The reunited couple enjoyed a late lunch in the courtyard of the hotel, both starving by the time they left the room. As they sat enjoying the beautiful autumn weather, sipping on their drinks, he asked her about her plans for the rest of the day. When she said she had no plans other than being with him, he suggested they go for a ride.
“Yeah, I got a place I want to show you. You’ll want to change first though. Bring any old clothes, old jeans? Old boots?” They were both dressed in the clothes from the night before.
“I did throw in a pair of old jeans and sweatshirt. And a pair of sneakers.”
They made arrangements for him to pick her up in an hour, giving him time to go home and change as well.
The narrow, deserted dirt road wound its way up into the mountains outside of town, with only two ranch homes spotted in the distance along the way. It seemed to Charlene they had driven a long distance before Roy finally stopped.
“Here we are,” he finally said, shutting off the motor. “Let’s get out.” He reached into the middle console and pulled out a pistol. Once outside the truck, he stuck it in the back of his jeans, then walked around and opened her door. As she stepped out, he said, “Watch your step.”
He walked her around the truck.
“Take a look. What do you think?”
The view from where they stood was incredible. One could see for miles below them, including the town of Valhorne.
After taking it all in, she turned to Roy. “The view from here is lovely, Roy, but I’m curious why you brought me here to see it.”
“Just wanted to see what you thought of it,” he said as he walked back to the truck and retrieved two beers from a cooler in the bed of it. “Sorry, no wine.”
“This is fine,” she said, taking one from him, still curious why they were there.
“This is my land. About one hundred acres, give or take.”
“You own this?”
“Yeah, I bought it years ago, got a good deal on it. Thought it might be a good place to build a house.”
“Why haven’t you built?”
“Didn’t have anyone to build it for.”
Before she could reply, he reached behind him, jerked the pistol from his jeans, aimed and fired it in her direction.
She jumped at the loud boom of it. “What the hell, Roy? Why are you shooting at me?”
“I wasn’t shooting at you, Charlie. If I were, you’d be dead. Just like he is.” He pointed toward something near her with the pistol before returning it to his jeans.
Holy shit!” she exclaimed at the sight of a large, dead rattlesnake. Moving far away from it, she said, “You want to live out here? I mean, the view is lovely, but—there are things like—” she pointed at the dead snake, whose long slimy body was still twitching, “like that!”
“They show up in town, too, Charlie, you know that. They’re just part of West Texas.”
She shrugged her shoulders before taking a large sip of her beer. Following another large sip, she placed it in the bed of the truck. She had put it off long enough. It was time to tell him what she had driven 500 miles to say to him. She took several steps in the opposite direction, putting some distance between them.
“Roy, we need to talk. I have something I need to tell you, something I’ve kept from you for a very long time.”
“Okay. I’m listening.” He took a large drink of his beer, then placed it, and hers, back in the cooler.
She took in a deep breath before starting.
“I lied to you in your office yesterday about my daughter. Alexandra. I lied about her age.”
He studied her curiously. “Why would you lie about that? I don’t understand.”
“I lied because I wasn’t ready to tell you. I needed more time with you first.”
“Tell me what? What’s going on, Charlie? Spill it.”
She sucked in more air. “This is so difficult—” She rubbed her hand over her chest. “Just—please try to understand my situation at the time—”
“What are you trying to tell me, Charlie?” He had his hands on his hips, his eyes narrow, the tone of his voice sharp and demanding.
“Alexandra is not ten years old like I said she was. She’s eleven. She was born nine months after I buried my mother.”
Roy stood silent for several seconds. Then he began fiercely shaking his head. “No—No—don’t you dare tell me that—”
“It’s true, Roy. She’s your child. Alexandra is your daughter. Our daughter.”
Roy continued to shake his head. “No. I don’t believe you. You’re lying.”
“It’s true, Roy. Why would I lie about such a thing?”
He removed his hat, rubbed his hand hard back and forth over his brow, then through his hair, holding it and pressing it against the back of his head. “I don’t know. None of it makes sense. Why tell me now, after all this time? Why now? And how do you know she’s mine? After all, Charlie, you did run back to your husband early the next morning. Didn’t you!”
Roy was becoming more and more inflamed by the second, yelling the last two words. She shuddered at the harshness of them, grabbed her mouth to stifle a whimper as she fought back tears.
“Yes, I did. But Andrew was already sick then. He’d already been diagnosed with cancer and had just started chemo treatments. That’s why he didn’t come with me. He wasn’t up to making the long trip.”
“So, are telling me you and Andrew weren’t having sex at that time?”
When she didn’t reply right away, he yelled, “Answer me!”
“It doesn’t matter, Roy. I know she’s yours.”
“How can you know that? Did you run any tests?”
“Then how can you be so sure?”
“I just knew, even before she was born. And the moment she was born, there was no doubt. Everything about her was you. I saw you on her tiny little face the moment I held her. And I see more of you in her every day. She’s left-handed, bull-headed, stubborn as a mule, but a heart of gold, and extremely athletic. Even in some of her expressions, I see you. You can deny her all you want, Roy. We can do DNA testing if you want. But she is your child.”
Roy blew air out his cheeks, his hands on his hips. “So why did you suddenly decide to tell me that I have a daughter, eleven years after the fact? What? Is this about money? Andrew’s dead so now you come to me for child support? Is that what this is about? You need money? Cause I gotta tell ya, I got none.”
“Oh, Roy! That’s ridiculous and you know it! I don’t need your money. I’m here telling you now because I knew you had a right to know. You both do. I’m telling you now because my daughter—your daughter—needs a father. She needs you in her life. And so do I. I made the only choice I felt I could make at the time. I couldn’t leave Andrew, no matter how much I wanted to be with you. He was a good man, a good husband. He loved me, and he needed me.”
He gritted his teeth. “I loved you, damn it! I needed you!”
She closed her eyes, continuing to battle tears, his words ripping her heart. “I know you did. But not the same way that he did at that time. When I married him, I vowed to love, honor, and cherish him, in sickness and in health, until death did us part. And that’s what I did. But I never once stopped loving you. I made my choice twenty years ago, and I lived with that choice.”
“Quite comfortably.” His tone was bitter with accusation.
He rubbed his hand over his face, began to pace back and forth. “I gotta get outta here.”
When he headed toward his truck, she called out to him. “Roy! Please! Don’t run away from this!”
“Ha!” His laugh sent a chill down her spine. “Do you, Charlie, know how hilarious that sounds, coming from you?” He opened the door of his truck as he spoke.
“What? You’re just going to drive off, leave me here alone for the coyotes to get me?”
“Oh, hell, Charlie,” he said as he tossed his hat in the truck and then glanced back at her. “You don’t have to worry about the coyotes. The cougars will get you long before they do. Just be sure to watch where you step.”
With that, he stepped inside, closed his door, and drove off, leaving her standing with her mouth open.
As the truck sped down the road, she yelled, “Oh, okay! Cougars! That’s so much better!” She put her hands to her face prayer-style, closed her eyes, took in a deep breath, then wiped her wet cheeks.
“He will come back; he loves me. He just needs time to take it all in.”
She whispered the words as she watched his truck become smaller and smaller as it continued down the long dirt road, leaving a cloud of dust behind it.
She glanced around for a place to sit while she waited, locating a large boulder. As she made her way toward it, she checked the ground all around her. The last thing she needed was to step in the middle of the mate to the rattlesnake Roy had killed minutes before.
She pulled her cell phone from her jeans’ pocket before taking a seat on the large rock.
“Just great! No service!”
And then she laughed at herself. Who would she call to get her if Roy didn’t come back, anyway? Raylene? Like she’d save her. The woman would rather see her eaten by the cougars. She’d probably cheer them on. Then she laughed again. Aunt Raylene. That thought made her shiver; that, and the suddenly chilly air as dusk neared. And the sudden howl of a lone coyote in the distance.
“Shut up! You don’t scare me.”
She wrapped her arms tight across her chest as she sat watching for a sign of Roy’s truck returning.
Several minutes passed before the coyote howled a second time. Charlene shivered more. Not from the cold, or the piercing cry of the four-legged creature, but the sudden lack of any certainty that Roy would return, and even if he did, that he would ever be able to forgive her for what she had done, what she had deprived him of for so many years.