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The Actor, Episode VI

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Chapter SixMama grizzly watched her cubs splashing in the water, making noise and scaring the fish. She was trying to teach them how to catch the fish, but they were still too young to learn much just yet, having been born the past winter in her den. She caught a whiff of horses … and humans. She looked and saw them as they slowly came into view across the meadow. She recognized the horses and wasn’t concerned, but the humans smelled wrong with all kinds of odors she didn’t recognize. Still, she was the queen of the forest and no animal ever dared to challenge her, including the humans. She kept an eye on them as she escorted her cubs away from the creek to where she knew some berries grew.Suddenly, she looked up as the sound of an approaching horse alerted her, and she saw that a horse and human rider were coming right at her, right for her cubs.Her instincts kicked in immediately: Danger!She got up on her hind legs and roared to her cubs. They immediately scurried up a tree to safety. The horse dumped its human, but that human kept approaching her. She saw a second horse and human approaching; she bellowed again and splashed into the creek, the ice-cold water spraying everywhere. Nothing would stop her from protecting her cubs, and nothing would stop her from killing these humans. Kill them all! Protect the cubs!- – – – -Jake drew a bead on the bear with his rifle even as Sailor galloped at full tilt. He didn’t think one shot would kill her, but it would at least slow her down. He was about to pull the trigger when the bear disappeared in a white mist. Disappeared? Bears don’t … ohhh, he thought.The water was about forty feet wide where the bear was crossing, and in her furious rage, she’d forgotten about the deep pool in the middle of the creek. She sank completely underwater … it took her a full twenty seconds before she could continue her assault, and by then she was too late. Jake had already reached Chad and helped him get on the back of Sailor. They high-tailed it back to their group as fast as Sailor could carry them, and he was only too happy to be heading away from the bear.Jake looked back to see the big grizzly on her hind legs bellowing at them again, but she had given up the chase; the horse and riders were heading away fast, and she didn’t want to leave her cubs. He slowed Sailor to a canter, still putting distance between him and the bear. The riding group cheered and waved their hats at the rescue party.Jake whoa’d up as he rejoined the group amidst hearty shouts of “Way to go,” “So awesome,” and “You saved his life!” Chad pumped his fist in the air and then clamped Jake on the shoulder. “This guy’s a hero!” exalted Chad.“Get … off,” Jake growled.The crowd quieted down as they looked at Jake and realized something wasn’t right; his normally friendly face looked set in stone with his jaw clenched and eyes narrowed. Jake got off of Sailor as soon as Chad did, then stepped up to Chad and grabbed his shirt just under his chin, making a fist with the fabric.Everyone flinched when Jake roared almost as loud as the bear. “Do you have any idea exactly how fucking stupid you are?” Jake shook Chad hard. And although Chad was two inches taller and looked bigger and stronger than Jake he slowly backed up, never having had someone yell at him like this before. He didn’t even think to wipe Jake’s spittle off of his cheek. “You were either going to get mauled, or I was going to have to shoot that bear! That bear belongs here! You don’t! This is her land, her home, and you were going to make me kill that magnificent animal just so you could take a better picture? Do you know that if I killed her, her two cubs would also have died? I should have let her kill you!” Jake shoved Chad hard, and he stumbled a few steps before falling on his ass. He got right back up, though, his eyes wild with fear and anger, the adrenaline coursing through his veins.“Hey! You can’t … you can’t talk to me that way!” Chad brought his fists up in a rather wobbly fighting stance, as if his brain and his ego were at odds and his ego was winning but only slightly.Jake just laughed. “Buddy, if you needed to piss you coulda just gone and done it behind a tree.” The rest of the crowd snickered and smirked as Chad looked down at the massive wet spot on his shorts; his pants had been dry when he got off the horse a minute ago. Jake crossed his arms and shook his head. “Calvin! Get this … man … off my trail.” Calvin saw the fire in his eyes, and though he didn’t work for Jake, Calvin wasn’t about to cross him at this moment. “Yeah, Boss. Are you, ummm … are you gonna be okay by yourself?”Jake looked at the riders. “Well, I don’t think we’re going to have any more trouble staying on the trail, will we, folks?”They all shook their heads and answered with various versions of “No, Boss.”“Send Jimmy up here,” Jake instructed Calvin. “We’ll wait for him at the lunch site.” Calvin got on the radio and explained the situation to Marcy, who promised to send Jimmy up as soon as possible. Meanwhile, Chad had collected and mounted his horse, who had returned to the group on his own earlier. He called out, “C’mon, Jamie. Let’s go.”Jamie froze as her cheeks flushed. Thoughts of fear and elation swirled in her brain, but they were overridden by other thoughts–shame and anger. Jamie felt deeply embarrassed to be associated with Chad because of his selfishness and recklessness, and she was almost as mad at him as Jake was for nearly causing the bear’s death. “I, ummm, I …” “Miss Jamie,” Jake offered in a slow, soothing voice. “You seem very upset right now. You don’t have to go nowhere. You’re welcome to ride with us. We’ve got a nice lunch waiting for us just up the way. You can … gather your thoughts and talk to him in a couple hours.”“Why don’t you just mind your own fucking…” Chad started, but he stopped as Jake whirled on him and pointed his finger.“You got no say in this matter.” Jake’s demeanor went from warm and friendly with Jamie to stone cold when he spoke to her fiancé. The effect wasn’t lost on Chad, who visibly tried to back up, except he was sitting on his horse. His cheeks flushed, and his eyes widened; he was afraid, and everyone knew it.Calvin rode up to Chad. “Let’s go, buddy.” As they rode back on the trail towards the ranch, Chad muttered something about “Yelp Reviews,” but the group couldn’t hear anything else. “Alright, then,” Jake spoke loudly to the group. He took a big breath and let out a heavy bursa escort sigh before he resumed in a more reasonable voice. “I’m sorry for my outburst. I’ve just never had anyone do something so, well, stupid. He not only put his own life in danger, he put mine and the bear’s life in danger, too.”“Would you have really shot the bear?” Jamie asked. Jake bowed his head for a moment before looking back at her. “I was about two seconds from pulling the trigger. And it wasn’t so much to save his life as it was to save the ranch. Having a bear kill a guest, no matter whose fault, would severely damage the ranch’s reputation. Bookings would dry up and this place would go under, I have no doubts about that. So yeah, I would have. I also would have beaten him to a pulp for making me kill such a majestic animal; I have no doubts about that, either. Then I would have gotten fired because you can’t have the hosts beating up the guests, can you?” He said that last bit with a smile and got a few little chuckles from the riders.“You did the right thing, cowboy,” one of the riders spoke up. Jake couldn’t remember his name, but he was a competent rider. “It’s part of the Cowboy Code. You’re supposed to ‘Ride for the brand’, right? Nobody would have blamed you for anything. You were trying to save his ass.”“Well, I appreciate that, son. What’s your name, pardner?”“Mario, from New York.”“Alright then, Mario from New York, will you watch the rear for me? Just holler out if someone needs assistance or if you see a bear.”“You bet, I’m on it, Jake.”“Miss Jamie, are you up to riding point with me?”“Yes, of course, Jake.”They exchanged little smiles, and he could feel the tension leaving his body. She studied him for a moment: His hard, lean body, his handsome weathered smile. She’d never met anyone like him, a man who could be so gentle, tender, and doting, yet fiercely brave and protective. This is what a man is supposed to be, a real man, she thought with a sense of wonder.  “Let’s go, folks!” He and Jamie rode side by side with the others in tow. “You doin’ alright, Jamie?”“I don’t know, I’m still kind of in shock. I mean, I’m kind of used to him showing off and doing some … well … dumb things. But he almost got himself killed, and the bear, and you risked your life, too.” Jake watched her face; she seemed like she was going to say more, so he stayed quiet. Jamie looked up at him. “You, you’re … very heroic.”Jake shrugged his shoulders. “Just doin’ what needed to be done, ma’am.”“No, it’s more than that. You just acted without regard to your own safety, to save the life of someone you … despise…”“Now I wouldn’t say that, Jamie. He is, after all, your…”“No, it’s okay. I know how you feel. I think everyone feels that way about him right now. I know I do. I’m disgusted. Oh, I can’t believe I just said that! Oh, my God.”“You’ll be okay. I just wanted you to know that nobody thinks poorly of you, leastways not myself.” “Thank you, Jake, that means a lot. I … don’t want you thinking poorly of me.” Her cheeks blushed and she looked away. “I would never think poorly of you. I, you know, you can tell a lot by the way someone dances; their body language reveals their true nature. And the way you danced with me last night, your dancing shows you have a, ummm …” Jake stopped talking, realizing he was revealing too much. She’s engaged, cowboy. You seem to keep forgetting that, he said to himself.“I have a what?”“I was going to say you have a, a beautiful soul, but it’s not my place to be saying that.”Jamie’s cheeks flushed again. “You don’t know anything about me. You can’t know that from dancing.”“I know you’re honest and kind, very giving, very … loving.” Jamie looked into his deep blue eyes. She felt like he was peering into her soul. Then his eyes traveled over her firm round bottom that was gently swaying in the saddle. “I also know that you fill out a pair of Levi’s mighty nice, Ma’am.” Jamie leaned over and playfully smacked him on his shoulder, her cheeks blushing their brightest yet. – – – – -“So, Jake?” one of the lady guests asked between bites of her cold barbecued bison sandwich. “What’s that Cowboy Code Mario asked you about earlier?”Jake set down his ice-cold Coors bottle, noticing all the other conversations had stopped at the big table as all the riders wanted to listen in. “Well, I’ll tell you…” He looked at her expectantly.“Karen, from Kansas City,” she said. “Well, KC Karen, there’s kinda more than one code. Gene Autry came up with one list, anyone remember him? Famous singing cowboy?”“Didn’t he also own the California Angels baseball team?” one of the older men asked.“Yes, he did, and good for you for knowing that. Basically, the code is something that a real cowboy, a good cowboy, should strive for in the way he or she lives their life. The list has things like … well, always help someone in trouble, no matter if you’re doin’ somethin’ else. Let’s see, a cowboy can’t shoot first or hit a smaller man. He must be true to his word. He must be a hard worker. There’s another list too, I’ve seen it in the gift shop. And on there it says a cowboy must ride for the brand like Mario said, meaning work hard for your employer, have some loyalty, ya know? I guess the code boils down to always do your best, help other people, be a person of honor, just … be a good person, right?”“Do you live your life by that code?” Jamie asked. “Well, my life has been pretty long, Miss Jamie! I certainly didn’t when I was younger. But yeah, even though it seems a little corny these days, I think a person should have a code to live by. And for the last fourteen or fifteen years, that’s how I tried to live my life.”“That’s pretty admirable, Jake,” Karen said. “But you weren’t always a cowboy, right?”“Right. I lived the Hollywood life for quite a few years, but I lost my way … and I lost my wife, then I lost another wife.” He paused for comedic effect and got a few chuckles. “And then my career tanked and I couldn’t hardly buy a role … lost my money and couldn’t even afford to live in L.A. anymore so I came here. But I guess I always loved the … the romance of the cowboy life; the mystique, I guess you could call it. And that’s what was so great about the Old West and is still great about life here in Montana, or Wyoming, or Idaho—you can reinvent yourself out here. Montana doesn’t care where you’ve been, or that your life took a dump. You can start over out here. You can … reconnect with the earth, and reconnect with yourself, bursa escort bayan who you’re supposed to be. Maybe find yourself, or find something real.” Jake realized everyone’s eyes were glued to him, and he felt a little embarrassed talking about things so personal. “Sorry that I’m boring everyone like this,” Jake apologized. “Usually I just tell some made-up cowboy tales and try to make people laugh.”The group reassured him they weren’t bored at all. Jamie put her hand on his arm. “Jake, this is better than any made-up story. I think we all needed to hear something like this, especially after what just happened. That’s why we are probably here also; we don’t just want to ride horses, we want to discover that real cowboy experience for ourselves, too.”“Well, shucks, Ma’am,” Jake joked as he smiled at everyone. “Folks, let’s have one more beer before we hit the trail, whaddya say?”He received unanimous approval, even from the micro-brew snobs who agreed that it’s hard to beat an ice-cold Coors Light after a trail ride. Jake felt pretty good; he had taken an ugly situation and gotten the group to bond over the experience. The only thing left to worry about was what the asshole Chad would have to say when they returned.  Chapter Seven The late afternoon wind blew the hat off of Jamie’s head and it rolled down into the gully of Cripple Creek. But she held the wire taut, making sure not to grab the barbs like Jake had shown her. “Got it,” Jake called out. “You can let go now.” He watched as she shook her arms and then rubbed her shoulders a little bit. “You sure this is what you want to be doin’?”She turned her face into the wind so it blew her long red hair off her face. She wiped the sweat from her brow with her arm before answering. “Can’t think of anywhere else I want to be right now.”“Well, we’re almost done. Just two more posts to dig and wire up. You’ve been a big help, Jamie.” He tossed her a bottle of somewhat cool water, which she drank fully.“Let’s do it.” She went and got her hat out of the dirt and put it back on.Jake had never known anyone to be so enthusiastic about fixing barbed-wire fences, but Jamie proved very helpful for a rookie. However, she had barely spoken since they left the lodge, only answering questions about the work. “You feel like talkin’ yet?” he asked.“Nope.”“Alright, then, grab me that post-hole digger, would ya?”- – – – -When they had returned from the trail ride a few hours earlier Jake noticed one of the courtesy vans in the roundabout in front of the lodge. They rode past the front to the corral, where everyone unhorsed themselves and said their farewells before going on to their next activity. Several people put twenty-dollar bills in Jake’s hand, something that rarely happened on the first day. Jake had only taken three saddles off the horses when Jamie charged back into the corral. “What’re you doing the rest of today?”“Ummm …” Jake looked past Jamie and saw the courtesy van leaving the lodge–it had a male passenger in the back. “Well, I’ve gotta get these horses situated, then finish up some fence-fixin’.”“Feel like some company?”His eyes widened. “You wanna help me fix fences?” He studied her beautiful alabaster skin and her fiery red hair. Does this woman have the faintest clue how stunning she is? he wondered. “Yes, I do.” She paused for a moment. “If you’ll show me what to do.” And now here she is, helping me dig fricking holes and stringing wire for the last three hours. I know that Chad left in that van, and she knows I know. When is she gonna talk to me?Snow blanketed the nearby mountains a couple of thousand feet above them, but the direct sunlight, unfiltered by smog or clouds, beat down mercilessly. And though Jake sweated profusely in the late afternoon sun, he kept his shirt on. He knew the damage that the sun could cause, so he, like most older and wiser cowboys, stayed as covered up as he could and slathered sunblock on his face and neck twice a day. Jamie, however, couldn’t take the heat anymore, and she unbuttoned her long-sleeve shirt, took it off as an enthralled Jake watched, and threw it on the seat of The Donk. Her blue sports bra strained to keep her large breasts in place and covered but still left a lot of skin exposed on her stomach and her back. She noticed Jake staring at her as she stepped back into the work area. “What? There’s nothing to see here. Nobody gets excited about a chubby girl.”Chubby … girl? What the fuck? “Ummm, Jamie,” he said as he slammed the post-hole digger into the soft bank of the creek. “I admitted earlier I was guilty of philandering … hey, you don’t have to do that!”Jamie had picked up the other digger and started to dig her own hole. “We’ll finish faster this way.” She slammed the digger into the ground, squeezed the handles, and pulled out some dirt.“Well, as I was saying, you know what philanderin’ means?”Ka-chunk went her digger. “Not really. Maybe messing around with women or something.”“That’s exactly what it is. My point is, I’m … somewhat of an expert on the female form, having seen quite a few.”“That’s good to know. In case you’re wondering, you’re not impressing me, you’re just, you know, digging a hole.” Ka-chunk.“Jamie. Listen. Look at me.” She stopped working and their eyes met. “Even if you were chubby, you’d still be a beautiful woman, believe me. But you are certainly not chubby. Not at all. Not even a little bit.”“It’s your job to be polite and respectful to the guests, especially the chubby ones. I appreciate it, so … thanks.” She raised her hands and drove the tool into the earth. Ka-chunk.Jake stared at her, trying to figure out what the hell she was talking about. “You’re not chubby! Stop saying that!”Jamie’s digger clanged against a rock; the hard vibrations hurt her hands and she screamed, throwing the tool down the embankment. Then she screamed again for as long as her breath held out. She panted a few breaths and screamed again. The valley was too far from the mountains for an echo; the wind swallowed her cries, and the valley quieted until she screamed again.Jake grabbed her and turned her around, then wrapped his strong arms around her and squeezed her tightly. Her arms imprisoned by his, she beat her fists against his chest, but with little force. “Leave me alone!” she cried, her tears streaking her cheeks. But Jake held tight and her screams stopped, to be replaced by heavy sobs. She slumped in his arms, her head against his chest as her shoulders escort bursa lurched. “That’s a girl,” Jake’s soothing voice replaced her screams, “let it all out … it’s okay … I’ve got you … let it go … get it all out …” He held her for several minutes, talking softly while swaying her gently as they stood, comforting her while trying not to say anything too forward, like calling her honey or something.“He blames me, you know,” she said eventually, sniffling. “He said I should have told him that there were wild bears here.”“Jesus Christ, I should have shot him when I had the chance. There are signs literally everywhere. He had to sign an acknowledgment form saying he understood about the dangerous wildlife here.”Jamie chortled. “He said he thought that was just to impress the city people.” She wiped her face with her arm. “He had all our bags packed. Said, ‘Let’s go.’ And I said I wanted to stay, I wanted to be on vacation with him. He just got up and went to the van.” Jake relaxed his grip on her and fixed a few hairs that hung on her face. “I paid for this trip. Me. He didn’t contribute a dime. And there’s no refunds. It’s not the ranch’s fault he’s a jackass.”“You paid?” Jake couldn’t believe his ears. “Doesn’t he work? Like, an investment advisor or something?”“He’s just doing that until his inheritance comes through. His parents were very wealthy, but there was a lot of squabbling with the lawyers and all the different companies they owned, so probate is taking a long time. He’s supposed to get like twenty, twenty-five million.”“I see. That’s a lot of money.” “Yes–oh, I ruined your shirt! I’m so sorry!”He looked down at the big wet spot on his chest. “It’s okay. Tonight is my laundry night. Speaking of night, the sun will drop down behind those mountains in about fifteen minutes, and the temperature will start dropping quickly. Let’s get our stuff and head back–”“No.” Her adamance seemed to surprise her. “I’ve wasted a lot of your time, but there’s still work to be done. A cowboy has to do what’s right, correct? Ride for the brand? Let’s get this finished.” They hustled hard and got back to the lodge before it got completely dark. “Will you … have dinner with me, Jake? We can get cleaned up and meet…”Jake held his hand up. “Whoa there, young lady. They, ummm … they feed us in the bunkhouse. We aren’t technically allowed to eat in the dining room. But thank you so much.”“I could have it sent up to my room,” Jamie suggested, not looking at Jake. “Would that work? I don’t want you to break the Cowboy Code or anything.” For the first time that afternoon, a little smile broke over her face. She’s so beautiful, he thought, and vulnerable, and she needs to see what a real man is like instead of that sniveling shithead she’s engaged to. But Jake took the high road. “I think tonight … you should call your Chad instead of … doing something you will regret.” No! part of his brain screamed at him. Take her right now! She needs to see some real lovin’! He gripped the steering wheel, willing his hands to stay there and not reach for her flesh again, like when he was patting her bare back when she cried earlier. Jamie looked down to the floor before slowly sliding out of the seat onto the ground. “You’re probably right. Say, ummm … are you going on any trail rides tomorrow?”“Matter of fact, yeah. I’m on the advanced ride tomorrow since Darryl is still hurt. We will run the horses, not just walk them like today.”“I’m signing up for that.” She turned and walked into the lodge.  Chapter Eight  The pretty red-headed female doctor entered the waiting room, read from her clipboard, and called out, “McClinden, for Daisy?”“McClintock,” Jake corrected her.She looked up and saw Jake sitting there next to an extremely attractive young woman, surrounded by several empty seats. “Oh, Jake, it’s … you. It just has the first initial here.”Jake got up to shake the doctor’s hand. “How you doin’, Liz?”The doctor frowned and didn’t shake his hand. “Well, first things first. Daisy has Equine Influenza, which is really weird because you told Becky she’d had all her shots. But our records indicate she didn’t receive any of her last round of injections.”“Aww, shit.” He paused for a moment, “sorry for the language. She must’ve been down on the other ranch when you came by last fall, maybe passed on the highway or something.”“Whatever,” the doctor continued. “Old Man Gilroy should’ve caught this. He needs to get a database, maybe catch up to the twentieth century.”Jake thought for a moment. “Aren’t we in the twenty-first century?”“Exactly. Can you leave her overnight? I want to make sure she’s not going to react poorly to the medication because she’s going to get a heavy dose. You can pick her up first thing in the morning.”“Yeah … I guess.”“Is that a problem?” The doctor leaned to the right and looked directly at Jamie, who was still sitting down. “I’m sure you and your, ummm … granddaughter, can find some accommodations in town. Save you four hours of driving time.”“Cute, Liz,” Jake scowled. “You used to think so.”Jamie watched silently. Obviously, Jake and this doctor have some history.Jake looked at his right boot for a moment, then looked up at Doctor Liz again. “I’ll see you first thing. Six okay?” He gave her a one-armed hug.She patted his back. “Six is fine, Jake. Have fun tonight. Don’t keep her out too late; it’s a school night, you know.” Jake winced at the sarcasm and the obvious dig about Jamie’s age. Then he left the veterinarian’s office with Jamie in tow as they headed toward the truck. “So, I can probably get you home before they close the kitchen.”“And then what, you get up at 3:30 in the morning to come back here? That doesn’t seem like a very smart idea.” Jake shrugged. “It’s just ranchin’. Some days are better’n others.”Jamie stopped walking. “Let’s go over here,” she pointed.“Huh? Why? We gotta get some gas and get a move on.”“There’s a nice little Italian restaurant over there and you’re going to take me to it. Unlike you cowboys, I can’t have steak every night! Come on.” She linked her arm in his and began crossing the basically empty street. Jake didn’t seem to have a choice in the matter. – – – – -Antonio’s Italian was quaint, the decor surprisingly tasteful for a small town. They waited near the door but didn’t see a hostess, then a waitress came by and said, “Sit anywhere you like.”They chose a cozy table by the front window and settled in. Finally, a pretty, middle-aged, red-haired server approached them. “Well, look who’s back in town,” she said in a decidedly unfriendly tone. She eyeballed Jake, tapping her pen on her pad, seemingly waiting for an explanation as to his incursion into her space.

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