It was going to be a long, cold winter.
After the last of the sheep had entered the shed, Andy Stills pulled the door shut, fighting against the stern rush of wind and the ever accumulating drifts of snow that had marked the third day of unrelenting storm. The ominous pewter and rust colored skies gave every indication that there would be no let up in the angry weather.
Andy Stills and Barney Coltart had started their relationship years ago, in these same wind-swept, high grasslands of Eastern Wyoming. An accidental meeting between a hard-scrabble rancher and an itinerant cowboy had culminated in a deep closeted relationship. Despite their separate ways and marriages, Andy had agreed – more and more reluctantly as time passed – to meet once each year here on Barney’s sheep farm.
Brushing the snow from his shoulders, Andy reminisced about how their affair had started over a decade ago in a situation similar to this one. Two down-on-their-luck young men, trapped together for weeks during a bitterly cold winter roundup, had found that their mutual attraction was more than just respect and admiration; it was a bond of love that they both tried, at first, to deny, Andy more so than Barney.
Barney knew better than Andy that he always had affection for other men, despite the fact that he, like Andy, had used marriage to offset his deep-seated desires. Barney shuffled carefully in the close quarters of the shed, pulled off his gloves, brushed off his hat and placed both down on the small wooden stand, next to the oil lamp. He turned to Andy with a wistful look and said, “That’s the last of the herd, thank God. Takes longer and longer each year to round ‘em up.”
Andy spoke slowly and softly to Barney. “I don’t know when this weather will let up but soon as it does, I got to get on my way. You know that, Barney.”
Barney sobbed “Andy, it’s hard. I ain’t got no words to tell you what you goin’ away each time does to me. I just wish you could make up your mind and stay.”
Moved by his words, Andy reached to embrace Barney but Barney pushed forcefully back. “No, not here, not in front of my wife, Sheila.”
Andy jumped back with a start, swiveling his head from left to right and back again in sharp, jerky motions to see where, in the confines of the small sheep barn, Barney’s wife could have hidden herself. He had never met Barney’s wife and now was not a good time to start.
“I don’t see your wife anywhere.”
“She’s right there in front of you, Andy. The one with the bright red bow” proclaimed Barney with a note of pride. Barney reached out, patting and caressing a large round sheep wearing an intricate and brightly colored red bow around her neck. “We’ve been married for going on seven years. I got her the bow for an anniversary present. I’ve never told Sheila about me and you until now. It’s been real hard to find the moment to break the news to her and I’m all worked up about it.” Tears streamed down the front of Barney’s face.
Andy sighed and looked forlornly out the small, now frosted window of the sheep barn, the accumulating snow working its way up the bottom half of the outside window pane.
It was, indeed, going to be a long, cold winter.