Things are heating up in Pine Springs and life is about to get more interesting for the Jannsen girls. Be sure to vote in the polls and let's see if we can get Josiah and Scarlett on speaking terms again. The poll will go through Tuesday (Feb.2) at 8pm CST. Videos will come up later this evening for this chapter and Chapter 3. And don't forget to check out my post about the Kindle giveaway going now!
~UPDATE 2-2-2016: video reading is now up and can be found at the end of the blog.
Scarlett fiddled nervously with Zander’s reins as we walked to the ring. I guess it hadn’t taken much arguing to get her to agree to the competition. Anytime Scarlett had extra time during the day she enjoyed riding the barrels at home. Doing it at the rodeo just caught her off guard. “You’re going to wear the leather out wringing it like that,” I teased.
“Shut up.” She grinned at me before glancing in the ring again. “It’s been so long since I actually competed.”
“You’re making it sound like five years is an eternity.”
“It is when you’re competitive,” she retorted. “It’s one thing to run for fun at home. There I’m just doing it to enjoy time with Zander. Out there, it’s a different animal completely. I have to be focused and take everything into consideration so I don’t lose time.”
“Quit thinking of it as a competition then,” I said. “It’s just you and Zander having fun.”
“In front of a thousand people,” Scarlett pointed out. “Yeah, real fun.”
“Come on, it’ll be just like old times.”
She nodded and turned to Zander. “What do you think, boy? Do we have another win in us?”
He tossed his head and snorted.
“That’s what I was thinking,” she replied. “Well, you’d best go find Mom and Teddy. They’ll have found seats by now.”
I knew she wanted to be on her own, so I went to the stands. Josiah stood so I could sneak past him to sit by Mom. We were in the front. Mom liked being able to see everything and claimed that front row had the best view. I think some of it to was wanting to be as close to that arena as she could get. I think part of her had hoped I would do rodeo too. I looked at her as we watched the first rider go. “Mom, does it disappoint you that I never competed?”
She gave me that look moms get when you ask something completely ridiculous. “What on earth kind of question is that?”
“I don’t know, you kind of went behind Scarlett’s back to get her out there again. And I know music was never really your thing. I just wondered if maybe you thought I should have done barrel racing too.”
Mom put her arm around me. “You listen good, Blizzard May. I have never wanted anything for you that you didn’t yourself want. As much as Scarlett may have your daddy’s looks, she’s got my drive. Paul loved the ranch and he loved the horses. But his heart was in the land and with the animals. He didn’t care much for competition and that suited the two of us just fine. He would come to the rodeos with me and cheer me on, but he never wanted to participate himself. We knew as soon as Scarlett could walk she’d be out there racing. If anything, I wish she had kept at it longer. But, she’s done what she thought she had to. Much as I might think she should have stayed at school, I’m glad she’s stayed true to her own course. As for being disappointed in you, I just can’t be. You remind me so much of Paul.”
“So, I am more like Dad?”
“From your eyes to your heart,” Mom said with a smile. “I’m proud of you chasing your dreams. And, you should know Tammy asked me last night if you’d be willing to play in the diner a few nights a month as their live entertainment.”
My jaw dropped into my lap. “What?”
“I told her that could probably be arranged and you would call after the fair was through to talk details.”
I about knocked Teddy’s hat off throwing my arms around Mom for a tight squeeze. “Sorry, Teddy.”
“Could be worse,” he chuckled as he straightened the brim.
We quieted as the announcer said, “And now after years out of the ring, a real treat today folks. Let’s hear it for Scarlett Jannsen. Zander seemed more jittery than normal, but then again that’s how a lot of barrel racers looked before their run. The buzzer sounded and he streaked into the ring. The next part came so fast it was hard to tell what exactly had happened. As Zander rounded the second barrel, his feet slid out from under him. The next thing we knew, he and Scarlett were down. Dust filled the air as they slid against the wall. My heart slipped into my shoes as gasps filled the stands. Zander soon pulled himself up, but Scarlett didn’t move.
“Ladies and gentlemen please remain calmly in your seats.”
I watched numbly as the rodeo clown took hold of Zander’s reins and led him out of the ring. At some point Josiah must have hopped the fence because he was at Scarlett’s side as the medics lifted her onto a stretcher.
“Blizzard, come on,” Mom said, gently touching my arm.
We moved out of the stands and down to the ambulance. They were loading Scarlett in as we arrived. “Is she all right?” Mom asked.
“Probably has a broken leg and a concussion, but we’ll need x-rays to know for sure. We’ve got her set with an IV and some pain killers for now. You want to ride with her, Mrs. Jannsen?”
“Let Blizzard go with her. She can’t drive the truck on her own.”
“She needs you, sweetheart. I’ll meet you there.” She saw Josiah standing awkwardly nearby. “Josiah, you better get your dad and follow me out. He’s not going to be easy unless he knows she’s okay.”
I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself. I held Scarlett’s hand and kept waiting for her to wake up. The drive seemed to take forever. I thought I saw her eyelids move and I smiled. “Hey, Scarlett, you know there are other ways of getting out of a rodeo.”
“Blizz?” Her voice was weak.
“Yeah, I’m here. Mom’s following.”
“Zander. Is Zander okay?”
“He walked out of the ring and seemed fine. Honestly, we were a little more concerned for you.”
“Darn rabbits.” Her eyes closed and I sat blinking at her.
One of the paramedics caught my eye and said, “It’s probably the meds. Keep talking to her though, if it makes you feel better.”
The day dragged as I was sitting in the waiting room with Teddy and Josiah. Mom came in and out between checking on Scarlett during surgery and pacing the room. I was glad Teddy was there to help Mom stay calm. In times that Mom was back with the doctors or checking on Scarlett, I could hear Teddy and Josiah talking in hushed tones. At first I thought they were talking about Scarlett until I heard Teddy say, “It doesn’t make any sense for someone to do that, Joey. What could anyone gain by making only a few of our cattle sick? And why stop pat just making them sick. They’d do more damage killing them outright. More than likely it’s just a virus going through the herd. We keep doing what we’ve been doing. Isolate the sick ones and monitor the herd. The vet already said most of the sick ones will probably recuperate just fine.”
“What about the chickens? I’ve fixed that coop four times now and something is still getting to them. We need to call the sheriff and get this investigated before it turns into something serious.”
“No, Joey. It’s probably just a coyote. They’re wily critters, after all.”
“Are you going to say that when someone breaks into the house?”
Mom came back to the room at that moment and Teddy gave Josiah a look ending the conversation. I watched Josiah stalk off to the hospitality table. I wanted to ask him what they had been talking about, but I didn’t think he’d be willing to talk to me about it. After the doctor came back to say Scarlett was clear to leave, Mom went back to bring Scarlett out. She’d twisted her knee pretty badly in the fall and broken the leg. The doctors said it could have been much worse and with some therapy and time to heal, she’d be back in the saddle in no time.
As Mom came out with Scarlett in a wheelchair, Teddy looked at her with tears in his eyes. “I should never have signed you up for that.”
“Teddy, it wasn’t your fault,” she said, reaching for his hand. “I don’t know how it got missed, but I swear there was a rabbit hole outside the barrels. Most of the riders wouldn’t have come near it, but I was too wide anyway. In trying to make sure Zander didn’t step in it, I overcorrected. And while that wasn’t the way I wanted to finish the rodeo, it felt good to be competing again. I’m glad you signed me up.” She saw Josiah and frowned. “Aren’t you supposed to be roping this afternoon?”
“I think I’ve missed it by now,” he replied. “But Dad needed to know that you’re okay. When will you be able to ride again?”
“Not for months,” Scarlett moaned. “This couldn’t have happened at a worse time. I’ve got too much to do…”
“And we’ll hire someone to take over what Blizzard and I can’t manage,” Mom interrupted. “You are going to rest and do everything the doctor says so we can get you healed up.”
“No buts, you won’t be any good to us permanently lame.”
“I can help,” Josiah said, a little too eagerly.
“Oh no you can’t,” Scarlett retorted. “You’ve got your own ranch to worry about and I’m not going to have you around messing things up.”
“Scarlett,” Mom snapped.
“Believe it or not,” Teddy interrupted, “Joey’s been doing a lot less of the managing, Lettie. I’m not one hundred percent yet, but I can handle the job. And horse ranching isn’t all that different from cattle ranching. Joey would be a good hand for you.”
“And it would be one less person to worry about paying,” Josiah added. “Until you’re back in the saddle, I’ll just do whatever chores you and your mom give me. I’ll be at your beck and call.” Something in the way he said that told me he was going to get a lot more satisfaction out of this than any normal person would.
We’d gotten out to the trucks and Scarlett was sitting with her arms across her chest. I could tell she was trying to think of any good reason why Josiah couldn’t be the one at the ranch and falling short. “Think of it, Scarlett, you can make him do the chores you don’t like doing anyway,” I added.
Mom and Teddy laughed while Scarlett turned to glower at me. Then I realized Mom was frowning at the pickup. “I think we might have to rent a car. It’s going to be awfully difficult for you to get in the truck.”
“I can manage it,” Scarlett said, trying to push herself out of the chair.
Suddenly Josiah had her in his arms while she smacked him. “Chill, cowgirl, I’m just getting you in your seat.”
“You put me down right now.”
“I plan to if you’d quit being such an…”
“Josiah, I hope you weren’t about to say what I think you were about to say,” Teddy said firmly. “I taught you better than to call a lady names.”
His ears turned pink and he finished, “Angel.”
“Nice cover,” I whispered.
“Well, our second surprise for the day will have gotten underway by now,” Teddy mused. “So it seems only fitting that Joey and I escort you ladies home and take care of dinner for you.”
“What was the surprise?” I asked. “Since we’re missing it, there’s no harm in telling us now.”
“The county’s first ever chuckwagon theatre.”
“Chuckwagon theatre?” I repeated.
Teddy laughed. “Yep. I had it all set up. There’d be wagon beds for everyone to sit in with their dinner and a big ol’ projector screen to watch classic Westerns on. Like a drive-in only better.”
Mom laughed. “We’ll have to plan one at Starwood sometime and invite people out. But for tonight, I happen to have quite a few Westerns at home. Since you’ve offered to provide dinner, I’ll provide the home theatre.”
That evening we enjoyed grilled burgers while watching Mom’s old John Wayne movies. We had stopped by the county fair long enough to let the officials know that Scarlett was going to be okay and to pick up Zander. The vet there had checked him over and other than some bruises, Scarlett's star was just fine. We were in the middle of The Sons of Katie Elder when I looked over at the couch. Josiah had managed to sit by Scarlett, though she had argued and tried to scoot herself as far from him as possible. I have to hand it to him, the Bear is nothing if not persistent. Now she was leaning against his shoulder fast asleep. I couldn’t blame her. She’d had a rough day and had to be exhausted mentally and physically. The funny part was Josiah’s head tipped over hers, his eyes closed.
I giggled and Mom glanced over with a smile. “Well, that’s encouraging.”
“Certainly better than the two of them fighting,” Teddy agreed.
“If I didn’t know better,” I said suspiciously, “I’d almost think you two planned this.”
“Well, minus the rodeo accident, we kind of did. Scarlett’s got to let go of her anger,” Mom said. “I know I said it was her story, but I’ll tell you a little of it. You probably don’t remember the last time Josiah came back to town. He’d gotten injured in a rodeo and while he would be able to go back and did, it sidelined him for a while.”
I frowned. “I don’t remember that.”
“It happened just after Paul died. We were all a little preoccupied and Scarlett was more than a little vulnerable. With Josiah back, they picked right back up where they’d been in high school. Folks around here always did say the two of them would make a wonderful couple.”
“If they didn’t kill each other first,” Teddy added.
Mom chuckled and continued, “Anyway, they were dating and it seemed like they were both happy. I was sure that for all of Scarlett’s insistence she’d stay at the ranch, I’d lose her to a wedding.”
“Then Josiah got stupid,” Teddy muttered.
“He let his guard down,” Mom corrected. “Josiah was pretty well known on the circuit and like most of those cowboys had a string of admirers. One of them came to town and they started getting a little friendly.”
“Too friendly for a guy who was dating someone else?” I guessed.
Nodding, Mom said, “I don’t know how, um, compromising a situation Scarlett found him in, but her heart was shattered. She came home and swore she would never see Josiah Meddleton again.”
“And now you’re trying to play matchmaker with them?”
“No, I’m trying to help Scarlett see that people make mistakes and people change. It’s been five years since that happened and she needs to give Josiah a chance to prove himself. Everyone needs strong friends and the two of them together are the strongest people I know.”
I considered what Mom had told me. “Well, for someone who swore never to see him again, she’s going to start seeing a whole lot of him.”
“It’s going to be an interesting summer, that’s for sure,” Teddy agreed.
Jessica L. Elliott
Author, artist, mom and super-genius