The atmosphere was cheerful at Susan’s house as she and Bud worked to clean up from the last storm even as fresh snow began sweeping down from the peaks to obscure the opposite ridge, big flakes swirling about in the wind as Bud made his third pass with the plow truck, an old pickup of Bill’s that he had used to maintain the long, steep driveway every winter. Susan, working to clear the back porch and keep paths shoveled to all the greenhouses ahead of the upcoming wedding festivities, squinted through the advancing whiteness, barely able to see his headlights as he rounded the last of the sharp switchbacks and made his way up towards the house. He’d been there all morning--a day off from his duties as consultant for the Mountain Task Force--had enjoyed a big breakfast of ham, eggs and freshly baked buttermilk biscuits with a generous portion of homemade apricot preserves before heading out to do the plowing, and would, Susan knew, no doubt be hungry again when he got in, as the cold seemed to do that to a person. Stomping the snow from her boots and shaking it from coat and hat she headed into the kitchen to begin warming slices of leftover turkey for sandwiches, hungry herself after all that shoveling.
Later in the day several ladies from church were coming up to help her decorate the largest of the greenhouses, whose wide, woodstove-heated space had been chosen as the best in which to hold the wedding. Not one to go to any great fuss over such things--not that she’d too much experience with “such things,” had certainly never expected to be planning another wedding, unless for her sons--she was keeping the plans simple as possible, intending to decorate the greenhouse with the red and white potted poinsettias she always raised and sold throughout the winter, but it seemed the ladies might have other plans, and she knew she might be in for some work if she wanted to keep them from making the place too fancy. They had, though, promised to help with the baking, welcome assistance as she planned to create quite a feast for those who would be attending.
Which thought reminded her of those who would not be attending, her eyes straying to the mostly snow-obscured darkness of the nearest ridge, where the wind tore and howled through the spruces, bending, swaying, bowing them, and her throat felt a bit tight as she breathed a prayer--keep them warm, safe, out of this weather--for the little family up in the basin, two, soon to be three, if they weren’t already, and she wished very much that there might be some way for them to make a trip down the mountain, attend the wedding and stay and warm and well-fed for a few weeks until after the baby had come… Not happening, wouldn’t be safe, even should they consent to such a plan, which she knew Einar almost certainly never would, and not likely Liz, either. The hike would be quite a strenuous one for a woman weeks away from giving birth, might well bring on premature labor that would see the baby being born far from either home and under less than ideal conditions, and even should they make the trip safely and in time, she knew that the simple fact of their spending time down near the valley would put them at risk, no matter how careful she and Bud might be in keeping them hidden and restricting access to the house. Not a good risk. They’d be fine up there right where they were, she reassured herself, knew what they were doing, had plenty of food stocked away for the winter according to what Einar had recently told Bud. Liz, being young and healthy, ought to do quite well with the birth, and had Einar with his calm and knowledgeable presence there to help her. He was the one that really worried her though, especially after Bud’s description of his recent encounter with the fugitive up in the valley--sounded like he was, if anything, in worse condition than the last time she’d see him, which was a bit frightening for her to imagine--and she just hoped he’d be up to the job. A crunching in the snow outside, a rumbling as Bud urged the old truck up the final stretch of driveway and parked outside the garage, snow coming down so hard now that she could barely see him through it when she cupped her hands against the window. No matter, he’d be in soon enough, and he was, stomping up the steps and leaving snow-crusted boots on the tile just inside the door.
“Got some lunch ready, if you’re hungry! How’s the driveway?”
“Snowy, that’s how it is. Stuff’s really piling up out there, gonna have to go do some avalanche mitigation here in a little while along that one steep open section, if it don’t let up.”
“Does this sort of weather make you miss Arizona?”
“Nah, I like the snow. And besides, my chunk of Arizona’s way up in the mountains, so we see plenty of snow. Got to take you down there sometime, see how you like the place so you can help me decide whether we’re gonna keep it or not. Inclined to do so at the moment just because of the amount of work I put into that house, the good memories it’s got, but we’ll have to make the final decision together, of course. And for the moment, I’m real happy to be about to move into this place here with you. Looking forward to being up on the mountain again, rather than staying down in the valley. Too crowded down there. Fine to go down for work, but not a great place to live, not for a half civilized critter like myself.”
“Well I can certainly understand your wanting to get up out of the valley, but you’ve practically been living here for the past two months, as it is! At mealtimes, anyway. On your days off. You always seem to show up at mealtimes…”
“Well of course I do! The way you cook, I’m surprised a whole lot more folks don’t show up at mealtimes. Surprised you’re not havin’ to stand out there on the porch beating them off with a broom or something, just to keep them out of the kitchen! Speaking of meals…what’s that I’m smelling? Got my first whiff of it from way out there and couldn’t hardly wait to get inside!”
“Just some turkey I’ve got heating. With a few extras…” Which extras, much to Kilgore’s immense satisfaction, included an entire pint jar of pickled yellow banana peppers, Swiss cheese and fresh broccoli sprouts all served on a pair of Susan’s chewy home-baked sourdough cheddar onion buns, a most fitting meal after a morning’s hard work out in the snow and cold.
Halfway through the meal Bud stopped, looking thoughtful as he finished off a mouthful of sandwich and poked at a few stray sprouts that had fallen to his plate, and Susan knew something was coming, but wouldn’t have guessed at its nature. “Say, you ever jump out of a plane, Sue?”
“Jump out of a plane? No, not me. The closest I ever came was when I attended Bill’s graduation from jump school at Benning back in ‘66--we were just sweethearts then, not even engaged yet but he ended up asking me just before he went overseas a few months later--and that’s been a good while ago and did not, of course, even remotely involve any jumping on my part! Why do you ask?”
“Oh, no special reason. Just thinking about this upcoming honeymoon of ours…”
“What about it?”