By Gayle Carline
The swish-swish of the windshield wipers couldn’t erase Olga’s dark thoughts. Would he be there, especially after the trial? She parked the truck and made her way to the platform, hiding under her green slicker to keep the rain off her face. Peering into the thick grayness, she thought she saw a large shape making its way down the tracks.
Olga glanced at her watch. Six forty-five. The train from Pilot Point was right on schedule. If Ben was coming, it would be now.
“Ain’t you got no better sense than to stand in the rain?” asked a voice behind her, deep like rolling thunder, rattling her to her core.
She spun around, the train forgotten, to look into a familiar pair of steel blue eyes.
“I don’t see you staying dry,” she told him.
The rain pooled around the brim of his Stetson, occasionally running down the back of his jacket like refuse from a gutter. She noticed he kept his collar turned up to keep the rain from disappearing into his clothes. She also noticed that he was still just as handsome on a rainy day as he was when the sun kissed his cheeks and dappled his blond hair.
Damn, she thought, I still love him. And it doesn’t matter, because after what I’ve done, after what I’ve been through, he can’t possibly return the favor.
“Coffee?” She nodded toward the café, looking at him for some hint of which way their conversation might go.
His expression revealed nothing as he turned, waiting briefly for her to walk ahead of him. They pushed through the storm to the coffee shop inside the station, a couple and not a couple, together and apart. Olga tried not to pay attention to the fact that Ben didn’t take her arm, but it was difficult not to read the signs, to make everything mean something.
Coats off, coffee ordered, they sat across from each other in a small booth, squeaking uncomfortably against the red vinyl seats. Olga combed through her hair nervously, fluffing the long auburn curls, while Ben sat forward, gazing at the menu over the cash register.
“So, how are your mares?” Olga asked.
“Good.” He spoke slowly, as if each word came out under protest. “Two foaled, both colts. One more due this week.”
The waitress interrupted their dismal attempt at small talk to deliver two white mugs of black coffee and two small glasses of water. Ben turned his attention to his drink, checking the heat, tasting, stirring ice cubes, and tasting again.
Olga watched him avoid her, then took a sip from her own mug. It smelled like coffee, but tasted like hot fear and hope. Taking a deep breath, she decided to stop looking for signs and get answers.
“Thanks for meeting me,” she said. “I hope I didn’t keep you waiting. I thought you’d be on the 6:45.”
“I decided to drive up. Mace has some fillies out of my stallion, and he wants me to see them.”
Ben’s stallion, Cats Gotta Tude, had introduced Olga to Ben four years ago. She had been showing her own horse, Whiskey’s Gone, at the local Quarter horse show in Amarillo, when she saw the big chestnut with the flaxen mane and tail. She fell in love, with both the horse and his rider, at first sight.
Tall, lean and movie-star handsome, Ben was also as skittish as a horse in lion country. It took a long time for Olga to get to know him. Her own heart had been used for a few batting practices as well, making them the perfect couple, once they learned to trust each other.
And then Chuck Haney died and Olga was charged with murder. Despite her acquittal, the sins of her past had been paraded through the court, every wart and blemish poked and prodded until her soul bled. Ben’s heart retreated to its corner as Olga’s slunk into a cave. Now, she had to push herself back into the center of the arena, in the hope of bridging the gap between them.
“Here’s the thing,” she told him. “I need to know – ” She stopped here, trying to find the words.
“You haven’t called me since the trial,” she started again. “I don’t know if you’ve left, I mean, if we’ve broken – ”
Olga looked at Ben for some expression, some discussion, some lifeline to keep her from drowning. He stared back at her, a blank slate.
“Dammit, Ben,” she spat at last. “We’re not together, but neither of us has said we’re through. Are we through?”
If he felt surprise or relief or anything, he didn’t tell his face. Olga met his stare with her large, hazel eyes and waited. There was nothing else to do, unless she wanted to start rambling uncontrollably. And in another thirty seconds, she just might do that.
His shoulders shrugged, starting the conversation before his mouth did. “If you say so, Squirt.”
“I’m not saying so. I’m asking you.”
“I don’t know. Do you want to?”
Sometimes Ben’s laconic manner calmed Olga, but not now. “Okay, look,” she told him. “The trial’s been over for a month. I’ve been back at the ranch for a month. My name, my address, my phone number, all unchanged. You haven’t called. You haven’t visited. I think you’re just – done with me.”
“I told you before, I’ve just been busy.”
“Busy my ass.” She was mad again, but it didn’t seem to matter. He looked completely unmoved.
This wasn’t what she wanted. She wanted to talk about the trial, about what it all meant away from the witness stand, away from the attorneys who wanted to twist reality like a wet rag. But she couldn’t find the words any more than Ben could.
Olga took one last gulp of coffee. “I need one of two things from you, Ben. Either tell me it’s over or tell me you love me.”
She stood up, holding her breath in an attempt to suck the tears back into their ducts. Digging into her pocket, she produced a couple of dollars, which she threw on the table. “It’s a pity and a shame, but I still love you. If you can’t love me anymore, I just need to know whether I should be spending my time getting over you.”
Not waiting for an answer, Olga turned and strode out the door. The rain pummeled her in large, cold drops, but she barely felt the water soaking into her shirt and jeans as she ran toward her truck. She was halfway down the sidewalk when her forward motion suddenly stopped. A hand on her arm swung her around to face the opposite direction.
“God-damn-it, Squirt,” Ben said, then slipped his hand under her shoulder, lifting her off the ground as his other hand cradled her face.
And then he kissed her, fiercely. The tears and rain made his lips taste salty and earthy and completely heavenly.
“Does that answer your question?”
Olga smiled. “That’s all I wanted to know.”