At sixty miles per hour you could pass our ranch in a minute. It sits on Township Road 8680, which runs due north into the Y intersection at Deer Run Road. Deer Run is really just another country blacktop, except twenty miles west it runs in and out of the town of Rabbit Creek and then becomes Sweetwater County.
There is nothing like the sunrise on the Rocky Mountains. The sun setting the sky on fire in shades of crimson, golds, reds and pastels. Sunsets are just as brilliant. Magenta fading into yellow, pink and mauve until silver and gray begin to come in and the sun disappears behind the mountain range. Even the darkness can be mystic and yet mysterious.
There is bluegrass, wheat grass, tufted fescues and red tops growing on the vast grazing land. Cactus, rabbit brush and black and gray sagebrush in the desert area while sweet cactus with yellow flowers, tinted with red thrive in the plane area. In the mountain area of the ranch plants such as: arnica, buttercup, evening star, five fingers, flax, forget-me-not, goldenrod, saxifrage, sour dock and windflower flourish in the spring.
On the tiny rise you could see our buildings at the southern edge of the ranch. To the northeast there were three silos and if you looked from the silos to the house and back again you could see the piece of land my father owned.
My great-grandfather built the ranch in 1901. It has been renovated over the years, but still has that old log cabin style. There was a ten-foot wide wrap around porch with rocking chairs, a porch swing and cozy nooks for watching the sunset or playing a game of checkers. Inside, each room had a ceiling fan and window views looking out into the valley. The vaulted living area had a fireplace, comfortable leather couches, recliners and plenty of books and magazines. It had four bedrooms, a living room, a dining room and a reception hall. The reception hall was where all our rodeo pictures, newspaper clippings and trophies were kept. The house also had an indoor bathroom and French doors separating the living and dining room. There was a cedar gazebo, which faced the valley beside two large elm trees that had grown together and would be referred to as “hugging trees”. All in all, it was as picturesque as a Norman Rockwell painting.
I have been riding the rodeo circuit since I was six years old. Since my whole family competes, I guess you could call it a family tradition. Most rodeos consist of five events: bareback riding, barrel racing, calf roping, steer wrestling and bull riding
Riding a horse bareback may sound easy, but let me assure you it’s not…especially when the horse is bucking. In my first experience riding bareback, I ended up on the ground with a bruise the size of Montana on my ankle. In the rodeo the rider must stay on for ten seconds and also spur the horse to receive a score.
Barrel racing, my favorite event, consists of three barrels arranged in a triangle form, sometimes called a clover pattern. You circle the first barrel on the right and the last two on the left. Then you sprint your horse to the finish line. For every barrel you knock over there is a five second deduction. I know that doesn’t seem like much, but five seconds can make or break you in this event. You also want to make sure your turns aren’t too wide because that looses time as well. A good run can only take a number of seconds to complete. It all depends on speed and execution.
Calf roping is quite complicated because it consists of four parts. First, the rider must rope a calf while on horseback, then stop the horse, throw the calf to the ground and tie three of its legs together. A champion calf roper can do this all in a mere twelve to fifteen seconds. This is not my best event, but I can hold my own.
Steer wrestling is when you jump from the back of a speeding horse onto the neck of a running steer, grasp the head and twist the steer to the ground with all four feet being parallel. An expert can do this in three to eight seconds. I have learned over the years to hang onto the steer like your life depends on it. It’s better to have a score than not one at all.
Bull riding is probably the most well known event in the rodeo. The rider holds on to a long rope that is wrapped around the middle of a bull’s body. Even though the rider is not required to spur the bull, they have to stay on for eight seconds to be given a score. They have wranglers dressed up as clowns in the ring to distract the bull after you dismount or are bucked off. There is a 2,000-pound animal that wants to kill you so the clowns are necessary.
The Frontier Days Rodeo is held every year down in Cheyenne. It begins with a big parade, kind of like the opening ceremonies in the Olympics. All the contestants come out dressed in full western wear. My family’s rodeo outfits consisted of: black pants and long sleeved, white shirts with black fringe. My mother and I wore white hats and boots while my father and brothers wore black ones. Daddy had been a professional bull rider since his early twenties. Mama competed in barrel racing and bareback riding. I competed in barrel racing as well as all the other events, even bull riding when I got older. My brothers competed in all the events, too. It’s a lot of work and preparation, but it’s always worth it in the end. The Frontier Days was the event I would look forward to all year or at least I used to. Now memories are all I have left since Mama died.
She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in March of that year. Even though she couldn’t compete anymore because of the chemotherapy and everything, she still tried to help with the preparation as much as she could. She would also try and come to every event and watch us compete. Mama passed away five months later and our days of riding the rodeo died with her.
Daddy was never the same after that. He said he couldn’t continue to live in the house he shared with Mama. There were just too many painful memories. I have always loved our ranch and Daddy knew this. Before he left, he signed all the rights to Windsong over to his mother, who lived at the ranch with us. It had to be that way since I was still a few months shy of being twenty-one. Gram would sign the rights over to me then. My brothers left shortly after Daddy and became big city lawyers. They never cared for ranch life. They felt it was just something they had unfortunately been born into. I haven’t heard from them since. My brothers and I got along okay. Our worlds were just too different.
I wanted to continue to ride the circuit, but with the upkeep of the ranch and Gram getting up there in her years, my time was limited. Slowly, the rodeo was becoming part of my past. That was three years ago.
Today started out just like any other day. I woke up at 6:00am to the sunlight penetrating my curtains. I sat up slowly, yawned and stretched. I sluggishly got out of bed, pulled on my worn tan riding pants, a white button down shirt and brown boots. I brushed my thick, naturally wavy, reddish gold hair (more red than gold) and pulled it back into a loose knot at the nape of my neck. I would be acting like a zombie until I had some caffeine in me.
“Well, there’s Little Miss Sunshine,” Gram said when I walked into the kitchen.
“Morning, Gram.” I went over to the counter and filled my coffee cup.
No sooner than I had sat down at the long oak table, Gram had a plate with two slices of French toast, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar in front of me. I have told Gram multiple times I would be just fine with a cup of coffee and a banana muffin, but she insists I have a proper breakfast. Gram’s the kind of person who thinks you have to chew every bite of food twenty-six times before swallowing. She nearly had a heart attack when I went through my vegetarian phase. Of course I was only eleven at the time. I finally came to the conclusion my not eating meat wasn’t going to change anything. If I didn’t eat the beef or pork then someone else was going to. Even though Gram’s French toast is one of my favorites, I in hailed it.
“Slow down, girl or you’re going to get indigestion.”
It wouldn’t be the first time. The chores weren’t going to do themselves. I drank down my last gulp of coffee, put my plates in the sink, grabbed my tired brown hat with braided leather around the middle and headed out the door on my way to the stables.
There is a lot of work in the upkeep of a ranch. Most of it is not easy. Some of the chores include: pitching hay, clearing brush, repairing equipment and breaking horses. Well, not so much breaking horses anymore, but still.
A horse should live in a clean comfortable stall. The floor should be made of cinder at best. If the floor is made of wood or cement then a bedding of sawdust or peat moss should be put down. A horse should be fed three times a day. Horses like to eat grass, corn, oats, grain and hay. We feed ours fourteen pounds of hay, four in the morning and the rest at night. Then one-third pound of oats and a grain and bran mixture. Horses also like salt. They eat about two ounces of salt a day so a salt lick or block usually takes care of that.
A horse should be groomed every day, but it’s not necessary. Being in the rodeo, we groomed our horses pretty regularly so I am used to it. The grooming tools include: a rubber currycomb, body brush, hoof pick and a mane and tail comb. Grooming removes the dirt and dander and also helps circulation. Places that are covered by the saddle and girth require special brushing. A hoof pick helps remove stones or any other objects from the horse’s feet. Shoeing also protects the feet and helps the horse stand on all four feet evenly. For the rodeo our horses wore lightweight shoes that wore out pretty quickly so we shoed them quite often. But not so much anymore.
We would start training our horses “under the saddle” as yearlings and only rode a couple of steps a day. The horses usually don’t enter the rodeo until age two. With the right training, a horse should become a good riding horse within a year. It really depends on the trainer and the horse’s willingness to learn.
After I finished with the horses, it was on to the cattle. We have three beef cows and four dairy ones. Each has a different food requirement. We feed our beef cows fourteen pounds of corn, four pounds of red clover hay, one and a quarter pounds of linseed or cottonseed meal and ground grain. Sometimes we also included molasses or something with sugar. The milk our dairy cows produced depends on their feed. Our dairy cows get three pounds of silage, one pound of hay, grain and alfalfa. I try and milk them every morning before I feed them.
This year, one of our beef heifers had a calf. Unfortunately, the mother did not survive. Now I had to play surrogate mother and bottle-feed the baby. Bottle-feeding a calf is a chore in itself. First, I had to turn the calf’s head around. Then insert my index and middle finger into the calf’s mouth. When it opened up, I had to slide the bottle between my two fingers. The calf liked to turn its head and the bottle would pop out. Then I would have to start all over again. When I was able to keep the bottle in the calf’s mouth for more than two seconds, I would massage its throat in getting it to swallow.
It was a typical day at Windsong. What I didn’t expect was what happened after my evening ride. I try and go riding as much as I can. It helps me clear my head and wind down after a long hard day. Sometimes I even run the barrels when I am missing the rodeo something fierce. Anyway that night I felt the need to ride my own horse. She is a paint mare. When I was closing the gate to her stall, I heard an unfamiliar voice say, “That’s a beautiful horse you have there.” A male voice.
I whirled around, lost my balance and landed on my butt.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you.” He offered me his hand.
“I can get up by myself, thank you.”
When I had regained my footing, I got a better look at the stranger. He was tall, about six foot one with sandy blonde hair and the murkiest brown eyes I had ever seen. I have never been one to be taken in by a pretty face and wasn’t about to start now.
“Who are you?”
“My name’s Blaine Padar. I’m your new hired hand.”
“Hired hand. You must have talked to Gram.”
“If you are referring to Ms. Kinkirk then yes, I have.”
I have told Gram more times than I can count; I don’t need help with the ranch. Despite my many objections, she placed an ad in the Rabbit Creek Transcript. I had been hoping the ad wouldn’t have been answered this soon or at all for that matter.
“Is this your horse?” Blaine asked.
“Of course,” I answered without thinking. “I mean yes.”
“What’s her name?”
“Sophy. She used to be my rodeo horse. She can run the barrels in fifteen seconds flat.”
“That sounds like a pretty good time.”
“It is an excellent time. The world record is thirteen.”
“So you’re a barrel racer?”
“I used to be.”
“Why did you quit?”
“That is none of your business,” I snapped.
“It was just a question.”
“Well, if you’ll excuse me, Mr. Padar. I have to feed the horses.”
“I’ll give you a hand.”
“I don’t need one.”
“Just trying to be nice.”
“Well, the west wasn’t won by being nice.”
“Can I at least have your name?”
“Tanith? That’s an unusual name.”
“So my name’s not Victoria. You have a problem with that?”
“Maybe unusual was the wrong word. It’s unique.”
“I was named after my father’s great-grandmother. Sometimes, I wonder why she couldn’t have a name like Taylor, Morgan or MacKenzie.”
“No, I like Tanith. It suits you.”
“Well, I am so glad you think so,” I answered sarcastically.
“Well, I just wanted to say hello and introduce myself. So I guess I will see you at breakfast.”
“You know, the first meal of the day…”
“I know what it is.”
“Your grandmother told me to be there promptly at 6:30am.”
Leave it to Gram, I thought.
“Well, good night, Tanith.”
“Good night,” I said without turning around.
As I fed the horses, I couldn’t stop thinking about Blaine Padar. He was so irritating and yet, so likable.
“You could have at least asked my opinion.” I huffed around the kitchen.
“And I know exactly what you would have said,” Gram replied calmly. “You would have found something wrong with everyone so I went ahead and hired Blaine. He’s good boy. I like him.”
“Well, I hate him.”
“You don’t mean that.”
“All right, maybe I don’t hate him, but I strongly dislike him.”
“He bothers me. I don’t care for cocky, intense men who smirk at me.”
“I don’t think that’s the real reason, either. You’re upset because I hired someone to help with the ranch. You are out there killing yourself and just too stubborn to see it.”
“Fine, I am upset. And where does he get off asking me about the rodeo? You know how sore of a subject that is.”
“Look, Tanith. He’s a hard worker and can get the job done. You don’t have to like him to work with him. But I expect you to be decent to him. Do I make myself clear?”
I was restless that night. I don’t know if it was because Blaine was asleep in one of the two guest rooms or not. I felt foolish for locking my bedroom door. The last thing I wanted was for Blaine to sleepwalk and wind up in bed with me. At 6:15am, I finally felt it was safe to go and take a shower. The hot water felt so good as I let it run over my shoulders and down my back. I turned around and let it spray on my face. Going to and from the bathroom, I made sure I was fully covered with my bathrobe. When I got to the doorway of the kitchen, I stopped abruptly.
There was Blaine and he was actually helping Gram with breakfast. The man could cook? I am lucky if I can make toast. Blaine was wearing jeans and a fresh white T-shirt that defined his muscular arms. His hair was tussled, but didn’t look messy. I found myself thinking he had a rather nice build. I shook it off and walked into the kitchen.
“Good morning, Tanith. Hope you’re hungry,” Blaine greeted me as he set a bowl of scrambled eggs on the table.
I saw Gram looking at me out of the corner of her eye so I reluctantly sat down. All I really wanted to do was get out of the house and away from Blaine.
“Go ahead and sit down, Blaine. I can finish up here,” Gram said.
Blaine sat directly across from me. He held out his hand and asked, “Eggs?”
“I can get my own.”
“Tanith.” Gram’s voice held a warning note.
“Oh, it’s okay, Ms. Kinkirk. I am not easily offended especially not by a beautiful woman like your granddaughter.”
What right did he have to call me beautiful? I glared at him.
“What? You can’t take a compliment?”
I was about to say, “Not from you”, but I had enough sense to know when to keep my mouth shut. I served myself as little as possible without Gram jumping down my throat. More eating and less talking was the fastest way to get away from him.
“So what’s on the agenda for today?” Blaine asked. He must be a morning person. I was never this awake before breakfast.
“I’m going to take care of the horses and cattle, like always. I don’t know what you’re going to do.”
“There’s some hay out in the field that needs pitching. You can do that, Blaine,” Gram said while keeping an evil eye on me.
“Oh, you don’t have to be so formal. You can call me Cora.”
“Okay, Cora. That’s a real pretty name.”
Gram flushed pink.
“I bet you say that to all the girls,” I replied remembering how he had said Tanith was a good name. What a suck up. I dumped my plates in the sink and left without another word.
Once I arrived at the stables, I could breathe a little easier. At least I wouldn’t have to see Blaine for a little while anyway. It still bugged me he had called me beautiful. What I mean is, I am not butt ugly, but I am no Miss America, either. I hurried through the chores hoping that I wouldn’t pass him in going back to the house. However, my plan backfired. Gram met me at the door with a water jug.
“Why don’t you take this out to Blaine. I bet he could use a drink.”
It was not a question so I knew I had no choice in the matter. As I walked out to the field, the sun was shining and a light warm wind was blowing. The scent of wildflowers filled the air. I held my hand up to shield my eyes as I scanned the field for Blaine. When I saw him, my breath caught in my throat. He was pitching hay all right, but he had taken off his shirt and had wrapped it around his forehead to keep the sweat out of his eyes. Sweat glistened on his smooth, muscled chest. Some guys like long legs, some like red hair. I went weak in the knees for a guy with a nice chest and Blaine fit that category to a T. Now what was I going to do? Turning into Jell-o was just not an option. I summoned my courage and walked over to him.
“Is that for me?” he asked when he saw me just standing there holding the water jug like a total idiot.
“Gram thought you might like a drink.”
Blaine took the jug and poured water directly into his mouth with classic form.
“Aaah. That sure hits the spot. You thirsty?”
“You know, with two of us doing the hay we could get it done in half the time.” He folded his arms and leaned against the hayrack.
I pondered for a minute. He did have a point.
“Fine, give me the pitchfork.”
“Oh no you don’t. I’m the one pitching hay. You get your cute little butt up there and start trampling.”
I wasn’t about to let him get me all flustered. At every haycock, Blaine stopped and pitched hay up into the hayrack. It came tumbling, loosely over the high edge and I trampled it. Up and down, back and forth, I trampled the loose hay with all the might of my legs. The forkfuls kept coming over and falling and I went on trampling. Then Blaine pitched more hay from the other side. Under my feet, the hay climbed higher, trampled down as solid as hay could be. Up and down, fast and hard, my legs kept going the length of the hayrack and back across the middle. The sunshine was hotter now and the smell of hay was sweet and strong. Under my feet, it bounced and over the edges of the hayrack it kept coming. My head rose above the edge of the rack and I could have looked over all our land. The rack was full of hay and still more came flying from Blaine’s pitchfork. I was very high up now and the slippery hay was sloping downward around me. My face and neck were wet with sweat and sweat trickled down my back. My hat hung by its strings and my braid had come undone. My hair flapped widely in the wind. When Blaine saw I was able to keep up with him, he started to pitch faster. The faster he pitched, the faster I trampled. The faster I trampled, the angrier I got. We continued this way until almost all the hay was pitched. I sank back in the warm, sweet hay. Even though I was soaked with sweat and my legs felt like rubber, I actually liked the feeling of being physically tired.
“Here, give me your hand and I’ll help you down. You’re one hell of a trampler.” Blaine climbed up on the side of the hayrack.
“Thanks.” I was too tired to think of a snappy comeback.
When I reached down for his hand I slipped, lost my footing, landed on top of him, knocking him off the hayrack and onto the ground. Our eyes locked for a split second.
“Well, this is a switch. I’m usually the one on top.”
“Pervert.” I got up and stalked off toward the house as best as my legs could carry me. I looked back just long enough to see him grinning after me.
“You were on top of him and you didn’t do anything?” Melinda Porterfield nearly choked on her lemonade.
Lindy and I have been friends since time began. She was often out at the ranch helping with preparations for the rodeo. She had always wanted to live on a ranch, but with her father being an English professor at a big university, they had to live in town. Lindy’s like the sister I never had.
“What did you expect me to do? Have wild hot sex with him?”
“Heck, yeah,” Lindy replied. “I would have.”
“Well, that’s the difference between you and me.”
“Are you telling me this gorgeous hunk has been working at your ranch for over a month and you’re not going to take advantage of the situation?”
“That is exactly what I’m saying.”
“Oh, Tanith, Tanith, Tanith.” Lindy just shook her head.
“When are you going to realize you’re a woman? You have needs, too.”
“But why would Blaine even be interested in someone like me?”
“You’re a beautiful girl…” There was that word again; ‘beautiful;’ “…you have all the assets. It’s time you used them.”
“He’s arrogant, pompous and he bothers me.”
“And do you know why that is?”
“I don’t know. He just does.”
“It’s because he knows how to push your buttons; what makes you tick. It’s time you learned how to push some of his. But first, you have to stop hiding behind those riding pants and baggy, button down shirts.”
“I didn’t come to lunch for a fashion critique. They are comfortable and practical.”
“Well, comfort never turned on a man. Now about your hair…”
“What’s wrong with my hair? I like my hair.”
“Your hair is gorgeous, but you should wear it down more often. Show off those waves. Let it flow down over your shoulders, something. I know people who would kill for hair like that. Next, is your make up…”
“I don’t wear make up. I am not going to go around looking like some rodeo clown.”
“I am not talking Elvira, here. Just some light blush and some blue eye shadow would really enhance your eyes.”
“But I have the horses to take care of.”
“Tanith, you take better care of those horses than you do yourself.”
“Okay. Just for argument’s sake, let’s say I actually even considered what you are implying…what’s saying it’s not going to blow up in my face?”
“You just stick with me,” Lindy said. “You’ll have Blaine Padar on his knees and begging. Meet me here Monday at 2:00pm. We’re going shopping.”
Well, Lindy did have more experience with men than I did. She was engaged to this guy for four months before they called it off. I wasn’t about to let Blaine win whatever game he thought he was playing. It would serve him right if I turned him on and then left him out in the cold.
I try and go riding whenever I can and whenever the weather permits it. Out here, the weather can change in an instant. Most days are dry and sunny. The temperature can vary from one area to another. The average temperature in January is 22 degrees and 71 in July. The average rainfall can be anywhere from five to forty inches a year. The snowfall ranges from twelve to 200 inches in some places. The wind usually starts blowing fiercely by mid afternoon. Sometimes, we have what is called a “ground blizzard.” That is when you can look up and see a brilliant, blue sky, but you can’t see anything on either side of you. I have been told my grandfather got caught in a ground blizzard and barely made it out alive.
Tonight it was perfect riding weather. As I was about to make my selection I heard, “Wonderful evening, isn’t it?” I looked over and saw Blaine’s tall frame in the doorway.
“I was going to sneak out for a ride before sunset. You ride?” It seemed like the next logical question.
“Is that an invitation?”
“It’s just that Happy really needs a workout. If you take him, I’ll be able to give Phantom some exercise, too. Neither of them has had enough the last couple days. I’m sure I have tack that will suit you.” He was already heading toward the tack room. I turned my attention back to Phantom. Three minutes later, I was leading him out of the building. Blaine was right behind me with Happy. He knew how to saddle a horse, I’ll give him that much. We headed up a gentle slope where the trees were still lush and green at a quick trot. I decided not to take it too hard on him in the beginning. As we crossed the next slope Blaine said, “So did I pass the riding test?”
Naturally, I had been checking his form.
“Well, you are competent enough at a trot.” But that was about to change.
With a light tap of my heels, I sent Phantom into canter. When I saw Blaine match my pace, I headed into a gallop. Oh, how I missed this. Every day when I can’t fly across the fields it almost breaks my heart. There was nothing like it. The thrill of speed, the power surging under me, through me. I forgot all about Blaine as I streaked across another rise. When I finally pulled up, my face was flushed with pleasure and my eyes were gleaming. Blaine was only a couple of paces behind me.
“Gorgeous, isn’t it?” I mused. The sky was a riot of color slashed with reds and golds.
“It’s as hot as blazes,” Blaine replied.
“It’s beautiful from up here.”
“From down there, too I imagine. It’s the best I have ever seen.”
“Just wait until winter. The sky is so blue it actually hurts your eyes to look at it.”
When the light started to fade, we turned and started to head back. We rode at a canter until the lights of Windsong came into view.
“You, ah, ride pretty well,” I said.
“Is that a compliment?”
“I don’t mind giving them when they’re fact.”
“Well, coming from you that means a lot.”
Together we watered the horses and while Blaine took the saddles and reins to the tack room, I set about measuring out the feed. We worked silently across from each other in opposite boxes. When I finally shut the gate to Sophy’s stall, he came over and stood beside me.
“Does she miss it?” Blaine asked as he stroked the side of Sophy’s face. His voice was soft and low.
“Does she miss it? The rodeo?”
“I don’t know. Maybe, I guess.”
“I think she does. I can see it in her eyes.”
“Oh, you can, can you?”
“What about you?”
“What about me?”
“Do you miss it?” When I didn’t answer he said, “You do miss it.”
“How do you know?”
“You held your breath.”
“I did not. Well, maybe I did.”
“So why did you quit?”
I knew what Lindy meant about him pushing my buttons and I didn’t like it.
“I just did, okay? End of subject.”
“And here I thought we were making progress.”
I spun around. “Progress? We go on one ride together, watch a beautiful sunset and you think that gives you the right to know every detail about my life? Well, let me tell you something, mister, it doesn’t. So back off.”
Cinnamon had been bred. She is a bronze colored mare with amber colored mane. I had taken her to Royal Meadows, a neighboring ranch and had her bred with a rusty colored stallion named Tarragon. The names were just coincidence. The owner said Tarragon had been known to produce pied foals. Paint horses have always been my favorite. I think they are one of the prettiest.
I was getting ready to do the afternoon feeding when I noticed Cinnamon wasn’t eating like normal. She was the one animal that lived up to the phrase, “Eating like a horse.” She had taken a couple mouthfuls of hay and a few sips of water, but that was it. I also noticed Cinnamon was standing with her head down and was sort of staring off into space. Every so often she would stamp the ground with her hoof. I pulled up a bail of straw and sat down to observe. When she started to make soft little noises and her breathing seemed to be more labored, I decided to move her over to the birthing stall. The birthing stall is wider than a normal one. Cinnamon was acting too restless for this to be a false alarm. Sometimes horses can fool you into thinking they are bred when they really aren’t.
Blaine was sitting on the couch, flipping through a magazine when I came through the back door later that evening. I had come in to get some dry clean towels and a new bulb for the heat lamp.
“What’s going on?” he asked coming into the kitchen.
“One of my mares has started to show signs she might be foaling soon.”
I nodded; surprised he had remembered her name.
“Need some help?”
“She’s still in the first stage of labor and besides I have delivered three foals in my time. I think I can handle it.”
“Just asking.” Blaine held up his hands in surrender. “Are you planning on coming back?”
“I don’t know. It depends on how slow or fast Cinnamon is progressing. You can go to bed if you want. I don’t care.” I walked out.
Even though I have seen and delivered foals before, I still like being present when it happens. Each birth is like experiencing a miracle for the very first time. After screwing in the heat bulb, I sat back down on the straw bail to watch and wait. Every so often I would say things like, “It’s going to be okay, girl. I’m here,” and “You’re going to be a mama soon.”
Around two hours later, I could definitely tell Cinnamon was having contractions and acting like she wanted to push. Whenever she would have a contraction, she would curl her upper lip back, stretch her neck forward and sometimes give a low whinny. I was now saying, “Come on, Cin, just a little more. You can do it,” and “Push, push, push.” Finally, her water broke.
After that I noticed Cinnamon really wasn’t trying to push so hard anymore. She also wasn’t showing as intense signs of labor. I waited around another hour or so. Then I saw a tiny piece of the nose was exposed. The foal was going to be coming out head first, instead of front feet first like it was supposed to. From the looks of things it might be coming out right side up as well. When the head was about one fourth of the way out, I decided to see if I could help Cinnamon pass it. She would wait a little bit before she tried to push again. I put my fingers on both sides of the head, but wasn’t able to maneuver or pull any of it out. Cinnamon rolled over on to her side and cried.
Finally, I came to the conclusion Cinnamon wasn’t progressing fast enough. There was a possibility something could be wrong. I might end up needing Gram’s help with this one.
“How’s it going?” I heard Blaine’s voice behind me. I hadn’t even heard him come in.
Instead of answering his question I said, “I didn’t think you would still be up.”
“I’m kind of a night owl. I also thought you might like a cup of coffee. Looks like you are going to be in for a long night.” He looked into the birthing stall. “How’s she doing?”
“It’s been a while since her water broke. I’m afraid it’s taking too long and something might be wrong. I think I am going to need Gram this time.” I started to leave the stables.
“Wait,” Blaine called. “Cora left for town about a half an hour ago.”
“Did she say when she would be back?”
Blaine shook his head.
“Now, what am I going to do?”
“I know a little something about horses. Maybe I can be of assistance.”
“You don’t understand! If I don’t deliver this baby soon, it might not survive!” I was nearly going into hysterics.
“Then for God’s sake, let me help.” I had never heard Blaine speak so forcefully before.
I sighed. I knew I didn’t have any other choice. He was all I had. “All right.”
Blaine rolled up the sleeves of his flannel shirt and climbed up and over the gate into the birthing stall. The foal’s head was almost half way out. Blaine put his hands on both sides of the head. Once the head was out, he tried to see if he could find or feel one of the legs.
“I think the legs are pinned up underneath it,” Blaine finally concluded. “I am going to have to pull it the rest of the way. There is no way Cinnamon could push it out.”
I silently prayed the foal would be all right. Blaine started to pull. Half way through, Blaine was pulling so hard I could see the veins in his arms. He had managed to pull the foal half way when the rest of it just slid right out. Cinnamon hadn’t even cried; she was so worn out. She had been pushing for almost seven hours.
The foal was mostly brown, but had two big patches of white on its left hip and left shoulder. Blaine placed it on the towel I had ready. It was as limp as a rag doll. But I could see it breathing and feel its little heart beating. I placed it in front of Cinnamon and she began to lick it as I continued to dry it off. The foal was small for Cinnamon only having a single.
“Well?” asked Blaine.
“Oh, I guess you want me to say ‘thank you’.”
“Actually, I was just wondering if it was a boy or girl?”
I checked. “It’s a filly.”
“Any idea what you are going to name her?”
“Well, since her mother is Cinnamon and her father is Tarragon, I was thinking along the lines of Rosemary to stay with the theme.”
“Sounds good to me. If you want to go and get some sleep, I can sit with them for a while.”
“I can’t leave now. I need to know this foal is going to be all right. I wonder why she hasn’t started to nurse yet.”
Soon after a foal is born, they can stand and should start nursing. I picked Rosemary up and physically tried to get her to nurse, but it wasn’t working.
“I think I have an idea,” Blaine said.
He disappeared for a couple of minutes then returned with an oversized syringe filled with replacement milk. He had taken the needle off and replaced it with a small plastic tube. He slid his hand underneath the foal and force-fed her. Rosemary wasn’t too happy about it and tried to back away. Blaine was patient and finally got her to taste a little bit of it and that was the most important thing. If Cinnamon wouldn’t nurse her then we would have to bottle-feed.
The next morning, after I had gotten a couple hours of sleep, I went out to check on Cinnamon and Rosemary. I was happy to see Rosemary was lying underneath the heat lamp. When I picked her up and set her on her feet, she went over to Cinnamon and started to nurse. I breathed a sigh of relief. Even though her suckling wasn’t real strong that would come in time. When she was done, I pulled her into my lap and cuddled her for a few minutes. Then I realized if Blaine hadn’t been there then Rosemary would probably not be in my arms right now.
Monday morning I headed out to the old silver pick up truck, dressed in black slacks and a pale blue shell and sweater. The top part of my hair was pulled back with a barrette while I let the rest hang loose.
“Where are you off to?” Gram called. She always knows when I am going somewhere especially when I wear something other then button down shirts and riding pants.
“Just into town.”
“Do you want some company?”
“Oh, that’s okay. I just have some business to take care of and a lunch date with Lindy. I’ll be back in time to do the chores.”
“Blaine’s here. He can handle the chores. Why don’t you spend the day in town? You hardly take time for yourself anymore.”
“Maybe I will.”
I was on my way to The Rabbit Creek Bank. I was hoping to get another extension on the payments for Windsong. I was already six months behind. Since the deeds are in my name, it is my responsibility to make the payments. Growing up, the rodeo had always taken care of any money issues we had. I walked into Donald Davenport’s office promptly at 10:30am.
“Good morning, Miss Kinkirk. I’m glad you could make it.”
“Good morning, Mr. Davenport.” I have known Mr. Davenport since I was knee high, but I still can’t see myself calling him by his first name.
“Have a seat.” He gestured to the green chairs in front of his desk. “Now, I am going to get right to the point. You know you are already six months behind on payments on Windsong Ranch.”
I nodded. “Can you possibly give me an extension, let’s say a month so I can at least figure something out?”
“I wish I could, Tanith, but I have already given you more extensions then my limit allows. My boss says either you come up with the money or the bank will be forced to foreclose.”
“What’s the minimum I can pay?”
He wrote down a figure.
“Have mercy, I hope that’s your telephone number.”
Even with the money I had, it would barely scratch the surface. There just isn’t any barrel left to scrape anymore.
“What do you suggest?” I asked.
“If I were you, I would consider selling some of the land, equipment and livestock. I have some would be buyers I could contact. But you had better decide soon before the bank forecloses and you are left with nothing.”
“How long do I have?”
“I can give you until the end of the week, but that’s it.”
“All right, thanks anyway.”
“I wish I could do more for you, Tanith, but understand my hands are tied at this point in the game.”
As I left the bank, I had to blink back tears. Telling me I might loose Windsong someone might as well have ripped my heart out and done the Mexican Hat Dance on it.
“Okay, Lindy, but I only have two hours, tops. I still have chores to finish.”
“Forget about the chores for once. You have more important things to think about.”
“But he keeps pestering me about the rodeo. Why can’t he just leave it alone?”
“Tanith, what happened in the rodeo happened. Nothing you or I can do can change that. You need to get over it and move on.”
“I thought I had,” I replied. “So where are you taking me?”
“You’ll see,” Lindy said with a wicked little grin.
“How did I ever let you talk me into the little expedition?” We had stopped in front of Sleek ‘n’ Sexy Lingerie. “I’m almost afraid to ask,” I said as I wearily followed Lindy into the store.
“First things first. You have to get rid of whatever you call that stuff underneath your clothes.”
“What’s wrong with my underwear?”
“You want a list?”
“Look, Lindy, I appreciate what you are trying to do, but I’m just not the black lace kind of woman.”
“Hey, I’m allowed to take care of my best friend. Especially when she’s being an idiot and working herself to death, oblivious to the hunk working at her ranch.”
I rolled my eyes.
“Look, if you’re going to have an affair, you’re going to do it right.”
“I have had sex before.”
“In the back seat of Jimmy Bruno’s Chevy doesn’t count. Now, go try this on.” Lindy held up a scrap of black lace hardly big enough to cover the essentials.
“How about this?” Lindy held up a feathered and beaded bra.
“I am not a Playboy Bunny. How does this even go?” I held up a piece of leopard printed material.
Lindy grinned. “It goes like this.”
“You mean…” I could feel my face turn bright red.
“Okay, that might be a little too eccentric. Let’s start off with just some basic lingerie.”
Lindy went through the store. Every so often she would stop and pluck something off the rack and add it to her repertoire. Finally, she handed the pile to me. I skeptically eyed the pile in my hands.
“Trust me,” Lindy said. “Anything in that pile will make Blaine or any other red- blooded American male, go crazy. The red thong might be a little much, but give it a go.”
“What’s wrong with white cotton?” I asked. Nothing in the pile even remotely resembled it.
“Nothing…if you’re having a slumber party with five of your twelve year old girlfriends. Now, go.” Lindy ushered me over to the dressing room. “How do you like them?” she called after a few minutes.
I opened the door just wide enough for Lindy to see.
“Happy now?” I had chosen the plainest piece of lingerie in the pile, which just happened to be a lavender lace bra and a matching pair of boy shorts.
“Not bad,” Lindy observed.
“I’m more out then in with this bra.”
“Well, stop tugging at it. You look great. Now, go put on the red bodysuit.”
“Did anyone ever tell you you’re bossy?” I asked as I shimmied out of the lavender lace. “I can’t believe people really wear this stuff.”
“Hello? Welcome to the twenty-first century. How’s the bodysuit doing?”
“Can you come here for a sec?”
Lindy laughed when she opened the door and found me with one strap twisted over my shoulder and the other one locked around my neck.
After Lindy got me situated I said, “I don’t know. It’s incredibly revealing.”
“It doesn’t show much skin.”
“It doesn’t need to. You can see everything else. I feel like a complete fool.”
“Well, don’t. You look great. That’s what matters. Now, get dressed. Next stop, my place. You have an appointment at Madam Lindy’s Salon.”
Lindy has an apartment in Sweetwater, about thirty minutes away from Windsong. The condo complex wasn’t more than three or four years old and designed in a country French style. The foyer was small, tiled with country peach shaded squares and whimsical accent tiles. The living room was octagonal, giving it complexity with lots of nooks and crannies. There were bright colors everywhere: window seats, small flashes of scarlet pillows and a richly colored South Seas, (a patterned material) on the sectional sofa. There were lamps and chairs in a small grouping and nearly every corner had something extravagant, brightly colored and totally useless. There were plants and flowers on every windowsill. It was so Lindy.
“Lesson number one, no woman can ever wear too much blue eye shadow.”
“Just don’t make me look like a hooker.”
“All right,” said Lindy. “I promise.”
Lindy applied powdered blue eye shadow over my entire eyelid. Some light blush accentuated my cheekbones; a dab of mascara and peach flavored lip-gloss completed the look.
“It will give your lips shine. And it will taste good when he kisses you.”
If he kisses me. I still felt like Lindy was going to a lot of trouble for nothing.
“I don’t even know who I am looking at,” I replied to my reflection.
Lindy put her head next to mine.
“You’re looking at Blaine Padar’s worst nightmare.”
It was beginning to grow dark when I pulled into the driveway. The only light I saw was the one in the living room Gram had set on a timer. I saw no other signs of life. I walked into the kitchen and turned on the light.
Then I saw out of the corner of my eye, the door to the reception room was ajar. A light glowed within. I walked over and slowly pushed it open. Blaine was in there looking at all the rodeo pictures and trophies. He had his hands behind his back and moved like he was in a museum. I rarely go in this room myself so I didn’t like the fact he had let himself in.
“What are you doing in here?”
Blaine turned. “I didn’t hear you come in.”
“Is this your mother?” He pointed to one of the pictures.
“She was a knock out.”
“She was very pretty.”
“And here you are. You can’t be more than three years old and you are already in a rodeo outfit. And what is this on your face? Is that a smile?” He moved onto the display case. “First place in barrel racing. Third place in bareback riding. Second place in calf roping and sixth place and honorable mention in steer wrestling. It even says here you competed in bull riding.”
“I competed in all the events.”
“You were a regular rodeo princess.”
“Whatever,” I said and walked back to the kitchen. Blaine was right behind me.
“You know, I figured someone with your kind of record would…whoa.” He had seen what I was wearing.
After Lindy’s badgering, I had agreed to wear the red bodysuit. She had also added a flirty little black skirt and a pair of jelly shoes, which I haven’t worn since the second grade. I was glad I had my back to Blaine; otherwise he would have seen the small smile that crept across my face.
“What? You’ve never seen a woman dress like this before?”
“Sure. Just not you.”
“Well, there are things you don’t know about me.”
“No, but I’d like to.”
“Like what?” I asked walking right into his trap.
“Like why you always try and avoid talking about the rodeo whenever I bring it up.”
“See, there you go again.”
“Why’d you quit?”
“How’s the baby?” I was hoping to get him off track.
“Rosemary’s fine. Why’d you quit?” He just wasn’t going to let this go.
“You want to play hard ball, fine. What were you doing in there?”
“Just looking around. I decided to do my own research.”
“You were snooping?!” I screeched. “How dare you. You have no right to pry into my personnel life!”
“Did we hit a nerve?” He had done that intentionally and knew it. He stuck out his bottom lip.
I am usually a sucker for the puppy dog face, but tonight it just made me that much madder. That did it. He had gone too far.
“You are, without a doubt, the most despicable man I have ever met in my life!” I turned and started to walk away.
“Well, you’re no prize, either, Ice Princess.”
I came to a stand still. He might as well have shoved a knife through my heart. I slowly turned back around to face him just as tears started to well up in my eyes.
“I’m sorry,” Blaine sighed. “I didn’t mean for it to come out like that.”
“No, you’re right. I’m the one who should be sorry. You have been nothing, but nice to me and I have treated you like dirt. You came everyday and you worked. This must have been like a nightmare for you. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” The tears started to fall. I covered my face with my hand.
Blaine walked over, wrapped his arms around me and held me against his chest. I didn’t even try to resist.
“Don’t cry, sweetling. It’s all right.” He stroked my hair the way Daddy always did when I was little.
“No, it’s not. No one should treat another human being the way I have treated you.”
He titled my head up so he could look into my wet eyes. I saw a damp spot on his blue T-shirt where my face had been. He cupped my face in his hands so his thumbs could brush away the tears that had escaped. The way he was looking into my eyes, it felt like he was looking into my soul.
“How about that coffee?”
I was restless and confused. What had happened between Blaine and me last night? I was supposed to be the one who turned him on and I had turned into a puddle. Maybe I was reading too much into his actions. He was probably just being nice. It had nothing to do with romantic feelings. The more I kept telling myself that maybe I would start to believe it. I was still thinking about it at breakfast.
“Are you all right, Tanith? Is something wrong?” Gram asked.
“What?” I looked up. “Oh, yeah, sure. I’m fine.”
“Something wrong with the biscuits?”
“I don’t see them going anywhere.”
“Sorry, Gram. I guess I’m just not very hungry this morning.”
“What is it, darling?” Gram sat down across from me.
Gram knows me better than I know myself sometimes. She’s like a second mother to me and I love her dearly, but these are times when I really miss my mom.
“I’m attracted to him,” I whispered.
“I’d be worried if you weren’t. He’s quite a nice looking young man.”
“Gram, I think he’s attracted to me, too.”
“Oh, I see. Tanith, you’re a grown up and you’re a woman who answers to herself first. You think too much of yourself to give what you are to something unless it matters.”
“I don’t know if Blaine matters in the way you mean, but I feel different about him.”
“I only ask that you be sure. I want your memory to be warm and have heart, not just heat. Because heat can chill as time passes.”
Blaine could have taken advantage of me last night when I was vulnerable and I wouldn’t have objected. The fact he didn’t showed I mattered to him. He cared about my dignity. I also valued Gram’s advice. She and my grandfather had been married for over fifty years when he passed away. I remember seeing how happy they were together and I knew that was what I wanted in life.
That night I fed the horses their evening meal. Just as I was hanging Breezy’s feedbag, I heard footsteps coming toward me.
“Am I too late?” Blaine asked.
“I’m almost done,” I replied, “but you can give them some hay if you want.”
I didn’t resent him anymore for helping me with the ranch. Having him help had taken a huge burden of time and effort off my shoulders. Was it stubbornness that caused me to pull back from a helping hand so often? I didn’t know. He was so tender and gentle with the horses. No matter how late it was he always found time to pet them and talk softly.
“You really love horses, don’t you?” I asked.
“I love all kinds of animals, but horses have always had a special place in my heart.”
We stood there in awkward silence for a few seconds.
“Tanith, there’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time and I had better do it before I loose my nerve.”
Blaine lowered his mouth and brushed his lips, ever so gently, across mine.
“I’m sorry if it offended you.”
“No, it felt nice.” I saw him probing my eyes as if waiting for permission to continue. I smiled and nodded.
He took me again only this time his kiss was longer, harder and deeper. I felt myself kissing him back with the same intensity. His hands were in my hair now. He tilted my head back so he could kiss the length of my throat to the hollow of my neck. His lips skimmed lightly over my collarbone as he nuzzled his way up my neck so he could kiss the tender spot behind my ear. I slid my arms around his neck. Surprisingly, he untwined them breaking our kiss.
“I need to know if you’re okay with this,” he said. “If you’re not, tell me now because once I get started, I don’t think I’ll be able to stop.”
I answered him by maneuvering him into a stall with freshly pitched hay and started to tug at his shirt.
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Live dangerously. I dare you.”
“Well, I never could turn down a dare.”
He pulled me to him. This time when he kissed me, his tongue touched my lips. My lips parted under his, inviting him to explore deeper. The taste of his kiss was intoxicating.
“This could get rough.”
“I won’t break,” I assured him.
“I might frighten you.”
“I’m not afraid of anything.”
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
He tore open my black shirt, sending the buttons flying. My eyes widened in surprise even when he crushed his mouth to mine, swallowing my premature gasp.
“Damn.” Blaine looked down. I was wearing the lavender lace.
Since Lindy had bought them for me, I felt obligated to wear them at least once. Blaine’s callused hands ran over my torso. I could tell part of him expected me to pull away. When my legs finally gave out, he followed me to the mound of hay. His kisses were soft, silky and smooth. I felt like I could live on them alone. He got up and pulled me to my feet.
“When I finish this, I’m going to do it right. Where’s your grandmother tonight?”
“Well, it’s Tuesday so she’ll be at club. She won’t be back until after 9:00pm.”
“Then we have plenty of time.”
We ran hand in hand toward the house like two foolish teenagers. When we got inside, Blaine pulled me into his room and locked the door. Then he ravished my mouth again. His hands slid my shirt off while my hands tugged his T-shirt over his head. I ran my hands up his chest and down over his arms. His teeth nipped lightly at my neck.
“Your hair is as beautiful as the sunset,” Blaine murmured against my ear. He gave me another hungry kiss.
My hands fought with the button of his jeans. He was definitely well endowed. He cursed and his hands tightened in my hair.
“Come here,” he growled. “I can’t wait any longer. I need you now, Tanith.”
I fisted my hands in his hair and fixed my mouth on his once more. I forgot about the ranch, the horses, the debt. I only focused on Blaine as if we were the only two people in the world. I now knew what lovemaking was all about.
I pulled on my shirt, ran my fingers through my hair and pulled it back into a lazy ponytail. When I looked in the mirror, I saw a well-loved satisfied woman. Blaine had been amazing. Last night had been amazing. He had worn me out, but it was the best feeling I had ever had in my life. I was sore, but it was unlike any pain I had ever experienced before. It was almost pleasurable. I had felt so comfortable with him. The lovemaking had been so pure, so natural.
“Good morning, sweetling.”
I turned and saw Blaine leaning against the headboard, his arms folded behind his head. I crawled up and straddled his lap. His hands settled at my waist.
“What’s with this whole sweetling thing?” I asked.
“It’s what my grandfather used to call my grandmother,” Blaine explained. “I used to think sweetling was her name. And I loved my grandmother very much. I still think it’s pretty.”
“It is.” I leaned forward to kiss the tip of his nose, but pulled away before he had a chance to return the kiss. Then I left the room. Why had he told me he loved his grandmother very much, I wondered. Unless his calling me sweetling meant he loved me, too. It couldn’t be that, could it?
I paced back and forth in the barn. I had started making a list of the equipment we hardly ever used and what equipment I could sell. Still, it wouldn’t get me more than half of what I owed. What I couldn’t sell could be auctioned off with some of the land. Just the thought of selling some of the horses just broke my heart. I would only use that as a last resort. I tried not to think about it. I thought about wiring my brothers for the money. They could surely help out. Except it wouldn’t make it out here in time since it was already Wednesday. Besides, I wasn’t even sure on where they were. Last time I heard, one was in Boston and the other in Rochester.
“So this is where you have been hiding all morning,” Blaine came up behind me and slipped his arms around my middle. “You wouldn’t happen to have that red bodysuit on under your clothes, do you?” He kissed my ear.
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” I said teasingly.
He turned me around so I was facing him and started to unbutton my denim shirt.
“Whoa, hold on, buster. Business before pleasure, huh?”
“Anything I can do to help?”
“Not this time. It’s something I have to take care of myself.”
“Something’s wrong. Tanith, please, don’t shut me out.”
He was bound found out somehow. He might get suspicious when he didn’t have a job to come back to.
“I guess you have a right to know. It’s going to affect you also. The fact is, you might not have a job at Windsong much longer.”
“What? Why? Has Cora said something about my work?”
“Oh, no. In fact, Gram is very happy with your work.”
“I don’t understand.”
I rang my hands together, trying to figure out the best way to tell him.
“I’m six months behind on the payments. The bank can’t cut me any more slack. If I don’t come up with the money by the end of the week, they are going foreclose.”
“How much do you owe?”
I told him.
“That’s a pretty good chunk of change.”
“You’re telling me. Even with selling some of the equipment and land I’ll barely be scratching the surface.”
“Is there no way to raise the money?”
“There is only one way.”
“And that is?”
I sighed. “The rodeo. First place is worth fifty thousand. That is how we have been able to pay for everything in the past.”
“That sounds like the perfect solution to me.”
“But in order for us to win, we would have to come in first in every event and that includes finding someone, who could ride the bull for eight seconds.”
“I thought you competed in bull riding.”
“I used to.” It was only then I realized I had let it slip.
“Then what’s the problem?”
There was no point in trying to deny it anymore.
“Five years ago, I was nearly trampled to death by a bull. I spent months in the hospital. The doctors weren’t sure if I would ever walk again. After months of grueling physical therapy, they told me it would be in my best interest not to compete in bull riding anymore. I had been lucky this time. If I suffered another fall…well, you get the picture. So I have really only competed in four events. Now, do you understand?”
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have pressed you so hard.”
“You had no way of knowing and I certainly wasn’t volunteering any information. I can’t turn back time nor can I pretend it never happened. I guess I’m going to have to have the bank come out and choose which animals they want. I could never choose one horse over another.”
“Wait. I think I have an idea. What if…I ride the bull?”
“No. I can’t let you take that risk.”
“But it would be my risk to take.”
“No,” I said defiantly.
“Because I have seen what can happen. A lot of people don’t come out of there alive.”
“Your father did.”
“But he was a professional and experienced rider.”
“I see a mechanical bull over there. I could practice on it.”
“True enough, “ I said, “but all the practice in the world still isn’t like the real thing.”
“If it’s the only way to save the ranch…”
“The ranch is not worth your life.”
“Level with me, Tanith. What is the real reason you don’t want me to ride?”
“I don’t want to loose you, too!”
“Too? Did you loose someone in a rodeo accident?”
“Not exactly, but close enough. My mother died so I lost her. Daddy and my brothers left so I lost them. Gram’s not going to live forever and now, I might loose the ranch, too. I don’t know how much more loss I can take. Especially when it involves someone I care about.”
“Nothing’s going to happen to me.”
“You don’t know that.”
Everything’s going to work out. I promise.”
“Don’t make me promises you can’t keep.”
“I have made my decision and with me it’s do or die.”
“What if it’s die?”
“Everything in life involves some risk. Some of those risks aren’t worth taking, but some are. I’m willing to take this one. You have to trust me.”
“I do trust you. But there’s still no guarantee we can win. I can’t even be sure Sophy can still run the barrels is less than fifteen seconds.”
“It’s not Sophy you’re worried about. It’s yourself.”
I hate to admit it, but Blaine was right.
“If Windsong means as much to you as I think it does…”
Boy, he was sure laying on the guilt pretty thick.
“…Go call that banker and tell him you aren’t giving Windsong up without a fight.”
“Fine! I’ll do it!” I shouted. “But if this thing goes belly up, I’ll kill you myself!”
I had been able to persuade Mr. Davenport by telling him if we won the rodeo, I would be paying the bill in full. If we lost then the bank would foreclose on Windsong the same day, no questions asked. I felt like I was taking a huge risk. After all, it had been three years. I know that may not seem like a whole lot, but to me it seemed like a lifetime. Even though it was physically tiring, it was stimulating to be practicing again.
Blaine watched all the old rodeo tapes to study the riders’ form. He practiced on the mechanical bull, increasing the speed each day. He also studied up on the rules. I ran the barrels with Sophy while Blaine timed me.
“17.2 seconds. That’s pretty good.”
“It’s not good enough,” I said and would start the course all over again.
I also rode the mechanical bull to practice for bareback riding. The first couple of times the back and forth and circular motion made me nauseas. The more I did it and the longer I stayed on; the nausea finally subsided. Eventually, I started using our horse, Dusty, to practice with. He is one of the younger more spirited horses. I showed Blaine how to lead him around at a good speed, using a rope so I could practice riding with one hand. To practice calf roping, I would ride after a hay cart Blaine pulled with the pick up. We attached a fake calf head to the hay bail. I also worked on my roping technique. When I felt ready, I would move on to a real calf. Unfortunately, steer wrestling could not be simulated. I had to start practicing with a live steer right from the start. I did end up getting kicked a couple of times, but I did get the steer on the ground with all four feet parallel.
The real test would be seeing if I could still fit into my rodeo uniform. I found it in an old trunk up in the attic. For and minute, I just sat there and looked at it. I slowly ran my hand over it as memories flooded my head. The shirt still fit fine, but the pants were a little tight. Oh well, I’d have to deal with it. There wasn’t time to order a new pair. All I was missing was my white hat. It wasn’t that big of deal. I could always wear my brown one. This wasn’t about looking good. It was about saving Windsong. Blaine could probably wear my oldest brother’s rodeo wear. They were about the same height and size. One or two inches wouldn’t make much if a difference. Nothing boots couldn’t make up for. Lindy had even been out to help with all the preparations and to watch us practice. It seemed like old times, but I knew in my gut this time would be totally different.
The night before the rodeo, I couldn’t sleep. I had made it clear to Blaine I wanted to sleep alone. I had gone to the kitchen to make myself some warm milk, but instead I ended up in the reception room.
“Couldn’t sleep?” I heard Gram’s voice. She came over and stood beside me.
“I was just looking at the pictures of Mama. She really loved riding, didn’t she?”
“She sure did…especially with you.”
“Gram, am I crazy for wanting to do this again? I mean it has been three years.”
“Let me ask you a question. When was the last time you were really, truly happy?”
I thought for a moment. “I can’t remember.”
“I can. It’s when you were competing.”
“I’ve competed, enjoyed it and finished with it. Now, it’s over. Competing can eventually take over your life. You know that.”
“Not when competing is your life. I realize so much of who you are, what you feel and think has been focused on that single goal. And then it was all over. You lost the only life you ever knew and the only people you cared about…until now anyway.”
I closed my eyes and smiled. When I opened them I said, “I wonder what Mama would say if she were here right now.”
“I know exactly what she would say.”
“You do? What?”
“She would say, please ride, Tanith, because I know how much you love to do it. Win or loose, you will always be my daughter.” Gram kissed me on the forehead.
“All right. I’ll do it. I’ll do for Windsong and more importantly for myself.”
The morning of the rodeo dawned cool and bright. It was perfect rodeo weather. Despite it all, I woke up sick to my stomach. I knew it was mostly because of my nerves. I had always felt this way before a competition. Once everything got under way, I would be fine. It was just the anticipation of waiting that was killing me. I led Sophy into the trailer. She was going to be my horse for barrel racing and calf roping. Piper would take over in steer wrestling. For bareback riding it would just be the luck of the draw. I carried all our rodeo gear out to the truck. Our rodeo gear consists of: silver saddles, bridles and reins with red beads in the middle of each loop. There is also a red plume attached to the top of the horse’s bridle. I had polished everything the night before. I was as prepared as I could be in such a short amount of time.
I was in the kitchen making sure I hadn’t forgotten anything when Blaine walked in.
“How are the ribs?” He was referring to where the steer had kicked me.
“They’re fine. He barely got me.”
“Why don’t you let me take a look?”
“What are you? A doctor?” I contradicted as Blaine started to lift my shirt. “Well, if I knew you were this anxious to get me undressed, I would have cooperated fully, but not here where people can see.”
“Don’t tease me like that. You said it was nothing.”
There was a bruise the size of a softball over my ribs.
“You might have cracked a rib.” Blaine pressed his fingers to it.
“Ouch!” I exclaimed. “Damn it, Blaine. Stop poking. It’s just a bruise. Believe me, I have competed in a lot worse pain than this.”
“Whatever you say. Here, I got you something.”
“What’s this for?”
“Just open it.”
I lifted the lid. Inside the box was a new white hat. I felt tears come to my eyes.
“How did you know?”
“I noticed in all your rodeo pictures you and your mother always had on white hats. Everyone is going to be looking their best today. There is no reason you shouldn’t. I thought it might bring you luck. Besides anything is better than that ugly, brown thing you wear.”
“This is the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me.” I gave him a soft, smooth kiss. “But I’ll have to properly thank you later. We have a schedule to keep.”
The opening parade started at 11:00am. I wanted to get there early to size up our competition. I leaned against the rail watching the morning warm up. Some of the riders were younger than me and I could tell they had been practicing for this since last year.
“So what’s the report?” Blaine asked when I got back to our assigned prep area.
“They’re good. They’re very good. We have our work cut out for us.”
“Just remember, you’ve been doing this your whole life. It’s like riding a bike, you never forget. You are also older, which means, you have more experience. You know and you have what it takes to win.”
“Since when have you become an expert at giving pre-rodeo pep talks?”
The five-minute buzzer sounded. I had to get ready. Barrel racing was the first event. As I mounted Sophy, I felt a feeling rising in me I hadn’t felt in three years. I looked up and saw Gram, Blaine and Lindy and I knew I wasn’t alone. And if any horse could run the barrels in fifteen seconds or less, I knew Sophy would be the one to do it.
“Okay, Soph, let’s show ‘em how it’s done.”
When the gate opened, Sophy was out like a shot. We rounded the first barrel in just seconds. Then we had rounded the second one. We cut the third barrel a little close, but it remained standing as I sprinted Sophy over the finish line.
“15.38 seconds.” It wasn’t my best time, but it sure as hell wasn’t too shabby, either.
I had set the bar pretty high. I held my breath as the last horse performed. The time was…
I breathed a sigh of relief. We had won barrel racing. One event down, three more to go.
Next, was bareback riding. Thanks to Dusty, I wasn’t going into this event cold. Luckily, I drew one of the older horses and by older I mean four years old. He might not be as spirited as some of the younger colts. Then again an experienced horse knows what he needs to do to buck a rider off. Even though I didn’t receive the highest score, I had stayed on for the full ten seconds and had been able to spur the horse twice. I had completed the event. After the first round, Windsong was in second place over all.
We have an hour break between rounds to recuperate, eat or whatever. Even though Lindy had made enough food for an army, I was still too nervous/excited to eat. Gram helped me wrap an ace bandage around my ribs since calf roping and steer wrestling were the two events that would take the most toll on my body.
I had drawn to go last in both events. Going last has always worked out well for me. It gives me a chance to see how the other riders do so I know what I have to do to beat them. Calf roping was the first event in the second round. The first rider took way too much time so I wasn’t worried about him. The second rider completed the event, but his time was beatable. The third competitor failed to lasso the calf on the first try so his time wasn’t the best. All I had to do was complete the event in less than 25.4 seconds. I had placed second in calf roping before. Now, I just needed to do it faster and better. As soon as Sophy bolted out of the shoot, I started swinging the rope. It’s all in the wrist when it comes to roping. I lassoed the calf on the first try, stopped Sophy, jerked the calf to the ground and tied its legs together. My hand shot up in the air signaling I was done with the event.
“22.7 seconds.” It wasn’t the best time in the world, but I had come in first and that’s all that matter. One event to go.
I was a little nervous going into steer wrestling. Some of the competitors were bigger and stronger than me. This is when being 5’2” and 110 pounds doesn’t work to my advantage. I was secretly hoping the other riders would make mistakes. I know it’s terrible of me to think that way, but I wasn’t here to make friends. I had won sixth place in this event in the past, but sixth place wasn’t going to cut it this time. The first competitor completed the event, but had a hard time getting his steer on the ground. The second one failed to complete it at all. The third rider had grounded it, but all the feet weren’t parallel. Thanks to their mistakes, I had a chance. I let out a long, slow breath as I settled into Piper’s saddle. Piper could run like the devil, but that was only part of it. A minute later, Piper streaked across the ring. When he closed in on the steer, I took a flying leap, threw all my weight forward and had that steer on the ground in 11.3 seconds. It was a new personnel best for me. Windsong was tied for first.
Now, all that was left was bull riding. In order for Windsong to win, Blaine would have to stay on for the full eight seconds. When it was Blaine’s turn, I walked with him over to the prep area. He had drawn one of the larger bulls in today’s competition: Devil’s Manor. As he suited up, I wanted to give him some words of encouragement.
“Just remember, there is no such thing as an un-rideable bull.”
“You have done your part and now it’s time for me to do mine.” The bull ran into the shoot. “I am going to ride this bull and I’m not coming off until that buzzer sounds.”
“Are you ready?” the wrangler asked Blaine.
“I’m ready.” He looked back at me. “I’ll be all right.”
Another wrangler led me out of the prep area so I could watch from the sidelines. Blaine climbed up and over the railing and lowered himself carefully into the shoot. I felt a lump form in my throat and my stomach tied itself in knots. It all came down to this. All I wanted was for Blaine to come out all right whether he stayed on for eight seconds or not.
It all seemed to be happening in slow motion. The bull came charging out of the shoot. He turned and kicked out right and then right again. I silently prayed Blaine would have any easy ride. The bull acted like he was going to go right again, but at the last second, he jerked hard left. Blaine lost his balance and was air born. He hit the ground hard just as the buzzer sounded. Everyone held their breath. We didn’t know if Blaine had hit the ground before the buzzer or not. As long as he hadn’t hit the ground before the buzzer, he would still receive a score. I was waiting for Blaine to come to the sidelines and await his score, but he didn’t move. At first, I thought the wind had just been knocked out of him.
“Get up,” I willed. “Get up.”
It was then announced Blaine Padar had cleared eight seconds. They announced the score and Windsong had won the rodeo. Everyone cheered and applauded, but I didn’t hear any of it. I tried to push my way to the ring, but I couldn’t get passed the people.
“Blaine!” I cried out his name. “Blaine!” But he didn’t answer.
I walked into Blaine’s hospital room two days later. He had broken his arm, dislocated his shoulder and had a minor concussion. The doctor said there were no internal injuries and with some time and rest, Blaine would fully recover. I sat down on the edge of his bed. When he opened his eyes and saw me, he smiled.
“Hey, cowboy.” I brushed the hair away from his face.
“Hi, sweetling.” He groaned as he tried to sit up. “Well…”
“It’s paid. You have a job at Windsong for as long as you want.”
“That’s good to hear. I guess that means you won’t be killing me, then.”
“Don’t count your chickens.”
Blaine looked wonderingly at me.
“If you ever scare me like that again you’re a dead man.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. You know you had better be glad I’m going to be laid up for a while.”
“Oh? Why is that?”
“Because if I could move, I’d screw you so hard you wouldn’t know what hit you.”
“Is that a threat?”
“No, it’s a promise.”
“I’m going to hold you to that,” I replied just as the door opened.
“Greetings, pals and gals.” It was Lindy and she carried a large white sack.
“Well, I’m glad to see he’s awake,” she said.
“What do you have there?” Blaine asked eyeing the sack.
“Hope you’re hungry. Cora has been cooking up a storm. She must think hospitals don’t feed their patients anymore.”
“That’s Gram for you,” I said.
“Hey, anything is better than that Jell-o they have been forcing down my throat.”
“I have to agree with him there,” said Lindy.
“So what’s on the menu?”
“I see he hasn’t lost his appetite.” Lindy produced three Styrofoam containers. “First, we have Cora’s meatloaf and mashed potatoes and for dessert, her world famous chocolate double fudge cake.”
“Remind me to kiss your grandmother.”
“There’s also a little something for you, Tanith.” Lindy handed me a smaller bag.
I held it like I expected it to bite me.
“Go on, look.” Lindy was more excited about my gift than I was.
“Fine, let’s look and see what it is.” I peered into the bag. There was a sheer red lace bra and thong. My eyes said, “Are you crazy?” I was glad Blaine was more occupied with his food than me. Lindy just winked and shifted her eyes toward Blaine. I just rolled my eyes and shook my head. “Thanks.”
“By the way, Tanith, you looked really great in the rodeo,” Lindy said out loud.
“You sure did,” Blaine said between bites.
“Thanks. In fact, I’ve considered going back and riding the circuit part time for now.”
“That’s wonderful,” Lindy exclaimed.
“When I saw the look on your face after you won barrel racing, I knew you couldn’t stay away.”
“Well, I have you to thank for that.”
“Me?” Blaine asked. “I didn’t do anything.”
“You helped me get my confidence back. Thanks to you, Windsong is still alive and kicking.”
“It was nothing. You did most of the work.”
“But I couldn’t have done it without you. You know you didn’t have to.”
“Yes, I did.”
“Because I know Windsong means everything to you…and you mean everything to me.”
“I knew it! The red bodysuit works every time!”
“Melinda!” I cried.
“All right, all right. I’m leaving.”
“That Lindy, she sure is a character,” Blaine observed.
“Yeah, but she’s the best friend anyone could ever have.”
Blaine reached up with his good hand and stroked my cheek. As our lips met softly, I felt my life was now complete. The rodeo had filled the void in my life, but Blaine had filled the void in my heart.