“So, you’re going fishing today?”

Kyle looked up from his workbench at the back of their narrow trailer and grinned. “Yeah. It’s my day off and Frank said the browns were biting so…” He snapped his fly case shut. “I’m going to spend the morning on the river. I told you last night, remember?”

She didn’t, but recovered quickly. “Well, have a good time,” Ellie said, pulling out a Marlboro. She lit it with a battered Zippo, one from her grandfather when he’d been in Vietnam. She stepped to the back door, opened it, and blew a stream of smoke out into the warm spring air. The aroma of sage let loose from the overnight rain assaulted her senses. She squinted into the sun rising over the Beartooth Mountains on the other side of the valley. She heard the cheerful call of a mountain bluebird and it made her smile. “Looks like a nice day.”

Kyle stepped next to her. He was a gentle bear of a man, easily six foot two in his stocking feet, which were usually covered by his ever-present cowboy boots. He had a thick beard and long hair and Ellie loved him with all her heart. He gave her a hug. “You know, if you want to get pregnant, you should maybe quit those things. Remember what the doctor said?”

She tapped an ash. “Yeah, I know.” She grinned and kissed his cheek. “I’ll quit tomorrow.”

“That’s what they all say,” he said, half-joking, half-not.

He and Ellie were both 25 years old. He’d like to have a kid. At least one. The two of them were good with each other, so why not? He made decent money at the mine where his was a crew member in the Main Tunnel. Their task was to remove palladium, a crucial ingredient in catalytic convertors. So that was good. And he and Ellie got on well, which was even better. Yeah, he could imagine having a child and starting a family. It’d be fun.

Ellie pushed good-naturedly him out the door. “Go. Have a good day off. Catch your fish. I’ll be here when you get back.”
Kyle started walking, his pole in one hand and gear in the other. Then he had a thought and turned. “Wait a minute, I thought you had to work.” Ellie was a cashier at the Quick Stop in the small town of Nye, a mile down the road.

“No, not today. Tomorrow. They changed it.”

“Well, good for you. Enjoy your free day.”

“I will. I’m going to go over to Hanna’s and help her with little Cicely.”

“How old is she now?

“Ten weeks. Growing like a weed.”

Kyle came back and kissed her on the forehead. “Have fun. I’m taking the truck down to Abahoochie Spring. It’s nearly seven now, I’ll be back around noon.”

“See you then.”

Ellie watched as Kyle walked to their pickup, an old Chevy; rusted and pitted, but it ran well. That was good. Kyle knew engines like the back of his hand, as her dear late father used to say.

She was waving as he drove off when her phone rang from in her back pocket. She checked. Shit. It was almost as if he knew Kyle had just left. Creepy. Well, she knew it had to come eventually, so it might as well be now.

Ellie picked up. “Sammy,” she said without any preamble, “we’ve got to talk.” She paused and listened. “I don’t care what you’ve got going on. Meet me down the road at the Quick Stop in an hour.” She paused again and then yelled, “No excuses! Just be there.”

She ended the call, stabbed out her cigarette, and stood looking to the line of cottonwoods across the road that formed the outline of the Stillwater River. What a mess. One stupid drunken night with Sammy and here she was, missing her period. She lit up another Marlboro. She loved Kyle and didn’t want to do anything to hurt him or jeopardize their relationship. She needed to make that perfectly clear to Sammy. She had no idea if the child was his or not, but she knew exactly what she had to do. No more Sammy.

A few minutes later, she left the trailer. In her front pocket was her razor-sharp folding knife. Just in case. She walked down the short driveway, took a left, and began walking down County Road 46. It was the main road through the mile-wide Stillwater River Valley, framed on both sides by the Beartooth Mountains, which rose to nearly 10,000 feet, the tallest in Montana. Even now in the summer, she could see remnants of snow on the peaks at the highest elevations.

She didn’t mind the walk at all; was used to it, in fact. Since they only had the one vehicle and Kyle usually took it to work or, like now, fishing, she was used to walking, always mindful of the heavily-laden trucks shifting up through their gears as they carried heavy loads away from the Moag Mine located two miles away in the opposite direction at the end of the road.

She loved the river valley and walking was always a good way to calm her nerves, and she never tired of the beautiful scenery. She took a couple of deep breaths, breathing in the sage scented air to relax. It helped. Their small trailer was one of about fifty the company had installed for the workers years ago in the 1950’s when the mine first began operating. She and Kyle rented theirs through the company at a fair price, and the two of them had fixed it up, painting it inside and out and even planting a little vegetable garden.

They’d both grown up 25 miles away to the east in Fishtail and been high school sweethearts. Kyle got the job at the mine right out of high school, and within a year, he’d saved up enough to rent the trailer. He and Ellie had been living together ever since.

“We’re making a life for ourselves,” she’d tell her mom whenever they talked. “I’m very happy.”

And she was, too. Why she’d let that thing with Sammy happen was beyond her. But it had, and she wasn’t going to beat herself up over it. She walked along the road and noticed a bald eagle soaring high in the sky. She smiled and made herself not take out a cigarette. Up ahead, the Quick Stop came into view. She steeled herself. After that mistake that one time with Sammy, he’d become pushy; showing up at her work, telling her he wanted to see her, and forever sending messages that he, as he put it, “Wanted to be with her.”

Well, no way. Whether the unborn child was his or not, it didn’t matter. He’d never know. She’d keep the possible identity of the baby her own secret forever. She didn’t want to do anything to ruin her relationship with Kyle. She’d have the child and she and Kyle would raise it together. First of all, though, she needed to put an end to Sammy. Forever.

As Ellie approached the driveway entrance to the Quick Stop, she noticed Sammy’s Ford parked off to the side by the dumpsters. She smiled to herself. A good spot for him. He was sitting inside smoking. He was one of those small-town, good-looking guys who thought they were God’s gift to women. Ellie shivered as she approached. God, what an idiot she’d been. She reached for her pack of smokes, but thought better of it. No. Not now.

Instead, she pounded on the rolled-up window on the passenger’s side, causing Sammy to jump. He dropped his cigarette in his lap and yelled, wiping the smoldering ashes to the floor. She kept her expression neutral, but inwardly, she smiled. Good. Serves you right.

He recovered quickly, rolled down the window, and berated her, “What’d you do that for?” Then, seeing her piercing eyes and stoic expression, he changed his tune and attitude and grinned. “Hey there, sunshine. It’s been a while. Good to see you.”

God, what an idiot. “Wipe that smile off your face, you jerk,” Ellie spit the words out, her anger barely controlled. “This is not a social call. I’ve got something to say to you.”

Sammy made a wiping motion across his mouth, not taking her seriously at all. “There. Zipped up. Done,” he said, still grinning.

Ellie ran around the front of the truck, and before he could react, she reached in, grabbed him by the shirt collar, and twisted it tight. Her spittle flew as she spat out her words, “I’m done with you and your crap, you poor excuse for a human being. You’re nothing. Nothing but a jerk and I don’t want to have anything to do with you ever again.”

And she went on and on. When she was finally done, she let go of his shirt, wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, and took a step away from the truck. She was glad to see he wasn’t smiling. In fact, he appeared shocked and speechless. Her final comment was, “And don’t ever text or try to see me again.”

He was pissed—she could see that—but too bad. He tried to regain his dignity and bared his teeth. “So, what are you going to do? Tell Kyle?”

“No, I’m not going to tell Kyle,” she said, and in one quick motion, reached into the front pocket of her jeans, took out her razor-sharp knife, and flipped it open. “But if you tell him, I’ll find you and make you pay.” She held the blade in front of his face inches from his nose as he ducked out of the way. “I’ll cut you, you jerk, and make you bleed.”

Then she turned and walked away. She closed her knife and put it in her pocket. She could hear Sammy’s nervous laugh. “I’d like to see you try.”

She said nothing and kept walking. She’d made her point and she was done with him.

A minute later, Ellie heard him start up the truck and gun the engine before putting it in gear. He floored it and fishtailed past, narrowly missing her, giving her the finger as he raced down the road. Probably to some bar, she thought as she turned and watched. Good. Maybe he’ll get drunk and be killed in a head-on collision with one of the mining trucks. It’d serve him right. He was not only a jerk but a coward. She hoped she’d never see him again.

As she walked back home, she put her hand in her pocket, ran her fingers over her knife and smiled. She had a feeling she wouldn’t see him anymore, but she would be ready if he ever dared to show his face near her again. She’d like to see him try. She was more than ready.

As she walked, she shook her head to clear away thoughts of Sammy. Right now, she had more important things to think about. Kyle would be home soon. She wanted to be there and tell him that she loved him and to spend the afternoon with him. She picked up the pace.

Later that evening, Kyle sat back from the table and said, “Man, Ellie, that was an amazing meal.”

She smiled, “I’m glad you liked it. I looked up a new recipe online for cooking trout.”

“Well, it was fabulous.” He took a sip of his beer and said, “This afternoon was amazing, too.”

Ellie smiled and drank some of her ice water, still thirsty from their lovemaking. “Well, we had a lot to celebrate.” She raised her glass and clinked his bottle, “Here’s to us.”

“And here’s to our new baby,” he grinned. “I’m so happy.” He stood up and came around to her side of the table and got down on his knees and hugged her, “I love you.”

Ellie hugged him back, “I love you, too.”

After Kyle had returned from fishing with his catch of four brown trout, Ellie had given him the news she was pregnant. They’d spent the entire afternoon in bed celebrating and were both famished. The dinner was icing on the cake so to speak.

Kyle stood up, “I’ll get the dishes done.” He kissed her on the top of her head. “You just rest.”

Ellie laughed good-naturedly, “God, Kyle, I’m just pregnant, not an invalid.” She punching him on the arm. But I’ll take you up on your offer anyway.”


“I’m going outside to the picnic table and start making a list of what we need to do before the baby arrives.” She took a spiral-bound notebook from a drawer in the kitchen. “Come and join me when you’re done.”

“I’ll do that.” Then he paused, before asking, “Say, Ellie…?”

“Yeah?” She stopped on the way outside. “What?”

“Um, I noticed you didn’t have your normal cigarette after dinner. Does this mean what I think it means?”

Ellie grinned. “Yep. I’m done. Done with them for good.”

Kyle came over and hugged her. “Great!”

“Yeah, I feel good about it.” Then she stepped away and pointed. “But you better get going on those dishes. I’ll see you outside.”

While Kyle worked in the kitchen, Ellie sat at the picnic table idly scrolling through her phone, looking up information on having a baby and making notes in her notebook. She hummed to herself. She’d never been happier.

Suddenly, there was a beep and a text came through. She checked. It was from Sammy. It read I still love you, you know. Damn!

Ellie sighed and deleted the text. How much longer was he going to keep this up?

She looked inside, where she could hear Kyle singing a Travis Tritt song. She smiled. He was a good guy. He was the father of their child. That idiot Sammy? He better not try anything to wreck what she and Kyle had. She went back to making notes in her notebook, her hand unconsciously rubbing the outside of her jeans where her knife was. Yeah, he definitely better stay away.