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I haven’t heard from Peyton in five days. Five long days. I sound ridiculous but it is driving me crazy. This is the longest she’s gone without sending something to one of us. Is something wrong? When we call the hospital, they won’t tell us anything beyond she’s unavailable. What does that mean!? Ali is freaking out and convinced that the worst has happened. We’re nobody to her officially so we won’t be notified if something happens… God no… I’m sure she’s fine.

Probably just a retreat or something.

By the sixth day Ali is swearing at everyone and my mood isn’t any better. It is hot as hell out and this part of the state is experiencing the worst drought it has seen in decades. We’ve been bringing the cattle in for days, corralling them in different quads to ensure their water intake. The next few weeks are going to be exhausting for the workers and expensive for the owners. If the cattle aren’t in the pasture, we have to feed them so there’ll be those costs too. It gets tough when nature doesn’t cooperate. A ranch this size has thousands of cattle and while I have a large crew of men under me, it is still a lot of work rounding every head up. Especially in the heat – I already have three men down with heatstroke. Thankfully, we got the last of them in today.

I’m not getting out of bed tomorrow except to use a bathroom, or to eat.

I can hear some of the men’s rowdy laughter coming from the bunkhouse as a poker game gets started. Everyone is relieved that the worst is behind us – the coming labour isn’t easy but at least we’ll all be ‘home-based’. For all these workers, home is where you lay your head at night, feeds you three squares a day, pays you at the end of a hard day and that takes place doing work we all love. And at home we can retreat to air-conditioning if we want and get fresh water when we need it. So I have no doubt that tonight there will be a lot of partying and drinking after the last few days.

I’m not in the mood to party and am heading to my cabin, once again grateful for the privilege of having my own quarters. When I get inside it is comfortably cool and I waste no time undressing and hopping into the shower. It astounds me that the drain doesn’t plug for the amount of dirt that washes off of me. Disgusting.

As I rinse my hair, I hear knocking. Someone is at my door. Probably Ali but I’m really not in the mood for anymore of his bad attitude tonight. I consider ignoring the knocking, but it is obvious I’m home so that is just being rude, even if it is only Ali. Annoyed, I wrap my towel around my waist and swing the door open. It is Ali. Except he isn’t alone.


Is it possible? Is she real? Am I dreaming? Did I bang my head in the shower? Why am I asking myself a million questions?

“Hi, Finn. It’s great to see, uh, all of you,” she jokes reminding me that I’m naked except for a towel. I don’t even care, I’m just so happy to see her. Excited. Thrilled. I want to dance like I just got my first Hot Wheels. Not that I did that.

“Peyton! It is so good to see you!” I hug her with one arm, using the other to keep my towel on. I invite both of them in and get everyone a beer once we’re seated. I know I’m smiling like a Cheshire cat, but I can’t help myself. I missed her. A lot. A lot, a lot. The letters only confirmed how much. And how much I care for her.

Also, a lot.

She lost weight while she was away, but otherwise looks the same. Her hair is longer and if possible, shinier, healthier looking. Actually she herself is healthier looking. You can see the difference in her face and especially in her beautiful grey eyes. Before there was a paleness to them but now the colour reminds me of a storm on the horizon... you don’t know what lies behind them but there is strength and confidence there. Stunning and sexy as hell. As we talk about trivial things, she is quick to laugh and smile and she’s sincere about it. This is a different Peyton from the one we knew before – this Peyton is free of everything that was holding her down. I have no doubt she’ll always have her ghosts, as we all do – but if she’ll let us, Ali and I could help her with those in the years to come. We’ll work with professionals too – whatever she needs.

I just pray to God that distance isn’t what she needs.

This Peyton is definitely stronger and more self-confident, and wow is it sexy on her, but the old Peyton is still hiding below. I’m sure the only reason I can see the signs at all is because of my experience with other PTSD sufferers, but I think that’ll help us in the long run. Same with Ali, especially now that he is working both sides of the desk. The three of us could help each other, and it would be so good.

We would be so good.

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