Chapter Twenty

Fortunately for Ben the jeep started right away. The old Willy’s had a starter on the floorboard that sometimes made it challenging to start, especially when in a hurry. He sure wasn’t going to win any speed races with the six cylinder and the low gears, but it got him away from his dad’s fury. He had never seen his dad that upset before and wanted to put some time and distance between each other for a while. This whole episode came about so suddenly throwing him for a loop. He needed some place to stay to gather his thoughts. His only refuge was at Susan’s place where she lived with her mom, Heidi, in Kuna.

Ben called Susan and told her what had happened. She wasn’t overly surprised that Ben’s folks responded like that. They were more conservative than most people.

“Wow Ben. What are you going to do?” she asked.

“I don’t know. I know I am not going back there until things calm down though. I have never seen my dad so mad. I really set him off.” Ben answered.

“I wonder if mom would let you stay in our barn for a while. We could clean out the loft and the old office. There is a bathroom and a shower in there too. That would be so awesome to have you here!”

“But Susan, how is your mom going to respond when she finds out that we got caught having sex behind the church?” he asked.

“Oh she would be furious for having sex and getting caught in the church parking lot, but not because we had sex. She thought we have been having sex for the last six months! When we went to Bend at Christmas, we talked about it. She didn’t believe me when I said we hadn’t done it. She even offered to put me on the pill. Some of that was to regulate my monthly period, but she did say that she didn’t want me having an accident.” Susan explained. “Let me talk to Mom. I bet she will be okay with it, she likes you. Come on over here and by the time you get here I will know something. Just don’t say her anything about getting caught in the church parking lot!” Susan laughed.

It was about an hour drive over to Kuna and Ben needed the time to process everything that had happened earlier that morning. It seemed like his whole life was falling apart. Now his folks were upset with him which would have an adverse effect on school. It was a strange turn of events and he didn’t know what to do. Why was having pre-marital sex such a big deal anyway?

Heidi was working with a three year old sorrel in the round pen when Susan came out to talk to her.

“Mom, can I talk to you?”

The sorrel was trotting around in circles clock-wise, then Heidi gave it a command turning it to gallop in the opposite direction. The horse had worked up a sweat and was getting tired. Heidi dropped her hands to her side and the sorrel stopped, turned and walked towards her. “Good boy” she whispered, clipping the lead rope to the halter she led the horse out of the round pen toward the pasture. “What do you need honey?”

Susan walked along with Heidi to the lush green pasture opening the gate for her. “Well, Ben and his folks got in kind of an argument and Ben left home. He just called me and told me about it. He is coming over here right now and I told him that I would talk to you.”

“Oh that’s too bad. What did they get in an argument about?” Heidi asked.

“Well, Ben told them that we were having sex.”

“Oh! Yeah, I bet that didn’t go over well with Robin!” Heidi exclaimed. “What was he thinking?”

“Obviously he wasn’t. Anyway, I guess they got in a huge argument and Sam got very angry with him. It scared Ben so bad he jumped in the truck and got out of there. He doesn’t have a place to go right now and I was wondering if it would be alright if he stayed in the barn for a few days?

“Hmmm… I am sorry to hear about that. He is such a good boy. I guess we can talk about it when he gets here.”

Heidi liked Ben a lot. He was hard working, smart and had more character than most grown men she knew. She had always hoped that Susan and Ben would stay together and eventually get married. With him heading off to school in Moscow next year would determine where their relationship was going. He was a good looking young man and the college ladies would be all over him. Susan still had one year of high school and Heidi hoped that she would stay focused on Ben while he was gone to Moscow.

Heidi had given birth to Susan when she was seventeen, Susan’s age now, and had raised her on her own. It hadn’t always been easy. There had been a couple of guys that lived with them over the years as Susan was growing up and Susan had gotten very attached to them. When they left, it had been difficult for the little girl. She had always wanted a daddy like everyone else and as she got older Heidi could see that Susan could tend to be a little promiscuous desiring that male companionship most girls got from their dad. It didn’t help that she was well developed and quite attractive. There was never a shortage of suitors until Ben came along. Ben’s calm demeanor had an effect on Susan and having him around made Heidi’s life with her daughter a lot easier. Heidi was surprised that Ben had left home over an argument. They were such a solid and stable family although she did think Robin was a little too strict with her Christianity sometimes.

“C’mon in Ben!” Heidi hollered over the barking dogs. She was pouring glasses of iced sun tea for all of them and offered one to Ben, “How are you doing Ben?”

Ben sat down at the counter next to Susan. “Well it has been some kind of day, that’s for sure!”

“Ya, that’s what Susan was saying. She said you left in kind of a hurry. Did you pack a suitcase?”

Ben laughed and said, “I forgot it under my bed; along with my toothbrush.”

“That’s a strange place to leave your toothbrush.” Smiling at Ben. “I am sorry you’re going though this right now Ben. Those rough discussions are hard on everyone and yet it is part of cutting the apron strings. I am sure your folks are concerned. Have you talked to them?”

“No, Dad is pretty mad at me.” Susan kicked Ben under the counter and Ben looked at Susan. She shot him a look that said, be careful what you say!

“I said some things that I probably shouldn’t have said.” Ben continued.

Heidi was at the sink washing up vegetables for dinner. “We all say things like that once in a while and it usually bites us in the butt. Then you have to go back later to eat crow.” Turning back towards them she said, “after you do that about half of your life, you learn that what you’re thinking is usually best left unsaid!”

Ben laughed, relaxing him. “The problem is that we don’t agree on a whole lot anymore.”

Heidi said, “Yup, every person comes to a point in their life where they have to stand up for what they believe in. But you can’t be standing in someone else’s front yard expecting them to change to how you believe.”

“Yeah, I think that is what dad was kind of saying.” Ben took a big drink of iced tea. “Heidi, I need a place to stay until things cool down a little.”

“Well Ben, you’re more than willing to stay in the barn. There is a shower and a bathroom out there. Susan will get you a towel and washcloths. It probably needs to be cleaned up some. You probably need to let your mom know that you’re okay. It isn’t fair to let her worry no matter how much you don’t agree with her.”

“Okay, thank you.”

Susan and Ben went to the barn to clean up the place for Ben.

Heidi texted Robin, “Ben is here n sleepn in the barn 2night. Wanted u 2 know”.

Robin responded immediately, “Thank u Heidi!”

After dinner Ben went to bed thinking of what Heidi said about calling his mom. He was still upset about her holding him to walking the Christian walk that he really didn’t want to call her, at least not yet anyway. He wanted to make her suffer a little bit. She just didn’t understand his life. It was too difficult to walk according to the standards that she held. Besides, it was easy for her because she already had a family. She didn’t have to go out in the world and deal with people like he did especially heading to college now. College was more liberal than her way of life. She had no idea how hard it was when you’re the only one standing out from the crowd because you did everything right. Ben was tired of getting teased all the time. His mom was out of touch with reality now days.

Truthfully what bothered him the most was he knew  if he went back home, his parents would make him talk to Pastor Mike about Cory and Monica living together. Tyler would think he was a snitch and Cory was a pretty popular guy in the church. He was the “Man of God” everyone wanted to be like. All of the youth group guys thought Monica was really hot too. If he said something about their relationship he could just imagine the crap he would take. The thought of all the guys in youth group coming down on him was too much.

Robin was in bed next to Sam who was sound asleep. She was praying quietly, tears in her eyes, a heaviness in her heart, like a piece of her soul was missing, “Lord please watch over Ben. Keep him in your hands and a firm hand on his path.” as she drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Nineteen

“Ben let’s get going, were going to be late for church.” Robin hollered for the third time.

“I don’t feel like going to church today, mom.” He responded back from his bedroom.

Sam had just come in from checking on the new calf. “Where’s Ben, we need to get going?” he asked Robin.

“I don’t know what has gotten into him. He is acting strange. He says he doesn’t feel like going to church. I have asked him three times now.”

Sam went to Ben’s room and knocked on the door. “Hey chop, chop were going to be late. Let’s go!”

“I don’t want to go today.” Ben said stubbornly.

This was unusual for Ben. They never had to ask him twice about going, he was typically waiting on everyone else. “What’s up, son? You always want to go to church.”

“I just don’t feel like it today.” Ben said.

“Well, get going, and we will talk about this later.” Sam said impatiently. “You know how your mom hates to walk in late to church. I am right with her on that too, so let’s get going!”

The last thing Ben wanted to do was talk about this later with his folks. He dreaded going to church and running into Pastor Mike. The last look he gave Ben was enough for him to hide for the next hundred years. He was tired of going to church anyway. There were too many rules and those rules confined his freedom. After tasting that forbidden fruit with Susan he couldn’t get it out of his mind. He thought about her all the time and wanted to have sex with her again and she felt the same way. What was the big deal anyway? It was their bodies; they should be able to do whatever they wanted. It wasn’t like they were hurting anyone else. The more he thought about it the more he felt like he needed to move out and get a place of his own so he could live how he wanted to live. Living under the roof with mom and dad was too confining anymore. The problem was that he wanted to go to school at the University of Idaho in their Agriculture program. If he moved out, he might lose mom and dad’s blessing for assistance. He didn’t want to get a loan. The smart thing to do was to live here at home until fall and then he could have a place of his own in Moscow. Reluctantly he got dressed and hurried out to where they were sitting in the truck. He could tell his mom was annoyed at being late.

Robin told Sam that Erica was going to bring Linda out this afternoon to meet them and she thought it would be nice to have them stay for dinner.

They arrived at church five minutes early. Cory Jacobs was walking in at the same time and stopped to talk to them. Robin asked him how Monica was doing, his face flushed and Robin wondered if it was just an early spring sunburn. “Oh, she is good. She is going to be leading worship this morning actually.”

“Oh good, I would like to visit with her!” Robin exclaimed. Sam told Cory about going back out to the property to find the corner pins with Aaron. He asked Cory about the old road up to the spring and how hard it would be to get equipment up there to develop it. Cory had an older small excavator that he could let Sam use if he wanted to haul it up there.

Ben scoured the building to see if Pastor Mike was anywhere to be seen. He saw him talking to an elderly gentleman on the far side of the church so he headed in the opposite direction to where his family normally sat. Once he got there he opened his bible and stared at the pages.

Sam shook Pastor Mike’s hand on the way to their seats. Pastor Mike acknowledged Robin and asked how Ben was doing. “Good, I think, he’s finished with school now and trying to figure out what the next move was in life.” Pastor Mike followed Sam’s glance over to where Ben was sitting reading his Bible.

Pastor Mike looked at Sam quizzically wondering if maybe Ben had told them about Mike catching Ben and Susan behind the church. Mike chose to hold his tongue and give Ben an opportunity to talk to him personally.

Sam and Robin worked their way over to where Ben was sitting. Sam sat next to Ben where he was still staring at his bible. Sam reached over and took Ben’s bible and turned it around saying “You will understand it much better if you read it the right way up.” and smiled at Ben.

Ben’s face flushed. “Dang, I just can’t catch a break!” he spoke under his breath. It all compelled him to pray, “Please Lord just get me through this service without running into Pastor Mike.”

Monica stepped up to the worship platform to open in prayer. Before she began she caught Robin’s eye. Robin gave her a supportive smile and Monica looked away abruptly, stuttering with her opening prayer. The lights dimmed and worship began. Monica avoided looking over at Robin. She knew that Robin would find her after service and ask how things were going with Cory. She did not know what she was going to say to her so she devised a plan to grab Tyler and quickly go somewhere with him. Monica and Cory had driven separate cars to church to give the impression they were living in separate places.

After service Sam, Robin and Ben were working their way out of the crowded church. Pastor Mike was shaking hands and when they passed he put his hand on Ben’s shoulder smiling said “How are you doing Ben?” Ben’s knees were shaking and he couldn’t think clearly. Everything was a blur. His hands were sweating profusely. He was searching for anyway out of this situation. “How’s Susan?”

“Oh, hi Pastor Mike. Susan is great!” he said in a complete panic. Suddenly he saw Tyler and said “Oh hey, there’s Tyler, I have to go!” and hollered to Tyler.

Robin looked at Sam with an “Okay, that is weird” kind of look and she saw Monica heading in that direction too.

“Hey Monica!” She called out. Monica saw her and knew there was no avoiding the meeting, she reluctantly gave Robin a hug. “How are you doing Robin? That dress looks so good on you!”

“Well thank you Monica! How are you doing?”

Monica spotted her son, Tyler, talking to Ben. Tyler was lavishing the attention that Ben had suddenly given him. “Oh there’s Tyler” she exclaimed! “I need to take him downtown and we are running late! It was so nice seeing you Robin.” She turned abruptly heading in Tyler’s direction. “Hey Tyler are you ready? We need to get going or we’re going to be late.” Robin saw the confusion on Tyler’s face as his mom pulled him away abruptly from the conversation with Ben.

Robin went over and put her hand on Sam’s arm “Something is up with Ben.”

“What?” Sam asked.

“I am not sure but we are going to find out!” Robin said determined.

Ben was already sitting in the truck staring blankly into the parking lot when Sam and Robin got there. Sam looked at Robin acknowledging the strangeness in how Ben was acting.

“Are you alright Ben?” Robin asked.

“Yes, why?”

“I don’t know you seem a little preoccupied.” Robin started “You kind of cut Pastor Mike off when he was talking to you and that seemed out of character for you.”

“I just needed to talk to Tyler about some stuff, that’s all.”

“Oh what is going on with Tyler?” Sam asked.

Ben panicked he hadn’t had time to think of a good answer and blurted out “Well I wanted to ask him how it was going living with Cory now. He said it was weird living there the other day at youth group.”

“What? Monica and Cory are living together?” Robin said shocked. That explained why she acted the way she did after church.

“Does Pastor Mike know about this?”Sam said.

Ben was having an out of body experience. Everything was coming down on top of him. He couldn’t keep all of the stories straight and wished he hadn’t said anything. “No, no one knows about it and I wasn’t supposed to say anything.”

“Well we need to take this to Pastor Mike because this is not right. Monica is leading in worship and Cory is a prominent man in the men’s group. This is not acceptable for any Christian leader in the church!” Robin said determined.

Ben realized how this had completely unraveled. The last thing he wanted to do was to sit down with his parents with Pastor Mike. He blew up and said “I am not going to be a snitch on my best friend! He asked me not to tell anyone.”

“Well honey this needs to be dealt with. Premarital sex is a sin in God’s eyes and when it is in the church then it effects the whole church body.”

“Man, you are so Holier than thou, mom! Everyone has sex now days. You need to get with the program!” Ben screamed.

Sam slammed on the brakes and pulled the truck off the road almost putting it in the ditch scaring everyone in the truck and the cars following him. He turned around to face his son and said “Don’t you ever talk to your mother like that again!”

Robin gently put her hand on Sam’s arm and softly said to Ben. “What is going on Ben?”

Ben had tears running down his face and he was looking out the window into the field. He had one eye cautiously on his dad. Sam had never been aggressive like that with Ben and it was frightening.

With a sigh Ben told his parents what happened after youth group, how Pastor Mike, his wife and their daughter had caught them having sex in the truck in the parking lot of the church.

Robin was shocked and started crying “I cannot believe that you did that Ben. We have tried to raise you to be a good Christian man and model what that is supposed to look like.”

They drove in silence the rest of the way home. Robin stared out the window touching a Kleenex to the corner of her eye.

As they pulled into the driveway Sam told Ben. “You need to understand something son. This is not going to be happening under the roof of our house. You need to talk with Susan and stop this and change the course of the path you’ve turned on.”

Erica and Linda had arrived while Sam and Robin were at church, they were now coming out of the house towards the truck. Everyone looked at them, the truck doors were all open and Ben said, “Yeah right dad, you will not allow me to love my girlfriend but you’re going to let a prostitute live in your house!”

Sam lunged for Ben but Ben ducked and ran to the Willy’s Jeep sitting in the driveway. Robin grabbed Sam’s arm and said “No Sam! Let him go!” Erica turned to Linda in shock who was looking at the ground ashamed.

A rooster crowed from the barn.

Chapter Twelve

Ben was looking around for Susan. She was supposed to be there fifteen minutes ago and youth group was about to start. Tyler, Monica’s son, was sitting next to him. He was two years younger than Ben and looked up to him with great admiration.

“When did you and your mom move into Cory’s place?” Ben asked.

“About a month ago, it’s been kind of weird. He acts like he wants me there but I feel like I am in the way a lot of the time. I have my own room and everything but it doesn’t feel like home, you know?

“Ya, so you didn’t have to change schools did you?” Ben asked looking over his shoulder again to see Susan walk in the door.

“No, he lives on the school district boundary so that was good. Mom said we are going to live there just until we can get on our feet. Our car broke down and she didn’t have the money to fix it so Cory said we could live at his place until Mom could save enough money to either get it fixed or get a new car.”

“What happened to Monica’s car?” Ben asked.

Ben was savvy when it came to working on cars and enjoyed it a lot. He had rebuilt an old ‘58 Willy’s Jeep for his senior project in shop class. Robin’s brother had sold the Jeep to Sam when they first started dating and it sat in the machine shed next to the barn covered up with a tarp for the last ten years. Sam and Robin had presented a deal to Ben that if he wanted to use the jeep for his senior project they would buy the parts and when it was finished he could either buy the jeep from them at a reduced price or they would match what he had saved for a newer rig provided he maintain a “B” average. Ben had to work much harder than his sister for the grades but had kept his end of the bargain.

Ben had rebuilt the motor, the master cylinder and upgraded the steering assembly, rewired the 6 volt electrical system fixed the dents and gave it a new coat of paint. The instructor was impressed with Ben’s eye for detail and tenacity.

Tyler was telling Ben something about how the Subaru head gasket had gone out, and how it overheated. But Ben was not listening, his eyes were on Susan.

He had known Susan since they were very young when Heidi, Robin and Sam all attended Seven Mile together. When she was in sixth grade Susan and her mom moved to Kuna where Heidi joined a practice with a dentist as their hygienist. She had purchased a small farm in the country where she and Susan taught riding lessons and boarded horses on the side.

Ben and Susan had met at a Fourth of July Christian Concert put on by the local churches and featured popular Christian musician groups. Susan had recognized Ben from a distance while she was working at the food stand through her church in Kuna. Ben was there with Matt, one of his friends from youth group. Matt had spotted Susan and was interested in her. Ben didn’t recognize Susan, she had changed a lot from the skinny sixth grader he once knew. Matt had spent a small fortune on fast food in an attempt to talk to Susan. Unfortunately for Matt there was a lot of competition for Susan but she had made it very obvious of her interest in Ben.

Susan had just recently started coming to Ben’s youth group on Thursday nights. Heidi let her drive the big red Dodge Ram flatbed pickup and whenever Susan made an entrance every guy in the youth group noticed. Her long blonde curly hair bounced when she entered the room; it was like throwing a shiny plug into a pond full of hungry bass after a long winter. Susan loved the attention and it had the tendency of making Ben jealous. She could have any guy in the room and she flaunted it. Ben was more reserved and Susan’s aggressiveness threw him off balance.

The youth leader called the gathering to attention and Susan made her way over to where Ben was sitting with Tyler. After the youth group was over Ben and Susan usually went to the Dairy Queen restaurant with a couple of the others for a shake. Ben and Susan were sitting in a booth when she nudged him. He looked at her and when their eyes met he followed hers to the open purse. There was a condom in a package in her purse. His heart panicked and he looked back at her eyes. Her eyes opened wide and her mouth opened in a dramatic “Oh dear!” and she laughed.

“Where did you get that?” Ben whispered.

“When I was in Bend at Christmas my cousin had several in her drawer so I took one!” Making her dramatic face again.

Ben’s heart was racing. He wanted to remain in control of this situation but felt like he was losing all resemblance of it. He didn’t know how to respond. They had talked about doing “it” but he didn’t know what to do. All of this was going through his head and Susan said. “Let’s go back to the church parking lot.” Susan was acting very aggressive and that was intimidating Ben a little but he wasn’t going to back down.

They had done some serious petting but had never taken it to that level. Robin had explained to Ben when he started dating Susan that having sex was much more than recreation. It was meant to be a covenant with God between one man and one woman. She had explained to him that if he would wait until he was married that the Lord would bless his marriage and his family immensely. She had stressed that it was very important not to give in to any temptation and had requested that the two of them always be in company with some of their peers at all times.

The problem for Ben was that his peers were having sex everywhere and the older he had gotten he figured that his mom had lost touch with reality and didn’t understand that things were much different than when she grew up. You couldn’t turn the television on without seeing sex on every channel or at the very least there would be some woman scantily clad talking about erectile dysfunction. Every one of Ben’s friends had experienced sex and frankly he was embarrassed when they all talked about. It was everywhere he went at school, on the football team, at work and even a lot of the guys at church had experienced sex. He figured that he was the only person on the planet had never had sex. He knew of kids at school who had sex when they were in grade school! Ben tried to talk big but really had no idea what he was talking about. Then when he threw Susan into the equation it got very complicated. She could have any guy she wanted and if he was not willing she wouldn’t have to look far to find someone who was interested in her body. He was intimidated because he really didn’t know what to do. His peers all teased him assuming that he and Susan were having sex often and the way she acted it seemed obvious to everyone. She had told Ben that she had never done “it” before but he wondered if she was being honest.

“Okay” he said nervously. It was 9:00 and it was pretty safe to say that no one would be at the church parking lot at this time of night. It was dark and there was a corner next to the utility shed in the back parking of the parking lot that seemed optimal.

Susan pulled the Dodge pickup around and backed it in facing the back of the church. There was one light on inside the church that someone had forgotten to turn off but there were no other rigs in the parking lot. She turned the radio on to a country music station and looked over at Ben who was nervously looking back at her.

“Are you sure this is what you want to do?” he asked her.

“Don’t you want to?” she replied. He could tell that she was nervous too. “Are you kidding? Of course I do” Sam said “I just don’t want to have God mad at me. I mean isn’t this sin?”

“Well, Jesus already paid for our sin and He knows everything so I am sure He knows that we are going to do this. Right?” Susan justified.

“Yea, I don’t know if that is how it’s supposed to work” Ben said.

“Are you chickening out Ben?” Susan teased kicking her cowboy boots off and moving across the seat closer to him.

“No, I just want to be right.” His hands were shaking and he took off his jacket. She started helping him and he was helping her in a heightened frenzy.  He caught the scent of her sweet perfume and it seemed to draw him in towards her, the heat of her body reeled him in numbing his senses. Turning back was impossible. They were both naked in the front seat and she grabbed the condom wrapper out of her purse and handed it to him. He fumbled with it and she finally took it from him and opened it. He told her that he wasn’t really sure how it worked and between the two of them got it figured out. The windows were completely steamed up adding a sense of seclusion to the heated situation. As he pressed in towards her she held him back nervously saying “I have never done this before Ben.”

“I am not exactly sure what to do either.” His whole body was shaking uncontrollably.

“Yeah me either except what they showed us in health class and watching the stallion with the mares.” Ben made the sound of a horse and they both started laughing breaking the tension of the awkward moment.

Their sexual desire had built up so intensely that it didn’t take long and he was done. The second they were finished conviction poured over both of them. They both started putting their clothes on without saying a word both deep in thought.

Ben was thinking about how it was over now and there was no going back. His mother’s words came back to him “This is a special gift between you, your wife and God. Wait until you are married and you both will be blessed.”

He looked over at her. She had her panties on and was putting her bra on. He smiled at her trying to make the condemnation go away and there was a wrap on the truck window. Susan screamed scrambling for her shirt on the floorboard of the truck and Ben jumped frantically pulling on his pants. His shirt was unbuttoned and un-tucked. It seemed like it took forever to find their clothes and get dressed. Fortunately the windows were fogged and Ben said through the door “Who is it?”

Both of them looked at each other in terror when the answer came back “Pastor Mike. What are you and Susan doing in there Ben?”

“Oh Sh…” Ben mouthed. Susan’s curly hair was all over the place and her lipstick was smeared on one side. She was zipping up her pants and he was trying to get a sock on and it was going on backwards. When she had her pants zipped up she hit the button rolling down the window on Ben’s side. Ben knew it was “time to pay the fiddler” and opened up the truck door and stepped outside in his socks. To his horror he saw not just Pastor Mike but in his car was his wife and their teen age daughter. Disappointment covered Pastor Mike’s face making Ben want to crawl under the truck. All he could do is look down to avoid his eyes. He felt like he had let down everyone he knew and loved.

“So, What’cha two doing?” Mike said knowingly.

Ben looked up at him. Pastor Mike was looking directly into his soul, he was so ashamed he just wanted to crawl off and die.

“I thought you were stronger than this Ben” Pastor Mike said and shaking his head he turned and walked back to his car and drove away.

Ben turned around and looked at Susan. Her hair was going everywhere and she was looking in the mirror attempting to get it to settle down. Her shirt was un-tucked. He looked at himself and realized that his shirt wasn’t buttoned properly, one button off all the way down. “Dog gone it…” he muttered and then saw the used condom lying on the floorboard of the pickup in plain sight.

Busted.

Chapter Nine

Ben came dancing in the kitchen and put his arm around his mom who was layering lasagna noodles in a large glass pan.

“What are you so happy about?”

“Susan is home! Mom, it has been such a long vacation.” He said dramatically.

“I know it has been honey. Why don’t you ask her and her mom over to dinner tonight? We are going to have lasagna and I made too many noodles so we will have more than enough to eat.”

Ben went across the granite island where she was working and sat down texting Susan on his phone. Within seconds a beep came in with a response.

“What time mom?” Ben asked.

“How about 6:30, your dad won’t be here until 6 or so.”

Robin texted Sam and asked him to pick up some garlic spread for the French bread and let him know that they would be having Susan and her mom Heidi for dinner.

Sam and Robin had met Heidi when they had all gone to Broken Lives Fellowship group. She had a nasty breakup with her ex-husband had a difficult time trusting anyone since. She had dated often earlier but it was too hard to find a Christian man that truly walked the walk. She had come to the point where she was tired of compromising and stopped dating.

Before Sam and Robin had married, Robin and Heidi were very close. They had since drifted apart but still remained friends. Heidi was now attending another church in town so they didn’t see each other as much. It would be fun to catch up with her.

Lasagne_0894_1When they arrived Heidi was very impressed with the lasagna cooling on the granite counter top. Erica was putting the final touches to the table setting on the long farm table. She had changed the Christmas centerpiece with some fresh flowers that she had picked up from the store earlier. Sam, Ben and Susan were out doing the chores so the girls sat and visited.

Heidi was very excited about her trip to Oregon. She had an opportunity to attend a revival concert that Meadow Song was playing in at a friend’s Community Church in northern California. Meadow Song was one of the most popular Christian groups in the country. They traveled globally to bring Christian music to the world. Heidi expressed how exciting it was to see so many Christians at the revival reaching out to the Muslim community and the Mother of the Apostles Church. To see them all come together praising God was very emotional. Heidi commented about the stirring message that the pastor of the large Christian Church gave. He had called everyone together to embrace each other’s differences and pray to God together. She was especially touched by the depth of love that the most holy appointed Bishop from Mother of Apostles gave to him afterwards by kissing his feet. What humility. They had offered an alter call at the end and hundreds of people came forward to be saved. It was one of Heidi’s most moving experiences ever.

What Heidi was saying stirred Robin’s spirit and she asked Heidi,

“Do you think that they were all praising the same God?”

“Of course they were!” Heidi said.

“Hmmm. Well that just doesn’t make sense to me; I am not sure how that can be possible. Muslims consider Jesus to be a prophet, not God and the Mother of Apostles pray to Mary to intercede to Jesus and the Bishop is given the power to forgive of sins through penance usually by how much they give financially and the charity given. That is works and implys that Jesus dying on the cross was in vain. That makes me curious about this.” Robin wondered out loud.

“Well I am pretty sure they were praising the same God. I mean I assume they were… “ Heidi said. “But I sure see what you mean when you say it like that.”

“ And the Bishop was kissing the pastor’s feet?… That is just not right.” Robin said. “That just gives me a wrong feeling inside.”

“Well he did say before he did that how he wanted to wash that pastors feet but because they didn’t have any water on stage he was going to offer him humility by kissing his feet instead.” Heidi said.

Marty came in barking excited to see everyone in the kitchen. That was his favorite place and with all of the people there it ensured him some scraps afterwards. Sam, Ben and Susan all hung up their coats and removed their muddy boots in the mudroom and joined the girls in the kitchen. Sam and Ben relished Robin’s lasagna and even though the first serving was enough they had to have another helping. It was only right.

After supper they were so full that they both needed to go outside and check on the cows to walk off some of the lasagna. After clearing the table Susan and Erica both joined them. The night was clear and cold and the skies were filled with stars. There was no moon and the Milkey Way lit up sky like a highway from one end of the horizon to the other. Marty stared out into the darkness beyond the where barn light reached growling a warning when a coyote howled answered by another. The scent of worn leather hit their noses walking through the barn past the tack room. Erica’s gelding nickered upon hearing her voice and she stopped to rub his nose. One of the cows was still eating on the remainder of the hay left in the feeder while the other two drank noisily out of the water trough.

Sam and the kids all leaned up against the rail fence looking out into the back pasture. Ben and Susan were whispering and giggling, happy to be back in each other’s company.

Night sky_140908_0072_1“Back to school” Erica said

“Yup” Sam replied. Both of them stared at the incredible display of stars across the sky. Marty stood on his back legs between the two of them with his front legs on the second rail nudging Erica’s arm.

“It sure was a good Christmas with you here honey” Sam said to Erica.

“I know Daddy” she said and leaned her head against his shoulder. He put his arm around her and kissed the top of her head. She felt safe and he felt like his little girl was leaving forever.

Heidi helped Robin clear the rest of the table and put the dishes in the dishwasher. Heidi shared with Robin about the rest of their trip to Oregon and how her mom was dealing with life now that her dad had passed away. Robin listened but was still processing what Heidi had said earlier. When they had finished tidying up everything they both sat down at the kitchen table drinking coffee. Heidi looked at Robin seriously and asked her.

“You seemed concerned about that revival thing I was telling you about. Are you seeing something there that I don’t see?”

“I don’t know for sure but I think it might be something we need to look into Heidi. Things are changing rapidly in the world right now and something inside of me is telling me to pay.”

“I have been noticing that too Robin.”

“How is your church? Do you like it?” Robin asked.

“Well, I am searching for a new church right now.” Heidi said “It is so hard to find one anymore that teaches the truth. I really like when the message on Sunday makes you think all week. Sometimes a convicting message is a very good thing. It is like pastors are compromising, preaching a watered down message. “

“It is funny you say that Heidi. I was thinking the same thing after church last Sunday. It is like Pastor Mike is too concerned about offending anyone like if he offends someone with the message it will adversely affect the incoming tithes or attendance!”

Everyone came in through the mudroom laughing. Marty ran in and greeted Robin and Heidi. They both stood up and Heidi gave Robin a hug and said “We need to do this more often.” Robin agreed and walked Heidi to the door. Sam, Robin and Erica stood at the back door watching Heidi and Susan load up into the red Dodge Ram. Ben was over at the driver’s side of the truck saying good bye to Susan. Suddenly Robin ran over to the passenger side of the truck motioning Heidi to roll down the window. “Let’s get together one of these Saturday’s for coffee.” Heidi grabbed Robins hand and agreed over the rattling of the diesel motor.

Chapter Six

It was the darkest sky he had ever seen and it unnerved him. The billowing black clouds were ominous moving quickly, churning like water coming to a rapid boil. Sam ran outside smelling the storm. Every direction he looked, the sky was closing in on them. There was no escaping it.

He had seen that kind of sky only once before in Wyoming many years ago when a tornado went through Cheyenne. The wind was so strong that you couldn’t stand upright. Hail the size of a golf balls pounded the earth breaking windshields in cars, stripped trees of their leaves and completely decimated entire wheat fields that night in a matter of seconds. The next morning looked like a war zone. Cars riddled with dents like they had been hit by a ball pin hammer.

This was different; he sensed something more sinister. Sam had the feeling that there would be no escaping this one. There was nowhere to hide and it was coming from every direction, closing in faster than he could react. Lightning and thunder wrapped around him in the sky tormenting him violently with each bolt that shook even the ground.

He had the sensation that he was losing his family and needed to reach them, to warn them but he was stuck and couldn’t move. He could see them, they were right there. He could almost touch them. They were sitting in a lush green park, completely oblivious to the tumultuous storm. In a panic Sam was desperately calling their names but they could not hear him. Robin and Erica were sitting on a blanket having a picnic. Their hair wasn’t even moving in the wind surrounding them. The sunlight covered them brilliantly shining on them. They were laughing. Oh his beautiful wife and daughter! Sam was screaming for Ben to pay attention and he was ignoring him off to the side, not on the blanket, but in the shadow of the storm. He was talking to Susan who was sitting in the grass. The sunlight was not shining on them and their hair was blowing in the wind. Susan held her hair down so it would not blow in her face. They were both laughing, ignoring Sam and the blatantly obvious storm quickly enveloping them.

Sam was angry now, yelling at the top of his lungs for Ben to pay attention but Ben acted like Sam didn’t exist. Sam was running towards them as fast as he could but could not reach them. It was like he was running in deep water, fighting every step.

He never got closer, remaining at the same distance. Sam was jumping over obstacles and ducking under flying debris. It was like a vine had hold of him pulling him back. Giant limbs of trees were hitting him in the face. He was doing everything in his power to break through to warn his family until he finally collapsed when a giant tree limb landed on him pinning him to the ground. No matter what he did he could not wriggle himself free.

Marty was barking and Robin was calling his name.

“Sam! Sam, Wake up Sam!” She was on top of him with both hands shaking him. He was drenched in sweat, shaking, breathing hard and his heart was racing. He looked at the clock and it said 5:55.

She rolled off of him and he sat up on the edge of the bed.

“Wow, I am so glad that was a dream!” I could not get your attention!” He said.

“Do you remember it? What was it about? Sam, I could not wake you up and it was like you were fighting me. That was really scary.” Robin was about to cry, visibly shaken.

She watched as he got up and went into the bathroom to get a drink of water. Looking in the mirror he saw the sweat glistening off of his forehead. His salt and peppered hair was drenched and matted. There was a red crease between his eyes; like he had grimaced so hard it left a mark. His eyes were bloodshot. All of his muscles were weak in his back and arms. He felt like he had just gone a couple of rounds with Mike Tyson.

Sam paced back and forth while he relayed the dream back to Robin who was sitting up in the middle of the bed listening intently. Looking at the clock he gasped “Oh man, I have to get going. I have a meeting at eight!”

Robin went downstairs to start the coffee and make breakfast for everyone. S

he had a busy day ahead too.

Chapter Four

 

When they pulled up to Cory’s house the garage door was open, the light was on, and there was a plastic dog kennel in the driveway next to a red cooler with a shotgun case leaning against the garage wall. Cory walked out just as they pulled up in the gray three quarter ton Ford crew cab.

Cory Jacobs had an excavation business that Sam’s engineering firm used often for some of the work that they did. He was a stocky man, shorter than Sam and built like a wrestler; Sam thought he was a good guy to have in his corner when needed. Cory also went to Seven Mile Community Church where Sam and Robin attended. Cory was dating Monica Anderson, one of the worship leaders at their church. Cory was a prominent and the couple was well liked.

Ben got out of the pickup and said “Hey Cory!” Cory grabbed him and gave him a bear hug. “Dad said you got a new dog! What kind is it?”

“A Vizsla” Cory said “He is a motor with a nose attached to it!” He opened the kennel and a long legged, long eared slender dog burst out. Picking up the kennel Sam put it in the back of the truck and strapped it to the sides so it would not slide around. “I brought an old sleeping bag along to put over the kennel if you need.” Sam said. “Or he can ride in the cab with us. It is pretty cold out and he doesn’t have much hair!”

“Oh, I think he will be okay in the back” Cory said. “I have a coat for him too. That sleeping bag is a great idea!”Snowy Road_4323

It was beginning to get light when they hit the back roads. It was heavily overcast and the wind was blowing steady out of the east which meant more snow was on the way. There were no tracks in the fresh snow ahead of them and the truck burst through three foot drifts in swales where it was allowed to collect.

Cory was telling Sam about how slow it was at work and how the economy seemed to be slowing down. “It is just kinda crazy out there. They say the economy is back to normal but work is awful slow. It doesn’t make sense to me. Maybe it is the weather.” he said. “Something in my gut just isn’t sitting right with everything that is going on in the world right now. It’s not just the economy either it’s everything. Everyone seems to be at war or threatening war and then it’s like everyone is against Israel too. That is such a podunk little country it doesn’t make sense why the entire world is surrounding them!”

“Ya, All the Arabs are against everyone. I just don’t understand those Muslim countries. They even hate each other. I say let them all go at it and let them shoot each other.” Sam replied.

“There has been a ton of earthquakes over in Japan too.” Cory continued. “It seems like the whole world is falling apart. This isn’t the same country we grew up in. It seems like it is like backwards. What’s right is wrong and what’s wrong is right. It’s very bizarre, definitely not the country we grew up in that is for sure!”

Ben was listening from the back seat and piped in saying, ”Did you hear about that earthquake yesterday in Oregon?” Susan said she felt it. “It was like standing on a waterbed. Stuff was falling off the shelf at her grandma’s house. It was kind of scary she said but it sounds cool to me!”

Cory answered them saying “Well you know what the Bible says about this? When you see wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes in various places with all these other things happening too, start looking up!”

“Oh ya, the Rapture” Sam said “Do you think it will really happen in our lifetime? I think they have been saying that for every generation since Jesus died! We will probably see the country collapse before Jesus comes back but I don’t know about the rapture.”

“Ya, crazy times. “ Cory said. “Hey can you pull off somewhere so I can unload some coffee?”

All three and Marty got out to relieve themselves. The snow was a at least six inches deep and all of them wrote their name in the snow except Marty.

Sam decided to throw the tire chains on the front tires of the truck. “It’s better to have them on before we get stuck!”

With all three men working together they had the chains secured on the front tires in matter of minutes. The wind was blowing hard and it was cold on their hands even with gloves on and the heater felt good when they resumed.

“If we can find them, the birds should be sitting tight with all of this snow and wind.” Sam said. “There is a place up this road that Robin and I looked into buying up this canyon a few years ago. She doesn’t want to buy the place but I sure feel drawn to it for some reason. Do you mind if we stop by and check it out?”

Cory agreed and they turned up the remote road driving deeper into the canyon. The chains on the front end added much more traction and the truck cut an aggressive path through the fresh snow. An occasional jack rabbit left its signature occasionally crossing back and forth across the desolate road.

Sam pulled up to a gate with the resemblance of a road behind it. An old “For Sale” sign dangled off to the side of a post whipping in the wind. The phone number was faded but readable. Sam got out and took a picture of the number with his cell phone. He cupped his hand blocking the wind to look up the hillside at a rocky bluff three quarters of mile away up a steep hillside. Going back to the passenger side of the truck he motioned Cory to roll down his window. Both Ben and Cory rolled down their windows. Marty stuck his head out too not wanting to miss out on anything. Sam pointed up to the reddish colored bluffs and said “I bet there are some birds up there at the base of those bluffs. Do you want to give it a shot?”

For you girls, this is a chukar

For you girls, this is a chukar

“You bet!” Both Ben and Cory agreed looking into the bleak snow covered high mountain desert landscape. Ben wondered how anything could live in this country but he was ready for a good hike even if it was going to be a cold one. He had been cooped up since football season and was ready to test his knee.

 

They loaded up their daypacks with extra shells. Robin packed a nice lunch for both of them individually marked and wrapped up. Sam told Ben “Your mom is amazing!” and Ben agreed wholeheartedly shoving the remains of a chocolate chip cookie in his mouth.

They hiked up an old road which wound its way towards the bluff. The snow was deep but fluffy and the climb was steep heating their bodies rapidly. The cold wind stung their faces causing them to pull their coat collars up and the wool hats tighter over their ears. When they got closer to the top Cory suggested splitting up and walking three abreast side hilling across the mountain about fifty yards apart. Sam agreed and Cory volunteered to take the top position and Ben took the bottom. Chukars typically flew down hill using gravity to aid in their escape advantage. Ben and Sam waited for Cory to climb higher up the hill before splitting up and working evenly across the mountainside. The wind was at their back howling louder the higher they climbed, the cold brutally cut through their winter coats.

Suddenly Cory shot above them. Both Sam and Ben looked up as a flock of at least twenty Chukars dove over the top of them like bombardiers on a sortie. Both of them raised and fired missing cleanly the first shot. Sam lead the next shot by a country mile and the bird rolled as did the next. Ben fired one more time, connecting with a bird which set his wings and sailed down in the bottom. Marty excitedly headed for the first bird that Sam hit. Sam was digging in his pocket to get more shells when two other birds flew overhead. His gun was empty and he yelled at Ben who whirled around and dropped one on the first shot. “Nice Shot Ben!” Cory exclaimed from on top of the bluff. Ben had a big smile on his face. That shot had surprised him too! Ben picked up that bird and told Sam that he was going to take Marty down to the bottom to find the bird that had set its wings. Cory hollered at Sam letting him know that he was pursuing another covey that had flown up above him and would catch up in a little bit.

Sam wanted to check out the spring at the base of the bluff and told Ben to meet him there after he found the bird in the bottom. The closer he got the more interesting protected area looked; it was a cove hidden in the rocks. The wind was whipping the snow causing his face to sting and his eyes to water. Visibility became nearly impossible. As Sam approached the edge of the spring he was surprised to discover green plants growing at the edge of the spring, even covered by several inches of snow. He blinked his eyes struggling to see clearly.

Suddenly the wind stopped. Clearing the tears from his eyes he looked around. He had entered a windless protected area at the base of the rocky bluff. He turned and took a couple of steps back only to discover the wind nearly knocked him over; one step made the difference between a fierce wind and perfect calmness. That was so cool he thought. The semi-circular open area was about seventy five yards across and there were five recessed caves into the base of the bluff. They didn’t go far back into the bluff, only about ten to twenty feet. The top of the bluff was sixty feet above and the face was red sandstone. He walked over to the largest cave and realized that there was water trickling down from the roof at one end. The water formed a small pool before seeping over the slope down to a freshwater spring that formed in the center of the cove area. Standing back he surveyed the landscape and determined that the spring in the center probably created the cove by eroding from underneath the bluff collapsing the material down the steep hillside. The caves themselves were formed by springs eroding the sandstone through a process of ice wedging in the winter forming the room sized caves. What amazed him the most was the green grass and water cress growing in the water and how lush it was for being the first part of January. The green in contrast to the deserts harsh winter surroundings was amazing. He set his gun down and took his pack off to explore a little closer. He crawled into the cave and sat down looking out at the valley floor below him. He could easily see for twenty miles. On a clear day he could expect to see fifty or even a hundred miles.

He couldn’t quite stand upright in the cave but with a little work this could actually be livable if you were a cave man kind of guy. He walked around to the other caves. They were smaller and had similar attributes. There was no evidence of human activity like black soot against the rock or trash lying around. Taking a closer look at the spring he noticed how clear the water was and it was actually moving forming a stream that eventually disappeared a hundred yards down the slope. There were fresh deer, rabbit, chukar and coyote tracks. He wondered how safe it was to drink. He went over to his pack and sat down rummaging through it until he found a small pill container with a couple of Ibuprofen in case of emergencies. He put the pills into and extra plastic baggie and used the bottle to get a sample of water. As he was putting the pill container back he found his compass and checked the coordinates for the aspect noting that the hill side faced south southwest. In his mind he imagined what and where the sun would be like in the summer. He was amazed at how the plants could grow protected inside the cave where the water dripped. The rock face collected heat during the day and prevented the plants from freezing at night. He went out in the center of the semicircle and kicked the snow out of the way to reveal a rich black soil. A garden would grow well here provided you could keep the critters away. The soil on the hillside along the bluff was rocky and not good for growing. The little area created just enough wind break that the soil being carry by wind depositing it right around the spring and over the years of natural recycling plant material it had built up the sandy loam into a rich fertile soil. The sixty foot cliffs surrounding the cove would provide adequate shade from the searing summer heat. Upslope drafts from the valley floor would cool the summer temperatures and generate wind power. By the way it was howling only 30 yards away electricity would not be a problem. His engineering mind kicked into gear taking in all of the possibilities of this little paradise. If a person got in a bind they could use this as a shelter; especially if there was any truth to what was happening in the world outside this small paradise This fortress was only an hour from town and very secluded. He wondered how many people knew about this place. Cory’s discussion earlier that morning about the rapture came to mind. If “shit really hit the fan” as he was hearing so much about lately, this would be a great place to ride it out.

He heard Ben shoot twice and watched as he and Marty searched excitedly for something. A surge of pride swelled up in Sam as he sat on a large boulder and watched. Ben was a good son. He worked hard at whatever he did. It had been only a few years ago that Sam had spoken sternly to Ben about the laziness Sam was beginning to him. Sam recalled his words, “That may be okay for your friends but no son of mine is going to be lazy!” Ben matured the following summer when Sam was able to get him on the survey crew at work pounding stakes. The survey crew worked long hard days and that was good, but the downside was, he had brought back some language from the job. Robin insisted Sam have a talk with Ben and nip that bud immediately. Ben respected his parents and did his best to honor them but it was tough when he was working with the survey crew. They cussed like sailors and were always checking women out downtown. They made it a point to eat their lunches at the park to watch women in their short shorts walking and jogging on the greenbelt. For a teenage boy it was hard to stand against that peer pressure. Sam had told him that he couldn’t save Ben from that and he was getting old enough now to start making those hard decisions and living the way God desired him to live; not like the rest of the world lived. He explained to Ben that it wasn’t going to be easy but that he needed to stand up at some point for what he believed in. Sam thought Ben responded well to their talk but did notice how the crew teased him afterwards. It was hard for Sam to watch but he also knew he couldn’t step in either. He didn’t know how well Ben would do under that peer pressure. Honestly Sam was relieved when that summer was over and Ben was back in school. Ben was a good looking young man and the girls took notice which was altogether another problem. Sam had experienced the same problem when he was younger, and still did. Women had always found him attractive and often approached him aggressively. That temptation was tough for any man. Since he had met Robin twenty four years ago nothing could make him waver for the love he had for her. He thought about her and her sense of humor. It brought a smile to his face. He remembered seeing her the first time she walked into the Broken Lives Recovery Fellowship group at Seven Mile Community Church. He knew the minute he laid eyes on her that he was going to marry her. She, however, was not ready and had no interest in any man. Period. She had recently gone through a nasty divorce laced with brutal physical and mental abuse. Her ex-husband had been a jealous controlling type that constantly accused her of cheating. He had been intensely insecure and after living under that canopy of fear, she was not about to test the water anytime soon!

It didn’t matter to Sam; He would wait forever for Robin. He just knew that he knew and when it came down to it, Robin was the only reason that Sam went to Broken Lives. Broken Lives was a unique recovery program that had found its way into every Christian church in the country. It was similar to the AA program but had nine steps. Rob Landon, a renowned pastor and author from Bridal Ridge Christian Church in northern California had developed the program. It was a revolutionary new approach to healing broken lives that was almost an epidemic in society as a whole and eroding even into the church. Every church in the nation used the same material and Broken Lives was very proud of the fact that any person could go into any church in the country that was in “the program” and the material and the curriculum would be identical. No other material was permitted to be introduced so that Broken Lives would maintain its successful reputation. Bridal Ridge Christian Church was one of the largest churches in the nation and every Christian had heard of Rob Landon. He had written a book called “A Well Designed Life” for a teaching tool that many pastors used in almost every church and bible study group in the nation. In an interview Rob Landon had humbly reported that A Well Designed Life was said to be the most printed Christian books second only to the bible. Rob Landon had become a household sensation overnight and had speaking engagements globally with some of the most influential people in the world. His church at Bridal Ridge supplied all of the printed materials for Broken Lives distributed to all of the churches nationwide and the income from his book had blessed his community church to the point that they could afford to purchase a Lear Jet and an on staff pilot to fly him to all of his speaking engagements. The structured Church program that he had created was so successful that it grew Bridal Ridge Christian Church into one of the most prosperous churches in the country. He began teaching other pastors how to use the same concept curriculum and material that he used at Bridal Ridge to make them just as successful. It was almost like a well-designed business plan that was proven to be prosperous.

At the end of the Broken Lives program Robin finally agreed to go have coffee with Sam. The rest was history. Sam was so thankful for Broken Lives Recovery Fellowship.

Ben was almost up the hill. Sam shouted down to him “Did you find the bird?” Marty hearing Sam’s voice, headed up to him at a run. Ben held up two birds proudly. “Yes and then some!” he replied with a huge grin across his face. Sam stood up and moved over on the rock he was sitting on to make room for Ben to sit.

Suddenly a large orange dog intercepted Marty rolling him over in the snow. Sam turned around to see Cory working his way along the base of the bluff.

“How did you do?” Sam yelled.

“I got a couple.” Cory responded “Man, I sure got into a lot of birds but my shotgun must be off!” he said smiling.

“Ya these little rockets are hard to hit! Are you ready to eat lunch?”

“Yes, I am” Cory said setting his shotgun against a rock and removing his pack. “Wow, this is a nice little spot! The wind isn’t blowing in here at all!”

“I know, isn’t it?” Sam said.

Ben was already eating his sandwich and chips with Marty at his feet looking up at him intently. “Mom, wrote me a note.” He said smiling.

Sam and Cory looked over at Ben holding up a small bag of Fritos. On the wrapper in black permanent marker it read.

 

Hope your having a good day!

I love you Ben!

Mom

 

Cory smiling said “That momma loves her son!”

Sam pulled out his sandwich and looked at his bag of chips. There was no note on it. “Yes she does!” he agreed.

Cory unwrapped several pieces of chicken from aluminum foil that he had bought from the store and was eating baked beans out of a plastic container with a white plastic fork.

“How’s it going with Monica?” Sam asked.

“Pretty good. We have been going out over for over a year now and she wants to get married.” Cory said and tossing the skin of the chicken to his dog who caught it nosily.

“As you should! Make an honest woman of her.” Sam replied.

“Ya, I don’t know… her kids and are almost grown but she doesn’t bring much to the table and has nothing to speak of really. My business is doing well right now and I am putting a lot of money in the bank. I have my retirement all set up, you know? What if we get married and it doesn’t work out? Then she takes half of my income. I don’t want to take a hit like that at my age.”

Listening, Sam took a bite of his sandwich. As he bit down the texture didn’t feel right and he took the sandwich out of his mouth looking at it. There was something in between the two pieces of lunchmeat. He reached in and pulled a small piece of paper out between them. Written in smeared blue pen was a note that he read to himself:

 

Thanks for being a great husband!

I love you honey!

 with a smiley face.

 

 

Ben started rocking back and forth laughing, slapping his knee. Corey and Sam joined in. “Your mom is something else!” Sam said to Ben.

After lunch they agreed to hunt a small circle back to the truck. Ben’s knee was starting to hurt a little and Sam didn’t want him overdoing it. When they reached the truck Cory had picked up a couple more birds and Sam had got one more.

Sam decided to gut the birds while Cory was loading up his dog. Ben helped him remove the feathers and put the cleaned birds in a couple of gallon Ziploc bags that Sam always kept in the truck.

“Can you wash them and clean them real good for your mom when we get home?” Sam asked Ben._MG_7803

Ben nodded his head “Yes sir, I will!”

Sam ruffle his hair and said “Thanks, son.”

It didn’t take long before Ben was asleep in the back seat of the truck. Sam looked at him through the rear view window and smiled. Marty was asleep right next to him.

“I don’t know what to tell you Cory. I know for me, my family is my greatest asset and I would take them over all of the money in the world. It is a pretty lonely life with just you and your money”

“ I know all too well Sam.”

 

Chapter Three

Sam awoke before the alarm went off, he carefully reached to turn it off so as not to wake Robin. He rolled out of bed quietly but she woke anyway cracking one sleepy eye open. Her face was buried in the pillow but when her eyes met his a smile formed at the edge of her mouth. He looked at her lying in bed in her purple t-shirt, her blonde hair rustled up. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. He told her often that she looked prettier without makeup and she told him just as often that he was delusional. He fought the urge to climb back into bed and leaned over her and kissed the edge of her mouth. He felt her smile widen under his kiss.

Robin rolled over and watched him get dressed. The routine was one she’d watched numerous times but it never grew old. First he pulled on his long underwear and then his wool pants. With a faint sigh he sat on the edge of the bed to put on his socks. Robin couldn’t resist the urge to touch him, she ran her hand across his back. He was an average man, six foot tall and in good shape for his age. He sported a small pudge on his stomach that came from being fifty years old and spending more time than he’d hoped for behind a desk. Sam’s hair was turning a salt and pepper gray, what Robin said was a sign of wisdom, but he thought differently. Standing in front of the closet door he rummaged for his favorite hunting shirt.

“All the way over, next to your jacket” Robin said still watching him. She was right, it was exactly where she said, Sam reached for his favorite tan long sleeved hunting shirt. It was his “lucky hunting shirt.” Robin had said the only reason it was “Lucky” was because it was the only thing he ever wore! Unhooking it from the hanger he slipped it on over the gray long underwear top. Buttoning it up Sam noticed that two of the buttons didn’t match.

“Hey, thanks for sewing those new buttons on! I won’t be wanting air-conditioning in my shirt today!”

Ben was up and making noise in his room which made Sam smile. He enjoyed hunting with his son. It was a something that they shared together.

Hutch 110927_0194“Your lunch is in the refrigerator and the cooler is sitting next to the hutch. Do you want me to make you breakfast or coffee?” Robin said pulling the pillow up close to her. Sam smiled at her and said “No, honey. I got it, go back to sleep.”

Marty jumped up on the bed leaning hard against Robin, he panted heavily with both anticipation and anxiety while Sam dressed. He knew Sam was going somewhere and was letting him know that he wanted to go too. Sam saw him looking intently with his ears up and his head slightly cocked.

“What? Do you want to go too?” Marty’s ears dropped and what tail he had wiggled all the way through his butt. He jumped down to the floor looking up at Sam with his teeth smiling.

“Of course he does!” said Robin.

They picked Marty up from a co-worker, Aaron, who worked at the engineering office with Sam. Aaron’s wife worked for a veterinarian’s office in town, a friend had dropped off a  litter of pups they had been found in their horse trailer, abandoned, whimpering in the cold, and in desperate need of homes. Sam had called Robin and together they decided to get the dog for the kids. Marty had bonded with Robin immediately and was ferociously protective of her as well as the kids, but whenever Sam was  out doing chores Marty was right next to him.

Sam looked in on Ben as he went down the hall towards the kitchen. “How many eggs do you want?” He asked.

Ben looking sleepy eyed with a smile “Four” Sam smiled turning towards the kitchen as he mumbled “That kid has a hollow leg!” Ben was tall and slender like him. He was as tall as Sam and was filling out quickly. Ben played football during the fall season and was the tight end for the team. They had done all right but an injury to his knee had resulted in Bens sitting on the bench the last three games. Sam wondered how chukar hunting was going to be for him.

The combination of coffee, bacon and eggs permeated the house and the men rummaging around in the kitchen roused Robin out of bed. Sam was dumping four scrambled, partially sunny sided eggs, and bacon onto Ben’s plate when he noticed Robin leaning against the door frame. Her hair was up and she had on her thick black rimmed glasses wearing a purple t-shirt and black pajama bottoms. A loose strand of blonde hair dangled down the side of her smooth cheek framing her face and neck. Her long neck complimented her crossed arms which were toned and slender. Her presence, along with dimples at the sides of her smile stopped him in his tracks. At 45, her big brown eyes and blonde hair still made his knees weak.

He put the frying pan down in the sink and poured her a large cup of steaming black coffee. She went to the refrigerator for the cream to soften the intensity of the strong coffee, thanking him with a kiss.

Sitting down next to Sam at the table she took a piece of bacon off of his plate, nibbled at it and put it back. Leaning back she asked Ben if he had enough clothes. “Yes, Mom” then turning to Sam she asked about the temperature outside.

After chasing a bite of egg and toast down with a hot shot of coffee Sam replied “Twenty degrees and the wind is blowing making the wind-chill right at zero” Robin asked where they would be hunting and he replied, “Down by that piece of property we looked at last year. I think it’s still for sale too.” Robin rolled her eyes dramatically. “With all of this snow out there you won’t be able find the “For Sale” sign!”

Sam looked at the clock and said to Ben “We need to get going! I already loaded your shotgun and shells, grab your coat and daypack and meet me in the truck.”

Marty hearing the word ‘Truck’ was dancing in circles in the kitchen. Robin laughed and said “Don’t worry Marty you’re going!” she handed Sam the cooler with their lunches and followed them to the garage door kissing Ben on the cheek as he passed. Sam wrapped his arm around her tightly and whispered “Dang woman. You drive me nuts!” and then softly gave her a kiss. She pushed him away smiling “Be careful!” she said to the both of them. Ben waved from inside the truck with Marty sitting in the middle next to him.

Chapter Two

A column of smoke rolled out of the stone chimney cascading to the ground before disintegrating in the strong east wind across the pasture. When Sam turned the corner onto the long lane the three cows in the pasture lifted their heads to greet him. Even though he was an hour early the site of the gray three quarter ton Ford coming down the lane rang the dinner bell for them and they ran alongside the fence throwing their heads up bucking and bawling. Suddenly, aware of the cow’s commotion Marty the family’s Australian Shepherd tore out of the barn barking and intercepting the cows sending them running towards the barn.

Marty wriggled a greeting from every part of his body as Sam stepped out of the truck. “Hey you old hound!” Sam greeted him. Sam could hear an axe come down hard on a round of lodge pole pine in the barn. Grabbing his dented and rusty lunch box he slipped on his jacket and headed in towards the sound of splitting wood, with Marty leading the way.wood pile_1

“Hey Dad!” Ben and Erica said simultaneously.

“Hey guys, how was your day?” Sam replied.

Ben put down the splitting maul with a heavy sigh and Erica greeted Sam with a warm hug.

“Okay”, Ben replied wiping sweat from his brow “We’re stocking up the wood box.”

Keeping the wood box filled was one of Ben’s chores. It made Sam happy to see his older sister helping him. Her little brother missed her since she had moved away to begin college. The separation had been good for them, Christmas break had rekindled their relationship.

“How are you doing, young lady?” Sam said with his arm still around his daughter. He was proud of her for what she had accomplished in college. She was taking a full load of classes in line for a degree in veterinary medicine. She was much like her mother, Robin. When she set her mind to do something it was better to get out of the way. School was an obstacle that needed to be accomplished in order to acquire her goal. She had graduated at the top of her class, being awarded the Valedictorian for Centerville High Class of 2013.

“It was a good day! I helped mom take down the Christmas tree, just finished feeding the chickens and decided to work out a bit helping Ben with his chores.” she said while dramatically lifting her arm to show off her lack of muscles. She was wearing her mom’s coat to do the chores; he smiled noticing how much she had grown, still, Robin’s coat fit her loosely.

Maggie at the feeder

Maggie at the feeder

“Did you get any eggs?” Sam asked. “Nope. They’re still not laying.” She said picking up a split chunk of wood and tossing it into the wheelbarrow”

“Hmmm, must be the short days or maybe they sense this storm coming. The way that wind is blowing out of the east it’s going to be a pretty good storm. You might want to make sure we have extra wood stockpiled on the deck just in case we get dumped on tonight.”

One of the cows bellered from over by the feeding stanchion. “I’ll be there in a minute! “ Sam retorted.

“Where’s your mom?” Sam asked Erica.

“She’s in the house. She made something special for you!” Erica said teasingly.

“Oh”? Sam said turning towards the house. “For me?”

Even though the tree had been taken down it still smelled like Christmas in the large log house. Robin had spent hours in the kitchen baking for Christmas and enjoying her time with Erica. Baking and being in the kitchen was something they both shared together. Erica and Robin had talked nearly non-stop since she’d returned from school, Erica informing her mom about all the details that she hadn’t shared throughout the semester. Robin informed Sam of all the pertinent extras later in the evening before they went to sleep. Erica had needed to leave for school in order for the mother daughter relationship to develop to the next level, which he could now see was that of cherished friend. The season of absence had been rough for Robin and she was very grateful to have Erica home.

Robin looked up from the sink when the door opened and Sam came in. There was something about a barefoot woman in an apron in the kitchen Sam thought to himself. He wasn’t sure if it had anything to do with food or not but he was sure it had something to do with Robin wearing that apron. Robin loved the heated tile floors where she could go barefoot even in the winter and she always had her toenails exquisitely painted.

Sam casually looked around the room for what Robin might have made for him but the granite island where the sink was and the surrounding countertops were bare, tidy and cleaned. Everything was in its place. Nothing was baking in oven, stove-top, or the microwave, nor was there anything setting out in the open to cool. The table was set for dinner with red and white checkered cloth napkins and brilliant white china plates with an embossed floral design around the outside. The center piece of Ponderosa pine needles remained the same with two red candles and a taller white one in the center. As always, her decor perfectly placed. Each season appropriately defined, the centerpiece complimented the Christmas table cloth that draped over the long wooden farm table. All Sam could smell was cinnamon, pine and Christmas; nothing that might give the surprise away.

“Hi” Sam said putting his lunch pail on the end of the counter.

Drying her hands with a towel she walked towards him with a smile on her face. “What are you looking for Sam?” she said with a big smile.

“I think I found her!” he replied, embracing her fully. He held her tight rocking back and forth, taking in the gentle scent of her soft fragrance. She closed her eyes lost in the embrace while he looked over her shoulder for anything that would reveal what Erica was talking about. The combination of her body close to him and the lingering perfume that she wore overtook him evaporating the surprise.

 

Marty, took the small piece of elk gristle politely from Sam’s hand.

“Dad, you’re not supposed to feed the dog at the dinner table” Erica scolded while passing out the chocolate pie Robin had made for dessert.

He glanced up at Robin and she gave him a stern look from directly across the table. A hint of a dimple line appeared in the corner of her mouth revealing that the depth of her visual reprimand was more for the kid’s sake.

Chocolate pie was Sam’s favorite dessert and he savored the first bite dramatically moaning with delight.

“I ran into Cory at work today” Sam said. “He wants to go chukar hunting this weekend.”

“In this weather? Go ahead, you’re going to freeze!” Robin replied.

Ben interrupted enthusiastically “Can I go?”

“Sure, if you want to” said Sam “Cory has a new bird dog. He wants to see how good his nose is. We’ll probably be leaving early so don’t stay out all night Saturday”

“Susan is still over in Oregon at her grandmother’s house so I am free!” Ben was anxious to get out of the house since Susan left. It had been a long Christmas for him having his girlfriend away.

The couple had been going out for over a year. She and her mother, Heidi, had gone to Bend, Oregon to spend Christmas with Heidi’s mom. Heidi’s dad had passed away earlier that fall and this would be their first Christmas without her dad. Heidi hadn’t wanted her mom to be alone for the holidays so had opted to make the drive over the snow covered roads.

Robin, now visibly annoyed asked, “You’re going Sunday? Why don’t you go on Saturday? I cannot believe that you’re going to miss church again this week, you’ve missed the last two Sundays!”

“I know, honey, but Cory has to work on Saturday and it’s the last weekend of hunting season.” Sam said patting Marty on the head.

“No, it’s about priorities, Sam!” Robin got up and started clearing the table, lips pursed.

Sam scooted out his chair, picked up his plate and silverware taking them to the sink. Robin’s back was facing Sam and he ran his hand down the outside of her arm. Robin tensed at the touch.

“Hey “, Sam whispered, his voice cracked unintentionally. She turned towards him enough for her to see his face.

“What kind of message are you sending the kids?” She whispered. He could see the bottom of her eye was filling with a tear. He wiped it away with his calloused thumb.

“One more weekend and you have me all winter. I promise” She tentatively turned to him and smiled, but the concerned look in her eye sent the message directly. “Okay.” she breathed in clearing her runny nose.

Sam leaned over and to give her a kiss on the cheek. She pulled back saying “I’ll have your lunch packed for you. Do you want lunch-meat or tuna fish sandwiches?”

“Lunch-meat would be awesome, honey.” Wrapping one arm around her waist and pulling her close he said, “Thanks for the chocolate pie!”

Leaning back she wiped soap bubbles on his face and then kissed him.

Erica and Ben brought their dishes over and put them in the sink. Ben tugged on Erica’s hair and Erica’s slugged Ben. “Ow! Geez, Erica that hurt!”

Sam laughed at Ben “You better not mess with your sister Ben. She can handle her own!” Erica was a sophomore at the community college in Nampa. Last semester, before Christmas break, she had taken a course in self-defense at her parent’s suggestion. Sam noticed that the classes made a positive impact on her self-esteem. She was not the timid, slender girl she was in high school. He was glad to see that; she had her mom’s looks although his darker hair. Sam had seen the way boys, and even men looked at her. It riled him inside and he fought the urge to say something. He was proud of her, but also protective. Her new found confidence assured him.

In her first year of college Erica had started a college-age bible study at the local church she was attending. She was faithful to lead the study every Tuesday night, even though it was one more thing on her plate. The bible study started with just a handful of friends getting together but word had spread of the group and numbers increased to over twenty five, a majority being freshmen. Erica had mentioned to Robin how rapidly the group had grown. Robin wanted to see Erica in action so decided to visit the group one evening during fall semester, she relayed to Sam how Erica had deeply impressed her. She was a powerful speaker and connected well with her peers. They respected her. When she spoke she was not the girl that they had raised. She was dynamic and filled with the Spirit.