It had been a successful day at the county fair. I knew Blizzard was disappointed about how Skipperdeen and Winter’s Folly had placed, but third was nothing to sneeze at. Much as she might want to claim being non-competitive, it’s not entirely true. She is competitive, but more than that she loves her animals. Having Winter’s Folly slighted for being on the small side, even if true, had riled her. I didn’t mind though. It had been wonderful helping her with this project and I looked forward to seeing what she and Folly would do in the years to come. I was glad she found such joy working with the horses. It gave us something in common.
We arrived at the diner on Main a little after six. Blizzard would be performing in the amateur night and I couldn’t wait. She was so talented and had been working on a secret project in her “studio” since our trip to Jackson. And by studio, I mean the old, abandoned barn in the south pasture. As we drove into the parking lot, I could tell she was nervous. Her blue eyes darted around and she kept fiddling with one of her purple-streaked curls. “Hey, you’ll do great,” I said as Mom parked the truck.
“What if I mess up?”
“You’ve been practicing for weeks, you’ll do fine,” Mom said.
“Besides, if you do mess up no one will notice. It’s your song and no one has heard it before,” I added.
She nodded and clutched her guitar case like a lifeline. I put a reassuring hand on her shoulder as we walked into the diner. My heart lurched as I saw Teddy and Josiah sitting at our favorite booth. I couldn’t help but wonder how they’d gotten here first since just moments before we left Blizzard and I had overheard part of an argument between Josiah and some guy we didn’t know. He looked over at me with that infuriatingly smug grin of his. I tried to find somewhere else to sit before Teddy noticed us, but it didn’t work.
“Hey, come on over, there’s plenty of room here,” Teddy called.
Mom accepted, much to my chagrin and of course sat next to Teddy. I knew there was nothing romantic between them, they were just really good friends. Mom was always telling me that strong friendships were important. But those were hard to find in a small town where everyone was head-over-heels for the world’s biggest jerk. I waited for Blizzard to slide in but she just looked at me expectantly. I nodded towards the booth and she said, “I can’t sit in the middle, Scarlett. I’ve got to be able to get up for my turn or I’ll miss it.”
I glared at her. I knew she was right, but that didn’t make things any easier. I slid in and stayed as far from Josiah as it was possible to be. He was still looking overly pleased with himself and I had to fight the urge to slap that grin right off his face.
He shifted so he was closer to me, knowing that with Blizzard’s guitar case right next to me I didn’t have any escape. I caught a spicy note of his cologne. Unbidden memories flooded my mind of a Valentine’s Day years before. That was the cologne I’d given him and, until our breakup just a couple weeks later, it had been one of my favorite scents. I tried to focus on what Teddy was saying and pushed my memories away.
“The first is for Scarlett. You and Zander need to be ready for the barrel racing competition tomorrow. I took the liberty of entering for you.”
The water I’d been sipping went down the wrong tube as I spluttered, “What? But, I can’t compete! Zander and I haven’t been practicing at a competitive level in years. He could get hurt and he’s not as young as he pretends to be.”
“He’ll be fine and so will you,” Mom said. “Teddy talked to me about the idea months ago. Shorty’s been working Zander and I know you’ve been doing more with him than you let on.”
I was furious. As a former rodeo rider herself, Mom knew there was more to competing than simply working your horse. How could she go behind my back with something like this? “What about me? Don’t I have any say at all?”
“No, you listen…”
“Let’s give a big hand to that wonderful performance. Next up is Blizzard Jannsen.”
Blizzard glanced nervously at us before grabbing her guitar and heading up to the stage.
Some joker shouted, “Watch out, it’s the ice queen!” He’s lucky I couldn’t see exactly where he was or I would have knocked his block off.
I saw Blizzard glance over at us again as she sat on the chair. I pushed aside all the frustration I felt with Mom and gave her the biggest smile I could and a thumb’s up. You’ve got this, girl, I thought as she tuned up the guitar. She began strumming out familiar chords and I saw Mom’s eyes mist over. “Paul’s song,” she whispered.
The familiar notes soothed my heart. It was the tune Daddy had always hummed when working the ranch. I’d asked him once what it was and he simply said, “I don’t know yet, Scarlett. Must just be the soul of Starwood.” Now Blizzard had given it words and as she continued her song, I couldn’t think of a time I’d been more proud of her.
“Seems a shame to waste a good song,” Teddy said. “Someone ought to go out there and dance.”
“That’s a good idea,” Josiah agreed. “What do you say, Scarlett?”
I could have killed him. He knew I didn’t really have any choice with his dad sitting right there. “Sure,” I said, sliding out of the booth. He took me over to the open floor where other dancers had already gathered. “I suppose you’re pretty pleased with yourself.”
“Would it kill you to just leave me alone?” I growled.
He pretended to look thoughtful. “Hmmm, I dunno. Been too scared to try. Might be fatal you know.”
Do you know how hard it is to glare at someone when they’re being completely charming? I tried to at least not smile, but it wasn’t working well.
“Admit it, Scarlett, you’ve missed me.”
“Ha! Kind of stuck on yourself, aren’t you?”
“No, just telling it like I see it. But don’t you think you’re being a little immature?”
“You are telling me about immaturity. Really, Josiah? When the first thing out of your mouth was a joke so old and stale it stopped being funny before you ever told it?”
He scowled at me, some of the warmth leaving his eyes. “There’s this new thing, Scarlett. They call it forgiveness. You might want to try it out sometime.”
Before I could respond, Blizzard stopped playing and the room erupted in cheering. I kicked myself. I’d been so busy arguing with Josiah I’d missed most of the song. Blizzard was bound to ask me how I liked it and all I’d be able to tell her was I’d spent her song with a man I’d sworn never to see again. A man who was still holding my hand. I started to pull away, but Josiah kept a firm hold and pulled me closer.
“I know you think I’m worse than horse manure on your boots, but I care about you, Scarlett. Don’t you think we could try again?”
His expression was so tender and his touch so warm. His brown eyes begged me to say yes and my heart wanted to. Maybe we could. Then another memory came back. A memory of him holding a different girl, closer than he was holding me now. As much as it hurt, the words came out anyway, “No, I don’t think so.”
He let go of my hand, his eyes boring straight to my soul. “You know, you might want to quit lying to yourself while you’re learning about forgiveness, Lettie. But if that’s really what you want, I guess that’s all I deserve. Tell Blizzard she wrote a beautiful song.” Then he walked away, leaving me shattered all over again.