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Published by EVERNIGHT PUBLISHING ® at Smashwords


www.evernightpublishing.com




Copyright© 2017 Kory Steed



ISBN: 978-1-77339-415-2


Cover Artist: Jay Aheer



ALL RIGHTS RESERVED



WARNING: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.


This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, and places are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.



DEDICATION


For Mark, for believing in me.


LIGHTNING’S HIDDEN MENACE


The Lightning Series, 2


Kory Steed


Copyright © 2017


Section One

No longer alone


Chapter One

Reunited


December 21, 2009, 8:45 AM, MST

Homestead

Jason led Aaron by the hand, as they ran up the hill towards the stockade under the bright morning sunlight of the winter solstice while the two men from Pacific North Air Transport watched from the helipad above. It was all Aaron could do to keep up. He’d only recently started to walk again, let alone run and on top of that, he’d sprained his right ankle, his good ankle, five days earlier on the day he’d been discharged from rehab. When they reached the open gate, Jason stopped to let Aaron catch his breath. Aaron bent over to massage his ankle. “Jason, I’m not quite used to this yet. The uneven, rocky terrain and tall grass are tough to get through with my ankle, and I only got out of rehab last week.”

“Oh, Aaron, I’m sorry. What happened to your ankle?”

“No, really … it’s okay. I just need a minute. I’m a little winded, that’s all. I sprained it last week.”

“How'd you do that?”

"Later. I'll tell you all about it later.”

Jason bent down and hugged Aaron from behind. “I can’t believe you’re really here. I just can’t believe it.”

Aaron stood back up.

“Tell me, Aaron,” Jason said, “Tell me what happened. Tell me all about it.”

“I will, I will and in detail. I promise,” Aaron said, still wincing a little, “but first, let me have a few minutes to just take all this in. Let me take you in, Jason. I’ve missed you so much, I can’t even begin to tell you.”

“Oh, Aaron, I’ve missed you, too, more than I can say.”

After another minute, Aaron let out a big breath. “Okay, I’m better now, but can we just walk? I’m still getting used to using this cane.”

“Yes, yes, of course. I still can’t get over how tall you are.” Jason stood on his toes and pulled Aaron’s mouth to his. Aaron wrapped his arms around Jason and kissed him deeply, then hugged him tight to his chest. “Jason, I need to ask you something.”

“Of course, Aaron. Anything. What is it?”

“Jason, can I stay? Can I live here with you?”

“Are you kidding, Aaron? Of course you can stay. It’s been my dream, but I hope you’re not asking because you feel like you owe me something.”

“Am I kidding? You’re the one who’s kidding? God no, Jason. I love you! You’re all I’ve thought about, coming back here and making a life with you, just like we planned. You are right about one thing though, I will always feel like I owe you. Yes, you saved my life, but please know this, my love for you is stronger than any debt I could ever feel. These months we’ve been apart have been the most difficult time of my life.”

“Then all I can say, Aaron, is welcome home.”

Again, they embraced and kissed. Jason wouldn’t let Aaron go for the longest time.

“So tell me all about this place,” Aaron said as he swept his hand across the view in front of him. “Remember, I only saw it for a brief moment, and that was when I was flat on my back when you and Jack and Rod carried me out of here on the stretcher.”

Jason put his arm around Aaron’s waist and led him towards the open gate. “Okay. Okay. Sure. There’s three acres inside the stockade. It’s electrified by those solar panels.” Jason pointed to the small panels that were fastened to the tops of every fourth main, telephone pole-thick post around the stockade. “There’s three control panels, one here,” he pointed to an enclosed, weatherproof box mounted on the stockade wall just outside the gate, “another one just like it, mounted inside the gate, and a third next to the front door of the cabin on the porch.”

As they walked, Jason continued. “The panels house the controls for two independent system that work simultaneously, so if one goes down…”

Aaron stopped walking and faced Jason. With a nearly imperceptible nod of his head, he crossed his arms in front of him. His entire face lit up as he smiled broadly, and his eyes glistened.

“Oh, sorry, Aaron. I’m overwhelming you with too much stupid information. It’s not important right now. I’ll tell you how it all works later.”

“Baby, nothing’s stupid.” He pulled Jason into a hug and kissed his cheek. “You can tell me anything you want. It’s just that I like hearing the sound of your voice. Is it okay that I call you that, again? Baby, I mean?”

“Oh, Aaron, I love it!”

“So that’s the barn over there?” Aaron asked, pointing.

“Yes.”

“Well, there’s a certain young lady I’ve been dying to meet. Can you take me to meet Heather?”

“Sure thing.”

As they walked arm in arm through the dry grass up to the barn, Jason took the time to explain how best to meet the livestock. “Remember, none of them know you. They only know me. We should walk in together and then you should sit down in the chair next to the work table while I go over and talk to them. They’ll be able to see you, but they’ll probably be a little wary of you, at least initially.

“You may remember me telling you that Nellie and Sarah are standard sized donkeys. As a billy, Jasper still has his horns, so be careful around them. He doesn’t usually mean to hit you with them, but if he gets excited he might knock you over by accident. Heather’s were removed when she was still a kid, before I got her. They’ve all gotten used to Rod and Jack over the years because they come in here to get the wagon to haul the supplies up from the helipad, and Nellie and Sarah will let them collar and harness them to it.”

“Okay. I’ll follow your lead. What about the chickens?”

“Hmmm. I didn’t think of them. The only one who might be a problem is Big John, ‘coz of his spurs. I know some roosters are territorial about their hens, but he’s never given me any problems. We’ll just have to play it by ear. Too bad I just fed everyone. If you had food they’d probably take to you a lot better.”

“So can’t they have a snack?”

Jason smiled. “Of course they can.”


Chapter Two

Introductions


When Jason opened the barn door, Nellie and Sarah immediately began to bray, and Heather and Jasper started to bleat in the hopes that he’d feed them again, but when he led Aaron to the chair, they all quieted down. Always cautious since her mother had been killed by a rogue male cougar, Nellie eyed Aaron as she walked to the far corner of her and Sarah’s stall and leaned against the wall.

Sarah, her daughter, had no such memories. She was still young and full of curiosity. She lifted her head and sniffed the air in Aaron’s direction. Heather and Jasper stood on their hind legs at the gate, flicking out their tongues, begging for food.

Jason walked over to the stalls and spoke in a low, soothing voice. Then Nellie picked up her head and began to sniff the air. She pointed her nose towards Aaron and began to swish her tail as she took a few tentative steps towards the gate. “Aaron, I think she smells you.”

“Maybe she knows my smell from off of you. You probably carried my scent on you from back when I was injured.”

“Here, give me your shirt,” Jason said excitedly.

“Baby,” Aaron said with a smirk. “There’s a lot better lines you could use if you want to see me out of my clothes.”

It was all Jason could do to not laugh out loud. “Oh, just you wait, Mister. You don’t want to get my juices flowing. Not yet anyway.”

“I can only hope,” Aaron said coyly.

Jason watched Aaron stand up and then seductively unzip his coat and slowly unbutton his shirt. The sheer masculinity of Aaron’s broad, towering shoulders, his bulging biceps, his massive pecs with their prominent nipples, covered by his thick, trimmed, dark blond body hair, and his rippling six-pack abdomen made Jason’s breath quicken. He stood there, motionless, with his mouth agape.

“Um, you said you wanted this,” Aaron said with a less than innocent smile as he reached out with his shirt. “You seem to be distracted by something. Anything wrong?”

Jason shook himself. “I see you’ve been working out. You certainly didn’t slack off in working your upper body, that’s for sure, and it’s paid off well, Aaron, really well,” he said running a finger across Aaron’s chest and down his six-pack. “You’ve put some pounds back on, too.”

Jason raised up on his toes and kissed Aaron. “Oh, and thank you for this,” he said with a smile as he stepped back and brought Aaron’s shirt to his face, inhaling deeply. When he breathed in Aaron’s scent, he began to shake. Then he started to cry. “I didn’t think I’d ever smell you again, Aaron.”

Aaron stepped in to him and wrapped him in his arms. “I think that shirt was meant for Nellie, but I’m right here, Jason. Breathe me in, baby. Breathe me in all you want. I’m not going anywhere. Not now. Not ever again.” They stood like that for over a minute until Nellie broke the silence when she began to bray.

“Oh, I’m sorry, girl,” Jason said as he pulled himself away. When he held Aaron’s shirt just over the top of the stall, Nellie walked over and sniffed it for a moment while Sarah approached it and sniffed it, too. Then they both lifted their heads up and down and brayed, loudly. “They know you Aaron. Come say hello.”

As Aaron walked toward them, Nellie and Sarah put their heads over the top rails, reaching out for him. When he was close enough, they nibbled his arms with their lips and then rested their necks over them. “I think they both want hugs, Aaron. Like this.”

As Jason leaned forward over the rail, Nellie laid her neck over his shoulder, resting her chin on his back. “This is how donkeys hug,” Jason whispered.

When Aaron leaned over next to Jason, Sarah moved her chin to his back and began to nibble him again. “It tickles,” he said.

“Those are donkey kisses, Aaron. She knows you’re family.” Nellie lifted her head from Jason and brayed at Sarah. When Sarah backed away, Nellie moved in for her own hug with Aaron. Then Heather and Jasper skirted over to the rails between the stalls and hopped back up on their hind legs again as they reached their necks towards Aaron. “Now everyone wants to meet you. Come say hello to Heather and Jasper.”

Jason put some oats in a wooden bucket and took down some sweet grass from the ceiling and handed it all to Aaron. “Pour the oats into the trough and hold out the grass to them. You’ll be friends for life.”

Not wanting to miss out, Nellie and Sarah came over and joined in.

****

“Um, sorry, guys. Are we interrupting anything?” Rod, the owner of Pacific North Air Transport said, as he and his foreman, Jack, walked in on Jason and a half-naked Aaron embraced in a passionate kiss. “It’s just that we’ve got a lot of stuff to unload, and we should get to it ASAP if we’re going to leave you two alone to get reacquainted. We’re gonna need Nellie and Sarah’s help with the wagon.”

“Stuff?” Jason said as he broke away from Aaron, “What stuff? I didn’t order anything.”

“No, you didn’t, but I did!” Aaron bounced up and down on his toes. “Ow! Ankle!” Aaron grimaced, but then smiled. “Wait ‘til you see what I’ve brought with me!”

When Jack sniggered, Rod elbowed him in the ribs. “Let’s just get this done, Jack, so we can leave these two lovebirds in peace.”

Jason blushed. “Hold on, Rod. You can at least stay for lunch. I just took a loaf of bread out of the oven, and I’ve made chicken salad again.”

“If you insist,” Rod said, as he removed his hat and made a fanciful bow.

When Nellie and Sarah had finished with their treats, Rod and Jack opened the gate so they could hook them up to the wagon, but Jason stopped them. “Just a minute, guys. They still need their Aaron hugs.”

“What do you mean, Jason?” Aaron asked in confusion. “They already gave me hugs.”

“That right, Aaron, but you didn’t give them hugs.” Jason took Aaron by the hand and led him into the stall.

“Is this safe?” Aaron asked. “They really don’t know me yet.”

“Aaron, if they gave you hugs, they’ve already accepted you. Just be mindful of their hooves. They might forget themselves in the excitement and step on your feet by accident.”

“Then show me what to do.”

“Like this.” As Jason walked into the stall, Nellie and Sarah came up to him, one on each side. He reached his arms around Nellie’s neck, leaned against her, and rested his chest and head over her shoulder. After a moment, he did the same thing with Sarah, and then he stepped away.

When Aaron walked towards them, Nellie and Sarah moved forward and took up a place on each side of him. Then they began to gently nuzzle his face and head. He reached his arms around Nellie’s neck, and as he leaned into her, she leaned into him and began to shiver. As he rested his head across her shoulder, Sarah lifted her head and rested her neck across his back.

“That’s a donkey sandwich,” Jason said with amusement in his voice. “There’s no doubt in my mind that they’ve really accepted you now, Aaron.”

When Aaron released Nellie, he turned to Sarah and repeated the hug. Nellie turned her head and with her big donkey lips, began to kiss him up and down his back and neck and then finished by pulling against the hair on the top of his head.

As Aaron turned away, Jason handed him some chicken feed and scratch. “Here, throw this around for the chickens. You need to make friends with them, too.” As soon as Big John saw Aaron toss the food, he flew down from his perch and strutted and clucked as he picked against the ground.

****

For twenty minutes, Jason walked Aaron around the barn and then to the other structures within the stockade. By the time he’d finished his tour and brought Aaron to the cabin, Rod and Jack were leading Nellie and Sarah into the stockade with the first load of supplies and some of the new things Aaron had bought. As the storm door banged shut behind Jason, Jack said to Rod with a wink, “Bet they’ve got some catching up to do.”

“It’s always sex with you, Jack. Can’t you see they’re in love? Aren’t you happy for Jason?”

“Of course I am. It’s just…”

“Just nothing. Leave them be!”

You can be a real asshole sometimes, Jack, Jack thought to himself.


Chapter Three

I Come Bearing Gifts


10:00 AM

“So show me around. I really only know the place from the view from the bed,” Aaron said.

“Why don’t you take the lead and walk around?” Jason offered, “Are you okay to walk around this much on your leg, and what about your ankle? You’ve already been on them for nearly forty-five minutes.”

“Yeah, sure. The ankle’s fine, now that I’m on level ground, and Doc said you did a real good job of setting my left tibia, considering you had to do it here, in the cabin, but they opened it up and re-broke it and then put in plates and screws to get it in perfect alignment. Did the same thing with my throwing arm. See.” Aaron extended his right arm and pointed out the surgical scars. Then he lifted his left pant leg and did the same.

Jason ran his hands over the scars. “I didn’t know if you were going to make it, Aaron. When I found you dangling from that tree, twenty feet off the ground below your shredded parachute and then found all those wounds and that huge gash in the back of your head, I was afraid you weren’t going to make it through the night.”

“I know, the doc told me you did an incredible job. Like you said back then, it was a good thing I was unconscious for two days. Otherwise I’d have never been able to take you stitching me up and setting my arm and leg.”

“I know.”

“So about the tour?”

“Right. Just walk around, open doors, cabinets, peek into things, you know, pick stuff up, and I’ll answer any questions you have.”

“Good idea, but first, I need the use the bathroom.”

“It’s right down here,” Jason said, pointing down the center hall.

As they passed the bed, Aaron stopped and began to tear up. “This was my whole world for those five weeks, Jason. It’s where I fell in love with you. This will always be a sacred place for me.”

“And this is where you saved me, Aaron, from myself.” Jason pulled Aaron to his lips.

There was a knock at the storm door.

“Ah, sorry, guys, but where do you want all this stuff?” Rod said from the threshold.

“Wherever you can find room for it,” Jason answered, turning his head to look over his shoulder. “Just put it down on the floor in the common area or leave it out on the porch.”

“Some of this stuff needs to be assembled, Jason,” Rod answered.

“Assembled?” Jason turned to Aaron with a puzzled look on his face.

“Well, baby,” Aaron said with a wry smile, “I’ve brought quite a bit with me, and some of it is to add to your toy collection. I’d like to put that into use as soon as possible.” Aaron leaned down and drew Jason’s tongue into his mouth, wrapping his own tongue around it.

“Aaron?” Jason pulled away. “What have you brought, and why do Rod and Jack know about it?”

“Well, Jason they don’t ‘know’ know about it. Just that it needs to be assembled. Relax. We’re all adults here. You once told me you trusted me. Do you still?”

“Um, yes, but I’m still at a complete loss.”

“Good.”

“Good? Good to what, that I trust you or that I’m at a loss?”

“Both,” Aaron said with a smirk and a wink.

After using the bathroom, Jason followed Aaron through the cabin as he learned his way around. While Jason pointed out the different rooms and features to Aaron, Rod and Jack continued to haul in the supplies. After half an hour Aaron stopped and leaned against the table.

“Do you need to rest?” Jason asked.

“Yeah, sorry. The ankle’s still not up to standing for long periods of time, but it’s getting better.”

Jason pulled a second chair to his table and they sat down.

“Thanks,” Aaron said. “Jason, I have some things I’d like to talk to you about.”

“Sure.”

“First, and before anything else, I brought this for you to see.”

“What is it?”

“It’s the results of my HIV test. I had it drawn last week. I know that’s important to you, and I wanted you to be sure about me.”

“Thank you for this, Aaron,” Jason said as he took the paper, leaving it folded. “But you didn’t have to do this. I trust you completely.”

“No, Jason, I wanted to be sure there was no question in your mind. Now please look at it right now so I know that you know. I’ve been with no one since you in October. You’re my only love.”

“Okay,” Jason said as he read the form. “I appreciate it, Aaron, really I do. That you thought enough of me to do this means a lot. Now, what did you want to talk to me about?”

“Those three empty rooms at the back of the cabin, do the wood stoves in them work?”

“They do, but I’ve only actually used them a few times. The architect suggested that I divide that area into guest rooms in case I ever had visitors, so I just went along with him.”

“That’s good to know. If it’s okay with you, I’ll have Rod and Jack set up some of what I’ve brought in one of them, and I’d like to ask that you allow them to stay overnight in the other rooms until tomorrow or the next day. There’s so much I need to discuss with you, and if you’re interested in even a part of it, Rod and Jack are going to play a role in some, if not most of it, maybe even a big role.”

“Aaron, this is all moving so fast. I don’t know what to think.”

“You said you trust me.”

“I do, I do.”

“Then please do just that for the next … however long this is going to take. We’re going to need Rod and Jack’s help, even if it’s just getting me moved in here.”

“Okay, I trust you, Aaron, completely. If you say it’s important to you then it’s important to me.”

“Good. If they end up staying, we should light fires in all the stoves to get the rooms warmed up well before they go to bed.”

“Will do. I’ll take care of it,” Jason answered.

Aaron spent a long time laying out his hopes and dreams for the future. Jason was not only in agreement with all of it, he was also excited by it and proud of Aaron for conceiving it.

As Aaron talked about the days to come and his desire to do something for gay athletes who required physical therapy after sustaining injuries, maybe even building a rehabilitation center specifically for them, Jason realized why Aaron wanted to include Rod and Jack because the more they talked, the more they realized they were going to need a lot of help to achieve it all. Their lives were going to change dramatically over the coming year, and the stockade and surrounding land on the mountain were going to receive some dramatic face lifts.

When they finished, Jason laid both his hands over Aaron’s. “There’s something you need to know about me.”

“What’s that?”

“I know I told you before that I was a multimillionaire, but I’ve recently learned that I’m nearly a billionaire, and what’s mine is yours.”

“Jason, that’s a hell of a lot of money! You should think this through.”

“I’ve had nothing but time to think about it. Months. It’s been months that you’ve been gone. Please believe me when I say what’s mine is yours.”

“But, Jason?”

“Aaron, it’s only money. What can I do with a billion dollars? All those construction plans I drew up for us months ago, they were just the beginning of what I had dreamed for us. What you’ve just proposed only helps me to focus on how I can help others, like I wrote in my letter to you in the hospital. Did you ever get my letter?”

“Oh, yes, Jason, I did, and I read it every day. It’s what kept me going. Knowing how you felt about me, because that’s exactly how I felt about you, kept me pushing myself whenever I felt overwhelmed. You’ll never know how much your words meant to me and sustained me.”

“I meant every word of it, Aaron, but can we hold off on talking for a bit? It’s getting close to lunchtime. Why don’t you supervise Rod and Jack as they bring things in, and I’ll start to get lunch ready?”

“Okay, we’ll pick this up later, but I think we should first talk with Rod and Jack over lunch to see whether they want to be a part of all this.”

“It will certainly change their lives dramatically, so yes, we really do need to ask them before we start to bring in other people.”

“Agreed. Oh, by the way, I’m glad to see there was a lot of empty room in the fridge ‘coz you won’t need to worry about dinner. I’ve brought it and all the food we could possibly need for another several days. All that will need to be done is to heat up what needs to be heated up.”

“That’s great, Aaron. I was beginning to wonder what kind of meals I should start to prepare.”

Aaron turned towards Rod. “Rod, that one big box we talked about. When you’ve unloaded everything, can you get it set up in the empty room on the left at the back of the cabin?”

“Will do, Aaron,” Rod answered with a salute.

“And all the coolers with perishable food, please put what you can in the refrigerator. The rest of the frozen stuff will keep because of the dry ice.”

“I’ll take care of it.”

“Why don’t we plan to break for lunch at noon?” Jason said.

There was agreement all around.

****

11:15 AM

While Rod and Jack continued to unload Big Daddy under Aaron’s direction, Jason returned to the kitchen and mixed up a double batch of sourdough for the next day and set it on the counter in an oiled and covered bowl for a slow rise until morning. Then he prepared lunch. In addition to the chicken salad he’d already made, he went through the new foodstuffs Aaron had brought and took out a mixed salad, dressing, croutons, and a chocolate cake. He sliced a loaf of bread he’d baked that morning, took out a pound of Heather’s butter from the fridge, and put down a tablecloth and set the table. After pulling up two benches from along the wall, he was ready.

Once Jason had finished preparing lunch, Aaron asked him to teach him how to start the wood stoves in the back rooms. Jason showed him how to take some coals from the kitchen’s wood stove, and then carry them in an ash can, along with several split logs and tinder, to the back of the cabin.

****

12:15 PM

Lunch

“Okay, guys. Why don’t you stop and sit down for lunch?” Jason called out onto the porch as he began to set out the food. “You can wash up at the kitchen sink.”

After everyone sat down and began to eat, Aaron cleared his throat. “Jason, I ran a few things past Rod when I met with him in his office last week, and we’ve talked on the phone a few times and then again this morning before we left the hangar so I could get a feel for his operation. Rod, have you briefed Jack at all?”

“Not really. Based on what we discussed I wasn’t sure in what direction things might be headed, so all I told him was to pack some extra clothes because we might stay a day or two to help get stuff set up and you get settled in.”

“Okay, so … first I need to be sure everyone’s on the same page.” There were nods all around. “Jason and I are going to be making a life together here on the mountain, and I think you know we’re both gay. I hope that won’t be a problem for either of you.”

Both Rod and Jack smiled at Jason. “Can I tell him?” Rod asked as he looked between Jason and Jack.

Jason blushed at what he thought Rod was about to reveal, but he realized that Aaron should know everything. “Yeah, go ahead, Rod.”

“Yeah, Rod. Go ahead,” Jack added.

“Aaron, we’re, me and Jack, that is, are gay, too.”

“I … I had no idea, Rod,” Aaron stumbled. “Sorry, I just assumed…”

“It’s okay, Aaron,” Jack chimed in. “Most people don’t know.”

“Um, Aaron,” Jason spoke up. “How do I say this? Ah, Rod and Jack and I, um … well, we used to…”

“Oh, Christ, Jason, just say it,” Jack said, slapping the table. “Ah, hell! I’ll just tell him. Aaron, we were butt buddies, but that was way in the past. Way long before you came into the picture.”

“Oh,” was all Aaron could say. Jason put his hand over Aaron’s and squeezed it.

“Well, color me stupid,” Aaron said after a long moment.

Everyone laughed.

“Okay, well that puts a different perspective on things,” Aaron continued. “I guess that sort of makes you family, so I’m very comfortable talking to you both about this. Should I go on?” Everyone nodded. “We’re going to be making some changes around here, big changes, but we don’t know how far reaching this is all going to go. Not yet anyway.

“You know that my trainer, Nathan Taggart, died in the plane crash that I survived.” Rod and Jack nodded their heads solemnly. “You should know that Nathan and I were a couple, and we were in love. Nathan saved my life by putting my parachute on me and pushing me out of the plane before himself. He never made it out because the plane exploded before he could get to the door, and he died.” Aaron closed his eyes and paused for a moment. Then he went on.

“So, I’ve talked with Jason about this. We want to build a rehabilitation center for LGBT athletes in Nathan’s name. That means lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender.”

“We know,” Jack said with a smile.

“Oh, right,” Aaron said with an embarrassed look on his face. “It’ll also have short-term housing for the families and significant others of the athletes while they’re going through therapy, and there will be a separate center that will serve as a retreat and a spa for the families and for LGBT athletes who aren’t patients, but just need to get away for some downtime and want a safe place to do it. Everyone will be welcome.”

“Hold on a minute, Aaron,” Jason said. “Someone had better start taking notes.”


Chapter Four

A Menace in the Making


December 21, 2009, 12:22 PM MST

Hinnen Valley, Local noontime news broadcast

“Coming up after the commercial break, we’ll be bringing you breaking news on the career of Aaron Jaeger, the injured quarterback for the Nevada Bighorns.”

****

Dive Bar, Hinnen Valley

“Damn shame about Jaeger,” the bartender said, tilting his head towards the TV at the end of the bar. “I heard they’re letting him go. That plane crash did in his career.”

“Ah, he was a pretty boy,” said a stocky patron sitting on a stool as he sipped his drink. “Guys like him have it too easy, if you ask me. Everything’s just handed to ‘em. I’d like to see him try and do a real man’s day’s work.” He downed his drink then smacked his glass down on the bar. “Give me another.”

As the bartender poured his drink, the news returned.

****

12:25 PM

“We end our broadcast this afternoon with the final chapter in Aaron Jaeger’s career. As you may recall, Jaeger was signed to the Nevada Bighorns as their quarterback before the beginning of the season. Jaeger was rescued this past October, five weeks after the plane crash that killed his trainer, Nathan Taggart and the pilot.

“The footage you see on your screen was shot at Hinnen Valley Medical Center when he was unloaded from a helicopter by the three men who rescued him.”

****

The stocky customer froze in place as he watched the TV. He stood up so abruptly, he knocked over his stool.

****

“In a statement today, John Forester, the team’s general manager announced that the damage from Jaeger’s injuries prevented him from regaining the function and flexibility he would need to play. Regrettably, it was determined that Jaeger would not be able to return to the team in any capacity, and he was released from his contract.

“Calls to Jaeger and his agent have yet to be returned.”

****

“So, Corpsman Ackerman, that’s what happened to you,” the customer said under his breath as he noticed the company name on the side of the helicopter. “Now I know how to find you.”

He downed the last of his drink and quickly shrugged on his worn-out, army-green, camo-coat. “I always knew the day would come when I’d find you. We’ve got some unfinished business to take care of, faggot,” he growled through clenched teeth. “And I’m comin’ to see you. Me and Baby, that is.”

He pushed his way through the bar’s other patrons and headed out into the midday sun towards his rusted sedan. He opened the trunk and lifted a tarp. Baby, his M16A2, was secure.


Chapter Five

LGBTQ(S)


12:39 PM

Homestead

Jason went into the supply room and returned with four yellow, lined pads and pens, and a pair of sneakers. He placed the sneakers on the table next to Aaron. “I thought you might want these back.”

“Jason! My sneakers! Where’d you find them?”

“You were wearing them the day I cut you down from the tree. I forgot all about them until I saw them just now on the shelf.”

“Wow, Jason, thanks. Oh look, that’s my blood on them, isn’t it?” Aaron began to pick at the blood and mud.

“I guess so.”

“Thanks again, but I don’t think I’ll wear them anymore. That was the absolute worst day of my life, but really, thinking about it now, it was also the best day of my life, ‘coz that’s the day you came into it. Can I keep them just the same?”

“Of course you can. They’re yours. I’ll just put them back on the shelf for now.”

“Please don’t. The last time I wore them I was with Nathan.” Aaron’s eyes began to tear up. He stopped picking at the bloodstained sneakers. “It’s like he’s here right now, and that’s important.”

“You’re right,” Jason whispered. “I’ll leave it to you.”

The table got quiet for a minute as everyone waited for Aaron to collect himself.

“Okay, I’m better now,” Aaron said.

“Are you sure, Aaron? We can do this later.”

“No, I’m ready. Thanks, everyone.”

“Aaron?” Jason placed his hand on the sneaker that Aaron had been picking on. "That's your name!”

“Yeah. I got an endorsement deal from the company. This pair was a pre-production sample. I think it’s the only pair that was ever released.” Aaron was silent for another moment. “Okay, enough of my trip down memory lane. Let’s move on.”

“I’ll take notes,” Jason began. “If I’m talking, Rod would you take notes?”

“Sure thing.” Rod nodded.

Jason went on. “Please, everyone, write down any ideas or questions that come to mind so we don’t miss anything.”

“Great, Jason. Thanks,” Aaron said. “So, where was I? Oh yeah. It’ll be dedicated to the memory of Nathan. I’m thinking of calling it Nathan’s Promise, and it’ll be for kids, too. I mean, you know, LGBT high-school athletes.”

“What about people who still have questions about who they really are?” Jason asked, “I know I did when I joined the army.”

“Okay, then it’ll be for LGBTQ athletes.”

“What about Native Americans?” Jack added. “They call them Two Sprit people. They’re members of the tribe who are believed to possess both male and female sprits. They’re highly regarded and honored.”

“I guess I never considered them separately, Jack,” Jason said, “Leave it to Native Americans to get it right. There were a couple GIs on the bases I was stationed at during the war who were Native American and gay. I just thought of them as soldiers, but yeah, of course, Two Sprit people, too.”

“Do we need to make a separate designation for them, Jack?” Aaron asked.

“I don’t think so, Aaron. They’ve got their shit together about that.”

“Then what about straights?” Jason added. “You said it wouldn’t discriminate against anyone?”

“Then it’ll be for LGBTQS athletes. It won’t even discriminate against straights.” Everyone laughed. “But, I really don’t think any would ever come. Okay, before I go on, are there any other people we need to add a letter for?” Everyone shook their heads.

“I had a thought just now,” Jason said. “Would it be all right if we included military veterans? And what about law enforcement? I know there’s a lot of gay people in the military, and I have to believe that law enforcement isn’t any different.”

“You’re right, Jason. I’m sorry I didn’t offer that when we talked earlier. I should have thought of them, too.”

“It’s all right, Aaron. I’m sure there’s going to be a lot we think of in the coming days and weeks that will cause us to change our plans more than a few times. There’s also a few points I’ve thought of that need to be made. Can I speak for a minute, Aaron?”

“Of course.”

“Here are my thoughts, guys. We need to assemble a team, because Aaron and I can’t do this alone. If we want to do it right, we’re gonna need all kinds of specialists and construction crews and all the staff who will work at the center. That’s gonna include housing, dietary, laundry, waste and sewer management, and trash facilities. I’ll have to find out if a bigger, deeper well can even be dug up here to supply all the water it’ll require.”

“Not only that,” Rod added, “where are all the staff who will work at the center going to live? You’re in the middle of nowhere. Will housing be built for them up here as well? Can it even be done? Or do you need to look to build the whole thing somewhere else? And don’t forget about legal and finance.”

“Shit, guys,” Aaron said with a mouth full of sandwich. “I never thought of any of that. Can we do this? Do you guys really think we could pull something like this off?”

“Of course we can, Aaron,” Jason said. “All we need to do is find the right people.”

“Damn straight!” Jack shouted as he pounded the table with his fist. “Gays unite! We’re gonna take over this mountain!”


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