July passed slowly, lazily, pretty damn contentedly actually, and soon August arrived in New Mexico, bringing with it a scorching heat wave. Sherry had taken to wearing tank tops and shorts around the farm and Sam had to avert his eyes often to keep from taking her beautiful self right against one of the hay bales. They had kissed many times since that fateful Independence Day but had never come close to actually having sex. Or making love, as it would be in Sam’s mind. Because he loved Sherry. Good God, he did. He knew instinctively that he was not coming out of this relationship – if that’s what one could call it – unscathed, but yet he simply could not chase away the feelings of longing, of wanting and needing Sherry, with every breath he took.
One afternoon he walked into the barn to find Sherry sitting on a little metal stool, rubbing herself down with a handful of ice. He watched her for a moment unnoticed, as she worked the dripping ice across her chest and some of the condensation slipped down into her cleavage, wetting her top. He felt his whole body clench with desire and longing.
Embarrassed by his almost feral reaction, he started to back up out of the barn, hoping to get away before she could see him. But she did see him. Her eyes moved towards the door and the ice she was holding slid from her fingers, dropping to the ground and wetting the hay beneath her boot-clad feet. “Sam,” she whispered. Her cheeks were flushed and he figured it wasn’t from the heat. She was likely embarrassed at being caught doing something like that. But Sam was the one who should be mortified. After all, he now had a bulging erection straining the crotch of his worn blue jeans.
“Hey, Sherry,” he greeted her, moving over to one of the stalls and trying to look busy examining their new calf Miranda. Sherry had assisted in the difficult birth and had gotten to name the calf because Sam was so grateful to her for her help. She had been covered in muck, mire and blood afterwards and she’d only said that she’d seen worse in her lifetime, although she had worried over Miranda and Miranda's mother, Daisy, for days. She was a good woman with a good, if broken, heart.
He leaned against the grating. “Hot day,” was all he could think of to say.
“Yeah,” Sherry agreed. “About what you saw… I, uh… that must have been awkward for you.”
“Kind of,” Sam admitted. Her saw her expression falter and he instinctively grabbed for her hand which was soft and cool in his own. “But not because I wasn’t interested … Because I was too interested and Sherry, I know you’re not ready for any of that and –“
Sherry surprised him by reaching up and touching his stubbly cheek. “A month ago; hell, a week ago, I might have said I wasn’t but now, now I feel ready to move forward. And honestly, I want to move forward with you.”
Sam’s body tingled. “You mean that? I mean, what’s changed?”
“Me, I guess,” Sherry said. “I realized that I’m falling for you. Maybe you weren’t expecting that or asking for it but, Sam; you make it way too easy to want to be in your life.”
Sam’s throat tightened. “You’re already in my life.”
“Maybe I want to be in your bed too,” Sherry said. She blushed. “If you want that too.”
“More than anything,” Sam said. He leaned forward and kissed her gently, urgently, on the lips. He then let their foreheads rest together. “Let me take you out tonight. There isn’t much to do in Sedona but I want to show you a good time anyway and maybe when we come back here –“
Sherry nodded and smiled. He felt it was the first genuine smile he’d ever seen from her – one she didn’t put on for show to convince him that she was A-okay.
“I’d love that, Sam,” she whispered and kissed him this time.
He touched her cheek, cradling her chin in his rough hands. "Just so you know… I’m falling for you too. Hell, I am already there. I just want you to be sure. I don’t want you to have any regrets.”
“I won’t,” Sherry said.
He held out his arms and she stepped into them. Holding her like this, Sam felt complete.
J – Job
Date night had arrived.
Sam anxiously adjusted and readjusted his bolo tie. He picked imaginary lint off his tan jacket and pressed trousers. He looked in the mirror quickly and sighed. Sherry was impossibly beautiful and he was – he was … him. Just average - if that. What did she see in him? He wondered. There was no time to puzzle it out though. It was almost seven and he had to go and pick her up. Well, walk down to the barn and knock on her door in the loft. He hated to think of her in that smelly old place but she had said she was fine in there, just fine. Maybe after tonight she would venture into the house for longer than five minutes though. Just maybe she’d stay…
Sam took a deep breath before walking the short distance to the barn. The animals looked up as he entered and then immediately returned to munching on their suppers.
He smiled and straightening his jacket moved to Sherry’s door. Before he could knock, the door was opened and she stood there. Looking like ten million bucks - at least - in a soft blue dress and black high heels. His eyes lingered a little too long on her bare legs – the dress barely flirted with her knees – and then he cleared his throat.
“Uh, you look… Amazing,” he finally said.
“Thanks,” Sherry said, blushing a bit. “You clean up well yourself.”
“Oh this old thing?” Sam attempted a joke. She just chuckled and smiled. It was another real smile. He thought that it was probably the third genuine one he’d ever seen her wear. It looked damn good on her too.
“So…” Sherry rocked on her heels. She looked suddenly as nervous as he felt. “Should we go?”
“Yeah, yeah that’d be fine,” he said. He felt like his tongue and stomach were twisted up in knots. He had been on dates before but this was … Sherry. Sherry was so important to him. So vital. He didn’t want to mess up whatever this was.
Sherry was still smiling as he slowly offered her his arm. He felt the warmth of her through his jacket as they walked through the barn. “Bye, Miranda,” she called to the little calf. And damned if Miranda didn’t look at her and wiggle her nose.
“She likes you,” Sam said.
“I like her too. I like a lot about this place.” She looked at him in such a way that his body tensed.
“Well you’ve sure brightened things up around here,” Sam said.
“Thanks. I feel safe here, Sam… I wish I could stay forever.”
Sam didn’t know what to say to that. He wanted her to stay forever but he’d never try to force his will on her. He only hoped that if she had to go, she would one day return like she had before.
They made their way to his truck and Sam hurried ahead to open the passenger door. He offered her his hand and helped her into the seat. He felt the loss of her touch acutely as they disentangled.
He walked around to his side of the truck, purposefully, a little slowly even, hoping to calm his racing heartbeat somehow. He climbed into the cab and fired up the engine. He was about to pull out of the dirt driveway when he saw a figure in the distance, waving their Stetson wildly in the air, trying to flag him down.
He looked at Sherry, who looked a bit tense. “Sorry,” he said.
He hopped back out of the truck and met the man halfway down the lane. It turned out to be Asa Beauchamp. He owned the next farm over. He was panting and clutching his chest as he came to a stop in front of Sam. Sam grabbed him by the shoulders, afraid the sixty-something man would keel right over in exhaustion.
“Asa, what’s going on?” Sam asked.
“It’s – it’s Betsy!”
Sam’s eyes widened. “What’s wrong with her?” Betsy was Asa’s champion Palomino. Asa loved the horse to pieces and if anything happened to her, Asa would be devastated and his finances would fall apart too. He had invested a lot of money in Betsy - maybe too much, some said.
“Asa?” Sam prompted again.
“She’s – she’s tossing and turning in her stall. She’s on the ground, writhing in agony. I think it’s-“
“Colic,” Sam said knowingly. “Let me grab my bag and I’ll be right there. Try to keep her calm and still until I get there.”
“Okay,” Asa said.
“Take it easy!” Sam called after him and hurried to the truck. He moved over to Sherry’s door and leaned in her open window.
“Sherry, I hate to do this but-“
“I heard,” Sherry said. “And it’s fine. Helping Betsy is more important. There will be other nights to go out but this may be her only chance. But colic – I didn’t know any animal could die from that.”
“Horses can. It’s a long story really but I’ve got to go. The job waits for no one, right?”
“Sorry,” Sam said before he raced into the house. He came back outside in the next minute with bag and instruments in hand. He caught sight of Sherry waiting at the bottom of the steps.
“I want to come with you.”
“Sherry, your pretty dress –“
“It can be washed, Sam,” she said. “I’d like to help any way I can.”
He didn’t argue with her. He just took her by the hand and together they headed to the next farm for what was sure to be a long night. It wasn’t the date they had planned, true, but just being together, working side by side, was more than enough.