To Hold A Rancher’s Hand
“You’ve been back a couple years.” Javier sipped his coffee as he gazed pensively at his former ward. “I think you’ve got a better handle on it than you let on. But it’s alright. I’d rather you take it at your pace and maybe think about settling down.”
“Settle down?” Rafe couldn’t stifle his laughter. “With what? All I ever see are the sheep and dogs.”
“Well, you’re always pent up in this house.” Javier motioned to encompass the kitchen and the rest of Rafe’s home.
“I spend fifteen hours a day working out on the ranch.” Rafe chided, sliding his breakfast onto the plate. “I’d hardly call that pent up in the house. You know I’ve never had much luck with women.”
“It’s only because you don’t actually ask any of them out,” Javier said with a chuckle.
“I just haven’t met a woman who, well, a woman who made sense to me.” Gabriel took a big bite of his toast and egg.
“Maybe you need to rethink how you make sense to other people.” Javier stood up to wash out his coffee mug. “Maybe it’s the way you’re looking at it.”
“I’ve never even had a girlfriend,” Rafe said. “That is as awkward as they come.”
“Well, it’s hard to have a girlfriend when you’re in the military. But I was married when I was 21. You know you need a support system to get you through some of these things in life that you’re going to face.” Javier placed his cup in the drying rack.
“I can’t imagine facing worse than I have.” Rafe took another bite.
“I pray you don’t,” Javier said. “But whatever you face, a wife sure helps with that. Martha is the only reason I was able to make it through when your parents died. Here I was all of a sudden responsible for a whole ranch and a small, grieving child.”
“Well, I don’t have a child to take care of.” Rafe shrugged as he finished his breakfast.
“No. You’re going to have a hundred children to take care of as soon as these ewes start lambing.” Javier laughed and drained his coffee.
Rafe was just rinsing his plate when a loud static sound filled the air. A dispatcher’s voice called out over the radio. “Report of a half-acre in the grass, moderate rate of spread. Coyote Valley vegetation fire…Cow Mountain Road near mile post 12.38. Command 8. Tactical 2. First at scene will establish roadway IC. Stand by for check back on command 8.”
Gabriel and Javier exchanged a look. “That’s on North Ridge.” Gabriel left his plate in the sink and headed to the entry hall to grab his gear.
“All volunteers report to base,” the dispatcher continued. “Fire house 13 we have a report of a blaze starting up on Cow Mountain we need all hands to the fire department please including the volunteers we need as much help as we possibly can get. There’s a fire on Cow Mountain heading south.”
Javier squinted out the window and the trees swaying in the wind. “There are a few houses up on North Ridge. It’ll get to those first.”
“People living up there, still?” Rafe hoisted his web gear onto his shoulder and slung his boots and helmet up in his other hand.
“Yeah, I think there are about five houses up there,” Javier said, pulling out his phone and preparing a group text. “I’ll get the guys together.”
“I’ll head to the houses. It’s probably near where the fire started.” Rafe nodded to Javier who pulled the door open for him. “It’s not like there was a lightning storm going on.”
“You get what you need to get done,” Javier said. “I’ll send the boys up the mountain as soon as I can.”
“We’re going to need all the hands we can get,” Rafe threw his gear in the back of the truck and tipped his hat to Javier. “If the wind is blowing south, the fire will be headed straight to us.”