Classes start early in our district: my sons have been in class for days by the time you read this. Welcome to the Back to School Blog Hop! We’re traveling through m/m authors’ blogs from Aug 23 to Aug 30, and you’re welcome to put your name in the hat for some rather nice prizes. 😀
The promise/threat of more school is a running thread in three of my Mountain novels. Going to class is not only a goal and a step toward a future for Jake Landon, it’s also a source of terror. By following Jake through three books on his journey to his intended profession, I got to torture examine Jake’s feelings about both pharmacy school and what that means for him and his lover, Kurt Carlson.
Since Jake needs to establish residency in order to cope with tuition, he’s headed to the high country of Colorado to be a forest ranger for a summer. He likes his life in the wilderness, and one extra benefit of this interim job is that he can sort out his personal issues without affecting academic performance. Okay, in Fire on the Mountain and Snow on the Mountain I did give him more urgent things to think about than classes.
Jake’s formal education is definitely an issue in Mistletoe on the Mountain, the short story that comes with Snow. Kurt’s Christmas present to Jake is more than a gift—it’s an opinion.
It’s a very short window in Colorado between the end of ski season and the beginning of fire season. When the snows recede and Kurt and Jake head back to the national forest, it’s with the understanding that Jake will be in class this fall. Kurt plans to join him once fire season’s over. They’ll only be apart a few weeks. Or will they?
Jake’s really ambivalent about following through on his plan. He has more reasons and methods for putting off his schooling than Carter has little pills. Kurt doesn’t have a lot of patience for that: he’s not about to let Jake derail his professional plans without a fight. And fight they do—Blood on the Mountain has them battling discussing this issue, among other things.
Here’s an excerpt from this discussion. Kurt has his own demons about school, which Jake didn’t know about.
“How can I leave this wilderness one minute before winter drives us away, Kurt?” I spoke to the dancing reflection of the moon in the water.
“By keeping your eye on the larger prize.” Kurt rested his hand on mine. “Unless your dreams have changed.”
“No, but… I don’t want to go yet.”
“It gets harder to go back the longer you’ve been away from it. Trust me, I know.”
“How?” I knew he’d gone to the University of Colorado in Boulder. We’d even overlapped a couple of years although he was an upperclassman then and we’d never met.
“I graduated high school early because I got the offer to join the ski team. My dad tried to talk me out of it, because I had a ski scholarship offer. I could do both, he said—ski competitively and get my education. But Boise State U versus going to Norway and Austria and skiing against the Hermanator and Jorey Taylor? Not much of a contest.”
“No, not even close.”
“So I joined the team, seventeen years old and thinking I was hot shit, and maybe I was for a while, although I never won a thing, never even stood on the podium.” Kurt paused, curling his fingers between mine, squeezing from the top. “And then I had that stupid, stupid unicycle accident.”
I refrained from saying that unicycle accidents couldn’t sound like anything but stupid, but he’d told me this part—balance training with Jorey. He’d come off a parking barrier wrong.
“No place on the team, no education, no prospects, just a bum ankle and enough money saved to get the education and the prospects. But I’d been away for a couple of years, I’d be older than the other freshmen, I’d this, I’d that…. I tried every argument in the book. Cliff got so tired of it that he threatened to drown me in the stock tank just so he wouldn’t have to hear it again.”
“How close did you get to the cow-spit water?” I’d been pushing Kurt’s limits the last few days and there was a lake right in front of me.
“I didn’t actually get wet, but the whole family finally ganged up on me. They sat at the kitchen table with me in relays until I filled out applications, and made me rewrite essays until they were satisfied to the last comma.” He snorted softly. “I would really hate to have to subject you to Cliff, Vanessa, Larry, Polly, and my dad all giving you the beady eye about your education, but I have been trained by the best.”
“We aren’t going to Wyoming just to let your family harangue me.” Just the thought of meeting my lover’s family, let alone his family with an agenda, disturbed the peace of the evening. “I’m going back, Kurt, but—”
“No buts.” Everything in his demeanor changed—his soft storytelling became contempt between the capital and the period of what he said next. “If your dreams have changed, Jake, say so, but I think you’re afraid of the competition.”
Kurt had never sneered at me like that. Laughed at me, sure, laughed with me, more times than I could count, but he’d never sneered, even when I’d confessed my only experience on horseback had been at summer camp. So taken aback that I couldn’t come up with anything to reply, even nonsense. I spluttered, all dignity gone.
“Yup, instead of you being the smartest guy in the room, you’re gonna be sitting with a hundred other people who are all used to being the smartest ones in the room. Maybe even smarter than you.”
I found my voice, finally. “I am not afraid of the competition!”
“Then your ass is gonna be in class in September, and I’ll be there when fire season’s over.”
I wasn’t so pissed that I didn’t recognize the trap he’d just sprung on me. “I’m going, Kurt, but I’ll be even older and smarter next year.”
“You’ll be one year further from the discipline of the classroom, a year more used to living out in the world, and the young ones who haven’t had two years to forget all their organic chemistry are gonna eat your lunch.”
I jumped to my feet, trying to leave this idea behind. “No, they won’t!” I stood at the edge of the water, secure in my belief that Kurt wasn’t moving fast enough yet to dunk me.
“Because you aren’t going to fart around an extra year.” Kurt spoke from right behind me.
The jolt made me easy prey—one strong hand at the small of my back launched me forward. The water slapped me, sucking me down. Thrashing to find the surface, I inhaled a snootful of lake, choking even after I found the air. I glowered at the Kurt-shaped blank in the night sky.
“Not as gross as the stock tank, but it will do.”
It’s not always easy to go back to classes, but some career paths require extended education. Jake’s chosen one such, and to rethink classes is to rethink his life. He needs to examine his, but Kurt’s got a point—it isn’t Jake’s schooling that needs contemplation.
Jake Landon thinks a second ranger season in the Colorado Rockies with Kurt Carlson is close enough to heaven, and a national forest is big enough to be his closet. Pharmacy school—and the luxuries of electricity and running water—can wait, maybe forever, as long as Jake doesn’t have to come out. He doesn’t plan on Kurt’s vision of his future being as narrow and direct as the single track roads through the trees.
“Your future, your fear, and me,” Kurt tells Jake. “You can have two of the three, so choose wisely.” Jake may have no choices left after they stumble on armed men guarding a beautiful but deadly crop that doesn’t belong among the pines and spruces. Angry men with guns are only one danger in the Colorado wilderness, and Jake’s reluctance to come out is now his smallest problem.
Kurt’s skills and Jake’s silver tongue may not be enough to get them out of this mess—how much of the blood shed on the mountain will be theirs?
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