Sunday, April 24, 2016
TLR Chapter 65
Later Sunday afternoon, after both Jeff and James had time to reflect on the events of the day, the resort owner called Jeff and invited him back over to his home. He knew Mutt was still with Griff and asked Jeff the stop by the bungalow and bring the two boys with him. He planned a home cooked meal for the newest member of his TLR family.
Before they had a chance to sit down to the meal, James realized that with everything that had happened earlier in the day he had overlooked telling Shorty about Chad.
"Someone has to tell Shorty," James said, his voice thick with withheld emotion. He picked up the phone and began to dial the veterinarian's number.
"JW, stop a moment." Jeff said gently. "This isn't the sort of thing that should be told over the phone. We should tell him in person, don't you think?"
James hesitated a moment and then nodded, putting the phone back down. Seconds after he did so, the phone rang and James frowned as he listened. "Yes," he said, "I'll be there in a few minutes."
Jeff and the others looked at him inquiringly.
"Situation at the lodge. Charles said he couldn't say much right now except that I was needed immediately. From what I could hear in the background it sounded like a couple of brats are fighting. He said he'd called security as well."
"Don't worry about anything, James, go take care of whatever is going on. I'll go to the stables and tell Shorty what happened in person."
James smiled gratefully, stood and pulled on a light wind breaker before leaving his home.
"Can... can I go with you?" Griff asked. "Chad... I mean... I... I..."
"Yes, of course." Jeff replied, understanding.
"Thank you." Griff said quietly.
"Mutt, best you stay here and help Heath and Jax with dinner. We’ll be back soon."
Mutt stood on tip toe to give his husband a kiss before Jeff and Griff left to find Shorty.
"Will he be alright?" Jaxon asked.
"He'll be fine." Mutt replied sadly. "This isn't the first time he's had to deliver bad news."
Jax wondered what Mutt meant by that but didn't ask. He saw the expressions of sadness and worry on his friend's face and didn't want to do anything to cause him more distress.
Griff and Jeff arrived at the stables minutes later and Jeff went inside, expecting to find Shorty tending to the horses. There was no sign of Shorty, but he found Bo and the twins readying some of the horses for the last trail ride of the afternoon.
"Bo, Jare, Little Jake, how are you all today?" Jeff asked politely.
"Fine," Bo smiled. "We're nearly done for the day and all's right with the world."
Jeff smiled, a wan expression on his features that immediately set off alarm bells in Bo's head. "Bo, would you come outside with me a moment?"
Bo's stomach dropped a little, there was something in Jeff's voice that just didn't sound right and he followed Jeff out without another word. Bo saw the strange man outside the stables and hesitated in surprise for only a moment before greeting him with a smile and a handshake.
"Bo, this is Griffin Holden. Griff, our stable master, Bo Daily."
"Pleased to meet you, Mr. Holden." Bo said politely. "Have you come to join the last ride of the day?"
"No sir." Griff answered quietly, "But thank you."
Bo looked to Jeff curiously.
"We've come looking for Shorty. Is he around?" Jeff asked.
"No, not at the moment." Bo replied. "He's out at the ranger's station with Con and Brian. They have a sick horse and they called Shorty to check her out. They didn't think she'd make it in safely."
Jeff looked at the ground a moment, trying to gather his thoughts before speaking. "Bo, I have some bad news. A good friend of ours, Chad Crawford, passed away recently, Griff here is... was his partner." he said, putting a comforting hand on Griff's shoulder when he saw the young man choking back tears.
"I wanted to tell Shorty in person, and this isn't the sort of news that should be delivered over the radio. Would you please ask him to come to me in my office when he gets back?"
Bo was silent for a moment and then nodded. "I'll do that." he said quietly. He turned to Griff and held out his hand again. "I'm very sorry for your loss."
Griff managed a watery smile and shook Bo's hand. "Thank you."
"Griff will be staying at the resort as James's guest. If you ask Shorty to call ahead I can make sure that Griff is there with me to deliver the news. How much longer do you think he'll be? Any idea?"
"No, sir." Bo replied. "He's been out there since early this morning and he hasn't called back for supplies or to update us on the mare's condition."
"Alright then, don’t forget to ask Shorty to call me when he gets back, no matter what time it is." Jeff said as he and Griff turned to head back to James’s house.
Bo promised he'd pass the message along. He just hoped that Shorty wouldn't ask him any questions. Judging by Jeff's demeanor, he knew that Chad was a close friend, and that the news had come as a shock. The fact that they'd come in person to talk to Shorty meant that he too, had been a close friend. He couldn't bear to cause Shorty the same pain he saw in Jeff's eyes.
Before he could think about it anymore, the last group of riders arrived at the stables, excited and happy, and looking forward to the ride. Bo supplied them all with bottles of water and bags of snacks should they get hungry along the way, which they placed in their saddlebags. He watched as Jarrod and Little Jake helped the inexperienced riders mount up. Since it was a larger group than usual, the two of them were going to accompany them, Jarrod leading and Little Jake riding behind in case of an emergency. Bo stayed behind to straighten up the stables and ready the supplies they would need for when they returned, checked the horses that were in the corral, made sure the troughs were filled with fresh water, and then went inside to begin preparations for dinner.
Once the twins were back from the trail ride and the end of the day chores were done the three men sat in the living room holding dinner for Shorty, occasionally looking out the window to see if he was already on his way in when Shorty contacted them to let them know he wouldn't be home until early the next morning and to go ahead and eat without him. They hated to do that but understood the veterinarian's dilemma. Bo was relieved because he didn't have to relay the message to Shorty immediately.
Early the next morning an exhausted Shorty checked the pregnant mare who was due any day now. After making sure she was comfortable, he returned to the bunkhouse, took a shower and promptly went to bed, where he slipped into immediate sleep.
Two hours before he was due to lead a trail ride, Bo woke up, showered, dressed and woke the twins to help him ready the horses and tack for the morning ride. He was long gone before Shorty woke, grateful for the reprieve. He was able to put it out of his mind during the ride by convincing himself that he was protecting Shorty from the pain and anguish of losing a dear friend, even if it was just for a short time.
Jeff, on the other hand, was becoming worried when he didn't hear from Shorty first thing in the morning so he left his office, gathered up Griffin, and headed back toward the stables. They found Shorty tending the horses, feeding and grooming them for lack of anything else to do, while Jarrod and Little Jake mucked out stalls. Con and Brian's horse had pulled through the night before and all were in good spirits, although he did plan to follow up and visit the station again before the end of the day.
Shorty saw the two men approach and smiled a welcome as he put down the curry brush and walked out into the sunshine to greet them.
"Good morning Shorty," Jeff said. "This is Griffin Holden, Chad's partner." he said by way of introduction.
The sad expressions on the men's faces didn't register immediately and Shorty smiled, looking past the two men, looking for Chad as he reached out to shake Griffin's hand. "Oh, yes! Chad told me that you two were coming! Pleasure to meet you, Griffin. So, where's Chad?"
An odd expression crossed Jeff's face and tears began to trickle down Griffin's face despite his best efforts to hold them back.
"Bo didn't tell you?" Jeff asked quietly, his voice tight with emotion.
"Tell me what? What's going on?" Shorty asked, concerned.
"I told him yesterday to have you call me."
"I didn't get back til early this morning, and he was gone when I woke up. What was he supposed to tell me? What's wrong?" Shorty asked, his heart feeling as though it were going to freeze in his chest.
"It's not something I wanted to tell you over the phone or the radio, Shorty. I have bad news. Chad passed away. Construction accident a few months ago." Jeff said as gently as he could.
Shorty looked from Jeff to Griff, waiting for them to tell him that it was just a very bad joke on their parts, but no more words were forthcoming.
Shorty felt the blood draining from his face and felt momentarily dizzy but he recovered quickly. "I'm so sorry, Griffin." he said, pulling the young man into a hug. Griffin returned the hug tightly, needing the feel once again of comforting arms around him as tears ran freely down his face.
Little Jake looked over at the three men then motioned to his brother. They both knew that something was wrong from the look on Jeff's face and the tears in the younger man's eyes. The twins saw Shorty stiffen up and his face freeze, and when they saw Shorty hug the new guy they knew it was bad. They held one of their famous silent conversations and nodded. They finished the stables and found work to do elsewhere.
Once Griffin let go, Shorty turned to Jeff and hugged him, feeling Jeff's grief as though it were a solid object. Jeff returned the hug tightly, offering comfort to the man who had also lost a dear friend.
Even though Chad hadn't been to the resort since Ian died, the two of them had kept in touch through the occasional email. But not enough. Not nearly enough, Shorty thought. It wasn't until that thought hit Shorty that he felt the pressure of tears behind his eyes.
"I'm so sorry, Shorty." Jeff said thickly as they disengaged.
Shorty looked at Griffin, a question in his eyes that he couldn't voice for fear that he would break down.
Jeff saw the look and explained, "Griff didn't know about the resort or us until recently. He only found out a couple of weeks ago. I guess Chad was saving the visit to the resort as a surprise for him."
Shorty blinked and nodded. Chad had said something to that effect the last time they'd emailed, nearly a year ago. He felt a knot of guilt in his chest for not calling more often. He felt that if he'd known he could have brought Griffin to the resort much sooner, so that the young man hadn't had to go through the grieving process alone.
"Would you fellows like to come in for coffee?" Shorty asked when he could get his voice back.
Jeff looked at Griff who nodded and shrugged.
"That would be nice, thank you." Jeff replied.
Shorty led the two men inside, thinking about what he would say to Bo once the man returned.
Jeff and Griff stayed for a while, drinking coffee, with Shorty and Jeff regaling Griff with funny stories about Chad. The younger man was able to laugh and share stories with the men who had meant a lot to his partner.
Shorty glanced at the wall clock and noticed the time. "I have to start preparing lunch. Do you guys want to stay and eat with us?"
Once again, Jeff looked at Griff, who looked a little embarrassed before he replied, "I'd like to go and take a nap, if that's alright. I'm a little tired."
"Of course it's alright." Jeff assured the young man who looked somewhat pale and definitely in need of sleep.
Shorty stood and went around the table to hug Griff again. "It'll be alright, Griff. You're among friends here, and we take care of our own."
Griff tried to reply but he was feeling choked up again and only nodded. He'd missed being held and hugged, and while he wished that it were Chad, he was grateful for the love and care these men had shown for him, even though they'd only just met.
"We'll see you later," Jeff said as he put an arm around Griffin's shoulders comfortingly.
"Later then," Shorty agreed, smiling at Griff. "Now, you should have a directory in your bungalow, Griff. If you need to talk, or decide you'd like to go on a trail ride, just call me or Bo... Robert Daily... and we'll be happy to take care of you."
"I will." Griff promised, although he doubted that he would be in the mood to go on a trail ride any time soon, knowing that Chad should have been with him. He felt somewhat... ungrateful... as though he were betraying Chad in some way for laughing and enjoying himself earlier with the two older men.
Something must have shown in his face because Jeff, who had been leading him toward his bungalow, stopped him and turned the young man to face him. "You are not dishonoring Chad by smiling or laughing, or enjoying yourself, Griff. I knew Chad very well, and I know that he would have wanted you to be happy, and to keep on living. Remember him with love, and remember the love he had for you, but don't think you have to stop enjoying life. He wouldn't have wanted that for you. Understand?"
Griff, tears once again spilling down his cheeks, nodded, but was clearly not convinced just yet. Jeff let the matter lie for the time being and tightened his grip around Griff's shoulders. "It'll be alright. We're here for you. No matter what. Now let's get you into your bed. As Shorty said, we're all in the directory, and we're one short phone call away if you need anything."
"Yes sir." Griff replied softly, allowing himself to be led, grateful that someone else was calling the shots for the time being. He'd been on his own for what felt like forever, and he'd felt adrift. It felt good to be pulled in and moored in a safe harbor.
Moments after Jeff and Griffin had gone, Bo returned with the last trail riders of the morning. He hopped down and helped the riders off of their mounts, bidding them goodbye. He saw Jarrod and Little Jake and called them over with a smile. "Hey guys! Done for the day once we get the horses brushed out and the tack cleaned. What do you say we get to it? Shorty must have lunch ready and I'm starving.” It wasn’t often that they all had an afternoon off.
The twins looked at each other and decided that Jarrod should be the one to speak. "Jeff just left with that stranger... the new guy they found in the woods. They didn't look so good when they first got here, and that new guy... well he looked like he'd just lost his best friend."
Bo swallowed a sudden lump in his throat. He'd forgotten, accidentally on purpose, to tell Shorty that Jeff had been looking for him.
Before he had the chance to say anything, Shorty appeared at the door to the bunkhouse. He saw the three boys and said, "Jake, Jare, you guys take care of the horses. Bo, I need to talk to you about something. Come inside, please."
Bo licked his lips and swallowed hard again, unsure of what Shorty was going to say or do. He walked into the bunkhouse as though he were going to his execution, which for all he knew was true.
Shorty leaned against to kitchen counter, arms crossed over his chest.
Bo had been standing silently, shifting his weight nervously from one foot to the other. Finally he said, "I'm sorry I didn't tell you that Jeff was looking for you, Shorty. You were gone all night and then were asleep when I got up this morning. I just... kinda forgot."
"Jeff said he told you it was important that I call him."
"Well, yeah... but you were asleep, and I didn't want to wake you." Bo tried.
"Is that he only reason you didn't wake me or even leave me a note to call Jeff?" Shorty asked.
Bo couldn't answer. He knew he could have left a note, and he also knew that Shorty wouldn't appreciate a lie, but he wasn't sure the truth was going to help either. He looked at the floor and shrugged his shoulders in a noncommittal manner.
When Shorty only looked at him he took his shaking hands, curled them into balls and shoved them as deep into his pockets as he could, oddly aware that his hands felt like two icicles even as his face burned with shame.
Shorty pushed off the counter, he moved closer to Bo. "Little boy, I asked you a question. Was there another reason you couldn't tell me?"
Bo swallowed hard again and tried, unsuccessfully, to look Shorty in the eye. "I knew it was bad news, Shorty. They told me what happened. I couldn't... not after the night you had, worrying over that horse and not getting any sleep... I just couldn't bring myself to tell you that he was looking for you. If you had asked what he wanted... well... I didn't want to be the one to give you that kind of news. I... well... I didn't want anyone to have to give you that kind of news. I was kind of hoping that... well... I was hoping to spare you the heartache... and I knew you'd be heartbroken."
The older man didn't say anything for a few seconds, surprised at the reaction coming from Bo. He pulled his new lover into his arms and held him tight. "Babe, I appreciate your concern but Chad was a very close friend and I needed to know what happened. I needed to know his partner is here and hurting." the big man whispered some place close to Bo's ear.
"I... I'm sorry, Shorty." Bo replied, near tears. "I've gotten news like that... my younger brother... he was killed... I can't... I don't... I just couldn't..." he trailed off.
"Shhh, little boy, easy." Shorty said steering Bo into the living room. He pulled the younger man down onto his lap after he sat down on the couch.
Bo buried his face in Shorty's shoulder and let out a barely audible sound before he began to sob into the other man's shirt. "I'm so-so-sorry, Shorty."
"I know, baby, I know." Shorty cooed. "Let's just chalk this up to inexperience and make sure it doesn't happen again."
"It... it won't, Shorty. I... I promise. I'm sorry... do... do you forgive me?" Bo asked hopefully, looking up with tear filled eyes at the man he had hoped to spare this pain.
"I'll admit I was upset when Jeff first told me he had asked you to tell me to call him. Probably more because I actually asked Griffin where Chad was than really being upset with you." Shorty explained. "But I do forgive you, babe. We all want to spare people we care about the pain of losing a friend."
"So you're not gonna... you know?" Bo asked hesitantly.
Shorty's deep laugh filled the room. "No, little boy, I'm not going to spank you." He assured his boy. "At least not this time."
Bo put his head back down on Shorty's shoulder and hugged him tightly. "Thank you." he replied quietly.
Shorty turned Bo’s face up to his and gently kissed his lips.
Knowing that he was forgiven, and obviously still loved, Bo returned the kiss, feeling as though he were somehow melding into the older man as he did so. He'd never felt as close to Shorty as he did at this moment.
Just then Little Jake and Jarrod walked in, stopping short at the scene before them. They grinned at each other and began to tiptoe around the two men so that they could go to their rooms as quietly as possible.
Jeff, James and Duke sat in Jeff's office as Jeff dialed Dean's number. He only had to wait a short time before the phone was picked up and a cheerful voice said "Hello?"
Dean recognized the phone number as that of Teardrop Lake Resort.
"Dean, it's Jeff. Do you have a few minutes to talk?"
"Sure, Jeff.” Dean replied. "Is Duke ok?"
"Yes, he's fine, I'm sorry if I worried you. This has to do with what happened in the woods on July 5th." Jeff explained.
"Huh? July 5th?" Dean questioned.
Duke said, "Tell him the confrontation with Gene."
Hearing his brother in the background Dean said. "Oh, you mean with Jax's jerk of a step dad?"
"Hold on, Dean. James and Duke are here. I'm going to put us on speaker." Jeff pushed the button and said, "Yes, him. The story is that you slugged Gene?" Jeff asked.
"Yes sir, I did." Dean answered more formally, out of respect for the older man.
"Remember Jeff, he did it so I wouldn't." Duke defended his baby brother.
James said, "We realize that Duke, but Dean needs to understand how serious this is."
Duke got quiet and let Jeff go on.
"Are you aware that even though you're not a TLR resident, you assaulted the man on this property, and he can still file charges if he's of a mind to?" Jeff asked, trying to keep his tone gentle.
"Well, I guess I was just trying to keep Duke from hitting him. I figured it would be better that I hit him than Duke." Dean explained.
"No one mentioned whether he took a swing at any of you. Did he?" Jeff asked, "Because if he didn't, then you can't even say it was self-defense."
"No, he didn't throw a punch, Jeff, but he was getting close to doing it. And mouthing off. It was the only thing I could think of to cool him off." Dean said. "And he did cool off. He just kind of deflated. The man was trespassing. He was stalking and was a danger to Jax. I doubt that he's going to try and sue anyone."
James said, "He may not and if he doesn't ever it will be lucky for us, but this kind of thing can't happen on TLR property again. There's one thing I need to understand, Dean. Can you tell us how you hitting the man was better?” James asked.
“It just seemed like the better choice at the time. It was a spur of the moment decision.” Dean answered, glad that the men on the other end of the line couldn't see him blush.
“Either way the man has an assault case against not only whoever hit him but the resort as well?"
Duke didn't like the two older men getting’ on Dean, but he also realized how nasty this situation could get.
"Duke knows the appropriate ways in which these things are handled, as do the two security guards who were on duty at the time. Hitting the man isn't one of those." James said, trying to hide his upset.
Duke bit his lip and said, "Dean, we shoulda called Coral or Jeff, and the authorities shoulda been called."
“Yeah, calling Jeff or Coral would have been better but at the time just gettin’ him out of there seemed like a good thing.” Dean said slipping into the easy manner he usually reverted too when he was with his big brother.
"Without violence." Jeff said looking directly at Duke. "If he put up a fight there were ways... legal ways... to remove him from the property without resorting to violence."
“Wasn't there a report filed?" Dean asked.
Jeff replied, "We filed a report after the fact because we weren’t told about Gene being here until later. Which, by the way, doesn't look good for us."
Duke cleared his throat and said, "Umm...No. No one filed a report which is what was should have been done. No one wanted to get James, Jax and Heath all upset, but that was wrong too. It was a breech of protocol." Duke shared with his little brother.
"We do have a report on file that was made by Coral before we knew it was Gene, after Bo found evidence of someone spending time behind James’s house."
"It won't happen again, James. I promise." Dean replied. "I think because my brother and I have both been attacked by that asshole before, I just didn't want to take a chance."
"I believe you, Dean, and I'm glad you understand the situation. Believe me, after what he did to Mutt I was of the same opinion as you, but wiser heads prevailed."
James nodded. "I understand not wanting to take a chance and I'm glad to hear it won't happen again."
"I really don't think Gene will be back, but I have no proof of that.” Dean said.
James said, "None of us can guarantee he will stay away, but I do hope if he does show up again that the Sheriff's department in Masonville will be contacted, and Sheriff Grayson will be able to handle the matter."
“Oh you can bet if I'm there the sheriff will be called right before I call security, and then you and Jeff." Dean reassured the two older men.
James smiled. "Good to know that Dean."
Duke said, "I’ll work harder on controllin' my temper so Dean won't feel the need to come to my rescue too."
"Then I think we've said all we need to on the matter." Jeff said with finality. "Thank you, Dean."
"I'm sorry for all the trouble, Jeff." Dean apologized again. He cleared his throat a little nervously. "James, are... are we ok?"
James smiled and said, "You're forgiven Dean."
Dean let loose a sound of relief, which nearly made the other men laugh. "Duke, I'll talk to you later?"
Duke said, "Okay baby bro."
"Thank you James, I'd hate to not be able to visit my big bro." Dean chuckled. Now that he was sure he'd still be allowed on TLR grounds he could barely restrain his relief.
"You're always welcome here, Dean." Jeff reassured the man.
James chuckled. "I'd hate that as well, but if it does, I'd have to give you a real life demonstration of the discipline practiced here at TLR."
"Um, I don't think that will be necessary, sir." Dean replied, his eyes opening wide at the thought.
Duke looked nervously at James until he realized that his boss was teasing his little brother.
James laughed and said, "Good. We'll see you soon Dean."
The men said their goodbyes and Dean leaned back against his couch, wiping nervous sweat from his forehead and vowing to himself never to lift a hand against anyone on TLR property, no matter what. He went into the kitchen, popped open a bottle of Coke, then sat back on the couch to watch a wrestling match, imagining the moves he could put on Gene if they ever met again. Off of TLR property, of course.