to require that their blood lines were different for when I decide to breed them.”

“Well, regardless,” Lars said, “he’s very gentle. His horn is healing nicely, but it’s going to be a while until the callus turns into bone-hard horn again.”

Jason rested his hand on Lars’s shoulder. “If you have the time, and when I’m up to it, I’d like to sit down and talk with you about livestock. We’re going to want to expand our numbers at least a little bit in the near future, so we can remain self-sufficient, and I could sure use your advice.”

“I’d be happy to.”


Chapter Three

Coming Up to Speed


Charity returned, pushing a two-tiered wooden service cart loaded with two platters that were stacked with sandwiches cut on the bias, a large, steaming tureen filled with vegetable soup, and bowls and soup spoons.

While she ladled out the soup, Jason made the introductions. “Miss Charity, this is a dear old friend of mine, my oldest friend, Dr. Conrad Tolbert, who I worked with in a hospital ER more years ago than I care to remember.”

“Delighted, sir.”

Conrad nodded. “Likewise.”

“Next to Dr. Tolbert is Braden Darby. Braden is the nurse who took care of Aaron this past fall and then both of us these past two weeks.”

Braden waved. “Hello.”

Charity smiled broadly. “A pleasure I’m sure,”

“They’re going to stay with us for a while to help Aaron and me get back on our feet.”

“When will we meet the security staff?” Aaron asked.

Charity placed a filled soup bowl down in front of him. “As far as I know, Mr. Aaron, they’ll be here at dinnertime. I can call over there if you want to meet with them now.”

“No, that won’t be necessary. Dinner will be fine.”

“I see what you were saying about the partitions, Rod.” Jason pointed to the structures that now separated the kitchen from where they now sat in the new dining room and also separated the dining room in front of what used to be his and Aaron’s bedroom area.

Rod nodded. “I thought it might be a good idea. I called the architect who designed the place. With a little financial incentive, he came up with a new floorplan in less than a day. The common area was huge so we had no problem dividing it up into three large rooms, separating off the kitchen. This partition separates the dining room from the kitchen,” he said, pointing to it. “It’ll provide Miss Charity with some privacy while she’s working in there and us when we’re meeting in here as we get things started with Nathan’s Promise, at least temporarily.

“If you decide you want to have the initial meetings in one of the new structures, we can easily put all the partitions away and return the common area to its previous layout. They literally fold up into themselves in just a few minutes. Right now, the second partition provides for a large living room between the dining room and where your new master bedroom begins. The old bathroom has been enlarged into a master bath that connects directly into the master bedroom. We’ve also installed a two-person whirlpool tub in there.

Ding-dong-dong-ding.

Jason’s head swung around as he looked for the source of the soft-sounding chimes.

Dong-ding-ding-dong.

There was a pause, then, dong.

“My grandfather clock! It’s one o’clock! The chimes!”

“Oh, yes, Mr. Jason,” Charity said. “I fell in love with it the moment I saw it. The family my mama worked for had one similar to it. I noticed someone had disconnected the chimes’ weights, and a real grandfather clock’s chimes are so beautiful. I just reached in, hooked up the weights and raised them on their chains. They came back to life immediately.”

Jason smiled. “Miss Charity, Aaron and I had talked about that, but I never got the chance to call a repairman in to fix it.”

“Mr. Jason, there was no fixin’ needed. It was a simple thing to turn them back on.”

“How did you know how to do it?”

“It became my job to take care of that old grandfather clock when I was still a girl. There’s really nothing to it.”

“Well thank you for that.”

“My pleasure, and if they’re too loud you just let me know. I know how to adjust that, too.”

“I will. Now … darn, I forget where we were.” Jason scratched his head.

“I had just told you about the master bath,” Rod said.

“Right, anything special about that?”

“Nothing, other than I think you’ll love what we’ve done for you in there.”

“So, what’s next?”

Rod handed out papers with typed up notes and small, yellow-lined pads. “Here’s my list. The pads are for notes. I took it upon myself to also purchase two oversized, overstuffed sofas with several ottomans and four, matching, overstuffed, reclining chairs for the living room. The sofas pull out into king-size beds so they’ll provide extra sleeping space if we ever need it. The chairs recline all the way and can be used as single beds for sleeping as well. They’re quite ingenious.

“Also, these temporary partitions can be replaced with permanent walls if you decide that’s the way you want to go. They’re on recessed wheels so we can slide them back and forth if we ever need extra space in here or in the living room. I hope you like what we came up with.”

“It looks great so far, Rod. Thanks. We’ll take the big tour before dinnertime, but after this, I’m going to need to go lie down for a while. Even though it’s only early afternoon, it’s been a long day.”

Aaron raised his hand. “How is everyone getting in and out of the cabin to the new structures, Rod?”

“I’m glad you asked. I made an executive decision early on that I didn’t consult either of you about. You were both still in the ICU at the time, and I had to make the decision that day. It will be easier if you let me go through everything in order.”

Aaron put his arm around Jason. “You’re right about that. Jason had a rough time in the ICU. Neither of us would have been able to focus on anything at the time.”

Rod nodded. “As I thought about it, I realized there would probably be more people here at different times than we first estimated. For now, I’ve ordered each of the cottages as single bedroom units, with two double beds, except for the security office. It’s not too late if you prefer that some have a king or queen size bed in them, and they can also be laid out as two, smaller bedroom units with a double bed in each. Either way, they’ll have decent sized closets, dressers, and night tables.”

“I think time will tell, Rod,” Jason answered, “but I don’t know of any couples who will staying up here. at least in the near future, so we’ll just go with what you’ve chosen.”

Rod continued. “Each cottage unit has a good-sized bathroom and the kitchens have apartment sized appliances with adequate counter space. There’s also a living room and a washer and dryer in each unit. They’re all completely furnished, too, and they’ve got great soundproofing so the occupants will have privacy and won’t be terribly disturbed by any activity that’s going on outside. I had them designed that way because after you’re finished with them they could be sold as completely ready to live in cottages, or, depending on how soon housing will be needed for future staff at Nathan’s Promise, they can be moved anywhere and be ready for immediate occupancy, once the utilities have been hooked up.”

“Good thought,” Jason said.

“As far as the dryers are concerned, on the chance that they all might be turned on at the same time, I switched off their power and posted a sign-up sheet for times to use the laundry room dryer, so as not to overwhelm the generator. The solar-battery systems in each cottage won’t be able to handle the drain from their own dryers until they’re fully charged, and anyway, I didn’t see the need for so many at this point in time. Once things settle down, we can decide who will be staying where permanently. I’ll turn the dryers back on in those cottages, if needed. There’s also drying racks for laundry in each unit to encourage folks to use them as an alternative. I see now that I was right to order the extra cottages because you’re going to need a lot of help recovering after your and Aaron’s hospitalizations.”

“You’re right.” Jason smiled a tight smile. “That’s why I asked Conrad and Braden to accompany us. I’m already feeling the effects of moving around so much.”

“Do you need to lie down, Jason?” Braden asked.

“No, I’m fine right now, just a little stiff. Thanks, Braden. It will pass.” Jason turned back to Rod. “Please, Rod, continue.”

“Sure, Jason, but I can continue this later.”

“No, I want to hear this.”

“We both do,” Aaron added.

“Certainly.” Rod looked down at his notes. “Dr. Tolbert and Braden can each have their own quarters, and Jack and I have been bunking together whenever we’ve been up here. Miss Charity also has her own quarters. Since she is your new Chief of Household Operations, we thought it best to create a small office for her in it. It will be away from the cabin so she has a quiet place to do any paperwork, ordering of supplies, or whatever she might need to do.”

“And I can’t thank you enough for that, Mr. Jason and Mr. Aaron,” Charity added. “My little cottage is spectacular. I’ve never had such luxurious accommodations in any place I’ve ever worked.”

Aaron nodded. “Our pleasure, Miss Charity.”

“If I may?” Conrad raised his hand.

Rod turned to look at him. “Yes, Doctor?”

“I didn’t think of this until just now. I’d like to have a place set up so that if the need arises, I have somewhere to examine and treat anyone who might become ill or injured. Would that be possible?”

“I hadn’t thought of that, Doctor.”

“Neither did I, Rod,” Jason added. “I’m sure we can set aside a cottage for something like that, at least temporarily.”

Conrad continued. “I’ve brought some emergency equipment with me, but I think some kind of permanent clinic, if you will, should be set up, and soon. You never know what might happen. It doesn’t need to be done immediately, but we’re up here on our own. There should be something in place, just in case.”

Rod jotted on his notepad. “We’ll get right on that, Doctor. If you can put together a list of what you’ll need, I’ll meet with you to go over it as soon as we’re finished here. Now, where was I? Oh, yes, the security folks have one unit. We turned the living room into an office, electronics room, and the armory, and there are two bedrooms with bunks, one for the women, and one for the men. It does have two separate bathrooms with showers in each, but we had to sacrifice the kitchen in order to do that, but we did put in a microwave. It’s a rather no-frills setup, and it’s rather tight, but the chief said he preferred it that way. All the walls have extra soundproofing because of the mixed personnel sleeping there.

“That leaves five more units. Right now, Lars is in one. He’ll stay until you’re ready to take over caring for the animals.”

“And there’s no hurry, Jason,” Lars added. “I’ll stay on as long as you need me.”

“Thank you, Lars. That means a lot.”

Rod continued. “One of the units will become a meeting room, one will be your office, and the one that Lars has been staying in can be used by other folks who come up here like Claudia and Winston, the architect, the construction foreman, or whoever. Presently, two units are not assigned for anyone’s use. Whenever there’s a unit unoccupied, we’re going to make it available to the security folks so they have a place to go during their down time when they’re not sleeping or working.”

“It’s not too late to order more units, is it?” Jason asked.

“No. Why?” Rod asked.

“Good, then order six more. I want two for immediate guest quarters, and plan on making one into an R&R facility for the security staff. I’ll talk to the chief about that when we meet with him. One will become Conrad’s clinic, and that will leave two extras.

“Make sure that the R&R facility is as big as security will need it to be, okay? Be sure to have it decked out with whatever kind of exercise equipment, entertainment systems, books and magazines, or whatever they want, and make sure it has its own bathrooms with whirlpool tubs in each or a larger room with a multi-person hot tub of some kind.

“If it will have a hot tub room, make sure there are two, double shower rooms, too, one for the men and one for the women. The security staff should never have to share or be put out by other visitors.”

Rod whistled. “You’ve assigned four of the units. What are the other two for? Do you really want that many, fifteen units, plus your and Aaron’s office and the meeting room?”

Jason nodded. “Let’s make it an even sixteen. Something tells me we’re going to need more housing than either you or Aaron and I have considered. Just do it. Though I can’t think of any other specific need right now, I’d feel more comfortable if we have a couple of extras, just in case. I’d hate to come up short all of a sudden.”

“I’ll take care of that right after lunch,” Rod answered, “but I have a thought on that. Right now, the two unused units and the unit that was going to be your office haven’t had the internal walls put up or been fitted with their bathroom fixtures, appliances, plumbing, and the like. That’s supposed to happen tomorrow or the next day. For the most part, they’re still empty shells. If we’re going to do this, why don’t we see if one of them will work for Security’s R&R facility and have it fitted however the chief likes? I’ll talk to him when we’re done here to see what he wants.”

Jason nodded. “That’s a good idea, but order one of those larger models we saw back in the hospital for the R&R center, Conrad’s clinic, too. I don’t believe that what we currently have will fit what either of them will need. I’m sure the guards will want exercise equipment, and they should have an entertainment center for movies and video games with couches and chairs, and a library, and make sure it has its own kitchen. Come to think of it, the female guards shouldn’t have to bunk with the men. Convert one of those extra units into quarters for them. Also, if we have injuries or illnesses, patients may need to stay and sleep in the clinic while they’re being monitored, if only temporarily. Order a couple hospital beds for it. Conrad, will you take care of that?”

“Absolutely, Jason, you’ve given me a few ideas.” Conrad began to jot down on his pad.

“Thanks, Rod for all of this,” Jason said.

“There’s one more thing,” Rod continued. “I had the three empty rooms at the back of the cabin turned into two bedrooms. They each have two double beds. The middle room has been divided and turned it into two bathrooms. We knocked out doorways that connect directly to the two new bedrooms. They’re really very nice.”

“Now you’ve really thought of everything,” Aaron said, “but what about my special equipment gift to Jason that was put up in the room on the left?”

“Don’t worry about that, Aaron. It’s been installed in in a new room that connects right into your new, master bedroom. On the other side is a large walk-in closet that also opens into the bedroom, and we put two over-stuffed recliners in there.”

“Thanks. That’s a relief.”

Jason looked at his notes. “I can see from your handout that you’ve built in redundancies for every conceivable mishap we could face, but if you don’t mind, I’d like to hold off for the time being discussing this any further. I need to save my strength right now.”

“Sure, Jason, we can go over this any time.”

“Thanks, Rod. I knew you were the right man for the job. Miss Charity, how are the construction crews being fed? It seems like you’re going to have your hands full enough with feeding all of us.”

“They’ve been taking care of that themselves, Mr. Jason. Mr. Rod said they’re using the same kind of semi-trailer kind of quarters that the crews used who first built your cabin.”

“Oh, that’s what those trailers were that I saw as we came in to land.”

“Yes. They keep to themselves for the most part, but so far, I’ve sent over a big pot of stew or hearty soup, a few roast chickens and a pot roast with all the fixin’s, and some casseroles, something different every night. There’s twelve of them plus the foreman. I’m sure they work up some mighty big appetites come dinner time.”

“That’s real nice of you, Miss Charity. Rod, are their units self-contained?”

“No, we’ve plumbed them into the house septic and water with temporary underground hookups. We dug a trench, laid flex-pipes, filled it with stone, and then covered the stone with dirt. That way we can pull the pipes out from their end after they’re all packed up and gone. You’ll never know anything was there once we reseed and the grass and wildflowers grow back. They do supply their own electricity and heat with their own diesel generator, and they heat their water with their own propane heater.”

Jason pushed away from the table. “Thank you, everyone. I think that’s all. Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to go lie down for a while. I’m pooped. Aaron, if you want to keep talking you go right ahead. Braden can help me get settled. I’ll just need someone to show me the way.”

Aaron stood up. “Where you go, I go, Jason.”

“Thanks, Aaron, that would be a big help.”

Rod got up from the table. “I’ll show you back to your room.”

“Why don’t you let me check you over, Jason?” Conrad said. “Just to be on the safe side. You’ve had quite a morning already. Braden can give me a hand.”

“Certainly, Conrad.”


Chapter Four

Setting Ground Rules


“Well, my boy, your lungs sound good,” Conrad said as he put away his stethoscope, “but you do look a little peaked. Remember, you lost nearly three units of blood between your hemothorax, your surgery, and post-op drainage. I’m going to ask Miss Charity to provide you with a lot of red meat with all of your meals, and I’m keeping you on iron supplements until your hemoglobin levels return to normal. Please don’t push yourself too hard. From what I’ve seen, you’ve surrounded yourself with some really efficient and knowledgeable people. Let them carry the ball for a while.”

“I will, Conrad, but there’s certain things that only Aaron and I can do. We’ll make the big decisions and leave the how to’s to everyone else, just like we’ve been doing for the past two weeks.”

“If it were up to me, I’d have you stay in bed for the remainder of the day. That meeting drained you. Why don’t you start fresh tomorrow with your new staff?”

Aaron sat down on the edge of the bed next to Jason and rubbed his back with his hand. “That might not be a bad idea.”

“I’ll think about it, but right now, all I know is I need to rest.”

Conrad placed his hand on Jason’s shoulder. “How are you feeling otherwise?”

“Otherwise?”

“Emotionally? Psychologically? Spiritually? Any nightmares?”

“No, not really, not since the one I had my first night in the ICU.”

Aaron pulled Jason in close. “Well, he can’t get to you anymore.”

“I know. I just feel so guilty about you and Jasper and how put out everyone else has been. They’re all completely innocent. It was me that Garrison was after, not any of you, but you’ve all paid for it.”

Conrad gently squeezed Jason’s shoulder. “It wasn’t your fault, Jason.”

“I know. I know, but he brought a gun up here. He shot up the barn and nearly killed Aaron in the process. He blew out Jasper’s horn and nearly caused him to bleed to death. And now he’s dead.”

Aaron crouched down on the floor in front of Jason and placed his hand on his knee. “And he tried to rape you and probably would have killed you, regardless of what he said. He deserved to die.”

“If only I could have talked him down, none of this would have happened.”

“No, Jason,” Conrad said. “Look at me.” Jason lifted his head. His eyes welled with tears. “He was crazy with hatred that he allowed to fester for nearly two decades. There’s no way to talk someone like that down.”

“He could have been helped. The VA could have helped him.”

“I don’t believe that, Jason. He wouldn’t accept their help. He blamed the army and you for something he himself caused. In all my years as a physician, I’ve come across a lot of bitter, angry people who are consumed with hatred, and they’re all the same. There’s nothing that anyone could have done for him. He was the only one who had the power to change himself, and he didn’t want that.”

“I don’t want to talk about this anymore, Conrad.”

“I understand.”

“I’ll help you into your pajamas, Jason,” Braden offered. “Do you want to help me, Aaron, so you’ll know how to work around his surgical sites?”

“Um, Braden, we usually sleep in the nude,” Aaron answered.

“Oh,” Braden answered.

“Both of you, please sit down for a minute.” Jason directed Conrad and Braden to two new recliners against the wall, opposite their bed. “There’s something I need you both to be clear on. Look, guys, it’s easier to just say this outright so that I’m sure we’re all on the same page.”

“Go ahead,” Conrad said.

“Yes?” Braden added.

“You know that Aaron and I are gay. I want you to understand that, in our own home, we are going to live as a couple, just like any other couple does, and couples are affectionate with each other and they have sex. Our sex life is a very important part of us, and I want to be sure that you both are all right with that. I don’t need you to understand it or agree with it, but I do need you to respect it. If you don’t think you can stay here because you’re uncomfortable about it in any way, you can leave with no questions asked and no hard feelings. I truly mean that. There really will be no hard feelings.”

Conrad smiled and nodded. “Jason, thank you for bringing it up, but I knew in my heart you were gay from early on in our friendship. Because you never mentioned it, I didn’t feel like I had the right to bring it up, but you never lost my respect or my admiration. I’m old enough to know that life only brings you so many opportunities for happiness. I couldn’t be happier to know that you’ve found someone who loves you as much as you deserve to be loved.”

“Braden?” Jason turned his focus to him. “You look like you’re about ready to jump out of your skin. What’s wrong?”

“I … I’m not sure what to say.”

“Conrad, would you give us some time to talk to Braden, alone?” Jason asked.

“Sure. I assume my luggage has made it up here by now. I’ll just go and get myself settled into my room, and then I’ll meet with Rod to go over my,” he made air quotes, “clinic.”

****

“What is it, Braden?” Jason asked after Conrad left.

“I don’t know what to say, because I don’t know about myself. I just don’t know … what I am.”

“Braden,” Aaron said, “this is a safe place. You can speak openly and freely. You can tell us anything.”

“Aaron, Jason, I don’t know who I’m supposed to be, regarding sex, I mean. I’ve been thinking about this a lot since your last night in the hospital, last night. When Aaron got … well you know, when I gave him his massage, and he…”

“When I got aroused?” Aaron asked softly.

“Yes, when that happened … I just don’t know.”

“Have you been with anyone, a woman or a man, sexually?” Aaron asked.

“I don’t think so. I mean I’ve never … I mean, you just started talking about gay sex. I’ve never let myself even consider … for me, I mean. Oh, my God! This is so inappropriate for me to be saying this to you. I’m so, so sorry.”

“Not at all, Braden, take your time.” Jason grunted and winced as he eased himself back on the bed and rested his eyes.

Braden went on. “I just can’t stop thinking about it sometimes. Sometimes it’s all I think about, I mean what it would be like.”

“How old are you, Braden,” Aaron asked, “if you don’t mind my asking?”

“I’m twenty-five.”

Jason opened his eyes and looked at them. “Guys, I’m sorry, but I’m fading fast. I really need to sleep now. Aaron, why don’t you take some time to talk to Braden in private?” Jason yawned and closed his eyes.

“Are you sure you’ll be okay?”

“Yes, I’ll be fine. Could you help me get undressed first?”

“Sure, Jason. Braden, why don’t you go on and have a seat out in the living room? I can manage. I’ll be out in a few minutes.”

“I’m sorry, Jason. I’m sorry, Aaron. I shouldn’t have said anything. You’ve hired me to take care of you. This is so unprofessional of me.”

“Listen, Braden,” Jason said, “we hired you because we like you and trust you and because we like you, we would want to help you with anything … anything at all. I just feel bad that I’m so tired right now. Just go sit down in the living room. Aaron will be out to talk to you in a few minutes. Don’t worry. Everything is all right.”

After Braden left, Aaron helped Jason to get out of his clothes. Then he put him to bed and kissed him before going out to talk to Braden.

****

Aaron sat down in a chair, opposite Braden. “Listen, Braden, I don’t need to know everything that’s gone on in your life, and I don’t want to cross any boundaries you may have, but from what you’ve said, you seem to be confused about your sexuality. The only way you’re going to find out who you are is if you’re honest with yourself. Once you’ve done that, you can decide what you want. If you do realize that you’re gay, please know, it’s a lot easier now for gay men than it used to be, but we still have to be careful. Right now, you’re in as safe a place as you could ever be.”

“Aaron, I’ve been afraid of taking the first step. I’m still a virgin. I’ve never really been with anyone. There was this one guy once, but all we did was … well we didn’t have sex, real sex, I mean.”

“How did you feel when you were with him?”

“Like I was on fire. Like I wanted more, but I was afraid, and so was he. We just, well we just used our hands on each other.”

“You mean you masturbated each other?”

“Yes, having him touch me like that and being allowed to touch him, I can’t tell you how it made me feel to have another guy want to do that with me.”

“Did it feel right to you, like it was how sex should be for you?”

“Yes, but it also felt so wrong. I was raised to believe that homosexuality was a sin.”

“You’re not alone there, believe me. Listen, I’m very sorry, but I have to get back to Jason. Will you give a minute? I’ll be right back.”

****

Aaron returned a few minutes later. “Braden, I’ve talked to someone who I think can help to answer some of your questions, but only if you want to. I know that Jason would be very comfortable talking with you about this, and so would I, but circumstances just won’t allow for that right now. Do you think you’d be comfortable talking to someone else?”

“Do you trust them?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Then sure, I have so many questions. When can I meet them?’

“Right now, if you want.”

“Right now? Who?”


Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-24 show above.)