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Sawtooth Mountain

Category: Mature
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Cal Benton turned his Honda CL350 off Interstate 70 at the exit that said “Sawtooth Mountain, 10 miles,” and stopped the bike on the overpass looking back toward Denver. Only 50 miles to the west, he was already well into the front range of the majestic Rocky Mountains. He sat silently staring back toward the plains, reveling in the snow-capped peaks and vast valleys that spread behind him.

The ad in the Denver Post had simply said, “Carpenter laborers, no experience necessary, apply in person – Sawtooth Mountain.” The ad had captured his imagination and, after checking several local maps, he had left the city early in the morning to get his application in by mid-morning. He didn’t know how many other adventurous young men like him would be drawn by the ad, but he didn’t want to be either the first or the last.

Cal enjoyed the ride up the dirt road, interrupted regularly by switchbacks as he crisscrossed the front of the steep mountain which had indeed looked like two teeth from an old bucksaw from below. He wasn’t sure just what he was getting into, but as he neared the top he saw several A-frame houses nestled among the pine and aspen trees in well-designed home sites along the road. Whoever had laid out the development had spent some time in giving each homeowner some privacy, while leaving them easily accessible to the main road.

Reaching the top, Cal stopped again, catching his breath at the beauty of the place. The gap between the two “teeth” of Sawtooth Mountain was a wide valley with a large lake in the center and high meadows spotted with cattle on either side. At the mouth to the valley was a neat arrangement of several barns and corrals, a small motel-like bunkhouse, a large house under an outcropping of rocks and, perched on the near shore of the lake, what looked like a large lodge and restaurant.

Pulling up in front of the lodge, Cal dismounted from his bike, hung his helmet on the handlebars and walked into the wing of the lodge which had an “Office” sign beside double French doors. A pleasant young woman handed him an application and indicated a row of six chairs, three of which were already filled with men like himself, chewing on their pencil tops as they filled out their life histories.

Cal ran through the application easily, and then paper-clipped his resume to it before handing it back to the young lady. Only 20, he had already completed two years of college back home, and had experience on two construction job sites which he hoped would get him a position in this paradise. He had graduated three years earlier in 1968 from a small high school in the middle of the Ozark Mountains, and hoped he could return to a life much simpler than the rat race in the too busy city he had just left.

The interview went well with a large, blustery man named Rob Grable, whom he might have liked if the man had been genuine, but it was clear to Cal the man’s persona was acquired from years of believing one’s own lies.

That afternoon he found a small mobile home for rent in the closest town and was on the job the next morning, one of five men hired to build more A-frames. It looked like the job would last at least through the summer, considering the number of empty home sites he passed on the way to the present project. He noticed two other crews of similar size working on nearby sites.

As the youngest member of the crew, Cal got most of the “gopher” jobs but did not complain, watching how every man worked so as to learn as quickly as possible every aspect of building the unique homes designed to handle the massive snow fall in the winter, when the owners would be there for the ski season on nearby slopes.

One Friday afternoon on the second week of his new job, Cal had stayed late to clean up the site before heading down the mountain for a weekend of rest. About two-thirds of the way down, Cal rounded a switchback to find a Jeep CJ5 sitting in the middle of the road with its hood up and steam coming out from under the hood. An attractive woman and two children, a boy about 12 and a girl about 8, stood looking helplessly at the steaming vehicle.

“Y’all need some help?” Cal asked with a friendly smile, and received a cautious smile in return from the woman. He quickly surveyed the vehicle and saw a small spike of water still escaping a hole from the top heater hose. When he reached over and pulled on the hose it hissed out an even greater stream of water which turned to steam as it settled on the hot motor.

“Just a heater hose,” Cal said conversationally. “You going up to the top?” The woman nodded, asking hopefully with her eyes if he could help her get there.

Cal pulled his emergency repair kit from the pack on the back of his bike and took out a roll of heavy tape, which he rolled tightly around the hose until the water stopped escaping. He then released the radiator cap and brought his canteen over to pour its contents in the radiator.

“Do you have anything in the jeep that we could carry water with?” Cal asked. After a brief search, the woman came up with three Burger King cups, offering them to him with a wry smile.

“This is the best we have.” Cal nodded and smiled as he took them from her, and turned to the young man.

“I’m Cal Benton,” he said, waiting for a reply.

“I’m sorry,” the mother interjected. “I am Jan Grable, and these are my children, Bobby and Leah.” The name immediately registered with Cal but he gave no indication of that as he responded.

“Well, Bobby, it is quite a climb, but I think we can get down to the creek from here and get enough water to get you guys to the top.” He then turned and headed off the road down a steep embankment toward the creek. The boy followed after a brief glance to his mother for her permission.

With the canteen and three cups Cal was sure there was enough water to get them to their destination.

“You don’t need to drive fast, just keep it going and I think you can make it to the top, or at least close enough to walk,” he told the woman as he replaced the radiator cap. “I am going to leave this loose so the pressure doesn’t build up enough to cause the water to puncture the tape. You may see some steam coming out, but just watch your heat gauge and keep the jeep moving until the gauge goes into the red before stopping.”

Jan Grable smiled her thanks.

“How much do we owe you?” she asked.

“Nothing,” he grinned. “I just got a check from your husband so I’m in good shape!” She smiled back, shepherded the children into the vehicle, waving as they pulled away.

Two weeks later, on a Friday afternoon, Cal’s work crew took their usual Friday afternoon break, gathering under a large pine tree to roll a few joints and get ready for the evening ahead. Cal was sitting under a nearby tree deep in his own thoughts when suddenly a bag of weed and pack of papers were tossed into his lap just as Rob Grable’s jeep pulled into the job site. Cal stood up with the rest of the crowd, tucking the incriminating evidence into his hip pocket.

Grable walked from the jeep to the men, watching them carefully and testing the air with his nose for the last remnants of their smoky high. He handed each man a paycheck and then stepped back with his hands on his hips, looking as important as he could.

“We won’t be needing you guys anymore,” he said, watching them closely for any response. “We don’t allow pot smoking on the job and made that clear before you were hired.” The men just looked back, smirks on their faces as if they were not at all bothered about losing a job that did not pay that much to begin with.

“Which one of you is Benton?” Grable asked.

The leader of the crew nodded toward Cal.

“You still have a job, Benton,” the man growled, as if he really didn’t want to say the words. “Just go up to the office and they will tell you where to begin Monday.”

Cal had not moved or spoken during the interplay. He had not participated in the pot smoking, but had grown to like his fellow workers, and had no desire to stay if they were going to be dumped so unceremoniously.

“Well, I reckon I will just move on with the boys, here,” Cal said quietly. Grable had already turned to go, but spun around to look at the young man who was turning down his job offer.

“Have you got a problem with my decision?” he challenged.

Cal casually pulled the bag of weed and papers from his hip pocket and methodically began to roll a joint. Everyone stood watching him as if hypnotized, including Grable. When Cal had licked off the joint, he lit it, took a deep draw and stepped over to hand it to the leader of the crew. Slowly exhaling, he measured the larger man in front of him, seeing anger in his eyes, but a defensive posture that said he was not nearly as sure of himself as he wanted everyone to think.

“You come around here every Monday morning with a hangover that clearly keeps you from working at your best potential,” Cal said matter-of-factly. “And whenever we see you in the afternoon – including today, for that matter – you always smell of alcohol. I don’t see any difference between your habit and theirs, and yours seems to be all day long, while theirs is just at cleanup time. Who is costing the company the most money?”

The older man looked contemptuously at the youth and then walked toward the jeep.

“Have it your way, kid,” he said. “I was just trying to act on information I had that you were not a junkie like these other clowns.” He stopped and looked at Cal, as if expecting him to change his mind. Cal had already turned to start gathering up his jacket and tools, when Grable returned to the group.

“Are you telling me you no longer want a job?”

“Not under these conditions,” Cal replied, continuing to gather his tools.

Grable shuffled his feet a minute, thinking.

“My wife thinks you deserve to keep your job because you helped her and the kids the other day on the road,” he finally explained. Cal just shrugged and walked to his bike, hanging his nail apron on the sissy bar as he opened his pack.

“All right, what if I keep these guys on if they will agree to not smoke any dope until the afternoon break?” Cal looked at the other men and caught a slight nod from the crew leader. He walked to Grable, then, and reached out his hand. The other man took it as if he hated to even touch his adversary.

“Then we have a deal, Mr. Grable,” Cal said with a slight smile. “I’ll be by the office Monday morning for my new assignment.” He then nodded to the other men, straddled his bike, kicked it to a start and rode off down the road, leaving five men watching him ride away, almost in unbelief.

On Monday morning Cal was sent to the main barn where he found an old Mexican named Jose Vasquez, who put him to shoveling manure. Later that afternoon, the old foreman found Cal still shoveling and took him to a smaller barn where Bobby and Leah, and an older woman Cal did not recognize, were brushing down three beautiful horses.

The old-timer showed Cal how to saddle the horses, and help the three into their seats. They then cantered off for a ride around the lake. Cal watched them ride off and turned to the older man with a question in his eyes.

“Your job is to stay here until they get back, help them unsaddle the horses and rub them down, and then put them in their stalls. Then you are done for the day. Any questions?” Cal shook his head.

“All right, then, I will be at the bunkhouse if you need me.” Cal watched the old foreman walk away, knowing the two would get along because Vasquez was genuine from the inside out.

When the riders returned, Cal made small talk with the children while unsaddling the animals, and then sat back to supervise as the children began rubbing their mounts down. He couldn’t help but notice the older woman as she gracefully dismounted, unsaddled her own horse and began rubbing it down, all the while paying attention to her two young charges. She must be the grandmother, Cal mused. She did look somewhat like the mother.

As he watched the three Cal’s eyes kept returning to the older woman. She was dressed casually in a denim shirt, jeans and boots. The graceful way she moved in the cowgirl gear, though, said that she had a lot of class. When she bent over to pick up one of the horse’s hooves to clean it out, he enjoyed the way her jeans stretched tightly across her bottom and thigh, and when she reached to brush the mane the swell of her breast from the side prompted a response from deep within that surprised him. After all, the woman was probably more than twice his age.

It was then that he realized the woman was quietly standing looking at him, and he ducked his head, knowing she had caught his speculative gaze. He turned to talk with the children and help them move their animals into the barn and into their individual stalls.

As the four left the barn, the two children saw their parents on the porch of the “big house” and ran to meet them. The older woman turned to Cal and held out her hand.

“I am Peggy Whistler,” she said with a bemused smile. “And I want you to know I appreciate the way you helped my daughter the other day with her car, and the way you interact with my grandchildren. Jose made a good choice in where to put you to work. I would also like to tell you that the attention you were giving me earlier was not an insult, but the contrary – any woman my age would take it as a compliment to catch a young man like yourself checking her body out.” Then she laughed, a delightful, open laugh that made him want to laugh with her – but he didn’t.

“Why don’t you come up and have dinner with us?” she asked pleasantly. “Carmela, Jose’s wife, is an excellent cook, and there is always room for another chair at the table.” Cal shrugged and shook his head.

“I’m afraid I wouldn’t be welcome by everyone there,” he said quietly, glancing at the woman with thankful eyes to let her know he appreciated the invitation anyway.

“Oh, you must mean my son-in-law,” the woman said with a wink and a smile. “I hear you dressed him down pretty good the other day on the job site.”

Cal looked at the woman carefully, enjoying the honest humor in her eyes and wondering if the man had actually told others of their confrontation. She sensed his question.

“Rob doesn’t own this place, Cal, I do,” she said, turning serious for the moment. “And I don’t trust him anymore with it at this time than you would. I keep hoping he will accept the responsibility of being a husband, father and businessman and quit playing with the waitresses, because I see some good in him, but I am not sure I will ever see the day.” She paused then for a second before continuing. “He wouldn’t ever confess that a kid like you could show him up, but he had direct orders to hire you for ‘up top’ rather than letting you go with the others. I have my own spies around here and there is not much that goes on I do not know about. By the way, I admire you for standing up for your friends.” Then she reached out and took his hand in hers. “Now, come on up for supper so we can get to know you better, I have a feeling you are going to become an important part of my grandkids’ lives and I want to make sure I am not making a mistake.”

Cal followed the older woman toward the house, but pulled his hand away from hers quickly, not trusting the surge of excitement he had felt at their first touch. He was not sure just what it was about the woman that attracted him, but he knew there was some connection . . . he would have to consider that for a while.

The children carried the conversation at the dinner table, chattering non-stop about their favorite places to ride, and their favorite things to do on the ranch. After dinner the four adults retired to the front porch to watch the brilliant sunset highlighting the rugged peaks to the west.

Rob Grable had little to say to the visitor, but Jan and Peggy asked him numerous questions about himself and his family, which he answered truthfully, though withholding anything that he considered to be too personal. As dark began to settle over the valley Cal excused himself to return to the bunkhouse, and was surprised when both women stood to kiss him on the cheek as he left. The younger woman was friendly and a real beauty, but it was the older woman’s kiss and quick, almost shy, glance that again caused a reaction deep within.

As Cal wandered through the barn to check on the horses once more before settling in for the night, he saw Jose standing quietly in the shadow of the barn door, observing his actions. The two men just nodded to each other and Cal went on to the bunkhouse. He didn’t suppose there was much that went on around the ranch without Jose’s knowledge, and was glad the two had hit it off from the start.

Cal settled into a regular routine of work around the barn and ranch in the morning, followed by a lunch siesta from about one to three. Then it was time for the children and, usually, their grandmother to go for their ride. Sometimes Cal was invited to along with the three, and he always went when it was just the two children. He enjoyed the bright minds and constant chatter of the brother and sister, and was especially pleased when he had a chance to ride alongside Peggy Whistler, sharing her companionship – and the thrill that he always got when he could watch the graceful movements of her mature body unobserved. He had been with much younger women several times in his life already, but none had moved him with their touch like this woman did with just a look. He had given up trying to figure it out and had just decided to enjoy the times together for what they offered.

The summer passed rather swiftly, and Cal learned many things from Jose and the other hands, slowly becoming an expert horseman and fairly good ranch hand. He was invited two to three times a week for dinner at the ‘big house’ and was the subject of a lot of good-natured teasing by the other ranch hands, who did not seem jealous – possibly because they were treated so well by the staff under Peggy’s watchful eye. Another reason the men may have accepted him so graciously was that the account of his confrontation with Rob Grable and his loyalty to fellow employees had made the rounds. No one had spoken to him of the incident, but he knew from things that were said during regular conversation that it was well-known.

He worked Monday through Friday, dawn to dusk, and had grown quite fond of the job and the ranch. He didn’t know how many men they would keep around for the winter, but hoped he would be asked to stay.

He had made the acquaintance of one of the pretty college girls working for the summer in the restaurant as a waitress, and had taken her on several weekend trips on his bike to Denver and sightseeing in the mountains. He had spent several nights with her in her room at the lodge, and the two were known to be ‘an item’ among the other help. The two had made no commitments between them, but simply enjoyed each other’s company, and were willing and compatible sexual partners.

One Saturday in late July, Cal was cleaning out the stall of Paint, the spirited appaloosa gelding assigned to him by Jose, when he realized he was not alone. Straightening up, he saw Peggy Whistler leaning on the stall door watching him work. He was only wearing a pair of cutoff jeans, having pulled his sleeveless t-shirt off earlier in the day, and felt a little embarrassed to be so undressed in her presence, especially when he saw her look his body over approvingly before she spoke.

“Rob and Jan just took the kids in to do some ‘back-to-school’ shopping and I am feeling lonely,” she said with a slight smile. “Would you like to go for a ride with me up to a special place I know about?”

“Sure,” Cal said without hesitation. “I need to take Paint out today for some exercise anyway.” He slipped on his shirt as soon as she turned to her own horse, and the two saddled their mounts without further conversation.

They had ridden for several minutes before Peggy began the conversation.

“Just for today let’s pretend I am not your boss and we are just friends, okay?”

Cal nodded, looking at her briefly with a sideways glance to see that she understood he was in agreement. He thought he detected a more thoughtful mood about her today, but maybe that was just because the children were not along.

“You were embarrassed when you saw me checking out your muscles and your manly physique, weren’t you?” she asked after a few moments, a quick smile slipping across her face when she saw his look of consternation.

“Yeah, I guess so,” he replied.

“Why? Haven’t you checked me out many times in the same way, even though I was fully clothed?”

He thought about that for a few moments.

“I think it’s different, somehow . . . at least in a man’s mind,” he added lamely.

“I don’t know why,” she said, pursuing the subject. “We girls like to look the same as you guys, we just like to look at different areas of the body, and maybe with a different purpose in mind.” Cal smiled wryly – the old gal sure was plain spoken, and he liked her for that.

“So, what were you thinking when you were looking at me?” he asked, looking directly into her eyes, hoping to get the upper hand in the situation. She accepted the challenge without hesitation.

“I was just wondering why I had not tried to coax you out of that little waitress’s bed and into my own,” she said, smiling at his new discomfiture. “After all, the word around the restaurant is that you are the real stud on this ranch!”

Cal wished he had never pursued the discussion, and had no idea how to respond to the woman. It was she who picked up the conversation again after a couple of very quiet minutes.

“Maybe I misread the attention you have given my body,” she said softly, watching him intently. “Maybe you were just being polite.”

Cal pulled Paint to a halt, patted him on the shoulder and leaned forward on his saddle horn, looking the now startled woman directly in the eye.

“I have wanted to undress you and make love to you since the first time I saw you,” he said, delighting in the sparkling smile that flashed across her face and eyes. “I just didn’t think it was proper to let that be known, considering the fact you are the boss and all.”

“And the difference in our ages?” she asked pleasantly.

“Well, that doesn’t really mean anything to me, I am a man and you are a woman, the hell with the age difference – I’ll let someone else worry about that,” he replied, hoping that this conversation would somehow end up with the attractive woman lying in his arms.

Her smile was genuine, almost girlish, as she suddenly kicked her horse into a canter, letting her words drift back over her shoulder as he tried to catch up.

“Then follow me, I have something to show you.”

They ran the horses for a few minutes and then let them catch their breath as they sat on a small bluff overlooking the upper end of the lake. Below them was a small beach leading into shallow water. About fifty yards out into the lake was a large, flat rock rising only a few inches out of the water. The beauty of the place almost caught his breath.

“This is our family swimming hole,” she said. “None of the other people on the ranch are allowed up this far . . . except Jose, of course, he is allowed everywhere.”

Cal looked around instinctively, almost expecting the old timer to be sitting behind them, watching. Peggy laughed.

“Don’t worry, I told him to stay home today, I have private business to attend to with you.” Cal looked at her questioningly, and her smile told him that Jose knew why he should not have followed. Damn her, she had made him blush again.

“You are the first person he has ever trusted me to be alone with since Art died six years ago,” she said, reaching over and squeezing his arm. “That is an awesome compliment from my dearest friend,” she continued, letting him know with her eyes that he had become very important to both her and Jose.

“C’mon, I brought you out here specifically to tease you into going skinny-dipping with me out on the rock.” He again was following her lead as she let her sorrel mare find its way down the face of the bluff until they were able to dismount at the little beach.

They unsaddled the horses and let them graze off along the shoreline of the lake, and Peggy started removing her clothes as soon as they were finished with the horses. Cal just stood, with his hands resting casually on his hips as she unbuttoned and slipped out of her shirt and then reached around and unhooked her bra. As she let the bra slide from her shoulders she raised her eyes to watch his as he looked at her two small, but full breasts as they settled comfortably on her chest, still quite firm despite her age. She kept her eyes on his as she unsnapped and unzipped her jeans, sliding them and her panties down around her boots in one smooth motion. Cal gulped slightly as her shapely hips, round tummy, tight thighs and neatly-trimmed, salt-and-pepper pubic area were revealed.

“I’m going to need some help with these boots,” she teased, the girlish smile having returned to her face. Cal helped her sit on one of the saddles and pulled each boot and sock off before removing her jeans and panties from around her ankles. While he was still kneeling in front of her he slowly opened her legs wider to get a better view of all that she was, and she willingly let him have his way, just enjoying the look on his face as he drank in her mature beauty.

“You are as beautiful as I had anticipated,” he said, his eyes finally finding her own and locking there. “No, you are more beautiful than I expected.”

“Well, if you just continue to sit there and stare I am going to start feeling self-conscious,” she said, smiling happily. “When is it my turn?”

Cal stood up and peeled off his shirt, before dropping his cutoffs and jockey shorts over his erection and around his ankles. Then he sat down on the other saddle and looked expectantly at her.

“I think I may need some help also,” he said, smiling widely.

Immediately she was on her knees in front of him tugging on his boots, her breasts swaying gently with each tug. When the last sock had flown over her shoulder she surprised him by leaning forward and taking his erect penis in her mouth for a couple of minutes of oral manipulation. Cal could only lean back on his extended arms and enjoy the sight and feeling of this wonderful woman giving him such immense pleasure.

Suddenly she grabbed a bottle of suntan lotion from her saddlebag and sprinted toward the water.

“Last one to the rock is rotten egg,” she laughed as she splashed into the water a few strides ahead of him. They swam together, then, neither wanting to race, arriving at the same time, and stopping before they climbed upon the rock for a long embrace. The embrace was not enough, though, as they began touching. When he realized how wet she already was, he spread her legs, grasped her upper thighs just under the buttocks and lifted her up onto his aroused penis. She looked him directly in the eye as she settled down on him, her own eyes opening wider as she realized how tight she had become after six years without having sex.

Then they were moving in a graceful, rhythmic dance which grew more intense with every stroke, until orgasms only seconds apart locked their bodies into a frozen embrace as they kissed again, passionately exploring each other’s mouth with their tongues.

“I didn’t think about protection,” Cal said apologetically as he came out of the woman and helped her onto the rock.

“Well, I don’t think I am in any danger of getting pregnant,” Peggy laughed playfully, “And I have every reason to believe your waitress is clean . . . since we had random drug tests two weeks ago and did an extra test on her blood.” Cal pulled back from the woman and looked at her to see if she was teasing.

“Does that make you angry?” she asked, hesitant with him for the first time that day.

“No, I was just wondering why you would go to that trouble with her, since she is not going to be around much longer.”

“Because, Mister Benton, I have had every intention of getting you inside me since the first day I caught you enjoying my ass and breasts,” she replied impishly, once again smiling freely. Cal just shook his head, not having had any idea that the woman was as attracted to him as he was to her, right from the start. Oh, well, he wasn’t going to complain, but just wanted to get inside her again as soon as possible.

That didn’t take long as they began kissing again, and he soon was totally erect. They slid back into the water, but this time their movements were slow and deliberate, though just as passionate. He slid his finger down to begin rimming her clitoris as she scratched tiny trails down his back with her fingernails. They came again almost simultaneously before climbing back on the rock.

Peggy handed him the lotion and rolled onto her stomach so he could work it into her back, bottom and legs in a soothing, sensual massage. After she had returned the favor – for both his back and front – she again relinquished the bottle and stretched out for him to do her front.

Cal had moved from her shoulders to her breasts, taking one in each hand, gently massaging the nipples and then the whole breast. As he did he felt something that did not seem quite right. Getting more lotion he used both hands on the right breast, making love to it with his fingers and palms, before moving to the left. As he slowly worked the left breast his fingers told him he was right originally – he felt a golf-ball size lump on the outside half of the breast.

Glancing down he realized Peggy had been watching his face carefully, and he knew he could not hide the concern in his eyes. He lowered them, then, and slowly and lovingly moved to her rounded tummy, her thighs, legs and feet and, finally, back to her pubic area, where he dwelt for several minutes until her felt her shudder under her third orgasm of the day. Then he lay down, resting his head on one hand so he could continue to watch her body.

“I found it about six months ago,” she said softly, watching his eyes. “Old Doc Barker in town said it was probably nothing and just to keep an eye on it. I guess he is not too familiar with these kind of things, because that was the wrong advice.” She stopped then, looking out over the lake before returning her eyes to his. “It started growing about three months ago, right after you moved up to the top and started giving me so much positive attention.” She smiled, then, a warm, loving smile as she remembered the past few months.

“Next Tuesday I am scheduled to fly out to the Mayo Clinic . . . the preliminary report is that I will probably have to have the whole breast removed. The mammogram shows there are several growths there, not just the large one.” She stopped again, waiting for him to speak if he wanted. He just nodded, not trusting his voice at that time.

“I guess it has already reached my lymph system, and they want to keep me there six weeks for some intense radiation treatment. When I come home, it will be minus one breast and all my hair, and no promise that I will live another year.”

She signed, then, looking back out over the lake before returning her gaze to the saddened young man now sitting up beside her, gently stroking her hair, her face, and her breasts. She watched his hand on her body and slowly broke into a series of sobs, prompting him to draw her to himself, holding her against his chest as she let the emotion flow.

“I guess I tricked you into coming out here with me . . .” she began, but he stopped her by putting his index finger to her lips.

“I wish I had been man enough to let you know how much I wanted you three months ago,” he said quietly, stroking her cheek with the backs of his fingers. “Today has been wonderful . . . more wonderful than I could ever have imagined.”

She thanked him with her eyes and they slid off the rock again for their third, most prolonged session of kissing and lovemaking before swimming slowly back to the shore.

“The kids will be back pretty soon, and we probably won’t be able to be alone again until Monday night,” she said, watching him for any reaction. “Would you spend Monday night with me?” His smile and the tears in his eyes were answer enough and they stood holding each other for what seemed like an eternity until the horses came up, knowing it was soon time for their ration of oats back at the barn.

They dressed and saddled up in silence, mounting and climbing the front of the bluff carefully. They stopped at the top and looked back at the little beach – their beach — one last time before smiling their love to each other and letting the horses break into a canter on the way home.

Monday evening Cal slipped quietly out of his bunkhouse apartment, surveying the ranch grounds for anyone who might see his destination. He caught sight of Jose, leaning against the front of the barn and knew no one would see him – Peggy’s old friend would see to that. Carmela let him in through the kitchen door, kissed him quickly on the cheek and led him to his lover’s room.

Peggy was wearing a beautiful transparent blue nightgown and had fixed her salt-and-pepper, shoulder-length hair up high on her head. She had a camera ready and asked him to take pictures so they could both remember what she looked like. He took two full rolls of film until they could stand it no longer and fell into bed in each other’s arms. She opened her legs for him with the first kiss and he glided into her, much easier this time that when in the water. As before, they made love three times, breaking twice for oral interplay before they fell asleep. They awoke in the middle of the night for a fourth time, and just before breakfast Cal was able to get a final erection which he gladly shared with his lover.

After breakfast and a lot of long, tearful goodbyes, she drove off with Jose, waving bravely at the family, and giving Cal one last teasing wink as the jeep passed him. She would not be back for six weeks, and the place surely would not be the same until she returned . . . maybe not even then.

Midway during the second week of Peggy’s absence, Cal was leaning on the corral fence watching the two children brush down their horses. He was slightly surprised when the kids’ father pulled his jeep over to the corral instead of just waving as he went by. The kids gave him a hug and excitedly told him about the rattlesnake that had scared the horses and that Cal had killed with a stick. When they were done with their story, the father hugged them again and sent them up to the house to get ready for dinner. He then walked over to the corral fence, leaning on it just a few feet from the young man he had practically ignored the entire summer.

“Thank’s for working with the kids,” he said, not looking at Cal but across the lake and up the valley. “They need a friend like you at a time like this.”

“They need a real Daddy at a time like this,” Cal said, not too gently, spitting into the dust at his feet.

“You don’t think too highly of me, do you?” Rob Grable asked, turning to look intimidatingly at the younger man.

“You haven’t given me any reason to,” Cal replied, refusing to turn and face the man.

“Maybe you’d like to explain that remark,” Grable said, almost threateningly.

It was then that Cal turned to look at him with an icy stare.

Grable remembered a conversation he had heard between two of the ranch hands not long after Cal had come up to work on top. They had not known he was on the other side of the barn wall and were discussing the confrontation between him and Cal at their second meeting.

“I asked ol’ Jose what would have happened if Grable had jumped the kid,” one of the cowboys said. “And he just said the boy reminds him of a gray wolf trotting along the edge of a clearing. There might be bigger and meaner animals around, but they all find reason to move aside when the wolf comes too close.”

“Well, I’m with ol’ Joe,” the second cowboy said. “When that boy tells you with his eyes he has had enough, I’m ready to clear out cause I don’t think he would stop until one of us was dead.”

Grable felt a cold shiver run up and down his spine as he looked into the cold eyes of the younger man. Cal finally spoke, after nearly a minute of looking at the older man.

“You have a beautiful, loving wife, yet you run around with some little floozy you should never have hired in the first place . . .” Grable started to speak but was silenced with an upraised hand by the younger man. “You have two wonderful children, yet you ask a stranger to be their surrogate father, driving them farther away from you every day you are a lazy parent. And you had a loving mother-in-law who would have willingly given you the lifelong results of her life and her husband’s, but you are too poor an excuse for a man for her to even consider doing so.”

Cal turned, then, leaning on the fence again, ignoring the blustering man who wanted to challenge him, but feared him too much to do so.

“I don’t have to take shit like that off of you,” Grable finally grated out between clenched teeth. “I came down here to try and thank you for helping my family and you have the audacity to tell me how to be a husband and father and businessman. Fuck you, you little cocksucker.” He then spun on his heel, climbed into the jeep and spun his wheels in the loose dirt in front of the barn.

Cal just shrugged and turned toward the bunkhouse, not seeing the old man leaning just inside the barn door – or the slight smile that played across the weathered face.

Two days later, Cal walked into the corral to find Rob Grable helping his youngest child saddle her horse. The father didn’t look up when he felt the other man’s presence, but just voiced his intentions in an unfriendly tone.

“I’m going to ride with the kids while their grandmother is gone,” he said tersely. “That leaves you time to do something else.” The kids grinned their excitement at Cal and he smiled back, waving at them as he turned to leave. As he stepped up on the bunkhouse porch Jose emerged from one of the rooms, looked out to the corral and then reached up to squeeze Cal on the shoulder. The two men looked at each other and nodded . . . maybe something good was going to come of Peggy’s ordeal.

A week later Cal overheard a conversation in the bunkhouse between two of the long-time hands. One of the waitresses had told them that Grable’s favorite cigarettes and brand of whiskey were piling up and they would not have to order any more for a while – he had evidently quit using both.

That was not the only change. Cal was being invited much less to the ‘big house’ for dinner, but was rather having dinner at the little house behind the bunkhouse with his friends Jose and Carmela. The Grable family was seen more and more doing things together, and Rob was even taking extra time off from work to drive down to the city some days with his family.

The six weeks passed quickly for some, but it had seemed like an eternity for Cal before he saw Jose’s jeep pull up in front of the lodge. Everyone was there on the porch to greet the gracious woman who had given them so much.

She emerged from the jeep wearing a brightly colored kerchief around her head. She had lost some weight and her face looked sad, but the vivacious eyes which they all loved so much were unchanged as she took the time to kiss them all – even the blushing cowboys — before moving up to the ‘big house.’ Halfway up the rise she stumbled slightly and Cal stepped forward and picked her up with no effort whatsoever, holding her carefully in his arms. The look she gave him melted his heart, and he held her closely until depositing her on the porch swing where her family was waiting to greet her.

Later that evening Cal carried her back down the hill and to the little house behind the bunkhouse. She had announced to the family that she had been told she had only a few months left to live, and she wanted to live them in the house that she and Art had first built on the mountaintop, with the two friends that helped them build it. Later, in her bedroom in the back of the plain, mountain cabin, she admitted to Cal that she most wanted to stay in the little house so she and he could have all the time together that they wanted.

Of course, the word eventually got around to everyone on the mountaintop that Cal was with Peggy more than he was in his own room, but that only served to give him status with his co-workers – he was bringing pleasure to the woman they loved and admired in her last weeks.

For Cal, however, it was much more than that.

The first night, though she was very tired from the trip, Peggy wanted to know where they stood in their relationship. She asked Cal to carry her into bed after a time together with her oldest friends. She rose from the bed and pushed him down into a chair, before she slowly disrobed – beginning with the scarf, revealing just a slight stubble of almost white hair, followed by the rest of her clothing. Finally she stood naked before him, watching his eyes as he devoured he flesh in the same manner as he had at the lake. The scar where her left breast had been was not ugly at all to him, but simply represented how much she loved the people around her to endure such a surgery so they might have her around a little longer.

When she was finished undressing, he rose, walked to her and picked her up in his arms, leaning his head into hers for a warm, passionate kiss. He then laid her on the bed, undressed before her and lay down beside her, gently caressing her body with his fingertips.

“I don’t know whether I have the energy for three orgasms tonight,” she said smiling, acknowledging that she understood nothing had changed between them.

“Well, let’s just play it by ear, then,” he said, smiling back.

She was wrong. They made love twice and he brought her to a third orgasm orally before she finally fell asleep in his arms, unaware of the tears that flowed down his cheeks and dripped into her hair for more than an hour after she drifted off.

The next day they sat in the barn loft and watched Rob and the children saddle their horses and ride off. Cal then turned to her and began kissing her face and neck, before moving to her breast, slowly working the nipple with his tongue and lips.

“You know, even though the other breast is no longer there, whenever you turn me on like that it feels like I get a tingle in both sides,” she said, wonder in her eyes. He smiled, biting gently and getting a playful smack on the side of the head. “I didn’t mean I wanted twice as much pain,” she complained playfully. Cal moved down to her waist and began removing her jeans.

“What if someone sees us?” she asked, looking down into the barn.

“That’s not going to happen,” Cal said, looking lovingly at her body as he exposed her most private parts. “Jose is out there in the corral and anyone trying to get in this barn wouldn’t stand a chance.”

Peggy looked at him with glowing eyes as he buried his face in her crotch, shifting slightly so he could get a better angle at just the right places.

“Jose told me about your talk with Rob,” she said, around a long sigh that accidentally escaped her lips. “Thank you for that; Jan says he is a different man.”

“He just needed a little encouragement to do the right thing,” Cal said, coming up for breath. “Now get serious about what I am doing before I drown down here!”

She lay back in the hay with a smile on her face as he brought her quickly to a full orgasm, every inch of her body quivering with the release of physical emotion.

“How was that?”

“Much better,” Cal said. “I guess Rob is an okay guy, but I am not at all interested in talking about him when I have a beautiful, naked woman at my disposal.” He entered her then, rocking her gently as she wrapped her legs around his midsection and locked her ankles behind him. She closed her eyes and rocked gently, her one breast rising and falling with the movement, until he could stand it no longer and increased the tempo before shuddering through his own orgasm.

He thought she had fallen asleep; she did that often now even in the middle of the day.

“Cal, promise me you won’t leave them until you know everything is under control, okay?”

“I promise,” he said softly, gently kissing her eyes, nose and mouth. “Your family is now my family . . . forever.” She sighed again, and this time did fall asleep as he continued to kiss her body.

Summer quickly changed to fall in the high ground. They had time to go swimming twice more on warm days, but the water was so cold they had to make love on the rock or on the beach – which they did, repeatedly.

When the first snows came in September, they still rode to the beach, making snow angels and building a campfire beside which they would lay out two blankets and make love in the cold moonlight.

Peggy continued to lose weight, and by October could no longer ride. Cal would carry her out to the jeep and still take her to the lake, to the top of the bluff, or on extended trips around the ranch that she loved so much. Whenever possible, the two would find themselves locked in embrace, or intercourse, or both.

By December she was talking about just staying alive until Christmas. It was a ranch tradition to have Christmas in the big room of the lodge, with all the help present. Peggy would play Santa Claus, handing out gifts she had collected all year for the people who worked so faithfully for her.

Cal took her to Denver shopping five times in the final two weeks before the holiday, pushing her in a wheelchair through the shopping malls, buying special gifts this year – her last with her friends. Anyone following the two would have been surprised to see him lift her into the front seat of the jeep, then crawl in the other side only to lean over and give her a warm embrace, his hand all the while exploring the secrets of her body. She welcomed the attention, opening her arms and legs for her young lover, astonished that he still wanted to make love to her thin shadow of the woman she once was.

At Christmas, Peggy was dressed up like Santa, but the children played the part of elves, handing out the presents. The woman’s generosity overwhelmed most of the staff, many of which had to step outside for a minute or two to weep privately before re-entering the room.

When Cal carried her into her bedroom that night she could not get to sleep, going over the many wonderful times she had shared with the people with whom she had spent the evening.

On New Year’s Eve the whole crew gathered again on the lake front for a fireworks display worthy of any small city. As the pyrotechnics burst over the lake, which brilliantly reflected the lights, Peggy’s eyes glowed like those of a little girl. That night she asked Cal to make love to her twice, falling asleep right after the second time. He moved to her side and stroked her cheek for the longest time, wondering how much longer she could last.

Two days later Jose and Cal were working on some new rails for the corral when they heard a low, sustained cry come from the ‘big house.’

“Carmela,” grunted Jose, as he wiped his hands on his jeans and started for the house. Cal was in fast pursuit. When the arrived they found Rob and Jan holding each other in the livingroom, and Carmela was sitting in a chair, softly sobbing. They went into the bedroom, where Peggy had lain down for a nap after breakfast. Her body was already cold, her face peaceful – finally at rest.

“I’ll go into town and get the kids,” Cal said quietly as he moved through the livingroom.

“No, that is my job,” Rob said, thanking Cal for the offer with his eyes, but moving to the door nonetheless. As they watched the father drive off, Jan slipped into Cal’s arms and began to softly sob. He just held her, not knowing what to say, or even if he could say anything without breaking into a sob himself.

The two finally sat on the couch, holding each other.

“Thank you, Cal, for everything you did for Mama,” Jan said softly. “She told me last week that you made her feel more like a woman with just one breast and no hair, than any other man other than Daddy ever has. You are the reason she has such a peaceful expression on her face right now.”

Cal just sat quietly, still not trusting his voice.

“Will you stay with us, Cal?”

“She made me promise to stay until I thought you all could handle everything, but I think that time has already arrived.”

“Rob told me what you said to him, and that he hated you for it originally, but I don’t think he hates you now, Cal, I think he admires you and would welcome you as part of the family.”

“I appreciate that,” Cal said honestly. “But I can’t stay.”

“Why not?”

He turned and looked at her, instinctively brushing her hair back from her face with his finger.

“Because you are too much like her, and I would never be able to separate the two of you in my mind,” he said softly. She nodded after a minute, and then leaned forward, kissing him carefully on the lips for just a second.

“That was for Mama,” she said, hugging him close to her. “I understand and will not ask you to stay, but please come back and see us from time to time, okay?”

He nodded, holding her at arms length to look into her eyes.

“You will always know where I am, and I will always be willing to come back if you need me for anything . . . understand?” She nodded and kissed him again, warmly before getting up and moving to the window. Cal slipped quietly out the back door.

After the funeral, the entire staff met in the big room of the lodge for a quiet time of remembrance, each one sharing their own special memory of Peggy Whistler. When it came Cal’s turn, he described the delight she got out of shopping for their final Christmas presents, giggling like a child sometimes when she found just the right thing.

Rob explained Peggy’s will to everyone so there would be no speculation. Jan was given the ranch and the bulk of the money and investments. Rob was given the property on the front of the mountain scheduled for development. Jose and Carmela were given the little house and ten acres behind it, and a quarter of a million dollars. Cal was given 10 acres on the upper end of the lake, including the bluff and beach areas, plus a large sum of cash. Each employee was given a year’s wages.

The next day Cal fastened his pack to his bike and shook hands all around. Rob was the last, and thanked him openly before the staff for waking him up to his responsibilities. Cal squeezed the other man’s hand, hugged Bobby, kissed Leah, Jan and Carmela on the cheek, and raised his arm to squeeze Jose firmly on the shoulder. The old Mexican returned the gesture and the two men – who had both loved Peggy Whistler so dearly, shared one last embrace at arms length before Cal mounted his bike and rode to the mouth of the valley.

He stopped to look back, knowing it would be a long time before he would recover from his loss and come back to this valley. Everyone waved from below and he raised his hand to them before slipping the bike into gear and heading down the mountain.

Neither he nor they would ever forget the summer of 1971 on Sawtooth Mountain.

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