Not 100% sure what this will be titled. Maybe Outcast.
The next day was his last, so Jay asked if he could use a horse to go back up to the lake himself. He wanted to mark out his claim. Alexander was agreeable, but didn’t want one of his guests to go off that far alone. So Jay headed up to the lake with Alexander’s daughter, Brittina, who appeared to be about sixteen, riding beside him. She was a pretty freckle-faced young girl, thin but quite tall, and hard looking compared to most of Jay’s students. Any idea he had she wasn’t a serious escort was dispelled in the barn, by the twelve gauge in her saddle scabbard. She moved with her horse like she’d been born attached to it, and the pace they set was much quicker than the day before. She was gracious enough not to comment on his riding skills, because he knew that they were barely adequate. She’d surprised him back at the barn, by coming over with a small cloth case, and zipped it open. Inside was a thoroughly modern Sig Sauer, that had an awfully big looking bore at the end of the muzzle. It looked about a .45, but the fat cartridge sticking out of the end of the magazine was much longer. It was something more modern, maybe a Hornady. Brittina didn’t look real pleased to be taking him.
“You know how to use this?” Brittina inquired with economy.
Jay was really glad his uncle had given him some instruction. “Yes Ma’am. I do.”
She snorted through her nose, almost like one of the horses would. “You don’t have to ‘Ma’am’ me. You’re twice my age. Sounds kind of silly.”
“My mother taught me to be polite to ladies carrying big guns,” Jay explained. “I’m probably not quite that old just yet, but I can’t help how old I am, any more than you can. Let’s declare a truce please. You seem put out with me. I won’t assume you’re not competent ‘cause you’re young, and I won’t hit on you even though you’re so pretty it makes my teeth hurt. You give me credit that I have the sense do what you say out there, because you know the land, and we can have a pretty pleasant day fairly easily.”
“Dad said you’re a right smooth talker. But he said you were OK too. Riding a tourist up to the lake, beats just about anything else I could be busting my butt doing around here today. So ya got your truce. Stick this wherever you care to. I don’t have a holster for you. I have lunch though. You got everything else you need? It’s a long ride back for something forgotten.”
“Yes. I have everything.” Jay took the Sig, and pulled the slide back to make sure the chamber was empty, and dropped the hammer back down. He pushed on the top cartridge of the magazine to assure himself the spring was stiff and feeding them, before sliding it in the pistol. There was an extra cartridge laying loose in the case, and he put that in his jeans pocket rather than carry it chambered. The case was a real tacky corduroy type material, so he zipped it back half closed, tucked the whole thing in the back of his jeans, and pulled his shirt out to cover it. She must have been satisfied he looked safe enough with it, or he was sure she would have snatched it back without apology.
The day was turning out hotter than yesterday. Jay thought about that. At home he would have hung on every word of the weather report, even though he had air conditioning in his home, car, and work. Here he hadn’t even thought to ask, because it didn’t matter what it was going to be like. He had stuff to do, and was going out whatever the weather. They had hats, and wore glasses of course, because the UV was fierce at this altitude. She even wore thin gloves. They had slickers if they needed them. Even the horses had wraparound plastic eye-shields, with a hint of tint in them attached to the bridle. He explained his thoughts to Brittina. She listened carefully enough, and had been silent so long he thought she had no comment, then she suddenly picked the conversation back up.
“In the winter out here, you do pay attention to the weather. If you don’t it can kill you. A weather report is nice, but you don’t believe it. Or at least you don’t trust it. In the city if they’re wrong you might get caught without your umbrella. Out here you can get caught in a snowstorm that sucks the life right out of you. The snow can be so heavy and deep, even your horse can’t push through it. It can be so thick coming down, you can’t even see your horse’s ears. You might get rescued in a few days when it clears, if you can get shelter and keep a fire. The snow can come down so heavy though, you can’t round up wood or get a fire going. Now, they can pull you out with a helicopter. But it wasn’t that long ago, if you got snow trapped in the back country you were there ‘til spring, if you could survive that long.”
“You’re dad gave you a sense of history didn’t he?” Jay asked. “That’s a valuable thing to have, so you know why you’ve arrived where you find yourself.”
“Well I’m here now,” Brittina agreed, “but I don’t know where I’m going to end up. I like the land, but the work is hard, no matter what you may think as a visitor. I’m smart enough to know if I go off to college, there are hard things to deal with there too, just different. I’m not sure I want to be forced to come back here and stay. If you hold land like this, you have to stay here and work at holding it. Very few people have the money to go off, and keep a place like this as a retreat from their regular lives. But you have to do certain things. It doesn’t even make sense to work at keeping a place like this, unless you are going to have family to pass it to. Even now, my dad is getting too old to work this spread, if it was a real working ranch like it used to be. You need another generation to start working it, before you’re too old. And I’m not even sure I’m the marrying kind.”