Authors: Deanna Lynn Sletten
Maggie cringed. How could he compare what she'd gone through the past two years to time off?
"That's not fair, and you know it," she said, her voice cold. "I was handling family matters then. I wasn't on vacation."
"Well, you need to handle family matters here. The kids need someone home, and you know how busy I am with work and my other projects. So, it's time to turn yourself around and head back here from wherever you are," Andrew insisted.
Maggie sighed and shook her head. Sighing seemed to come naturally to her when she talked to her husband. "The kids will be fine. They're old enough to take care of themselves as long as you pay some attention to what they're doing. And I know you're quite capable of taking care of things around the house. I'm just not ready to come home yet, Andrew."
Another long pause hung in the air as Maggie waited for Andrew to respond.
"If you won't come back on your own, I can stop you, you know," Andrew finally said. "I can cancel the credit cards and close the checking account. Without money, you'll have to turn around and come back."
Maggie shook her head sadly. With Andrew, everything always came down to money. "I have my own money, remember? My own checking account and my own credit cards. You were the one who insisted we separate our money a few years ago when you accused me of wasting money on unnecessary items for the kids. The family checkbook is on the dresser, where it always is when I'm not using it. The only money I'm spending is the money I earned, not your money. And there's the money my dad left me, too, so there's not much you can do."
In the ensuing silence, Maggie thought back to that day when Andrew insisted they no longer share their money. Kyle was ten years old, and she'd bought him a pair of cowboy boots that he'd begged her for. They weren't expensive boots, just cheap imitations. Andrew was furious over the fact that she'd spent money on boots that Kyle would outgrow in a matter of months. When she'd reminded him that she earned money for the family, too, he'd become indignant and told her if she wanted to waste her
on junk, that was her business, but she wasn't to waste the family money. She opened her own account the next day, and their shared account was used only for household bills and groceries.
"Maggie, is this your revenge for what happened last year?" Andrew asked in a softer voice.
Maggie drew a sharp breath. She hadn't expected this, not in this tone, not at all. Revenge? Is this what her running away was all about? She hadn't really thought of her escape as that, but maybe it was.
"I don't know," she replied honestly, her voice quiet. "I hadn't thought of it that way. Maybe. I really can't say."
"I thought we were past that," Andrew said, his tone irritated again. "I thought we were okay now."
Okay? Did he really believe after all she'd been through, they'd been through, everything was okay? She realized at that moment just how disconnected he'd been from her all along.
"Everything isn't okay, Andrew. I need some time to sort things out, figure out why I'm not okay." She sat silent for a moment, collecting her thoughts, but when there was no response on the other end of the line, she decided they'd said enough for one night.
"Tell the kids I love them, and I'll be home soon. I'll call you again and let you know where I am. Goodbye, Andrew."
The connection clicked off before Andrew could say another word. Andrew lay quietly on the bed a moment, digesting what had been said. His eyes went to the checkbook on the top of their dresser. The money threat hadn't worked, but she couldn't possibly have enough money in her own account to gallivant all over the country for very long. Or could she? He had no idea how much money she earned, and he'd never even asked her how much money her dad had left her. He'd figured it hadn't been very much. Now he wished he'd paid more attention to the family finances. Over the past two days, he was beginning to realize just how much he didn't know about his own family.
He lay all alone on their bed in the dark, quiet house wondering exactly where he'd gone wrong.
Maggie lay in her hotel room bed, fuming. Her conversation with Andrew had brought back all the emotions of the past two years. If she had needed a good reason for fleeing, he had given it to her by making those stupid remarks and reminding her of his past behavior.
How could he think that the past two years had been easy for her? And her trips to Seattle? Vacations? If he thought planning funerals and attending to family matters was a vacation, he was an insensitive jerk.
Maggie found herself drifting back over the past two years. Her father had been very ill for years, having breathing difficulties from his years of being a two-pack-a-day smoker. Her sister, Amy, still lived in Seattle near their father, and being single, she was able to spend time caring for him. Maggie did what she could from a distance but knew it wasn't nearly enough and always felt guilty about being absent. But she had her own family to care for and couldn't run back and forth across the country to be there very often. It wasn't until her father was near death from emphysema that she made the trip out there to help Amy and spend some final days with her dad. It had been a heartbreaking three weeks, watching him slowly fade away, then helping Amy go through his belongings and sell the house he'd lived in since he'd been stationed there years before. Amy didn't want the house and all its responsibilities, which was a smart choice since a year later, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and would have been unable to care for a house and herself. Maggie's second trip was even worse than the first. This time, she watched her sister die and had to pack up Amy's apartment all by herself. Andrew hadn't offered to join her on either trip for support or help. He was too busy with work and his committee responsibilities and thought it best for her to go alone. At the time, Maggie tried not to resent his absence, trying to understand that it was best for the family that he stay behind. But now she realized he hadn't come out of selfishness, and she was upset that she let him get away with it. Although, not as appalled as she was when she learned what he'd been doing while she was gone.
Maggie brushed that thought away, trying to concentrate instead on sleeping, and tomorrow's ride to Rushmore with Wild Bill. She wasn't going to let Andrew ruin her fun. He'd already done enough to make her feel miserable and she wasn't going to let him do one more thing to ruin her newfound happiness.
It had never occurred to Maggie to argue with the men in her life. It wasn't that she had no backbone, she'd just never seen the need to use conflict to get her way. She resolved conflicts by either agreeing or quietly going about her business and doing the thing she wished to do. Conflict was too hard to live with, anger too strong an emotion for her to deal with.
It started with her father when she was a small child. He was in the Navy, a lifer, and he expected his home life to run as smoothly and orderly as his work did. Maggie and her younger sister, Amy, would have never thought to question his authority. His word was law. Not that he was unkind in any way. He adored his daughters, and even on his small salary, he spoiled them whenever he could. But his disapproval would have devastated them, so they sought to make his life as easy at home as they could. Besides, there had been enough conflict, fighting, and tears in the household, before their mother left them, to last Maggie a lifetime.
The first five years of Maggie's life was a roller coaster of emotions. Her mother's constant complaints and tears scarred Maggie deeply. Her mother hated being a Navy wife, hated moving from base to base, hated the low income and the strict rules and expectations. So, one night, when Maggie was five and Amy was three, their mother disappeared from the base housing where they lived in Florida, leaving no note, no explanation, and no goodbyes. After finding out his wife had left him, Maggie's father never spoke of her again. The girls followed suit, but the pain of their mother's absence lived with them throughout their lives. The family eventually moved on, first to a base in Texas, then to one in southern California before finally returning home to Seattle. But the memory of their mother abandoning them lived with them, even after they found out that five years after she'd left, she'd died in a car accident in Florida.
From the start, five-year-old Maggie set out to make sure her father and sister were happy. Even though her father hired a woman to come in to watch the girls and do housework, Maggie soon took over as much of the caretaking of her father and sister that she could. She became the nurturer, the good daughter, the good sister, the good student, and eventually, the good wife and mother. And she'd been doing it ever since.
When she married Andrew, he appreciated her easy going nature and willingness to please him. But now she felt, no, she knew, he took advantage of it. And that was as much her fault as his.
After a restless night, Maggie awoke early and was dressed and down on the sidewalk in front of the hotel just as Wild Bill pulled up on his bike. Bill took off his helmet, which was black just like his bike, and whistled at the sight of Maggie.
"Why, Calamity Jane, don't you look a sight in all that leather?" he exclaimed, making Maggie actually blush. She had purchased the entire outfit the day before in one of the many leather shops along the street. Maggie had on black leather chaps over a pair of Levi's jeans, a fitted leather jacket that zipped in front, and a pair of low-heeled boots. It had cost her a small fortune, but she had so much fun buying the clothes, it was worth the money. Never in her life had she thought she'd own riding leathers.
"You don't look too bad yourself, Wild Bill," Maggie told him. He was also dressed in black leather, but his was soft and worn from use. A red bandanna was tied over his long hair, like a pirate, to keep his hair out of his eyes and under his helmet. He looked dangerous and sexy, the kind of man one wouldn't guess was a history teacher from Salt Lake City. His Harley-Davidson was a looker, too. All metallic black and silver, everything gleaming to perfection. The handlebars were long, and the leather seat was raised in back with a medium length sissy bar attached. Black leather saddlebags hung on each side near the back, decorated with silver tabs and black fringe.
"This is for you, m'lady," Bill said, as he reached behind him and took an extra helmet off the sissy bar. Maggie accepted the helmet and slipped it on her head—a perfect fit. After storing her camera in one of the saddlebags, she slid behind Bill on the raised seat, slipped her arms around his waist—the only place to hang on—and off they went.
The morning air was cool, as Bill had predicted. They sped along Highway 385 toward Keystone. Maggie was happy she had the leathers on. They kept her warm as the bike maneuvered the curvy mountain road. She viewed the scenery through the helmet's tinted visor as if for the first time. She and her family had visited Mount Rushmore before, but a ride through the mountains in a minivan didn't compare to this. The open air, the smell of pine trees, and the feel of the bike between her legs were exhilarating. She almost laughed out loud at that last thought. But it was all true. Hugging her arms around a man she barely knew, feeling her chest pressed against his back as they sailed along an asphalt river made her feel alive again. Womanly, even in all this leather. She felt refreshed and revived for the first time in years. The excitement of a new adventure and the allure of spending time with a man who really wanted to spend time with her were invigorating. Maggie absorbed every moment, hoping to retain this feeling long after the ride was over.
As they continued on, Maggie tried to imagine Andrew maneuvering this bike as she held on behind him. She couldn't. Andrew had lost all sense of adventure years ago.
She and Bill made the ascent on the curvy road to Rushmore, passing under the arched wooden bridge that Maggie remembered from long ago. As they turned this way and that, she caught a glimpse of Washington's stone profile to the right above them. She tapped Bill's shoulder, gesturing for him to pull over. He did, and she took several pictures of the president's profile and of the surrounding trees and valley below. Maggie was as excited as a child at Christmas, and Bill laughed at her obvious happiness.
From there, they hopped on the bike and continued on, finally reaching their destination. They pulled through the gates, after paying the entrance fee, and headed off to the parking ramp. Once parked and off the bike, Bill noticed the frown on Maggie's face as she lifted the helmet from her head and shook out her hair.
"Something the matter, Calamity?" he asked, lightheartedly.
Maggie pursed her lips. "I don't remember having to pay to see the monument before," she said. Her eyes assessed the parking ramp they were in. "I don't remember a parking ramp, either. The last time I was here, it was all outdoor parking."
Wild Bill hung his helmet over the handlebars and smiled. "You haven't been here in a long time, I take it. Wait till you see what else is new here."
Bill suggested they take their leathers off and stow them in the saddlebags since the day was warming up. Maggie did. Clad in a yellow T-shirt and jeans, her camera hanging from around her neck, she walked with Bill, heading out of the ramp and toward the monument.
The day was absolutely gorgeous. The sun shone brightly as a gentle breeze blew the mountain air. The late September air had tipped the leaves with a hint of the approaching fall, giving the onlooker a glimpse of the beautiful colors soon to explode over the entire valley. Maggie reveled in the fresh mountain air and the clear blue sky, as Bill led her up the new stone steps toward the monument's entrance.
As they reached the top of the steps, Maggie stood and stared, amazed at the sight before her. Bill hadn't been kidding when he'd said things had changed. The sight before her would have done a tourist trap like Disney World proud. But here, in the majestic quiet of the Black Hills, it seemed ostentatious and extreme. She stopped, staring straight ahead of her, then slowly turned to face Bill.