Note: This is a sequel to my story "El Paso." Please read that story first! It is the back-story that provides the setting for what takes place in this story.
"From thirty thousand feet above the desert floor I see it there below.
A city with a legend, the West Texas city of El Paso.
Where long ago I heard a song about a Texas cowboy and a girl.
And a little place called Rosa's where he used to go and watch this beauty whirl."
El Paso City, Marty Robbins
EL PASO AT TWENTY THOUSAND FEET—JACK
"It looks kind of dry, doesn't it? I had no idea El Paso was so big."
"Well, don't forget that all of what you see south of the river is Ciudad Juárez. And, yeah, it's very dry."
We were completing our fourth—or was it the fifth?—circuit in the holding pattern above El Paso. There was a problem on the ground and we were getting bored making the long loops above the airport. I looked over at the girl sitting to my right. I had noticed her when she boarded and took the aisle seat next to me in first class. We had a somewhat desultory conversation when she sat down and shared a chuckle when we both agreed we were in first class only because of frequent flyer miles.
She quickly went to sleep on the flight from Las Vegas. She was flying from San Francisco and I'd been in Las Vegas for a conference on Western History. I was a professor in the new Doctoral Program in Borderlands History at UTEP.
As I had given her my answer about the size of the city below, politely turning to look at her, I looked deep into the eyes of this girl sitting next to me. I'd noticed the reddish blond hair earlier but somehow had missed the sparkling emerald green eyes beneath the full, natural brows. As I caught the straight-on impact of her eyes, I felt something lurch in my stomach—thinking at first it was the plane. I hadn't had much time for girls working on my own doctorate at Yale and then settling down in El Paso helping to start the new doctoral program at the University of Texas at El Paso.
Her quick grin clued me in that I was staring and quickly turned and looked back out the window as a the flush ran up from my neck to my cheeks. The pilot came on the speaker to let us know that the problem on the ground was taken care of. We found out later that a plane had some hydraulic problems and they wanted to keep the runways clear until it safely landed.
The 737 banked abruptly as it started the descent into the landing approach. I had been browsing through my dad's book on Dallas Stoudenmire and was thinking of what he had said in the book about how Felina had changed her name to Faleena. I'd noticed in my studies that this was actually a fairly common practice in the West at that time: changing names either purposefully or accidentally.
I had a habit of doodling when I was thinking and was writing on my notepad the different spellings of Felina I'd run across: Felina, Faleena, Falena, Feleena and Falina.
A pointing finger snaked down to my pad to the first name. I felt a firm pressure on my arm and looked over to see her breast pressed against it. When she saw where I was looking, it was her turn for her face to change to a bright red hue. She moved back a bit ... not that I was complaining. It had felt quite pleasant.
I noticed a ring on her finger—it had a row of small rubies across the setting above and below a row of diamonds. There were five diamonds, a larger one—maybe a half carat—with a smaller one on each side and smaller ones yet on the outside. It looked kind of old fashioned and expensive—though I'm certainly not an expert. It was the kind of ring that could have been just a piece of jewelry or possibly an engagement ring.
Her finger on the first name in the list, she blurted, "That's my name!
Confused, I looked down at my notepad where she was pointing. "Felina? That's really your name?"
"Yes, that's why I'm here. I, uh, I have some time on my hands and I wanted to try to find out if the story of Felina was true. My dad told me this story over and over when I was a girl: about a beautiful Spanish girl and a wild young cowboy she fell in love with. Why are you writing Felina with all of those spellings?"
I showed her dad's book, and told her, "The story is all in this book my father wrote, with my mom's help. The story is about a young woman named Felina. Her name had changed to Faleena when she moved from Santa Fe to El Paso. There she met and fell in love with a cowboy named Texas Red. They both died in a shootout in an alley in El Paso."
Looking a bit nervous, she asked, hesitantly, "What was the name of this cowboy?"
"Well, they called him Texas Red but his name was Matt Donahue. Why do you ask? Have you read this book?"
"No, no I haven't. I didn't even know it existed. My name is ... well, it was ... Felina Donahue.
I stared at her as the plane made a heavy landing, bounced once, and started slowing as the reverse thrusters kicked in. What she said ... it couldn't be. Texas Red and Felina had died in the dusty alley in El Paso. Or had they?
DINNER ... AND A KISS—JACK
I was close to being stunned as we gathered our bags and made our way off the plane ahead of the crowd in the main cabin. As we walked towards the baggage claim area all I could think about was the sheer impossibility of what she had implied. Both Texas Red and Faleena had died behind Rosa's Cantina. The deadly guns of Dallas Stoudenmire killed the cowboy and the lovely Faleena took her own life using her lover's gun.
I shook my head and looked over at the girl from the plane ... Felina Donahue, that name ... it couldn't be possible. We hadn't said anything to one another since her startling revelation, and now I saw her staring at me, a question in her eyes.
"You looked shocked when I told you my name! And why were you writing down those different spellings of Felina?"
"Look, it's complicated," I said, "Do you have a hotel?"
"Yes, of course. I'm staying at the Camino Real downtown. I have a reservation for a week."
I handed her the copy of my dad's book. "Look, if I'm too forward, let me know. Why don't you read this first—it should answer a lot of your questions ... and maybe raise some new ones. I have a couple of meetings I can't change in the morning but maybe we can get together for dinner. You don't really know me so how about I meet you at the Mexican Restaurant there at the hotel. It's called Azulejos and the guy that manages it is the uncle of a student in one of the classes I teach at the university here."
Remembering the ring, and what she had said about her name used to be Donahue, I wasn't too sure whether the invitation for dinner was appropriate.
"By the way, my name is Jack Sessions." It was really Juan Pablo Sessions but most people had called me Jack since I started school. My grandparents on my mom's side called me Juanito, my dad's mom called me John, and my parents called me Juan. It did get confusing at times living in a multicultural family.
She looked at me for a moment, pensive, and replied, "Okay, that should work out. What time shall we meet? Oh, what's the best way to get to the hotel?"
"I'll call and make a reservation for seven," I said with a question in my voice. She nodded as I raised my eyebrows. "I can give you a ride to the hotel. I need to go by my office at the University and the hotel is right on my way."
"That sounds good. By the way, my friends call me Lina."
We took the shuttle and I threw the bags in the back of my truck and opened the door for her. It was a high step up and as I handed her in I was treated to a view of an expansive stretch of lovely thigh as she raised her leg getting in. She paused so I looked up at her. I thought she would be embarrassed but she just made a small smirk that turned into a Mona Lisa smile as she pulled her leg into the cab and pulled her skirt down to her knees. Hell, it was my turn to blush again.
I let her off at the hotel entrance, letting the bellhop get the flash of thigh as he opened the door for her.
"I'll see you for dinner tomorrow night, then."
I went on to my office at the university and made some notes on the conference while it was still fresh in my mind. Later, when I got home, I called my mom and dad at their ranch in the Tierra Amarilla Valley. I told them what the girl had to say and they were as mystified as I was.
My mom said, "Why don't you invite her to come up for the weekend. I'd love to hear her story and we can go over what we know."
I opened a longneck and went out to watch the sun set on the warm summer evening. On hot evenings like this I would sometimes leave the sliding door open about a foot and put my chair in front ... making it quite pleasant. I felt somewhat guilty about using the air conditioner that way because utilities were included in my lease package—but not too guilty.
As the sun sank from view the sky turned a lovely burnt orange hue with the higher clouds more of a rosy pink. The kaleidoscope of the sky became a canvas as the images of that bloody day flashed before my eyes.
The wild Texas Red came recklessly riding his horse into town as the town marshal, Dallas Stoudenmire, and his men waited calmly. They knew that the love struck cowboy would return to his love, the young girl Faleena.
Texas Red never drew his pistol from the tied down holster as the bullets started flying towards him. As he saw his love, a rifle bullet from one of the deputies hit him in his side and he fell from his saddle into the sandy alley. When he stood and reached for his Faleena, the marshal shot him in the chest from yards away and the cowboy, wild no longer, fell heavily into the hot dust behind Rosa's Cantina.
Faleena fell to her knees, throwing herself across her dying love to protect him as best she could.
When she felt the warm blood that flowed from the wounds in his side and his chest, he raised his head to kiss her and she heard him whisper, "Never forget me, Faleena. It's over. Goodbye."
The guilt crushed her—she knew her flirting had killed the one man she really cared for. In anger at herself and at the marshal standing close and staring down at her, she grabbed the pistol from the holster of Texas Red and, with the pistol to her breast, she ended it forever.
The crash of my beer bottle hitting the floor of the balcony woke me with a start. The images had turned into a dream—was it real? Was that the way it had happened? But how could Lina's story also be true? With a heavy sigh I left the glass to clean up in the morning and went to bed to sleep a heavy sleep, wrought with dreams of cowboys and guns and girls and flirting. I woke with the memory of Lina's breast on my arm and wondered why that had so strangely moved me.
The next day was filled with the morning meetings at UTEP and then some errands and cleaning up my apartment. I got to Azulejos early and saw Tony working behind the bar. His extended family jointly owned the place with his uncle as the manager. Tony already had his master's degree and was working on his doctorate in the new program I'd been helping to get started.
Tony was a great kid and really smart but I think his uncle figured he needed some help with his grades, because he would never let me pay. I'd protested at first but got back at him by always leaving big tips. The waiters loved me and always made my dinner a great experience.
I had a Dos Equis—the full-bodied amber beer, icy cold the way I liked it, went down well. I was debating with Tony whether to have another one or to switch to one of their quite nice Margaritas. I liked them on the rocks with an extra twist of lime. Before we could come to an agreement, I saw Lina at the door.
She was dressed in a simple white peasant blouse with a long, multicolored skirt of some filmy material. She had been pretty on the plane but now she somehow seemed way beyond that. I was so busy admiring her that I forgot to get up. The girl at the front desk smiled at her and pointed back towards the bar.
When she came up I took her hands and kissed her on the cheek. Well, at least that was my intention. In our family we always kissed both cheeks, so I always did it that way automatically. She accepted the first cheek but was caught unaware as I moved to kiss her other cheek. Somehow our lips got stuck in the middle—just for an instant—and there was a spark-like static between us.
We stepped back, equally confused, both of us trying to figure out whether to apologize or not. Something had happened and it made us nervous.
We let ourselves be led to a table and I pulled the chair out for her.
"If you want something to drink, and since you aren't driving, I'd suggest one of their Margaritas."
She nodded and made herself busy with the menus. Tony's uncle, Julio, came up and made some suggestions for her, giving us both a chance to relax. Really, we didn't know each other at all—but there did seem to be some, or several, connections between us.
"How was your day, Lina? Did you get a chance to look at the book?"
Becoming animated, she said, "Jack, it was fascinating. I read half of it last night then finished it this morning. After swimming for a while I went back and read parts again. It was so sad the way they both died. But I don't understand; if she died, then how could what my dad told me be true?"
When she was excited, she had a sparkle in those green eyes that seemed to have a depth that I couldn't help but be fascinated with.
"I don't know, Lina. I'm free for the next week or so. I don't really start getting ready for the fall semester until mid-August. Usually I spend my summers doing research ... and that's what this really is, isn't it?"
"Yes, Jack, I guess it is. But I don't know where to start. I was going to visit the museums, but I don't know much about how to find out these things."
"Lina, I know you don't know me very well, but I have a couple of ideas of how to approach this. I talked to my mom and dad and they would like to meet you. Part of the ranch they own contains the land that Faleena's dad owned. Both of them know a lot about the story. I guess if what you say is true then you are in some way related to my mom—like fifth cousins or something.
"Anyway, mom asked me to invite you up for the weekend. It's a long drive, about seven hours, so we need to get started early. On the way back, a guy in Santa Fe, Andy Sheedy, who is a good friend of dad's and an expert on Dallas Stoudenmire—he can also help us out. I suspect he has his finger on the pulse of this."
She frowned for a minute, and then smiled, "Sure. I don't know why I'm thinking about it. I came here to find out if dad's stories were real and this seems like the best ... maybe the only chance. I appreciate your mom inviting me. How should I dress?"
"Jeans are great; boots if you have them. I'll meet you for breakfast at the hotel at six thirty. We should get to the ranch in time for a late lunch."
Lina seemed to enjoy the meal as much as I did and was a bit tipsy with her two Margaritas. I settled for one more of the Dos Equis beers, knowing I'd be driving the next morning.
I walked her to her room and tried kissing her on the cheek again—with about the same results. This time it lasted slightly longer and when we parted, Lina's eyes were wide ... and it seemed there was a question in them. I had no idea what the question might be—and even less what kind of answer I could make.
I guess I shouldn't have had the second drink—they were stronger than I expected. When Jack tried to kiss my cheek that second time in front of my room and our lips seemed to get stuck ... well, it was kind of dreamy and it seemed like a real kiss. I felt my lips getting soft; I felt like I was floating.
I felt comfortable with Jack. That is, I had no qualms about driving to his parents' ranch with him. The people at the restaurant seemed to know him quite well and to like him. And I had his dad's book, whatever that meant. Anyway, I liked him. He was cute and seemed awkward around women. I found that kind of enchanting.
I was looking forward to meeting his parents and to seeing the ranch where my namesake was born. I was becoming more and more curious about the mystery. Really the mystery was the difference in the two stories. It would be exciting to find out the truth. I couldn't even speculate on what had really happened.
Later I lay in bed in a pleasantly drowsy mood and thought about Jack and that kiss. It wasn't really a kiss but it had been more than anything else in the two years since Billy had died. We had a whirlwind courtship, meeting at the beach on the small island of Coronado in San Diego, right after he finished jump school at Fort Bragg.
Three months later we married in Fayetteville, and a month after that while I was still getting settled into our dependent housing, Billy Mayfield was off to war in Iraq. A short half-year after our wedding I got the traditional notification and then a full military funeral: a sad, lonely sounding taps, three volleys of perfect rifle salutes, and a folded flag that represented Billy's honor ... but was not the fun loving paratrooper I had known for such a short time.
What meant more to me was the letter I got from Joey Fitzpatrick, Billy's best friend. Joey said he was a hero—for me he was just ... gone.
I've read the letter so many times I almost have it memorized:
Billy and I had an agreement that if anything happened, the other would write a letter about what had taken place. We both knew the military had a way of obfuscating the facts sometimes and we wanted our wives to know the truth.
We were hiding in a concealed position in a small village near Fallujah. We were in a tight group, which made us an easy target if we were discovered. We knew we would have to move out at some point but then we would be exposed in the flat, open area. It was really a devil's choice. But we knew it wasn't really much of a choice. If we ran for it we might have a chance. If we stayed where we were, at some point there would be no chance.
Finally we got ready for the move. We drank as much from our canteens as we could and stripped off all the equipment that we could leave behind. We were on the radio with a rescue chopper, an HH-60, but there was too much enemy activity to get in where we were. If we could get to an abandoned farmhouse about a quarter mile from the village we were in, they could call in some suppressing fire to clear the area between the farmhouse and the town.
We started our move—it was a small village and we had to get around two houses to have a clear run to our pickup point. We tried to keep some kind of order but at best it was controlled chaos. We made it around the first house and stopped briefly to talk it over. Billy and I were to stay behind and give cover from the second house while the rest of the team ran for the farmhouse. When they got there we were to sprint for it while they gave us cover.
As soon as we reached the farmhouse two Apache attack choppers were to lay down heavy suppressing fire to give the rescue chopper a chance to pick us up.
It almost worked perfectly. We were already getting heavy small arms fire. Billy took one corner of the small house and I took the other. We both had M16s and on the signal lay down as heavy a fire as we could. When we saw that they were ready for us, we ran around the back of the house we had been shooting from and ran like crazy, not easy with the heavy body armor and what equipment we had left.
About fifty yards from the building I took a round in my thigh. Billy didn't notice at first then he came back and grabbed my arm and half dragged me to cover. The Apaches showed up and made the area at the edge of the village a living hell. Behind the farmhouse the HH-60 put down and we started loading. I needed help and Billy was right there, helping to lift me up. He began to pull himself in and took a round in the back. We grabbed him as the chopper took off and were able to pull him in.
The shot had caught him right at the back of his neck, below the helmet and above the top of the body armor. He died instantly, Lina. He never knew what happened. He was a man you can be proud of. He gave his life to save mine. His comrades in the 82nd Airborne will remember him with respect.
Billy, the fun loving paratrooper was gone and I was shocked at how quickly his face faded. Less than a year after I met him, he died in that war, the reason for which I could never begin to understand.
It didn't make any sense to stay on base—I probably didn't have any choice anyway—so I moved to Palo Alto and took a job with Stanford doing research on early childhood education. That was the area I studied for my master's at San Diego State. I met Billy when he was in San Diego visiting his older brother who was career Navy.
I changed my name back from Mayfield to Donahue—I'd never gotten around to changing my California Driver's License and it just seemed easier. I got $250,000 insurance from the government for Billy's "service to the country." I gave half of it to his brother so he and his wife could buy a house in San Diego.
I invested what I had left and forgot about it. I didn't really feel like I deserved it so I just ignored it. I get statements once a quarter but rarely did more than glance at them.
I'd never slept with anyone before I met Billy and he was gone so damn fast. Now Jack had stirred up my passions, banked like a fire for the night, awakened with the dawn. How could that fleeting, gentle, quickly passing glance of a kiss wake up these hormones so long dormant?
I didn't read too much into this—I was still the shy girl afraid of relationships and commitments. My daddy convinced me I was pretty but ... still, I don't think I really believed it. I was lonely. I was tired of being lonely. Daddy said I should get a Boxer to keep me company.
Felina? Who was I really and what did I have to do with the girl in the book, Felina/Faleena? Was there a wild young cowboy in store for me?
I cried then in the lonely dawn; I cried for Billy and his life wasted too early. I cried for Faleena and Texas Red ... so much love wasted so young with such violence. I cried for myself because ... I didn't know, I just cried.
TIERRA AMARILLA VALLEY—JACK
After a quick breakfast we took off in my truck up I-25 to Santa Fe and on up US 84 to Tierra Amarilla. Lina was fascinated with the yellow color of the land. I explained to her that's what Tierra Amarilla meant. When we got to the town of the same name we turned off for the ranch.
I introduced Lina to my mom, María, and my dad, John. I could see my mom's eyes light up as she wondered if this was the one. Lina stayed in my old room and I slept over the garage. This was my mom's doing—surely she didn't think I had improper thoughts?
We had a light lunch and retired to our respective rooms for a short siesta. I dozed off for a while, then put on my old jeans and boots and went looking for a horse with some spirit. When I was in high school I was pretty active in the local rodeos. I was never really serious about it—it was just something for fun. I did wind up a pretty fair bronc rider though. Now whenever I came up to the ranch I liked to take on one of the three or four horses that liked to jump around a bit.
Dad had told me of a new horse he'd bought. It was a stallion with the color called locally bayo coyote... a dun with a black stripe down the bony ridge of his back. He was dark-maned buckskin with zebra stripes around the knees and hocks.
It felt good to ride an animal with such spirit—even to the point I was laughing the first two times he pitched me off. The third time I stayed in the saddle—I think more due to the horse deciding he was bored that to any great skill of mine. I put it through its paces and was really impressed with it. Dad had brought it for breeding and I thought it would work out well.
When I dismounted and took the saddle off, I heard a gentle clapping and turned to see Lina applauding me.
"Hey, you really are a cowboy! And here I thought you were just a stuffy old professor."
I smiled and said, "Yeah, but you didn't see the first two tries."
I turned and showed her the ground-in muck from the corral on the back of my jeans. Mom came out then and kidnapped Lina so I went up and took a shower and put on some clean clothes.
After dinner, Dad and I retired to the screen room in the back of the house with cold beers.
I'd finally gotten my dad to call me Jack instead of Juan. "Jack, you know that mom had a long talk with Lina." He laughed a bit and continued; "I think she regrets putting you in the garage. I'm afraid she sees granddaughter written all over this girl."
"Jeez, Dad, I just met her two days ago. I don't even know what kind of toothpaste she uses."
Dad laughed at that. I thought it was kind of funny too, like toothpaste was part of making a baby. She did look good in those tight fitting jeans, though.
Mom and Lina came in. Mom asked, "What are you two good for nothings up to?"
Dad smirked and said, "Oh, we were just talking about toothpaste."
Mom smiled at him and said, "Okay, no more beer for you guys."
We talked for a while about dad's book. He answered a bunch of questions from Lina. He was fascinated with her name being Felina Donahue. We brainstormed but couldn't come up with any coherent theory that would tie together the two traditions.
The phone rang and dad talked for a while.
"That was Andy Sheedy. He's been so helpful in the past so I gave him a call on this little conundrum we have. He's really excited; he thinks he has found something ... maybe just what we are looking for. I invited him for dinner tomorrow night."
We talked some more about what Andy might have to say, but we were just guessing. Mom and dad went on to bed and I took Lina out for a walk in the warm summer evening. It was not as hot as in El Paso since the altitude here was much higher.
I somewhat naturally took her hand as we walked in the quiet night.
"Hey, Jack? Don't you think it's a good thing they don't arrange marriages anymore?"