Holonovel, Chapter 1 (Part 2, Conclusion)
Timeline: MD 3 2100
Shane nodded. “Ah got that, ma’am,” he said, moving to the washbasin and cleaning up his own dishes. “No need ta make extra work for ya.” He paused. “If ya don’t mind, Ah noticed some things around that ya might need a hired hand ta take care of. Ah don’t know yer means an’ all, but Ah’m willin’ ta do at least a few days’ work for a few days’ meals an’ a bed, an’ maybe somethin’ more steady, if ya’ve the means.”
"Would you?" She looked at him incredulously. "I... I suppose it's because you're not from around here.” She looked sad.
"I should warn you then. My neighbour... I call him my cousin, but his Pa was my Pa's cousin, so they weren't exactly brothers, but he was Pa's next of kin. He let my ma and me live there but now, the son has the family ranch as well as being my neighbour. He's determined to make me leave here now my husband is dead. He wants to add this ranch to his own and treble the size of his property. Of course he wants me to have to sell out to him, and to have to give it away cheap. He's been threatening all the local workers. I go to the hirings, but no one dares take my work any more. They all say they dare not. I think if you stayed here, he'd try to get to you. You may be in danger. That's what I'm trying to say," she explained.
Shane finished the dishes as Carrie spoke and paused, drying his hands, looking out into the darkness that had fallen. He turned back to Carrie. “Understood, ma’am,” he said. “Don’t change mah mind none. Man still needs ta eat, an’ as the Good Book says, them as don’t work, don’t eat.” He flashed her a handsome, rugged smile.
"Thank you," she said, her voice quiet and serious. She was in awe of this well mannered, honest, and clearly brave man who had just ridden out of the sunset, literally, just when she needed him most. It amazed her, but she sent up a grateful prayer of thanks just the same.
"I... I have blankets, and there's a lantern in the porch which you can light and take across to the barn with you. But if you're going to be a permanent member of the team here, there's a spare bedroom along the corridor at the end there." She indicated the separate doorway with a small hallway beyond. "I'd be glad of the safety of your company, if you'd like to consider that one of your duties. I don't think my neighbour, Jarred Kincaid, would actually hurt me, but if he gets tired of waiting and becomes desperate, who can tell?" she explained, hoping that Shane would accept and remain inside overnight.
“Ah appreciate the offer, ma’am, but Ah wouldn’t want ta infringe on yer honor. Folk talk, even if the talk ain’t true. But Ah’m a light sleeper,” he assured her. “If there’s any trouble, Ah’ll heah an’ come runnin’. Thank ya all the same, but the barn’ll suit me jus’ fine.” He gave her a smile to reassure her he meant no disrespect, but was concerned for her reputation.
Carrie lowered her eyes and nodded her acceptance of his decision. She blushed again, this time ashamed of herself for putting him in such a difficult position. He really was a remarkable man. He had ridden in just when she needed someone like him, and he was the most well mannered, well intentioned, and dreamy with it, miracle arrival.
Picking up his hat from the hook by the door, Shane nodded to Carrie. “See ya in the mornin’, ma’am,” and stepped into the cool darkness outside to cross to the barn.
"Goodnight, Mr. Black," she said as he opened the door to leave. She sighed. It didn't matter if he didn't want to call her Carrie. He was most probably right. He was being more sensible and proper than she was, she had to admit, and once he was gone, she didn't really want the few townsfolk who still had any respect or concern for her to have lost that. But then who was she kidding? No one, not one single one, of those 'respectful or caring' townsfolk had been concerned enough to stand against Kincaid when he harassed her or scared off any help she might be able to employ. He was eroding her situation on a daily basis, and it was only a matter of time before he would drive her out, or force her to accommodate his advances, repulsive as they were to her.
Carrie sat down on the chair that Shane had just vacated. She could still faintly smell the scent of him. Or could she? Was she imagining it? This wasn't real, surely it wasn't. How could someone like that just ride in from nowhere? No. She couldn't allow herself to even think about it any more. The truth was he was gorgeous, but he was what he told her he was: a lonely traveller. He would... Well, perhaps he might not..... be gone straight away? Perhaps… But then again, how long could she afford to pay him for?
But then if they could make a go of it? Get some of her sheep to market? How she wished she hadn't had to sell off the cattle. She only had milk cows now. Her prize bull was the last of the assets remaining, and what was she keeping him for? What use was a bull with no cows? How was she going to make up a whole new herd from one bull and a couple of middle-aged cows with female calves at heel? It was all pie in the sky.
Besides, now she had sheep on the pastures, and everyone knew you couldn't mix them. She would sell the bull. Then she would have money to pay for Shane to stay, and...
She hung her head and fought back the despair of worrying about it all. It would be okay now Shane was here. And if all she had left was a few weeks of this handsome man's company, then that at least was worth hanging on for. She could be sad after he left. But for now... For now she was still alive and had hope. She washed and went to bed, saying her prayers of thanks before falling into a dream filled sleep.
HOLONOVEL PROGRAM ENDED
Stepping out of the first day/chapter of the holonovel, still in their costumes but back in their normal lives and names, Opal was breathless, and she hugged Caleb tightly before they changed, leaving their costumes to be recycled and re-replicated for the next session.
Back in their normal clothes, they sauntered back to Opal's quarters. "Are we supposed to deliberately avoid talking about the novel's storyline between chapters? Or can we talk about what happened so far? Or what we want to happen next time? Or how does this go?" she asked Caleb as she slipped her arm through his and they walked along chatting.
Caleb chuckled. “We’ve got the basic plot points, but there’s lotsa room ta improvise,” he told Opal. “Ya never done a holonovel?” he asked, slipping his arm around her as they walked.
"Never!" She beamed up at him. "But it's fun! I think I might like to do another later." She laughed. "What would you like for supper?" she asked, changing the subject slightly as they approached her quarters. "As long as it's not grits and steak again!"
Caleb smiled. “But that’s mah specialty,” he said with a laugh. “Ya invitin’ me over for supper, then?” They were spending a lot more time together. It really was time for her to meet Aleczandra. “How about some barbecue?”
"You know very well that you have an open invitation to dinner, any time you like. And breakfast too!" She winked at him and nestled closer as they meandered along the corridors towards her quarters.
Caleb chuckled. He stopped outside of Opal’s door and leaned in to capture her full lips in a deep kiss, pressing her back against the bulkhead as their tongues danced.
“Breakfast is certainly soundin’ wonderful.”
Opal grinned at him and snuggled against him as they went through the door as it slid open and then shut behind their laughter.
Cdr. Caleb Ryan
Dr Opal Oliver