The beloved and I were discussing assorted things the other day and this idea popped up somewhat tangentially. So, I went with it! Because, that is what this month is for. Random stuff? Sure thing! :) Enjoy!
Kara waited with the others for the shuttle to pull up to the stop. The winter wind shot through her thin flannel and she stomped her red cowboy boots to keep the feeling in her toes. Unlike a couple of the others, she’d remembered to put her hair back to avoid wind snarls. Once they made town, she could undo her hair and not worry about bringing a comb. She never brought much on these monthly excursions. Enough in credit to get well and truly drunk, cover a hotel if she didn’t find someone to invite her to theirs, and emergency return funds.
Once, and only once, she’d missed the return shuttle and had to walk, not having enough credits to hire a coach. In the winter, she’d been lucky to not lose another toe on the walk. Never again.
The shuttle slid to a stop in front of their stop, one the boss kept promising to cover, but never did, and they jostled to get on and into the warmth. Kara, never a jostler when sober, let the others shove past her. The driver grinned when he saw her and she shook her head. Lewis was an old-timer, one of the first settlers out here, and before taking this relatively easy gig, he’d been out on the ranches as well. Twice more they stopped to gather up the scattered ranch hands. Most of them came on the first day off, preferring to spend the second nursing a hangover with the rest.
Kara didn’t mind the second day, but after her dust up with Vicki she needed to get away. The foreman never listened and she’d spent most of yesterday being yelled at over something procedures should have avoided. As if it were her fault. If Vicki could not keep people in line she should be replaced. Kara wasn’t sure she wanted the job, but was convinced if she ever got a shot she’d do a damned sight better than Vicki.
Clashing scents, too much cologne and perfume in circulated air, began to make her head throb. A couple of people had snuck a flask onto the shuttle, but she passed them on without a sip when they made her seat. No one knew what was in them. Only an idiot or someone desperate would drink. Instead, she cracked a window open despite the hollers of protest.
As the shuttle began to slow down and slide to a stop she was on her feet. Getting on first wasn’t a necessity, but she hated to be stampeded around when getting off the shuttle. So, she stepped on feet and elbowed a couple of people to be the first one there when Lewis opened the doors. He flashed her a wink and she disappeared into the swirl of cold and snow waiting outside.
Avoiding the people she worked with was easy. Kara headed down the street, finding the best bar she could afford away from the shuttle stop. Most of them would drink rotgut nearby so they could roll each other back to the ranch. As eager as the rest to drink, she had some standards. More importantly, she could find tourists farther out from the shit kicker bars.
Three drinks in, she began to think she’d made the wrong selection. The bar was quieter than she liked, but it was warm and stirring from her barstool seemed like a lot of work. Whiskey warmed her blood and left her skin flushed as the door opened and a chorus of complaints joined the gust of wind. Kara didn’t turn to see who entered because she was not desperate. Better to sit here, drink, and let them come to her if interested.
The chill of the outdoors approached her and she tipped her head to watch a woman that screamed tourist approach the bar. The other woman hesitated before sitting beside Kara. As the bartender approached, Kara grinned and nodded at him.
“Her first one’s on me.”
“Oh, thank you! That’s so kind. It’s freezing!” The tourist ordered a beer before she rotated on her stool to look at Kara. “I’m Nancy. I love your boots!’ Her gaze had taken in Kara from head to toe and, with any luck, it wasn’t only the boots she was interested in tonight.
“Thanks,” Kara said. “Kara. They’re my town boots. Can’t wear them out working.” A little lie. The tourists loved the lies.
“Oh, gosh! Are you a real cowboy?”
Glass clinked on the bar and Kara shoved over her credit to pay for the drink. A fresh whiskey waited for her as well. Excellent. She drained her near empty glass and traded it for the full one.
“I am indeed,” was her reply.
“That is so exciting!”
“Oh, it sure is.” More lies. Oh, she’d thought it would be exciting when she’d taken the job, but then she’d learned the lies for herself.
“Tell me all about it.”
The door blew open and Nancy shivered.
“Why don’t we go sit in the corner where you won’t freeze your pretty boots off,” Kara said with a nod of her head towards the booths along the far wall. Away from the draft of the door, but also tucked into shadows.
Nancy slid from her stool and wobbled. Her hand settled on Kara’s shoulder. They both looked at it before Nancy winked.
“I thought you were going to say something other than boots,” she whispered.
Kara only grinned and stood up, close enough to hear Nancy’s breath catch as they entered each other’s space. The night was looking up, finally. Before the other woman could grab her drink, she had them both. They tucked themselves into the back and got steadily drunk on alcohol and each other.
Come morning, Kara had more money than she’d hoped. There had been no need to get a room of her own as Nancy had all but carried her back to hers. She still slept there, a note and a glass of water on her bedtable, as Kara stomped through snow drifts towards the shuttle stop.
This one was covered and even blew hot air. She sprung for a cup of shitty shuttle coffee and was still nursing it when the doors opened. Few people were up this early so she avoided the stampede. Another reason she always woke early. The first, and most important, was that her entertainment for the evening usually slept late. Best to get away without conversation.
The shuttle driver today was chatty and he didn’t seem to care no one else was speaking. He prattled on as he dropped off the few early risers, smiling and bidding everyone a blessed day. Quiet would have been a better blessing, but none of them received it.
Even the cold was welcome as they reached her stop. The driver bid her cheery farewell and she managed a smile. Her head barely pounded and it did no harm to be polite. Despite the urge she had to punch him. It was not his fault, her mother’s voice reminded her, that she’d overindulged.
The trek back to the bunkhouse was silent but for the buzz overhead and the wind. The wind was a near constant sound and most people stopped hearing it after a few months. Kara wasn’t lucky enough for that, but she tugged a knit hat down over her ears and quieted it somewhat. No one was awake, so she made breakfast quietly. If she woke them, they’d decide they could eat as well. She had no desire to cook for the idiots still abed.
So, she wolfed down eggs and oatmeal with several strong cups of tea. On her last cup when the first of the layabeds stumbled in she went to the barracks to change quickly into work clothes. Fresh clothes, identical to last night’s, but not smelling of whiskey and smoke, were warm. Always a nice thing when it was freezing. After shoving her feet into work boots she headed across the yard.
The building was smaller than the bunkhouse and smelled of electronics and stale coffee. Even as she heard fresh coffee brewing she only smelled the old stuff. The night shift, bleary-eyed, glanced up from their screens to see if their replacement had come in to let them sleep. Only Evie stood and stretched. Her headset hit the keyboard and she did no more than nod before heading outside. A quick nap, Kara suspected, and she’d be waiting for the afternoon shuttle.
No one spoke as she sat on the warm chair at her station and signed into the terminal. A few crumbs stuck to the joystick and she tapped her keyboard upside down to be sure it was clean. Evie snacked non-stop when working. Kara had gotten used to it, even if it annoyed her. On the monitor, she saw snow, a few scraggly trees, and furry cows. Nothing unusual.
“Be a cowboy,” she muttered. “It’ll be fun.”
Twelve hours in a stinky building, flying a drone to check on the herd of a man so rich he didn’t know she existed. Yep. Fun. Already she thought forward to next month’s day off. There would be another Nancy, with any luck, and that would have to be good enough.