tagRomanceRocky Mountain Way

Rocky Mountain Way

bymojavejoe420©

The wind caught Cheryl's map as she tried to orient herself to the little town. She knew that almost everyone had cell phones with navigation on them, but she still had an old non-smart flip phone; the kind where you had to push the numbers several times to just get one letter when texting. Needless to say, she didn't text much either.

She had pretty much pinpointed her sister's cabin on the map; her final destination. She had been here years earlier but didn't remember all the turns. But she was very happy to almost be there. She could rest, relax, do some thinking and some non-thinking, too. She looked forward to the solitude. Except for trips to the store, she would be all alone for six wonderful months.

"Where you headed, young lady?"

She turned and saw Fred, the elderly gentlemen wearing the garb of the local supermarket in Granby, Colorado. She had just finished stuffing her Jeep with all her groceries and he collected her cart along with a couple others.

"Just up the road a bit, I think." She gave him a nice smile.

"Better get a move-on. That storm is coming in and they aren't kidding around this time. We're closing up now."

She promised she would. Cheryl knew all about storms. Her and her husband... err... ex-husband, she reminded herself, lived in New York City and traveled a lot throughout Vermont and Maine during the winters back there. Her Jeep had kept them out of lots of trouble while others sat stranded in their cars.

She started to cross the street to the hardware store for some batteries and a good lantern, when a car honked at her as it sped past her. True, she wasn't paying attention as she was about to cross the street, but that guy was doing well past the speed limit.

Idiot, she thought. These are mountain roads and it's below freezing.

- - -

The state trooper approached his car window.

"Sir, you've gotta turn around just like everybody else. This storm is coming in fast. Are you a resident here? I didn't think so. You've got no business being out here in a rental car without all-weather tires and chains. Now turn around and don't be stupid."

Sighing heavily, John got back in line and followed the other cars as they did a u-turn on I-70 and headed back towards Denver.

I just came from Denver, he fumed. I don't want to go back, I just want to go... I want to keep driving... keep moving.

Actually, he had just come from Boulder but passed through Denver on his way home to LA. His uncle's funeral had left a bad taste in his mouth and he just wanted to get out of Colorado. Susan, his wife, didn't understand why he wouldn't just fly home and not worry about all the weather. John tried to explain that he needed some alone time to think, to process his uncle's death. She acquiesced and wished him a safe trip.

It's just another lie, he told himself. Add that to the hundred times a day I lie to her. I didn't used to be a liar...

What he really needed was time to think. He needed to figure out his exit strategy. He just felt like he was done with Susan. It would be ugly and painful, though. He kept trying to think about how to make it the least painful for everyone.

He saw a sign for Highway 40 and pulled off the exit ramp. He checked his map program and saw it ran north and finally connected to Salt Lake City. The storm was coming up from the south, and he reasoned it wouldn't get that far north in the next few hours. He gunned the motor and headed up the 40.

His rental Ford Fusion wasn't a sports car by any means, but it did have paddle shifters and the motor had a few more horses under the hood than his Fusion back home. He braked hard into the next turn, hit the apex, and smoothly accelerated into the next one. The sheer joy and exhilaration of taking the road hard thrilled him to his marrow.

The excitement wore off after about an hour, however. He found the stress tiring, and that power slide on the last hairpin gave him quite a scare. He backed it down to just about the speed limit and enjoyed the ride.

Time passed and as the skies grew darker, John noticed the outside temp had dropped to well below freezing. He began pondering his next move, this once gorgeous country road suddenly seemed desolate, foreboding, and even threatening. Maybe he should head back the twenty or thirty minutes to Granby; snow was starting to fall and it might get dicey up here. He was pretty sure he saw a motel or an inn of some sort back there. He didn't have any cell service up here in the big lonely mountains, there was no way to tell what accommodations lie ahead.

He headed into the next turn a little quick, but no big deal. Until he hit that patch of black ice in the middle of the turn. Many of the turns had water on them, a little runoff from the day's snow melting. But this patch had frozen, and John's car lost its grip for a moment.

As he felt the car go straight when it should be turning, he turned left harder. The car slid through the ice and then caught traction on the pavement again. John struggled with the wheel, trying to correct the sudden overcorrection. He finally straightened out the Ford, but he now pointed almost perpendicular to his intended path of travel.

BAM!

The exploding airbag surprised him when he hit the tree, even as it saved his head from hitting the wheel. The sudden quiet seemed shocking, compared to the violence of just a moment ago. Or maybe it was just in his head, as he began to hear the car creaking, hissing steam, and some fluid dripping on the ground.

Gasoline!

He scrambled to extricate himself from the mangled pile of metal. He stumbled a few feet from the car and stopped, and sniffed. Satisfied that it was just the ruptured radiator dripping coolant and not a gasoline leak, he returned to the broken car.

If I was at home I would have my earthquake kit in the back, with that warm sweater, extra socks, matches, flashlight, emergency rations...

He opened the trunk and only found his small overnight bag, no supplies of any kind. Shivering, he took off his clothes down to his underwear so he could put on another layer of boxers and two more T-shirts. He figured every little bit would help. He put on both his dress shirts and struggled to fit his suit pants over his jeans.

Fuck it's getting cold! And the car won't run, and even if it did it wouldn't last long without any coolant. Fuck! Do I stay with the car or try and walk? What do I do?

He decided to stick with the car since the flurries had now turned to big, sticking snowflakes that covered the ground quickly. He dug into the trunk for the tire iron, hoping it had a sharp end on it so maybe he could cut open a seat for some foam. Maybe he could use it for warmth, or maybe even get the battery to spark and make a fire! That's it!

As he found the tire iron without any sharp edges, he hung his head in disgust. He began looking for some broken glass shards of decent size when he heard a new sound; a car!

He appreciated the black four-door Jeep Wrangler as it carefully approached the curve. With it lifted a few inches and big thirty-seven inch mud/terrain tires tucked underneath, he knew it could tackle most anything out here.

He gave a wave as it slowed to a stop in the road behind his busted up Ford. John walked to the drivers side and looked surprised when he found it to be a woman driver. And a rather attractive one at that.

"Howdy," he called as she lowered the window. "Thanks for stopping."

"Whatcha doin' out here? You know, a lot of people slow down for curves," she said with a big smile.

"Oh, you know, thought I would try a little off-roading."

She looked at his crumpled car, steam rising from the engine compartment. Then she noticed his unusual clothing arrangement.

"Yeah, I can see that. So what's your plan now? Are you wearing all the clothes you have?"

"Yeah, it's getting a bit nippy out. I was going to cut up the seats and maybe start a fire. Got any matches?"

He smiled his best smile at her.

"Nope. Guess you're outta luck..."

"Ah, well, shoot! That's okay, then. I'm sure I'll be fine. Oh hey, maybe you could let my kids know that I was thinking of them before I died. I could give you my home number..."

"I could do that. Or maybe an email would be better..."

He looked rather ridiculous with all these clothes layered under his now ill-fitting dress suit. He dipped his head, trying to give her his best puppy dog eyes.

She cocked her head and smiled again at him.

"Are you gonna get in the truck or what?"

John scrambled to retrieve his bag from his rental and climbed up onto the front seat.

"Thank you. I'm John, John Winters." He stuck his hand out.

With a little laugh, she said, "Cheryl, Cheryl Summers."

"You're kidding me, really?"

"Honest to God," she promised as she set the Jeep in motion. "Are you the dead comedian? Or Edgar Winters' brother?"

"Ah, cute. I'm old but not that old. Ummm... where are we going? I know there's a hotel back there in Granby, or..."

"Granby? I'm not driving you to Granby! I just came from there. Did you not notice the snow falling out of the sky? Where are you from, anyway?"

"California, City of the Angels."

"Oh," she sneered. "Cali-for-nia. Well that does explain a lot. See, this is what we call heavy snow. The kind where you get a foot an hour. If I drove you to Granby then I'd be stuck there for the next several days."

She expertly took the next curve, the Jeep's tires and four-wheel drive gripping the road quite nicely.

"Didn't you listen to the weather reports? If you hadn't crashed, you would just be stuck in the snow in another twenty minutes."

Properly chastened, he sat back in his seat, thankful for the heat coming up from the vents.

"Well I do thank you for picking me up, wherever we're going. I would probably die out here."

"That's true. And you're welcome." She smiled at him and slapped his knee. "Cheer up! I'm just giving you a hard time! Say, you want some coffee?"

"You have coffee? Here in the car?"

"First of all, yes I have coffee. But more importantly, you never call a Jeep a "car." Every time you do-"

"I know, I know! Every time you call a Jeep a "car" a kitten dies somewhere. I have one, too."

She eyed him suspiciously. "Suspension?"

"Teraflex, four inches. And thirty-seven inch Toyo MTs underneath.

"Gears?"

"4.88."

"Why not 5.13?"

"I drive the freeway too much, better gas mileage."

"Hmph," she muttered, apparently satisfied. "There's a hydroflask in the back seat."

He popped the top back and sipped the piping hot brew. He felt the heat spread throughout his chest from his esophagus.

"Mmm that's good. So then, where are we going, if I may ask?"

"Well, you seem a half-decent person. I guess I'm going to have to put you up at my cabin. There's several bedrooms, you can take your pick."

"I won't be any trouble, I promise."

She slowed down and pulled off on an unmarked trail. John felt the dirt road through the vibrations in the floorboards.

"I know you won't. I have already taken a picture of your license plate and sent it to my sister. If anything happens to me, they'll track you down."

She smiled at him.

"Hey watch the road, okay!"

She corrected her path and continued down the twisty road, the tires making a definite crunching sound on the new snow. They compared notes on other Jeep accoutrements and noted how fast the snow fell. In about fifteen minutes they came to a driveway and pulled in.

John's jaw dropped.

"Uh... cabin? Looks more like a ski lodge!"

"It's my sister's. I'm just here for... a while, I guess."

Cheryl pulled into the garage on the lower floor of the so-called cabin. She grabbed several bags of groceries while John brought in his travel case, with more groceries piled on top. He gave a low whistle as they walked through the finished basement area.

"Yes, we have a pool table, ping pong, shuffleboard, a bar... And that's the larder. My brother-in-law believes in being prepared. A family of four could eat for a year without ever needing a store run. Maybe two years, even."

They went upstairs to the spacious main floor. John admired the simple, rustic design that also conveyed a sense of elegance, and good planning. The expansive south-facing windows would absorb the sun's heat during the winter, and the solar panels and pipes showed him these people were serious about their survival up here in the wilderness.

They made a couple more trips to bring in her luggage and the last of the groceries. They put most of the food away, but John was getting a little antsy about his situation.

"Can I borrow your phone? I don't have any service up here. I should call the rental car company, and then just a few minutes to California."

Cheryl pointed to a landline and he spoke to the rental car company. They told him that given the weather conditions, it would be two, maybe even three days before a tow truck could be dispatched to the wreck site. Then, he dialed his wife's cell.

"Hey it's me... Listen I'm kind of stranded, this storm came in faster than I expected... uh huh... I know... yeah I shoulda just flown... yeah, a day or two maybe... I know... I will... yep... uh huh... uh huh... yep... okay you too. Bye."

Cheryl finished putting away the supplies she had brought in.

"Was that your brother? A neighbor?"

"No, that was my wife."

"Ah, gotcha."

John gave her a little suspicious glance.

"Whaddya mean 'gotcha'?"

Cheryl grabbed a towel and started wiping down the kitchen counter.

"Nothing, I'm sorry. I was snooping and I shouldn't have. Ummm... go grab a room, settle in. Mine's the big one, of course, but feel free to take any of the others."

John took the room next to the master bedroom. The others were large and had bunk beds in addition to sofas, and they just seemed made for kids or families. It only took him a couple minutes to move-in and put on something that made more sense, rather than everything he had. Still, his feet were cold and his socks were damp. He freshened up in the bathroom across the hall, also decorated in the same rustic but functional style.

He almost ran over Cheryl in the hallway as he exited the bathroom.

"Oh! Sorry, John. I thought you might like these, in case your clothes are wet from the snow. They are my brother-in-law's. There's quite a few sets of men's clothes here."

She handed him some nice quality L.L. Bean cargo pants, a Merino-wool shirt and an obnoxious but very warm-looking sweater. Their hands touched as she handed him the pile of clothing. Neither pulled away awkwardly at the sudden contact. It was just fingers touching.

"Thirty fours?" She asked sweetly, referring to his waist size.

"I beg your pardon!" he joked. "Thirty two, if you please! But these will be fine. Oh, and socks and slippers too! This is perfect, thank you so much."

He entered the kitchen a couple minutes later wearing his new gear, and did a little twirl for Cheryl to show off his new fashions. She looked up from her cutting board and peered over her reading glasses at him.

"Well don't you just look like a native now!"

"What are these, reindeer? On my sweater?"

"Moose."

"Are there mooses in Colorado? Meeses?"

"Don't be so picky, mister. How are you in the kitchen?"

He jumped right in and made the salad as she sautéed the chicken. They talked about a lot of things through the excellent dinner. She found out a little about his wife and a lot about his two college-aged children, and also the wacky funeral he was returning from. Uncle Jim had quite an estate to divvy up, and the squabbling of the other uncles and aunts had already started..

"Tell me more about your wife," Cheryl said as they sat on a nice big couch in front of the wood burning stove. "I noticed you didn't tell her exactly where you were staying."

"No. I think turnabout is fair play. We've talked about me all night. I've let you question me, but now I want to hear your story."

She took a drink of her wine they'd just opened, their second bottle.

"Oh, there's not much to tell..."

She let that linger.

"Bullshit," he said with a wry smile. "A gorgeous woman like you, oh stop it. You know you're gorgeous. You don't even wear makeup and you're stunning. So a gorgeous woman like you is... apparently unmarried? Apparently childless? And you're hiding out here on the edge of the world. I think there's a lot of story here."

She smiled at him, and took another sip of her wine.

Where to start? How do I tell him this? I don't want to tell him this, I just don't want to. Shit, I've had too much wine. He's just so damn easy on the eyes, and easy to talk to, and interesting, and not a dick, and... and... married. Okay I won't tell him anything.

"About two years ago," she began, despite what she just told herself. "I took on this new patient... and she... and she..."

She turned her head to try and hide the tears. John moved over close to her and took her wine glass from her hand, and set it down on the coffee table.

"Hey hey," he said in a voice barely above a whisper. "Shhhhh. It's okay, you don't have to say anything."

He took her hands in his. Her tears rolled down her cheeks like huge marbles, splashing on her arms and pant leg.

I can't tell him this. I want to tell him. Why do I want to tell him? Oh god Chloe, I'm so sorry... so sorry that I failed you...

She had cried many times over Chloe, but had always managed to stop herself before she got too deep. But she felt herself losing all control tonight.

When John took her in his arms, she clung tightly to him and let it all go. The pain, the rage, the anger at herself and Chloe, and the deep, seemingly endless sorrow all combined at once to overwhelm her.

He pulled her tight so she could rest on his chest while he reclined on the couch. Deep sobs wracked her body as he stroked her hair and rubbed her back. The anguish she felt poured from her in loud wails and more than once she balled up her hand into a fist and lightly pounded his chest.

She's lost someone. Someone who was very close to her.

After twenty or so minutes she nearly cried herself out. Her breathing slowed and the river of tears reduced to a bare trickle. John handed her a couple napkins from the table to wipe her face and she blew her nose. Then she resumed her position on his chest, and his arms naturally fell around her again.

"You gonna be okay, gorgeous?"

She looked at him for a first time in quite awhile.

"Shut up," she whispered and nestled her head back against his shoulder and chest. "I'm a mess... and you probably think I'm crazy."

"I think you're traumatized, that's all. You don't have to talk anymore tonight. Just rest... shhh"

His fingers feel so good in my hair. Nobody's done this in such a long time. Or rather, I haven't let anyone do this.

"Thank you," she whispered. Impulsively, she turned her head and kissed him on the lips. She meant to just give him a quick 'thank-you' kiss. But her lips lingered on his.

Surprised, he kissed her back; their lips tenderly working together. After a few seconds, he brought his hand up to lightly touch her cheek.

What is happening, he wondered. Stop it, stop this before you go too far. You're a married man. Well, sort of.

But he kept kissing her. It had been so long since he had been intimate with someone, it just felt so good... and... he liked her.

Cheryl's brain, mostly lost in the kiss, still had a few cells functioning. And they screamed at her to stop. Just as she was about to bite his lower lip, she instead retreated slowly back to his shoulder. John continued to stroke her hair, whispering the occasional "it's okay now" to her.

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