He came to in bits and pieces. Luckily, the truck ended up right side up when it stopped rolling.
“So much for rescuing your damsel in distress, Stud,” Judy muttered. She unlatched her seatbelt and was around the truck, opening his door and checking him over for any injuries. He seemed okay and except for being unconscious, nothing was the matter. She didn’t see any bumps or bruises on his head.
She didn’t see the creature they almost hit either. Whether it was a cow or a bear, she didn’t know. But it was a big animal.
“Stud? Hey, Stud?” She shook his shoulder carefully. She wasn’t hurt, just a bit sore. The long walk and the cold and now the tumbling and twisting and turning from the truck had done a number on her. But she was worried that he was hurt. If it was something she couldn’t see.
He groaned and she put a hand on his shoulder. But his eyes opened and as soon as he saw her, the silliest, smittenest expression she’d ever seen lit his face.
“Stud? Hey, Stud, you okay?”
He rolled his head and neck and tried to shake off the silly expression, then said, “I think so.” He looked at her and the concern in his eyes was real. “You?”
“Glad that was a small cup of coffee or that would have been real fun.” She looked at the empty coffee cup on the floor of the cab.
“Boomer?” he asked.
“Oh god,” she whispered. The dog had been so calm and quiet in the backseat she hadn’t even thought about him.
The dog was missing. The window was rolled down for him. Perhaps he jumped?
Stud whistled as he stumbled from the truck. A joyful bark and Boomer bounded over to them. Blood was running down the side of his face, but the dog seemed unharmed otherwise.
“Oh buddy,” Stud whispered. He bowed his head and rested it against the dog’s neck.
“He’ll be okay,” she whispered. She put a soft hand on Stud’s back.
The dog perked up and started running back to the road, hackles raised and barking.
“Must be a bear,” Stud said. He turned and ushered her back into the truck. He whistled and the dog came running back. She sat in the truck and waited for things to feel safe again. She had a feeling that would take a while.
“Do you have a cell signal?” she asked once they were safely in the truck. She looked around for something to wipe up the blood on the dog. They were lucky that was the extent of their injuries.
“Nope. Nothing. I don’t think the truck is going to start again either.” The sweet smell of antifreeze from the truck made her nose wrinkle.
“I don’t think we should try. If the radiator is cracked, your truck is going to be dead anyway.”
He looked over to her and smiled. Why should it be so strange that she should know anything about cars and trucks?
“What are we going to do?” he asked.
“You already said you don’t have any blankets in here. And it’s still a ways to Helena’s house. We’re going to be stuck here I think. And if there’s a bear, I’m not walking anywhere.”
Boomer grumbled in his chest, then lay down in the backseat again.
“I have blankets in Roscoe. I didn’t think I would have needed one. Would have sucked to carry that around all day,” she said.
“Not as bad as it’s gonna suck once it gets cold.”
She shivered. The adrenalin of the car accident and now being stuck out in the wilderness was doing a number on her. At least she felt safe. Well, as safe as she could feel with a man she didn’t know.
“Would your aunt come looking for you?” Stud asked.
“Not at night. Not now. She probably would in the morning when I don’t show up. I’m sure she’s called my daughter by now.”
The crease of worry appeared between Stud’s eyebrows in the fading light. “Will she be worried about you?”
Judy nodded. Celia would start to worry immediately when she couldn’t get a hold of her mother. Especially if the phone went right to voicemail.
Judy huffed, then folded her arms around herself in an effort to stay warm. What would they have to do to survive the night? Certainly not walk in the dark. Not with a bear.
Boomer grumbled again, then nosed at Stud’s shoulder.
“Do you have to go out?” Boomer nosed at him again. “Man, you have terrible timing. If there’s a bear out there…”
Stud opened the door and Judy clenched up with fear. A bear was out there. Or maybe a cow? But the dog was acting like it was a bear. At least she assumed.
“Stud, are you okay out there?” She couldn’t keep the fear out of her voice. She already thought he was hurt in that accident and he may well have been, just doing that macho thing of acting like he wasn’t hurt.
“Sure, the dog will keep watch. And you’d certainly rather he do his business out here than in the truck.”
She snorted, then got out of the truck and stood next to him. The dog nosed around them in the dark. There were no other noises around them. No breaking branches or crunches. Nothing to suggest a bear was out there.
She walked around and said, “You think we could build a fire out here? Get warm at least?”
“If someone saw it, they’d come and investigate.”
“Do you wanna try?”
He looked around in the fading light. “I don’t really have an axe or anything. I think there’s a lighter in the truck, but…”
“It’s going to be a cold, miserable night in that truck.”
“With a bear wandering around, that’s the best we’re gonna get.”
She sighed. “What a day. And all because I couldn’t be bothered to turn around for a new cell phone charger.”
He laughed. “Isn’t that always the way it is?”
She vacillated between wanting to stand next to him and holding his hand and putting a little space between them. Make the space to just have her own thoughts without him doing anything to her or making her feel or think anything. Because the way he looked at her when he came to was amazing. The care and the awe and the…
She blushed, looking away, thankful for the dark. How long had it been since she’d left Kyle? How long had it been since she’d been on a date? Men were disappointing at best and terrible at worst. What was she going to do with Stud now? Nothing. They’d get through this crisis and she’d be on her way again, because that’s what she did. Not waste time with aspiring brewers.
The little copse of trees Boomer had chosen to bestow his blessings upon was a little scrub oak giving way to quaking aspens. It was beautiful and wild. And smelled amazing. Just the place for a bear to live. Just the place for so many things. No wonder Helena lived here and continued to write her crime thrillers. It was a nice, quiet place for her mind to unwind.
Judy took a step back to lean against one of the quakies. The wind was still blowing from the sunset as the warm air rushed at the colder air. The tiny leaves had barely unfurled.
Her hand found the bark and the warmth seeped into her. It was grounding. It was real. It wasn’t daydreams about some man who called himself Stud. Who does that?
She leaned back and the aspen swayed. Something terrible happened and she tumbled backwards into the dark.