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Trip of a Lifetime

And Nothing Hurt

By Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest

November 4, 2003

A Note to the Reader

Some months back, in the final chapter of "Trip of a Lifetime," our long-running serial novel, Ed and Brenna crossed the St. Lawrence River in the dead of night, heading home at last. It wasn't quite the happy return they'd been looking forward to, though, and some readers wondered if it was really the end of the story. Well, it was, but life goes on, even after the last word is on the page. So if you, too, would like to know what happened to Ed, Brenna, and the rest of the gang, read on.

A REMINDER This is a work of fiction. All the characters are figments of the authors' imaginations. If you need to refresh your memory about Trip, or if you want to follow the story from the beginning, just use the hot-linked title to go to the In the Same Boat Archives. It's all there.

And now, here's the…

Epilogue

Brenna sat down at the desk. The computer monitor's cold glow cast the only light in the room. Outside, Scapegoat Mountain towered over the wooded valley. In the deepening Montana twilight, the mountain's massive east face was a featureless black wall, the spring-fed lake at its foot no more than an inky pool. A narrow stream flowed lazily out of the lake. High overhead, silhouetted against the cobalt-blue sky, a lone bald eagle made languid loops, following the murmuring water as it meandered through the valley.

A gentle breeze set the gingham curtain in the open window dancing. From a nearby stand of Engelmann spruce came the unmistakable churrrr of a short-tempered red squirrel. Nearer still, horses snorted and stamped.

Brenna typed:

Dear Jack…

But then a spasm of pain shot up her arm. She stopped typing and closed her eyes, willing the agony to stop. Suddenly, without warning, she was back in the water…

She was swimming blind, forcing herself to keep going, to hang on, to ignore the panic that threatened to overwhelm her. She knew only one thing now: she was going home, and she was damned if she was going to leave Ed behind.

Blossoms of light appeared on the high, dark bank — muzzle flashes, Brenna realized. Between flashes, there was only blackness. Ed's unresponsive body seemed to get heavier by the minute. Brenna pulled him along in her wake. His life jacket held him on the surface, but that was all. Was he breathing? Brenna didn't know. She only knew she had to get ashore, fast. The numbness in her right arm had gone as quickly as it struck, to be followed by a searing pain. Still, her grip on Ed's collar never slackened. With her good arm she stroked hard toward the riverbank.

A hand snaked over her right shoulder and across her chest. She found herself moving faster. Effortlessly. A familiar voice sounded in her ear: "It is me, Brenna." Sergei! Together the two of them swam toward shore, tugging Ed behind them.

After what felt like a very long time, Brenna's butt struck rock. Hard. She realized they'd made it. But when she turned her head, Sergei had already gone. So Brenna dragged Ed out of the water alone. Her arm was on fire now. Ignoring the pain, she bent over Ed, hoping to hear…something. Anything. A mumbled word. A groan. The sound of labored breathing. But she heard none of these things. Nothing at all. And then she realized the hand that had gripped Ed's collar was sticky.

The jet of flame in Brenna's arm flickered and died as suddenly as it had flared up. She opened her eyes, flexed her fingers cautiously, and then resumed typing:

Hope you and Molly are both well, and that you haven't had second thoughts about taking the Book Locker off our hands. For our part, we're delighted to be in Montana, though in truth I think that Sergei and Pavel could have hired better help for a lot less. I'm glad they didn't try too hard, though.

And speaking of Sergei and Pavel, both of them say "Howdy!" They're very busy getting the ranch up and running, but they seem to be loving every minute of it. It must be costing them a fortune. They haven't said where the money's coming from. I think we can guess, though. (Sergei says that the people who tell you "Crime doesn't pay" are just unsuccessful criminals. I suspect he's right.) Anyway, working capital doesn't appear to be a problem. I can't begin to tell you all their plans for the place, but I guess it'll end up as dude ranch and art school combined. In any case, our friends don't mind the endless hard work. Pavel's even found time for a girlfriend. Her name's Minaku, and she keeps joking that Pavel's "gone native." Maybe he has, at least a little — Minaku's a Blackfoot, after all — but whatever he's done, it certainly seems to agree with him. No surprise, really. The Avars and the Blackfoot have a lot in common, including a love of horses.

Sergei, on the other hand, is writing his memoirs (!), painting, and drawing. I don't know when he finds the time, either, but he does. He's been encouraging me to start painting again, too, and I have. It's pretty slow going, however. Painting seems to make the pain in my arm worse.…

And then, as if waiting for this cue, a flame of pain licked from her hand to her elbow. She closed her eyes once more, and once again she was back by the river.

The firing from the top of the bank had stopped. Sergei and Pavel had not returned. Brenna unzipped Ed's life jacket and pressed her ear against his chest. Blood smeared her cheek. It was coming from a wound in Ed's neck, she decided, but it was dribbling out and not spurting. And Ed's heart was beating. He was alive! Just as she raised her head, a spluttering, strangled cough came from the direction of the water. Then a voice — shrill, imploring: "Shaddap, you old fart! You want to get us all killed?"

Joe's voice, Brenna realized, relieved. Then Joe himself, kneeling beside her. "Got to get Jack to the hospital," he whispered, gesturing toward a prostrate, barely visible form. "On the Rez." He paused, taking in the scene before him. "And Ed, too.… Look here, Brenna. We're not far from my boathouse. It's just you and me, but we can do it. Float the two of 'em in the shallows and pull 'em along. Once we're opposite the boathouse, Matt'll pick us up. That's the quickest way. Now let's go!"

So they went. And somehow, they did it.

Brenna shook her head to chase the image of the riverbank away. She started typing again:

But that's enough about my aches and pains. I'm the lucky one. The flashbacks are the worst thing — they come without warning, sort of like waking nightmares — but both Sergei and Ed tell me not to worry. They say they'll pass. And they should know, I guess. I imagine you're no stranger to them, either. So I'm in good company. As for my arm, it was, as they say, only a flesh wound. But you know all this, anyway, don't you?

Ed's had a much worse time of it. I think he's turned the corner at last, though. It still hurts him to talk, but that hasn't stopped him from telling everybody just what it is that he and George Orwell have in common — both of them were shot in the neck and lived to tell the story. He's fishing again, too, and paddling a little pack canoe on the lake, not to mention riding a mountain bike along the trails whenever he gets a chance. (He won't get on a horse. Says he doesn't want to impose. Some ranch hand, huh?)

Well, that's all the news from Lake Scapegoat. And I'm afraid I've got to go. The days really are getting shorter. When the sun drops behind the mountain it's like somebody turned the lights out. We've got our first paying customers coming in next week — Sergei keeps referring to them as "volunteers for the gulag"; I'll have to talk to him about that! — and I've got to go over the menus with Pavel and the kitchen staff. Ed needs to use the computer, anyway. He's keeping the ranch accounts now. (God help us.)

Take care! We're looking forward to seeing you both in December. Sergei's just finished the cabin you'll be staying in. He calls it the "honeymoon suite" and it's got the biggest fireplace I've ever seen. For the first time since I was kid, I can't wait for Christmas. Bet you can't, either.

With all our love,

Brenna

PS Nearly forgot. Thanks for the clippings. We never listen to the news here. It's almost a house rule. When one of the staff turns on a radio during a news broadcast, Sergei shuts it off right away, muttering something in Russian. I asked him what it meant one day, and he raised his eyebrows in that way he has and then said, "God is high above, and the Czar is far away." And he winked. Anyway, it's funny how the "Independence Day attack" turned out to be an earthquake after all, isn't it? Poor old Professor Scarlotti. I wonder if he'll ever get his job back? And they think Lesserson Null is in Cuba now?! Well, maybe. Just as long as he stays away from Montana.…

Glad to hear the border's getting back to normal. Give our love to Joe and all our other friends on the Rez. I don't think we can ever repay them for what they did for us.

Brenna sent the letter off into the aether, stood up, stretched, and went over to the window. The pain in her arm was no more than a nagging ache now. She looked out. In the east, the waning moon was just visible above the horizon. Somewhere up in the mountains, a coyote howled. Brenna breathed deep, drinking in the heady perfume of horses and pine forest. She smiled. Then she left the office to find where Ed had got to. From the main hall, she heard Sergei's deep voice, singing a song she thought she'd heard before. It certainly wasn't a Top Forty hit. In fact, it sounded like it was very, very old. But it had a catchy tune. She stopped at the head of the staircase to listen.

Courage, boys, 'tis one to ten,
But we return all gentlemen,
All gentlemen as well as they,
Over the hills and far away.
Over the Hills and O'er the Main,
To Flanders, Portugal and Spain,
The queen commands and we'll obey
Over the Hills and far away.

After a minute, she hurried along to look for Ed. She was no longer smiling.

Twilight

Copyright 2003 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.






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