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Jupiter's Story
by Ronald Paxton


“ Oh my god, who is that?” Kate Austin asked.
Sarah Jane Howard crossed the deck and squinted into the late afternoon sun.
“ That's Jupiter Campbell,” she said. “ He's our foreman.”
“ Since when does Wild Pony Ranch have a foreman?” Kate asked.
“ Jupiter's been working here since John came home from college and took over the ranch from his dad,” Sarah Jane said. “ He and Jupiter have been friends since high school. John made him foreman about a year ago.”
Sarah Jane and Kate watched as Jupiter worked his horse in the riding ring.
“ He sure knows how to ride,” Kate said.
“ Duh, he's a cowboy,” Sarah Jane replied.
Kate continued to watch the horse and rider. “ What's his story?” she asked.
Sarah Jane laughed and said, “ why don't you ask him yourself? Come on, I'll introduce you.”
“ I don't want to scare him off,” Kate chuckled.
“ Well, Emma's sitting on the fence watching him ride,” Sarah Jane said.
“ So?” Kate asked.
“ So, you're her kindergarten teacher, Kate. Stroll on down there like you're stopping by to say hello or checking to see if she has any questions about her schoolwork.”
“ He'll see right through that, Sarah Jane,” Kate said.
“ Oh, please,” Sarah Jane said. “ He's a man. He won't have a clue.”

“ Who is that, Emma?” Jupiter Campbell asked as he brought his horse over to the fence rail.
Emma turned and looked up the hill. “ That's my kindergarten teacher, Miss Austin,” she said.
Jupiter Campbell let out a low whistle.
“ How come you're whistling, Jupiter?” Emma asked.
“ Well, it's just that she's very pretty,” Jupiter said.
Emma looked confused.
“ And, sometimes I feel like whistling when I see a really pretty woman,” he added.
“ Oh,” Emma said.
“ Hey, Emma,” Kate Austin called. “ I was visiting with your mama and thought I'd see if you had any questions about your schoolwork while I'm here.”
“ No, Miss Austin,” Emma said. “ This is my friend, Jupiter,” she added with a giggle.
“ Why are you giggling, Emma?” Kate Austin asked with a smile.
“ Jupiter thinks you're very pretty,” Emma said.
Kate turned to the man and extended her hand. “ Kate Austin,” she said.
“ Jupiter Campbell,” Jupiter replied as he carefully shook her hand.
Kate cocked her head and said, “ well, is that true? Do you think I'm very pretty?”
“ Well, uh, no, I'm sorry about that,” Jupiter stammered.
Kate continued to look at him. “ No, I'm not very pretty or you're sorry that you think I'm very pretty?” Kate asked, working hard to contain a smile.
Jupiter looked at her in confusion. “ Uh, neither,” he said. “ I mean I'm not blind. You are very pretty.”
Kate laughed. “ Thank you,” she said. “ And you're a handsome man.”
Jupiter felt himself blush.
“ Your face is the color of red wine, Jupiter,” Kate observed.
Jupiter felt a wave of heat break over his face.
“ Now it's more like grape Kool Aid,” Kate said.
Jupiter stared at something interesting on the ground. “ I guess I'd better get Extra Billy back to the barn,” he said to Kate's shoes.
“ I won't hold you up,” Kate said. “ Saturday night and all, you've probably got big plans.”
Jupiter glanced at her and shrugged. “ A good book, bowl of popcorn, and a liter of Mountain Dew,” he said.
“ It was nice meeting you, Jupiter,” Kate said.
“ Same here,” Jupiter replied as he headed for the barn.
Kate walked up the hill to the house. Just before she reached the porch she looked over her shoulder and saw Jupiter watching her. She smiled and went inside.

“ Kate's interested in Jupiter,” Sarah Jane said to her husband.
John Howard dragged his eyes away from the television and said, “ I'm not surprised. Jupiter's an interesting guy.”
“ You know what I mean, John,” Sarah Jane said.
“ Okay,” John replied.
“ Here's Kate's number,” Sarah Jane said handing him a slip of paper. “ I want you to have Jupiter call her.”
“ Come on, Sarah Jane,” her husband whined. “ Jupiter's a grown man.”
Sarah Jane just looked at him.
John Howard sighed and put the number in his pocket.

John and Jupiter were in the east meadow mending fence while the horses grazed.
“ You need to call Kate,” John said, not taking his eyes off the barbed wire he was stringing.
“ Why's that,” Jupiter replied.
“ 'Cause Sarah Jane said Kate's interested in you and she gave me the job of making sure you call her. Here's her number,” John said, handing him the piece of paper.
“ I didn't know we were still in eighth grade,” Jupiter said.
They worked in silence for a few minutes.
“ I was thinking of calling her anyway,” Jupiter said.
“ What's stopping you?” John said. “ I mean, Kate's smart and funny, not to mention good looking.”
“ Yeah, but you know I've never had much luck with women,” Jupiter said.
“ I know you haven't tried in a long time,” John said.
“ That's just it,” Jupiter said. “ It's been so long since I've been on a date I wouldn't know what to do or how to act.”
“ You know that old saying about just being yourself,” John said.
“ Yeah,” Jupiter answered.
“ For god's sake don't do that.”
Jupiter laughed.
“ Don't you have a rodeo next Saturday over in Danville?” John asked.
“ Yeah. So?” Jupiter said.
“ Well, ask her to the rodeo. It's perfect. You'll have something to talk about, plus you'll be able to show off for her.”

“ That's a good idea, daddy,” Emma said. “ I bet Miss Austin will have fun watching Jupiter at the rodeo.”
They were eating dinner and John had just finished telling them that Jupiter was planning to invite Kate Austin to the rodeo on Saturday.
“ Isn't that a good idea, mama?” Emma asked.
“ Well, honey, it would have been a good idea if Miss Austin were five years old,” Sarah Jane said.
Turning to her husband, she said, “ what on earth were you thinking,John?”
Her husband shrugged and said, “ I thought it was a good idea.”
Sarah Jane stood up from the table and said, “ Emma, help your daddy clear the dishes when you're finished eating.”
“ Where are you going, mama?” Emma asked.
“ To call Miss Austin and warn her.” Sarah Jane replied.

“ You were amazing, Jupiter,” Kate said. “ I've never been to a rodeo before. I'm glad you invited me.”
“ So am I,” Jupiter said. “ John gave me the idea.”
They had stopped for dinner on the way back in an old fashioned road side diner. Jupiter shifted in his chair and winced. He had landed hard after the bull, Turbo, threw him.
“ I've got some aspirin, Jupiter,” Kate said.
Jupiter waved her off.
“ Can I tell you something?” Kate asked.
“ Sure,” Jupiter replied.
“ When that bull bucked you off I screamed like a little girl.”
“ So did I,” Jupiter said.
Kate erupted with laughter. The sound warmed Jupiter like a large mug of cocoa with miniature marshmallows floating on top.
“ Did you know you have a wonderful self deprecating sense of humor?” Kate said.
“ Well, that depends,” Jupiter replied.
“ On what?” Kate asked.
“ On what self deprecating means?” Jupiter replied.
Kate smiled. “ I've got a feeling you know what it means.”
Jupiter smiled back.
“ Tell me about Jupiter Campbell,” Kate said.
“ Where should I start?” Jupiter asked.
“ At the beginning,” Kate replied.
Jupiter shrugged and began to talk.
“ I was born here in Shenandoah County. My father was a proud southern man and had planned to name me Daniel Lee Campbell, Jr. When my mother finally delivered me, she told my father that I was a gift from heaven and that she wanted to name me for a celestial body.”
“ What did your father say?” Kate asked.
“ He was appalled, of course,” Jupiter said. “ Not only was the gift of being his namesake taken away, but I was about to receive an absurd name that I would have to live with my entire life.”
“ Why did he stand for it?” Kate asked.
“ He fought it,” Jupiter said. “ He did talk her out of the name Pluto. He said a name like Jupiter would either break me or make me stronger. In the end he gave her what she wanted.”
“ So, which was it?” Kate asked. “ Did it break you or make you stronger?”
“ Both, I guess,” Jupiter said. “ I got picked on some when I was little, but that stopped after awhile. I played football and basketball in high school.”
“ When you're not being a cowboy what else do you enjoy doing?” Kate asked.
“ I'm really a pretty dull guy, Kate,” Jupiter said.
“ Definitely nothing dull about being a rodeo cowboy, Jupiter,” Kate replied.
“ I like to read,” Jupiter said. “ I'm a regular at the Shenandoah County library.”
Kate nodded. “ I love to read. I can't tell you how many nights I've fallen asleep with a book.”
Jupiter fixed her with a serious look and said, “ my lips usually get tired before my eyes do.”
Jupiter smiled in appreciation as Kate laughed loud enough for several diners to look their way.
“ Continue,” she said as she wiped her eyes.
“ I do some crafts,” he said. “ Woodworking and a little metal work. Mostly as a hobby, but I sell some of my stuff at craft shows.”
“ Do your parents still live here?” Kate asked.
“ My mother does,” Jupiter replied. “ She works in the cafeteria at the elementary school. She's been there for nearly thirty years.”
“ What about your father?” Kate asked.
Jupiter stared down at the table. He drew a deep breath and met Kate's eyes.
“ That's not a very happy story, Kate,” Jupiter said. “ Are you sure you want to hear it?”
“ Yes,” Kate said.
“ I grew up in a blue collar working class family. We had a small but nice home but not much money for extras. My father worked at the textile mill.”
“ Those are good jobs,” Kate said.
“ They were if you worked on the line,” Jupiter said. “ My father was the plant custodian, which was about the lowest pay grade at the mill. They had a great benefits package and he could make some overtime, so he never thought about leaving. As I said, my mother worked in the cafeteria and I had a paper route all through high school. I also cut grass and did yard work for a couple of families.”
“ Sounds like you come from good stock,” Kate observed.
“ The best,” Jupiter replied, “ but, as you can see, we had to count our nickels and dimes to pay the bills and hang on to our middle class life. Anyway, my junior year I met a girl, Heather Monroe, and we started going out.”
“ I hate her already,” Kate said.
Jupiter smiled weakly.
“ She was popular, pretty, and rich,” Jupiter said. “ I figured she was really interested in me since she already had plenty of money and she knew I didn't.”
Kate nodded.
“ Anyway, we had been dating for awhile and had just gotten our class rings. Her birthday was coming up and I had decided to ask her to wear my ring and go steady.”
Kate smiled to herself at Jupiter's use of the antiquated expression.
“ I wanted it to be special,” Jupiter said, lost in the memory. “ Our family always had a budget for just about everything. We had to make sure we managed our money in order to meet our obligations.”
Jupiter looked at Kate and shook his head. “ Not like nowadays where it seems like almost everyone has tons of credit cards . I expect even families that are going through foreclosure have got their laptops, cell phones, I- pods, and other gadgets.”
Kate waited for him to continue.
“ I invited her to dinner at my house and insisted that we serve lobster and filet mignon and a fancy dessert. I also insisted on a centerpiece of fresh roses for the table. Of course, my mother laughed and asked if I thought we were related to Bill Gates. She said she would make us a nice hamburger casserole. But, I wouldn't let it go. I mean, there's nothing special about hamburger casserole. I heard my mother talking to my father when he got home from work. A few minutes later he knocked on the door to my room.”
“ What did he say?” Kate asked.
“ My father was never much of a talker,” Jupiter said. “ My mother was always the outgoing one. He asked me if I felt like this girl was special, and I said that she was.”
Jupiter took a breath. “ And he said, okay.”
“ Just okay?” Kate asked.
Jupiter nodded. “ He gave my mother the money and she made the dinner. I knew it was wrong right away. Heather was polite, but she kept looking around at our home and furniture as if she had never seen such poverty. I gave her the perfume I had gotten her as a gift, and was working up my nerve about the ring when she said she had to leave.”
“ Why did she say she had to leave all of a sudden?” Kate asked.
Jupiter shrugged. “ No explanation. I found out later that her parents had given her a birthday party later that evening at the country club.”
“ She didn't tell you or invite you?” Kate asked in amazement.
Jupiter shook his head. “ Either she was tired of me or ashamed of me. Probably both.”
“ I think I can understand what that must have done to you,” Kate said.
“ It gets worse,” Jupiter said. “ Remember, I had just blown a giant hole in the family grocery budget. My father tried to make it up the following week by skipping breakfast and just eating a candy bar for lunch every day. That's not much food for anyone, especially a grown man doing a hard physical job.”
“ What happened?” Kate asked quietly.
“ He got paid that Friday and was on the way to the bank. He fainted while he was driving, ran into a tree and was killed instantly.”
“ My god,” Kate said.
Jupiter nodded. “ All because of one little girl that I wanted to impress enough to take food away from my family.”
Jupiter's knuckles were white as he gripped the table. “ I killed my father, Kate. I starved him to death.”

“ Got a date tonight with your cowboy”? Sarah Jane asked.
Kate nodded. “ Dinner and a movie.”
“ How long have y'all been together now, six months?”
“ Eight,” Kate replied. “ He's taking me to Blue Ridge Bistro next weekend for my birthday?”
“ Wow, that's elegant,” Sarah Jane said. “ Does Jupiter know there's a dress code?”
“ I told him,” Kate said, laughing. “ He said he would be sure to wear a shirt and shoes.”
“ Sounds like y'all might be getting serious, Kate. Do you think Jupiter's got something planned?”
“ Oh, I don't think so, Sarah Jane,” Kate said with a nervous laugh. “ He hasn't said anything.”
“ That doesn't mean anything,” Sarah Jane said. “ Jupiter's just like John. They don't talk much, but they think and plan and then they act.”
“ I've been meaning to look for a new dress,” Kate said. “ Maybe you could help me pick one out..”
“ Count on it,” Sarah Jane replied.

“ How long are you going to keep hammering that same nail,” John asked.
“ Sorry,” Jupiter replied. “ I can't concentrate. Tomorrow's Kate's birthday.”
“ So?” John asked.
Jupiter shrugged and remained silent.
“ Where are you taking her?” John asked.
“ Blue Ridge Bistro,” Jupiter replied.
John whistled in appreciation. “ You know you have to wear a coat and tie to get in that place,” he said.
Jupiter nodded.
John put down the spool of barbed wire he was working with and looked at his friend. “ Listen, Jupiter, I can tell something's on your mind. Maybe you ought to tell me about it so I can make sure you're not planning to do something ridiculous.”
Jupiter talked for the next ten minutes while John listened without interruption. When Jupiter was finished he looked anxiously at John, waiting for his opinion.
John was silent for a moment as he thought about what Jupiter had told him.
“ Sounds like a plan,” he said.
Jupiter grinned in relief.
“ Now, can we maybe try hammering a different nail?” John said..

“ Today's Kate's birthday,” Sarah Jane told her husband. “ He should be picking her up right about now.”
“ Yeah, Jupiter said he was taking her to the Blue Ridge Bistro,” John replied.
“ That place is really high end, John, even for a birthday dinner. I helped Kate pick out a new dress. I have a feeling something's going to happen.”
Sarah Jane glanced at her husband, trying to read him.
“ Did Jupiter say anything to you about it?” she asked.
“ Leave it alone, Sarah Jane,” John said.
“ What do you mean leave it alone,” Sarah Jane said. “ Do you know if something's going to happen tonight or not?”
John sighed and looked at his watch. They were probably already at the restaurant.
He looked over at his wife and said, “ yes, Sarah Jane, something's going to happen tonight.”

“ I've never seen you wear that suit,” Kate said.
“ I just bought it this morning,” Jupiter said.
Kate felt butterflies in her stomach. She looked around the restaurant before returning her gaze to Jupiter. “ You're the most handsome man in the restaurant, Jupiter,” she said.
Jupiter smiled. “ And you're the most beautiful woman in the restaurant, Kate.”
“ You didn't even look around,” Kate teased.
“ Don't need to,” Jupiter said.
The butterflies in Kate's stomach got busy.
The food was magnificent and they each splurged on a thoroughly decadent dessert.
Kate watched as Jupiter fidgeted in his seat and pulled at his tie like a six year old boy in church. Something was about to happen. She could feel it. Her palms started to sweat.
Jupiter cleared his throat and looked down at the table. “ You know, Kate, I've always been good at planning things. After what happened to my father I swore that neither I nor my family would ever be in a position like that. I've got a good job at Wild Pony ranch that pays well. I've got a retirement account and savings and investment accounts, all with good sized balances. Everything I make at rodeos and craft shows I save.”
Jupiter looked up. “ I want you to know I'm not some loser cowboy who squanders his weekly paycheck and wakes up one day, fifty years old, and not a dime to his name.”
“ I know that, Jupiter,” Kate said softly.
Jupiter nodded and returned his gaze to the table. “ Of course, I'm not saving and investing all that money just for me. I've always wanted a wife and family. That's always been the most important part of my plans.”
Kate remained quiet as the blood roared in her ears. Her heart was galloping.
The silence stretched out as Jupiter continued to examine the table. Finally, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small plain gift box. He handed it to Kate and said in a small voice, “ will you be part of my plans?”
Kate opened the box with trembling hands and looked down at the most beautiful engagement ring she had ever seen. She looked up at Jupiter's anguished expression and realized that he truly was not sure of her answer. She reached for his hand and whispered, “ yes.”
Jupiter ordered a bottle of champagne, and it was wonderful.
“ Where did you get such a beautiful ring, Jupiter?” Kate said. “ I can't tell from the box.”
Jupiter took a sip of champagne. “ I bought the diamond separately,” he said. “ I made the ring.”
Kate looked at him in stunned disbelief. “ You are the most romantic man on the planet,” she said.
“ That's definitely the first time I've ever heard that,” Jupiter laughed.
“ I'll have to get used to my new name,” Kate said excitedly.
“ Please don't change it,” Jupiter said. “ Kate's a beautiful name.”
Kate laughed and said, “ you talked me into it. Kate Campbell, it is.”
They sat and enjoyed the champagne.
“ What do you want to do now?” Jupiter asked.
Kate put down her glass and looked into his eyes. “ Let's go make a plan,” she said.
Jupiter held the door as, together, they walked out of the restaurant and into the future.


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