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“Mornin’ Jean!”

“Eric. Hey there. How are you?”

“Good. I just wanted to see if you needed anything.”

“No, I’m fine,” she told him.

He took her at her word, but he knew it wasn’t true. He’d worked for her the last two years and could tell something was wrong. She was a private person and too proud to ever complain, but he was sure she wasn’t doing well.

“Okay. Then I’ll get back to it.”

She smiled the best she could and as her ranch hand turned around she said, “Eric? Can I talk to you for a minute?”

He stopped, turned back around, then said, “Yes, ma’am. Of course.”

“Have a seat and I’ll get us some coffee.”

He didn’t tell her he’d had two cups already three hours ago around 4am as she made some more. He just sat down and waited until she was ready to talk.

Jean Thompson was 70 years old and had run the ranch, which was also a farm, by herself since her husband died five years ago. She struggled to keep up, but a lifetime of hard work and dedication kept her going until she just couldn’t handle it all alone anymore.

At 67, she mentioned to a friend at church one Sunday morning that she was going to have to look for help or sell the farm. She wasn’t ready to part with the land or the animals she’d known all of her adult life, so hiring someone was her only real choice.

She and her late husband, Ted, had only one child, a girl named Jordan, who’d left home when she was 18 to go to college.

Jordan was a quiet, sweet girl but never content with life on a farm. She attended West Virginia University in Morgantown which was about 80 miles away from Wheeling, the closest city to where she’d grown up in West Virginia. Jordan was a beautiful girl, and it was no surprise that she had quite a few male ‘friends’ while at WVU, but it came as quite a shock when she told her mom and dad she’d fallen in love during her junior year.

It wasn’t the falling in love part that did the shocking. It was the ‘with whom’ part. And the ‘with whom’ was a 40-year old man named Joseph Conway who also happened to be financially well off and extremely so. Jordan’s disapproving father was mostly silent on the matter, but her outspoken mother was livid and tore into her daughter for making the biggest mistake of her life.

But there was no talking to their strong-willed ‘child’. Jordan’s mind was made up, and later that summer, she married this Conway fellow, as Jean stilled called him, absent either of her parents at the lavish wedding held in Aspen, Colorado, where he owned three ski resorts, a golf course, and several other properties.

The relationship had been strained ever since, and Eric had never met her or even seen her. His only physical clue she even existed was an old photograph Jean kept in her study, and the one time he saw it he was taken aback by her beauty. But she’d been maybe 20 years old then, and he assumed that she was now, some 20 years later, a middle-aged woman on whom time had taken its toll. But as the only hand on the entire ranch, he didn’t have time to stand around speculating about things that didn’t concern him.

He’d busted his hump for Jean every day since she took him on not long after he left the Army. Eric had been an Army officer, a Ranger, and also a West Point graduate. He’d been an infantry officer and loved what he did. He’d also been married since the day he was commissioned a second lieutenant, and when he learned that his wife had been killed in a car accident while he was in Afghanistan, the Army, and everything else, stopped being fun.

She’d been his high school sweetheart and the love of his life. Eric came home for her funeral then returned to finish out his tour in the northwest corner of the god-forsaken hell-hole of a country then returned to the US.

The day his five-year commitment was up, he left active duty and returned home to Wheeling, West Virginia, where he was born and raised and where he lettered in three sports in high school. He lived with his parents, but he was no longer the same confident, chipper man he’d been and spent the first couple of months drowning his sorrows in a bottle. But after coming home dead drunk one too many times, his father told him in no uncertain terms that he’d had enough.

“Your mother and I love you, son, and we can’t begin to imagine what it was like losing the woman you loved. But this can’t go on, and we won’t enable you. You’ve had time to grieve, and while it may take years to get over it, your behavior is unacceptable. So. You either knock it off or you get out.”

Not one to mince words, his father had nothing more to say and turned away, leaving his son with an ultimatum and another hangover. Once it wore off, Eric got up himself up, showered, got dressed, and started looking for work.

Money wasn’t an issue, at least not then. He’d left active duty with a very nice nest egg and a relatively new truck and even had some furniture in storage. But he knew his dad was right. This was pathetic. It was…conduct unbecoming. And he’d canlı bahis had enough of wallowing around in self pity. He just needed a firm kick in the ass to serve as a wake up call.

Getting hired by Jean was truly serendipitous as his mom came home from church the following week and told her son she knew of a job.

“It’s hard work. It’s farm work. But it pays well, and you’ll be too busy to drink.”

Intrigued, Eric spoke with the woman who’d talked to his mom and that, in turn, led to a meeting with Mrs. Jean Thompson the next day. She only asked him three or four questions then hired him on the spot.

He hadn’t had a drink since and had never once looked back. He was up at 4 o’clock seven days a week and worked until long after sundown as he cared for the dairy cows, the beef cattle, the goats, and the three horses that still remained. Jean still took care of her dog and a handful of chickens that laid a couple of dozen eggs each day.

Jean poured them both a cup of coffee then set Eric’s down before taking a seat herself.

“I want to run something by you.”

“Sure,” he said before taking a sip.

“I could tell you know.”

“Ma’am?”

She looked at him and was even more sure he knew.

“You don’t know exactly what’s wrong, but you know something is, and I want to talk to you about it.”

Eric took another sip as Jean took a first and waited for her to speak.

“I have lung cancer,” she announced in her terse manner. “And don’t go telling me you’re sorry or any of that nonsense.”

Eric didn’t. He just kept listening even though a part of him did indeed feel bad for her.

“I’ve got maybe a year if I’m lucky. And this farm’s been my entire life.”

He still didn’t say a word. He just watched her and kept waiting.

“As you know, my daughter and I aren’t close. Hell, we’ve only talked 3-4 time in the last ten years or so, and that’s only because she…”

Eric thought he saw his boss tearing up but wasn’t sure as Jean finished her sentence.

“She has a daughter, and I’ve made it a point to call her as often as I can. With this FaceTime thing, I’ve at least been able to get to know her a little.”

Eric nodded understandingly but stayed quiet.

Jean stared at him for a moment then said, “Anyway, I want you to have the farm.”

“Ma’am?” he finally said, too shocked to be sure he heard her correctly.

“My daughter married a rich man, and she has more money than Job, and frankly, she has no interest in this place. And truth be told, you’ve been more like a son than she’s been a daughter, and I can tell you love this place as much as I do.”

That was true, but there was no reason to say it. Jean knew that’s how he felt, and she was right.

“So I’m going to see my lawyer tomorrow, and I’m changing my will.”

She paused for a brief moment then tried to smile.

“What I’m trying to say, Eric, is this place, and everything on it, plus whatever I have, is yours. If you want it.”

When he was sure she was through talking, Eric set his cup down, sat up straight then said, “That’s unbelievably generous of you, Jean. But I can’t do that.”

“What do you mean you can’t?” she nearly growled.

“I mean it’s not right. It’s not my land. And strained or not this land should stay in the family and go to your daughter.”

“One of the things that’s most impressed me about you, Eric, is your integrity. You’re honest to a fault, hard working to a degree that even impresses the likes of me, and you say what you think.”

Jean almost smiled as she said, “Just like me.”

Eric could tell she had more to say so, again, he waited.

“I wasn’t really asking you. Okay, I sort of did, but that aside, this is what’s going to happen. I AM changing my will, and I AM leaving the farm to you. What you do with it when I’m dead and gone will be your business, but the leaving it to you part isn’t up for debate. I’m hoping you won’t sell it, but I’ll be taking the big dirt nap and won’t know, so that’ll be your call. Just promise me that if you do sell it, it’ll go to someone who’ll love the land like we do.”

Her only request seemed more than reasonable, and because he knew she’d made up her mind, he agreed and promised he’d do as she asked.

“Good. Then it’s settled.”

Jean was staring at him and could tell he had something to say and told him to say it.

“Is the kind of cancer you have something you can fight? Chemo? Surgery? Radiation?”

“I’m not doing any of that,” Jean said immediately with a shake of her head. “I’ve seen too many people too sick to enjoy what time they had left. Not me. I’m gonna keep on keeping on until I can’t, and when that happens, well, it’ll happen.”

As gruff as Jean could be, Eric loved the weather-worn woman like his own grandmother. And as he sat there looking at her, he realized that he was feeling something he hadn’t felt since his wife was alive—compassion. And caring.

He was 28 years old now and been alone for nearly bahis siteleri four years. In all that time he’d never so much as gone on a date with another woman. But as these feelings welled up inside of him, he couldn’t help but wonder if this was maybe nature’s way of telling him it was time.

But he laughed to himself when he thought about trying to meet someone as he put in an average of 80-85 hours a week. Jean had indeed paid him well, and other than the minimum he needed to spend to live on, everything else had gone into the bank. He hadn’t even looked at his accounts in the last six months, but he knew the money was piling up.

That made him laugh again as he thought about the old song that went, “Another Saturday night and I ain’t got nobody, I got some money ’cause I just got paid.”

He had money. He just didn’t have…nobody.

“You okay?” he heard Jean asked as he realized he’d been drifting.

“Sorry. Yeah, I’m okay. And if there’s ever anything I can do…”

“I’ll let you know,” his grizzled boss said, another near-smile forming on her lips.

“I’ve got cattle to feed, so I need to get at it,” Eric said as he looked to make sure Jean was done.

She nodded, so he stood up, and as he did, she softened a little and actually smiled.

“You’re a good man, Eric Harmon. If only my daughter could have met someone more like you 20 years ago.”

Eric smiled back, pulled on his ball cap, tipped it, then said, “Thank you, ma’am,” without mentioning he’d have been eight years old.

She’d told him to stop calling her ‘ma’am’ more times than she could remember, but Jean secretly loved it, and in spite of her age and lack of interest in men, Eric was so good looking it still caught her by surprise sometimes.

“You’re welcome, Josh,” she told him with a wink.

Eric laughed at the ‘Josh’ thing as she’d called him that quite a few times. Jean had once told him that he looked like ‘that Josh Duhammer fella on TV’ which made him laugh then, too, because the actor’s name was Josh Duhamel, a ruggedly-handsome, much-younger man Jean confessed to having a crush on back when her husband was still alive.

“He’s my cheat,” she’d said with a laugh after mentioning seeing him on TV. “You know. The one person your spouse would let you cheat on with if you could.”

She’d laughed a second time then said, “If, of course, Josh was blind. And desperate.”

She told him who her husband’s crush had been, too, and he’d promised never to reveal either of them to anyone. But it had also been a sad moment when she asked Eric who his was with a little laugh.

The question caught him so off guard that he’d teared up for the first time in nearly two years, and making matters worse, Jean felt terrible for asking and dredging up such a painful memory. It was the only time he’d ever showed any real emotion in front of her, and it still embarrassed him that he had.

But now it was all in good fun, and Eric laughed at the compliment then thanked her for the coffee and went back to work. He hit it hard until around 10pm that night when he retired to the little bunkhouse he lived in that was just a few feet away from Jean’s house.

Since he moved in ‘next door’ she’d had Wi-Fi installed and even let Eric show her how to set up and use a computer. She, in turn, had a WiFi ‘booster’ set up near the window nearest to the bunkhouse, and if he sat near the wall closest to the house, he could pick up the signal. But there were precious few times he even bothered, but every now and then he’d stream something on his iPad via Netflix or Amazon Prime which was more than enough for his needs.

And this was one of those nights. He was dog tired like he always was, but these thoughts about maybe being ready to be with someone again had plagued him all day. He’d never had a ‘cheat girl’ but there was an actress he thought was sexy as hell. It had never mattered to him how many other people agreed with him, but then he’d never told anyone, not even his wife, how hot this woman was to him.

So as he sat down and brought up ‘Prime’ on his tablet, he found himself ‘stirring’ as he thought about her. The show was called The Good Wife and the actress was Julianna Margulies. She played a lawyer whose husband had been the Attorney General of the State of New York. She’d given up her practice to be a wife and mother but when he was arrested, charged, and sent to prison, she’d gone back to work to provide for their two kids.

She wasn’t gorgeous in the classical sense but Eric found her…alluring. And appealing. And sexy. And as he sat there watching the stirring turned something soft and limp into something…very hard; something he’d rarely experienced since losing his wife. The um…growing issue…became so…big…that he decided to take the iPad to the little bedroom and continue the fantasy.

But as luck would have it, the WiFi signal wasn’t available, and he was unable to keep watching. Eric laughed as he turned the tablet off then got ready to go to bed bahis şirketleri as the swelling slowly subsided on its own along with these new thoughts that had been planted in his brain.

The next month flew by the way every month did as days blurred into each other like a never-ending episode of Groundhog Day. But the more time Eric spent on the land, the more he loved it and the more grateful he felt to Jean for leaving it to him.

He still wasn’t comfortable with the idea, but it was now a done deal and out of his hands. Yes, he could refuse to accept it, but that wasn’t going to happen because it would go through probate and end up in the hands of someone who didn’t love it, so he did his best to make peace with what seemed inevitable. Jean hadn’t shown any signs of getting weaker or sicker, so for now, life went on as it had since the first day he showed up to learn the ropes.

*****

Six weeks later. Aspen, Colorado.

“Joseph? What’s going on?” she asked as he drove them to their favorite restaurant.

“Oh. Nothing, sweetheart. Everything’s fine,” her husband replied in a very unconvincing way.

“You know you can tell me anything, right?” his much-younger wife said.

But her husband didn’t seem to even hear her let alone respond to what she’d just said. Rather than press for more information, she sat there quietly hoping he might share whatever was bothering him so much with her. She wasn’t sure how much time had elapsed, but it was at least several minutes before he finally spoke.

He turned onto the highway, got up to speed then said, without looking at her, “Things are…a little…rough. Financially.”

Relieved that he was opening up, she told him as supportively as she could, “Whatever it is, we’ll get through it. Together. Like we always do.”

When he again didn’t say anything, her worries came back just as he reached over to take her hand. The worries melted when she put her hand in his, and when he glanced over at her and smiled she started to tell him that she loved him. But that was the last thing she could remember.

“Mrs. Conway? Can you hear me?”

Jordan Conway felt like she was in a tunnel where someone at the other end was trying to get her attention.

“Mrs. Conway? I’m Doctor Hadley. You’ve been in a serious accident, and we’re going to take good care of you.”

She tried to answer but couldn’t. And she had no idea why she was being told there’d been an accident, but she also had no idea where she was. Her brain told her to thank the doctor, but her next memory was waking up in a bed in the ICU of a local hospital.

A nurse was with her when she opened her eyes and immediately asked Jordan if she was in any pain.

“I…I don’t know,” the groggy, post-surgery patient replied, her voice raspy and dry.

She blinked several times then asked, “Where am I?”

“You’re at Aspen Valley Hospital in intensive care. You were in a car accident and you’re recovering.”

The nurse then asked her again if she was in any pain.

“I…I don’t know,” Jordan said again. “Is my husband…is Joseph…okay?”

“The doctor will be right in to see you,” the nurse told her as she squeezed Jordan’s hand before leaving without answering her question.

But two minutes later she learned that she’d suffered several broken ribs and had her spleen removed along with having had some internal bleeding. But the only thing she remembered was the kind, young doctor saying, “I’m very sorry. Your husband didn’t survive.”

Dazed and confused, Jordan went into shock and was out for most of the day before coming to again. When she did, her husband’s attorney was there along with someone else from the law firm where he was a named partner.

“Jordan. You’re awake,” the older man said when she finally looked at him.

“Stan.”

That was the only word she got out before recalling what she’d been told.

“Is…is it true? About…Joseph?”

Stanley Wagner, their tax attorney and friend for as long as Jordan could remember quietly told her that it was.

“He didn’t suffer. Joseph died instantly.”

A few moments later, Stan carefully asked her if she understood.

Jordan didn’t say anything as tears fell from her eyes, but she did nod.

Her friend waited for a few more moments then asked if she felt up to talking for a bit.

Still too numb to think, Jordan absentmindedly said, “Okay.”

As before, she heard every word, but the meaning didn’t sink in until much later as the death of her husband consumed nearly all of her brain’s ‘RAM’ which it used to process information.

“I…Joseph asked me not to discuss this with you,” the attorney began. “Not when he was…alive.”

Jordan was looking at him, and he assumed she was listening so he continued.

“During the last year, Joseph made some…investments.”

“Investments?” Jordan said, not aware that she had.

“Yes. Rather…risky investments.”

“I see,” Jordan replied but not understanding.

“In a word, the ski lodges…both of them, as well as the golf course…are…in foreclosure.”

He hesitated then said, “As is your home and your other holdings.”

“Oh,” the younger woman replied without emotion.

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