By: Jess Mercer
(Copyright 2000 - 2007 by the author)
The author retains all rights. No reproductions are allowed without the author's
consent. Comments are appreciated at...
'What do you want to be when you grow up, son?'
I've put up with that question all my life and I still can't give an honest answer, though I'm now almost twenty-six. I have two degrees in English, simply because that was the most appealing of the course offerings in college. I did well with minimal effort and pleased my parents. Then came the rude awakening. What does one do with an English degree other than teach? I suppose I could have found work as an editor or proofreader with some publishing firm if I had wanted to live in a city, but I hate cities with a passion.
Just before graduation, I saw a notice for a teacher in a small college in an even smaller town, and checked it out. Even before my interview, I knew I would be content here. It's a private institution, very liberal in outlook, with small classes of select students. The gods must have smiled, because I was offered a one-year appointment to see how I liked it, and how they liked me. So here I am at the end of a school year, walking out of the president's office with a full contract and tenure to come after one more year. The drawback is that I must leave the college provided flat and find a permanent place to live. The two campus flats are for teachers on trial, just as I have been.
I drop by the student union for a cup of coffee and a little time to think. Sitting at a table, I pick up a homes magazine one of the students must have left and idly flip the pages. Whoa! I turn back a page and see a charming log cabin kit that's well within my means. An acre of two of land for privacy is all I need.
Enthusiastically, I walk swiftly to the town's one realtor and ask. He hems and haws a bit when, after trying to appear disinterested, I tell him my dream from childhood. He finally says, "Weeell, old man Simpkins passed on a couple of weeks ago. We might find somethin' ta suit you iffen his heirs is willing to let go a parcel that small. They was wantin' ta sell the whole farm at once."
"Can I see it?" The old timers in this town drive me to distraction with their dilatory approach to life.
"S'pose you might."
"Good. Let's go."
He gives me an aggrieved look and shakes his head, but rises slowly from his chair and puts on his hat. We go out and get in his ancient Toyota pickup and start out.
"It's a mite fer from town," he says.
"'Bout three mile."
"Perfect." I've begun work on my first novel and the isolation will be great.
While most of the countryside is gently rolling, when he turns off onto a rough clay lane the pitch of the terrain increases. Ever the perpetual visionary, I cross my fingers in expectation. This time I'm not disappointed when he stops and points.
"This here is what they'll be most likely ta part with. Too steep and rocky fer anything useful."
I get out of his truck and walk a few yards to the edge of the woods, looking down at a wide, swift flowing but shallow stream. A few feet further on the rocks provide a little waterfall of unsurpassed beauty, though it's not over a six-foot drop. Whatever my dreams of a perfect spot, they pale beside this. I know instantly I must have this bit of heaven on earth.
"They's a spring jes up thar don't never run dry." The old man has come up beside me and is pointing toward the upper part of the stream. "Good pure water. Folks use ta come up here fer it afore the town got water, that's how come they's a road. Be good fer ya iffen ya gets this here piece, cause you ain't gonna get no well dug in all that there rock."
He may act the perfect rube, but I carefully hide my excitement with a shrug. "If you haven't got anything else to show me, I suppose I'll have to think about it. Be costly bringing power and a phone line up here. It'll need surveying, too. I suppose I'll have to pay for that as well."
"'Spect so." He takes off his hat and scratches his head. "Got a place er two in town, but they's a mite big fer a single feller."
I walk back to his truck leaving him to follow. Getting a covert glance at him, I can see he's already accepting the idea I'm not interested and looking unhappy at the thought of losing his commission.
"Guess I could sound out the Simpkins kids iffen ya want. Even iffen I was ta find a buyer fer the farm, ain't likely they'd want this here worthless piece."
My heart skips a beat. If he's that blind to the beauty of this place perhaps the family is as well. "I suppose you might ask them, then. I don't really care one way or the other."
We ride back to town in silence, but when I get out of his truck and start to walk away, he stops me. "Gimme me yer number an' I'll git back ta ya 'bout five."
As soon as I'm out of sight, I sprint back to the student union and snatch the magazine from the hand of the student worker who is about to dump it in the trash. "Sorry. I forgot this."
Back in my flat, I study the ad thoroughly, then phone the company for a full catalogue and planning book, telling them to charge it to my Visa, including overnight post. I've just mixed myself a vodka tonic with a twist of lime to calm me, when the phone rings.
The realtor tells me the family is willing to sell, but only if I'll take ten acres, four of them on the far side of the crick, as they call it. Then he tells me in a sad tone of voice they want at least six hundred per acre fer worthless land, and they're hoping to find some fool willing to pay that. Fool, indeed! It's all I can do to keep from screaming my acceptance, but I mumble a bit, then offer four. He demurs, but says they might accept five. I tell him, in my best reluctant voice, that I might consider going that high if he can't do any better. He tells me he'll call back and hangs up.
I put the phone down, my heart racing with the hope I've pulled it off. Ten minutes later he calls back and says they'll take five hundred an acre if I pay cash. I can and will, and tell him I'll see him tomorrow. Once I hang up, I let out a jubilant yell, and pour myself a celebratory drink.
After dinner, I pick up the thin phone book and look for a surveyor. There are several in the neighboring town, but I spot one tiny ad with a local number. When I call, I get an answering machine so leave my number.
He returns my call as I'm having my second cup of coffee the next morning and tells me he'll drop by my flat in an hour to talk. I can tell from his voice he's young.
When I answer his knock at my door, I'm bowled over. His rugged good looks are as beautiful as the piece of property I want him to survey. He's slightly shorter than my own six-one, but solidly built. Slender, but muscular without an ounce of fat. He's wearing a canvas shirt, snug canvas jeans, and a knee-high lace-up polished brown boot on his left foot. He's propped on a single crutch, for his right leg ends just below the knee. The empty part of his jeans leg is pulled up snugly and held in place by two leather belts around his stump. No reason for this that I can discern, but it's the icing on the cake.
His smile is dazzling as he holds out his hand. "Jerry Atkins. Sorry I wasn't in when you called last night. Hope this isn’t an inconvenience."
I manage to find my voice. "Evan Michaels. Not at all. Come in."
He swing easily over to the table and drops down in the chair across from the one I was sitting in, then flips back the heavy shock of black hair that flops across his brow.
He nods and I pour him a mug then refill my own. He takes it straight out of the pot as I do. After a sip and a nod of approval, he says, "Now, about this property you want surveyed."
I try to place it for him as best I can.
He nods and flips the hair back again. "Know the stream, but never been that far up. Old man Simpkins father ran a still up there back when I was a kid. He'd shoot at anybody got near." He smiles that killer smile again. "Course he wasn't meanin' to hurt anybody, just scare 'em off. Why would you want that piece anyway? It's almost all rock as I remember."
"And one of the most beautiful places in creation. I'm planing to build a log cabin there and live in it."
"When do you want the survey?"
"Like yesterday. I'm putting up a deposit this afternoon."
"Have a small job to do today, but I can do it first thing tomorrow. Got all day free."
His fee strikes me as being a little high, but he smiles when I mention it. "Come out with me tomorrow and you'll see why I charge more than any of the others. I'll guarantee the accuracy. If there's any problem, I stand liable."
"Good. I don't have a helper, so I'll put you to work if need be. Pick you up about eight-thirty."
"Come by at eight and have breakfast."
Watching him move so easily with a single crutch, I suddenly realize I've fallen in love. No problem, because the college is open to gays. In fact, one of the courses I'll be teaching fall semester is on gay literature. So far I've hidden my orientation, but there are several faculty who are openly gay, as are a number of students. The founder of the college was gay, that's why there's such an openness and a year's trail period for prospective faculty.
Now that it's summer and I've minimal responsibilities at the college, I usually sleep-in, but I'm up at seven so I'll be fully awake when Jerry arrives.
He knocks on my door at precisely eight. Now I know I love him; I'm a stickler for promptness. If anything, he looks even better than he did yesterday. I try valiantly, but it's difficult to tear my eyes away from his stump. I've never been so turned on by an amputee before. He smiles and sits at the table, while I trot out the largest, most elegant breakfast I've ever prepared.
He tucks into it with an eagerness I hadn't expected. Only when we've both finished eating and I've refilled our coffee cups does he speak. "Now that was a breakfast to kill for! Wish I could cook so well."
"You're just lucky I found all the ingredients at the local market. It's not often I get to fix eggs Benedict with real Canadian bacon."
"You coffee is great, too."
"My one indulgence. It's Jamaican Blue Mountain."
He lets out a whistle. "The real thing?"
"Yes. I have a standing order which my supplier fills every month."
"Maybe one day I'll be able to afford some. It's sure good." He takes a final swallow and sets his cup down. "Well, time's wasting; ready to go?"
He's driving a large 4 X 4, but the surprise is an ATV in the back. He sees me looking at it. "Damned useful in some of the country around here. Keeps me from having to walk in a lot of rough terrain."
"You don't use a prosthesis?"
"If I'm dressing up for something, but it always seems to get tangled in vines when I'm working. I can get around on the crutch better. Use the ATV for longer distances. I can get us to the stream, but you'll have to guide me from there."
When we finally arrive at the site I want surveyed, he climbs out and looks around. "Damn, if I'd known this was the site, I'd of tried to buy it myself. Lived in this area all my life and never thought a place this lovely existed."
"Fell in love with it the moment I laid eyes on it." I point up hill. "I plan to put the cabin just up there so I can see the falls and stream from the big window I'll have in the main room."
Jerry shakes his head. "Man, I envy hell out of you. This is paradise far as I'm concerned. But I'd better get to work; you're not paying me to be sociable."
My mouth drops open at the electronic equipment he begins to take from the huge box in the back of the truck. "What?" I ask as he begins to set it up.
He grins. "Global positioning unit and a laser theodolite. Expensive stuff, but that's why I guarantee accuracy. Can't do better in terrain like this."
He fires up the equipment, and I watch with fascination as he plots our position on a clear plastic overlay on a large map of the area. Then he grins and hands me several brightly coloured hard plastic stakes and a hammer. "Your chance to be useful. And I'm taking your help into consideration when I figure your bill." He points upstream. "I assume you've walked the property over, so stop where you want the upper limit to be."
Once I've reached the place I'd chosen, I stop and wave at him. He checks his instruments and motions for me to drive a stake into the ground. Then he waves me back and tells me to go downstream to the other limit I've chosen and set a stake.
I don't know a darn thing about surveying, but his method seems unorthodox compared to the few surveyors I've seen working on road construction projects. When I walk back to him, he has jotted some measurements down on his pad.
"You're an optimist, guy. You said you wanted ten acres, four on the far side of the stream. The way you've set your limits it'll all be length and no depth. You'd better move one of the stakes back this way about five hundred feet or so."
"What about two-fifty for each?"
He shrugs. "Whatever makes you happy."
I make the adjustment, then he sends me into the woods on this side of the stream. Once those stakes are set, he grins. "Now you really work, buddy. Think you can get across the stream?"
I try to pick solid looking stones to step on, but one rolls under my foot and dumps me into the icy water midstream. "Shit!"
He doubles up laughing. "There goes any fishing for the day!" He yells back.
I can't be mad at him, but I'm irritated at myself. An hour later, the stakes are set, and I'm luckier on my return. It's hot enough that my clothes are almost dry by that time.
He points to the lines he's drawn on the overlay. "There's your ten acres, Evan. I laid out six and a half on this side and three and a half on the other. Figured the reason you wanted that on the other side of the stream was to keep someone from building across from you."
"It's not likely, anyway. No road on that side. Not much chance of you having any close neighbors on this side either, 'less I could get that piece just below you."
"I could live with that, long as you don't have a lot of kids."
"Not married." He shrugs. "It's just wishful thinking on my part, because I'm still paying off my equipment and the truck. Only been out of school a couple of years, and jobs are slow coming my way. I really appreciate your call."
"You're damn good from what I could tell." I decide to go for broke. "I'd like to get to know you, so if you'd care to have a beer with me occasionally… "
"Sounds good. Don't have any real friends. Most guys my age move away to get decent jobs soon as they can."
"If we're finished, let's go back to the flat and have a cold one. I can show you a picture of what I want to build out here."
He wipes the perspiration from his brow and grins. "Now that's an offer I can’t refuse. Help me pack this stuff."
Again I marvel at his dexterity on one leg and a crutch. When we're in the truck, I say, "You get around great. How long's it been?"
"You do what you gotta, but thanks. Lost my leg when I was eight. Learned a lot about mobility in seventeen years." He grimaces. "Had a few good job offers with large construction firms, but when they found out about my leg that was it. Hell, I didn't want to leave this part of the country anyway. I grew up in town and I like it. Don't have any family left, so after my folks died I sold the house I grew up in to get money to finish school and get a start. You got any family?"
"A few cousins I never see. I'm a confirmed bachelor unless I get lucky and find the one and only." I'd love to tell him he's it, but I don't dare.
He smiles. "Guess I'm pretty much the same."
At my flat, I get us a couple of icy beers and fix some sandwiches for our lunch. After we've eaten, I write him a cheque, surprised at how reasonable his fee is, then pull my chair around to his side of the table and show him the ad in the magazine.
"Perfect for the place you're getting. I've always liked a house in keeping with the setting, and this is. It'll look beautiful with all those firs in the background. You order the catalogue?"
"Should be here by now. Let me check the post. I'll only be a minute."
I sprint across the street to the administration building. The envelope is conspicuous among the junk mail in my box. Back home, I toss it to him to open while I'm sorting through the rest. All junk, as I suspected. Once I've trashed it, I sit back down beside him.
"Oh, man, what a deal. Once the site preparation is done, two guys could build this alone."
"That's what I had in mind. Can't afford to hire a professional crew."
I'm so startled I almost jump out of my chair when he puts his hand on top of mine and says, "Like I said, jobs are slow coming my way. I'd like to help you build this. I'll work cheap."
"No way. You said you liked me. Well, I've taken a real liking to you, too. I could enjoy working with you on this, and don't worry, I worked construction when I was a teen. Local guy gave me a job cause he knew my leg wasn't any hold back." His smile vanishes and he looks me straight in the eyes. "It bother you any?"
"God, no! You're sexy as hell on your crutch." I slap my hand over my mouth, but the words are out. "Sorry. Didn't mean to say that."
His serious expression slides into a grin. "You're gay."
"Yeah, damn it, and I'm in love with you."
His expression turns serious again. "I'm not sure, but I think I'm falling for you, too. I don't believe in love at first sight, but I'd sure welcome the chance to get to know you a lot better. Working on this cabin of yours will give me that chance. You game?"
He smiles. "You've got it. I'd best get back to the office and get the plat mapped out so you'll have it when you close."
At the door, I'd love to kiss him, but I can tell it wouldn't be welcome. We shake hands and he's gone. I know I'll see him tomorrow, but that seems an eternity.
After a few evenings together when he's helping me work out the order for the cabin, and suggesting a man to clear the site of trees and prepare it for building, I'm hopelessly in love with him. My anguish comes when he leaves each evening with no sign of his feelings for me.
Not once have I seen him walk with anything but his crutch. The college has a woodworking shop and I'm handy with tools, so one evening when I see an illustration in a book I'm reading, I decide to surprise him. Three nights later when he lets himself in with the key I gave him, the surprise is ready.
"What the hell?" he asks when he spots it.
"Never seen you use your leg, so I made you a peg. Want to try it?"
"Well damn! I always wanted to try one, but nobody I asked knew how to make one or anybody that did. Guess it's a lost art, cause the last one I saw was on an old man back when I was a little guy and had both legs."
"It's going to take some fitting. Try it and I'll make the adjustment." It takes me about half an hour to get it right, but at last he straps it on and takes a few steps, then comes back and hugs me.
"Feels funny to my knee after all these years, but I think I'll like it after I get the muscles in my stump built up some and get used to it. You're great to go to all this trouble for me."
"Got a selfish motive. I want you really mobile when we start work on my cabin. With that you've got no excuse."
"Sure you didn't have another motive in mind?"
"You said I was sexy on my crutch, what about with this peg-leg?"
I might have known a guy sharp as Jerry would pick up on the sight of me practically drooling. "You'd better watch it, buddy. There's such a thing as date rape and looking at you on that peg sure puts me in the mood."
His grin goes from ear to ear, then he's pulling me close with those muscular arms and giving me his first kiss. "I know I'm in love with you, Evan. We'd better expand that cabin a little if we're going to live together. That what you had in mind?"
The kiss I give him leaves no doubt.
We move into our cabin in late August. I can hardly wait to get home from school each day, and he tries not to work past that time. He's begun to attend functions at the college with me, and I guess being in love has loosened me up, for I'm becoming popular with the students, and I've had several notes of commendation from the administration on the improvement in my teaching. It's our time alone I really cherish. With Jerry, every day is like a honeymoon for me.
Damn, he's gorgeous on a peg-leg!
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