While the man talked on, Chet got up from his seat and made his way up the aisle to the door. Outside he stood breathing the cold air into his lungs. He let the lights of town swim in his eyes until he blinked them clear again and climbed into the ranchers truck. He gave it enough gas so the engine wouldnt quit, and it coughed and steadied itself and ran.
He knew Beth Travis lived in Missoula, six hundred miles west, over the mountains, but he didnt know where. He didnt know where she worked, or if she was listed in the phone book. He didnt know if it was he who had scared her off or the drive. He didnt know if the truck would make it all that way, or what the rancher would do when he found out hed gone.
But he put the truck in gear and pulled out of town in the direction he had three times watched the yellow Datsun go. The road was flat and straight and seemed to roll underneath the truck, dark and silent, through a dark and silent expanse of snow-covered land. He stopped outside of Miles City, and again outside of Billings, to hobble around on his stiffened-up leg until he could drive again. Near Big Timber, the plains ended and the mountains began, black shapes rising up against the stars. He stopped in Bozeman for coffee and gas, and drove the white line on the empty road past Three Forks and Logan, to stay out of the ice that spread from the shoulder in black sheets. Somewhere off to his right in the dark, his parents were sleeping.
It was still dark when he reached Missoula, and he stopped at a gas station and looked up Travis in the phone book. There was a Travis, B. with a phone number, but no address. He wrote down the number, but didnt call it. He asked the kid at the cash register where the law offices were in town, and the kid shrugged and said, Maybe downtown.
The kid stared at him. Its downtown, he said, and he pointed off to his left.
Downtown, Chet found himself in dawn light among shops and old brick buildings and one-way streets. He parked and got out to stretch his hip. The mountains were so close they made him feel claustrophobic. When he found a carved wooden sign saying Attorneys at Law, he asked the secretary who came to open the office if she knew a lawyer named Beth Travis.
The secretary looked at his twisted leg, his boots, and his coat and shook her head.
In the next law office, the secretary was friendlier. She called the law school and asked where Beth Travis had gone to work, then cupped her hand over the receiver. She took a teaching job in Glendive.
She has another job, too. Here.
The secretary relayed this information on the phone, then wrote something down on a piece of paper and handed it to him.
Down by the old railroad depot, she said, pointing toward the window with her pencil.
He pulled up at the address on the piece of paper at eight-thirty, just as Beth Traviss yellow Datsun pulled into the same parking lot. He got out of the truck, feeling jittery. She was rummaging in her briefcase and didnt see him right away. Then she looked up. She looked at the truck behind him, then back at him again.
I drove over, he said.
I thought I was in the wrong place, she said. She let the briefcase hang at her side. What are you doing here?
I came to see you.
She nodded, slowly. He stood as straight as he could. She lived in another world from him. You could fly to Hawaii or France in less time than it took to do that drive. Her world had lawyers, downtowns, and mountains in it. His world had horses that woke hungry, and cows waiting in the snow, and it was going to be ten hours before he could get back to get them fed.
Excerpted from Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy Copyright © 2009 by Maile Meloy. Excerpted by permission of Riverhead Books, a division of Penguin Group, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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