© Felice Fox 2014
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Clambering down from their mountainside rental cabin, Luke and Lita descended a trail through the forest as dusk turned to night, touching hands when the width of the path allowed, leading each other. Luke reached for her when the terrain went steep or rocky. Eventually the trail opened onto a fire road, and then the quiet curve of the only street in Myrtle, Montana, with its tiny cluster of rustic hideaways turned wine bars and gift shops. The headlights of a single truck illuminated the backdrop of sleeping Douglas-fir trees along the road, and Lita tucked up closer to Luke as the breeze settled in its wake and her vision adjusted to the dark again.
Hand in hand now, they made their way to what had probably been this small town’s first tavern. She wanted country on the jukebox. He wanted to sit at the end of a time-worn bar and watch her. Lita could have just as easily watched him. Handsome. Charming. She was love-struck.
The one-year anniversary of their first kiss would have been the perfect time to get engaged, but Lita was sure it wouldn’t happen tonight. Not until she knew the idea they’d been playing with for a year, the thing they both said they wanted, wouldn’t destroy them. Luke swore and promised it would not but she needed to be convinced and so, here they were, three hours from home, going hunting in earnest, as Luke described it.
As they approached the windowless, wood-sided building, with its carved sign hanging above the door, Lita imagined a blast of loud country music and a heap of head-turning, boot-stomping cowboys as they entered. But the reality, a nearly empty tavern, flooded her with disappointment. She was overripe for the experience, but the rest of the world remained quiet, unwilling to muster for their debaucherous endeavor.
The bartender at the Triple Crow stood back from the bar, toweling a glass, giving them the kind of space afforded strangers you’d rather not know too much about. Did he sense their wanting? Their savage pursuit? He’d felt something for sure, and left them alone after lining up their drinks on the copper top bar. It hadn’t helped that Luke winked and said he takes his whiskey like a man but had been known to sneak a taste of Lita’s sugared rim.
Lita watched the bartender closely for a while, trying to decide if he might make good prey, but no. He was too aloof, too tall. She wasn’t looking for lanky, ropey muscles, and that would be no fun for Luke to watch. He wanted to see her open, soaked and, finally, completely satiated. If they were ever going to do this, it would have to be someone who moved them both, satisfying their individual needs.
Luke had not eased her into the unconventional relationship discussion. He’d been candid, transparent and stone cold sober. Most girls would not have believed him, but he hadn’t told most girls.
A couple sat drinking in silence at a table near the fireplace, and against the paneled wall, one single guy, not Lita’s type. Not handsome enough for either of them. Two young gay men in the corner were touching fingers surreptitiously. She’d thought this town was more open-minded, but perhaps they weren’t sure.
After a while they’d resigned themselves to the fact that no one at the Triple Crow met their criteria. They spiraled down into their own little world again, laughing, teasing each other, getting serious, giggling. Telling, and retelling stories. Kissing.
Lita had been acquainted with Luke her whole life, but it wasn’t until moving back home after college that she’d met Luke the man and fell hard. Because of her parents’ connection with the Camerons, she’d been invited to his brother Brody’s wedding. Like some sexy country music boy band, Luke and his five brothers fanned out in their fitted vests and tight, dark jeans on a diagonal from the flower-strewn podium, each one more drool-worthy than the next. Standing beside his brothers, as Brody and Ellie said their vows, Luke scanned the crowd and caught her staring with the giddy grin of a teenaged fan. She cut away and tried her damnedest not to get caught again, but couldn’t help noticing each time he’d two-stepped across the dance floor with another female guest. Fresh from attaining her bachelor’s in accounting at Arizona State, Lita’d traded in the near-constant heat and sunshine of the southwest for the invigorating, life-affirming seasonal weather of Montana. She took a junior level job at the community college, unsure if she would still fit into the quiet expanses of this place. But the big, cozy Cameron wedding reminded her why she’d returned. Community. A sense of belonging.
She and Luke moved in different circles in high school and he hadn’t seen her in four years, but surely she hadn’t changed so much? Why was she the only one he hadn’t asked to dance?
Late into the night, her guard finally down, Luke had appeared before her, unbuttoning his cuffs and rolling up his sleeves. He extended his hands, palms up, a sway to his hips, the smell of open sky and sweat drifting off him.
Lita glanced up, prepared to laugh at him, tease him about his wanton ways, refuse to take his offered hands. But when she’d raised her eyes to his, she flushed hot all over. His gaze drifted from her cheeks to her lips and then again her eyes. He swallowed hard and tracked her when she tried to look away. He didn’t let her go.