Long time gone, p.10
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       Long Time Gone, p.10
 

         Part #16.5 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James
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  Cal said nothing. He just drank.

  So did Carson. Finally after a bit he said, “This ain’t no passin’ thing with Kimi, is it?”

  “Nope.”

  “She knows that?”

  “Yep.”

  “Then she’ll come back.”

  “You sound so sure.”

  “And you aren’t?”

  “I was.” Cal sighed. “I mean, I am. It’s the waitin’ that’s gonna suck. Even when I know she’s worth the wait.”

  Carson clapped him on the back. “Good thing we’ve got plenty of ranch matters to take your mind off it for the next couple of years.”

  “Thanks for that.”

  “Anytime.” He jumped off the tailgate. “You gonna be okay tonight?”

  No. “Yep. But I’ll probably be hung over tomorrow.” Cal pointed at the Wild Turkey. “And I’m blaming it on you.”

  “You’ve done your share of mornin’ after whiskey therapy with me so it’s only fair I return the favor.”

  Chapter Nine

  Year one…

  Kimi doll,

  I can’t tell you how big my smile is when I see a letter from you in my mailbox. Folks driving by probably thought I’d won the sweepstakes.

  I was glad to hear you found a different place to live after you left Juneau. The landlord sounded like a real piece of work. While I understand Alaska is the last frontier, it can’t be comfortable sleeping with a gun under your pillow every night. A beautiful woman like you is bound to attract attention, so be careful.

  Not much has changed around here. Working cattle, getting ready for market. Carson and Carolyn are so crazy about Cord. He’s a cute little bugger. Total chip off the old block. My dad seems happy to have a grandson. Even if he is half West. I guess your dad is acting happy about it, even if Cord is half McKay. Although your brother Harland ain’t happy that Carolyn birthed the first grandchild. Carse has mentioned Eli stopping by their place a time or two. I wish you were around to keep Carolyn company. I know she misses you. If the signs I’m seeing in nature are correct, I suspect it’ll be a hard winter. Yep, you knew I’d get to talking about the weather at some point. I wonder how your sister will fare being cooped up in a trailer out in the middle of nowhere all day with a baby.

  I did some improvements around the place, not a lot of other things to do. I tilled up the flower beds in the far back corner the past three weekends. After watching nothing come up in the last two years, I figure I’d start over with the planting next spring. So if you’ve got advice on what to plant, and where, I’m all ears.

  Gigi got with puppies again. I had a devil of a time giving away the last batch. Although, I don’t know if I told you that your brother Darren took a male pup. Guess he’s working out well as a sheep dog. But I’ll probably buck up and get her spayed after this litter.

  As always I’ve been thinking about you. Hoping you’re finding what you need up there in the frozen tundra.

  I’m not going anywhere, sweetheart. You know where to find me.

  Cal

  Year two…

  Calvin sugar britches,

  You always start with an endearment so I thought I’d follow suit with something new.

  I know you’re busy birthing calves and other assorted cow stuff. Carolyn says Carson drops into bed exhausted every night so I’ll bet your nights are even shorter, since my brother-in-law has a wife, and a kid, and you, being the standup guy, probably tell him to go home and you’ll handle it. I hope you’re taking care of yourself and eating more than peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Not that my food choices are any better up here—it’s heavy on elk, caribou and salmon. I tried moose. It was the most god-awful stuff I’ve ever tasted. Besides bear. I actually barfed it was so nasty.

  Speaking of bears…someone had to kill a bear right in the middle of town last week—Fairbanks does seem like the last frontier sometimes! Locals say that once a bear gets a taste for people food, they won’t go back into the wild. Then they become violent when they’re denied food, so there’s no choice but to put them down. I’ve been careful when I hike to take a gun with me. But with my luck, I’d probably shoot myself.

  I realized when I read back through all the letters you’ve sent me, that I never gave you specifics on what to plant, so I’ve drawn up a detailed garden plat. It’s not to scale, but it’ll give you an idea of what goes where, and the ideal distance between the rows and clumps. The time to order seeds is now. I know you’re getting the same seed catalogue I am since I signed you up for it, so I’ve made notes on which seeds you oughta buy.

  My job is all right. At least working in the laundry department keeps me warm during the day. The winters up here are brutal with the limited sunlight, but like I told you before, the summers make it worthwhile. I’ve saved up enough money that I can travel to Kotzebue on the coast this year for a whole month. I’m going whale watching, and out on a commercial fishing boat for a week. A friend of mine who did the boat trip last year said they got close enough to Russia to see the coastline and some military ships. So if you don’t hear from me, don’t tell my sister I might be in a Russian prison for trespassing! Just kidding. But since I’m taking off during tourist season, I’ll probably lose my job. I’m ready to move on anyway. I don’t know where I’ll end up—that’s the fun part.

  It’s hard to believe I’ve lived here for two years. Sometimes it feels like I’ve never lived anywhere else. And other times, I miss the dusty wind and sagebrush in Wyoming.

  I definitely miss you.

  XOXO

  Kimi

  Year three…

  Kimi,

  Sorry I haven’t written much lately. The days and nights have dragged on in recent months and I’ve been hibernating. Carson says I’ve been grumpy as an old bear, but most days I feel like a snapping turtle that people poke with a stick just to see how long it’ll take me to snap.

  When I’m not refereeing my brothers and our dad, I work on projects around the house and out in the barn. Stuff that I hope to show you one day soon. Very soon.

  I miss you. I thought you being gone would be hard. But not this hard.

  Been forever since I’ve seen your pretty face. Do you look different? Do you feel different? With the way you move around, I can’t help but think that you’re restless. I can’t help but hope that maybe you’ve had enough of moose country and you’re ready to head back here.

  I told you I wouldn’t pressure you. I’m trying not to, but I’d give everything I own to hold you in my arms right now.

  Take care of yourself. But sweetheart, I sure wish it was me taking care of you.

  Cal

  Year four…

  Cal,

  I was so happy to see in your last letter that you were able to take some time off and go to Colorado Springs. I always wanted to ride the train to the top of Pike’s Peak. I imagine the view was something. But I’ve gotta say—we’ve got bigger mountains here in Alaska.

  I found it…interesting that you didn’t tell me who you traveled to Colorado with.

  With sunlight until almost midnight, the growing season here means I’ve seen some huge pumpkins. There are dahlias the size of dinner plates. If I could, I’d get a job working outside. At least in the summer.

  You asked if I went out and whooped it up now that I’m living in the big city of Anchorage. Nope, because I don’t have any free time. But yes, I still have time to be your pen pal. Aunt Hulda sends me long letters about the funny and stupid things she does when she doesn’t have me to watch after her. I know it’s her way of telling me she misses me. Carolyn hardly ever writes me. It seems weird that she has two boys now and I’ve never seen either one of them.

  I know it seems like I move around a lot. But it’s what I want after being stuck in one place so long. I’ve seen so many incredible things and I know there’s so much more I haven’t seen. I wish you were here to share it with me.

  Behave yourself, cowboy.

  Kimi

&
nbsp; Year four…

  Kimi,

  Been a while since I’ve heard from you. Your sister doesn’t say much about what you’ve been up to, so that makes me think that maybe you found yourself a mountain man. I’d worry you’d been eaten by a bear or were lost at sea, but Carolyn did let it slip that you were way far north now in Prudhoe Bay. So being at the North Pole I figured maybe you were working for Santa Claus.

  I just keep on, keepin’ on. Dad is buying land left and right and it’s taking a toll on me’n Carson because it seems like we can never catch up. It’s been a lot of driving and that gives me way too much time to think about your last few letters and how you talk nonstop about how great it is in Alaska. I worry that you’re not ever coming back here.

  I need to hear from you. It’s hard not knowing if you’ve moved on with someone else.

  Cal

  Year five…

  Calvin McKay, you jackass,

 
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