Although I never lost sight of the Lumberjack, he kept a solid clip downhill, and I never even drew within fifty feet of him until the cattle gate again dissected our path. I wanted to enjoy the scenery on the descent because the walk would have been easier than the trek uphill. Even considering our possible time constraint factored into our need to reach the trailhead, his stride far exceeded what I’d hoped to be a leisurely yet purposeful pace. If we were that pressed for time, I wish he would have said as much around the hikers to help extricate us from their stupidity.
When I finally reached him, I commented on the party we left behind on the trail, since this was the first time we were close enough to even have an exchange of words since we last passed through the gate.
“They were an interesting trio. If they’re not careful, that doe will take them out. I’m sure they were stoned.”
He said nothing, which I took to be another unspoken affirmative.
“You walked so fast coming back down the hill that I hardly got to stop and look at the various wildflowers. They were lovely, though, don’t you think?”
“The quantity of one’s adventures don’t mean anything if the quality of character is lacking.” He opened the gate, waiting for me to walk ahead of him, and then closed the gate behind us leaving me to set the speed of our hike. As much as I wanted to take my time, he clearly didn’t have time for wildflowers and savoring nature.
What did he mean exactly? Was he talking about the guys we left behind, or was he berating me for my character? Admittedly, they were idiots. Who in their right mind chases a fawn when its mother is right there watching? I presumed he meant their character, of which agreeably, they showed little, and none of quality, but I couldn’t help but think he meant me, too.
As usual, we walked in silence. He stopped at one point to finish off his bottle of water and I realized I barely drank any of mine since our hike started. I sat down on a rock and decided to enjoy the rest of it at a leisurely pace. The sun neared its peak, so I knew plenty of time remained before our return trip home. When he saw me sit, he did the same.
I drank quietly for a few moments, then finally asked him about his remark.
“What did you mean about the ‘quality of character?’”
His swift response appeared already well thought out, as if he tossed the idea around in his head for longer than just the time between when I asked and when he replied.
“Those individuals had deplorable character. And you chose to spend time with them.” I thought his implication equated their actions to mine, and while unfair, perhaps I misunderstood. I didn’t think he intended to combine the two observations, until he confirmed his judgment. “You would have enjoyed the scenery had you not been flirting.”
What? “I wasn’t flirting.”
He remained quiet. Did he expect me to defend myself as if I invited them to join us?
“We passed them on the trail. They asked if they could walk with us. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with that.”
“There was, but you didn’t notice.”
I recalled the sensation of Eric putting his hand on me. When it happened, I attempted to ignore it. When his interest escalated to a proposition, I didn’t respond. And I didn’t realize the Lumberjack either noticed or cared.
“I was aware that Eric may have had a passing interest, but that was entirely one-sided, and I did not accept his advance. Although it was refreshing to engage in conversation while walking.” I did not intended to slight him, but he obviously made a similar disparaging remark about my being oblivious, so it kind of slipped out in a moment of irritation.
“A passing interest,” he repeated with the slightest hint of sarcasm, nodding. Surely he could not have heard Eric offer to make me breathe heavy.
“You’re imagining things.”
“Do you know what your buddies Ethan and David were discussing while we walked?”
I did not know, and I didn’t answer him. I figured if he wanted me to know he would tell me. Eventually he did.
“They asked me if you were my sister.”
“Your sister? Interesting.” I noticed no resemblance, but I suppose maybe there was, since we were both blonde.
He continued, apparently unamused. “When I told them we were not, they asked me if I had ‘tapped that.’”
He didn’t reply and it took me a moment to realize they meant me. He must have noticed my dumbfounded look because he continued to stare at me while I tried to interpret his meaning. When I finally figured what it meant, he must have seen the light bulb glaring above my head. I just didn’t connect the expression with his tone of delivery.
“Tapped? Me?” Was that what their laughter had been about? I assumed it to be a by-product of being high. “What did you tell them?”
“I didn’t tell them anything.” Knowing what little I did of him, I at least knew he wouldn’t have discussed the matter with total strangers, but wouldn’t he have found some way to stop their harassment? It occurred to me that this must have been before they offered to take me into the woods with them, and then he still said nothing to stop them. Suddenly I realized how little he cared about my well being.
Maybe he was embarrassed to admit that we did have sex. Maybe he regretted he slept with a woman who he now saw through their eyes, and he didn’t like what he saw.
“Because you’re ashamed to admit that you’d already ‘tapped that?’” Why was I being blamed for their unwanted advances?
Before I finished my bottle of water, he already stood up and continued the walk. I followed, and if I couldn’t enjoy the flowers on the first part of our return trip, I could barely even see them as we finished. He must have been angry and made me pay for it by the pace he set.
Once back in the truck, the drive seemed identical to our trip into the forest less than two days ago, merely the scenery passing outside the window in reverse. Again, with no clue as where his mind escaped, it annoyed me that despite his judgment and his inferences, and his disdain, I still wanted to be with him, whether in this truck or in these mountains, or even when we got back to town.
The easygoing, albeit stoned, variety, the ones I didn’t even pursue but who made a hike less hurried, they weren’t the kind on which to build a relationship – far from it – but what was so wrong with enjoying an afternoon outing at a more leisurely pace? Why can’t it just be a hike? Yet the brooding, uncommunicative, angry, withdrawn man who wouldn’t even acknowledge having been with me held me in lower esteem? That secretive man who spent so many sweaty hours in service of others, who embraced the peace of solitude in a way I absolutely envied, and who tantalized my mind even beyond his skills in likewise enrapturing my body, still sat two feet away geographically and a continent away emotionally. What I understood about Wyoming men paralleled my expertise with the rod and reel: I might be able to catch them, but beyond that I offered nothing.