The sky in the east was scarcely showing signs of the approaching morning sun when Kim squirmed into a sitting position in the back of the station wagon. Groaning, she leaned against the back of the front seat.
"Are you okay?" Dorthea asked sleepily. She was lying on her side, her legs pulled up.
"Sorry, didn't mean to wake you."
"You didn't. I don't think I've slept more than an hour all night."
"Who said this would be more comfortable than sleeping on the ground?" Kim grumbled.
"Dorthea chuckled while rolling over onto her back. "I believe that would be you."
"I lied. This is like sleeping on concrete."
"Agreed. I think every bone in my body is bruised," Dorthea gingerly felt some of her sorest spots. "What time is it?"
"Does it look like anyone else is up?"
Kim peered out the side window, ninety feet away but barely visible in the dark shadows were the assorted vehicles parked along the lake shore. "I don't see any lights over there."
Dorthea sat up and begin feeling around in the dark. "Where's the flashlight?"
"Because I have to use the Little Girl Camper room."
"Ah ha," Dorthea exclaimed when her fingers closed around a cylinder shaped object.
"Are you sure?"
"Honey, I think I know when I have to go to the bathroom."
"No. I mean are you sure it's safe to go out there? It's still dark."
Dorthea shifted to open the door. "Well, it's either I go out there or go in here. I think we'd both prefer the former."
Kim scooted toward the back of the station wagon to retrieve her shoes. "Okay, but I'm coming with you."
"Ah, my hero," Dorthea cooed.
"Hardly," Kim muttered. "I've got to pee, too."
"Now what?" Dorthea asked keeping her voice low so she wouldn't disturb the other campers as she and Kim walked back to the car.
"It's too early to try and leave," Kim whispered, "the gate won't be unlocked for another hour. How about a morning walk? I was looking at the map of the park and there's a trail over by the picnic area."
"That sounds good to me. I really don't want to get back in the car."
"Great. Let's get our jackets and go." Opening the car door as quietly as possible, she crawled inside to retrieve their jackets.
"Thanks," Dorthea whispered, taking her jacket from Kim and slipping it on.
Kim climbed out of the car pausing to put on her own jacket before easing the door shut. "Shall we?" she asked holding out her hand.
Dorthea nervously looked over her shoulder at the vehicles parked on the opposite side of the loop. "Should we?" she asked when she turned back to Kim.
"It's still pretty dark, Honey," Kim assured her. "I don't think anyone will notice."
"Can we wait until we get a little further away from them?"
Kim smiled. "Sure. Come on, let's go." She started off at a slow pace waiting for Dorthea to match her steps.
As they set off, only the gravel scrunching under their feet broke the silence of the morning. But it wasn't long before they heard song birds warbling to greet the rising sun and the occasional honk from a flock of Canada geese gathering at the far end of the lake.
"This must be it," Dorthea said, spotting a dirt path branching off from the road.
"Must be," Kim agreed. They hadn't walked more than a dozen steps down the trail when she felt Dorthea's hand take hold of her own.
"This is nice," Dorthea murmured of their surroundings.
Kim smiled. "This is very nice."
Dorthea and Kim watched in amazement as the freeway carried them through landscapes they had never before witnessed or imagined. The open plains had given way to the sloping foothills that were carrying them upward to the Rocky Mountains dominating the western horizon.
"I've read about the Rockies but I never realized how truly magnificent they are," Dorthea commented at the snow covered peaks stretched out before them. "Now I know how the people traveling on the wagon trains must have felt when it finally occurred to them that they had to cross those mountains. Can you imagine? They must have had real doubts as to whether their wagons would be up to the challenge."
"I'm beginning to have doubts as to whether or not the car is up to the challenge," Kim quipped.
Dorthea looked at the driver in disbelief. "Are you really?"
Kim chuckled. "No. At least, I don't think so. But I am glad that I'm not expecting a team of horses to get me over those."
"More likely a team of oxen," Dorthea corrected. "I'm sure, if they made it so can we."
"Hungry?" Kim asked spotting a sign announcing an approaching rest stop.
"Not too much. But I wouldn't mind having the chance to stretch." Except for a quick stop to refill the car's gas tank, they had been driving non stop since leaving the campground, hoping to cross the Rockies by the end of the day's travels. "My legs are a bit stiff."
"I've noticed you've been rubbing your knees," Kim said as she flipped on the turn signal and started guiding the car toward the off ramp. "You know, you could just tell me you need a break."
"I know. But I want to get to California so bad that I'll put up with the discomfort."
Kim scowled. "I think we'll start stopping every few hours to walk around and eat something."
"We don't have-"
"Yes," Kim cut Dorthea off, "we do. If not, for you, for me. My legs get stiff, too, you know," she declared seriously.
Dorthea smiled at Kim's stern expression. "Okay," she agreed realizing Kim was determined to ease her discomfort even if it meant exaggerating about her own. "I think that would be a good idea." She reached out and placed her left hand on Kim's thigh then lightly squeezed the leg. "Thanks."
Kim smiled, her right hand slipping off the steering wheel to wrap around Dorthea's.
The rest area was not much more than a gravel parking lot and a few picnic tables scattered about a grassy field no bigger than their apartment. But it had clean restrooms and a water fountain that enabled the women to refill their water jugs. They shared sections of a peeled orange as they walked around the perimeter of the field.
"I have a confession to make," Dorthea said, wiping a drip of orange juice off her chin with the back of her hand.
Dothea nodded. "If I had known how good it felt, I would have made myself figure out that I was in love with you years ago."
Kim laughed. "And how do you think you would have managed that?"
"Fall in love with you? That wasn't too hard. At least, not after Aunt Faye pointed it out," Dorthea said wryly.
"No. Make yourself figure it out. I think we both were pretty clueless; and for way too long."
Dorthea laughed and shook her head. "You'd think we would have been smarter than that, especially since we spent so much time together."
"Too bad Aunt Faye didn't clue us in to it years ago."
Kim thought for a moment. "What do you think would have happened if she had?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well… Do you think we would have been open to the possibility earlier? I mean, heck, I'm not sure I would have been ready to admit to it in our twenties."
"Well, maybe. But I was so sure back then that what I truly wanted was the fairytale tall, dark, and handsome and the white picket fence."
"I can't do the tall, dark, handsome part but I think I can arrange for the fence." Dorthea grinned when Kim groaned. "Don't you think we must have known back then? Maybe not consciously but somehow we must have felt some attraction. Why else did we spend so much time together in high school? And why have we continued to live together all these years?"
"Good questions. You're probably right, we must have known deep down. But why didn't we ever act on it?"
Dorthea shrugged. "I think…" She paused, chewing on her lip as she organized her thoughts. "I think, maybe, if I had been braver, I might have."
"Really? What stopped you?"
"You didn't seem interested in anything but boys."
Kim giggled. "Looking back, it doesn't appear I was all that interested in them, either."
"Well, you seemed to be at the time and I was too afraid to ask about other possibilities."
"Afraid of what?"
"Of you," Dorthea said quietly.
"Me? Why?" Dorthea suddenly changed the direction of her steps and headed back toward the station wagon that Kim had parked in the shade of the rest area's only tree. Kim hurried after her. She grabbed her arm and yanked her to a stop. "Hey, talk to me," she demanded when they were standing face-to-face. "What did I ever do to make you afraid of me?" she asked, terrified there was a chance that she had at sometime hurt the woman she now knew she was deeply in love with.
Dorthea looked into Kim's eyes, recognizing the fear they betrayed. She reached for Kim's hands, holding them with a loving touch. "I'm sorry. That sounded much worse than what I meant."
"What did you mean?" Kim asked in a shaky voice.
"I'm so ashamed to say this but ever time you came home and told me you had turned down another proposal I wanted to shout for joy. I was so happy while you were so miserable. But I couldn't help it; I just could not imagine not having you in my life."
Kim looked confused. "What did you think? I'd get married and never see you again?"
Dorthea nodded, her head slowing moving up and down as tears swelled in her eyes. "Forgive me?"
Kim felt a lump growing in her throat. "Oh, sweetheart, no matter what, you would always have been a part of my life."
"You don't know that."
Kim started to pull Dorthea into a hug then stopped herself when she remembered where they were. There weren't many other travelers using the picnic tables but there were some and she decided to be cautious even though it broke her heart not to be able to comfort her friend. "Let's go back to the car," she suggested. When they reached the station wagon, she unlocked the passenger door and reached inside. Retrieving the box of Kleenex from the middle of the seat, she then turned to face Dorthea. "I have a confession myself," she said as she offered her a tissue.
"Oh?" Dorthea asked, wiping her eyes.
"Regardless of whatever the reasons that kept me from realizing I was in love with you, I am really, really glad that I finally figured it out. I guess I owe Faye a big one for finally slapping me in the face with it. But," she added playfully poking a finger into Dorthea's shoulder, "if you ever tell her that, I'll deny I ever said it," she declared with a large grin.
Dorthea laughed. "My lips are sealed."
"I love you."
"I love you, too." Dorthea smiled shyly. "And I really love saying that."
Kim grinned. "Good, because I really love hearing it."
"You know, I think we'd be better taking Interstate 76 to Denver instead of continuing on Interstate 80," Dorthea said thoughtfully. She had several state maps spread out on her lap. "We can pick up Interstate 70 there and we'll get to Los Angeles quicker… I think."
"You're the navigator," Kim replied amiably. "Just tell me where to turn."
"Just before Julesburg. It shouldn't be too much further."
"It's so beautiful here," Dorthea said as she refolded the maps and tucked them back under the Kleenex box on the seat between them. "So many trees. And the valleys we keep passing through are just gorgeous."
"Sure a lot more to look at than back home."
"I wonder if it's always so green."
"You thinking of moving?"
Dorthea turned away from the window and toward Kim. "Would you?"
"I suppose… maybe… I mean, it's not like I'm tied to Iowa. Are you?"
"No. Well, except for Aunt Faye. I'm not sure I could just up and leave her alone." Dorthea turned back to gaze out the window. "But I would like to see what else is out there. I've read about so many places, it would be nice to actually see them."
"It's fun to travel," Kim agreed.
Dorthea laughed. "How can you say that? We've only been gone two days."
"I'm thinking of the trips with my father, I would sit for hours and just look out the window at the passing sights. I use to fantasize about what was at the end of the roads we crossed; and what people were like in the towns we drove through. It would be nice to have the chance to find out."
"Julesburg, ten miles," Dorthea read the road sign the flashed past her window. "The intersection should be close," she informed the driver.
"Gotcha." They rode in silence until they spotted the sign directing them to the proper lane to merge onto their new route. As she guided the car onto the ramp, Kim said, "I suppose when we get back home we can get our own car. Maybe plan some long weekends. Would you like that?"
Dorthea smiled. "Very much."
"Something wrong?" Dorthea asked when Kim steered onto an off ramp. Having stopped less than an hour before to stretch their legs, she was surprised by Kim's exiting of the freeway.
"I don't think my eyes have done this much looking in all my life," Kim answered as she brought the car to a stop at the end of the ramp. "They need a break. Do you mind?"
"Not at all. Goodness, look at those old buildings." Kim had turned right after the stop and they could see several false fronted wood buildings scattered along the streets in all directions. "This must have been a mining camp," Dorthea said excitedly.
Kim turned right at the first intersection. "Let's see, the town's name is Silver Plume and this is Silver Street," she said sardonically, "so that would be a good guess."
"Oh, shush," Dorthea retorted. "Even if I didn't know the town's name, I've seen enough pictures of frontier towns and mining camps to recognize the architecture. It would be fun to walk around for a bit," she hinted hopefully.
Kim grinned. "That's the plan, Stan."
Silver Street made an abrupt ninety degree turn to the left and they found themselves in the old business district of the town. Kim pulled the station wagon to the curb and turned the engine off. "Dang," she said as she peered through the windshield at the steep slopes behind the town. "I can't get over how big these mountains are. It's seems like we've been climbing up them forever and we still haven't reached the Divide yet."
"I know. It's just so fantastic," Dorthea said as she pushed open the car's door. She started to get out then stopped and turned to her companion. "Do you want to stay here and take a little nap while I walk around? I mean, if your eyes are tired, you probably don't want to have to do any more looking right now."
"Would you mind?" Kim asked, relieved at the offer.
"No." Dorthea looked at her watch. "How about I come back in half an hour? Is that enough?"
"Okay, I'll see you in half an hour." Dorthea said then stepped out of the car.
"Hey," Kim called before Dorthea could shut the door.
Dorthea smiled. "Of course." She pushed the door shut then turned to consider her possibilities. Deciding any direction was as good as any other, she set off down the sidewalk.
Silver Plume occupied the bottom of a narrow gorge surrounding by steep mountain slopes. The town appeared to have been much bigger earlier in its life but now was no more than half a dozen blocks long and less than half that wide. There were several gaps between buildings where, over the years, structures had been lost to history. Dorthea took her time walking along the street. Some of the remaining buildings were still in use; some were boarded up preventing her from seeing inside their covered windows. A few were propped up by long two-by-fours wedged into the ground to provide their fatigued walls much needed support.
Dorthea had managed to walk only a portion of the streets when she looked at her watch to see she was over due back at the car. She immediately headed back the way she had come, hoping Kim hadn't become concerned and was out looking for her. She breathed a sigh of relief when she arrived back at the car to find Kim still resting inside. Or so she thought.
"You're late," Kim growled when Dorthea slid into the passenger seat. She was slumped down in the seat, her head resting on the back of it and her eyes still closed.
"I know. I'm sorry."
"Rather spend time looking at old buildings then with me?" Kim asked curtly.
"Yes," Dorthea answered smartly.
Kim's eyes popped open. "Really?"
Dorthea laughed. "No."
"Oh, good," Kim said as she wiggled about to sit upright behind the steering wheel. "You had me worried for a minute."
"Serves you right for acting so snotty."
Kim stuck her tongue out at Dorthea causing her to laugh more. "So, how was Silver Plume?" she asked turning the key in the ignition and listening as the engine roared to life.
"Interesting. There was a sign pointing to a museum, it would be nice to see it."
Dorthea shook her head. "No. As much as I want to, I need to get to California more."
Kim checked for traffic then pulled away from the curb. "Then put this down on your list of places to come back to when we have more time."
"I have a list?"
"You should," Kim said as she made a u-turn in the middle of the empty street.
"Did you get enough rest? Maybe we should start looking for a place to stop for the night. We've been on the road a long time today."
"I don't know how much further I can go but let's at least get over these mountains. We'll start looking on the way down the other side. Okay?"
"It's okay with me as long as you're okay. All I have to do is sit and look, you're the one doing the driving."
Kim left Silver Plume and turned onto the freeway onramp. "When we get back home, you're going to get your driver's license."
Dorthea grinned. "Yes, I am," she proclaimed resolutely. After Kim had merged smoothly into the busy highway traffic, she asked curiously, "Weren't you worried about me?"
"I was late."
"You're a big girl."
"I could have fallen into an old mine shaft."
"Silver Plume isn't that big. I probably would have heard you screaming if you had."
Dorthea frowned. "I suppose you would have. Still, you could have been just a little concerned when I wasn't back on time."
"I'll try to do better next time," Kim commented offhandedly. She fought not to burst into giggles when Dorthea glowered at her. "Besides," she said nonchalantly, "I was peeking around the corner of that old store when you started back to the car."
For a moment, Dorthea could only scowl at her friend who was trying so hard not to laugh. Then she shifted her position to stare out the side window. She crossed her arms over her chest and grunted loudly in mock disgust. "You are such a brat," she sighed as Kim laughed.
"Thank goodness," Dorthea said when a highway sign announced they were approaching a town. It had been a little more than two hours since they left Silver Plume and Kim had been yawning incessantly the whole time. "I don't care what New Castle is, we are stopping for the night here."
"Not from me. I hope there's a café though. I'm starving and cheese and crackers don't sound all that filling right now."
"Only one way to find out. There's the turn off."
Kim eased the car onto the off ramp. Turning onto the street at the bottom, she was grateful to spot a freshly painted sign on the side of a building identifying it as a place to find Good Home Cooking. She directed the station wagon toward the restaurant and parked in the lot at its side. She turned off the engine, pushed her door open, and climbed stiffly out.
"In a hurry?" Dorthea asked when she walked around the car to join Kim.
"Yes. I'm tired, hungry, and have to pee. Any more questions?"
"Dorthea grinned. "No. Why don't you run ahead and I'll get us a table."
Kim nodded then spun around and hurried toward the front of the restaurant. Dorthea followed at a more leisurely pace, looking around at what she could see of the small community. By the time she walked through the entry, Kim was disappearing behind a door at the back of the dining room. "Table for two," she told the waitress waiting to seat her.
The waitress smiled. "By the window, your friend has already put in your request." She led Dorthea to a booth providing an unobstructed view into the town. "Would you like coffee?" the waitress asked as she set a menu in front of Dorthea and another on the opposite side of the table.
"I don't think so. I'd like a glass of orange juice."
"And your friend."
"Milk. The larger the better."
"I'll be right back with those," the waitress told her then turned toward the kitchen passing Kim who was walking back across the dining room.
"Feel better?" Dorthea asked when Kim settled on the bench seat opposite her.
"I ordered you a glass of milk."
"Thanks." Kim opened the menu. "I think I could eat half a cow tonight. Who knew driving took so much energy?"
"Driving. Walking. Sightseeing. Talking. Laughing," Dorthea listed off the day's activities. "Do you realize we've been at this almost fourteen hours today?"
"No wonder I'm tired."
The waitress returned and placed a pair of glasses in the center of the table. "Did you have a chance to look at the menu?" she asked pleasantly.
"No, sorry," Kim apologized.
"No problem. Just give me a wave when you're ready to order."
"What do you think?" Dorthea asked when the waitress walked away to see to her other tables.
"Dinner. What are you thinking of getting?"
"I hate to say it but I'm leaning toward the sirloin. I know it's a bit pricey but I really am hungry."
"Then get it. I would say you have more than earned it."
Kim smiled. "Okay, I will. What about you?"
"The trout looks pretty good." Kim nodded. "Want to give her a wave?"
Kim squirmed about on the bench seat. "This thing has about as much padding as the back of the station wagon," she groused. They had finished their entrees and were perusing the dessert menu in consideration of splurging on one. "I'm not looking forward to another night sleeping on that rock."
Dorthea looked out the window. Confirming what she was sure she had seen before, she held out her hand to Kim. "Give me the car keys."
"Just give them to me."
Kim dug the ring of keys out of her purse and dropped them into Dorthea's hand. "What are you going to do?"
"Leave you here and run off with the waitress," Dorthea quipped as her fingers closed around the keys.
"Can she drive?"
"Ha, ha. Order me a piece of Dutch Apple pie a la mode. I'll be back in a few." Dorthea scooted off the bench seat and walked to the restaurant's entry.
Curious, Kim watched Dorthea walked outside then cross the street. She had to turn away from the window when the waitress returned for their dessert orders and, by the time she could resume her watch, Dorthea had disappeared. Her eyes anxiously scanned the street and the buildings lining its sides. She was just about to go looking for her missing friend when she spotted her stepping out of one of the storefronts carrying a large rolled up bundle under her arm. She watched Dorthea carry her burden back to the restaurant then disappear around the corner of the building in the direction of the parking lot. She reappeared at the same time the waitress returned with their plates of pie and ice cream.
"Great timing," Dorthea said as she slipped back into the booth and slid the keys across the table to Kim.
"What was that?"
"You'll see later. Eat your pie, this is really good."
Kim tasted a bite then nodded in agreement. The women ate in silence for several minutes. "I suppose we should ask the waitress about places we might be able to park overnight."
"If we go across the freeway to the county road, it runs alongside the river and we'll be able to find a place."
"And you know this how?"
Dorthea gazed at Kim, batting her eyes. "I'm very, very smart."
"Uh, uh," Kim responded doubtfully.
"All right, I asked."
"The lady in the store."
"That reminds me- what store and what did you buy?"
"Sheesh." Dorthea lifted her napkin and dabbed the corners of her mouth. "I told you, you'll find out later."
"What's the big secret?" Kim asked, perturbed.
"It's not a secret. It's a surprise and it will just be easier to show you than to explain. Now, stop being such a baby." Kim frowned but kept silent as she pulled her wallet from her purse. "I'm going to use the restroom," Dorthea told Kim who had stood to walk to the cash register. "I'll meet you at the car."
"You're a genius," Kim cried out as soon as Dorthea rounded the corner of the restaurant.
"You're just noticing that?" Dorthea grumped playfully.
"This is fantastic," Kim said from her perch in the back of the station wagon. When she had reached the car, her curiosity got the better of her. Unable to see Dorthea's large bundle through the windows, she opened the back passenger door and looked inside. Their blankets were still spread out with their pillows propped up at the back of the front seat. Spotting nothing unusual, she had leaned in for a better look. As soon as her hands pressed against the blankets, she had discovered Dorthea's surprise.
"I wasn't sure the fabric store would have anything but it was worth a try," Dorthea explained, leaning in the open door. "It's the thickest piece they had."
"What is it?" Kim asked, pulling a blanket back to expose the cushiony layer underneath.
"It's a type of foam for making pillows and such. It's a little short but it should provide padding for most of us."
Kim put the blanket back into place then crawled to the door. Catching Dorthea by surprise, she pressed their lips together. "Thanks," she said when they parted a few moments later.
"You're welcome." Dorthea grinned. "Thanks to you, too."
Kim climbed out of the car. "Let's go find a place to camp," she said enthusiastically. "I could use some more of that."
Return to the Academy