The guys made me laugh and asked questions about me and seemed to genuinely want to get to know me. I loved it. I loved the feeling that I was actually making friends.

Working on the ranch was different for me, different in the best possible way.

So far, Ben and I were diligent about avoiding each other. We were cordial whenever we were in the same room together, politely asking each other to pass the mashed potatoes or asking if the other wanted a beer when we got up to grab everyone another round.

It worked for now, but I knew we’d have to have a real conversation with each other soon. Besides, I wanted answers so I could truly put our former relationship behind me and hopefully form some sort of friendship with him.

My first night on the ranch, Sascha had emailed me back, asking me to call her just as soon as I was settled. Her email had contained a lot of exclamation points, something Sascha was known for whenever she was excited.

The next night, I called her before I went to bed.

Without preamble, Sascha said, “I cannot believe you moved out of the city without telling me!” when she answered the phone.

Laughing, I said, “Well, I tried to tell you when we went out to dinner, but you left before I had the chance to.”

“Well next time you move and I leave before you get the chance to tell me, be sure to shout it at me as I’m walking away. I want to be able to give you a goodbye hug!”

“Don’t worry, I will,” I promised. “Besides, it’ll be the holidays before long and I’ll be back in Vegas to see my family. We’ll hang out and you can give me a huge goodbye hug before I leave.”

“Hm,” Sascha said, pretending to think it over. “I guess that’s fair.”

It’d only been a few days, but I really did miss her.

“But seriously, Jada,” she said, her voice losing the previous joking tone, “I’m really glad that you’re doing so well and have found a place that’s a good fit for you. I know you tried to hide it, but I knew that you weren’t happy here in Las Vegas. You hadn’t been for a long time now.”

“I can’t get anything past you, can I?” I asked, sighing.

“Hell no!” she said. “I just wish you’d found somewhere a little closer.”

Before we ended the call, I promised to call her again over the weekend, looking forward to updating her on my new job.

It didn’t take me long to find out that Seki was a great teacher. Though he also doubled as a ranch hand, he was performing his veterinary duties on the ranch full-time so I could shadow him and learn on the job. At least until I was okay to be on my own.

It was overwhelming to have so much information thrown at me at once, but it wasn’t the first time it’d happened since I decided to become a vet. School was nonstop information. It forced me to study all the time just so I could stay on top of everything. Then there was the clinic, which had been more harrowing yet simply because I was on the job for the first time.

After those first few days of following Seki around, I felt confident enough to say I’d made the right choice coming to work on the ranch.

Finally, Saturday came and, unless there was an emergency, I had the entire day to myself. I’d glanced at the schedule and saw Ben did too. I knew this was the opportunity I’d needed to have my talk with him.

I tracked him down in the barn he’d been in several days ago. This time, he was tinkering with a tractor.

Ben was facing me this time and saw me walk in. He grabbed a rag from his pocket and wiped his hands off and walked toward me.

“Hey, Jada,” he said. There was something about his voice, something odd. Was he apprehensive? Possibly.

“Hi, Ben,” I replied.

“I’m guessing you want to talk, huh?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said, “I think it’s time.”

He let out a dry laugh. “I think it’s past time.”

I didn’t reply.

Sighing deeply, Ben said, “You’ve deserved answers for a long time. You deserved answers back then, but I was too scared and immature to see that at the time.” He ran his hand over his hair. “Would you like to take a walk? It’s such a nice day and will get cold before you know it.”

“Yeah, that sounds nice,” I said. Walking around in the fresh air sounded preferable to sitting in the barn and staring at the tractor while we rehashed the past.

We left the barn and Ben asked, “Have you been to the lake yet?”

I shook my head. “Hank pointed it out to me when he gave me a tour, but I haven’t seen it up close.”


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