Authors: Susan Leigh Carlton
The conductor had called his final “
Allll aboooaaaarrrd” CP had not seen Carrie. He lingered on the platform, watching for her. He was sure she had said she was going to Bozeman today and enroll. Was she doing it again? Had she heard from her football player and he wanted her back in Chicago?”
I should have known better,
That does it for me. I was an idiot. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
The big steam engine chuffed, steam shot from beneath the engine as the pressure was released. Black sooty smoke darkened the sky. Cinders were blown out of the smoke stack. The eight steel wheels spun, sparks shot out from where the steel wheels met the steel of the tracks. The train began to move. Helena began to move past the window as he peered out of the window.
He leaned his head against the window and closed his eyes. “May I sit here?” the soft voice asked. He opened his eyes. It was Carrie.
“I didn’t see you at the station,” he said.
“I was early, and my seat is in the next car. I saw you get
in this car, so I batted my eyelashes at the conductor, and he said I could move back here.”
I owe you an apology. I thought maybe you had changed yo
ur mind and was going back to Chicago.”
“I have never lied to you CP, even in my old self.”
“All the same,” he said. “I’m sorry I doubted you.”
“Well, I’m here,” she said, and leaned her head on his shoulder.
“Mmmm, you smell good. You didn’t buy that from Silas.”
“No, it came from Chicago,” she said. “You like?”
“I like it very much,” He leaned closer, and kissed her on the cheek.
“I think we were six or seven the last time you kissed me,” she said.
“I didn’t kiss you, you were the one doing the kissing then.” He laughed.
“What’s funny?” she asked.
“I was just thinking, somehow, you and Lucy were like my sisters, and I just kissed my sister.”
“CP. Do me a favor would you, please?”
“If I can,”
“Don’t think of me as your sister.”
I won’t… I don’t,” he said.
“Can I ask you something?” she said.
“Sure, go ahead.”
“Lucy told me you loved me. Is that true?”
“I don’t know, Carrie. All this change, it’s so sudden. I don’t know what I feel.”
“I’ll have to work on that,” she said.
When they arrived in Bozeman, CP saw several of his friends from the previous term. They exchanged greetings, and he introduced Carrie to them. They acknowledged the introduction, and said, “You’ve been holding out
on us, CP.”
He laughed and put a protective arm on her shoulder. “We’ve known each other since we were toddlers.”
“CP?” a voice said from in back of him. “I thought that was you. I’m glad you’re back.”
It was an awkward moment.
“Barbara, this is Carrie Owens. Carrie, this is Barbara Turner. She used to be my study partner.”
“Nice to meet you, Barbara,” Carrie said, sweetly. “I’ve heard so much about you.”
“And I you,” Barbara said.
Any woman would have recognized it for what it was. The significance of the two meeting each other was lost on CP. The two beautiful tigresses were eying each other war
ily, claws extended.
“I hope we can study together again, CP,” Barbara said.
“I’m sorry, But that position is taken,” Carrie said.
“Oh?” Barbara said, then turned and walked away.
“So that’s Barbara,” Carrie said. “Lucy told me she had a boyfriend in, where was it?”
“Billings,” CP offered.
“Yes, Billings. Wonder what happened?” she mused.
“No telling,” CP said. “Come on, I’ll get a carriage to take us to the dorms.”
“Is your dorm close by?” she asked.
“Right beside it, and the classes are an easy walk.
“Good. I’m looking forward to a fresh start,” she said.
He gathered her things and walked up the steps.
“I’ll have to leave them inside the door,” he said. “Men aren’t allowed inside the women’s dorm, and vice versa. It’s an expulsion offense.”
“Darn, I was hoping you could be my roommate,” she said with her impish grin showing.
“Our mother’s would love that,” he said.
“Wouldn’t they just?”
She turned to face him. “Thanks, CP, for everything. It’s good to be with you and I really mean that.”
He wrapped his arms around her, and pulled her close. He kissed her on the forehead. “I’ll be around. When you get your schedule, we can make some comparisons and be able to meet more often.”
He looked into those incredible green eyes of hers and thought
I could get lost in there.
She put her arm around his neck and tugged.
He bent his head until his lips touched hers. They kissed, a long tender kiss. The feeling of his lips on hers sent tingles throughout his body.
She felt her knees weaken, and stepped back. “That’s what I’m talking about,” she said. “Our first real kiss. I’m pretty sure Mama would approve.
“It was good, wasn’t it? Carrie ‘Lizabeth, I’m glad you’re back.”
She laughed. “You used to call me that all the time. You lost the ‘e’. I’m glad I am back, and I’m glad you’re glad I’m back.”
“I think your driver is getting impatient or freezing, I don’t know which. I’d better go in
so you can send him on his way.”
It was two days before he saw her again. She was e
nrolled, and had gotten her schedule. “Let’s compare schedules,” he said.
CP’s animal husbandry classes were not held in the main building, occupying their own special section of the campus. “We’re going to have to have to work
on this,” he said. “We don’t line up together anywhere. I was hoping for a better match.
“Where do you plan on studying? I favor the library, b
ecause it’s quieter, and I go there most evenings.”
“That sounds like a good idea,” she said. “I’ll meet you there.”
“Why don’t I pick you up at your dorm tonight, and have dinner and then go to the library?”
“Sounds good to me,” she said. “About six?”
“I’ll be there,” he said. The arrangement worked pretty well, and they carried it out about four times each week.
It was a
Thursday evening, and they were preparing to leave the library. CP said, “I’m planning to go home this weekend. Can you make it?”
“She smiled ruefully, “I don’t think I should. I’m trying to cut back on some of the expenses. My escapades at Northwestern cost Mama and Papa more than they could afford, so I’m saving all I can.”
“I’ll get the tickets,” he said, “I really want you to go.”
“I know you mean well, but I can’t… won’t sponge off you. I’m planning on Easter.”
Nothing more was said. They met at the library on Thursday.
Carrie was sitting in the church closest to the school, waiting for the services to start. “Mind if I sit here?” the voice asked.
“I thought you were going home for the weekend,” she said.
“I didn’t want to go without you,” he said.
“That’s not fair, CP.”
“Life’s not fair. If Mama gets mad, I’ll tell her it’s your fault. I wanted to come, but you wouldn’t come with me.”
“You would too, wouldn’t you?”
“Count on it,” he said.
No arrangements were made for the evening, but Carrie decided to go to the library and work on a term paper she was researching. Entering the library, she headed to the table she and CP usually used, the one closest to the heater. It got drafty in the library in winter.
She stopped short. He was sitting at their table, and as she watched, Barbara Turner came to the table and sat.
Fighting back tears, Carrie left the library and went back to her room.
The next night, she didn’t show up for their planned meeting. Nor the next night. Nor the one after that.
It was now five days since CP had seen her. Knowing her schedule, he camped outside her building and waited until she came out. “What’s going on?” he asked.
“What do you mean?”
“You know very well what I mean. You haven’t kept any of our library meetings this week”
“I’ve been working on my term paper,” she said.
“Carrie, that’s crap and you know it. Are you going to tell me or not?”
“If you don’t know, then I’m not going to tell you; now, let me by, I’ve got to get to class.”
When she didn’t show the next two evenings, CP cut his last class on Friday and took the train back to Helena.
His mother was surprised to see him. “We didn’t expect to see you this weekend. What’s the occasion?”
“I just wanted to see you and Papa, and I needed some of Maude’s cooking.”
“Did Carrie come too?” she asked, suspecting the root of the problem.
“No, I think she’s trying to save money or something. I haven’t seen her in several days.”
Relentless, his mother said, “I thought you were studying together.”
“We were, but she stopped coming.”
“Did you ask her why?”
“Yes, and she said if I didn’t know, she wasn’t going to tell me. Mama, I don’t have a clue.”
His father came into the kitchen, “Well, look who’s here. What brought you home?”
“Well, they’ve got this great big thing that runs on steel tracks. They call it a train.”
Case looked at his wife, and rolled his eyes. “Since you’re here, you can help out. The weather’s been tough on the herd. The men found several frozen carcasses.”
CP’s interest was captured. “What can you do about it?”
“Nothing that I know of” his father answered.
Couldn’t we move them somewhere the wind can’t get at them?”
“I guess so, but we don’t have a big enough pasture for all of them.”
“Pop, we can split them up. The pasture behind the ridge should keep them out of the worst wind.
If we move the herd that’s getting hit the hardest, we could minimize the loss. Let’s do it.” The idea of doing something productive elevated his spirits.
“I always knew he was more than a pretty face,” Case said, and winked at his wife.
It was well after dark, when they came back. The hands had gone to the bunkhouse, CP and his father came in, chilled to the bone. Maude brought each of them some hot tea, and a bowl of hot soup.
“The cook has the same thing for the hands,”, Carrie told her husband.
“Good, I was going to ask about that. We’re going to get back at it in the morning. I’m glad he came home. I think he probably saved us a good bit of money today.”
”Be sure and tell him. He needs cheering up.”
“Trouble in paradise?” Case asked.
“I think so. I don’t know what, and he says he doesn’t e
CP returned to Bozeman, tired from the weekend, but pleased with himself. His father had praised his idea, and had told him so in front of their hands.
The next evening, he was waiting for Carrie when she returned to her dorm from her last class of the day. “What are you doing here?” she asked.
“I’m waiting for you. I don’t know what you think I did, but whatever it was, you’re wrong. One day you’re fine, and the next day, you’re avoiding me like I have the plague.”
“Shouldn’t you be meeting Barbara?” she asked.
“Barbara? What does Barbara have to do with this?”
“CP, don’t play the innocent farm boy routine. It doesn’t go over well.”
stone cold voice, he said, “Be careful, Carrie. Don’t say something you’ll regret, and that was close to the line.”
“I saw you. In the library. I was there.”
“You saw what? You were where? You’re not making sense.”
“I saw you with her. At our table. I came in and you were sitting at our table with her.” She was mad, hurt, and she was crying.”
“Honey, I wasn’t with her. I was studying, and she sat at the table. I couldn’t be rude and tell her to leave, but I certainly wasn’t with her.”
“Really?” she asked in a tiny voice.
“Really. Carrie ‘Lizabeth, if I have my way, I’ll be spending the rest of my life with you. Not Barbara. Not anyone else. You.”
“I should have trusted you.”
“Yes, you should have.”
“I didn’t see you at the library Friday, or over the wee
“I went home. As it turned out, it was a good thing. The weather has been tough on the cattle and we’ve had some freeze
to death. Friday, after I got home, we moved a good many cattle to where they would have shelter from the wind. We were out that night and a good part of Saturday. I think it was the coldest I’ve ever been in my life.”
“Did you see Mama and Papa?” she asked.
“No, I took the coward’s way out. I had enough of an inquisition from Mama, I didn’t want to face one from your mother too, so I skipped church.”
“Did you mean it when you said you wanted us to spend the rest of our lives together?”
“I did. Carrie, Someday, maybe you can come to grips with it. Until then,...”
That evening, Carrie sat down to write Lucy a letter, but the words wouldn’t come. She was troubled, and didn’t know why.
Is CP the one for me? Am I willing to spend my life as the wife of a rancher? What is wrong with me? Am I willing to settle for the quiet life?
For all of these questions, she didn’t have the answers. She touched the pencil to the tip of her tongue, and began to write.
I wish you were here. I need to talk to someone and don’t know who. I can’t talk to Mama. She wouldn’t understand.
CP and I have really been getting along well. He is fun to be around, but he’s like a big old lap dog. There’s no excitement. He is as steady as a rock. I know I should be pleased with that quality.
We’ve been studying together at the library several nights a week. Last week, we had made no plans, and I went to the library and he was there. His old study partner, Barbara was there, sitting at the table. I was hurt. It stung, and I left
without them knowing I had seen them. I began avoiding him. A week went by and I didn’t see him. He went home this past weekend and when he got back, he confronted me about what was wrong.
I told him I had seen them together, and he told me she sat down unasked. He can’t be rude to anyone so he didn’t ask her to leave. I believed him when he said he had never lied to me.
Luce, he told me he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. And I just stood there. Like a knot on a log. I couldn’t say anything. I keep asking myself if I could spend the rest of my life as a rancher’s wife. I don’t know the answer. I don’t even know if I can live in Helena. There’s no excitement, It’s the same thing day in and day out. I want more than that.
I apologize for dumping on you like this, I needed to get it out of my system. I still don’t know what to do. Even if I wanted to go back to Chicago, we can’t afford it. Why are things so hard? Both of you know just what you want and are going after it. I don’t even know what I want.
Please write soon. I so need a friend,