My face feels glued on, it’s so cold, but the rest of me tingles, exhilerated. I slip my riding glove off so I can stroke the side of Miss E’s neck from my position on her back, feel the heat rising off of her. Our communication had been easy this morning, just like old times.
“I’m sorry it’s been so long, girl,” I say, patting her neck.
Miss E and I don’t pass a single soul on the way back to her place; not as we leave the trees and open fields behind and walk onto the dirt road less than a mile outside of town, not as we pass the high school where Frank is most likely teaching his second science class of the day. “Might as well be four a.m. Miss Elizabeth,” I say softly. At ten on a cold November morning, everyone is either at work, school, or wrapped up inside watching daytime TV.
When we reach her road, I stop Miss E and hop down, loosen the girth a bit so the heat can escape from her back, and we walk the rest of the way to the house together. When Frank called last night to tell me Miss E was mine to ride while he was at school, he’d acted as though I’d be doing him a favor by exercising her, but I knew it was his way of solidifying our friendship. “And if you can get away on Friday nights, a few of us have decided to get together at Marty’s after work. There’s so few of us our age; we thought we should band together, maybe even give ourselves a chance to procreate.”
I’d laughed at the image this summoned of us, surrounded by zombielike elderly people, teetering on the edge of extinction.
“Wow,” I’d said. “There’s a lot at stake on your Friday night hangouts. Guess I’d better come and do my part for humanity.”
After taking care of Miss E, I hop into my Jeep and trundle on toward town. This morning, I was excited about doing my part for Tomahawk Hill. Jake and Eli are meeting me at Marty’s bar to show me the renderings Parker has drawn up for the new Blue Moon. Although I had no real say in how Marty’s bar would look, Jake wanted me to approve, because the hotel and the other real estate he’d purchased from me would align closely in aesthetic and design.
I smile, remembering the astonished look on Jake’s face when I’d walked into his hotel yesterday. For a moment, it felt as though he would pick me up and twirl me around the room—that’s the kind of energy Jake exuded when he flashed one of his broad smiles. But then his new puppy, Maverick had claimed my attention, and when I looked back at Jake, he was still smiling at me, but quizzically. Which made sense. He wanted to know what I was doing back in town.
I park my Jeep next to Dana’s blue Toyota in front of the diner and walk the block to Marty’s, knocking the remaining dirt off of my riding boots.
I look for familiar markers as I walk. There’s the gaping crack in the sidewalk in front of the hotel-- as meandering as the Mississippi River, the same blue graffiti on the side of the antique shop that’s never been open when I’d come to town (despite the sign that says it’s open M-F, 2:00-5:00), and finally, the same light in front of Marty’s that says, “BAR,” in faded blue paint. Nowhere on the building is a sign bearing the name, “Blue Moon.”
Inside, Marty is behind the counter, pouring coffee into four mugs, but when he sees me, he sets everything down, crosses the divide and pulls me into a bear hug, his stubble grazing the top of my forehead like a bristle brush. “Heard you got in late Monday night. How’s my girl?”
He smells like whisky and cedar and old cigar smoke. “Good,” I eke out, as tears gather without warning. I hang onto him tighter as he pats my back.
“Your grandpa would be so proud of you.”
I nod into his chest, unable to speak past the lump in my throat.
I pull back when I hear the thud of boots behind Marty, people entering from the back of the bar, Eli’s voice chattering away about table space.
“Right here, Eli,” Marty says, apparently continuing a conversation he’d been having with him before I’d arrived. “I’ve got you set up by the pinball machine.”
I swipe quickly at my eyes as Marty gives me a wink, then walks past Eli, who calls out, “Hey Olivia!” over his shoulder and follows Marty with rolls of blueprints in his arms.
“Morning Eli,” I say. When I turn back toward the bar, Jake is leaning against it, a mug of coffee in hand, his eyes all knowing.
“Stop it,” I say, not quite laughing. “This is what happens to me when establishments run out of cream. I get all emotional.”
That’s better, I think, as Jake’s eyes assume the look I’m most familiar with— primarily the one that says he can think of a million ways to make fun of me but that he’s choosing to dole out the ways one at a time.
“Ah.” He reaches behind him and lifts a carton of cream off the bar, shaking it slightly for emphasis. “You mean this one? This brand new, unopened one, sitting right here, within your sightline?”
“Huh,” I say, walking casually over to the bar and grabbing a mug and then the cream out of his hand. “Didn’t see it.”
Jake leans his head toward me, the smirk replaced with a genuine look of curiosity. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” I give him what I hope is a bright, dismissive smile, but his hazel eyes continue to coax, and despite my fear of sounding silly, I blurt, “Marty smells all woodsy with a touch of whiskey, which really made me miss my grandfather all of a sudden.”
When Jake chuckles, I feel understood. “Sounds like your grandfather smelled good.”
I laugh too. “Yeah, he did.”
Jake gives me a lazy once-over which makes me flush from the attention, and I notice that he’s wearing cowboy boots and a leather sheepskin shearling jacket that is absolutely designer. Probably vintage Ralph Lauren.
“You, on the other hand, smell like a horse,” he smirks.
I smirk back. “Yes, genius. As is evidenced by my riding boots and the rest of my attire, Miss E and I went for a jaunt this morning.”
His expression says my appearance is only so-so, but he says, “this whole town and country look works for you.”
“That’s because I can successfully straddle both worlds.” I give his jacket a pointed look.
He places his hands defensively on his chest. “I’ll have you know I traded my best horse for this coat.” He gestures to the back where Eli and Marty are busy unrolling blueprints. “Shall we?”
We grin at each other as we join the others. He says, “hopefully you’ll be kinder to my plans than you are to my wardrobe choices.”
“Actually, I love your coat,” I say. “Even if it cost more than my first car.”
Jake smirks. “Shows you who made the wiser investment now, doesn’t it? Did I mention this coat is vintage?”
Jake plans to install Marty’s bar inside the hotel as well, but with high-end cocktail offerings and plusher surroundings for the hotel guests.
The stand-alone bar and restaurant, which would expand in its current location would cater to everyone.
“This is a dream,” I say, noting the detailed illustrations of what the establishment would look like once it was complete. From the saloon style doors to the hitching posts outside, and the elaborate back bar and printed wallpaper inside, Marty’s bar would capture the spirit and romance of American saloons from the late 1800s.
“So, these meet with your approval, Miss Weiss?” Jake says. “Think you can trust me with the buildings I purchased from you?”
“Yes,” I say, feeling a bit silly. “Honestly, having language in the contract that says I need to approve of the appearance feels a bit... juvenile now. You must have known you had nothing to worry about.” I look at Jake. “Why in the world did you agree to me having the final say?”
Jake and Marty share a grin, but Jake looks a bit sheepish when his eyes fall back on me. “Technically, there is language in the contract that makes it possible for me to move forward without your approval. I do own all of these buildings now.”
“So...” I look quizzically at Jake. If I didn’t have any control in how any of these buildings looked...?
“Adding that stipulation to our contract was more of a good faith gesture, and one,” he adds quickly, “I was more than ready to work with because of my respect for you and your family and what you’ve already tried to do here. If you’ll notice, the spirit of everything here is what you and your grandfather wanted. The wild west, in the Midwest.”
“I see...” I feel a bit confused. “So, if I hadn’t liked your plans, what would you have done?”
“But you do like them. Love them, in fact.”
I bite my lip. “True.” Still, I feel a little like I've been duped; like a kid tricked into saying she wants broccoli when she wants cookies.
Jake smiles, “We would have talked. We would have worked everything out.”
I nod and smile back, but I feel a bunch of emotions, all of them making my chest feel tight and suddenly, I want nothing more than to get out of the bar and away from Jake Hurst. “I’ll be right back,” I say, my plastic chair making a scraping sound against the wood floor.
I lean against the rough brick wall at the back of Marty’s bar, gazing into the fields behind Main Street. The tightness in my chest releases bit by bit as my eyes drink in the gentle sea of tall grass and the soft curves of the purple-blue bluffs beyond. As the clouds shift, so does the light as it hits the ground, creating the illusion that the grass bends toward the ground in slow motion.
In a few years, this whole landscape will be unrecognizable. This summer, when Jake shared his sketches, I’d been grateful for how enthused Jake was about incorporating what my grandfather and I had already envisioned. I’d known, going into the sale that Jake wanted what we wanted. And yet, I had created that little loophole in the contract in the false belief that I was still part of making my grandfather’s dreams a reality. And here was Jake Hurst, telling me that at the end of the day, I didn’t have any power. I didn’t have any input.
I remember how grandfather and I had filled our sketches with personal details and stories; our work spread out over the desk in his study. And now I see Jake Hurst, larger than life, a big, red stamp in his hand leaning over us like a giant, stamping, THE PROPERTY OF JAKE HURST all over our sketches.
I lean my head against the wall and close my eyes, focus on how the wind feels as it lifts my hair then lets it go, the motion tingling my scalp, the flying strands tickling my face. When I hear the door of the bar open, I open my eyes and am not surprised to see Jake walk out, his approach cautious. Standing next to me with his right shoulder against the wall, his face inches from mine, he says softly, “what’s wrong?”
I let out a big sigh, turn to face him so that our heads are further apart and my shoulder is bracing the wall too. “I was out here trying to figure that out. And what I’ve concluded is...” I trail off, thinking how emotional I was about to sound. What would I say? “It was all my idea, and now you’re taking it over?”
I look down. I couldn’t say that.
And then, I’m not thinking about how to explain what I feel, because Jake is holding my hand and all I can do is stare at our fingers, which have magically become interlaced.
“I’m sorry,” he says, his voice sounding unnervingly intimate. “I think I’ve hurt your feelings, although I’m not sure how.”
I look up into his face and see the worry in his eyes and think how little I like seeing him this way. I much preferred to see cocky, confident Jake. I squeeze his hand, thinking I should let it go, but I enjoy how it feels, my hand in his, so I let it stay there as I try to explain.
“I think... I was jealous all of a sudden. That you’re the one making this happen.”
“Ah...” he says.
I smile at him, and he rewards me with one in turn. “I was out here imagining you stamping your name across all of the sketches I’ve made with my grandfather over the years.”
“That would be very rude of me,” he grumbles.
“I felt like a child who must have needed appeasing when you said that I didn’t have any power.”
He gives me a quizzical look, his hazel eyes glowing like amber. “You really have no idea, do you?”
“About what?” I say. What else hadn’t I understood in the contracts fine print?
Jake slips his hand away, tucks it into his coat pocket and I feel as though I’ve lost something.
Which is, of course, entirely absurd.
I’d think Jake was exasperated with my obtuseness, but he’s smirking again. “I’m in business with Marty because I listened to you. You understand this town and what it needs. Things an outsider like me couldn’t know. So you see-- you do have power,” he says.
“Come on, let’s get inside. I want to tell you about the rest of my plans.”