Authors: Deanna Lynn Sletten
"They've commercialized it," she said, her voice a soft whisper.
Bill turned to her, nodded slightly, and shrugged. He felt the same way she did. She could tell by the look of sadness in his eyes. Giving her a small smile, he took her hand in his, and, together, they walked up the stone path.
Where once there was only a stone-lined viewing terrace and a single gift shop and restaurant, now was a flag-lined entryway, immense viewing terrace, and even an amphitheater right below one of the most majestic monuments in America. Apparently, the mountain scenery hadn't been enough for someone, because the ambiance held a whole new look now, the look of money. Not a dollar of the nation's taxpayers' money had been spared to update and ornate a national treasure, which could have easily held its own as it once had. And as impressive as the Avenue of Flags and Grand Viewing Terrace were, Maggie couldn't help but feel saddened by the ostentatious presentation of such a majestic monument to our four great presidents and this nation. It proved to her, once again, that progress and change weren't always best.
It wasn't busy, unlike summer days when tourists flocked everywhere for that one special picture of the monument. This left Maggie time and space to snap photos of the granite faces, undisturbed, against the rich, blue sky backdrop. She and Bill stood on the main terrace for quite some time, then with a little exploring, came upon the old viewing terrace.
"Now, this I remember," Maggie said appreciatively, as she began snapping a whole new set of pictures. Bill watched her, amusement in his eyes.
"What?" Maggie asked when she noticed him grinning at her.
"I've never seen anyone appreciate a little sun and a view as much as you do," he told her. "It's nice for a change."
Maggie turned back to her picture taking, a smile on her lips.
At one point, Bill wandered up to the stone wall, leaning his palms against it, staring up at the monument. Maggie watched him a moment, then began snapping pictures of him. Wild Bill, a national treasure in his own right, standing in awe of Mount Rushmore. It was a great portrait, and at that very moment, Maggie was elated at being here, with this man she barely knew, yet knew so well already.
After a time, Bill offered Maggie his hand. She accepted, and slipped hers into his, and they followed the Presidential Trail, another new feature Maggie didn't remember being there before. The winding trail led them along a tree-lined path that gave them different views of the monument. Maggie stood on a stone wall at one point on the trail to get a great side view of the presidents. Some changes were for the better, she decided, as she finally stopped her picture taking and enjoyed the rest of the trail walk with Bill.
He bought her lunch at the restaurant, and they sat at a table by the window that overlooked the monument.
"So, what do you think of our monument now?" Bill asked her between bites of his burger.
Maggie smiled at him and reached her napkin up to brush crumbs from his too-long mustache. "I guess some change is okay," she relented. "The trail is beautiful."
"Change is inevitable," Bill said, matter-of-factly. "It's a part of life."
"But not always a good part," Maggie added, her eyes distant.
"Tell me, Calamity Jane, what changes are you running away from?" Bill asked, his tone soft and warm.
Maggie looked across the table at him and sighed. "Honestly, Bill, I don't really know yet. I didn't even know I was running away until I found myself miles away from home and not wanting to turn around and go back. I've been ignoring things that have happened over the years, putting them on the backburner, so to speak, for so long that I think my mind just had one too many problems to deal with and snapped." She gave a small, nervous laugh. "The worst part is, now that I've done it, I can't seem to stop. I literally have no idea what I'm doing here instead of being home doing what's expected of me. Yet, now that I'm here, I know I can't go home until I figure out a few things."
Bill smiled and reached across the table, taking Maggie's hand in his. "Well, Calamity, whatever the reasons, I'm glad you're here."
Maggie returned his smile, feeling warmed by the fact that someone actually appreciated her company. She hadn't felt this way for a very long time.
The ride back to Deadwood was just as pleasant as the ride that morning. Maggie felt alive on the back of Bill's bike with energy just spilling from her. She couldn't believe how one bike ride could revive her senses so much.
They arrived back in town in the late afternoon, and Bill surprised her by driving up to Mount Moriah Cemetery. "The town has spruced up the cemetery recently so I thought you might like to see it," he explained as they stepped off the bike and put their helmets away. They walked over to the graves of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane and stood quietly for a moment, the only two people there. After a time, Maggie broke the stillness. "Doesn't it seem a little weird standing at your gravesite, Bill?" she asked, a smirk on her face.
Bill grinned. "I die daily," he said. "Seems only fitting to visit the grave every now and then."
Maggie shook her head and smiled. Their pretense of names should have worn thin by now, should have been downright annoying, but here, in this town that thrived on make-believe and tall tales, it only seemed fitting and right.
As the day began to wane to evening, Bill pulled his bike up in front of Maggie's hotel and cut the engine. She swung her leg over and off the bike, handed Bill her helmet, and retrieved her camera from the saddlebag. Finally, standing there in her black leather, looking as if she dressed like this everyday, she smiled at Bill for the last time.
"Thanks for the sightseeing tour, Bill. I had a great time."
Bill tilted his head in acknowledgement, his helmet off and in his lap. "Pleasure's all mine, ma'am," he said, using his best Hickok accent. "Will I be seeing more of you in the next few days?" he asked, hopefully. But Maggie shook her head.
"I'm leaving tomorrow."
Bill nodded, his eyes showing disappointment. "Home, or farther west?"
"West, I think," Maggie answered. "I have some more thinking to do before heading home."
Bill nodded again. Taking her hand, he kissed it ever so lightly in a most gentlemanly fashion. "It's been a pleasure, Miss Calamity," he said, smiling up at her.
Maggie looked into his soft brown eyes, feeling warmed by this stranger she felt she knew so well after only two days. She was going to miss Wild Bill and that surprised her.
"It's Maggie," she told him.
His eyes danced as he looked her over as if for the first time.
Still holding her hand, he winked at her. "Maggie," he said, as if testing the name on his lips. "Now, that's a fine name. See ya, Maggie," he said, as he let go of her hand and slipped on his helmet.
Maggie waved as he drove down the street. "See ya, Bob," she said quietly, using his real name for the first time. Then she turned and walked into the hotel.
Kaia and Kyle stared at their dad as he explained that he'd talked to their mom the night before and she wasn't coming home yet. "She's okay but just needs a little break from everything," Andrew had said, as way of explanation, and Kaia continued to stare at him through narrowed eyes, as if trying to extract the real truth of his words.
Maybe he killed her
, Kaia thought,
and disposed of the body
. His eyes were just a little bit shifty, after all, if you looked close enough. Just because everyone thought he was a good-looking man didn't mean he didn't have it in him. Wasn't it always the least likely person who ended up disposing of his wife, or even his whole family? And he looked nervous, as if he wasn't telling the entire truth. And what about all the tension that had been in the house over the past year? Had he finally snapped and done her in? Her stare turned into a glare, and her father finally looked right at her with a confused look.
"What?" Andrew asked, which had snapped Kaia out of her murder fantasy and back to reality.
"Nothing," she replied darkly.
"Fine," he said. "Make sure you don't miss your bus."
Kaia grudgingly didn't miss her bus, but she fumed all the way to school thinking of a few murder plots of her own.
Okay, she thought as the bus rolled on and on, stop after stop. So her father probably didn't kill her mother, but what was this bit about needing a break? What did her mother do that was so tiring that she needed a break? And how selfish of her, to take off and not tell anyone, to leave Kaia under the reign of her dad who knew absolutely nothing about running a house or being with kids. The more Kaia thought about it, the angrier she became. "Well, maybe I need a
too," she said under her breath. "What if I just stopped doing what I'm supposed to do and did what I want?"
Kaia began to like her new way of thinking. She'd never skipped school before, but she knew a few kids who did, on occasion, and she knew she could hook up with them. She devised a plan on how not to get caught, and by the time the school bus stopped in the school parking lot to unload, she was ready to put her plan in motion.
Andrew's day hadn't gone very well and when he returned home that evening, it didn't get any better. Walking through the back door at the end of the day, he was nearly tripped by Bear, who rushed outside to do his business on the back lawn. From somewhere inside the house, he heard a voice say, "You're supposed to put Bear on his leash, or he'll run all over the neighborhood." Andrew poked his head around the corner to see his daughter leaning over a book at the kitchen table and eating a banana.
"Why didn't you let Bear out when you came home?" he asked, as he put his briefcase on the back counter.
Kaia rolled her eyes. "No one told me I had to," she said. "Am I supposed to do everything?"
Andrew wanted to ask exactly what she had done since she'd come home but refrained, and headed out to the yard to catch Bear and put him on his leash.
The evening swept by in a flurry of activity, mainly work Andrew did alone. Kyle didn't answer his phone, so Andrew gave up wondering if he'd be home for dinner and suggested pizza to Kaia.
Kaia wrinkled her nose. "We've had junk food three nights in a row," she whined. "Can't we have something good?"
"I thought teenagers liked junk food," Andrew said.
Kaia rolled her eyes in response.
Andrew inventoried the refrigerator. There wasn't much. Apparently, Maggie hadn't stocked up before running away. Seemed to Andrew that was the least she could have done.
He settled on grilled cheese sandwiches and salad that hadn't gone brown yet. Kaia, at least, was agreeable to eating this but made sure to mention that the milk was almost gone as well as the fresh fruit. He knew he'd have to make a trip to the grocery store soon if they wanted to eat.
Andrew cleaned up after dinner, threw some towels in the washing machine, and panicked a little as he looked at the nicer clothes that needed washing. He knew that Maggie dried some items, hung others, and took some to the dry cleaners. But which ones? The pile that stared back at him looked more complicated than he thought it should.
The cats whined to be fed, Kaia whined that she needed help with an algebra problem, and the whining sound coming from the dryer frightened Andrew. The last thing he needed was for it to break down. Who did Maggie call for repairs? Oh God, he just wasn't cut out for this. And he blamed Maggie for going off and leaving him with all her unfinished work. It wasn't fair. Just as it hadn't been fair to wait two days to call and tell him she was okay.
Earlier that day, he'd called Derrick to tell him he'd heard from Maggie and she was fine. Not wanting him to know why she'd left, he'd lied and said that Maggie had a family emergency in Seattle and had left a note that somehow had fallen between the stove and the counter. It sounded legitimate to Andrew, but there had been a long pause on Derrick's end of the line, making Andrew feel nervous and guilty. He was certain Derrick didn't believe him, but the sheriff finally thanked Andrew for calling and quietly hung up. Andrew felt like a criminal. And he hadn't done anything wrong. It was Maggie who'd run off, and Maggie who'd put him in the position of having to lie to his friend. He was certainly going to let her know how mad he was when she called again. He didn't care what had gone on between them in the past, she was being selfish and immature, and he was going to tell her that.
Maggie sat on the bed in her historic hotel room, reflecting on her day with Wild Bill, as she loaded the photos she'd taken onto her computer. It had been an amazing day. She felt lighthearted and alive. The photos she'd taken had turned out beautifully. The sunny day, blue sky, and lush scenery had exploded with color in her pictures and she was thrilled with how well they'd turned out.
As Maggie continued to go through the photos, her demeanor slowly changed to melancholy. Wild Bill had been so attentive to her the entire day. He'd listened intently when she spoke, and smiled warmly at her at times for no reason at all. And when he'd taken her hand during the trail walk, it had felt good. It had been such an innocent gesture, but one she hadn't experienced in a long time.
When was the last time Andrew had held her hand that way, or looked into her eyes with care and tenderness? It had been a long, long time, and it filled her heart with deep sadness that they had lost the tender feelings their marriage was once based on. She didn't understand where those feelings escaped to, or why. But she knew that those lost feelings were part of the reason for her sudden escape. She had to make some sense of where their lives were now, and where they were headed. With a heart now so heavy compared to the happiness she'd felt only minutes before, Maggie dialed the number for home.
It was just past ten o'clock, and Andrew was exhausted. He'd just finished folding one load of towels and had thrown another load into the dryer. On her way past the laundry room, Kaia glanced in to make sure he wasn't doing anything wrong and caught a glimpse of her jeans in a pile on the floor.