Gil Simonds, Denholm, and I sat on one side of the table in the ranch house dining room. Gil's wife, Jane, along with Jacko and Ginger sat opposite us. Jane wore a warm smile and insisted on waiting on us all. She served hot roast beef sandwiches for lunch and an assortment of steamed vegetables.
I kept an eye on my brother and the cute, slender girl beside him. As the meal progressed, it seemed the space between them grew smaller and smaller until they were near to touching elbows.
I glanced Gil's way. "How big is your ranch?"
He wiped the corner of his mouth with a cloth napkin. "The family owns 7,680 contiguous acres. That's twelve square miles. The ranch isn't square though, it's oblong. Follows along the base of yonder mountains and traverses the Rio Grande a few miles north of here."
I couldn't picture the enormity of twelve square miles. "Your entire family must really be rich."
Gil grimaced. "You wouldn't say that if you saw our annual property tax bill."
"Is it because of the cattle that you need so much land?"
"Yep. Beef cattle are the bread and butter of the ranch."
"How many do you have?"
I whistled. "Any other animals?"
He nodded toward the barnyard. "Horses. Times haven't changed much. Takes men on horseback to move cattle around. We use four-wheelers to herd them too, but nothing beats a horse-mounted cowboy to root out stubborn beeves from rough areas where four-wheelers can't go."
He leaned forward and rested his elbows on the table. "Sir Denholm, I assume you've come here for some reason other than a social visit?"
Denholm raised an eyebrow. "Quite. I need Sing's assistance on a protection contract. Jacko told me he was comfortable around animals, so I was hoping you could try him out as a ranch hand."
What? A protection contract? What was Denholm talking about? What was he getting me into? The man was so damn secretive.
Gil wore a stern expression and eyed Jacko. "Ordinarily I ask for references—"
"—Daddy," Ginger interrupted. "Jacko saved Chance and her foal. Isn't that reference enough?"
Her father smiled. "I suppose so, sweetheart."
Ginger beamed at Jacko.
Oh, little brother, you had better watch out.
Jane snickered. "Our daughter usually gets what she wants. She's our only child and we spoil her."
A pink blush bloomed in Ginger's cheeks. "If you're going to talk about me, I'm leaving." She turned to Jacko. "Want to come with me to see the foal?"
"Sure," Jacko said with gusto.
"Excuse us," she said. The two of them stood, and she led my brother from the house. It wouldn't have surprised me to see them holding hands. They didn't though.
After they left, Gil Simonds looked at me. "How old is your brother?"
"Any reason why I shouldn't hire him on as a ranch hand?"
During his past year on the road with me, Jacko had slowly matured. He was coming to terms with his past and on his way to forgiving himself. This job, and the responsibilities that came with it were exactly what he needed. "My brother will make an awesome ranch hand."
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The Story of SingTeen Fiction
[2018 Wattys Short List] - Sixteen-year-old Sing strives to do well in school so that he can find a decent job and provide a better life for his crippled mother and younger brother, Jacko. That goal becomes derailed when Sing is falsely accused of a...