This is the complete and completed series that began with “Highlander”. The first four are flash fiction responses for Carrot Ranch. The final four are also exactly 99 words each, and though encouraged by the good folks at the Ranch, are unprompted.
These green mountains had never held her the way they held him. She’d always chafed at the constrictions of hill farming, pined for open range. With dual citizenship his wife could be anywhere; Texas, Alberta, anywhere her wild western dreams led. He wouldn’t look.
He was pioneering right here, innovating with heirloom breeds and traditional farming methods. He raised Highland cattle for meat, but kept one as a milk cow, another tradition for this loyal breed. These Scottish Longhorns were hardy and independent, but also good-natured and reliable, good mothers.
He’d be here with his fold should she return.
“You’re back. How far’d you get?”
“Far enough to figure some things out.”
“Figured out they don’t have as many seasons out west. If they have deer season, you’d hardly know it. They never heard of sugarin’ or mud season. I wanna settle in for mud season.”
“You came back because you wanna be here when the roads turn to shit?”
“Early April, right?”
“Yup. Lotta my Highland heifers are due to calve ‘bout then.”
“I figure that’s my time too. We’re pregnant.”
He’d seen rangy heifers become content after calving. He embraced his wife, thankfully, hopefully.
“Did I hurt you when I left?”
They were sprawled on the grass in the pasture that overlooked the house, the barn that held the first cut of hay. She stroked the baby’s dark hair as she nursed.
“Yup. Hurt a lot.”
“I’ve always been a bolter. It’s like I can’t help it after a while.”
The baby sighed and fell asleep against her. “I never was scared before though.”
“You were scared?”
“Afraid I’d gone too far. That I wouldn’t be able to come back. To you.”
His arm around her was strong, gentle. “I’m always here.”
He stood on the porch, watching the storm rolling over the mountain, trees bowing before it, excited leaves anxiously twisting and turning on their stems, murmuring at the rumbles of thunder. Soon it would rain.
The Highlands would be fine. The calves were healthy, feeding well, the new mothers patient and fiercely protective.
Quietly, he went back inside where she had fallen asleep on the couch. He sat before the sleeping baby in the bassinet, still awestruck. Would that feeling ever go away?
Would she ever leave again?
“Hey”, she whispered. “How’s Hope?”
“She’s a light in the storm.”
Hope pushed her toy tractor in the dirt in front of the porch.
“What ya plantin’ Hope?”
“Daddy! There’s no planter attached!”
“You’re right. Again. So, what are you doing, just riding around on the tractor?”
“Yes. I am going away for awhile.”
“Oh, I see.” He sat on the step, leaning heavily against the post, watching his daughter push her toy tractor away from him, humming a high gear noise. Then she geared down and maneuvered back to the step where she parked the toy and sat beside him.
“Daddy, when is Mommy coming back?”
“I don’t know.”
“A mommy, a daddy, and a baby loon live on the lake.”
“The mommy and daddy loon call out to each other, let each other know where they’re fishing.”
“I know that, Daddy.”
“Both the mommy and the daddy loon take care of the chick. They both built and sat the nest, both fish for the chick, protect it, teach it.”
“I know that, Daddy.”
“Did you know that sometimes one of the adults leaves and goes to fish on another lake?”
“Just like us, ‘cept we live on a farm.”
She swung Hope high then held her tight. “Mmm. My Hope. Such a big Hope. Is Daddy in the barn?”
She turned. “You always are for me.”
He continued to stand in the doorway. She noticed the fall colors beginning to show on the mountain, visible over his shoulder.
He rubbed his shoulder as if it and not his heart ached. “Welcome back. Supper’s already started.”
After putting Hope to bed they sat on the porch step, listening for the loons.
“They’re both together on the lake.” She squeezed his calloused hand. “With their chick.”
“There’s not a sunset anywhere like this one”, she said, leaning against him on the steps.
“There’s no one around here who’d know that better than you.”
“I don’t mean to hurt you.”
“I know.” They sat in silence until lightning bugs glittered the night air.
“You done leavin’?”
“But next time I want you to go with me.”
“What? And leave all this?”
“Well, I was thinking we could wait until Hope is able to look after the farm while we’re away.”
“Oh. That’s a ways off.”
“I know. Gives us plenty time to teach her.”