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Nature's Beauty

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When he had suggested more sedentary pursuits to Brick's father he had expected to get shot down but Jack had listened. Perhaps Jack hadn't expected it to take off the way it had but McKenna's had more bookings now than ever and a lot were from people who had no intention of spending whole days in the saddle, rock climbing, or white water rafting. A lot of the new clients were older men and women who simply wanted to be taken to easily accessible beauty spots where they could set up an easel and paint, or open up a book to sketch the vista before them. Sometimes they wanted a snow-capped mountain, other times the beautiful foothills, or the surging river, or the glorious pine trees. Occasionally an artist was more interested in people and animals, in modern day cowboys and ranches, in horses and cattle, and on one memorable moment, a mountain bear that had ignored them all as it fished in the river.

The time of year didn't matter to the artists. They loved the sweet meadow grass and wild flowers of the Spring and Summer, the turning leaves of Fall, and the wintry landscapes that made the land seem so barren in the lowlands but with snow-laden pines further up the mountains. The weather didn't seem to faze their artistically inclined guests either. Mostly they sat out in the Spring sunshine or beneath an awning for shade in the height of Summer. Other times Roy set up a tent closed in on three sides to protect the guests from the wind and snow when they insisted on painting while wearing layers of insulating clothing and thick gloves. Admittedly those guests were rare as most were content to take a photograph on the bad weather days and return to the ranch to paint beside a roaring fire in the second barn that Jack had turned into a meeting/teaching room.

Roy recalled suggesting the art idea to Brick first, wanting his opinion. He had loved it, and they had spent hours poring over local maps to determine the best locations for each time of year; ones that posed little to no danger for their clients, and were easily accessible by 4-wheel drive. They checked them out before approaching Jack with the idea, and had even catered for those guests who might like the idea of a short horse ride up to the slightly less accessible viewing points. He recalled stressing to Jack that these artists were not seeking thrills and danger. They simply wanted magnificent views to capture by hand rather than on a camera.

Although Jack hadn't shot down the idea he had insisted on Roy and Brick taking point, working with Lee to change the advertising to include the extra activities.

This first year had become a learning experience, getting to understand what the guests expected, and how to make the experience a memorable one for all the right reasons. Some of the work Roy had seen over this past year was stunning, though others were more like the scrawling of a child, but all of them had heart. It had made Roy think about the less talented who might appreciate a helping hand.

"We could extend it. Pay for an art teacher."

Brick smiled. "Or you could offer to teach?"

"Me? I can't teach art."

Brick moved in closer and reached out to cup Roy's cheek in a slightly calloused hand. He leaned in closer and captured his lips in a gentle kiss before drawing back.

"You already do. I've seen you giving pointers to some of those artists, showing them how to capture the light and shadows. I've seen how much they appreciated the help."

Roy wanted to argue but the damning evidence was his own artwork adorning the walls of their small cabin. He'd always been a more delicate kid than his older brother, preferring artistic and natural pursuits to the world of big business and finance. It was the reason why he had become a park ranger further up in the Cascades, before park politics saw him leaving before he was fired. He couldn't resent what had happened because it had lead him to Brick, and Roy had never been happier because now he had it all. He had the beauty of the natural world around him and the companionship that filled his heart and completed his soul. Yet even before he became a ranger he had a dozen sketch books filled with drawings of lakes, rivers, and mountains, of trees and animals. He was mostly self-taught, experimenting with ideas found in 'teach yourself' art books or working it out from pieces of art that caught his eye. His strength was in watercolor pencils as they were easier to carry around but he had self-taught painting in oil as well as sketching in ordinary pencil.

It wasn't just the amazing scenery of the Cascades that had captivated him though. Roy had dozens of sketches of Brick, mostly fully clothed on horse back, rock climbing, or backpacking. He also had a few that were for their eyes only, sketches of Brick lying naked on their bed, unabashed by his nudity, with sunlight pouring through the slats half drawn over the cabin's windows.

Brick was naked now, sitting up half turned towards Roy on their bed. The room was warm from the log fire burning in the hearth while outside the temperature had dropped with the first of the winter storms sending several feet of snow piling up against the cabin wall. It was a rare day off with no need for either of them to hurry from their bed into the cold world outside so they lingered, discussing plans and ideas for the future. Roy felt a little nostalgia steal over him. The lease on the cabin ended tomorrow. Jack had offered them the large bedroom at the back of the McKenna ranch house - to share - and Roy knew how happy it had made Brick to know his father accepted them. They had already moved most of their belongings with just a few more items to pack up, and his artwork to take down from the walls before they closed up the cabin one last time and headed out.

For now though they had the place to themselves for one last night, and Roy intended to take full advantage of that. He reeled Brick in with a kiss.

****

Two years later Roy watched as a second car drew up at McKenna Outfitters carrying two more guests who had booked for this week's art retreat. He greeted them with a smile and helped them settle in their small, private guest cabins. Later there would be a meet and greet followed by the first art lesson. As he walked back towards the teaching barn he saw Brick saddling up ready to take out the more adventurous guests. Brick rode up beside him and leaned down low in the saddle to kiss him softly before he urged his horse on. Roy watched him go, knowing they'd have time alone later for anything more. In the meantime he had a room full of artists looking to discover the natural beauty of the Cascades.

Roy had already found that beauty when Brick came into his life.

END