tagRomanceA Red Leaf & Ten Orchids Ch. 15

A Red Leaf & Ten Orchids Ch. 15


***Kayla learns about the last tattoo.



No matter what Jim said after -- no matter what threat was used, or even polite questioning, as much of a surprise as that was to Josh that it would be attempted, there was no answer forthcoming when Jim asked what Josh's idea had been. The best that he got was something as vague as if he'd asked for the exact date of the second coming of Christ.

"It's just something that I was thinking with regard to Kayla and I," Josh said, "It doesn't concern you at all, Jim."

Brisebois had finally just shrugged, "Do you really think that after my whole long life and the things that I've done, that I don't know bullshit when I hear it?

Alright," he said raising his hands in a placating gesture, "OK, you won't talk. But when it hits the fan, Josh old buddy, it just might hurt."

"All I'm saying," he grinned maliciously.


Rose stared as she looked at the set of keys dangling from Josh's fingers. "What -- what do you need me for?" she asked Jim, "If I knew how to make this place go, I'd already have started."

"You've lived here for a long time," Josh said, "You know where everything is. I've only ridden the perimeter fence to fix it some, but I don't know the features of the land. I think it would save us some time if you went with Jim to show him the place. I'm sure that he could roll around and discover everything by himself, but that takes time."

"Well it wouldn't take quite as much time if you'd been able to get me that map that I requested," Brisebois tossed in.

"Rose hasn't been able to find the original survey," Josh tossed right back, "C'mon, Rosie. I could go with him, but it would just be the blind leading the ... uh, .... learned and wise one," he smiled carefully.

"Besides, he'd only make me drive and he'd bitch about every little bump."

Jim looked at Josh with old storm clouds gathering on his brow as he sighed heavily, "Taylor, I remind you about that urban warfare course at Shiloh when you swerved to the right and took us right off the road and broke an axle. I got a freely-bleeding lump on my head out of it and about a day and a half of paperwork just for fun afterwards."

"I told you," Josh protested, "I thought that I'd seen the trigger of a roadside bomb; you know the flash-bang things they used in that course?"

Jim nodded, "Yes, cleverly disguised to look like a flattened paper coffee cup. I remember."

"Yeah," Josh countered, "but out there? What was a coffee cup doing out there, miles from anywhere?"

"I dunno," the older man said, "but it wasn't anything other than what it looked like, was it?

Unless," he mused aloud, "Unless it was placed there very craftily by the course instructors, so that the less-bright among us would jerk the wheel to avoid it and break an axle in the rocks."

Brisebois suddenly looked concerned, "I think this is significant, because it indicates something which might be used against us."

"What do you mean?" Josh asked.

"Well how the hell would those people have known otherwise that they didn't need the expense of actual training explosives there that day? They didn't need any, did they? They knew you'd be coming by and hell, a coffee cup was good enough then, right, Taylor?"

Kayla looked down, trying to hide her smile as Jim turned, "Please Rose, get me the hell away from Josh before I remember any more highlights. I'll be good. I promise I'll be good."

Rose had to smile then and she just shrugged, "Alright, just let me get some jeans and boots on."


Jim and Rose stood by the fender of the Ford. He was making sketches on the pad on the hood, and checking his GPS, noting elevations, and distances. It was all Greek to Rose, but she was enjoying the day.

Jim was all that Josh had said; polite, courteous and thoughtful. She found that he was rather nice to look at as well, though he did seem to have a second sense about it and she found that her glances had to be really surreptitious and above all, quick.

She was able to get a few longer looks when he grabbed his cell.

When Josh picked up, he said. "Taylor. Is there Internet access here?

Ok, how about a printer?

Good. I need something of a topographic view, tremendous detail isn't important, but I need the features. If you can't do that, don't sweat it. I've got my laptop, and I have mapping software on it for my GPS...."

He listened for a moment as Josh asked about rattlesnakes.

"Rattlesnakes? Yeah," Jim growled, "we saw a couple, but I barked at them, and they buggered off. I don't have time to tiptoe around every one. I just stomp my foot and yell."

Rose grinned at that, though it had only happened twice -- and it had worked.

"We're gonna break for lunch in a minute. Later."

That evening, Rose found herself even more impressed when Jim had asked if he could help with dinner that evening. She'd thought that it meant that he'd offered to help out and she'd agreed just because he was a lot of fun to be with and it also saved Josh from his ire, though there wasn't any more of that at all.

They were only going to have hamburgers, but Brisbois had surprised her -- well, amazed her, actually, when she'd turned around to find him mixing all sorts of things into the ground beef; things that she'd never have had the thought of tossing in. She asked and Jim had only shrugged as she watched him make up the patties.

When the grille was hot, he'd just taken over that chore as well, and though she'd been cooking up hamburgers for years on end, she couldn't recall ever tasting a better burger anywhere in her life.

"I see you're getting on well," Kayla smiled as they watched Jim work the grille, "Nice to see you enjoying yourself."

Rose smiled, "I am at that. I meet people in my job," she smiled and she shrugged a little then, "I sometimes even get asked out, but to tell you the truth, it's hard to accept. It's only been a year, Kayla. Besides, most of the men that I see don't look to be as much fun as I'm having right now."

Kayla nodded, "I get it. But you ought to maybe think a little. I sure don't mean anything, and I hope that you don't take it the wrong way, but Aunt Rose, Jim's only going to be here for a week or so.

And I'm not implying anything either," she said, "I just wanted to mention it.

I can't offer much but ... maybe you ought to think about yourself for a change, but I think that if you could ask him, Sam would tell you to try for a little happiness, you know?"

Rose nodded as she watched, trying to see if Jim was cooking the patties thoroughly without being too obvious about it but after a minute of it, he noticed and they laughed about it.

When she asked, he'd smiled and said that he'd learned from the owner of a Dairy Queen many years ago how to cook patties repeatedly to perfection, and as far as the ingredients went, he'd be pleased to write down everything that he'd used later.

Later on, Jim sat with the others out on the porch as he waited for his USB GPS module to acquire satellite fixes for his laptop. Rose watched as he studied the topographic map that Josh had been able to pull off the net and compared it with what they'd seen as she looked and felt a little regret that they wouldn't need to drive out again the next day for something -- he'd been that much fun to be with.

But then he frowned at a few things, circling them with a pencil and making a few notes. She was about to ask when he turned to her, "Would it be a large imposition if I asked you to come with me again tomorrow, Rose? This is looking rather good to me, but there are a few things here that we didn't see and I'd really like to check -- that is, if you wouldn't mind."

Rose laughed a little, "I was trying to think of something -- some part of this old place that I hadn't shown you yet. I'd love to, Jim."

With that settled, Josh showed his friend the two old Harleys. Jim was astounded and insisted that Josh prove to him that at least one of them could start and run.

"Hey, you want to take this one out for a little ride before it gets dark?" Josh asked, "I put the battery back in it, since I had it out the other day to run the sidecar rig for Jilly."

Jim shook his head, "I rode one like this donkey's years ago and it was old then. Maybe tomorrow, Joshua, I don't know the roads around here."

"Aunt Rose does," Kayla grinned, holding up a helmet with an innocent smile.

Rose stared in a shock and then looked at Jim.

"Well if I had a guide ..." he smiled.

Rose laughed, "Fine, I'll take this as a challenge then.

Just make sure you've got your phone, Jim," she said as she threw her leg over the bike and looked at him levelly, "Well?"


The next day, they drove on in Josh's truck until they came to a little copse of trees on a hilltop that overlooked a small valley. Sitting under the trees with the cooler, they chatted over lunch.

Rose looked at him. They'd been having a wonderful time, laughing and joking, and actually getting things done, too. His questions had drawn a lot of information out of her that was important to him for his eventual advice to her. Most of it she just knew, but didn't realize its importance as to whether the ranch could work or not.

He told her the reason for each of his questions, and indicated how the answers fit for him. There was a lot about him that she liked. He knew his mind, and the world be damned.

She just wondered how it would go if she held a divergent opinion to his own. It was an interesting thought. "Jim, why do you often call Joshua only by his last name?"

He smiled a bit shyly at that. She liked it on him, probably because it was a side of him that stayed hidden to most people. Most people only got the cast iron front end. She felt a bit special to be allowed to see it.

"Um, I think it's because I'm an old fart," he said.

She smiled, and he continued. "In the work that we did before, only our surnames are on our uniforms. We meet as strangers, and never use first names on the job. So once I had a young guy under my command named Taylor. I didn't care about his first name unless I happened to have another Taylor, in which case he'd become 'Taylor J'. Now Joshua and I ended up working together a lot, and we became personal friends eventually.

But old habits die hard. I call him Taylor, or 'Sergeant' and he doesn't mind, and he calls me 'MWO, or 'Master Warrant', and I don't mind. It's easy to fall back on our previous relationship titles, even though we don't have need for them any longer.

I suspect that it might bother you though. I won't mention it to Joshua, but I'll make an effort to change my habit for you, would that be alright?"

Rose smiled, "Thanks, I understand. It's just that I see him as a son, and you can appreciate a mother's view, right?"

Brisebois laughed quietly. "I certainly can. The view of mothers in general has been sadly neglected throughout the history of the world. There would be a lot less war if the mothers of the world had their say."

Rose was stunned. "That's so nice to hear from you, but if you'll forgive me, it's a strangely peaceful way for a soldier to speak."

Jim looked at her. "Why would you say that? Rose, I don't like war. I was a professional soldier. I'm Canadian, but I lied about my age a long time ago and enlisted voluntarily in your United States Marine Corps."

"Why?" Rose interjected and he shrugged, "Well for one thing, at the time, they didn't ask me all that many pointed questions. I was young and I wanted to see a bit of the world and ... adventure, you know? Anyway, I fought two tours in Vietnam. Afterward, I came back home and enlisted there.

I've been a soldier all of my life and have trained many, many others such as your Joshua. By the way, he's also my Joshua, because I love him as my own son, that's why I was always hard on him. I've taught them how to do their jobs, but I've also taught them my simple philosophy. There is no one who desires peace more than a soldier. If you ask him in a private moment, I'm sure that he'd tell you the same thing.

And if he doesn't, you let me know, and I'll wring his neck until he gets it right." He smiled warmly.

Rose was surprised. He seemed to be such a hard and gruff man on the outside, but there was real sensitivity there if you took the trouble to look for it. She liked that a lot. A diamond in the rough who was a shining jewel on the inside, but only the privileged could get a look at it.

"This is the best view overall of the land," Rose said pointing, "I like to come here to try to think of ideas. Lately I've been trying to have ideas about saving the place, mostly. I'm afraid I'm going to lose it."

She looked down then but Jim had noticed the subtle change in her voice. He leaned over to her and gently lifted her chin. Her eyes were awash in the green of her irises, and he felt his heart being twisted in his chest.

To him, Rose was a vision of complete loveliness. Strong, but kind, and very intelligent -- all wrapped up in wit and horse sense. He'd looked a long time for one like her and until now, it had been his considered opinion that they didn't exist.

And now he could see that she felt hopelessness. He resolved to help her for her own sake if he could manage it at all. If she wanted this place to run, he'd do whatever he could for her.

It wasn't just because Joshua had asked him now.

"Rose, please listen to me. I don't have enough information yet, I've only been here a day and a bit. But so far, I don't really see a reason relating to the land itself that would prevent the operation. I want to map out the pastures some more, and locate the water. If we get that done today, and I think we're pretty much there, I'll be looking at operational aspects tomorrow with you and Josh. I think that's good news for now."

Rose blinked at him and felt some hope. Jim continued softly. "Now that's still speculation yet, but it's looking good to me so far.

And speaking of that, as long as I'm here to give my personal opinion and all, well ... I think you're beautiful. Rose, I could look at you all day long, but my preference is that while I'm doing it, that you stop crying if you could. It would make the job just that much more pleasant for me."

He smiled and she began to smile weakly back at him.

"Also, though I have had a couple of chances to tell him, it seems that something is always going on here and I've forgotten twice at least, but I think I have some good news for Kayla and Jillian, and for Joshua." he grinned. "His release has been officially formalized. They could technically recall him within a time period, but I don't see that happening, except in circumstances of dire need. Unless we're invaded or something, he's out."

Rose felt her heart leap in her chest. "Really? Do you mean it?" she asked.

Jim looked at her curiously. "Rose, why would I lie about a thing like that? I know that he's like a son to you, and I told you that he's like a son to me, an-"

Rose was on him instantly. She kissed him in joy over the relief that she felt at first, laughing as she did, but it soon gave way to something else that they both felt urgently. They stopped after a few minutes when she looked at him sheepishly.

"I'm sorry. I got carried away. Please don't think..."

Jim looked at the loveliest woman that he could ever imagine. "Rose, stop it. I don't think that you got carried away. Not yet, anyway, though carrying you away is a lovely thought, I'll admit.

You were happy at my news and you kissed me. I responded because I really like you. You're so beautiful to me. I think those were the best kisses I can ever remember, and I'm an old fart!"

They laughed together, and she pushed him back until he was lying down. She looked down on him, and said, "Um, Jim... WE are old farts together, and I don't care about that if you don't. I think you're just wonderful. Josh told me some of his stories, and I'm sure they were pretty watered down for my benefit because he didn't want me to worry. But I detected a common element in a lot of them.

There was someone that he looked to for guidance if he needed it. I knew it was you watching over him if you could while still doing the job. Thank you for that." She kissed him for it.

She kissed him for a lot of reasons, lastly just because she really liked to kiss him.

She paused for a second or so when Sam crossed her mind, but she realized that Kayla had been right. If Sam knew about this, he wouldn't mind. He'd want his widow to be happy, just as she herself would if the situation were reversed. She continued after realizing that she wanted this, and that this man really appealed to her in many ways.

Jim stopped suddenly, and she looked up at him. "What's wrong?" she asked.

"Nothing Rose, I was just wondering how far we ought to go. I was thinking of leaving that up to you. What do you think?" he asked as he kissed her one more time.

"I think that you ought to use your binoculars and figure out if there's any way that anybody can see us here." She grinned at him and chuckled.

"Beautiful, smart, and a good field tactician," he said with admiration, "What a combination," he said as he began to scan their perimeter.

"Well, I don't know about the first part of that," Rose smiled shyly, "but there was a time when I guess I used to be pretty good in a field," she chuckled, "Us farm girls usually are."

"I knew there was a reason I should have stayed on the farm," he laughed as he finished looking, "There's no way that any-"

He lowered the binoculars and stared at her, knowing that she'd just made what to her just had to be one very hard choice to make indeed.

"Am I alright?" she asked uncertainly. She was lying naked on the blanket in front of him.


Josh and Kayla had begun to wonder what had happened to them. Together, they had discussed calling Jim's cell, but had no real justification. Rose knew the land and the hazards, and Jim was an old soldier. They asked each other what trouble they could have gotten into.

Each time they vocalized their concerns to each other, they ended up grinning and chuckling. At last, Josh climbed up the rickety windmill with the binoculars.

"Can you see them Josh? Kayla asked from the ground.

Josh looked along the distant ridge, "No -- uh, yeah."

"Are they driving back?" she asked, and he said, "Nooo, no they're not."

"Well, what are they doing? Having a chit chat or what?" she wanted to know. But then she paused, "No..."

Josh looked down and shrugged, "Well, yeah."

He felt the vibrations in the tower. He was about to look down again when Kayla got to the top on the other side.

"You know we shouldn't be doing this right now for a couple of very good reasons, right?" he asked. "If this doesn't collapse, all they'd need to do is look this way. They've got binoculars too."

"Oh, absolutely." she said, "Gimme the binoculars! Where?"

He pointed in the general direction as he handed them over and said "Slide along the ridge line going left until you see a small stand of trees in front of it. Got it? There are two groups, see them?

Can you spot my truck there? You might have to rest the field glasses against the frame here to steady them, it's pretty far out. Ok, divide the distance from the trees to the truck into three, and look one third of the distance from the trees. What do you see?"

"I see the trees," she said, "and the truck. Ok, one third from the trees to the truck. I see...something moving."

"Look hard at what's moving. All of the things in view ought to be vertical, the trees, the grass, you know? There's only one thing that I saw that was horizontal, and doesn't fit in the scene. Use your imagination."

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