NOTE: Ghost Town-ing is a series of stories that follow Pat and Sherry (Fast Break) as they explore some of the places Jesse and Jennifer (the Sweetwater Saga) visited. Although these stories are connected, each episode stands by itself and you do not have to wait for the entire series to be completed. Nor is it necessary for you to read the Sweetwater Saga series and Fast Break to understand these stories but it is highly recommended.
This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author.
PART TWO – SWEETWATER VALLEY??
by Mickey Minner
“I think the couch looks better against the other wall,” Sherry said as she and Pat stood in the middle of the living room studying the arrangement of recently delivered furniture.
“Okay,” Pat nodded, “I think she’s right guys. Would you mind moving it back?” she asked the pair of beefy college students impatiently waiting for their work to be completed.
“You sure now, Coach?” one of the young men asked. He and his partner worked for the furniture store and were only supposed to unload the pieces and deliver them inside the house. Moving furniture about at the whim of the purchasers wasn’t expected or appreciated by their boss but, knowing who the women were, they had agreed to do so.
“Yes,” Pat smiled, wondering if she had enough cash to give the men the generous tip they had earned. “I promise, that will be the last time you have to lift it.”
“Alright,” the second young man said. “Let’s get it done,” he lifted one end of the eight foot long chocolate colored leather sofa.
Grunting with the effort of once again lifting the heavy piece, the men shuffled across the living room to the opposite wall.
“Right there,” Sherry said as soon as the young men reached the area of the room she preferred. “Put it down.”
“I’m going to get my wallet,” Pat whispered to Sherry as the men shifted the couch closer to the wall. “I want to give them something for all the extra work they’ve done.”
“That’s okay,” Sherry smiled, pulling her own wallet out of her jeans pocket. “I’ve got it.”
“Yeah. Do you think this is enough?” Sherry handed Pat two twenty dollar bills.
“Just what I was thinking,” Pat grinned. “Here you go, guys. We really appreciate you helping us out.”
“Not a problem, Coach,” one of the young men took the offered tip. “Gee, thanks,” he smiled seeing the generous bonus for the extra half hour they’d agreed to stay. “Enjoy the furniture,” he added. “Sure looked like you needed it.”
“Don’t be a smart ass or I’ll take your tip back,” Pat good-naturedly snarled as she escorted the movers to the front door. “I’m going to check the mail,” she told Sherry, following the men outside.
Sherry looked around the living room. What hours before had been an empty room with only a large bean bag chair taking up space on the carpet was now furnished with the leather couch and matching love seat, a coffee table, two end tables and lamps, and an entertainment center. Smiling, she turned to walk into the kitchen where a brand new table and matching chairs occupied the adjoining breakfast nook. The card table and folding chairs had been stored away in a closet should they be needed at a later date.
Sherry started to open packages containing new dishes, glasses, silverware and serving dishes, more of their recent purchases. She looked up when Pat walked into the kitchen. “Anything of interest in the mail?” she asked. Seeing the look on Pat’s face, she placed the glasses she was holding on the sink and hurried to her lover’s side. “Pat?”
Pat looked up from the paper she had been reading. “It’s from the league office,” she explained.
“Shit,” Sherry frowned. “What’s it say?”
Pat blew out a long breath before answering. “We need to talk about this,” she finally said.
“About what?” Sherry asked confused as to just what Pat was referring to.
“This,” Pat shook the paper just enough to rustle the page. “Everything. We haven’t really talked about the… Well, you know...,” she hesitated. “Look, can we talk a drive and go for a walk,” she shrugged apologetically. “I think better when I’m outside.”
“Sure,” Sherry nodded, still unsure as to what exactly was on Pat’s mind. “Just let me grab a jacket,” she said, wrapping her arms around her lover’s waist. Leaning in to place a kiss on Pat’s lips, she whispered, “we can do whatever you need.”
“Thanks,” Pat pulled Sherry close. “I know I’m not making sense but I will once I get some fresh air.” She placed her forehead against Sherry’s, “I love you.”
The women stayed in each other’s embrace for several minutes.
“Grab my wallet and keys off the dresser,” Pat said as Sherry pulled free of her arms. “I’ll make sure everything is locked up in here.”
“Be right back,” Sherry nodded, turning to walk down the hallway to their bedroom.
“Where are you taking me?” Sherry asked as Pat backed the pickup out of the driveway.
“Thought we’d head down to Lee Metcalf,” Pat named a wildlife refuge in the Bitterroot valley. “There’s a new trail I’ve been meaning to check out.”
“Sounds good,” Sherry grinned. She settled back against the seat, content to enjoy the drive until her companion was willing to talk. One thing she had quickly learned about her lover was there was no way to get Pat to talk before she was ready.
Pat drove south on Highway 93 out of Missoula towards Lolo where the Bitterroot Valley would begin to spread out in front of them. Bordered by the Bitterroot Mountains on the west and the Sapphires on the east, it was a beautiful wide valley named for the river that flowed down its center.
Sherry had learned from reading some of the travel guides Pat had that the valley had once been home to the Salish Indians who harvested the roots of the Bitterroot plants each year as a part of their diet. And that the valley was also home to the oldest white settlement in Montana. The small community of Stevensville had been founded around 1840 when missionaries started a small mission to convert the Indians.
Most fascinating to Sherry was that Lewis and Clark had traveled down the length of the valley on their journey to the Pacific Ocean and again on their return trip. In fact, one of the rare places where actual physical evidence of their passing had been found was at Travelers’ Rest State Park in Lolo. She had already made Pat promise they would visit the park so she could see the campsite used by the explorers.
Sherry was looking out the window at a half dozen deer moving across a pasture toward the river. The sound of Pat’s voice over the hum of the engine startled her from her thoughts.
“The league is opening an official investigation into my conduct,” Pat told Sherry. “They say the fact that we’re together now proves I must have been having an affair with you during the season. And that I must have used my position as your coach to make you…”
“You did nothing wrong, Pat,” Sherry reached over, placing a comforting hand on her lover’s thigh.
“That doesn’t seem to matter. They want to suspend me permanently from the league.”
“Mac won’t allow that.”
“Sweetheart,” Pat said, placing her hand on top of Sherry’s and entwining their fingers. “Would you care if I quit?”
“Yes,” Sherry said softly, not needing to ask in order to know that Pat was talking about resigning from the Cougars. “But I would understand if you decided that’s what you had to do. But,” she added, “if you do, so will I.”
“You have a good career ahead of you.”
“I don’t care.”
Silence enveloped the women as both thought about a future without the game they loved.
“I’m not sure I want to defend myself against the rumors and lies anymore,” Pat said, slowing to turn off the highway onto a secondary road that would take them to the refuge.
“Pat, I don’t think you should just let them win. If you give up without a fight, they will just go out and find someone else to target. I think you should see this out. Call their bluff. We know they don’t have any proof because nothing ever happened. And if we stand up to them now it’s bound to make a difference, both for us and all the other lesbians in the league.”
“Are you sure? It could get ugly.”
“It’s going to be ugly either way and we knew that when we started this. But even if we had both quit as soon as we had feelings for each other, people like Palmer wouldn’t have been happy. He would have continued to spread his lies to anyone who would listen.” Sherry shook her head in disgust. Why was it so difficult for some people to understand the love she shared with Pat?
“If I stay, you can bet they’ll drag you through the mud with me.”
Sherry laughed, “don’t worry about that. I don’t mind getting down and dirty. I say we give the buggers a run for their money. If they want to make fools of themselves, let ‘em. I don’t see any reason to give up what we both love because of some narrow-minded jerks. We have the support of Mac and the team. And, it seems, of the community,” she smiled at the memories of their mostly positive encounters with Missoula merchants and town residents. “And we have each other. That puts us way ahead of Palmer and the league.”
“I’m glad you think so,” Pat grinned.
“You’re vibrating,” Sherry smirked, hearing a steady buzzing coming from Pat’s jacket pocket.
“I usually am when I’m near you,” Pat grinned.
“You plan to answer that?” Sherry said, playfully punching Pat in the arm.
“No,” Pat reached into her pocket, pressing the button on the cell phone to send the call to voice mail. “It’s either Mac, the league or the press. And I don’t want to talk to any of them right now.”
Pat took a moment to take a quick glance in Sherry’s direction before returning her attention to the road. She really didn’t care what Palmer and the league thought about her. But she did care what Sherry thought. And she cared that her lover would be tainted with any accusations directed at her. So for no other reason than her love for the woman beside her and a determination not to have Sherry’s career end prematurely because of a few bigots, she said, “we fight.”
“Good,” Sherry smiled. “Now let’s go for that walk you promised me and forget about all this crap until later.”
Pat parked next to the refuge’s new visitor center. “The trail starts on the other side of the building,” she told Sherry as they walked across the empty parking lot.
Even though the sun was shining brightly, there was a light breeze blowing from the west across the snow covered peaks of the Bitterroots which made the day just chilly enough to keep most people indoors. With jackets, gloves and knit caps securely in place, Pat and Sherry were comfortable under the less than ideal conditions.
The recently created trail wound its way along the edge of wetlands that was home to ducks, geese, osprey, eagles, swans, storks, owls, deer, turtles, muskrats, and numerous other species of bird and small mammals depending on the time of year. Hand-in-hand the women walked, stopping often to enjoy the scenery that surrounded them and animals that came into view.
A little more than half a mile beyond the visitor center, they came to the covered viewing stand that marked the end of the trail. As Pat took advantage of a telescope provided by the refuge, Sherry stood on the opposite side of the wooden platform, her arms resting on the railing as she studied the peaks that made up the Sapphire Range.
“What are you looking at?” Pat asked, stepping up behind Sherry and wrapping her arms around her lover.
“Do you think they lived around here?”
“Jesse and Jennifer.”
“Could be but it’s hard to tell with the sketchy descriptions given for where the Double J was located.”
“It’s almost like Charley didn’t want anyone to know the exact spot,” Sherry agreed. She had read and re-read the journal she had found in the second hand store so many times she almost had it memorized. But even with the help of several old maps of the area, she and Pat had been unable to pinpoint the exact location of the town and valley of Sweetwater. This was even more peculiar since they had been able to identify all the other towns and mining camps the journal named.
“Maybe he didn’t,” Pat murmured. “Maybe he wanted his mothers’ resting place protected from any possible harm.”
“Then why write the journal at all?”
“Do you think those are the mountains they crossed to get to the places Charley described?”
“Yes,” Pat said, looking around to get her bearings. “A lot of the places are on the other side of them. If they lived someplace in this valley, they would have had to cross over the Sapphires. Only question is where exactly did they cross?”
“Can we drive over them?”
“No roads across them except at Skalkaho Pass down by Hamilton, which is closed by snow this time of year. It takes you across to the Flint Valley and Phillipsburg. Or further south over Chief Joseph Pass which takes you into the Big Hole. Only other roads are old mining and logging roads that unless you have a really good map and sense of direction, you could get lost up in those hills forever. And only a few would ever get you over to the other side.”
“Those two or I-90 over to Drummond then south to Phillipsburg from there. That’s it. Montana doesn’t have a lot of roads, sweetheart,” Pat tightened her arms around Sherry’s waist, pulling her snugly into her body. “Especially over the mountains.”
“But the way Charley describes it; it’s like there were trails up every canyon.”
“There probably are. Game trails or old Indian trails. The Nee-Me-Poo trail which is the route the Nez Perce used to travel from Idaho over Lolo Pass then south and over the mountains near Lost Trail Pass and into the Big Hole is the only one still marked that I know of. But I’m sure there were probably a lot more that have been lost or forgotten over the years. You might be able to hike them but you sure aren’t going to be driving over any of them.”
“Phillipsburg is over there?” Sherry pointed due east.
“More like there,” Pat reached up, moving her lover’s arm slightly to the south.
“And Granite. Right?”
“Yes. Granite is in the hills above Phillipsburg.”
“Can we go tomorrow?”
“Why not,” Pat smiled. Twisting Sherry around in her arms, her hand slipped up her lover’s back to the curve of her neck. Pulling Sherry close, she pressed their lips together for a long, leisurely kiss. “There’s a special little place in Phillipsburg that I’m sure Jesse would have loved to have taken Jennifer and the kids had it been there when they passed through,” Pat said when their mouths separated several minutes later.
“Nope,” Pat rubbed her nose against Sherry’s. “It’s a surprise. You’ll just have to wait and see.”
“Brat,” Sherry groused.
“Believe me, it’s worth the wait. Come on, let’s get back. I’m sure Mac is ready to send out the bloodhounds by now to find us.”
“She probably already has,” Sherry laughed as she let Pat lead her down the steps of the viewing stand and back onto the dirt path.
“No, Mac,” Pat said into the phone. “I refuse to let those idiots interrupt my life that way. If they want to force this inquisition on me, they can leave their comfy offices back east and drag their fat asses out here to do it. I have no intention of flying back there.”
Sherry sat on their new couch next to Pat listening to the one sided conversation between her lover and the Cougar’s owner.
“No can do, we won’t be around tomorrow. We can be in your office the day after. That is, if you lift your banishment of me from the Arena during my suspension. Or you can come here. We have furniture now,” Pat grinned at Sherry. “Alright. Nine o’clock. Be sure to have the coffee made. I will.”
Sherry waited while Pat closed her cell phone cutting the connection.
“Mac says hi,” Pat turned to her lover.
“She’s pissed. Not at us,” Pat said when she saw Sherry’s brows begin to crease in concern. “At the league for giving Palmer’s claims any credibility.”
“He does seem to be a rather odd choice to use as our chief accuser.”
“He’s not accusing you of anything,” Pat eased back into the soft leather, pulling Sherry into her arms.
“He’s accusing you,” Sherry reached up to caress her lover’s face. “That’s the same thing in my book.” She laid her head on Pat’s shoulder, “what does Mac want with us?”
“She mad because you won’t go to the league?”
“No. In fact,” Pat smirked, “I think she’s happy I’m refusing.”
“I bet she is. They come out here, they’ll be on her turf and she’ll eat them alive.”
“Let’s hope so. She said she’d make the call to give them the news.” Pat began to unbutton Sherry’s shirt, “you know I wanted a nice long couch for a reason.”
“You did, did you.” Sherry gasped when a warm hand cupped her breast. “And why was that?”
“So I could do this.” Pat shifted positions, laying Sherry down on the couch and stretching her body on top of her lover’s. “Want to try it out?”
“Oh, yeah,” Sherry sighed.
To be continued in the next episode of Ghost Town-ing – Philipsburg
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