A two-fer today, mostly because I gutted almost all of one chapter for this. Also, we’ll be skipping over chapter 7 in its entirety. Here’s where you start to see the novel start to go off the rails. Brianna’s emotional state is all over the place, which would have been fixable in edits, but as it stands, it reads a bit eclectic.
I do want to mention that the exploration of Canada, which really gets its start here, was the best part of writing this novel. My friend Andy Shelgrove ehlped me come up with a tentative “where would they go and what would they maybe visit,” which I then researched and made a travel plan for the characters. That part took me a couple weeks, and it was a hell of a lot of fun. I would love to re-enact this journey someday, start to finish, and then explore he rest of what Canada has to offer at my own pace.
Anyways, enjoy? I think you’ve seen the best of what the novel has to offer, so from here on out, it’s all downhill. At the very least we’ll have some fun throwing popcorn at it.
Blah blah blah (this part edited out because it would have melted eyes from its awfulness)
* * *
Brianna glanced up from the address book, startled as Garrett stopped talking altogether. “So where’d they take you then?”
“I forget,” he said slowly, as if pondering the idea. “Guess it might take me a while to remember.”
“You said you’ll tell me bits of the story when I ask,” she said, pursing her lips.
“And I will, but the storytelling battery’s dead and there’s a twelve-hour recharge.”
Brianna laughed. “Jerk. I like the way you tell it, though. You’re pretty good at it.”
“All Murphy. He’s been feeding me stories for so long it just must’ve rubbed off.”
She shook her head adamantly. “Don’t think so. Telling a story isn’t something you learn. People can teach you how to smooth the edges a bit, but you want to tell a good one, you need to have all the tools pretty much from the start.”
For that, she got a kiss, and a kiss turned to something more. “Brianna,” he whispered as he pulled back, “the mind is willing, but the flesh…” He smiled apologetically. “But we can have fun in other ways.”
“Yes we can,” she said. He started to kiss down her neck and across her chest, but she had other ideas and was soon off the bed. The look of disappointment on his face was alleviated when she brought him his digital camera.
“Be right back,” she said, leaving him shaking his head and laughing. God, he loved when she dressed up for him. He wished he was a lovemaking machine like from one of her romance novels, but there were other ways to show his appreciation and he pondered which one he’d do when she got back.
It took her about ten minutes to get ready. Still utterly exhausted from the wedding, it was everything Garrett could do to keep his eyes open, but for her, his heart, he stayed awake. And when she finally called out to him to be ready with the camera, he grinned and turned it on.
In she strolled, her butt towards him in a pair of cheeky panties, just a little bigger than a regular thong with little cute cut-outs on each of her cheeks. The panties were almost covered by one of his dress shirts, and atop her head at a saucy angle was a trilby hat. Her dark hair spilled down her back, and she glanced over her shoulder, trying to look sexy and giggling too hard to quite pull it off.
Garrett didn’t care one bit as he snapped picture after picture. Soon she was crawling on the bed towards him, sliding up his torso, his chest, her knees splaying across his head, and one last time in that bedroom, Garrett helped convince her that this place, this ramshackle home in the middle of nowhere, was somehow magical.
In the morning, both of them well-rested and ready to move on, they ate a quick breakfast of some of their cherries and canned raviolis from the cupboard. Brianna washed the sheets and the bedding while Garrett gave the carpet one more thorough cleaning and dumped the ashes from the stove into a bucket. He took the remains of the fire outside, ran some hose water into the bucket until he was absolutely sure there were no hot embers, and dumped the wet mess into a mud puddle, just to make doubly sure.
From his wallet, he left a pair of hundred-dollar bills folded neatly under a coffee mug on the kitchen stove, where the occupants couldn’t miss it but no one peeking in casually could see it. With the rains abated, he took the luggage out to the SUV while Brianna wandered through the place one last time.
In the bedroom where they’d slept through the night, she found a notebook and ripped out a piece of paper. If Garrett saw this, he’d probably disapprove, but Brianna felt a connection with the place and the family. It was wholly illogical and dangerous, but she wrote out the note anyways, folded it in half, and left it in front of the pillows. When she glanced up, Garrett was at the door watching her. She opened her mouth but he just nodded and smiled.
* * *
“Canada, we are rubbing our touristy junk all up in your face!” Brianna shouted out the window at the Rockies. She pumped her fist in the air and wiggled around in a happy little dance. Driving, Garrett tightened his grip around the wheel and looked grimly ahead. When she leaned over for a kiss, he pulled away, scowling. “Oh, don’t be like that. I said I was sorry.”
“Cocaine, Brianna?” he asked icily.
“Sorry, sorry sorry sorry,” she sang out, sounding anything but.
“Was there any part of you that thought, gee, these border guards might not find it funny to joke about us having ten pounds of nose candy in the car?”
“Oh hey, it’s fine, I wanted to spend an hour having them pull the whole SUV apart. It’s too bad we didn’t bring the van so they could’ve found our secret stash box. That would’ve been even more fun to explain!”
“Hey, crossword puzzle time. S blank R R Y. Can’t quite figure out the second letter.”
“Look at the clue for sixteen down. Dumb shit you obviously shouldn’t say to a border guard.”
Brianna reached out for his thigh and batted her eyelashes at him when he glanced over. “I’ll make it up to you.”
He cocked an eyebrow. “Yeah? How’s that?”
“Mm, I think I’ll come up with something.”
“Well… all right. But it had better involve you in a Mountie outfit riding a moose.”
“I’ll ride this moose.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
With a pleased little giggle, she retracted her hand and grabbed her iced tea. Well, it was less ice and more melted water and tea after they’d had to leave their drinks in the car while the vehicle was searched. When she’d taken a sip, she leaned back out the window and shouted her glee, and Garrett, unable to stay mad at her, grinned too.
They’d stopped at Babb on the way for much-needed caffeine and to drop off the thank you cards. There were more that would need to be made out – despite their wishes that no one bring wedding gifts, their guests had ignored them and brought a small mountain of them to the wedding. They hadn’t had time at the reception to go through all the gifts, so Ed and Rose had hauled them home for them, to be opened when they got back from their honeymoon. Brianna felt a bit bad about not getting all the cards out in a timely fashion, but the thought of thirty days of poutine, Aphrodisiaque beer, sight-seeing, camping, and lovemaking somehow managed to salve the guilt.
Their trip up through Babb meant they were traveling parallel to the Rocky Mountains in all their glory. Both of them had been to Glacier National Park many times, but only Brianna had been across the Canadian border to Waterton Lakes, the Canadian half of what she considered to be the most beautiful area in the world – or at least what she’d seen of it, anyways.
The Rockies rose up to their west like a ridged spine, the tips still coated in blankets of icy white even in late June. Forests of pines swept up to meet those caps, and though the day would get warm, that early in the morning the air had the crispness of late autumn. She was almost chilled when they were stopped at the border thanks to her less-than-well-advised joking.
But now the sun was well up in the sky as they cruised slowly to Waterton. The mountains dropped precipitously to the plains to the east, giving them two wildly distinct views depending on if they looked right or left. The town of Waterton itself lay on the edge of a large, wind-dappled lake. When the gusts died, the waters were so clear as to be achingly beautiful, and Brianna longed to dip her toes in it even knowing it had to be freezing.
Since Garrett had won the bet about there being a key at the house they’d stayed at, he picked a boat tour, but on the way through the beautiful town, Brianna spotted a sign and her jaw dropped. “Garrett. Garrett Garrett Garrett.”
She pointed with a trembling finger, her eyes wide. “That place is called Wieners of Waterton.”
Garrett glanced over and did a double take. “Well… crap, we have to get a picture there first.”
They did, and though they were both full from breakfast, the manager laughed and gladly took their photo together as they posed. Brianna kissed the man’s cheek, leaving him flushed and laughing even more. As they got back into the SUV, Brianna sighed happily. “Wildly appropriate first touristy picture together.”
As it turned out, the boat tour wasn’t starting for another forty minutes, so they hit a hiking trail. One of the more popular and easily accessible routes, handfuls of other tourists made their way along it too, and Brianna finally heard her first “aboot” from a couple from Ontario. She managed to keep her mad giggling under control until they were a few hundred yards away, then buried her head in Garrett’s shoulder and shook with muffled joy. When she came up, she said, “Married.”
* * *
“That’s a mountain goat!” Garrett said, his nose pressed almost to the window of the boat.
Brianna practically shoved him aside to get a glimpse. “Oh wow,” she breathed. Both of them had seen the animals before in Glacier, but for each of them, it had been years. She raised her camera, focused the long-range lens, and snapped a few pictures.
“You’d get a better shot from the back of the boat,” a helpful middle-aged woman suggested from the seats to their right.
Garrett reached out and squeezed Brianna’s hand when she went a little green. She was normally just fine with boats, and enclosed like they were, she felt like she was looking out from a moving room. But with the story about her scars fresh on her mind, she had a little bout of anxiety on the open-aired tail, her first in years. Garrett noticed her sickly turn and hurriedly tried to back out of the tour when she told him the reasons, but she had insisted adamantly they stay. They found seats right up near the middle, and once her stomach had settled, she found to her delight she was really enjoying herself.
“I get seasick,” Garrett said, his lips drawing down as he shuddered. “Can’t stand it. I think it’s the fresh air or the three pounds of clams she had me eat last night on a dare.”
“Three pounds?” the woman asked, laughing.
Catching Brianna’s grateful glance, Garrett winked. “Oh yeah. Mistakes were made.”
The woman turned back to her traveling companion, shaking her head. Brianna brought her lips next to Garrett’s ear. “Thank you,” she whispered.
In response, he draped an arm around her shoulders and squeezed her to him. Before the mountain goat passed out of view, he mused, “Your dad really did have a goatee like a goat.”
As the boat made its way around the lake, they struck up a conversation with the couple behind them when they came in out of the sun from the rear deck. Middle-aged and on a second honeymoon themselves, they were from Edmonton and fired off a bevy of places Garrett and Brianna just had to see. When asked if they were headed home after Waterton, the couple shook their heads.
“There’s a golf tournament in Lethbridge tomorrow. That’s our morning and afternoon, then east to see our kids in Winnipeg,” the husband offered.
Garrett glanced at Brianna. “Golf tournament?” he asked the couple.
“Oh yeah!” the wife said cheerily. “Gorgeous course. Right up near the river.”
“Hey, you two don’t golf, do you?” the middle-aged man asked. “Got cousins we’ll be playing with, but there’d be some stragglers probably looking for two more to join in.”
Brianna opened her mouth to protest. When she told Garrett how much she’d enjoyed Waterton with her friends, he’d been really interested in doing some hiking and camping in the area. Besides, golf really wasn’t his thing. But he jumped in first. “We wouldn’t be too late to register or anything?”
“Oh gosh no,” the woman said, tittering a little. “And Lethbridge is just the most adorable little city.”
“You’ve gotta go to Fort Whoop-Up,” the husband agreed.
“Fort Whoop-Up?” Brianna asked, laughing.
“Oh yeah! It’s neat! And the Japanese gardens. Sandra just loves those.”
The woman – Sandra – sighed happily. “I do.”
“Garrett, you don’t want to spend our honeymoon playing golf,” Brianna protested.
Grinning, he rubbed her shoulder. “But you love it, and if there was something I’d want to do-” here, he gestured at the water “-you’d do it in a heartbeat. Already have. Besides, it kinda makes a weird sort of sense.”
“Well, if we come back on a loop down through here, and cap things off with some camping like we’d talked about, we could just drop south and swing by your mom’s on the way home. It’d save us a trip back out there for the wedding stuff.”
She thought about making a defense against going, but that actually was a really good plan and she’d heard some good things about Lethbridge’s golf courses. They talked some more, and decided the best course of action was to head to Lethbridge that afternoon. The tournament started early in the morning and they could get in some sightseeing that afternoon and evening before finding a hotel.
Garrett almost invited the couple to lunch, but before they got off the boat, the husband pulled Garrett off to one side. “Your wife, she’s very pretty.”
The man grinned. “This, ah, this might be a bit awkward, but do find my wife attractive?”
Taken by surprise, Garrett tried to be polite. “Um, she’s very nice.”
“Think about this. Maybe we meet up after the golf tournament, huh? And we think about a little, ah, swinging action?”
“Uh, that’s very… well… not really our thing,” Garrett said, caught somewhere between a vague desire to punch the man and laughter.
From behind him somewhere, Brianna sputtered out something like a choked chuckle, and she caught up to them as they were getting off the boat. The other man’s wife glanced at her husband and shook her head, smiling a little. “Ah, well,” the man sighed. “We had to try.”
Brianna and Garrett made it all the way back to the Durango before they came together in a heap, both of them laughing so hard it brought tears to their eyes.
* * *
“Hooooly crap balls,” Brianna breathed as she slowed for the scenic turn-off.
“That’s a… what, a bridge?” Garrett asked, leaning forward and squinting through the windshield.
It was. Just outside of Lethbridge, steel trestles rose up an astounding height – from their perspective, it had to be hundreds of feet. Latticed steel stretched from the ground to support the dark trusses in a complex pattern of engineering ingenuity. It crossed over canyons carved into the hills around Lethbridge by the St. Mary River, which they’d been following off and on the last day, and several other streams and coulees. It stretched on for what seemed like forever, reaching for the distant mountains and rolling hills alike.
Brianna turned off and backed into a parking spot. Ever since Waterton on the road east, her mind had been far away, trying to comprehend things she could barely comprehend, let alone try to put into words. She tried not to let it affect her mood, but the euphoria of being on their honeymoon was shifting into something stranger, something melancholier. She hadn’t felt like this since the shapeshifter case, although it lacked that feverish intensity.
Her hands shook as she reached for the keys to turn the engine off. Garrett didn’t notice, and got out of the car slowly, eyes locked on the bridge and the city below. “Incredible,” he breathed as he walked around the back of the Durango. “Just incredible.”
Shivering like it was the dead of winter rather than a muggy day, Brianna came around her side. Without a word, she opened the back hatch and dug out her camera and the lens case. Her fingers still trembling, she nearly dropped it and swore.
Garrett finally tore his gaze away and glanced at her. “Hey, you…” Stopping short when he saw her tremble, he ran his fingers down her arm. “What’s up?”
She sniffed hard and put the camera down to hug him, burying her head into his shoulder, great shakes wracking her whole body. Though she was unashamed of her frequent bouts of crying – they could come on at a moment’s notice if she was happy or sad or for a million other reasons – she did not cry now. Mystified, Garrett held her and stroked her back. Finally Brianna sniffed again and pulled back long enough to murmur, “I got boogers on you again.”
Remembering an emotional moment early in their relationship when she’d seen him off to visit his family in Florida, Garrett smiled. “Mark of pride, remember? Means someone loves me enough to leave ‘em on my shirt.”
She laughed softly. “I’d forgotten that somehow.” Her head came to rest again on his chest, and she hugged him tight as she stared out at the trestle bridge. The wind ran its fingers across the St. Mary, muddying its surface. Another car pulled in, and they both ignored it as she let herself get lost in the moment. Finally she pulled away again, and he leaned down to kiss her cheeks, then her lips, gentle little pecks, small unspoken questions that he didn’t need put to voice.
“Want to take a walk?” Garrett asked, nodding towards a little hiking trail that looped back around after a quarter of a mile or so. She nodded, and he took her hand as they closed up the Durango and locked it.
The vibrant gold-green grass rose nearly to knee height. The night’s rains left the scent of the earth rich and damp, accented by white-headed onion-scented plants. It made Garrett’s stomach rumble. Below the hill, a small stream cut a weave through several coulees and stretched towards Lethbridge. A chubby chickadee gave them a whistle as it flitted in the branches of a massive poplar. Garrett tried to whistle back at it, but the bird didn’t fall for his tricks and only eyeballed them to make sure they came nowhere near its roost.
Brianna squeezed his hand and rubbed at her nose with a tissue from her purse. “I didn’t mean to let it overwhelm me,” she said barely above a whisper.
“It’s beautiful,” he agreed.
“No. I mean, it is, but… we’re here. We made it.” She let go of his hand reluctantly and waved her own out towards the city, stopping when the noonish sun glinted off her gold ring. “You know how you sometimes think that things aren’t real?”
Garrett shuddered. He’d seen her dead, once – or a doppelganger of Brianna, anyways. Lost to a horrific act of torture, the sight of the remains of her body had fractured his mind and left him doubting reality in his darkest moments. “Yeah.”
“I get that sometimes too. But it’s more like… I don’t want to plan for anything. No, that’s not right. I mean… it’s hard to hope that the future will be real. Our future. I kinda didn’t let myself think we would actually get married, or come here, or… any of this. And we’re here. In Canada. We’re married.”
Instead of responding, Garrett leaned down and plucked a pink wildflower. Alone from the packs of other blooms, it seemed to strain not towards the sun, but towards the parking lot and the cars below, as though it were begging for a ride. He turned Brianna’s chin up towards him and nestled the flower behind her ear, taking a moment to run his knuckles through her long dark hair. “We’re here,” he whispered, trying to ignore the madmen at his back shouting and cackling for his attention. “We’re married. This is real.”
“I thought we’d be dead,” Brianna said quietly. “Or one of us would be in prison, or…”
Garrett kissed her slowly, taking his time, their lips making their words for them as his hands roamed up and down her back. When he finally pulled away, her mouth parted and her eyes fluttered back open. “I know,” he said. “I thought the same thing.”
Brianna turned back towards the city. “Can I ask you a question?”
“What happens if it’s not always like this? You and me?”
“What do you mean?”
“What happens if it’s not the Legion or someone that kills one of us? What do we do if it’s ten years down the line and we fall out of love? Or one of us cheats on the other one? Or we just can’t stand each other anymore?”
Garrett tried not to let a laugh bubble out of him. Twice now, he’d had to apologize for days on end for his natural tendency to laugh at her sometimes weird ideas. “Do you want to cheat on me?” he asked.
“No, of course not. But I’ve seen you look. Like when Rose is breastfeeding.”
His face reddened. “I didn’t mean to.”
“I didn’t want to sound like I was accusing you. You’re a guy and she’s drop-dead gorgeous. If you didn’t do a double-take when she’s got her nipple out, I’d be worried about you mentally.”
“But do you think I would really cheat? Brianna, I don’t know if you know this, but I’m nuts about you. There’s never going to be anyone else because…” He shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know how to explain it. Every woman I’ve ever been with, none of them ever made me feel… awake. You do.”
Her sigh was a thing of irritation, and he had no idea why. “No, I don’t think you’d cheat. It’s just an example.”
“Then…” Garrett puzzled that over for a minute. “What are we talking about?”
“I’ve looked too. There are so many guys that come into the gym that it’s hard not to. And I don’t mean to, but what happens someday if I decide, oh, hey, Jimbo is sure one sexy-ass piece of man meat, and I’d sure like to see his dumbbell, if you know what I’m saying?”
Garrett did laugh, then, and she cracked a smile too. “Jimbo? I don’t think I could compete with someone named Jimbo.”
“Right? Or you, seeing Darlene Mabel Fluffenwiezen come out of the locker room, her hair wet, and you lock eyes….”
Laughing even harder, Garrett wrapped his arms around Brianna and kissed her forehead. “I can’t say what I’d do to Miss Fluffernutter-”
“-but until I meet her, Brianna, I swear to you, you’re the only woman I ever want in my heart. There’s a long stretch of road between glancing at someone hot and dropping my dick in her. That’s not something I’m ever going to do because even if we wind up fighting like cats and dogs and hating each other to the point where we bring knives to bed, you’re the only woman in the entire universe I want Lorraine Bobbiting my ass.” Brianna opened her mouth, but he wasn’t done. “And if you ever decide I’m… well, I’m not enough… just… I don’t know. Talk to me, I guess. I’m gonna love you forever, Brianna Moranis. And that means always wanting you to be happy, no matter what. If that’s not with me…” Garrett shrugged uncomfortably. “I’d be insanely jealous, but I’d-”
She stopped him from talking for a while until someone down the path cleared their throat and they heard the giggling of children. A woman and her two boys were coming up the path. Brianna blushed, and they pulled away from each other and started walking back towards the Durango. “I want to tell you it’s always going to be you too, Garrett, but that’s how these things always start, don’t they?”
“When did I become the voice of romance and you the prag… prag…”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. I just… worry.”
“This is one of those times when I can’t fix things by talking and need to just let you chew on it, isn’t it?”
Brianna smiled. “Yeah, pretty much.” They arrived back at the Durango a minute later, but before he could walk around to the passenger’s side, she caught his hand. “But there is one thing you can do.”
His eyebrow raised, he said, “There are people around, but hey, I’m willing to risk a ticket for indecent exposure if you are.”
Her swat on his arm was light and her face finally broke into something approaching good cheer. “Later, goof. Tell me a little bit more about Francesca and the cross.”
“Sure.” Brianna opened the back hatch of the Durango again and sat on the lip, pulling him down beside her. Despite his desire to go explore Lethbridge, when her fingers wrapped around his wrist, he was hers. Shuffling around until he found a comfortable spot, he wrapped an arm around her waist and took in the enormous trestle bridge while he thought about what to say next.