Alma turned at the top of the hill, sat down on the golden-brown grass, and pulled her knees to her chest. She hugged her skirts against her legs and gazed across the valley. How she loved this place. Each mountain peak was an old friend. Each narrow stream snaking through the long grasses toward the marsh below held memories. She smiled and watched a coyote loiter around the clutch of elk browsing on the ridge to her left. A swarm of geese came honking in and settled at the edge of the marsh.
It would be only her and old José in the cabin now. She hadn’t asked Andrew to stay–she knew his heart wasn’t in it, that he needed a broader scope. José would remain as long as she did, out of loyalty to her long-dead father. But was it fair to ask that of him? She frowned and watched the sun edge westward, toward the other side of the valley.
The grass behind her rustled and Alma turned her head. José nodded to her, pushed his hat away from his thin, weathered face, and gazed at the elk beyond. “Might wanta bring in another one,” he said. “So we’ll have plenty for winter.”
“Winter will be cold,” she observed.
“It’s a good cold,” he said. “Best cold in the Territory.”
Alma smiled up at him, then turned back to watch the valley below.