The main thing Penny had going for her was her personality. Everyone liked her, even though she was always a bit on the quirky side. It was hard to believe it had only been eight months since they received word her brother Bobby was killed in Vietnam. His death overshadowed her graduation and the months that followed. He had joined the army after much badgering by her father about ‘being a man’ and ‘doing the right thing’. Her father and her mother seldom spoke now and she was choking in the silence.
Old Pete was Bobby’s dog really, but he belonged to her now. It took more convincing to get her to take ownership of Bobby’s old El Camino than it had the dog. She smiled knowing Bobby would be proud of her as she slung her bags in the back. Neither she nor Bobby had ever felt completely at home in Arkansas and this was her time. She was heading west.
She dreamed of sleeping under the stars on her drive, but found more comfort in the small row motels just off I40. There she could lock the door, take a shower and snuggle up with Old Pete. On the second night they picked up harmless hitchhiker — a rusty-colored mutt of a stray dog that Old Pete took a liking to. They had room for one more in the cab and one more on the double bed.
She met Mrs. Daugherty at the gas station just south of Santa Fe. She was driving an old Ford pickup with a couple of dogs of her own. It only took 20 minutes for Penny to learn that Mrs. D was recently widowed and had more than she could handle at the small ranch her husband John had left in her care.
“This might be creepy since I just met you, but I could sure use some help at my place.” Mrs. Daugherty saw an opportunity so she moved on the idea. Penny had revealed she was looking for work once she hit her final destination even though she had no idea where that might be.”There’s a small bunk house with a primitive kitchen, but at least you would have a place to yourself.” Her gut told her Penny was good people.
“Let me sleep on it.” Penny smiled, excited at the idea of spreading her wings in this very unfamiliar territory. The following morning Penny felt oddly at home here standing under the expansive sunrise. She phoned Mrs. D and told her yes. All sight unseen.
The bunkhouse was perfect. Old Pete and Copper made fast friends with the other dogs and Penny made fast friends with the horses she took care of. She loved roaming the land always watchful for rocks she found intriguing. She had quite a collection stored in the ‘boot’ of the old abandoned Volkswagen that no longer served any other purpose.
At night, Mrs. D would come outside and they would sit by the old fire pit and she would play guitar. They talked about hopes and dreams and loss. The words drifted upward intertwined with the smoke from the fire. Penny soon realized it was companionship Mrs. D needed more than help on the ranch.
Penny was in awe of the night sky and the abundance of stars. She hoped Bobby could see her and his El Camino reflecting the flames from the fire. She wasn’t sure how long she would stay here but for now it was perfect with Old Pete and Copper curled up at her feet. She was happy for the first time in a long, long time.
Fiction Gifts – Fun20104