(continued from preceding days)
It was only about half an hour later, when Jamie and Jim were sitting in the front seat of his old Ford pickup, on an overlook up in the Sangre de Cristos, gazing west at a crescent moon with Venus and what looked like Mars off to the side, that she began to regain herself and think how crazy she was to let this guy cart her off like that.
She kept her distance on her side of the torn vinyl seat.
He was smiling at her. "That was amazing how you handled yourself. Most gals I know would've whipped her butt so fast..."
"Well," she said, "that's not my style."
"Your friend's pretty nuts," he said.
Jamie wanted to ask him what he expected, if he was going to flirt with every woman who came his way.
"I see a lot of women like that," he said. "You can tell when they've been super lonely back in their big city and something about the wild west just gets 'em going."
Jamie wondered if he thought she was one of those lonely women from back east, too.
"You know what I told her when she started yelling at me?" He said, stroking his chin. "I told her 'Give people a piece of your heart, not a piece of your mind.' Saw that outside a church once. Stuck with me ever since. Not that I'm religious or anything."
"I'm not looking for anybody," Jamie said, looking down at her fingers locked together on her lap.
"Honey," he said, reaching out and stroking her hair. "Everybody's looking for somebody. Ain't nothing wrong with that."
She looked at him. His face made her heart leap for a moment. "Just, just who are you, anyway? Some kind of mountain man or something?"
"Wish I was," he said. "My great-great-whatever uncle was Jim Bridger, the greatest mountain man ever, and I guess I'm trying to bring him back alive. Hard these days, though. Just don't fit in anywhere."
Jamie nodded. "I think I know what you mean. What were you looking at at the gallery last night?"
Jim laughed and smacked his knee. "Did you notice that? I go there all the time just to look at that thing. That's him. Jim Bridger. Some sculptor made it out of a photograph. Looks just like him." He smiled sheepishly. "I go there and talk to him."
Jamie smiled. "Does he talk back?"
"Well, don't you ask the funniest questions. Like you're reading my mind. Of course, he talks back. Except I'm the only one that can hear him."
They stared out at the sky in silence for a while, watching as storm clouds wandered up from the south and streaked lightning down onto the desert.
"I love it out here," Jamie said. "You can really hear yourself think."
"Yup," Jim said with a quick laugh. "A lot of people do a lot of thinking out here. Not sure what they're thinking about but they do a lot of it. Mostly about making money far as I can tell."
Jamie turned to him. "And how do you make money?"
"Oh, do a little of this, a little of that. That's how it is out here. But I'm okay. Got a house out west of town and a place to do some painting, you know, my own art and stuff. Get up to the mountains for a long stay couple times a year, too, so it's a good life."
A good life, Jamie thought. She had been looking for a good life for a long time.
Jim moved toward her. "I know I just threw you over my shoulder a short while back," he said,, "but now I'm wondering if you'd let me kiss you. That's all."
Jamie leaned toward him and did let him kiss her. And that was all.
For the time being.
When she returned to DC, she stayed just long enough to quit her job, give up her apartment, sell her things and pack up the rest then drive her own car across country back to Santa Fe.
In the meantime, Maureen called her to apologize.
"I don't know what came over me," she said. "I'm so embarrassed I could climb under a rock and never come out."
"Don't even think twice about it. It was such a strange night for both of us."
"He was just so cute, I couldn't think straight." She paused. "And I know I sound nosy but will you hate me if I ask what happened after you left? Bill told me Jim hauled you off like a bag of potatoes."
Jamie laughed. "He did. And right now I'm on my way back out there."
Maureen gasped. "To be with him?"
"I think so. I don't know. We'll see. I hope so. It just feels like where I'm supposed to be."
"Hold on, Jamie. Do you know what you're doing? I mean, do you have a job?"
Maureen sighed. "You're so brave. If I don't get out of New York by tomorrow I'm going to completely lose it. I never knew how miserable I was until that night at that bar. Do me a favor? Keep in touch? I'm going to find a way to get out there myself if it kills me."
"I hope you do," Jamie said. "I'll be looking for you."
Maureen never did make it to Santa Fe, but Jamie lives there to this day, in a small house west of town. Jim lives there, too. She teaches yoga and sometimes waits tables, and he paints and sometimes helps build a pseudo-adobe house for people moving in from out of town, and several times a year he goes off into the mountains for a few weeks or even longer with his friends or by himself.
It is indeed a different and often enchanted life.
Photo released to public domain by P. Bramwell.
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