The sky dawned with drama, periwinkle, purple, gold and tangerine traipsing across the horizon, as Deann carried her blue travel mug, brimming with freshly brewed coffee, down the steps of her truck camper to sit on her crimson camp chair. Savouring her first sip, she surveyed the view from her site in BC’s t Liard River Hot Springs Provincial. Today was a short solitary jaunt, a mere 210 km to Watson Lake, Yukon, unlike the last time Deann had made this trip; that time in the company of her husband, now dead two years.
With the volume on high, the bass booming, Deanna bopped along, singing, sipping, and staring in equal parts. Always her favourite, Muncho Lake shone bluish-green, surrounded by an array of wildflowers, resplendent in mulberry, merlot, mustard. Several hours later, Watson Lake Downtown RV Park, located at Mile 635 on the Alaska Highway, yawned ahead, looking very much as it had during her first visit. Once settled in, Deann unhooked the jeep from the Northern Lite truck camper, excited to revisit the Signpost Forest, hopeful to find their sign from years earlier.
Deann stepped in and around the signs, seeking that specific spot where she and Quinn had hammered their memento, stopping suddenly as she spied their signboard.
Deann & Quinn Awesome Adventures — 100 days on the road in their home-on-wheels. Forever together.
Closing her eyes, tears escaping to her chin, Deann swept back in time, feeling Quinn’s arm about her shoulders, his adoring kiss on her hair.
Deann’s eyes flicked open, one hand dried her face, then she turned to the blonde man towering above, “I’m okay; just getting carried away with my memories. Thanks for asking.”
“I’m Harlan. Harlan Clayton.” Deann’s hand was hidden in his huge grip.
“Isn’t that funny? I went to school with a Harlan Clayton. Who would have thought,” her eyes traced the features of Harlan’s face, taking in the sculpted cheekbones, the deep-set glacial blue eyes, the full mouth, “It’s you, isn’t it?”
“I’m at a disadvantage.”
“Oh,” she smiled, "I’m Deann Dehner,”
“From Grandview Institute?”
“The very same — home of the.”
In unison, “Gentle Grizzlies.”
“Ab uno disce omnes. From one, learn all.”
Lilting laughter, to sudden silence.
“Deann, what’s it been?”
“Harlan, more decades than I’d like to admit. Don’t go and say something like, “You haven’t changed.’ Okay? We both have changed, thank god we’re not stuck in our adolescent misery.”
“I’d forgotten your trenchant truth-telling.” Harlan reached out an arm, his fingertips touching Deann and Quinn’s posting, “Yours?”
“So where’s Quinn?”
Deann stifled a sob.
“Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.”
“Harlan, for heaven’s sake, how in the world would you know that I lost Quinn two years ago unless you’ve been trolling me on social media.” Deann’s grey eyes glistened gleefully.
“Oh-oh, you’ve caught me!” Harlan stood with his hands in the air. “Do you have time for coffee? I’ve only got to hammer up my sign and then we could go?”
“Sounds like a plan. Did you have a special spot chosen or are you still shopping around?”
“Well, Deann, if you and Quinn don’t mind, I’d like to become your neighbour.”
“Welcome to the neighbourhood.”
On their way back to their vehicles, the words flowed freely, as if the decades had ceased to exist, they were older, wiser than their sixteen-year-old selves, but at the core, that spark still sizzled.
“Well, this is my ride,” Clayton stopped beside a white camper, “It’s called an EarthCruiser Fx, I’ve had it since 2016. She’s a sweet ride. Fits in a shipping container. I’ve shipped her south to Australia, New Zealand, Europe and of course, good old North, Central and South America.”
“See that green jeep across the way, that’s mine. Where are you staying? I’m at the Watson Lake Downtown RV Park.”
“Deann, I just got into town, so I’m without a camping spot. Wonder if they’ve got any spare sites for me and my ride?”
“How about you follow me back and you can see what they say?”
Slipping behind the steering wheel, Deann wiped her sweaty palms on her pants, eyeing her reflection, grimacing at her pink cheeks and makeup-free complexion.
Harlan stopped at the office, while Deann parked at her site, beside her white home on wheels. As she walked back towards the office, Harlan tooted his horn, signalling with his arm where he was billeted for the night. They were almost neighbours, Harlan situated two doors down.
“When you’ve set up, come on over to number 15, I’m the Northern Lite. What’s your poison? I’ve got wine, cider, bubbly water. If you want something else, just BYOB. I’ll scrounge up some munchies. Oh, and can you also bring your own chair — unless you want to sit on the picnic bench?”
By the time Deann had filled a plate with cheese, crackers, hot pepper jelly and some grapes, Harlan was loping her way, carrying a camper chair in a bag, a bottle of wine, and a bag of potato chips.
“I vaguely remember you had a penchant for chips, kettle chips.”
Together they laughed over this shared silly memory.
As the evening passed, as the sun bent behind the hills, as the sky was painted vividly in shades of berries, buttercups and bronze, a casual observer would note intense eye contact, demonstrative touching of shoulders and hands, comfortable cozy silences.
“I am tuckered. Harlan, I have got to get my beauty sleep. Off you go.”
“I don’t even know what time it is?”
“Harlan, it’s late, or early, depending on your perspective, Night, night.” Deanna bussed his cheek with her lips.
“Do you have a cell number so I can text you?
“Of course: 1-613-654-7891.”
Harlan’s text roused Deann. Harlan’s keen knocking on her door with a promise of coffee prodded Deann to pull on a robe.
“Good morning sleepyhead,” Harlan chortled, two coffees in hand, “Come on out, it’s a beautiful day.”
“I didn’t know you’re a morning person.”
“Take a sip grumps, I even remembered that you’re lactose-free, so I hope soy works.”
Grasping the cup in two hands, Deanna inhaled the aroma and swallowed, smiling in sweetness. “If you didn’t know it already, you are truly a saint.”
“How about your hit the showers, sip your coffee and then I’ll treat you to breakfast at Stuie’s Diner. I hear they serve breakfast to end your hunger for a LOONG time, bacon, sausage, ham, three eggs and toast. That should keep us humming until at least lunch.”
Singing in the shower, refreshed and fragrant, Deann smiled at seeing Harlan, sitting on her picnic table, checking out his phone. Sharing one plate filled to the rim, Deann and Harlan chewed and chatted, until, glancing up, Deann noticed the clock.
“Oh, my God, is it that time already? I’ve got to be on my way to Whitehorse. It’s a 438 km trip! I am so sorry to eat and run. I have to pack up, check out, oh oh oh..”
“Calm yourself down. Take a deep breath. What’s the worst that could happen?”
“I like to have a schedule when I travel. It keeps me on track and safe. I like knowing someone is looking out for my safe arrival. The folks at Hi Country RV Park are expecting me today.”
“We’ll go together, in separate vehicles, if that’s okay with you?”
Deann blushed, her breathing belaboured, blinking her eyes. “Wow, that’d be so lovely. I’m not used to …”
Harlan clasped her hand, caressing her palm.
“Harlan, don’t take this the wrong way. Over the past two years, I’ve found a new me — independent, confident, courageous. Our kismet meet-up has been whimsical. I don’t need to be taken care of by anyone but me.” Deann slid her hand onto her lap.
“I see.” Harlan sat in silence, surveying Deann’s steps to her jeep. “Damn-damn-damn!”