The horse wheezed and Erin jumped back. “He knows his name!”
“Yeah, Charlie is a smart one,” Cindy said. “And from the look of things I think he has a crush on you.”
"Is that right Charlie? Do you have a crush on me?" Erin ran her hands through the horse's man as they trotted along. She loved being around animals and was happy she had booked the trip.
Soon the women came upon the ridge and Erin got her first look at the valley. She gasped at the sight. “My lord, it’s gorgeous,” she exclaimed. Miles of virgin land stretched out before her eyes, bordered by rust-colored rock formations that rose high into the sky. Erin felt a sudden rush of relief. Her friends and coworkers had playfully mocked her over her choice in vacation destinations, but the view of the valley below proved they had no idea what they were talking about. Erin didn’t mind the ribbing, although she did think her friends and coworkers where perhaps a bit ignorant on the subject. Being the go along to get along type, however, Erin just let them joke and went along with her business. Now who’s laughing, she thought as she fiddled with the leather reins attached to Charlie’s snout. She pictured her coworkers back at the post office applying shipping labels to boxes and thought to herself "Who's laughing now?" as she looked down a the luscious green valley with a childish grin plastered on her face.
Cindy glanced in her direction and must have noticed the smirk on her face. Erin said, “Don’t mind me, I’m just thinking of some people back home.”
“They give you a hard time about coming out to North Dakota and going horseback riding?”
“Yes. How did you know?”
“I’m a former city gal myself,” Cindy said. “I came out here when I was about your age and everyone laughed at me. I didn’t know it at the time, but they were just scared. You see, when you make a bold and decisive decision, especially one that goes against the grain, you are opening yourself up to be criticized. People don’t like to see other people stray from the herd. It makes them examine their own lives a little, and they don’t like that.”
Erin looked at Cindy and had a hard time picturing her as a city girl. Her dusty boots and jeans looked like they were painted on, and she had the weathered face of someone who spent a lot of time outdoors. It wasn’t that she looked old, on the contrary she looked to be rather healthy and full of life, but she did not look like a city girl.
“Does somebody live out there?” Erin asked and pointed towards a two-story cabin in the distance.
“No, that’s the old Reardon place. They sold it to us about eight years ago, right before the oil boom. It’s been sitting there empty ever since. Once the boom took off, Christine and I, she’s my business partner by the way, thought about turning it into a bed and breakfast. But then Christine’s dad got sick, and the medical bills from that eat up most of our profits. So, the cabin remains empty. It’s a damn shame too, because with all this foot traffic due to the oil, we think that place could make some good money. “Cindy looked out over the horizon and rubbed the back of her neck. “Probably for the best though, neither one of us can cook worth a damn. Just don’t tell Christine I said that, ok?”
Erin laughed. “Your secret is safe with me.” She had heard about the oil-boom, of course. It was one of the main reasons she was sitting here atop a horse right now. There were plenty of places to go horseback riding in the country, and a lot of the places were more picturesque than North Dakota, but as always Erin had something else on her mind. Truth was, she was tired of the repetitive daily grind of being a postal employee and wanted to see what life was like out west. After eight long years at the Post Office, she was ready for a change and thought that North Dakota might have something to offer her. From what she’d read, people were making serious money out here, like six figures in six months type money. Of course, most of the work was brutally dangerous, but Erin wasn’t interested in becoming a roughneck herself. She was initially interested in an office job, but she couldn’t lie to herself; the idea of running a bed and breakfast out here was quite intriguing.
“Is there really that much money to be made out here?” Erin asked.
Cindy looked at her and smiled “Look at the Middle East and all the trouble oil causes over there. It’s because of all the money that shoots out of the ground." She looked at Erin and smiled. “To answer your question, before I go off on some political rant, yes there is a lot of money to be made off of the boom.”
Erin nodded and looked out over the valley. Having been a teetotaler most of her life, and doing the best to live below her means, unlike everyone else she knew, Erin was now sitting on close to twenty thousand dollars in savings. She could up and leave Chicago at any moment and be working out here by the end of the month. She let her mind wander as she looked over the valley and lost track of time. Cindy finally broke the silence.