As part of the weekly excerpt from the novel LIVING THE DREAM:
Friday morning, I woke up alone again. I found a note on the table next to a mug of cold coffee. Mark had gone to Louisa’s without me. With Anne.
I rang my mom at the bed and breakfast in Oliver.
An hour later I packed the car with two dogs, a bottle of water, my straw-hat, and layers of warm clothes. The first frost of the year had hit overnight and the water bowls had ice in them. I needed Mom. I found her at the coffee shop with a latte in hand and breakfast burritos on their way. Two. She’d ordered for me.
“I hope you like Christmas.”
“What? It’s not even Thanksgiving yet.”
“Your chile, you silly. I didn’t know which to get, red or green, so I asked for both. They call it Christmas.” She stood up and hugged me tightly. “Oh, sweetheart, it’s good to see you. I’m so glad I found a flight. And as to that other stuff that’s going on? Well, it will be okay, it will be okay.”
With that reassurance, I fell apart. The conversations in the café continued, unfazed by my outbreak. One of those days, I guess. Mom held on to me then got me to breath again before forcing me to drink my latte and talk to her. The food came and I picked away at it, telling her of all that’s been going on, the stupid little details I’d been ignoring. Until the morning’s note. Casual. Distant. Unthinking.
I ate my bacon pieces one at a time, my vegetarian ideals put aside in New Mexico apparently. All the tables in the café were full of locals, some teary-eyed, some telling stories and laughing out loud, others simply sitting quietly. I told Mom that a local, a friend, called Andrew had died. She nodded. She’d heard. Did I want to go see Louisa and the dogs? She asked as she finished her breakfast. I shook my head.
“I’d like to go for a walk with you. I doubt we’re going to collect firewood today, doesn’t seem right, you know, Mom? To carry on as if nothing’s happened. And anyway, Mark’s off with Anne and her damn practical skills.”
“Now, now, Jenny, don’t jump to conclusions. But yes, let’s go walking with Frida and Nelson. Any ideas as to where you want to take me? It’s all so gorgeous, I’ll be happy wherever we go.”
“Let’s get out of town, okay? Do you want to drive a little ways and go hike in the mountains? There are these trails in the foothills of the ski basin; we could go there. It’ll be empty today, or it usually is, what do you think?”
“Is there a restaurant near there for lunch?” She stood up, holding out her mug and mine. “First though, let’s enjoy some more procrastination, all right? I want to talk to you a moment.”
She sat back down with the lattes and sat back. She looked round the café and the colorful shelves of knick-knacks, books, and local crafts. The locals had mostly gone by now and only a few tourists hung out, reading newspapers and writing postcards. Mom leaned in closer.
“Do you really think Mark’s likely to wander? With this new friend of yours?”
I nodded and my eyes began to water. I opened my mouth to speak but Mom shushed me and carried on.
“Well, I don’t. I know him; I’ve seen you together for what, two or three years now? He might have a crush on Anne but I think he’s pretty damn committed to you. To this dream of yours.”
“Yours. To be honest sweetheart, this is your dream not his. He likes it, yes, I can see that, but he’s a city boy, isn’t he? And you, you still think of Grandma and Grandpa’s place out in the plains, don’t you? The stories they told you about the animals and goats and fruit trees and all the struggles they had to endure. Well, I lived it. It’s not easy. It can be beautiful, but it’s not easy. And it’s not for everyone.” She sat back and sipped her latte before continuing. “Now I’m not saying this to be mean, but I want you to just think about it. If you want to keep Mark at your side, you might need to move back west. With winter coming, and living through these next few cold months, you’ll know for sure. And he will too.”
“But Mom, I love it here.”
She reached over the table to take my hand in hers. “I know, Jennifer, I know.”
Mark had been and gone again by the time I dropped off Mom at the bed and breakfast. Another note sat waiting for me, as did another evening alone with the pups, although to be honest, they weren’t much fun; both had crashed out on my bed after finishing their bowls of kibble in record time.
I sat at the table and picked up the notes from the day before. Yes, Mark, I am researching this homesteading stuff. Why not, eh? I pulled out a half bottle of merlot and poured myself an usually generous glassful. I set the woodstove going with some kindling and wandered outside to fetch more wood. A shooting start lit up the sky above and I made a wish. I smiled at myself and took an armful of branches back inside. I lit a couple of candles and settled in.
It took me a moment to collect my thoughts together but I started by searching for images of outhouses to see how others had done this. Incredibly beautiful were some, others were more funky, fallen down and old-timey but then I came across the most basic functional designs. I backtracked to some brightly painted and oddly shaped ones, and sketched out a couple of ideas for myself. Yep, I could do this. It’s not as difficult as I thought. Mom had inspired me, but not in the way she’d probably thought.
I wrote out some ideas and stored the websites to the menu bar. Next project was to look up the solar stuff. I checked on the history tab. Lots of pages visited in the last week, mostly about setting up tours for his new band by the look of it, although I noticed a lot of Google searches too. I clicked on one of them to see what he’d found out.
Anne’s name. Her full name and address. Her personal website?
He’d been looking for Anne online? What else had he been up to? Wow. He even had a Facebook page that I never knew about. I tried guessing the password but failed with my name and then the dogs’ names. Nothing. I gave up and sipped my wine thoughtfully.
Back to the solar information then, I paged back and forth, taking notes on styles, costs, designs, and sermons on the numerous reasons we should all use solar power. Well, no, I didn’t take notes about that, pointless for me, I was going to do it despite what anyone preached.
I picked up the laptop and checked on the back, looking for something to tell me how much power it took. Nothing there so I did another Google search and found out. Starting my list of power needs with the most obvious electrical things I owned, the computer, the phone charger, and a couple of lights. That’d be enough for me to start with. Enough power to charge up Mark’s cordless drills and maybe we could get a skill-saw? I did the math. For what I use, I could set up a small system with two panels, four batteries, and an inverter. Under a $1000 if I get some used panels. $1500 would be the most by the looks of it. Now why didn’t Mark mention that we could do this so cheaply? Had he done the research?
I sat back, thrilled with my finds, well, some of them that is. I worked out a budget and decided that if I didn’t go stay in motels in Santa Fe for the next month and worked another couple of shifts at the café, I’d afford to have power set up for winter. I saw myself, I mean, I saw us reading in the evenings, playing on the computer, and being all cozy and comfortable with the fire going strong and dinner bubbling away on top of the woodstove. I packed away the computer and finished my wine. The dogs snored from Mark’s side of the bed.
His truck pulled up outside.
The first words out of my mouth stopped him in his tracks.
“Shouldn’t you ask how your friend Louisa is?”
He closed the door gently behind him and took off his boots with a sigh. He lay his hat and leather jacket on the kitchen chair and came back to the almost bedroom. He sat on the end of my bed, our bed, and looked at me sadly. He brushed his hair out of his eyes and petted the dog closest to him, Frida that is. I said nothing. He said nothing. Nelson yawned.
“Want to tell me how you spent your evening then?”
He shrugged and stood up. He started to get undressed as he talked of the wake at Louisa’s house, an impromptu gathering of Andrew’s closest friends.
“Yes, and me. Anyway, Louisa made some green chile stew and opened a few bottles of cabernet for us. We made a campfire and sat around as they all remembered different stories from knowing him, like when he was a rancher in Idaho, to his time in the Marines in his twenties, and all the years he spent on the road in his thirties. I wish I’d known him. It was weird, Louisa didn’t speak once, she kept quiet, and listened. She cried a bit, but not as much as I’d have expected, you know? She’s at peace with this somehow.”
He climbed in to bed and lay down near me with his hands behind his head. I turned on my side to look at him. He glanced over at me and then carried on describing the day and night, how special it was to be there with them all.
“But why you?”
I didn’t know how to be subtle here, but why him and not me? I thought Louisa was my friend, not his. Mark turned on his side and faced me, almost nose to nose.
“I don’t know if I’m meant to say anything but it’s Anne and Graham…”
“They’re separating, yes, Graham told me.”
“Yesterday, he came by, remember? So, Anne told you today?”
“Yes, I think she wants to keep it quiet until he moves out, but what with all the legal details and all the bureaucracy from Andrew’s death, she needed someone with her today. To deal with it all. And she really didn’t want to ask Graham. So she asked me. I said you’d understand. You had your mom here and all. Well, you do, don’t you?”
I reached over and stroked his goatee, then pulled on it. Hard. “Next time, leave me a damn note then. I’ve been freaked out all day. Mom said you wouldn’t cheat on me but…”
“You told your mom?”
“Well, yes, she made me. She met me for breakfast and I had to tell her I didn’t know where you and Anne were and she talked to me about cheating and stuff and got me all nervous. Actually she thought you wouldn’t but just the idea of it freaked me out. So we went for a hike in the Sandias to clear out my head and show her around. I’m glad she’s here for a while so we do more day trips like that. I’ll have to take you there too, it was all pretty incredible, and we found a restaurant at the top of the mountain that you get to by the ski lifts or keep driving up the road. So we parked in the shade, left the dogs in the car, and then took a ride up there in a lift. There were these amazing views of the national forest and even Albuquerque. You’d love it, we could go sometime.”
Mark curled around me and held me close as I told him about how exhausting it was to spend a whole day with Mom, just the two of us, especially now she’s been going to yoga every day and is all fit and righteous about being healthy. He laughed and held me tight.
“You can tell me about your day too, you know,” I whispered.
He sighed and snuggled in closer. “Tomorrow. Tomorrow. I’m tired, Jen, I just want to lie here and listen to you ramble.”
“I don’t ramble.”
He snorted in my ear and I giggled. The dogs yawned again.