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Gold In The Morning Sun
© By Duke Stevens
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Tess Gallagher stood slightly away from the curtains of her window and watched the man working on the roof of the cabin across from her unit.
Her brown eyes moved slowly between the photograph in her hand and the man on the roof. She seemed to be wondering if the man in the photograph and the man on the roof were one and the same person.
The longer Tess Gallagher stared at Christopher McHugh, the more she understood her friend Shannon Terry and her reasons for suggesting Mountain Meadows Dude Ranch as the perfect vacation spot for her.
This might be the right man.
Tess wondered if this trip would turn out to be worth the cost to Montana or the dude-ranch experience. She now knew that there could be an even greater price to pay than mere money that this trip had already required.
She realized now that she hadn’t examined in much depth how costly the anxiety rolling through her might be to herself. Sighing, she leaned over and picked-up her purse off the small table beside her and put the photograph back inside it.
Returning her gaze to Christopher McHugh, she went over in her mind what Shannon Terry had found out about him.
Across the way from where Tess Gallagher stood watching, the owner of Mountain Meadows Dude Ranch worked with masculine precision. His arms were strong his legs long. It was clear to Tess that he wasn't afraid of breaking a sweat. His sure and easy movements began to send pleasing messages throughout her body.
Before climbing the ladder, Chris McHugh had tied back his shoulder-length reddish brown hair with a rubber band. His cotton shirt had come off after the first ten minutes of beginning to tack the roofing material into place.
Tess had gasped as the shirt had slipped from his fingers exposing his body’s upper strength that the fullness of the shirt’s fabric had obscured earlier.
When Chris McHugh first felt eyes watching him he didn't think much of it. When the feeling didn’t go away he swiftly glanced around the ranch grounds with slightly raised gaze wondering who it was that had him in his or her sights.
He saw none of the camp employees walking around the area looking his way. They were all busy doing their morning chores. Slowly, guests were coming out of their cabins to meet the new day. His resident manager talking to a couple of house-maids was gesturing toward the far cabins a look of annoyance in her eyes. It wasn’t Maggie Owens that was taking him in.
It was someone else.
Shelving his curiosity he finished the roof job, put his shirt back on and descended the ladder. He moved rapidly toward the work-shop to put away his tools. Rob Owens, Maggie’s son working in the work-shop nodded to Chris when he entered.
“That job was next.”
Smiling toward Rob, Chris said, “No problem! I wanted to get up there myself anyway. It didn’t take long.”
Rob relaxed. He hadn’t worked for Christopher McHugh long and was anxious to please him. He wanted to please his mother too. She had gotten him the job. He had failed her enough.
After Chris McHugh had entered the work-shop Tess found herself holding on to the wish that he hadn’t put his shirt back on.
She stepped away from the window, turned around and walked to the suite’s comfortable sofa and sat down.
She went over in her mind what Shannon Terry had told her about Mr. Christopher McHugh, owner of Mountain Meadows Dude Ranch. The memory seemed so real it felt to Tess as though she were reliving it.
Eight months ago Shannon had called and said she was coming over with news about Christopher McHugh. She had burst into the apartment full of intense pent-up energy and had immediately begun pacing the floor talking rapidly.
That afternoon Tess had left work tired but had been willing to listen to Shannon’s idea. Staring at her friend within dubious expression she had slowly lowered herself back into the chair she had been sitting in earlier.
Bouncing in place for several seconds, Shannon’s words had shot out of her, “Listen! I think I found the guy! He married early - barely nineteen I think. Been divorced a long time. Doesn’t want to marry again. He’s damn good-looking and he’s bitter. Hey! I mean BITTER! Has two grown kids - a son and daughter! He lives in Montana... That’s workable, right?! He may be the one!”
Sighing, Tess had responded within a cautious tone, “Go on....”
Stopping to look out the window, Shannon had inhaled deeply then had turned back toward Tess, “I don’t know how much he’s worth but it can’t be a lot. Before he went into heavy debt for the dude ranch he was truckin.’ His divorce and legal battles drained money like a sieve out of him. The ranch may one day turn a pretty profit - apparently it hasn’t yet.”
“Have you seen his children?”
“Yes! Dane McHugh is twenty-one. He’s a college junior at the University of Montana at Missoula. Callie McHugh is nineteen. She’s gonna try trucking- not college.”
“Are they close?”
“Hmmm... Don’t know. They both visit the ranch.”
“You trust these people you’ve been working with?”
Shannon had giggled shooting a mischievous look at Tess under the wisps of her short curly blonde hair that had fallen over her left eye, “They could dig up dirt on a mole!”
Tess had smiled slowly wondering if Shannon might be right about Chris McHugh.
The Mountain Meadows Dude Ranch was located midway between Missoula and Kalispell, Montana. It drew a variety of yearly visitors. It was a welcome, if temporary, escape for those who wanted to get away from crowded highways, the frenzied shopping malls of cities and the inescapable sounds of city life.
For a time, ranch guests could experience great seemingly endless landscapes, spectacular mountains, ranging cattle, wildlife, fishing, hiking, meandering streams, kayak trips, white water rafting, dancing and playing in the great outdoors without fighting crowds or the constant invasion of the intrusive sounds and smells of city life.
To others, it was a way to comfortably remove themselves from people who wanted their attention; if only for a few days. For these visitors, they wanted primarily to hide-out often remaining for most of their visit in their cabins rarely venturing out to join others in the ranch’s scheduled activities.
For Tess Gallagher there was another reason for coming to Mountain Meadows Dude Ranch.
Maggie Owens, Mountain Meadow’s residents manager noticed Tess Gallagher emerge from her cabin, inhale deeply, look around the ranch grounds and then begin walking toward the ranch restaurant.
Maggie stopped her work and watched Tess Gallagher. Wondering if this attractive woman was running away from something she went back over their conversation when Tess had called to place a three-month reservation on cabin nine. Within Maggie’s memory no lone woman had ever stayed at the ranch three months in a row.
The three-month reservation had triggered Maggie’s caution and curiosity. This woman had never been a guest at the ranch before, yet had reserved a specific cabin.
She had asked questions most visitors hadn’t bothered to ask or already knew, “Is there an on-location restaurant? Is it open around the clock? Are there group activities provided for the guests? Is there a swimming pool for summer guests. Is a guest allowed to go riding alone? Is there medical personnel available in case of accidents or illness? Are shopping trips to the nearest city provided? When? Is there a buddy system when taking river trips? Does the ranch provide its own security?”
Maggie doubted that this woman had read their brochure or accessed their web site. Maggie Owens had answered most of the questions in the affirmative explaining that while the camp restaurant wasn’t open twenty-four hours the Canteen with its candy, food and drink machines were available around the clock. It was two cabins away from unit nine.
Tess Gallagher’s credit had turned out to be good and her tone agreeable during their telephone exchange. At the end of their initial conversation Maggie had made a mental shrug and went about her business putting her questions about Tess Gallagher away.
This morning she kept her eyes on Tess for long seconds and once again allowed her awakened curiosity fresh focus. Maggie guessed Tess was nearing forty.
Dressed in a pair of snug bluejeans, dark brown riding boots and blue cotton shirt opened at the collar, she could see that Tess had maintained a watch over her beauty and it clearly showed.
Her skin was clear of serious blemish, her body lithesome. Maggie thought this woman didn’t like fat but didn’t buy into “bony is beautiful,” either. No wedding band on her left hand. Her long brown hair was tied back, its gleam exposing health and glamour to the on-looker.
When she had first met Ms. Tess Gallagher in the flesh, Maggie had looked into thoughtful brown eyes. It had seemed to her at that moment they were impenetrable pools of carefully concealed thought. Something told Maggie that this woman was different from the usual guests who had stayed at the ranch.
When Tess Gallagher had entered the restaurant, Maggie Owens put down the paper she held in her hand and made the decision that now might be a good time to have breakfast.
~~Earlier The Same Morning~~
The owner of Mountain Meadows, Christopher McHugh, woke before sunrise. His six foot frame rolled out of bed with fluid movement. Turning on the radio classic country music flowed into his cabin. Listening to the lyrics he smiled sardonically.
Conway Twitty’s voice sent the song’s message throughout the room, telling the story of an ordinary cowboy's meeting with a rich woman wearing tight fittin' jeans.
Chris McHugh danced-stepped toward the bathroom. Humming along with Conway Twitty, he let the words flow into him. When the lyrics reached the place where the cowboy was awe-struck by the lady in the tight fittin' jeans, Chris McHugh reacted within himself, “Not what she seems... is usually the name of the game, ” he thought.
Still, he didn’t turn off the song.
The words swept through the room telling the cowboy's experience and the lure that woman of wealth in the tight-fittin' jeans had on him.
“Watch out Conway!” Chris yelled as he entered the shower.
Reaching for the soap he lathered up. Chris let the lyrics touch him in some deep part of his own longings. When the cowboy got caught up in the moment of his attraction, Chris lowered his voice to mutter, “Wake up, Conway! She’ll bite you!” A remembered sadness shot through him.
Still, he didn’t turn off the music.
Conway Twitty's voice confirmed the risk of the cowboy's experience as the lyrics carried the cowboy's conviction, that in spite of her infidelity, he still saw the rich woman in the tight-fittin' jeans, a "Lady."
Finishing his shower, Chris McHugh shaved, put on a clean pair of worn jeans and a freshly ironed red and black checkered cotton shirt. He rolled the shirt sleeves up to his elbows, slipped his feet into his black boots, shut off the radio, opened the front door, shut and locked it and headed toward the restaurant to have breakfast.
Upon entering the back-door, he found the cook washing his hands.
Nodding toward him, he said, “Mornin’! ”
Jake Owens looked up, “I’ll throw on some eggs and spuds if you’d like.”
“Thanks! Don’t bother... I’ll fix my own.”
Jake went back to washing his hands.
“You’re in early...”
Jake smiled, “Left some things undone yesterday... decided to get up this morning and do them.”
Chris smiled. Jake always impressed him with his dedication to his job.
Eating the scrambled eggs, fried potatoes and the biscuit with honey on it, he drank his cup of coffee and went over the morning routine.
Chris had in mind to go back to check out a new report that some fencing had come loose from several posts that lined the western boundary of his small cattle spread a few miles from Mountain Meadows.
After that he intended to come back to the dude ranch and check-in with Maggie’s son to see what had to be done immediately or what could wait and then go over some paperwork with Maggie.
The night before he had gone over the list of the new arrivals with his residents manager. Without looking at her paperwork she had ticked them off; Mr. and Mrs. Clarence Story from New York; Mr. and Mrs. Adam Gains from Florida, a retired couple; the LaSalle family from France which included two teen-agers and a Ms. Tess Gallagher from Los Angeles, who had reserved cabin nine for three months.
“Some vacation! What do we know about Ms. Gallagher?”
Maggie had grinned, “She has good credit and a careful mind...” She had paused then finished, “I think...”
Smiling Chris had responded, “You mean she asked a lot of questions?”
Maggie had nodded, “Something like that...”
He had nodded thoughtfully, “Okay...”
Three hours after his breakfast, Chris McHugh had checked the fencing, had taken time to fix three broken spots in the fence line, had made sure the water troughs were holding water for his small herd of cattle and had fed his horses, Gabby and Grabby now carrying the nick-names, Gab and Grab.
Before Chris finished what he had come here to do he had opened the yard-gate for the horses to pasture and had ignored the dust accumulating inside the small three-bedroom clap-board house on his land. He had taken time to wash his face and hands and check the residence telephone for any incoming messages.
Moments later he was barreling his old Jeep back toward Mountain Meadows.
Sliding his vehicle to a stop behind the restaurant, Chris McHugh leaped out of the Jeep and took long rapid strides toward its back entrance. In the kitchen he poured himself a cup of coffee, nodded to the busy workers then strolled into where customers were being served.
Maggie Owens now watching Tess Gallagher noticed the body of Ms. Gallagher respond to Chris entering the room. The reaction met a memory stored in Maggie. Her interest in why Tess Gallagher had come to Mountain Meadows just got a four-fold leap in its cathexis.
Telling herself to break her intent focus on Tess Gallagher, Maggie turned her head and nodded toward Chris returning his easy smile. She watched him as he stopped to introduce himself to Mr. and Mrs. Clarence Story of New York.
Unable to resist the lure, Maggie’s eyes went back to Tess Gallagher. She thought Ms. Gallagher was staring at Christopher McHugh as though her brain had instantly been swamped by suggestions she couldn’t take.
Tess Gallagher was seeing Christopher McHugh this time, up close and almost personal. He came within two feet of her table. She took him in from head-to-toe. Shirt sleeves rolled up over his forearms. His shirt collar open to three or four buttons down.
The powerful chest with arms that implied he was familiar with manual labor or concentrated work-outs was experienced by Tess as though an emotional tornado had hit close by. His shoulder-length reddish brown hair pleasingly enhanced the emerging gray near his temples. Loose strands of his hair sensuously caressed his cheek. Long, strong legs. Masculine hands that taunted her with the possibility of their tenderness. Her heart began to pound.
Would he stop at her table?
His eyes met hers. Holding her breath she smiled slowly. Did she see something in his eyes that spoke of a distinctly male reaction to her? If so, it was gone as suddenly as it had appeared. He moved past her leaving only the memory of his smile behind.
Tess thought, “This is not going to be easy.”
Watching them, Maggie Owens experienced a moment of presenting “certainty” that this woman had not come here for a vacation. She was sure that Tess Gallagher wasn’t running away from something, she was running toward something.
A short time later Maggie Owens and Tess Gallagher met at the cash register. Tess asked the tab to be put on her account. Maggie picked out a pack of Trident peppermint gum and smiled at Tess, asking, “Have you looked over an events and activity schedule yet?”
Not looking at the receipt Tess signed the slip. Smiling at Maggie, she said, “No, I haven’t. I’ll do that. Thanks.”
“One is usually put in your cabin box.”
Tess smiled again, “Thank you, I’ll look at it.”
Maggie decided to pace herself beside Tess as they left the restaurant.
Outside, Tess turned to her, “Is that tall man who entered from the kitchen area, Mr. McHugh?”
Pleased with herself, Maggie said, “Yes... He took over Mountain Meadows five years ago.”
Knowing that Chris McHugh was especially careful with female guests Maggie wondered where it might take her so she added a half-truth, “I was surprised he didn’t introduce himself. He’s not married and you’re very attractive. His day must be full.”
Tess suddenly felt naked and caution entered her response, “He seems nice.”
Maggie realized she may have gone too fast with Tess. Putting her hand on her elbow she steered Tess over to a ranch bench and sat down.
Patting the seat beside her, she suggested, “Let’s sit a while. It’s a beautiful morning. If you’re interested I’ll tell you about Mountain Meadows.”
Rapidly assessing this willingness of Maggie Owens to take time out of her day to talk to her, Tess made a quick decision that this might be the only time she’d have Maggie Owens at such ready attention to answer her questions.
Warning herself to be careful she sat down, “Okay.”
Maggie Owens said, “Before Chris bought Mountain Meadows, it was owned by a group of investors. They brought in a managing company to run it. Bottom-line is that the ranch was so poorly managed that more people wished they had not been its guest than those the experience made happy.”
Sighing, Maggie paused to inhale. Continuing she said, “Chris came by one day after seeing a for sale ad in a business real-estate paper. His small cattle spread isn’t far from here. He decided to look into the possibility of his picking-up the dude ranch, himself.”
Tess unwilling to expose what she already knew asked, “He wasn’t making a living with the cattle?”
Maggie measured the ethical and personal loyalty limits of their conversation and decided on telling Tess what everyone else around here already knew, “Chris was in truckin’ during the early years of his marriage... The small spread was a side-line business effort and their home... After the children were born a divorce was next on his wife’s agenda. Chris had a lot of bad years ahead of him but he didn’t know it at the time. Soon enough though... She put him through legal and emotional hell for over ten years.”
Tess felt a new foreboding enter the moment, “I don’t understand.”
Quickly glancing at her wrist-watch the thought rushed through Maggie’s mind that perhaps she shouldn’t have begun this conversation. She didn’t know what Tess understood about the domestic court system. What she didn’t know could make this exploration of Chris McHugh’s life more difficult in the telling for Maggie.
Deciding to see where the telling of his story might lead them, Maggie explained, “Chris was crazy about his kids. His job took a lot of time. Sadly it was time away from them. Stacy, his wife at the time, became frustrated with the lonely lifestyle and met a guy who gave her more of his time... and soon after filed for divorce.”
Shifting position on the bench, Maggie, continued, “Stacy wanted full-custody of the kids. She and the new guy didn’t want them to see Chris again if it could be made to happen. She lied. Claimed he was abusive and that she and the kids were scared of him.”
Trusting Maggie’s viewpoint, Tess said, “It must have been difficult to fight back while on the road.”
Maggie snorted, “Hell yes! His life became a running legal battle of challenging her lies, fighting to see his kids and often not being able to get to court because he was on the road. Not being able to be in court took a heavy toll on him and his paycheck.”
Tess said slowly, “I don’t understand... He was innocent until proven guilty wasn’t he?”
“Apparently not in family court. There, you are guilty until YOU prove yourself innocent. The first spouse who activates the legal action has a distinct advantage. Being ‘male’ also provides its own disadvantage.”
Maggie saw Tess shudder, “But he finally won in court didn’t he?”
“I suppose that could be said if ‘winning’ means he got his kids back ‘whole’ after years of paying huge legal fees. It didn’t happen. After enduring years of the unending lies his wife told his kids and the courts about him he has had to repay thousands of dollars in loans that were needed in an effort to sustain the fight for custody.”
Lifting her face to the sky, Maggie sighed, “He was unable to have a stable relationship with his kids during their important early years. Stacy manipulated the legal system so effectively that it took years to prove it before the court finally awarded him custody. By that time they were already in their mid-teens and could choose who to live with themselves.”
“But it was a victory?”
Maggie glanced away from Tess Gallagher, “It was a hollow victory. For him, the court decision was needed for them to understand what she had done. Now, he has had to deal within every interaction with them at an emotional and psychological disadvantage.... That’s not exactly the ‘dream’ family life he had always wanted.”
“He had refused shared parenting?”
“Oh, no, he was willing to share parenting. It was Stacy who wasn’t going to be bothered with that. When he was supposed to see the kids, she had ‘forgotten’ that it was his time with them and they were gone or she would say they were ill and not up to his visit. She had control of the ‘battlefield’ if you get my meaning... She left him no alternative but to fight for full custody because of her pattern of parental alienation.”
“He never remarried?”
Smiling into Tess’ eyes, she wanted this woman to at least understand something fundamental about Christopher McHugh the man, “No! I’ve watched him for a long time. He fights the bitterness but he’s only human. He’s also a private man. Women have approached him but I’ve never known him to allow himself to be alone with a female guest here at the ranch during the time I’ve worked for him.”
The memory of Chris on the roof slid into mental view, “Surely, he’s had relationships?”
Maggie nodded, “Yes! But I’ve never seen him bring a woman here.”
Before she continued her speech Maggie took time to secure an intent connection with Tess’ eyes.
Hoping that Tess would understand the implications of what she was about to say, Maggie said, “None of them have been ranch guests. He carries with him a cautious attitude with women during their stay here. I’m sure a potential law-suit is something he’ll avoid at all costs. All of us know the rules. No dating the guests! If he ever marries again I’m convinced, it will be an unusual woman who will be able to break through the protective wall that surrounds Christopher McHugh.”
Tess remembered Maggie’s earlier statement that she had been surprised Chris hadn’t stopped and introduced himself to her. She saw the contradiction in Maggie’s later story about her boss being cautious with women guests. Wondering if she should call her on it, Tess decided to let it pass.
Maggie broke into her thoughts, “ It’s a miracle he got the loan for Mountain Meadows.”
Tess Gallagher felt the sense of the impossible hover over what she had just learned.
Maggie Owens thought she saw a new wariness enter the eyes of Tess Gallagher. During the telling of Chris’ story Maggie had experienced a tenderness in Tess’ demeanor she hadn’t picked-up earlier.
Wondering if she had hurt or helped Tess Gallagher or Chris McHugh, Maggie fought a silent battle against herself suddenly hoping she hadn’t said too much.
Earlier, Chris McHugh had walked by Tess Gallagher instantly doing battle with an unusual disappointment at himself for not giving her something more than a fleeting smile. Her dark eyes had met his in an unexpected openness that his manhood pleased her. It was so evident that he wondered why she had allowed its presenting welcome at a stranger’s approach.
In that instant his body had stored the thrill that had shot through his body. Glancing toward her left hand he had noticed it held no wedding band. Telling himself she was a ranch guest he felt the old judicious caution spring into view.
Attempting to send the experience into a place he might be willing to look at later, he had taken his time to drink his cup of coffee and read the morning newspaper. Several minutes after finishing the coffee he left the restaurant making the decision to head for the ranch office.
Just as he moved through the restaurant door, Chris saw Tess Gallagher and Maggie Owens get up from the bench, nod to each other, then move in different directions. Maggie toward the office and Tess back toward her cabin.
Chris’ eyes stayed on the retreating sensual sway of Tess Gallagher’s hips in those snug bluejeans she was wearing. This morning’s song made its way into his brain.
Chuckling at the irony in the moment, Chris ran his right hand through his loose hair and thought, “This is gonna be one hellava long three months.”
At cabin nine, Tess found that a camp schedule of events and activities had been placed in a small box hooked to the cabin wall to the right side of her doorway. Lifting it out of the container she swiftly went through her options on how to spend her first day at the ranch.
Her brain felt heavy. Opening the door she entered the cabin.
Walking over to the bed she stretched out on top of it.
Letting the schedule fall from her fingers it floated down beside her. Thinking over her conversation with Maggie Owens, she checked the clock and decided it wasn’t too early to call Shannon Terry.
“How do YOU do?” Shannon’s perky voice flowed through the cell-phone to Tess.
“It’s too early to feel that good,” Tess said.
Shannon giggled, “I was hoping you’d call. When did you get there?”
“I checked in last night. I haven’t met him personally but I did get a chance to watch him work on the cabin roof across from mine. You’re right. He’s very good-looking. The photo didn’t do him justice. This morning, I was in the restaurant having breakfast. I was half-way through the meal when he entered the dining area from the kitchen... He was carrying a cup of coffee in his hand.”
“Did he introduce himself to you?.”
“No... He introduced himself to a couple not far from my table. He smiled at me but walked right on by.”
“Hmmm... that’s strange. Wonder what was going on in his head?”
Knowing Shannon had asked a rhetorical question, Tess ignored it and began telling her of the conversation with Maggie Owens.
Shannon’s tone changed, “This isn’t good... We may have made a mistake by having you go to his dude ranch. Maybe you should have gone to another one and then found some way to him.”
“Hmmm... maybe... It looks like his history has added a guarded caution around women guests. But it’s too late. I’ve paid for three months and even if I could simply cancel and get the money back, I’m now known to him.”
Tess knew that Shannon’s head was nodding in agreement, “Okay, that’s right! What are you thinking then?”
“I haven’t any alternative at this point but to stay and watch for an opening to get closer to him.”
“Wow! I feel badly I didn’t get this info about him before you reserved for three months. I thought those D tect’s were the best... maybe not?”
“Don’t worry about it... I probably should have suspected that the owner had some policy about employee interaction and the guests. What Mrs. Owens told me was more personal than what the report dug up. I’m too far in to walk away now.”
“Hmmm.... Keep in touch, Okay?”
Picking-up the events schedule, Tess looked through her options. Wishing she had asked Mrs. Owens the things Chris involved himself in with the guests she frowned as she tried to make a decision how to spend her first day at Mountain Meadows.
Leaving her cabin, Tess noticed a bus had stopped by the ranch office. People wearing back-packs were gathering around it.
Walking toward the activity she could see the words, “Montana Hiking” painted on its side.
Seeing Mr. and Mrs. Story in hiking boots and loaded with back-packs, she nodded hello.
Mrs. Story put out her hand and smiled, “Hi! I’m Hannah Story.”
Tess took-in a heavy-set woman of medium height. Her red hair was cut short with a close trim around the small ears. She was holding forth a welcoming smile.
Shaking her hand, she said, “Hi! I’m Tess Gallagher. Are you taking the hiking trip this morning?”
Before Hannah could answer her husband Clarence Story had interjected, “Yes! Are you coming?”
Tess turned to look into the intent gray eyes of Hannah’s husband. He had moved closer to Tess, triggering an instant desire in her to back away from him. She didn’t move. Somehow it seemed too much like surrender.
She didn’t like the predatory male look in his eyes and wondered how long Hannah Story had put up with his overt dismissal of herself when a woman who caught his attention took his interest.
She told herself, “Be polite.”
Ignoring his outstretched hand, she nodded, “Hi.”
A flash of annoyance shot through his eyes. Withdrawing his hand, he said, “We’re going to try the Apgar Lookout Trail today. It will let us see into Glacier National Park and a great view of Lake McDonald.”
Hannah nodded, “It’s not a long hike... Under three miles. But it can be steep.”
Looking down at Tess’ riding boots, Hannah’s husband said, “If you’re coming you’ll need hiking boots.”
Tess said, “No, I’m not going...” She paused then finished, “... today.”
Glancing toward his wife, Tess thought she saw a look of relief sweep across Hannah Story’s face. Raising her hand slightly to send a good-bye gesture she finished their conversation by saying, “Have a good time.”
Turning away from the group near the bus she began walking toward the Canteen. She could feel Clarence Story’s eyes on her back. Trying to think of something else she decided to become more familiar with the camp grounds before she made a choice about what activity she would experience first.
She turned her direction toward the building that held the Canteen.
Entering the large ponderosa pine structure, she saw that it must be used for dancing and parties. The center of the floor was empty of furniture. Mostly four-chair pine tables lined three sides of its interior. Food and drink machines were standing in the back. Their contents held a large variety of drinks, sandwiches, dry soups, chips, candy and other snacks.
In a far corner she saw a popcorn machine clean and ready to be activated by an employee.
Spotting a large Juke Box, she walked over to see if it were in working condition. It was on and working. She only needed a quarter to try it out. Going down the list of selections she could see the songs ranged from the big band era to today with a large selection of Irish songs.
Noticing that classic country dominated the listings with Irish songs coming in a close second, she spoke a few of the titles softly into the empty room, “Achy Breaky Heart... Aways On My Mind... Back Home Again... Before The Teardrop Falls... Behind Closed Doors... Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue... 'Tis the Last Rose of Summer... The Band Played On... All Those Endearing Young Charms... Come Back to Erin... Danny Boy.”
Softly giggling as she put in a quarter and punched, “Behind Closed Doors,” she thought, “Hmmm... Bet the owner prefers 'classic country' and Irish tunes.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Maggie Owens saw Chris McHugh jump-up from his desk chair and stride quickly to the window. He stood there staring out of it.
Curious, Maggie got up and walked to the drinking fountain. She put her lips over the slow stream of water.
Maggie could see that he was watching Tess Gallagher’s interaction with Clarence and Hannah Story. He wasn’t liking what he was seeing. His body stiffened when Clarence Story abruptly moved closer to Tess Gallagher. Her body had reacted in an infinitesimal but clear rejection of his entrance into her personal space.
Glancing toward Chris, Maggie said, “I think we have a Casanova among us.”
Startled, Chris turned with guarded look toward Maggie, “It’s always something... isn’t it?”
Maggie walked back to her desk chair and sat down.
Chris remained by the window for a while longer. When he saw Tess leave the couple and turn to walk toward the Canteen his large chest expanded with an intake of air. He turned and walked back to his desk and sat down.
Pushing the papers on his desk away from him as though he wanted to deal with anything else than what were on them he leaned back in his chair and put his hands behind his head. He lifted his face toward the ceiling and took another deep breath.
Trying not to stare at him, Maggie Owens thought, “This is gonna be an interesting three months.”
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Gold In The Morning Sun
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