Enid Parker was an addict who never wanted to admit she had a problem, because all of them were completely legal vices. However, the combination of cigarettes, alcohol and prescription pain medications, eventually landed her in the hospital with a near fatal stroke. Goaded by her family and doctors, she decided to take a rest cure in New Mexico.
A trip to the Lazy J Dude Ranch appealed to her, but she was unable to go alone. Every assistant she’d hired had ended up leaving after a few days. Enid was very demanding. Never having been very even tempered, she was worse than ever. Frustrated by her inability to cope alone, her independent nature made living with her hell. She couldn’t pay anyone enough to stay on with her, so she turned to family.
Hana Sutherland was Enid’s great-niece. At 23, she was fresh out of college and between jobs. When she graduated, she’d had a job with a good computer software company, ground level, but it fell through at the last minute. After moving from Houston to Albuquerque, she’d used up what little savings she had and couldn’t afford to move back home. Job hunting wasn’t going well.
Enid’s stroke, though problematic for her, was a blessing in disguise for Hana. She put all her things in storage and flew, at Enid’s expense, back to Houston. From there, they drove to the Lazy J. Enid refused to fly or take a train. Despite her great-aunt’s cranky nature, Hana enjoyed the trip. She was seeing parts of the country that she’d never visited before. She even convinced her aunt to stop at Carlsbad Caverns. Aunt Enid would never admit it, but she enjoyed the tour just as much as Hana.
The trip took about a week, but it wasn’t rushed and Hana wasn’t exhausted when they arrived. In fact, once she had Aunt Enid ensconced in her ranch style cabin, with TV remote, six pack of Fresca and her salt free pretzels, Hana went out for a short walk. The Lazy J was pretty, in a quaint, deliberately rustic way. Everything was carefully planned to remind the guests they were in the Wild West. Each cabin had a hitching post by the front door and geraniums growing in window boxes.
Hana wandered around until she came to a corral near the western side of the compound. She and Aunt Enid were to the southeast. Several guests and ranch hands gathered along the fence, some sitting on the cross beams, others leaning against the top slat. Hana walked over shyly, hands in the back pockets of her jeans.
Her great-aunt had insisted she dress the dude ranch way, but Hana’s only concession was a pair of comfortable jeans and a white cowboy hat to keep off the sun. The rest of her outfit consisted of a pink tank top, hiking boots and sunglasses. She was glad she hadn’t followed Enid’s advice, because no one in this crowd was dressed like a cowboy, except the owners.
Jerry and Janine Jacobs owned the Lazy J. They had been running the dude ranch over fifty years. Having started with people staying in their home, they branched out to a huge operation. Guests could choose from a high quality guest house to their own private cabins. It was an expensive and luxurious way to spend a few weeks in the sun.
Being a wealthy widow with no children, Enid could afford it. She was generous with her money, if a bit demanding. Aunt Enid had always given freely, and even had paid for some of Hana’s college education, when one of her scholarships ran out. Despite her faults, Hana had always gotten along well with Enid, mostly because she wanted nothing from her great-aunt except her love. Consequently, she got far more than any other family members.
The group at the corral turned almost in unison when Hana walked up. The men tipped their hats and the women smiled warmly. Janine Jacobs walked up and invited her to join them, introducing her to the others.
“Hana just arrived today with her great-aunt,” she explained. “They’re in cabin seven.”
The others nodded and smiled. Most of the names and faces Hana was afraid she’d forget, but one couple stood out of the crowd. He was tall and fifty-ish, dark hair going gray at the temples. He was trim and athletic, his tan a little too perfect, his mustache a little too consciously bushy.
“The name’s Finch,” the man introduced himself, holding out his hand for her to shake. “Arnold Finch. I’m in investments.” He handed Hana his card. “My wife,” he gestured to a blonde woman perched on the fence.
She was considerably younger than he, petite and very pretty, in a sort of hard bitten, Bette Davis way. Her blonde hair was covered with a red bandana and she wore red denim Capri pants, white cotton blouse and red tennis shoes.
She looked like she’d stepped out of a magazine from 1952. Even her makeup gave the impression of being vintage. Hana had to concentrate on closing her mouth and not staring.
“Milly, meet our neighbor. This is Hana.”
“Hi, Hana! We’re next door, in number six. Nice to meet you! Want to come up here by us?” She scooted over as did the woman next to her.
Hana climbed up the fence with a little help from Jerry Jacobs and Arnold Finch. Milly Finch was on her right, a younger, redheaded woman to her left.
Hana took in her surroundings with curiosity. “What’s going on over here?”
“A show of sorts,” the redhead on her left said. “The guys do a mini rodeo once a day. At the end of the week, we can take a bus and go see the real thing. But this is more fun. They even teach the guests, if they want to learn how to lasso something. Not exactly my thing.” She wrinkled her nose. “But I do like the view!” She pointed across the corral at the young men.
© Dellani Oakes 2022