Friday, August 31, 2007

Thirty Three

Will stared at the seemingly sheer face of the mountain. "There's supposed to be a trail somewhere that leads up to their property," he said, crumpling Amalia's hand-drawn map in his fist. "Damn if I can see it."

Coyote held out his hand. "Let me." He smoothed the paper and traced the markings with his finger, then he looked up, frowning. He shoved the map in a pocket and walked his horse back and forth along the tree line. Finally he stopped, stared up at the rocks, pines and aspens above, then turned his horse in a completely unexpected direction. He poked around in some brush. "Here it is."

The others trotted over. "What did you find?"

Coyote pointed to a pile of rocks. "It's a lousy cairn, but I think they want it that way. Keeps the riff-raff out."

They started up the hidden trail, their horses moving slowly over the steep, rocky ground. Beyond the first line of trees, the trail broadened and there was evidence someone had made an effort to clear it of rocks and roots. They made their way under the shade of the pines, listening to the whispering of aspens. Butterflies flitted across their path and chipmunks paused on tree trunks to watch them pass. Diana looked at the late afternoon sunlight filtering through the branches and felt a deep peace settle over her. The others picked up on the mood, falling into a companionable silence.

They came into a clearing as dusk was falling. There was no sign to indicate what sort of place they had come to, but the long stone building flanked by little cabins had to be the school and dormitories. Neat paths led to gardens, a barn and a log house with solar panels on the roof.

They walked their horses through a cloud of winking fireflies, following the scent of food and the sound of genial conversation. Finally they came to an open patio where a group of adults lingered over supper. Amalia looked up from her plate and her face broke into a delighted grin. She ran to them, then stopped as if unsure what to say.

Will dismounted and threw his arms around her. "We've missed you, Mother."

Diana hung back, acutely conscious of her swollen belly. Amalia pretended not to see it and pulled her close. "It's good to have you here."

Diana nodded and pressed her face against Amalia's shoulder until she got control of her emotions. Finally she stepped back and smiled. "It's a nice place, Auntie."

"It's all yours, for as long as you want."

By now Macy and Coyote had dismounted, and Amalia waved them both to her and hugged them. Coyote made it brief, but Macy hung on. "Camp's been no good without you, Ms. Channing."

As they made casual conversation about their trip and the weather, Miguel wandered over and the round of greetings began again as he welcomed them to his home. He asked after Harley, Alexander, and Sputnik, which caused Diana to blush, but no one noticed in all the excitement, and soon Miguel was leading them to the patio. The other people at the table stood up and were introduced in turn, but the travelers were too tired to do more than smile and murmur appropriate greetings.

"If you want to wash up," one woman said, "I'll have supper waiting for you when you return."

"I’ll have Paul unpack your horses and put them up for the night," Miguel added. "Settle in, eat, and relax."

"I think we have some hot water left. You can have showers after dinner, if you like," Amalia told them. "And we've had beds made up and waiting since the first of the month." She beamed at Will and Diana, barely able to contain her joy. "It's so good to have you back."

After a simple dinner of venison, potatoes and wild greens, Miguel brought out some wine and everyone lingered on the patio, enjoying the cool night air and the sky full of stars. Miguel's staff retired for the evening, leaving the others to get caught up. The young people described their journey, and Will and Coyote told Miguel some of their plans for the fall campaigns. Amalia gave them all the news of summer and told them of their preparations for the upcoming school season, which would be her first as a teacher. "In the morning," she said, "I'll give you a tour of the grounds, if you're interested."

Diana was stretched out on a chaise lounge, nestled in Will's arms as he toyed with her braid. "I'd like that," she said. "If I'm going to be living here for awhile, I want to know everything about it."

"Don't go throwing yourself into lots of farm chores," Will told her. "You're supposed to rest and take care of yourself."

"That's not what the book says." She looked at Macy. "Doesn't the book say exercise is good for me?"

Macy gave an authoritative nod and turned to Amalia. "I've been doing some reading. She needs fresh fruits and vegetables, milk, lots of water, light exercise and something called folic acid. Do you know what that is? My book is missing some pages."

Amalia suppressed a smile. "Yes, I know what that is, dear. If she's been eating summer fruits and vegetables she's probably fine. Don't worry. I'll send for a midwife in a day or two." She turned to Diana with a frown. "Have you seen a doctor or a midwife since I left?"

Diana shook her head. "Why should I?"

"It's okay if you don't want this baby, but it still deserves to be cared for. It's a living creature."

"Don't I know it. Damn thing kicks hard."

"And then there's the issue of your own health. This isn't like having the sniffles. It's a significant medical condition."

"I've been trying to tell her," Macy said.

"I'm fine," Diana sighed. "Why do you all worry about me so much? If I were any healthier, I'd be sick."

"We'll have the midwife come, anyway. For my own peace of mind, if not for yours."

Diana looked across the clearing, lit dimly by stars, moon and pinpricks of light from the dormitory windows across the clearing.

"Can't we talk about something besides me? This is such a peaceful place. Seems like we could find something more interesting to discuss, like the moon or crickets."

"You're tired." Will kissed her hair. "It was a long way to travel in all that heat and dust, and you not able to get comfortable. I think it's about time to turn in." He helped Diana to her feet. "It'll be nice to sleep in a bed, won't it?"

She nodded and let Amalia lead them to a small but cozy room, bright with quilts and rag rugs. Diana sat on the edge of the bed. "I'm going to get spoiled living here."

"You deserve to be spoiled." Will squeezed her hand.

"And you can stay as long as you want," Amalia reminded her.

"As long as you're back for the spring campaigns," Will added. "But of course once the war is over, if this is where you want to live, that's okay with me."

Seeing the look of consternation on Diana's face, Amalia said, "This is no time to be planning the rest of our lives. Life has a funny way of planning it for us." She gave Diana a kiss. "Good night, dear. If there's anything you need, wake me up."

Will nearly smothered her in an embrace. "Thank you, Mother. It means a lot to us to have a home."

1 comment:

Alice Audrey said...

He still hasn't a clue. This is going to be hard.