You were dancing by yourself in that bar in Big Prairie just down from Mt. Goliath when we first met. It’s the one with the black and white photos of long-ago Western stars and the posters of their forgotten movies pinned to the wood-paneled walls. It was almost empty and only a couple of German tourists were shooting pool at a table in the back. I sat down on one of the dusty stools, ordered from the bored bartender, and watched you from across the room. I was exhausted and dirty from climbing all day and it was beer, not love, I was looking for. But the neon lights of the jukebox lit up your face with bright yellows and warm oranges and I knew I had to have you.
“All your life you’ve never seen a woman so taken by the wind…” the jukebox sang. You twirled in small circles, smiling to yourself and softly humming along with Fleetwood Mac. Your hair swirled down around the curves of your hips. They were long strands of blue and green and purples, brightly dyed and free-flowing, colored like the swishing peasant skirt you wore. Your wrists were encircled with small jeweled bands of rose quartz and beads. You were a bright rainbow of hippie color splashed against the drab walls.
I drank my beer, stood, and walked over.
“Are you dancing by yourself?” I asked.
“I don’t have to be,” you replied.
“Can I join you?”
“I was hoping you would.”
You smiled and the dark bar seemed to brighten a bit. Your eyes were brown pools of expectation and your freckles flaked your cheeks with youth. I pulled you close to me, and we slow danced alone in that empty bar until the bored bartender kicked us out. We shared a smoke outside and watched the stars rise in the mountain sky. The moon was high and bright and our moon shadows flirted with each other in the parking lot.
“You traveling?” I asked you.
“Yeah. I’m on the road,” you replied.
“I thought as much.”
“Where are you staying? Can I walk you back?”
You leaned in close me.
“You can walk me to your place,” you said as that slow, sly smile I would come to love most about you spread across your face.
I took your hand and took you home. Home was a tiny tent pitched next to my truck on public land among the boulders of the foothills, below the jagged peaks of the rising mountains. We made love there, atop my flimsy foam pad and under the duck down sleeping bag, hidden from the real world by the millimeter nylon of my tent. We lay there, tangled in each other, and you nestled your head against my chest and curled your naked leg around mine.
“How long have you been on the road?” I asked as my fingers traced the outline of your bare shoulder.
“Just a couple weeks. You?” you replied.
“Every summer for the last ten years. Been doing this a long time.”
“How old are you?”
“You don’t look older.”
We climbed together all through that summer. We scrambled over scree and trudged through talus. We marched up peaceful peaks and down mountain passes. I’d stop to catch my breath and you’d take it away with a kiss. We’d tire through the day and exhaust ourselves on each other through the night, zipping our sleeping bags and sewing our bodies together. On Ascension Peak, you smiled that devilish smile again and beckoned me with a finger as you took your top off and the bare, white skin of your breasts gleamed like the treeless, granite landscape around us.
We roamed the highway together. Up the road to Mt. Stoney, where I watched from below as your long legs and full hips climbed up a sheer rock face. That night, we stopped at a cheap motel outside town, and I watched from below as your long legs and full hips climbed onto me. You held me tight at night, but, somehow, I knew you wouldn’t hold me forever.
We were up north, past White Wolf, when the first snows of winter fell and we got my truck stuck in a bank of fresh powder. We steamed up my truck, trying to keep our bodies and our hearts warm while we waited for the snowplow to rescue us. But as winter set in, the cold mountain air, the shivering frost that started covering our sleeping bags and our tent, it seeped into everything.
“It’s getting cold,” I said.
“I know,” you replied.
“I’m thinking about heading home.”
“Greenton. Why don’t you come with me?”
I had climbed enough and roamed enough. I wanted to go back to a warm bed and a warm kitchen and hot chocolate around a fireplace. I looked over at you in the passenger seat. You were looking out the window and at the passing evergreens, laden with the first, fresh powder of the season.
“It’s cold there too,” you replied.
“I can keep you warm,” I said.
“I don’t know.”
We drove on in silence and light, fluffy flakes of falling snow rhythmically tapped against the windshield like a ticking clock.
I dropped you off in Mountain Ridge, where you found a job working ski lifts and busing tables. You got out of my truck, waved at me through the frosty passenger-side window, turned, and walked away. I hoped you’d look back, but you just walked across the street and disappeared into the ski shop.
As I drove the long miles back to Greenton, I thought of you and me and the space between us, growing with every turn on the highway. You were just starting your journey, just beginning to fall in love with the road. For you, winter’s whiteness was carving turns and deep powder. It was a wonderland of endless adventure. For me, the months and years I’d spent on the road had worn me down. My truck tires and my heart were bald and bleeding. Another freezing winter, sleeping in the back of my truck, bundled up in all my blankets and my gear, it wasn’t adventure anymore. It was tiring and cold and miserable. The road had taught me, in the blurring lines of the lanes, to cherish the fleeting warmth of love. But you, you haven’t learned that yet. Someday, you will. Someday, you’ll be where I am. And maybe, somehow, I’ll be there too.