Utterly pointless drivel. Almost certainly these would have been cut. At this point I’d checked out of this novel.
As much as they liked the Canadian Rockies, the relentless heat and the conditions it caused drove them out of Jasper National Park regrettably early, but they promised each other they’d come back, possibly to Banff in the spring during a long weekend. After an early brunch with the Halls, they packed up their things and headed west through the park, stopping a few times to snap pictures of the mountains and a herd of goats crossing the road. The goats were a salve to Brianna, who was still hoping to see a bear, moose or caribou.
They expected plains once they broke free of the park, much as they’d seen throughout the first two-thirds of their journey, but the gently yawning mountains pillowed out to either side of them all the way from Jasper to Prince George. Several rivers and streams danced with Highway 16, first the icy-looking Miette within the national park, then the Fraser, which swooped and swirled through the magnificent canyons joyously, its waters dotted with fisherman and boaters enjoying the blazingly hot summer day.
Life exploded around them on the achingly beautiful drive. Woodpeckers knocked against the soft green and brown-coated trees. Huge fish broached the surface of the river, searching out the swarms of mosquitos and other insects spotting the river’s surface. They played no music, they spoke little for the first couple of hours. Despite her best unwilling efforts, not even the spectral child could break them of the good mood.
After a stop to get pictures and walk a short trail to the waters of the Fraser, Brianna took Garrett’s hand and leaned her head against his shoulder. He could not hear her hum over the cascading waters, but he could feel the vibration from her throat. He wished he could make love to her right there, slowly, tenderly, but in the end, a long, searing kiss had to do.
Back in the Durango, Brianna said softly, “Tell me more.”
After he buckled his seat belt, Garrett took her hand in his, kissed each finger, and started talking again.
Though they weren’t hungry, the name Gigglin’ Grizzly Pub was too good to ignore, so they stopped in McBride three hours and change after setting off from Jasper. Though they intended on just stopping for a moment, the sleepy, cheerful little valley town won them over completely the moment they eased off the highway.
Brianna hit him as they pulled into the parking lot, then again. “Moose. Moose moose moose!” she shouted, then got control of herself and whispered very responsibly so as to not startle the very distant creature – who could not have possibly heard her in the Durango.
Rubbing his shoulder, Garrett shut off the car. “Got your wild animal fix finally.”
Brianna jerked around in her seat and was yanked back promptly by her seat belt. “Ow,” she muttered, and unhooked herself to grab her camera. “Oh man, oh my God, oh man.” She found it, fumbled the case open, and flicked the on switch before leaning over to kiss Garrett briefly. “I love you so much.”
“I l-” But she was already slipping outside, gently shutting the SUV’s door behind her. “-ove you too,” he finished, and stayed put. If he startled the moose in any way, Brianna would be asking the cook inside the restaurant to serve him up for lunch.
Not daring to move much closer, Brianna kneeled gently in the dry dirt, bringing the camera up slowly. Aside from a couple of other people in the parking lot pointing at the magnificent creature, it felt like just her and the moose, taking each other in and acknowledging that the space between them was sacred and not to be crossed.
Others might have thought moose were ugly creatures with their awkwardly sized heads and giant lips, but she found them stunning, especially when they sliced down through lakes and rivers, gently rippling the surfaces despite their bulk. This one was tall, nearly as tall as Brianna – and she was a tall woman, standing only inches shorter than Garrett’s six two. A female, she guessed, trying to think back to when moose grew antlers. She thought they dropped them in the winter, along the same time as deer, but she wasn’t sure. It grazed on a shrub in an unoccupied along a side road, audible tearing away bits of leafy greens from the bush and chewing unhurriedly as it watched her.
“Hello, moose,” she whispered, and snapped off several shots.
The ghost of the child stood beside her, annoyed that the scar-sweet-scent woman wasn’t responding to her. These two, her and the jagged-face-warm-eyes should have been frothing at each other by now. The girl was tired of the slow trickle of food from them, but now that she wanted her feast, they weren’t responding like they should. She would try harder, she decided. So hungry. So hungry now.
* * *
They came out of the Gigglin’ Grizzly a couple of hours later, Brianna holding Garrett’s arm as her camera swung by her side. She stumbled over nothing at all, and murmured drunkenly, “Stupid cliff!”
“Yeah,” Garrett agreed, clutching his wife’s frame tighter against him. “Stupid cliff.” She was gone to a variety of beer and mixed drinks, bought for them by the slow trickle of locals who’d heard about the moose and come in for a beer and lunch. Once word got around that they were on their honeymoon, once again, the couple had found themselves on the receiving end of a lot of alcohol. Garrett held off, but the bartender told him about a nearby motel. The town was small enough they could grab a room and walk back to the bar to continue the celebration. Seemed like a great idea, especially to a wobbly Brianna.
Garrett dragged Brianna out of there with the promise that they’d be back soon. The motel pickings in McBride were slim, but the places all had spectacular views of the Rockies and the North Caribou Mountains. It was simply the most beautiful little village they’d been through yet, laid out gently in the midst of a flat, lusciously green valley, surrounded by farmland and edged by the same river they’d stopped at earlier that day.
With no wildlife to startle, Brianna launched into a drunken song in the SUV as Garrett looked up the motels in the area. It took him a minute, but he finally recognized it as the theme to Strange Brew, and started cracking up. It had taken all her resolve not to endlessly quote that and Canadian Bacon, and she’d lasted an admirably long time. He hummed along as they pulled out, headed for the Beaver Creek Lodge, a series of small cabins they could rent.
The cabins were nicely spacious, split into a main room with a little kitchenette and a bedroom. Brianna helped Garrett roll in their luggage and flopped on the bed as he brought in their cooler. As he took everything out so he could dump the water forming at the bottom, she said, “We could stay here forever, you know?”
It was an idle comment, but it stopped him cold. He was glad his back was turned to her, so she didn’t see him duck his head against his chest. Hadn’t he wanted this for them? That was what the whole last six months had been about, save for their brief and bloody fight against the Band of Princes. He’d tried to back away from the vigilante life, to live something approaching normal with her.
God, how his heart ached for this. If he thought she was at all serious, he’d be on the line with Ed in a minute, figuring out what they’d need to do to gain Canadian citizenship and buy a house there in that canyon. Slowly, softly so she wouldn’t hear, he expelled the fiery breath caught in his throat and turned, smiling. “It really is beautiful, isn’t it?”
Their time in McBride floated away from them like dandelion fluff caught on the breeze. A pick-up baseball game played by teenagers hooting and shouting at one another while they watched from the grass, passing bottled water and chaste kisses between the two of them as they talked about little of consequence. A trip to the local museum, where they learned about local railroads and farming. A slow walk down two hiking paths, and a stop at the river to take in the views and each other. Some of their new friends from the bar invited them to an impromptu barbeque behind one of the other motels, which grew into a community gathering of sorts. A local strummed a guitar, another traveling couple introduced them to several microbrews including one of Brianna’s new favorites, Vienna amber, and a few people with some steaks and burgers turned into a full-on couple of dozen of people bringing down Hibachis and charcoal barbeques. Brianna’s camera was taken from her sometime in the festivities by a kindly woman who told her to experience it all while she took the pictures for her. Try as she might, Brianna could never remember that woman’s name, one of the great travesties of their journey through Canada.
Their next day turned into more hiking, more exploring. They had every intention of heading to Prince George that afternoon, but two of their newly minted friends invited them out on their boat. Garrett accepted, then winced, thinking about Brianna’s scar story. Sensing his hesitation, she jumped right in, thanking them and agreeing wholeheartedly. Garrett got her away for a moment, and whispered in her ear, “If you feel uncomfortable-”
“If we were kayaking, this would be a different story,” she said, and kissed his cheek. “But thank you for thinking about me.”
The chilly river spray and the heat of the day made for an uneven experience, but beer was plentiful for the passengers and they wound up having a good time. By the time they got back to the dock, it was fast approaching evening, and they decided to stay one more night, taking their friends to dinner and finally crashing out back in their little cabin, sunburned, exhausted, and happy.
* * *
Wary that their McBride friends would somehow manage to keep them there another day, Brianna and Garrett woke up early and slowly packed their things again. They took a last couple of selfies with the mountains behind them, finally loaded up into the Durango, and headed for the gas station. While Garrett filled the tank, he took in the mountains one last time, and without warning, he slumped against the SUV, banging it hard accidentally before he slid down next to the tire, his chest hitching. He couldn’t get the air out, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think. It wasn’t real it wasn’t real it wasn’t real it wasn’t real.
“It is,” Brianna said gently, standing above him. She knelt, and pressed a hand to his breast.
“I can’t,” he groaned. “You, this place, it’s not real, oh God, it’s not real…”
She sank down to the ground beside him, wrapping an arm around his shoulders. On the other side of the pump, a man was staring, slack-jawed. Brianna shook her head at him, and the man jerked as if he’d been goosed. With a clatter, he slid the nozzle home, opened up the door behind him, and slid into his truck, never taking his eyes off Garrett.
People were coming out of the store, people they’d met. They were pointing now, and whispering, and Brianna didn’t care. She held her sobbing husband, and wished she could somehow put all the broken pieces back into place.