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Jessica was ecstatic to the point of bursting. Final exams were over and she was out of school for summer break. One more year at Northern Arizona University and she'd be applying for a paying job with the National Forestry Service.
Short, sandy-blonde hair whipped about her face as she turned the stereo up louder to sing along with the boys from Aerosmith when they told her to Walk This Way. Down-shifting her Jeep, she started her descent into the canyon. Seventeen miles of tight s-curves doubled back and forth as the road twisted its way around the mountainside. She stole a glance around her to absorb the beauty of summer in Oak Creek Canyon. Everything was bursting with vibrant color and life. The cottonwood trees were big, green and leafy. Waves of wildflowers swayed in the gentle breeze. The birds chirped endlessly from sunup until sundown and the cicadas could become so loud, she couldn't hear herself think over the din.
Just off the main road on a barely visible dirt drive, Jessica stopped to check her mail. Pulling the usual junk and bills out of the bulky black box, a letter caught her attention. Reading the return address as Arizona Game and Fish Department, she squealed. "My internship papers!" Hopping in the Jeep, she finished the drive to her house. Pulling up in front of the A-frame log cabin, she felt a quick stab of loneliness. She was still adjusting to living alone. She had lived here with her brother Todd, who'd recently married a lovely young woman, Rachel Hardy, a romance novelist who'd moved into the canyon late last fall. The happy couple was expecting their first child this winter.
Wistfully, she rememberedmoving here with her brother and parents. The Bradley family had lived in this very house since they'd built it twenty years ago. That was also around the same time she'd met Mike Logan. She'd fallen head over heels for him somewhere between kindergarten and first grade. The childhood crush had blossomed into something much more for Jessica. To her dismay, Mike didn't feel the same. Sighing to herself, she climbed out of the Jeep, grabbed her things and headed for the front door.
Once she opened the door, she dropped her bags to the floor, kicked off her shoes, and set her mail on the table. "What should I do first? Should I open my mail and find out where I'm going this summer?" she said out loud. Nervous and edgy, a little fearful of what was in the letter, she got up and prowled around the house. She knew the layout with her eyes closed, but toured the cabin again anyway. The north and south facing walls were made entirely of glass, allowing for the most breathtaking views of the mountains and forest. The slanted walls ... "Well what do you expect living in a triangle?" She looked at the hardwood staircase. Upstairs, there were three bedrooms and a bath, while the downstairs consisted of one big open area combining a living room and the kitchen. The exposed beams in the ceiling were stained a dark mahogany color contrasting against the light peeled natural pine.
Switching on the stereo, she popped in a CD. The beginning notes of Aerosmith's Love in an Elevator began as she opened the letter from Game and Fish.
Dear Ms. Bradley:
The Arizona Game and Fish Department would like to welcome you to our Field Service Intern Program. It has come to our attention that you live in the Oak Creek/Sedona area. We currently have a position available if you are willing to accept it. We are looking for a tourism assistant at the Vortex Point Rainbow Trout Hatchery. Please contact our office at your earliest convenience so we can make arrangements on this position.
Director of Intern Program
"They want me to bait hooks on bamboo poles at the fish hatchery? Well I guess I should have expected it. I am a rookie this year." Shaking her head in disgust at her own self-pity, she went through the rest of her mail. Oak Creek and the surrounding small towns thrived on tourism and the money the industry brought in, besides, she would get to stay home this summer. What could be better than that?
Heading for the phone to call the director and accept the position, she heard a faint barking from outside. With a wide smile, she threw open the door and ran out to the porch in time to be greeted by Brutus, Rachel's gigantic, tawny-colored Great Dane. "I'm happy to see you, too!" she said to the large dog as he washed her face and attempted to climb in her lap at the same time. He managed to knock her over and pinned her to the ground.
"Brutus! Let her up, you big bully!" Rachel scolded.
"He's fine. Just a little excited. I haven't seen him in what ... two whole days?" Jessica laughed, climbing to her feet.
"He has no concept of his size. Sorry."
"He's a big baby, aren't you, boy? Speaking of babies, when are you going to start showing, Mama?" Jessica asked her sister-in-law.
Rachel smiled and ran her hands across her gently protruding belly. "I'm wearing Todd's shorts today. It's time to go and get some maternity clothes."
"Get outta here! You still look like a twig." She eyed Rachel up and down.
"More like a tree trunk. I'm afraid to see what I'm going to look like in a few months," she said, patting her belly again.
"Oh please, you're gonna have that kid and be back in your regular clothes before you know it. You're beautiful, Rach."
"Oh, stop that, you're going to make me cry. You know, the littlest things set me off lately."