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Montana was a completely different world compared to little ol’ Georgia. For one thing, it wasn’t just made of creeping kudzu and brittle pine trees. The terrain here ranged from the wide open prairies that farmers claimed for crops and cattle to the soaring Rocky Mountains that cut a swath through the land. There were sweeping hills, clear rivers, and forests that had yet to be approached by logging companies. It made her feel small to be in a place so diverse, but she loved it.

Pat pat! Hudson wanted her attention.

Jamie Lynn Rook turned from the window to face her fellow deputy. The woman wasn’t looking at her, eyes on the road, so she only made out a few words. Something about complaint, and seed? Was someone complaining about somebody else’s field? Seemed like an odd thing to call a dispute over, but she wasn’t one to judge. Montana folk had their priorities, and it was their job as police officers to make even ground. At least this wasn’t like yesterday where they’d been sent out to stop someone from using a flamethrower on garbage.

An actual flamethrower! Absolutely wild.

As the Ford Expedition rumbled along the asphalt, the newest deputy looked in the back seats. As Hudson was the senior deputy she got to drive the newest model car, which included a comfier interior (comfier being a dip in the seat cushions so the arrested person wouldn’t be quite as uncomfortable back there). Bishop looked pretty content, so she turned back around to gaze outside the window again. Swaying fields turned into busy pastures, then evolved into scrub brush and blossoming trees with more than one shade of green.

Beautiful.

The drive took them over a small bridge to one of the bigger islands nestled in Silver Lake. She rolled down the window, feeling the wind rushing past as the water glittered below. ‘That’s what diamonds look like,’ She thought, ‘Diamonds in a basket.’ She watched it go by, and stopped herself from glancing over as the window rolled up on its own. Hudson didn’t pat her, so she obviously had nothing to say about it. That’s fine. Not everybody liked the wind whipping in their hair.

A shame, though. Hudson would look good as a free spirit.

The car slowed, and they left the smooth pavement for a dirt road on their left. The difference between the two jostled the passengers, making Jamie twist in her seat to peer at Bishop again. He looked alright with the ride so far, just watching the world go by like she did. She smiled softly, and turned back around. Their destination wasn’t too far off since they reached the rocky road, and she knew she’d have to school herself. She had a reputation to present as someone of the law.

Well, as much law as a junior deputy could be.

The Explorer rolled to a stop at the end of the dirt road, leading to a wide clearing. There were signs of recent cuttings, with some stumps pulled and others left in their posts. The downed trees were lined up pretty along the back-lot, partially hidden by the uncut sea of grass. The tall blades swayed on the gentle breeze, but the path before them was clear. It lead to what looked like a large field tent, the kind that could house at least twenty to thirty people. Kind of an odd place to be, but hey to each their own.

Hudson grabbed her hand as she went for her seat belt. Blue eyes went for hers with concern, but the other deputy did not meet Jamie’s gaze. So she followed hers from the line of her cheeks, to the tent across the grassy sea. Her head tilted to the side a bit as she wondered, what could have Joey Hudson so spooked? The woman barely batted an eye at Sharky Boshaw’s antics, but right outside a quiet looking field tent? Taunt as a bowstring with the arrow notched for home, or the enemy beyond.

Jamie gently shook her head. We’ll be okay. The senior deputy curled her lip, then jerked out of her seat belt and got out of the car.

Running a hand over her face and pushing some strands of dark hair out of her eyes, she followed suit and got out of the vehicle. Instead of trotting after her coworker, she strolled to the side door and opened it quickly. Bishop greeted her with bright eyes and a scruffy kiss to her cheek. She smiled at the shepherd mix, running her fingers over his perked ears before doing a quick inspection. Bright blue service vest? Check. All clasps done correctly? Check.

Jamie scratched behind his ears as she clipped on his leash, stepping to the side to let him hop down. He shook himself from nose to tail, looking around curiously until her tongue clicking caught his attention. The agouti colored animal sat down on his haunches at her quick command, watching as she closed the door. He only got up when she patted her thigh twice, letting him know they were on the move as she made her way toward an irked Hudson. Had she closed the door too sharply?

Whoops.

Bishop matched her stride with ease. He didn’t pull on the leash, but kept an eye out for things she might miss.

Hudson took the lead as they got closer to the tent, stepping ahead of the rookie deputy. Jamie didn’t mind. It was nice to know her more experienced partner would take the lead and let her sit in the side seat for now, at least until she was on her feet. The tent itself was actually more of an open canopy, and whatever was going on seemed to put Hudson on edge. It didn’t seem crazy from what she could see, and Bishop wasn’t alerting her to anything particularly wrong.

If her dog didn’t mind the surroundings, then neither would she. He had a keen eye for people.

They stopped just outside of the main entrance, and as Hudson pulled out her phone Jamie couldn’t help to look inside. Furthest away from her were three men. Two of them seemed almost like bodyguards, the ginger one especially, while the third was obviously a spokesperson. He talked with his hands as he paced before the crowd, moving left and right while meeting them with a piercing gaze. Her eyes flicked down toward a large storage bin in between the three of them. Was he selling something at this fancy looking gathering?

Was it a convention?

Jamie slightly tilted her head as she took a better look at the crowd the man gesticulated at. These were rough looking folks with the clothes to match. They definitely saw better days with their weathered skin and sunken eyes, but their postures spoke volumes about the man speaking to them. Some sat straighter, and others raised their hands in time with his. They were happy, smiles stretched miles wide and eyes shining like the water on the lake. She blinked slowly, and felt a small grin of her own tug at her lips.

’Diamonds,’ She thought softly, as if the crowd could hear her thoughts.

A forceful tug on her sleeve jerked her back from the entryway, and she felt abashed at being caught staring at the people they were supposed to help. She moved to express her apology, but Hudson’s sharp gaze cut it to the quick. She could only nod quietly and stand straight, out of sight and out of mind from the people in the tent. She clucked her tongue at Bishop to make him sit at her side. His tail thumped against the back of her heels like consoling pats, but a quick command made him go silent as well.

No point in noise when they weren’t supposed to be heard. Not yet, anyways.

In time the people filed out. Some went with fresh clothes clutched to their chests, while some pregnant women were followed by brawny men carrying the beginnings of baby supplies. A giggling girl scampered past them with a kitten tucked securely in her arms trailing after what she assumed were the child’s parents, and Jamie’s grin returned. The man wasn’t selling things, he was helping the needy. That’s wonderful! She’d have to find out if he needed more volunteers. She wasn’t free all of the time, but when she was off du- Oh!

Hudson was on the move.

Patting her thigh twice, her shaggy service dog followed her as they trailed after the senior deputy. She stopped a foot away as Hudson marched right on up to the three men, her stance as aggressive as the pinched expression on her face. Yellow Glasses watched her serenely while Ginger crossed his arms, and Fashion lurked to their right. All three fixed their gaze upon the woman whose demeanor was not entirely friendly. Her body language screamed she was done with this situation and the complaint they were supposed to investigate. She was in the right, they were in the wrong, and those hands on her hips explained she was done scolding them.

Yellow Glasses watched her as she spoke. When she was finished, he simply bowed his head. Then he stepped back, put a hand on Fashion’s shoulder, and Jamie watched as the dapper looking gentlemen turned from passive to active. He reminded her of an eel she saw in an aquarium once, biding its time for the perfect moment to strike. Hudson definitely didn’t like what he was saying from the way her shoulders drew up, but she didn’t feel the need to intervene.

Ginger and Yellow Glasses suddenly looked outside the canopy, and Bishop stepped on her foot twice. Something was definitely up, so she clucked her tongue and they approached Hudson. She got the woman’s attention with a few taps to the shoulder, making a quick motion to the ruckus outside, and found herself dismissed with a sharp wave and another curled lip. Hey, it wasn’t her fault that Fashion ticked her off. Still, Jamie smiled her thanks and immediately followed Bishop’s cues to whatever the problem was.

He led her to the little girl, now bereft of her kitten, sobbing uncontrollably on the ground. Her parents looked distressed, and tensed at the deputy’s approach. Jamie held her hands palms up toward them, letting them know she meant no harm in this situation. She slowed as she got closer, not wanting to spook the already upset child. She pulled her notepad from its holster on her hip, and flipped it open to scribble out a question. She held it out for the parents to read, but before they could even glance at it her dog stepped on her foot twice.

They took her notepad, but she was already following Bishop’s line of sight to the girl below.

She pointed and cried about something in the distance, tears and snot all over her splotchy red face. Beyond the startled gathering (When had everyone stopped, and why was that pregnant woman’s belongings all over the ground?) was a lone tree, left untouched from the cutting due to its obvious age and size. Its gnarled branches brushed along the edge of the clearing, and nestled within them was the aforementioned kitten. It shook like the leaves in the wind, and the answer lay at the tree’s roots. Prancing like a fool was a mangy looking stray dog, barking something fierce at the little baby above.

Well that settled things.

The deputy took a knee at the little girl’s side. She didn’t have a tissue to offer the poor thing’s face, but the bandanna around her throat would have to make do. It served its purpose as the child blew her nose into it, using the cleaner parts to wipe her eyes and tear stained cheeks. Jamie smiled, declining the return of the red cloth as she offered the girl Bishop’s leash in return. Her little green eyes turned wide at the shepherd, but a quick motion from his owner and he gave the girl a little scruffy kiss. Well that won her over real quick as she happily buried her hands in his fur.

Jamie stood up, clucked her tongue, and held her palm flat to the dog’s face. He’d stay put for sure now.

She didn’t see Yellow Glasses or Ginger watching her as she strode toward the silly stray barking up a storm at that poor kitten. She loosened her stride and pose, dropping down to her heels in a crouch as she made the most obnoxious kissing noises she could make. When that didn’t work she placed her tongue between her teeth and let out a sharp whistle. The dog whipped around like he’d been struck, saw her, and turned into the most wiggly thing she’d ever seen. Jamie held out her hands low, clapping gently as she let out a few more whistles to summon him.

He looked torn between barking and running to her before he decided she was the better target.

That dog not only ran over but dropped to his belly and tried to crawl the rest of the way, worming along the ground until he decided he wanted to be a lap dog. He surged up against her chest, making her teeth clack together as he headbutted her jaw. He licked her senselessly, practically vibrating in her arms as he knocked her flat on her ass. She went to laugh, but sucked the sound back down her throat before it could escape. A wheeze filtered through her nose instead as she sat up a bit, running her hands along the dog’s sides and spine.

This was a good boy. Not as good as her Bishop, but definitely a good boy. He just needed a home and a nice family to take care of him. His ribs were clearly visible, but malnutrition was curable. He just wanted food and somebody to call his own. Silly boy just got caught up in the excitement of something running away from him. He probably just wanted to play. She felt his whimpers under her fingertips, and no doubt he was an exuberant racket. Jamie turned to signal someone over, but that someone already arrived.

Ginger stooped down wordlessly at her side, and held his hand out to the mutt. The dog sniffed, and then wiggled his way over to the broad shouldered man. He kept the dog occupied as she stood up from the ground, and motioned her thanks to him. He did nothing in return, but she could almost feel his gaze soften on her back as she approached the tree.

Jamie stopped where the dog had been making a fool of himself, and craned her head all the way back to look for the frightened kitten. In the commotion the silly thing had only climbed higher, and she only saw it thanks to the flash of its little white tail. Her lips drew down in a frown as she considered her options. Thanks to her 5’6” frame, the lowest branches were simply too high for her to reach in a standing position. She could-? Yeah, yeah she could do that! With a plan in mind the woman reached down and rubbed some dirt on her palms.

It wasn’t chalk, but it’d have to do.

Dusting the excess by smacking her hands together, Jamie headed back toward Ginger. He watched her curiously, but said nothing as he kept a firm hand on the very excited dog. She stopped at his shoulders, turned about face and immediately sprinted toward the tree. Her feet pounded against the earth as she jumped at the last possible second, using her momentum to push off of the tree trunk and leap for the lowest branch. Her body swung from all the kinetic energy as her hands made contact. Victory came with another wheeze as she hauled herself up like a raccoon learning to climb that was afraid to fall.

Nevermind the fact she was afraid to fall.

With the first step complete, Jamie took a moment to gather herself. She carefully stood up along the branch’s base, and pulled herself up. This wasn’t exactly what she’d been expecting for her second day on the job, but hey! At least it doesn't involve a flamethrower. The kitten was three branches away, and she had to make sure she didn’t look like a predator to the small animal. She made soft kissing noises as she made her way up, ignoring how the bark scratched her skin as she put more distance from the ground below.

Yeah, definitely don’t look down. Not now anyways.

As she reached the branch the kitten cowered on, she realized she wouldn’t be able to reach it. Silly critter put itself on the thinnest part of the branch. She tried to grab it like that and either it would fall, or they both would. Definitely not in the cards, which meant she had to do a little more critical thinking. So long as she didn’t make any sudden moves, the kitten would more than likely stay in place. Refraining from snapping her fingers, she straddled the branch between her legs. Then she carefully laid down along the length of it, stretching out as far as she dared. Jamie made more kissing sounds, and rubbed her fingers together as if she wanted money.

The kitten locked onto the sight of the little motions.

‘That’s right, baby. Come on,’ She thought as she watched the kitten consider its options.

The white and black kitten mewed pitifully as it looked at her, the open sky, and back again. Its little ears were so tight against its skull it might as well not have any, the pupils drawn to tight slits in its fearful yellow eyes. Jamie did her best to make gentle shushing sounds, trying to soothe the distressed animal. Poor baby. She hummed again and scooted a little more forward, careful of how the branch swayed beneath them with her added weight. She stretched her hand, feeling the ache between her fingers from how far she splayed them. If the kitten would just- got’cha! Her fingers snapped like a trap on the back of the kitten’s neck as she scruffed it, watching like magic as those little paws let go of their death grip on the bark.

Jamie tucked the frightened animal beneath her chin as she carefully shimmied backwards until her butt met the tree trunk, and only then did she sit up. The back of her head met the tree with a light thud against the wood as she exhaled shakily, releasing a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. Cupping the kitten against her chest, the deputy took a moment to breathe. ’Go team,’ She thought tiredly as she carefully swung her leg over, shifting her weight until her foot found purchase on the branch below. The process repeated until she reached the lowest branch where she simply sat down on her butt, then pushed off to land in a crouch. Didn't want to mess up her knees or ankles.

The kitten squirmed against her hand as she let out a puffing breath of laughter, unable to stop it from the foolhardy adventure she just endured.

The girl was so excited she completely forgot about Bishop and dropped his leash, already running toward the deputy with her little hands outstretched toward them. Her very best boy simply remained where she commanded him to stay, seeming content to watch the scene unfold. Jamie carefully pried the kitten from her shirt and leaned down, pressing it into those waiting hands and bouncing feet. The girl’s face was brighter than the sun as she held her kitten against her face, saying all kinds of happy blather.

Her relieved parents handed Jamie back her notepad, which she sheepishly took back and returned to her hip. Two pats and Bishop also came at her side.

When she stood back up with his leash in hand, she turned to find Hudson, but came face to face with Yellow Glasses, Ginger, and Fashion instead. Her partner was off to the side with her arms crossed and hip cocked out, but she didn’t look unhappy. Maybe just bothered? It was hard to tell from this-

That was a brave thing you did, my child.

Jamie’s blue eyes practically glittered with happiness as she beamed, You know sign?

Yellow Glasses looked pleased with himself and her response as he added, Yes.

I’m Jamie! She smiled, and then looked horrified at her blunder. She was on the job, not just here to meet people! Her hands became a whirlwind, her shoulders rueful as she quickly said, I’m Deputy Rook, and I’m new here. Before she could continue, Yellow Glasses simply placed his hands atop her own. She looked at him, confused, then turned as Ginger took a step closer to them.

He didn’t catch all that. You talk too fast. Ginger’s steely eyes chuckled at her embarrassment, but at least he wasn’t making fun of her. She could deal with that.

Sorry. I’m Deputy Rook, She tried again at a much slower pace, her eyes brightening as Yellow Glasses seemed to catch on. He returned her smile with one of his own, a soft one that tugged at the corners of his mouth.

I’m Joseph Seed. This is my older brother Jacob, Yellow Glasses took a moment to touch Ginger’s shoulder, And this is John, the youngest. Fashion gave her a smile that was more teeth than friendliness, but she appreciated the gesture all the same. At least he was trying, and she couldn’t help but smile even wider when John asked, Who is this? He gestured to her shaggy service dog.

This is Bishop! She clucked her tongue and the dog immediately sat down, looking up at them with warm eyes and a wagging tail.

May I pet him? Jacob asked while looking at her.

Of course! Let me tell him it’s okay! Her hands danced as light and airy as the happiness blooming within her chest. She looked down at her dog and motioned for him to relax, which he did by immediately flopping onto his back. She swallowed the laugh, letting out a huff of air while Jacob crouched to pet the very best boy in Hope County.

He’s a well behaved dog! Jamie reassured John, who looked at her canine companion like he was trying to figure out how to politely tell her that he didn’t believe her. He shook his head after a moment with a look of disdain across his face as he said and signed, “I think I’ll let my brother fawn over your dog.” The sign was sharp, and she’d definitely make sure when she encountered him again to make sure Bishop knew all of his P’s and Q’s.

As Jacob stood up Bishop rolled over onto his belly, panting happily and tail stirring up the dust with his thumping tail. She waited for him to rise and look at her before she asked him, What happened to the stray? She’d almost forgotten about the wiggly boy in the rush to get the kitten back in the little girl’s arms.

Don’t worry. I took care of him.

He’s going somewhere safe? And happy? Her brow furrowed as she regarded him carefully, searching for any sign of deceit. Even relaxed, Bishop was watching their interactions for anything her eyes might miss. He wouldn't let her down.

Jacob’s lopsided grin made her feel better, but the sign sealed the deal. Where he’s going he’ll be fine.

The eldest brother caught her attention with a gentle touch of her hand, his calm nature making her feel more relaxed as he inquired, What did you think of the sermon, from what you could tell? His eyes held hers curiously, but she couldn’t stop the snort that escaped her.

Joseph blinked.

That’s what you were doing! And she carefully explained how while Hudson was driving, the woman couldn’t look away from the wheel. She tried to tell Jamie what they were doing out there, but all she caught was “seed” and “complaint,” so she thought they were coming to deal with irate farmers. I was really confused, and I was worried you were some kind of con man? But then people came out with things! And the girl with the kitten! She beamed as she finished with, I think you are kind people, Joseph, Looking at him, turning to the right, John, She shifted to the left, her blues meeting steel, And Jacob.

Her hands moved gently at Jacob and John’s bewildered expressions, but warmed at Joseph’s smile. Yeah.

They understood, and-

Tap tap, on the boot. What did Bishop-?

A sudden hand on her shoulder told her everything she needed to know as she whirled around to see Hudson’s scowl. She tried to give the woman an encouraging smile, but it fell flat as the glare intensified. The senior deputy said something, and jerked a thumb over her shoulder. Oh, time to go? She went to get her notepad, but her partner was already stalking off to the Explorer.

A kinder tap of her shoulder made her turn back around to the three men in front of her.

May you go in peace, my child, Joseph signed before clasping his hands together and letting them rest.

“You tell your fellow deputy,” John snapped, his sign knife-like, “To call my office the next time someone complains about us minding our own business.” He smoothed his hair and continued, “Take care of yourself, Jamie Rook.” Her last name is a flourish in his hands, his sign as fancy as the jacket astride his shoulders. He’s full of himself, cocky, and he made her laugh.

It slipped out without her permission, undoubtedly as loud as the stray dog barking at the kitten. She knew it definitely startled them, and if John's expression was anything to go by it was downright awful. Jamie covered her mouth with her hands, and then brought them down to profusely sign, I’m sorry, I try not to-

Scarred hands cover her own and carefully still hers as if they’re afraid she’ll be crushed by the simple movement. They let go after a moment, only to tell her before she could continue, Ignore John. He’s an idiot. She can’t hear his squawk, but she can only imagine it from the youngest brother’s face.

She stifles her laugh, before Joseph catches her attention. You have beautiful laughter. Do not hide it from us.

Well, what could she say to that? Jamie just nodded, and then said, I have to go. Goodbye, it was lovely meeting you! Then she patted her thigh, and jogged back over to the Explorer. She let Bishop in first, but before she could clamber in her own seat Hudson made her brush off. Jamie patted herself down as best as she could, and they were off.

Her senior deputy was trying to tell her how much of an idiot she is, and she was trying to figure out what all Hudson was going on about. Didn’t she remember when she transferred she couldn’t read lips very well? Oh dear. Something about baboons? Or was that buffoons? Who’s a buffoon?

Jamie simply looked out the window and watched the world go by.

Not a bad day to begin with.

Not a bad day at all.