Maeve and Roxanne watched the young park ranger walk away. Joyous tears and a beaming smile replaced the mask that up until two minutes ago hides the “rangerette’s” heartbreak and self-doubts
“You are so good with people, Roxanne.“ Maeve cooed. “Everyone you meet walks away a happier person.”
“I just wish I was sure I was saying the right thing. You are so good at reading people. You so know people. You always know what they are up to.”
“Figuring out what someone is going to do, is no proof it is the right thing for any of us.”
“Still, I just which I could be sure.” Roxanne made the comment as they began to follow the narrow asphalted trail beneath the cool sensuous Sycamores with their hand shaped leaves in green/yellow.
Maeve didn’t follow as Roxanne continued down
Roxanne turned to find her sister-in-law staring after her. She’d made quite the spin actually twirling her entire frame on her right foot. Her foot graced a slim white lace up boot. The performance made her ruffled dress flare. She carried a matching parasol in peach (it would match the red rock of the Sedona Area). Maeve’s dark eyes widened in appreciation of the performance, a smile forced itself up on her lips and in a moment both women were laughing at Roxanne’s choreography.
“You had a thought dearie?” redheaded Roxanne asked sweetly.
“Actually… it’s something my husband paraphrases from Fannie Flagg, “Love and forgiveness is always right. Meanness and pettiness are always wrong. It’s a full proof method… It was his maximum for raising the boys.”
Roxanne looked at her sister-in-law. Her painted mouth fell open and round open emerald eyes screwed up in concentration. She cocked her head as though not hearing right.
“Yeah, yeah, I know. Me, putting down meanness. But John is right, every time I make a big God awful scene and refuse to forgive someone’s mistake, well immediately I make the self same blunder in an amazingly public way.” She threw up her shoulders and raised her palms to the Heavens in explanation with a little lost shake to her head.
Roxanne smiled back at her best friend in delight. She stuck out her free elbow. Maeve took the two steps between them took her arm and they continued strolling down in to the crater.
“I didn’t know you were so introspective, dearie.” Roxanne commented mildly, as she glanced about at the Sinaguan cliff dwellings across the dark still lake and at the light green flickering leaves above them.
“I’m not. My husband is. It pays to actually listen to John sometimes.” Maeve replied as she glanced through holes in the canopy for ruins.
Roxanne stopped. Maeve looked around to her, a little guardedly. Roxanne’s face was red. She was still taking a long drawn in breathe. Her red lips curled in humor. Her painted eyebrows danced with amusement. Maeve grinned back and with a wave her hand, commanded, “Don’t tell him that!”
Roxanne roared with laughter. Maeve’s voice joined the hilarity. A New York Italian family on the trail above wondered what these women found to laugh about constantly
Maeve wore a red dress to better hide the dust of the Rimrock Valley. By some trick of the light or mastery of design their shared parasol, picked up the colors of her outfit too.
“Did John tell you why it’s so much cooler inside Montezuma’s Well?”
“Yes, he did.”
“And I thought I was just being a smart aleck.”
“Over a thousand gallons of water bubble up from the bottom of the lake every minute. The water exits through that side cave and empties into a 600-year-old irrigation system outside the Montezuma Well! It has a constant temperature of 76 °F rather than the 100f degrees we experienced before we entered the crater.”
Maeve failed to mention the story John had heard remembered from his grandfather Bill. Divers had tried to follow the water from the lake through the underground channel to the irrigation canal. “Never seen again.” To quote his granddad. “Does Stan ever mention his grandfather?”
“Oh no.” the redhead said. “Terrible falling out between Stan’s uncles and the old man. What were John’s grandparents like?”
“John describes his grand-daddy as handsome and outdoorsy; tanned skin and fair hair. But, old man a died a long lingering death that left him emaciated. “Marjorie”, that was the wife’s name, insisted on a closed coffin service. She did not want everyone to remember him that way. It was too late. John and his cousins took turns visiting the old man during his illness.
“Oh.” Sighed Roxanne reflectively.
“Later, going through some old photos with his grandmother John ran across a snapshot of them in their youth. A photographer friend fixed it up for him. John had it on his desk for years. His grand-daddy was a young man in the photo; fedora, narrow black tie, three piece wool suit, feet spread, hands on hips, and a killer smile. He was the cat’s…”
Roxanne was staring at her. “Three piece wool suits? Like our husbands wear.”
“Yeah.” Maeve responds not thinking. Her brow furls. “Same cut now that you mention it.”
“And the wife?’
“She’s got her hand through the bend of this elbow, heavy woolen wrap, little black feather hat, below the knee dress which was very fashionable for the period. And the smile on her face! They were headed out on the town! She had a fair complexion in contrast to her hunky hubby, pageboy haircut with black hair… and dark, dark eyes... “
Roxanne is keeping her chin down trying to avoid eye contact, but her knowing eyebrows gave her away. Maeve’s already noticed the similarity between herself and her grandmother-in-law. She glanced nervously at Roxanne.
“Dearie, men look to marry a woman just like “dear momma”.”
“Or dear grand-momma, in my case. “
They reached the little landing that over looked the dark gray lake. The New Yorkers arrived interrupting the young ranger’s ongoing lecture. They didn’t like the walk, the lake, the lack of wildlife or the smell.
“As the water enters the Well, the carbon dioxide is released as a dissolved gas into the water. The rich supply of dissolved carbon dioxide has apparently prevented many aquatic animals, especially fish, from living in these waters.” The ranger explained.
“Mosquitoes too!” Roxanne added with a wink to Maeve, as the ranger; lead the others to the outflow itself.
“And it’s cooler? Can’t you just see Thyona skipping down the path?”
Roxanne glanced up at the steep trail of asphalt they’d just traversed. An eyebrow lifted so she could peer at something above and then eyed the size of the landing doubtfully. “Actually dear, Thyona hasn’t skipped in a decade. It’s more of a sashay, now.” She ended her comments with a slow shake of her head that sent her massive hanging earrings swirling.
“We could bring in flowers to mask the smell? Do you think Rugen would like it?” Maeve asked sincerely.
“He loved this place during the rough patches when he and John and Stan use to come camping here. Besides, your youngest son will like whatever you like. Guys are not too interested in the details. But, the smell…” Roxanne grimaced and tried to smile supportively, but there just was not enough room for what they had in mind. “We could use mint for greens in the boutiques. Lots and lots of mint!” Roxanne ended with a grin.
“I get it!” replied Maeve with a dismissive wave of her hand.
From there they daintily strolled the fossilized banks of the ancient irrigation canal and followed the community bridle trail beside sycamore and poplar-sheltered Beaver Creek. Within 1/3 mile they arrived at the 30 ft high outcropping against a red sandstone cliff. The rangerette explained there were more than 1000 figures are engraved in the red sandstone wall.
Roxanne started pointing some out to Maeve, “Birds, maybe even a turkey, snakes, a dog? Is that suppose to be a horse?”
“The Europeans brought horses, must be a deer.” Maeve whispered back
“Oh, and a buck at that.” Roxanne piped up.
Her exclamation interrupted the lecture, which gave Roxanne an opportunity to ask about the circles and maze-like squares. The girl-ranger could not explain.
“I wish John were here he could explain this all to us.” Roxanne whispered behind the gauntlet of diamonds and platinum referred to as her “hand.”
“Actually, he’d point out what his grandmother always said, “Fools’ names and fools’ faces always appear in public places.”
They tried to suppress a giggle.
“I think I would have liked her.”
“Me too! John says the last thing she ever said to him was “Honey, I could have spoiled you rotten!” He assured her she always had.”
“Oh!” Roxanne gushed patting Maeve gaily on the forearm.
As the paved trail sloped back up the bank to the desert and parking lot, Roxanne and Maeve slipped from the group and continued following the Beaver Creek towards Rimrock. The ridge lines on either side of the Beaver Creek rose sharper and redder. Thick ivy encased the smooth naked trunks of the ancient Sycamores.
“What are those golden boughs up in the sycamores?” Roxanne asked absently.
“Mistletoe, like in “The Aeneid”.”
They continued strolling through the sandy bottom of the high arching sycamore grove. The Beaver Creek to their left meandered through the Montezuma Valley. The valley had begun to spread out before it entered the broader Verde Valley. To the south they could see the bell shaped domes carved out of the sandstone by the Juggernaut passage of the ancient rivers. The mouth of the Beaver Creek valley lay before them, choked by summer homes and the fingers of the Beaver Creek Country Club golf courses.
“A pub! Shall we stop for something cold to drink?” Maeve suggested.
Inside the McGuireville Tavern was dark and cool; the occupants consisted of the bartender, a few regulars and a group of young men in a corner booth talking excitedly. The bar was done in sort of western motif. Drawn to the boys’ energy and laughter, Maeve and Roxanne took a booth nearby. Two young ladies were seated with a group of five young men. A handful of yellow “nomex” fire shirts hung nearby and the boys were trying to scrub their orange hardhats clean of the red “slurry” that wild land firefighters usually cherish as a sign of how close they’d gotten to the head of the fire. Maeve and Roxanne knew all this by listening to John recount tales of his firefighting youth. They wore “Coconino Hotshot“ tee shirts and matching baseball caps. In the back of their booth were two large, nicely wrapped wedding presents. One of the girls returning from the back of the establishment stopped to chat. She was young, freckle faced and red headed like Roxanne, hence the ease with which she approached to the two older women.
“Dearie," Roxanne began after introductions, “what are you all up too?"
They were part of an elite hand crew on the Colorado Plateau beyond the Mogollon Rim just to the north. Their crew cook was getting married. It was strictly a family affair to which the crew hadn’t been invited. The crew had another idea. Maeve and Roxanne tagged along. Outside the Montezuma Chapel the crew arrived mid-ceremony. Before the chapel a rectangle of struggling lawn and wide concrete walk sizzled beneath the naked sun. A flat square porch just below the flat roof of the rectangular building covered the wooden double door entrance. A small bell tower to the right and classrooms to the left of the chapel finished off the building. Roxanne did a double take at the building and then threw a questioning look at Maeve, who shook her raven locks and mouthed that it had to be “outside”.
They sent the most catholic of the crew up to peer in the window and estimate how long. “Any minute!” was his determination.
The groom hesitantly opened the door for this bride. (He’d seen a glimpse of the crewman.) They were greeted by the cheers of the firefighters. Before them in bright yellow nomex shirts and orange hardhats stood the half dozen hotshots forming an arch of crossed pula skis and shovels. The two girls in front of Maeve and Roxanne stood at the other end of the arch with presents in hand. The bridal party and family followed the newlyweds to the door and peered out into the harsh daylight. The relatives loved it. The cook’s new mother-in-law in particularly thought it delightful and insisted that they all come to the reception, at the Beaver Creek Country Club.
When Maeve and Roxanne left the reception, the shadows were long and the summer sky still warm.
“Now we know where the reception will be.” Roxanne announced.
“Should be easy to get too, now that we know a few people.”
They walked the levee dividing the creek from the greens, intending to follow a lane across the creek to their Santa Fe style “bed and breakfast”.
Maeve says, “Do you know why I’m fond of leather dresses?”
“Why’s that dear?” Roxanne replied absently admiring the landscaped fairways.
“Do you know that when a woman wears a leather dress, a man's heart beats quicker, and his throat gets dry, he gets weak in the knees, and he begins to think irrationally? Ever wonder why?”
Startled, and obviously interested in the answer, Roxanne encourages her sister-in-law to continue.
“It’s because she smells like a new golf bag!”
The next day, the exact same park ranger, “rangerette” to quote Roxanne, lead them on a tour of a different part of the park. Their friend Adrianne had met them at the B&B the night before and all three had ridden here this morning on horseback to the entrance of the park.. Adrianne had straight black hair to her shoulders and was usually a somber and overly elegant dresser. Maeve and Roxanne convinced her to settle for a simple white cotton blouse over her trousers, due to heat. She’d added a plain linen jacket to the outfit. Which had been a mistake. Now they strolled arm in arm down the paved path. The rangerette was explaining that the Anises ruin in the cave above them was not a “castle” regardless of the impression it gave and that regardless of the park’s name, Montezuma II of the Aztecs had never been here.
Adrianne and Maeve were stilling working out the details of housing everyone at the B&B. It was decided the women would sleep inside and the men outside in ten-man tents. It was a big Sienna family tradition. They decided it would be easy to arrange now that they knew the people to managed the place.
“We certainly have wonderful husbands.” Roxanne commented dreamily as she spun the parasol in her hands and let her bedroom eyes wander across the landscape.
Maeve and Adrianne exchanged a stupefied look and then glanced Roxanne’s way.
On Roxanne’s side of the path were only the stout-boled gray sycamore’s that grew profusely along the Beaver Creek. They glanced about Adrianne’s side of the trail for something that might have triggered the comment. Maeve’s black eyes rested on the thick vegas jutting out of the fleshed toned adobe walls. Both the other women followed her gaze.
“Oh stop!” Roxanne blurted out with a blush, which confused the line of tourists around them who stopped. When the rangerette got everyone moving again, Roxanne explained, “I mean they take care of us. They are great with the kids. We don’t have to work.”
“Of course we do.”
“But we don’t have too. All three of them are handsome and …” Roxanne glanced significantly at the naked cottonwood boles pushing out of the ruins. Both her friends chuckled. “they were great with their step children.”
They all laughed again.
Adrianne looked beyond to Maeve to Roxanne and more stated than asked, “You two never had any problems with your children?”
Roxanne was shaking her head but it slowed as one child came to mind.
Meanwhile, Maeve’s white right hand laid sympathetically across Adrianne’s left. “Nothing like you had with your first born.”
“Well that’s all better now.” Roxanne affirmed cheerily with a vigorous nod of her head. “Thanks to your beloved Thyona.”
Adrianne smiled at the mention of her daughter’s name and replied, “And thanks to you. After the first one, raising kids was easy, I just sent them to you!” She threw up her hands in emphasis and her practiced smile raised up even higher. She’d put on this little performance long and loud for decades.
As usual, Maeve and Roxanne assured acted delighted and replied that they always believed, “The more the merrier.”
“Wasn’t there some trouble with your beloved Bienvenu, Maeve?”
“Oh a little at first. He had such a temper! Can’t imagine where that comes from!” Maeve shrugged with a roll of her dark eyes. Roxanne chuckled in reassuring response. “But pretty quick, my husband and I figured out how to handle him.”
Roxanne tossed a questioning glance towards Maeve, but modestly didn’t admit to her part in learning how to handle Maeve’s youngest. “Tell Adrianne about that time he ran away.” Roxanne giggled.
“Oh, he was having a tantrum about something or another. I made it clear that he wasn’t getting his way and he announced he was running away.
“He must have been five years old.” Roxanne interjected.
“Yes. He stomps out the front door and heads down the street. I follow out. There’s some willows next to the sidewalk, so I can keep an eye on him, but he can’t see me. He gets about half a block down the street, stops, turns around, puts his little hands on his hips and then stomps back. When he finds me waiting in front of the house, he shakes a finger at me and says, “Why, didn’t you come after me?”
They all burst into laughter, tears actually came to Maeve’s eyes.
As Adrianne caught her breathe, she laid a sympathetic hand on Maeve’s hand. “Wasn’t there trouble with his birth?”
“Well, yes and no.” Maeve said and then smirked to herself. “Roxanne is better at telling that story.
“Well, “ the red head begins loudly with a flip of her hand. The New Yorkers glance at her disapprovingly. Then continues more quietly, but the low volume doesn’t last long. “We were all convinced that Maeve was having a girl. It was not her usually pregnancy. Then at the birth, it got rough. The rather nervous doctors sent our husbands from the room.”
“Then they knock me out.” Maeve explains. “When I was startled awake, Roxanne stood over me with my beloved little girl in her arms.”
“Startled…?” Adrianne wondered
Maeve’s glacial brow furled in like questioning and glanced at Roxanne.
“I didn’t say anything at the time, but it was one of the nurses screaming that woke you. A baby girl with black eyes is unusual. Anyway, I say to Maeve, “The baby is fine. But, there’s two little things, two little problems.”
“Give me the better news first.”
“Your little girl is a boy.”
Roxanne was already holding one of Maeve’s hands. They’d stopped beneath a clump of willows next to the Beaver Creek and let the tour continue down the trail. Adrianne took her other hand.
Maeve continued the story. “I said my husband would love a little boy. Then asked what the other problem is.”
“Roxanne! My husband speaks Ancient Greek. Not me.”
“He has six fingers on each hand.” Roxanne gulped after saying it and moved the receiving blanket so Maeve could see the six perfect little fingers in each little fist.
Tears rolled freely down Roxanne’s face, she was visibly shaking and now held her breath waiting for Maeve’s response.
Maeve looked lost. Tears swelled in her black eyes. She looked for answers in her best friend’s face. She looked with love and heartbreak on the son whom she would adore in time more than all her children. “Count Rugen!”
“What?” Roxanne stutters back, unable to think of anyone by that name.
“The six fingered man in “The Prince Bride”. It’s my husband’s favorite novel. Tell him the baby’s name is Rugen.”
“I took the baby into the waiting room all bundled up. By the looks on our husbands’ faces I must have looked like a mess. I know I was still crying. They jumped up. My husband took John by the shoulder to keep him calm. I said, “God has sent you a precious gift. He gulped and leaned back into my husband’s arms.
“Any gift God sends is welcome.” I took a deep breath. “Your son has six fingers on each hand.” Then I showed him the little boy. He stood there gazing into the little bundle of joy. I didn’t know what to say. I was trembling. I didn’t want to jinx the moment. He was bent over the baby, gently examining his perfect little fingers. “You are welcome into our family.” He said like some roman patriarch and he lifted the child. “We spent six months arguing about a girl’s name. What shall we call him?” My husband pointed out that he’d called the child “Welcome.” Twice. So was born Bien Vedu.”
“Bien R. Vedu” Maeve corrected with a laugh.”
“And when he became a teenager?”
“Oh you know that’s always an adjustment. With his black flashing eyes, passion and handsome features the slightly older girls starting stopping by as soon as he turned thirteen. My husband put a stop to that. He tied up Jake and Gizmo out front!”
Roxanne and Maeve laughed while Adrianne reeled back in horror. “You chained up your dogs at the front door!” Maeve and Roxanne roared at the look of shock on their friend’s face. “Guess the Jehovah’s Witnesses didn’t visit for a while.” Adrianne mumbled.
“Tell her about Bennie getting suspended.” Roxanne encouraged.
“We still believed that my husband was the one he was bonding with.” She shook her head in disbelief at their naivete.. There was trouble in school. He’d been caught passing a note with dirty jokes. We figured he’d learned his lesson. But, the following week he was suspended for mooning a buddy. We decided we hadn’t gotten his attention. So my husband went to pick him up front his after school job. We staged the whole thing admiralty. My husband wore a hat. That should have been a hint to Rugen. He was smoking so that he was standing outside. It was pitch black and about 20 degrees below zero. “What’s up?” Rugen asks as he slinks across the parking lot toward the truck. . His father flips his cigar into the nearest snow drift.” You made me mad!” “Why?” “You got suspended!” “No, I didn’t” “Then why did your teacher call my office and tell me so! You made me mad!” He threw off his hat and stomped on it. The boy ran off into the dark.. This father figured he’d finally gotten his attention. (Sort of where we go the idea for Deuce.) We figured out shortly thereafter that the boy responded best to me. I had to keep an eye on him, but he never got into too much trouble. WE had a little discussion, came to an understanding.”
Roxanne grimaced at the memory of that day. She looked at Maeve. Her black haired friend was gazing at the ground. “Rugen loves you Maeve.”
“I know. And now he loves Thyona too.” Maeve replied cheerily with a nod towards Adrianne.
They were following the tour group back to towards the entrance of the park. The diurnal wind had begun to rise up from the desert valley below. They strolled beneath a grove of ancient cottonwoods. Above the oval dark green leaves quaked clumsily in the morning wind, making a sound like a soft summer shower. Silence drifted down upon them.
“If there are any stories like that about my beloved Thyona, you two would have to tell me about it. They were constantly with you.
“Oh you have an excellent story! Not every teenager saves their grown brother’s life.”
“I wish my husband and I could have been as strong as Thyona, could’ve gotten him out of that situation.
“Dearie!” Roxanne gushed. “You and your hubby are good, sweet people who respect the decisions of their grown child and allows them their own destiny. Like Maeve and I.”
Adrianne’s eyebrows raised in surprise.
“Not!” roared the sister-n-laws as they lunged elbows towards one another rips.
“I’m sorry. But, they spent too much time with us and I’m afraid I was a bad influence on Thyona. Thyona picked up some of my bad habits.”
“And hairstyle.” Adrianne suggested.
Maeve and Roxanne took a double take at one another. Maeve awkwardly tugged at her page boy haircut.
“Here it is.” Roxanne blurted out, still thinking about Maeve’s grandmother in law, Maeve and Maeve’s future daughter in law all wearing the same style.
It was a small hard packed trail between the Manzanita, with a small “Authorized Personnel Only”.
“Employee housing.” Maeve whispered while glancing around.
Roxanne led the way. Maeve’s blood red nails grasped Adrianne’s slender wrist. As they broke from the brush, they stepped into a small cul-de-sac. Roxanne stepped aside so her companions could see, resting her free hand on Adrianne’s shoulder. The three women standing hand-in-hand gazed upon the scene. To their right the sage scented breeze arose from a long light green reach of the stream below the “Castle”. The ancient cottonwoods joyfully funneled the welcome breeze through the opening into their midst. Upon the river bank laid a lawn overlooking the water. Wind carried ripples washed against the sand below the lawn. Opposite the three ladies, on the left stood three charming CCC era square homes with white trim, big white washed front porches and walls made of rounded river rocks.
Maeve stepped forward dropping and then reclaiming Adrianne’s and Roxanne’s hands. “Aphrodite could have stepped ashore there.” She sighed, gazing at the Castle’s image in reflecting pond. It shimmered upon the cool water; first the base of the structure, the two inhabitable wings and the smaller neighboring walled caves. In just a newer shade of brown stood the second level and finally the pinkish third with the folly of extravagant architecture involving the keyhole door.
”We could place Rugen and Thyona up on the lawn and the witnesses in the middle of the glade.”
Adrianne stepped up between the two sister-in-laws to gaze at the Park Service cottages. “We could put them on the porch so all of us could see the ceremony.”
The breeze ran laughing around them.. The trees waved above. The flower gardens around each home perfumed the air.
“Couldn’t you just see Bennie and his equippiers strutting through the brush here to ceremony? His broad shoulders swinging back and forth. His dark eyes flashing in the bold sunlight. His devilish smile brightening the air. He’s tight little ass rolling back and forth…” Her emerald eyes stared far away, a blush had come to her cheek, she stood straighter, and then she realized the other women were looking at her with bemused looks on their face. “Well I’m not his mother or mother-in-law. I can look!” Her features bounced with enthusiasm, which made everyone laugh out loud.
Maeve pulled out her cell phone and dialed Bennie’s number. “Rugen dear, is Thyona with you? Good. Well, dearly beloved we’ve found the spot you wanted for your wedding. Yes, it’s on the National Monument. Oh don’t’ worry we can get it. We know people.