Florian drove down the straight dirt road, wheat fields on either side, his truck kicking up dust behind him. He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel in time with the country music on the radio.
Suddenly, he squinted in the sunny haze; was there somebody walking there on the side of the road? As he got closer, he could make out a figure in a red skirt and with a canvas backpack on her back.
Pulling up beside her, he rolled down the passenger window. "You want a ride?"
She looked over at him and both of their pairs of eyes widened.
"Florian?" she said.
They stared at each other for a second and Kari glanced around quickly before opening the passenger door and hopping inside. Once she had slammed the door closed, Florian drove on, both of them silent for the first few minutes.
"I didn't know you'd gone out west," she said finally.
"Yeah, my uncle's got a farm out here."
He glanced over at her. She was different than two years ago. Her hair was a lot shorter than it had been in their senior year, and it had streaks of green and purple in it. But more striking than her outward appearance was how she held herself now. Her squared shoulders, her piercing gaze, and set jaw were the complete opposite of the shy girl he remembered from high school.
"What are you doing out here?" he asked.
"Exploring," she said. He was exactly the same as how she remembered him. Sure, he looked a bit older, but he still had the curly black hair and the steady, sincere gaze.
"You're studying to be a teacher, right?" he asked.
"How's that going?"
"Good. A bit stressful."
They sat in silence for a few minutes, unsure of what to say. They had not been particularly close in high school - acquaintances, but no more than that.
"Where are you headed?" he asked.
She shrugged, unusual for the plan-oriented Kari he remembered. "Where are you headed?"
"I'm headed home," he said. "You can stay overnight if you want. We have a guest room."
Smiling, but keeping her eyes on the seemingly never-ending road ahead, she said, "Sure."
At dinner that night, Kari ate like she had not had a good meal in days.
"So, you were in Florian' class in high school?" asked Marian, Florian' aunt.
"Yep," she said.
"How long have you been traveling?"
"Since last semester ended."
"Two months?" Florian asked, his eyebrows rising.
"That sounds about right."
"Why'd you decide to come out west?" asked Florian' Uncle Fred.
She looked up at him and smiled. "A change of scenery."
After having helped his uncle with the dishes, Florian found Kari on the back porch, watching the sun set over the fields. He went to stand beside her by the railing.
"Peaceful out here, isn't it?" he said.
"That why you left home, for some peace?"
Glancing over at him, she nodded again. "Sometimes I wonder if I shoulda gone somewhere other than university. You seem to have stuff figured out pretty well out here."
"I know ranchers who are hiring."
A smile played at the corner of her mouth. "I grew up in town, I would not be very helpful on a ranch."
They looked out to the horizon, where the setting sun left gold and pink splattered across the sky.
"Where will you go next?"
She shrugged. "Anywhere. Everywhere."
The next morning, Florian tapped lightly on the guest bedroom door. "Kari?" he said.
There was no answer.
He knocked harder, but not a sound came from inside.
Cautiously, he opened the door to find no one in the room. The bed was neatly made and on the bedside table sat a piece of paper. Florian walked over and read Kari's perfect penmanship:
Thanks for everything. Hopefully we'll meet again.