One afternoon, Jeff, a lonesome young rancher, was driving back from Albuquerque when he spotted a beautiful young lady dressed in tight Levi’s and a nice blouse running out of the forest with a suitcase in one hand and waving her thumb out for a ride. He noticed how radiant and beautiful she was when he pulled over to give her a lift. She appeared to be about eighteen or so.
“Where are you headed?” he asked, smiling, as he opened the door for her.
“I’m not sure,” she replied. “I tried to find work in town this week, but things are slow and no one is hiring. So, I guess I’m moving on to the next town.”
“Were you just sleeping out there in the forest?”
“Do I look that bad?” she asked.
“No, you look beautiful!” he replied. “It’s just that there are bears living in this particular area.”
“Well, I needed to change clothes and also to relieve myself,” she replied, blushing. “Nature was calling.”
“My name is Jeff,” he stated. “What’s your name?”
“Shannon,” she answered.
“What type of work are you looking for?” he asked, as he drove ahead.
“Anything, as long as it is honest and pays a decent wage. I’m pretty good at cooking and house cleaning, plus I’ve done a variety of other small jobs too.”
“Have you ever worked on a ranch?”
“No, but my grandparent’s farm had pigs, goats, cows, and some chickens. I took care of all those.”
“What about horses? Have you ever been around horses?”
“My friend, Carol, owns two. She works as a waitress, but she is struggling to make a living. My grandparents let her move in with us and I helped her take care of them. We use to ride them everyday.”
“Did you do their grooming and keep their stalls clean?”
“We didn’t have a barn with stalls. It was more like an open shed.”
“But you still helped take care of them, right?”
“You’re asking a lot of questions. Is this like a job interview, or something?”
“Please tell me a little more about yourself?” Jeff asked, smiling.
“Well, I had just finished high school, and then my grandparents passed away. They left me the farm, but it wasn’t worth much, so I just gave it to Carol. They left me a few hundred dollars also and I decided to go find a better life. I promised Carol I’d stay in touch.”
“I live about twenty miles up the road on a large ranch,” mentioned Jeff. “By large, I mean by property size. I have two horses and a small herd of Black Angus Cattle. Of course there’s a milk cow, a rooster, and some laying hens too.”
“No little piggy’s?” giggled Shannon.
“Nope, no little pigs,” blushed Jeff, “I buy my bacon.”
“You’re not married?” she noted. “I see there’s no ring on your finger.”
“No, I live alone on the ranch. My folks passed away and left it to me. I was discharged from the Army a year ago, and this is where I have been ever since. I have big plans for the ranch, but I’m going to need some help.”
“What are your plans?” she asked.
“To raise a lot more Black Angus,” he replied.
“That sounds interesting,” Shannon remarked. “I guess I would like doing something like that if I ever had the chance.”
“Would you like to see the ranch?”
“Sure!” Shannon answered. “I’d love to see it.”
“I can’t wait to show you!”
“So, are you offering me a job?” she asked.
Jeff had fallen in love with her from the very first moment he saw her. He could not let her get away.
“First, I’d like to know about the benefits and wages.”
“If you are willing to help me with everything, I could pay you fifteen dollars an hour for each eight hour day you work.”
“How would I get back and forth to work?”
“You can stay at the ranch.”
“Would I have my own private bedroom and bathroom facilities?” she asked.
“Of course,” Jeff answered. “And we could share everything else.”
“Did I just die and go to Heaven?” Shannon asked herself, smiling.
“One more thing,” mentioned Jeff. “I’m a young, healthy man, and I’ll need a good woman to take care of my physical needs as well.”
She looked over at him puzzled..
“You’re not starting to go weird on me are you?”
“What do you mean by weird?” Jeff smiled.
“You don’t mean you’d expect me to sleep with you when those needs come up, do you?”
“No,” laughed Jeff. “That’s not what I meant at all. I meant that I’d be interested in getting married someday to the right woman.”
“Hey, well I’m looking for a good man too,” smiled Shannon, relieved to hear his answer, “But, that would depend on how well things turned out between us over a period of time.”
“Do you think I’m attractive?” Jeff asked, grinning.
“Yes!” she giggled. “You are very attractive. But, you’re kind of weird at the same time.”
“I find you very attractive,” he smiled. “I just don’t want to let you slip away from me.”
“So, are you just planning to kidnap me?” She grinned.
Again, Jeff burst into laughter. “No!” he assured her. “I mean you’re hired and I plan on doing everything I can to keep you around.”
“Will there be any type of courtship for us?” she asked, giggling. “Or do you just plan on setting a date for the wedding?”
“This is where we turn into the ranch,” Jeff mentioned, smiling. “I think today is going to be my lucky day.”
“Well, as fate would have it, a trucker stopped to give me a lift earlier, but he had whiskey on his breath and a wink in his eye, so I told him to forget it, I’d walk, and then I stepped out into the forest to change clothes and water the bushes. Then when I stepped back out, you came along and gave me a ride.”
“God is good!” Jeff replied, grinning.
“This might be my lucky day too!” she smiled.
“With God’s blessing, it could be lucky for both of us,” Jeff responded.
As they drove up the driveway towards the ranch house, Shannon was in awe at the beauty of the ranch. As they drove past the corral, two beautiful thoroughbreds ran out to meet them.
“That’s Pablo and Celia,” Jeff pointed out. “They both need a good run. Want to go riding in the morning?” he asked.
“I can’t wait!” answered Shannon, excited, “They’re beautiful.”
“Well, I guess you could start out now by doing the laundry!” Jeff suggested. “I’m way behind there. As he opened a spare bedroom door, Shannon shuddered, seeing the huge pile of dirty clothes heaped up inside.
“I can help you out with this,” she said. “Grab a big armload and bring them to the washing machine. I’ll show you how it works.”
Within a few hours, they had all the laundry washed and put away.
“Now on to the kitchen!” she explained. “First we’ll wash all these filthy dishes, and then we’ll start dinner.”
“I would have never known how to do all this!” explained Jeff. “Mom did everything.”
“Don’t worry!” whispered Shannon. “She may be gone, but we’ll have this place looking like new in a few days. It just takes a little teamwork!”
“I was thinking this was why I hired you,” Jeff grinned.
“I think I recall the word “help” being used,” smiled Shannon.
“You’re right!” he agreed. “That’s what I said.”
The next morning, they saddled up and headed up a trail that led up into the hills. Shannon was excited and wanted to race the horses. Jeff allowed her to ride ahead on the new trail which led up to a peak with two trees and a narrow pathway between them. A nice grassy meadow lay fifty feet below on one side, and a jagged rocky trail sloped down on the other. Below in the meadow, there was a running spring deep enough that they could dip their feet into and cool off. As they rode down and sat there chatting, they noticed a mamma bear and her two cubs enter the water about a quarter mile downstream.
“Oh look!” Shannon shouted, excited. “Let’s ride down there and get a closer look. Maybe we could follow them and see where they go.”
“It’s best we don’t do that,” warned Jeff. “Next time we’ll just bring binoculars with us.”
“Are you afraid of bears?” she asked, giggling.
“Just cautious!” he replied.
“This is wonderful,” whispered Shannon. “We have our own private hideaway.”
Jeff slid his arm around her and kissed her on the lips. She responded by parting her lips and kissing him back.
“May I make love to you?” he asked.
“We’re not married,” she responded, smiling.
“But don’t you feel the closeness that’s developing between us?” he asked.
“This is just the part where we begin courting,” she stated. “This is where we start getting to know each other.”
“I know enough about you already,” smiled Jeff.
“No, you’ll have to wait and court me as a lady. You’ll have to prove to me that you’re my man and will stick by me.”
“What else do I need to do?” he asked.
“You haven’t even begun to fight,” giggled Shannon. “Don’t you think I’m worth waiting for?”
“Okay, I’ll wait as long as it takes,” he agreed.
“Promise?” she asked.
“Then kiss me again like you did before.”
Soon after, they got up to leave.
“This will be our special place,” she whispered. “We must come here often.”
“You just like to race the horses and beat me,” he laughed. “That’s all you’ll ever want to do!”
“How’d you guess?” she answered. “Want to race home?”
“Better give the horses a break,” he grinned. “Besides, we want them to recognize this trail as the place where they run fast to get here.”
“Maybe next Sunday after church we can pack a lunch, ride up, and stay longer,” she suggested.
“I’d like that,” Jeff agreed.
During the next several months, Jeff took her out for romantic candlelight dinners and moonlight walks around the lake in the downtown area. Their feelings toward each other began to grow stronger and soon they fell in love. Soon after, they had a small church wedding.
Two weeks later, a terrible accident occurred and Shannon was killed. Later, after her funeral, Jeff stood on the porch, tears streaming down his eyes as he remembered what had happened.
Many times in the preceding weeks, when they had raced up to their hideaway, he had always let Shannon beat him and she would giggle because she had won.
That day, however, she wanted to see more of an effort on his part. “Can’t you at least try to beat me?” she asked, giggling.
Jeff spurred his horse, Pablo, and he lunged forward, galloping past them at full speed. He turned and glanced back once and saw them trailing, but coming on fast. As they approached the small opening between the two trees, Jeff caught a glimpse of Celia making a last effort to pass him on the outside. He could also hear laughter from Shannon, but it was too late. Celia realized the danger and tried to pull up. Shannon flew forward in the saddle, hitting the outer tree headfirst, breaking her neck. Celia stumbled backwards and lost her footing, causing her to tumble sideways over the edge of the rocky cliff. Shannon’s foot was caught in one of the stirrups and she was yanked down as well. They both landed hard onto the grassy meadow fifty feet below. Shannon lay lifeless with her neck twisted to one side, and Celia lay next to her bellowing out in pain. Jeff could see the horse’s two front legs were broken. He hurried his horse down the sloped pathway to where they lie. He knew that Shannon would not last long. He leaped from his horse and knelt beside her, holding her close.
“You won!” She whispered, fighting to spend her last dying breaths with him.
“I’m so sorry!” Jeff muttered, crying.
“I love you Jeff!” she whispered, before dying in his arms.
Moments later, he put Celia out of her misery.
“I have to ride back up there and bless our spot,” Jeff thought. I’ll take some flowers and leave at daylight tomorrow morning.
As he approached the top of the ridge, he heard Shannon’s voice call out, “Do you want to race?”
“I must be hearing things,” he thought.
He hurried along until he reached the top and then rode down below to the meadow. He laid the flowers there in remembrance of his true love. Soon he walked his horse over to the stream for a drink. As he glanced toward where they had seen the bears before, he saw an image of Shannon riding Celia. She waved and then disappeared.
Jeff shuddered, thinking he was seeing things.
He returned to the spot where she had died.
“Thanks for the beautiful flowers,” he heard her say.
“Where are you?” he asked.
“I am just here for a short while,” she said. “Heaven waits.”
“Can I hold you and kiss you goodbye?”
“You must forget about me now,” she said. “Someone is coming soon to take my place!”
“I don’t understand!” replied Jeff.
Then she told him about her friend Carol. “I must go now Jeff, Goodbye!” Then her transparent body lifted heavenward.
The next morning, Jeff stood drinking coffee and looking out over his deck.
All at once a truck turned into the driveway pulling a horse trailer. It continued until it reached the parking area below.
“Who could that be?” he wondered, as he went down to see.
“Are you Jeff,” a beautiful, young girl about twenty stepped out and asked. “I’m Carol, Shannon’s friend from Arkansas. I had a strange feeling that she needed me, so I decided to surprise her. Is she around?”
“We need to talk!” Jeff whispered.
“May I unload my horses first?” Carol asked. “They’ve been cooped up inside this trailer for a long time and they need to stretch their legs.”
“Of course,” replied Jeff, “Lets take them down to the corral.”
They walked down and put her horses in the corral. Then Carol began to cry. Jeff consoled her as they walked back up to the deck.
“I’d like for you to stay here,” he whispered.
“Thanks, but I’ll need to go and look for work,” Carol cried.
“Shannon told me all about you,” replied Jeff. “You can work for me.”
“I would like that!” sniffed Carol. “You have a very nice ranch here.”
From somewhere high above, Shannon looked down and smiled, as she knew everything would soon be okay for all the loved ones she had left behind.