Yellowstone Deception(4)

By: Peggy L Henderson



“Jana,” he called, a wide smile on his face. She turned her head in his direction. Recognition filled her eyes, and she hurried toward him. God, she was as gorgeous as he remembered her. He held out his hand. She hesitated for a second, then placed her dainty hand in his. She smiled, but it looked forced. Why did he get the distinct impression that he made her nervous? He’d gotten a similar vibe two months ago, but it was much more pronounced now. He wondered what her reaction would be when he brought up his reason for asking her to come back to Yellowstone.

“I’m glad you could make it,” he said, leading her away from the middle of the lobby. Everyone wanted to talk to a ranger, and his uniform drew people to him quicker than bees to honey. After Old Faithful went off in about ten minutes, this place would be packed. Better to duck out of here now, while he still had the chance.

“I’m taking a break, Art,” he called to his colleague at the desk. Art glanced up briefly. He held up his hand, indicating he had understood, then returned his attention to a map splayed out before him, pointing at various things to a tourist with a squirming toddler riding on his shoulder.

Jana followed him silently out the back doors leading to the paved path to Old Faithful. Hundreds of people had already gathered to watch the famous geyser erupt. Dan guided Jana to one of several park benches overlooking the path in front of the visitor center, and motioned for her to sit.

They sat in awkward silence for a few minutes, watching people rush by. Moms pushed strollers with screaming toddlers in them, dads fumbled for their cameras. Just another day in Yellowstone. What he wouldn’t give for some peace and solitude. His days off were spent hiking the backcountry, usually alone, but sometimes with fellow seasonal rangers who preferred the lesser traveled paths as much as he did. Someday, after he finished his master’s degree in Wildlife Biology at the University of Montana, he hoped to gain permanent employment in the park, not merely seasonal. Then he might not be relegated to desk duty most of the time. It was a nice dream. Full time ranger positions were few and hard to come by.

“Okay, Dan,” Jana broke the silence. She held her hands clasped together in her lap so tightly, her knuckles turned white. She was definitely uncomfortable. “Where is this grave you say you found?”

“Up on Purple Mountain. I can take you there, if you’d like.” He smiled and waited for some sort of response. She shook her head almost imperceptibly, confusion in her eyes. Did she even know the hike he was talking about? He’d made an assumption that Jana was a hiker, based on the boots and hiking pants she wore two months ago. But what did he really know about her?

“I’ve got the next two days off, so you and I can discuss what to do,” he continued. “Traded with one of my colleagues after you told me you’d be here today. How was the flight into Jackson?”

“Fine.” Jana’s forehead wrinkled. “Thanks for getting me a room here at the Lodge. I’ve never actually stayed in a hotel here in the park. Aimee and I usually . . .” She didn’t finish her thought. She met his eyes briefly, and inhaled deeply. She looked past him, presumably to watch the herd of people rushing to see Old Faithful go off. At this point, the view would be so obscured by the hundreds of souls who had secured front row seats since the last show, it was hardly worth it. But that was just his opinion.

The faraway, painful look in her eyes when she mentioned Aimee’s name spoke volumes. She obviously still missed her friend dearly. Hopefully he could use that to his advantage. He should just get right to the point with Jana, rather than make small talk. She might just walk away if he told her what he proposed to do.

He cleared his throat. “Jana, I’m still trying to wrap my head around this time travel business. If Aimee . . . my great great great great grandmother . . .” he paused. Jana sucked in a deep breath. Perhaps he shouldn’t have referred to her friend as his ancestor. “If she died shortly after she went to the past, how can I be alive? How is it that I even exist?”

Jana shook her head. “I’ve been wondering that myself, Dan. There has to be some mistake. That grave you found, maybe it’s not a grave.”

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