Pauline popped up from breakfast and headed for her van. I didn’t know her that well, but we were both part of the same group that met at Sandy’s house. She was probably about forty and was always busy wheeling her mother around—so we’d only said “hi” here and there. Pauline and her mom and me were the only black people in Sandy’s meditation group, and I wouldn’t say it didn’t make me more comfortable that they were always there—you know, sistahs and whatnot.
I sprinted after her. “Hey, whatcha doing?” I asked.
“Going out to grab some hamburger patties for grilling. Otherwise, I see veggie burgers in our future.”
Pauline wore REI like an African goddess, everything so pristine and fit all perfect. Her tidy pixie cut. The beaded necklace. Was she wearing makeup—camping? If she was twenty years younger and one hundred and eighty degrees gayer, I woulda totally gone for her.
I pulled my shoulders back and stood up straight. “Aren’t you gonna miss the morning session?”
“Sandy said she’s going to start at ten. There’s plenty of time.”
I checked the clock on my phone. 8:30. Yeah, there was time to go to the Gas ’n’ Go.
Since she’d rolled in the night before, Pauline hadn’t let on at all whether she liked Jade Lodge or not. Must seem pretty ratty to a professional woman like her, especially in the off-season. The “rake, repair, repaint” crew hadn’t been there since the camp closed the weekend before Labor Day, but I always saw the place through the eyes of love.
“Is it okay for you here?” I asked. “I mean… you’re probably used to fancy places.”
She scrunched her face up, amused. “Girl, you’ve got some interesting ideas about me. Do you think I’d be driving a van rigged for my disabled mother if I was rich?” She glanced at the boxy van. “But, like Mama used to say, ‘When you don’t have a horse, you gotta make do with a mule.’ I’m just a hardworking legal aide—I’m not going any fancy places.”
“Oh, sorry. I thought you were a full-fledged lawyer.”
She locked eyes with me. “Why don’t you come with me to the store, Dee? The others are on breakfast clean up.”
I swallowed hard. Was she mad at me? Maybe it was insulting to say she wasn’t full-fledged.
“Okay.” My voice cracked some from nerves.
We zig-zagged down the narrow road that outlined the right angles of farm fences, then skirted the base of Lightning Peak. I looked at Pauline in the driver’s seat of that hulking green van she called her mule and shook my head. That woman belonged in a Malibu.
Lightning Peak above us was not technically a mountain at 1,700 feet, but it always took my breath away—so out of place jutting up from the bottom of the Sacramento Valley. A million years ago, some kinda twist of fate pushed a circle of volcanoes up from the floor of an inland sea with not quite enough oomph to make it a future tourist destination.
The road turned to the right as it hugged the edge of the range. Tangled weedy shrubs made a partial arch above our heads that opened up as we neared the metal and wire gate to Hay Day Ranch, where the reclusive Hayden family had lived for a hundred years. It was always a good news/bad news situation with them. The good news was that they protected the ranch and the peak above from becoming a rich people’s housing development. The bad news was that it was outta bounds—no matter how much folks were itching to scale that mountain.
A steep four-wheel drive dirt road wound to the top, and a few brave hikers had been able to sneak in and go up there on full-moon nights without getting caught. Campers and counselors at Jade Camp would be sent home for good if we tried. No way I’d ever break that rule.
As we rounded the bend, I spotted a new sign to the left of the ranch’s gate. Next to that was a brand spanking new metal box and a keypad on a post. What was that? They had a fancy electric gate now? So out of place—my brain had a hard time taking it in.
Bold black lettering said Shergill Iron Ore.
“I didn’t know they had iron mines in California,” Pauline said.
My heart felt like an orange being juiced. “You have to stop the car,” I barked. “Now!”
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