QUINT & PENNIFORD
Well, there’s no hope for it. I’m good and lost. How did I manage this? That’s what happens when I don’t know whether to go back the way I came or continue. I have no cell phone signal, so I have no GPS. My phone has no bars, so I can’t call my aunt for help, and I have no idea where I am or how far Havre, Montana is from here. My father said there would be days like this, when a map would come in handy. I mean, a real paper map.
I sit on the bumper of my rental car. So much for a cab. The flight attendant snickered at me when I asked her to direct me to where the Lyft desk was at the airport. My aunt wasn’t able to pick me up from the airport—something about an emergency. A sick cow.
I unfold the map I found in my purse that my mother—or father, most likely—must have snuck in while I was packing for my summer visit to my father’s sister, a vet at a ranch in Montana.
A ranch. Aunt Beatrice could have her own practice with high-end clients back in Barrington, where her family and friends are. Far from downtown Chicago but, close enough for me at Northwestern to come home on weekends to see her.
Aunt Beatrice came out west with her husband after they got married. Aunt B. now works with an old college friend and her husband on their ranch.
I look closely at this map for the tenth time, looking for Highway 232 leading out of Havre on the map. That was where I got lost. I drove for an hour outside of Havre and never saw the turnoff, nor have I seen another motorist while I’ve been on this road.
Now, I’m somewhere outside of Havre, lost. I have never been this far west. Montana. What in the world is in Montana? If there was something interesting in this state, I wouldn’t be able to find it, Montana is so big. I probably could get lost out here for weeks without anyone finding me.
I turn the map right-side-up after realizing I’ve been holding it upside down. I scan the paper closely, and after a few moments, I find Havre. My eyes track the highway line from Route 2, and I trace Route 232 with my finger as it snakes across the map, but Highway 233 is nowhere to be found.
I have no idea where that highway is. I crumple the map into a ball in my fists out of frustration. Then, realizing this may be my only way of finding my aunt’s ranch, I un-crumple it, spread the paper over the hood of the car, hastily flatten out the wrinkles, and hang my head in defeat. With no knowledge of Montana geographically, and without any GPS to guide me, I have no idea whether I passed the turnoff. I was so busy staring out at the wide expanse of land before me that I didn’t see any road signs pointing me in the right direction. Plus, construction outside of Havre got me sidetracked.
I consider my options. I can continue driving until I see the marker for 233, but how much further might I have to go to find it? I could head back the way I came, although I have no idea how far back, I’d have to go. I could be out here for hours.
I consider myself a pretty smart person. I maintained my GPA, got into med school, and was considered first among the applicants for fellowship money and department scholarships. Yet for the life of me, I can’t read a map or apparently a gas gauge. And here I thought I had accomplished a lot in my twenty-five-year-long life. I take a moment to mull my choice over. If I go back the way I came the turnoff may still in front of me instead of behind, I could lose a lot of gas.
I should have thought twice about going with my parents on our annual family vacation. What’s more, I should have never chosen to come and work the summer with Aunt Beatrice so I could save up some money for the fall semester. Med school isn’t cheap, and my student loans will start to add up.
Now, here I am, in the middle of somewhere, with a paper map with roads on it that I have no idea how to read.
I look back in the direction that I’d come. “Crap,” I say.
I had another alternative. I could have stayed in Barrington, gone on vacation with my parents, come back, and then spent my summer working at the downtown café while doing some light reading from medical journals, but no. I had to come out to the middle of nowhere to spend my summer helping my aunt tend to someone else’s animals.
It wasn’t my idea to come visit Aunt B.; it was hers. I had been the one to suggest that I do more while in Montana than sit around and read. I figured I could also earn some money working on the ranch—helping out with the farm portion, although I have no experience in that kind of thing either. At all.
Aunt B. is sort of an in-house vet for some land or ranch owner, or whatever the title is. I’m a long way from home, a long way from anywhere.
I hear the loud engine of a truck coming up the road behind me. I quickly straighten and stand beside my rental.
The big black truck comes closer, and it’s evident that the driver isn’t going to slow down and stop. He just drives right on past me.
I refuse to give up. Right behind that vehicle, I see another big black truck rumbling up. I stand out a bit on the road and use my map to flag down the driver. If this driver races by, I don’t know what I’ll do. Waving the map frantically as the truck approaches, I hold my breath, hoping he’ll stop so I can ask for directions to the Sawyer Ranch.
The driver sees me, and the truck starts to slow down. To my hope—and dread—the truck pulls up next to me in the center of the lane. I stand back a bit, fearless at first, now, not so much. But I don’t have the Spirit of fear, so I stand my ground and hope whoever this is will help me and doesn’t have horrible intentions toward a young woman stranded on the side of the road.
The truck rumbles to a stop, and the tinted window on the passenger side rolls down right in front of me. As soon as my eyes adapt to the dimness of the cabin, my breath hitches in my throat. I take a step back, and my hands go to my stomach.
The sun shining through the window, casts a shard of light on the driver’s face, and I see a set of stark, clear, light-gray eyes staring at me. Those unusual eyes sweep over me, moving from my face to my wild hair, having come loose from the clip I used. Now, a wild, dark cloud of my unleashed curls blows in the warm Montana wind.
I pull hair from across my face. When I do, for a second, something different flashes in this cowboy’s eyes. He tilts his black cowboy hat back, sliding it up his forehead so I can see his face.
All the while, we stare at each other, until his deep voice breaks the silence.
“Hello, ma’am. Please tell me your car didn’t break down and that you are not out here on your own.” He looks from me to the road ahead. “Did you get separated from your DIY group?” he asks, being a smart aleck.
How rude! I’m taken aback by the annoyance in his voice. “No,” I snap. “My car isn’t broken down, and I’m not with any group.” I put my hands on my hips. “Are all cowboys in Montana this friendly?” I ask sarcastically.
He just grins—and I mean a big ear-to-ear grin. Which upsets me even more than I am already. And it’s not because his smile adds to his attractiveness.
He looks forward again and then back at me. “I do apologize, ma’am. Do you need ….?”