As part of the weekly excerpts from the novel LIVING THE DREAM:
“We thought you might still be here.”
Angie strode across the sand and greeted Nelson with a good deep scratching along his back. He wriggled in delight and rolled over in the sand, belly up for his friend.
Jonnie walked up, holding a couple mugs of steaming coffee and paper bag. He passed me one cup and offered a homemade breakfast burrito.
“The eggs came from our chickens, not that like to lay in winter but they surprised me this morning with enough for all of us. How are you doing, Jenny? Don’t you love it here? Much warmer than Albuquerque right now, that’s for sure.”
He sat on a rock near the campfire and sipped at his coffee. Angie stole it from him and grinned.
“We’d heard you were still staying at the cabin. It’s a small community and apparently Nelson’s been quite the star, a well-behaved boy is what our source told us.”
Nelson sat down next to me, sniffing at the burrito in my hand before lying down within reach. Just in case.
“It’s been great. We walk in the mornings and evenings and then spend most of our time sitting by fires, inside or out, daydreaming and reading and writing. It’s been perfect, a real break. We went for a drive the other day and almost got stuck on a dirt road up in the hills but I got us out okay. Then a tire blew on us. I had a moment’s panic to be honest but I’m pretty pleased with myself, first time I changed a tire on my own. And I’m in love with the 4Runner – it gets us in and out of any situation. It’s much better than the new Subaru I had for a while there. I can’t believe Louisa gave me her brother’s truck when he died. It’s been the best gift ever. What’s been going on with you? Work or school-wise?”
Angie described finishing up the term papers before coming home as Jonnie prodded at the fading fire and threw in his empty paper cup. “Talking of work, do you want to earn a little cash today? We could do with your help, that’s partly why we came down here, to offer some work followed by dinner at our home? Are you interested?”
“Well, I don’t know how I can help but sure. What are you up to?”
Angie grinned and stood up. “Firewood. We need to cut a truckload of firewood before the snow really comes to town, if the forecast is right. What do you think?”
“Firewood? Okay, but I’ve never cut any. I have no idea what help I’d be, but sure. A neighbor gave me some and then Mom ended up buying me, I mean us, a cord before she left in November. I’ve just been using that and picking up kindling from the property on my walks with the dogs.”
“Well, it’s about time you learned then, right? I’ll teach you, don’t worry Jen. It’s easy enough if you take it carefully. Come on, we’ll start with a chainsaw lesson.”
I followed in my truck with Nelson and Angie sharing the front seat. He pressed against her legs with his head on her lap, staring up, crushed out on her.
“Right up here a half a mile. Yeah, that one.”
A national forest sign pointed off to the west and I turned in slowly. I put the truck into high four-wheel drive and turned off the radio. Angie chatted about her plans for Christmas but carefully avoided asking me mine. They usually had neighbors over for a late lunch eaten on their deck with a chiminea’s fire going in the background. Their place overlooked the reservoirs and mountains, and it all sounded beautiful.
Jonnie slowed to a crawl and pulled off down a rough track. He parked and waved for me to park next to him. I pulled up and turned off the engine. Angie opened the door and let out a cramped but happy dog, who ran and marked the nearest trees before following his new girlfriend.
I pulled on a woolen hat and an insulated vest. Angie passed me a spare pair of work gloves. Jonnie opened up the back of this truck and pulled out the tools of the trade. The quiet was suddenly broken by the roar of the chainsaw and Nelson jumped back into the 4Runner. He peeked out a window and lay down out of sight. Jonnie grinned, and turned off the little gas engine. He checked the fluids, the chain itself, and then beckoned me closer.
“The main thing you need to remember is safety. Think about where your body is in relation to the chainsaw so if anything slips down suddenly or kicks back towards you, the chain can’t reach anything.”
He held it out to his right side and walked me through the steps, the safety features, and then passed it over to me.
“Okay, let’s see you start her up.”
Angie motioned towards the truck, where she’d set out a thermos, some bottles of water, and sandwiches. I nodded but carried on, chopping another branch into 18-inch lengths, until a dead pinion lay in a pile at my feet. I turned off the engine and removed the ear protection with a sigh. I grinned and turned around. Jonnie had just sat on the tailgate with a sandwich in hand. He waved me over. The silence grew as we sat together, ate, and drank. A huge wilderness, dark with ponderosas, pines, valleys, mountains, and creeks, stood before us. Speechless, I stared at the Gila National Forest.
Nelson joined us, begging at my feet. I passed him a corner of bread.
“Do you want us to unload your truck now?”
I stood in their driveway pulling on my gloves, ready to finish up before the afternoon sun left us.
“No, I can do that in the morning. I’ve done enough for one day. I’m an old man remember? I can’t keep up with you kids.”
“Yeah, right, what, you’re maybe fifteen years older, that’s all. Are you sure, I can keep going for a little longer if you want?”
Angie reached for the gloves, “I don’t think so, and we’ve all done more than enough for one day. Here’s your pay and now go inside and clean up. Go on, Jonnie will clean up the chainsaw and then we’re all going to relax on the deck. Any complaints, anyone?”
Jonnie and I shook our heads and I pocketed the envelope of cash.
“Of course, and now go inside and claim the bathroom. I’ll keep an eye on Nelson. Go on. Get in there before Jonnie uses all the hot water.”
“It’s heated on demand, Angie,” he laughed. “You know that.”
“I know, but Jenny didn’t,” Angie smiled at me as I walked inside with Nelson at my heels.