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.”


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