The following Saturday, Jessica decided to take a break from her work to explore the farm. Brutus joined her. The dog had been missing his master. The day after Ethan’s departure, Brutus had wandered searchingly throughout every room in the house, his nose to the floor. That night, she’d been awakened by a woeful howl resonating from the kitchen. When she’d gone downstairs to quiet him, Brutus had almost knocked her flat with his ecstatic greeting. He’d whined forlornly when she’d turned to leave. “Oh, all right,” she’d relented. “You can come upstairs. Only just this once.”
He’d slept outside Ethan’s room that night, the second night outside of hers. By the end of the week, he’d made himself at home on the braided rug beside her bed. She’d grown accustomed to his steady, reassuring breathing. Truth be told, she was beginning to like the dog more than she dared admit. Last week she would’ve shaken with fright if the animal had so much as looked at her. Ethan had been right; it was better to face her fears directly than to allow them to torment her forever.
A steady breeze from the Pacific mitigated the hazy warmth of the day. In the cherry orchards, the trees swayed gently, their branches drooping close to the ground under the weight of ripening fruit. Faded pink and white blossoms speckled the loamy earth. Jessica lingered for a while amongst the trees, soaking in the fragrant smells, her face tilted towards the sun. The house and outbuildings couldn’t be seen from here. For a while, she let herself imagine that she was in a different world, much as she’d done when she was a little girl, tunneling through the hay fields on her father’s ranch.
Brutus was snorting into an unearthed rabbit hole near the base of a tree. He sent a panting look in her direction, his chocolate eyes begging her approval, paws poised to dig.
“No, Brutus. Let’s leave the animals in peace.”
He gave a petulant whine before bouncing off to his next adventure. She laughed, following him. He obviously knew where he was going as he led her towards an adjoining apple orchard. A faint trail wound through the trees and up a hill. The trees thinned as she drew closer to the crest. Ahead of her, Brutus came to the rise and then darted out of sight.
Reaching the top of the hill, Jessica paused to catch her breath. She stood, captivated, looking around her. Through a circle of oak trees lay one of the most beautiful views she’d ever seen. The hill overlooked a small green valley abloom with hundreds of orange poppies. A creek wound its way through the valley; the water rippled from the breeze, reflecting countless sparkling suns on its surface. A willow tree stood in a bend of the creek, branches dipping close to the water like a woman bending forward to wash her hair.
Jessica remained as she was for a long time, absorbing the breathtaking vista. Only when Brutus lunged past in a futile chase to catch a squirrel did she notice the orange painted markers in the ground a short distance to her right. Curious, she wandered over for a closer look.
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