It happened practically overnight. The Disaster, mother called it. Apocalypse, father said. My brother called it Ruination, but he always was a drama queen. And me? I didn’t call it anything until seven years later. Now I call it Salvation.
Amy was not a person who woke up with anything approaching grace. She felt that alarm clocks were her personal enemies, and rising before 10:00 A.M. should be illegal and immoral. It was now 4:30 A.M.; the desire to smash the digital monster whining at her was barely subdued. Again.
Groaning, Amy rolled out of bed and into the shower. The warm water revived her somewhat, and two cups of coffee restored her perspective on life, love, and luck.
Ryker sat at the kitchen table without speaking. He knew better.
Amy eyed the breakfast that Ryker was currently inhaling with a look of feigned distaste.
“That steak is bloody as hell,” she commented. A small smile flitted across her face.
“Yep,” Ryker said cheerfully, “just cut that cow up, slap its nasty ass a little and throw it on my plate.”
“The eggs are runny, too.”
“Good for soppin’ up with biscuits.”
Amy shook her head and chuckled. Life had returned to her, and the enmity she felt for the alarm clock was forgotten for the day. She put two pieces of bread in the toaster and sliced up an avocado.
They both became silent, each enjoying the early morning repast and each other’s company. Somewhere in the distance, a cow bellowed. Chickens could be heard clucking nearby, and a few tentative chirps came from the feathered wildlife in the trees. The morning ritual on the Dodge Ranch had begun.
We had to do the unthinkable after we lost our wealth: move to the suburbs. Skinny white kids wearing hoodies and skateboarding at all hours. Gas grills and lawnmowers being abused by pudgy men in cargo shorts. Pets being walked by their owners, and vice versa. Open doors and neighborly neighbors, all welcoming us to hell.
Everyone had been skeptical. No one would come to a café in the middle of nowhere. No one would want specialty coffees out there. Amy, though, had been insistent, so she did what any normal woman in her position would have done. She sold her jewelry and two of her three cars for startup capital, moved to Texas, and opened Amy’s Café and Coffee Bar.
It was a semi-resounding success. Farmers and ranchers shied away from the place, but their wives would drop in after they had fed their men. Pastries flew out of the display windows, coffee in great quantities was consumed, and sandwiches were taken home in doggy bags. The lunchtime crowd saw high schoolers come in for lattes, cappuccinos, frappuccinos, and mochas.
Ryker had been one of the skeptics, but he was the first rancher to come in and visit the establishment with any regularity. He liked the coffee, and he liked the person serving the coffee. Cute. A little uppity, though.
The daily routine for Amy varied little. The café was closed by two, and her three-person crew had everything cleaned and locked up by three. Amy would complete the tedious task of bookkeeping by 3:30 and then go upstairs, where she lived. A quick shower and a bite to eat. And then, she was free to do as she pleased.
The free time was the tricky part.
Three months in the ‘burbs was all I could take. Mother and father had taken to sniping waspishly at each other; the buffer of an obscene amount of money to spend had been taken away. Rex, my younger brother and a wastrel in every sense of the word, had some new hobbies. Smoking weed, playing video games, and complaining about his lot in life. Oh yeah, and flunking out of college. He excelled at that.
My little café didn’t fare well at first, but business gradually increased. I may not be making a lot of money, but I make enough to keep a roof over my head and decent clothes to wear. There is little to do out here, however. I spend an inordinate amount of time reading and writing, two things that I had detested during our wealthy years. And ruminating. Good word, that. I ruminate. I ponder. I reflect.
I’m beginning to feel differently. Like the business, these new feelings and perceptions have increased gradually. For one thing, I’m now comfortable in denim jeans. Not the expensive ones that look distressed when purchased and cost several hundred dollars. Just regular jeans.
The sun looks different now. It used to be nothing more than an adornment in the sky, something I rarely noticed or thought about. The morning sun now gets my blood pumping and the dopamine flowing, and the evening sun soothes me better than Xanax ever did. And then there’s Ryker.
Ryker came into my life approximately two years ago. He may not be a knight in shining armor (childhood fantasy), but he is a cowboy with a nice smile (adult reality). Big, beautiful simple, and adorable. I’m not easily had, but…I can be had. I have been had. It has never tuned out well. Until now.
I’m smitten. I admit it. All it took was a cowboy and a horse.
The sun was nearing the horizon, still powerful enough to warm the countryside but not so strong as to make the heat unbearable. Amy and Ryker were gazing at a herd of cattle amid the sun’s backdrop, silently observing the show that Mother Nature was currently displaying.
“It looks different. From the back of a horse, I mean. The land,” Amy said quietly.
“Well, don’t rhapsodize too much, Ryker. You’ll get a sunburned tongue, talking so much.”
Ryker looked at her quizzically. His ever-present smile made Amy shake her head. The man’s an idiot.
“What’s that mean?”
Amy looked at Ryker and reached out to touch his hand.
“I think you take all of this stunning beauty for granted.”
Ryker considered her words before speaking.
“But it’s all very grand to me. Like a huge pageant that no one has to pay for.”
“Yep.” Ryker turned to Amy. “The thing is, it ain’t romantic to me like it is to you. I love this land because it provides a good life for me, not because of the splendor.”
Amy looked at Ryker with surprise.
“Did you just use the word splendor?”
“Color me impressed.”
“I did graduate high school, you know.”
“They teach you country bumpkins words like that?”
“They do. SAT prep.”
Amy laughed loudly, striking a discordant note in the surroundings. A couple of pheasants flew away, startled. The cows in the pasture all looked in her direction and then moved slowly away.
The journey back was slow, leisurely. The horses moved at their own pace and the couple astride them went along for the ride. Dust and wind mingled in a choreographed dance, each giving the other space to do what it did. The horses nickered occasionally, the gentle sound adding a layer of peace and serenity along the way.
“The air is different out here,” Amy said. She reigned in her horse and breathed deeply.
Ryker did likewise, turning his horse so that he was facing Amy. He placed both hands on the pommel and leaned forward, pushing the brim of his hat up a little.
Amy paused, considering the words she would use.
“One notices it. The air. It gets inside the soul and lifts it up.”
Ryker cocked his head to the side, thinking about something that he had never considered.
“Is that what you mean by rapidizin’?”
“Rhapsodizing. Yes, I suppose it is,” Amy said, laughing at herself.
“I know you came from money. I never looked down on you for that. I figured that any woman with the grit to think she could sell pastries and weird coffees to us out here is a woman that I wanted to get to know.”
“Yeah. The money. That’s a problem.”
“But you ain’t rich no more.”
“No. I’m not. But there are residual effects from my past life.”
“I’m not sure…”
“I have baggage, Ryker.”
Amy’s mouth opened just a little.
“What? You, with baggage? Say it ain’t so!”
“Sarcasm will get you nowhere, Amy.”
“Ok. Do tell, then.”
Ryker took off his hat and wiped the sweat from his brow.
“I used to date a woman named Estelle. Cute little thing. But it didn’t last. She broke my heart.”
Amy watched a lizard skitter past them. It paused for a moment before darting after a dragonfly. It was unsuccessful but undeterred. There was always some insect that wasn’t paying attention, and the lizard was assured of a decent repast sooner or later.
“Why didn’t it last?”
“Well,” Ryker replaced his hat, “she wanted me to make more money off the ranch. Said I could do better. I told her I liked things the way they were on the ranch, so she left me.”
“Stupid woman,” Amy muttered. Ryker heard her but pretended not to. He ducked his head and smiled.
“So there it is. Ryker with a broken heart and Amy with a broken bank account. Aren’t we a pair?”
Ryker and I are getting dangerously close to him bending the knee and me being faced with the ultimate yes/no question. I already know how I will respond. I think.
Loss and reclamation. Two things needed, in that order, to free oneself from one’s self-imposed prison. The joie de vivre that I felt as a child has been retrieved from the dusty hymnals of an abandoned faith, found in the hinterlands of a windswept state.
I smell the scent of sage, I watch the prairie grass bend to the will of the wind. The balm of barbed wire and the salve of saddle soap have worked their rural magic. I am addicted and addled, contrite and confused. I am steadfast in my belief that nothing good lasts, that nothing gold can stay (sorry, Robert Frost), that life oxidizes whatever iron our souls may possess.
Ryker is unable (or unwilling) to pursue such thoughts. He feels the certainty of his own skin. He knows what is important and eschews all else. The land doesn’t daunt him; he is a collaborator with nature, a confidant of cows and horses, a conspirator with karma.
The stupid man is a sort of rustic genius/guru, and I need some of that.
Ryker looked at Amy pensively and then rose. His right hand was on her left shoulder, caressing it while his left hand put a small ring in his pocket. He was surprisingly calm. Almost stoic. The ghost of a smile flitted across his face, and he kissed Amy on the forehead before walking away.
Amy walked out behind Ryker and watched him get on his horse. Always from the left side. Always smooth and seemingly effortless. Tanned face hidden by the brim of his hat. Worn boots that creased easily as they slid into stirrups. Rough hands that held reins with surprising gentleness and adroitness.
“I’ll say yes if you agree to keep on being your dumbass, wonderful self.”
Ryker looked down at Amy and smiled. A small chuckle escaped him, causing his shoulders to heave just a tiny bit.
“Why would I change? I’m a damn fine catch the way I am,” he said, putting his horse into a canter and disappearing over a rise.
Amy did not disagree, but her eye roll did not go unnoticed by Ryker.
The wedding turned out to be the biggest event in the area for years to come. Everyone wanted to see Ryker get married to a city girl. Even Amy’s mother made the trip, though the father and the brother declined.
The preacher waited until the noise subsided before speaking. His voice was rich, mellifluous, and strong. He delivered terrible sermons but excelled at weddings and funerals.
“We wrote our own vows,” Ryker stated at the appropriate time. The couple unfolded pieces of paper and readied themselves. Amy went first, and she was the one who first sent shock waves through the crowd.
“Ok. Well.” Amy looked up into Ryker’s eyes briefly before turning back to the paper in her hand. The creases spoke of many readings before today.
“I vow to do the minimum of housework, but I will do enough to keep the place from looking like it had been abandoned.”
The crowd murmured. The older ladies were stunned by the words. The men smiled. Some laughed out loud, prompting the preacher to give them a stern look.
“I also vow to knife you in the heart if you ever hit me, and I’ll make it look like an accident. Nothing personal. No, wait. It will be very personal.”
The preacher lowered his head, shaking it slowly. This was not how he envisioned the wedding. Threats of violence didn’t usually accompany such a blessed day.
“Are you done?” the preacher said. Amy turned to the preacher and glared at him.
“Not by a long shot, buddy.” Amy turned back to a smiling Ryker and continued.
“I vow to serve fabulous meals for you, but only at the café. I vow to chastely hold your hand in public and to love you like a tigress in private. I vow to like your friends until they piss me off, and then all bets are off. I vow to honor your sister because, frankly she’s a terrific person and I’m pretty sure she can kick my ass.”
The crowd was getting louder. The preacher’s stares were becoming ineffective amid the growing clamor.
“Now?” The preacher asked, his nervousness at losing control in his own church evident.
“Not yet. The most important parts are coming.”
Amy looked at the crowd and they fell silent.
“I vow to always be faithful, and I will display a loving attitude more than 50% of the time. You have my heart. Stomp on it at your own peril.”
Amy turned to the preacher.
“Ok. I’m done.”
The preacher looked at Ryker and nodded for him to begin his vows.
Ryker cleared his throat and smiled at Amy. He then put the paper away and spoke.
“I vow to always be tolerant with your domestic ineptitude. I used the computer to find that word, by the way. Ineptitude, I mean. I vow to never bring up the subject of you snoring in bed, though you refuse to believe you do but I know you do because I’m there to hear it. I vow to lie to you if you ever ask me if your ass looks big in those pants and it does. So far, all is well back there.”
The crowd erupted into laughter. Ryker waited until it died down before continuing.
“Most of all, I vow to be faithful and loving. Unless we get a divorce.”
“Wait! I want to add that to my vows as well,” Amy said sharply.
“Can you do that?”
“I don’t know. What’s the protocol on adding to the vows?”
The couple turned to the preacher. He raised his hands resignedly and shrugged.
“Sure. Go ahead.” The preacher sighed. I need a drink. Maybe five.
“Let’s see. Yeah, that’s it. I’m done,” Ryker said.
The wrap up and the kissing quickly followed, and then everyone headed to the VFW hall for the reception. The happy couple rode horses decorated with ribbons and paint while everyone else walked. It was that kind of ceremony.
Everyone in town placed bets on the longevity of our marriage. All placed bets on it being less than a year. Well, we just had out first anniversary. No one won, except Ryker and me.
We don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but I suspect that it will be more of the same. Ryker will do his cowboy thing and I’ll do my café thing, and we’ll spend the evenings on the porch or astride a horse, looking out over a land that fights back.
I know, I know. I tend to wax poetic when I write. But life is a sort of poetry when you marry a boot-clad philosopher. He may not have all the answers but he damn sure understands all the questions.
Ryker gave me a dozen alarm clocks for our anniversary. I presented him with a cowboy hat not stained and grimy.
I figure we’re good for another year.