He wasn’t going to let her be wherever she went. He took a deep breath and slid down the hill, following the direction of her voice.
Something strange happened and after a series of twists and turns, he fell into blessed blackness.
He woke up sore and cold, but for his right shoulder and left thigh. Judy was asleep against his shoulder, Boomer was asleep against his leg.
“Judy?” He shifted and Boomer woke up, then looked around with his usual amount of excitement at impending breakfast. “Judy?” He jiggled her shoulder softly.
Her sleepy, “Hnuh?” and hand brushing the hair out of her eyes was everything his heart could have hoped for. Her sandy colored hair, the grey catching the meager sunshine in their tiny cave.
“Judy, you okay?”
He sat up and with his motion, she was up, too.
Judy rubbed her face again, then looked at Stud with tired eyes. “Oh my god.” She stretched her back and shoulders, then said, “I’m okay I think. You?”
“I’m fine.” Something lined up perfectly when the truck rolled to knock him out, but he felt okay. His head was fine, it didn’t feel like a concussion.
Boomer whined and stood up at the mouth of the little cave.
Judy rubbed the hair out of her eyes. “Where are we? I thought I fell down a pit or something, but instead we’re in a little cave?”
Stud looked at the dirt over their heads. “At least it kept us warm.”
She snuggled back into his side. She felt good against him. He couldn’t deny it. He couldn’t deny it at all.
“Well, warm-ish I guess,” she said.
He put his arm around her, holding her closer and keeping her as warm as he could. “Go Boomer.”
“You should go with him,” she said. “That bear could still be out here. This could be its den.”
“No, its den would be a bit more enclosed. This is too open. Especially if its a momma.”
She shivered. “Let’s go with him. If we’re out here in the wilderness, I want to keep that dog with us.”
He nodded and moved to standing. A hunched over version of standing, but it was good to stretch his legs. He held his hand out to her for a moment, almost as quickly pulling it back in, but she caught it and held it tightly.
They shuffled out from the little cave and into the morning light.
Nothing was right. The truck was gone. There was no road. Nothing was there but untouched wilderness.
“Stud…?” Judy said. The uncertainty in her voice matched what was in his soul.
“I don’t know.”
Boomer ran out and started sniffing the quaking aspens around them, and not finding any of his previous markings, liberally anointed them all.
“Dogs are so gross,” Judy said quietly. “Does he really need to make every tree smell like his piss?”
Stud laughed. “If he’s missing the pee he left there last night… well, he’s got a lot of work to do again.”
His stomach grumbled. The road was gone. If the road was gone, did that mean his house was gone? If Aunt Helena drove by in her enormous Cadillac, would she find his ruined truck and her burned Jimmy?
“Judy?” She turned to look at him, her hand still in his. “I don’t know what happened.”
“I’m trying not to think about it.”
“I don’t know what we’re going to eat.”
“We could walk down to the creek and get fish.” He raised an eyebrow. “Aunt Helena’s husband, Dave, loved the outdoors. Showed me how to fish when I was just a kid. Too bad he died before he could teach me much more than that.”
“Can you make a fire?”
She shook her head. “Without matches, I’m no good for it.”
He frowned, watching the dog circle them. “We’ll need to start walking then. We’ll need to figure out where we are.”
She shivered and shifted closer to him. Whether it was because she was cold or if she was scared, he wasn’t going to question. If he could keep her comfortable, he would.
She turned to watch Boomer and said, “Oh,” softly.
He turned and saw the same thing. A sliver of silver caught his eye in the early morning light. The angle of the sun was just right to catch the vein.
“They mined silver up in Park City. It was a mining town. I wouldn’t be surprised if silver was here too,” she said.
What didn’t she know about? She was like that vein of silver, a flash of sunshine made her sparkle, but how deep did she go? What was behind the gorgeous surface? The sandy, wavy hair around her face. The deep blue eyes. The line between the eyebrows that said it didn’t believe most things. The lips. Those lips with that little smartass quirk in the corner.
“I think we’re on my property now,” he said.
She raised that eyebrow. “How much property are you talking about?”
She gawked at him. “You could have sold that to a developer easily and gone off to your brewery. Why’d you stay?”
“The cattle,” he said helplessly. “My dad loved those stupid cows. I just couldn’t bring myself to send them off to the stockyard. I couldn’t bring myself to do anything but just let them live their stupid cow lives.”
Something softened appreciably in her face. The understanding and the utter kindness. That he would be that softhearted.
“I couldn’t let people eat those cows. I couldn’t do that to them.” He shrugged. “Sure, I might eat beef, but I could’t do that to them. I couldn’t do that to him.”
“When’d you lose your dad?”
“Ten years ago. I guess I could fix the cows and they couldn’t get pregnant anymore, but I just let them be. They just have their little calves and I feed them and…”
She smiled then. The softest, shiningest smile he could have imagined. It felt like a prize.
“You have a kind heart.”
He never showed this side to anyone. Not to his friends, certainly not to women. But something about Judy made him want to do anything that could woo her. Made him want to write poetry.
He smiled then and looked away. “So, what do we do?” He looked at the vein of silver and said, “Should we go up or down?”