The incoming group looked much the same as the others had when they first arrived. Too nervous, too talkative, too damn clean. They piled out of the rusty van, faces split in huge grins, expecting trail rides, campfire songs, and meals cooked over open flames. They’d get it, too. Boss always saw to that.
I helped unload the luggage and noticed one slender young man in stiff new blue jeans lean into someone bigger and sturdier than him.
“We’re here at last,” the leaner said to his companion, who smiled and slipped an arm around his waist.
That was different. Looked like we had our first gay couple. I felt a tiny thrill. I was gay, but no one at the ranch knew it. I’d kept it to myself the two years I’d worked here.
Their names, I found out as cabins were assigned, were Lonny and Craig. Lonny was the small, thin one. They’d come all the way from Chicago for a vacation in the wild.
From the first, they were lots of fun. Lonny went out of his way to entertain everyone with hilarious stories, and he often made himself the butt of the joke when it came to learning how to saddle a horse or twirl a lariat. Craig was helpful, always first to offer assistance to whoever needed it. They quickly became popular with guests and staff alike.
I gravitated toward them whenever they were in the area, unable to stay away. I hadn’t been around gay men since my college days, and seeing them together made my heart ache with longing. They made me vividly remember what I’d been missing all this time.
At the last campfire of the week, the evening before this group left and another one showed up, someone asked Lonny if he’d miss the ranch when he was back in Chicago. The sun was sinking in the west, and the reddish light made his face glow.
He patted his stomach. “I’ve never eaten so much, and every bite was delicious. I’ve also never slept better. The silence at night made my ears ring.” He grinned. “No sirens. It’s been heaven.”
“There’s one thing that needs doing before we leave in the morning,” Craig said solemnly, fingering the denim duster that had been so pristine when he’d arrived and was now broken in and dirty, like it should be. “Please stand, Lonny.”
Surprised, Lonny glanced around the circle of people before rising. Craig knelt at his feet. I leaned against my horse, admiring the picture they made, silhouetted against the last light of the day, limned in sunset lavender and red.
Craig took Lonny’s hand in his, and I swallowed hard. I knew a proposal when I saw one. Craig spoke the timeless words and slipped a ring on Lonny’s finger. The women present “awwwwed,” thrilled at the romantic gesture. Lonny burst into tears of joy and wrapped himself around Craig.
I didn’t sleep much that night. Instead, I did a lot of thinking, and in the morning, I handed in my notice.
When Lonny and Craig and the rest of the tour group left, I went with them, in search of the life I was finally ready to embrace.
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