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Rock Soup for the Cowboy Soul
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Max the Cowdog surveys her domain. 

Welcome new subscribers!

Yep, that's us in the photo at the top, a mile from Canada, twenty miles from the east face of the Rockies and an hour from the nearest town, unless you're quick enough to slip past the border patrol and take the shortcut north.

I'd be happy to tell you what to expect from this little e-magazine, but I generally have no idea until I sit down to make it. You might get a story about the latest hilarity here at the ranch (after we're done cussing and kicking things), you might get book news, I might decide to write an epilogue to one of my books because it's more fun than beating my head against the new one I'm supposed to be writing. If I'm hungry, you might even get recipes. 

As a starter, you get this little short story I wrote after my mother and I saw a cowboy sitting at a bar alone in the Salt Lake City airport with a cast on his arm. There was something very poignant about the image that struck sparks in my imagination. I actually knew his story (it was Jesse Wright, for the rodeo fans among you, so all I had to do was go to ProRodeo.com to get the scoop), but my mind preferred to make up its own story about how he got there and where he was going. Unlike my mother, who is still annoyed that I wouldn't go ask him. Or let her. I'm not sure how this woman birthed a child who'd rather jump out of the plane than strike up a conversation, and not just with complete stranger.

But I will totally go home and write about him....

 

Changing Planes

She would have walked right on by if she hadn’t spotted the cowboy hat. He sat hunched over a half-full beer, at what pretended to be a cheery Irish pub in the bleak outer reaches of the B terminal. His right arm was propped on the bar, encased in a purple fiberglass cast from palm to elbow. His weary slouch, the cast, the scarred leather bag on the floor beside his chair—it all painted a picture of a wounded warrior, worn to the bone.

Her heart clutched painfully at the sight. No one should look so alone. So…untended.

At this time of the night, there wasn’t much hustle or bustle to distract her. Slack-faced travelers straggled past, dragging their carry-ons along behind like disgruntled puppies, or poked at screens of varying sizes in the deliberately upright rows of chairs. Wouldn’t want anyone to get too comfortable. They might start scheduling six hour layovers on purpose.

The steps that carried her toward him seemed both inevitable and surreal. How could she just walk over and sit down beside him?

How could she not?

He didn’t move when she slid onto the stool. Not the slightest flinch or squaring of his shoulders. He’d watched her approach in the mirror behind the bar, she realized, and continued to study her with an expression of wary indifference.

“Nice hat.” She followed his lead, staring straight ahead and allowing the mirror to put an illusion of distance between them. “I take it brown is the new black?”

He gave a slight grunt and a hitch of his shoulder, dark eyes fixed on her reflection, dark stubble at least three days beyond clean-shaven.

“I’ve always preferred silver-bellies myself,” she said, striving for flippant. “But I can get used to brown. Anything is better than those big ol’ palm-leaf straws that were all the rage for a while.”

Rather than replying, he took a sip of his beer, his gaze still locked on her as she ordered a soda, paid for it, then pushed it aside. She lifted a hand and barely, just barely, touched the cast resting on the bar beside her. It was fresh, un-scuffed, the exposed padding around the edges still white and nearly pristine, as if he’d gone straight from the hospital to the airport, no doubt against doctor’s orders. Asking if it hurt was pointless. The cowboy wouldn’t admit the truth even if it felt as though ice nails had been driven through his arm.

“How bad is it?” she asked.

“Fractured both bones above the wrist. Pins, plates, the works.” His voice rasped, low and rusty, as if these were the first words he’d spoken all day.

“How long?”

His lashes fluttered down, dark and improbably lush in an otherwise hard-edged face, but failed to hide the flash of despair in his eyes. “Two months, at least.”

The heart of the rodeo season, wasted. A loss that pained him more than any broken bone.

“What will you do in the meantime?”

Another hitch of his shoulder. Then his gaze shifted, took on a sardonic edge as it traveled over her. He took note of the studious glasses she’d traded for her contacts, anticipating a long, sleepless night, and the blazer and slacks she still wore from the few hours she’d spent at the office, scrambling to wrap up the most pressing loose ends before racing off to catch her flight.

“Got important business somewhere?” he asked.

“Yes.”

Possibly the most important business of her life. So here she sat, beside this surly, uncommunicative cowboy, with a bored airport bartender bearing witness to their tortured conversation.

She felt each individual beat of her heart, a sharp, metallic rap against her sternum. “Did you know that hearts are the least sensible organ in the body?”

He raised his eyebrows a fraction.

“They don’t listen. I suppose because they don’t have ears, you know? Or eyes, so they refuse to see. They only know what they feel, and being deaf and blind, there’s no persuading them otherwise.” She made a helpless, fluttering gesture with her hands, what remained of her nerve undone by his stare. “It makes no sense, a woman like me with a cowboy.”

“Then why are you sitting here?”

"Like I said, my heart won’t listen. Or see. I tried to tell it this was no life for us. Always waiting on the sidelines. The little woman behind the big man, fading into the background while the world groveled at his feet.” She snorted derisively. “Even if I had a hearth, I have no desire to spend my life keeping it warm for some damn cowboy.”

He straightened now, bristling. “Did anyone ask you to?”

“No.” She bowed her head, no longer able to hold his gaze. “He never asked me to sacrifice my time or my career. Even at the biggest moments, when it really mattered, he never insisted that I be there with him, or for him. At first, I thought that was good. I told myself he respected my independence. But then I started to wonder…were there so many other people around him now, he didn’t need me anymore? After the big deal in Dallas, I was…outside of it all. Just another spectator. It hurt. So I decided that was the safest place to be, for me and my heart. I told him so, and we fought, and that was that.”

The noise he made was an amalgam of disgust and anger. “Sounds to me like he was a damn fool who got lucky at the right rodeo, and all of the sudden he was the next big deal. He got so carried away in all the hoopla he forgot who really mattered.”

“You think?” Her pulse did a quick, hopeful skip. “I don’t know. A man like that would be better off with a woman who wasn’t dead set on ruling the world. Or at least the western regional office. A woman who was more supportive.”

“If I’d wanted supportive, I wouldn’t have picked you.”

Her laugh was a brittle, nervous trill. “There you go. Always so romantic.”

“You said you didn’t need romance. Just love.” He rotated his stool—slow, deliberate—and touched the fingers of his uninjured hand to her cheek, turning her face to his. “Where were you going tonight?”

She swallowed against the tightness in her throat. “California. Salinas. I heard…it was on the internet, about how you’d been hurt. Video too, but I couldn’t stand to watch. They said you were having surgery. I couldn’t stay away.” She pushed air through her teeth in a frustrated hiss. “That silly heart of mine, you know? No common sense. Worrying you’d be alone, in a hospital, with no one to look out…I should have known you wouldn’t stay put.”

“I needed to be home. I needed you. I just never knew how much I depended on it until you weren’t there.”

She blinked furiously, but tears still eked from the corners of her eyes. “I was on my way.”

“Me, too. I was coming home, even before this.” He lifted the cast to indicate his broken arm. “Turns out, the only thing with less sense than your heart is my head, but I finally got it through my thick skull that I can’t do it alone.” He gave a swift, emphatic shake of the skull in question. “No. Not can’t. Won’t. Don’t want to. None of it feels right without you, even when you can’t be there beside me.”

Beside. Not behind. Lord, she’d been a fool.

She sniffed, losing the battle against the tears. “I could be more often. If I learn to delegate…”

“Delegate? My little control freak?” His voice took on a teasing note as his fingers stroked aside a tear. “You must really be crazy about me.”

She swatted at his hand, but he didn’t let her chase him away. He kissed her instead. A kiss packed full of weeks’ worth of aching need, hot enough to cauterize her wounds, tender enough to soothe the scars.

She let her head fall onto his shoulder and huffed out a sigh. “I am crazy. Damned hard-headed cowboy. Stupid heart.”

He just laughed and kissed her again.

***

If you'd like to check out past issues, go the the ARCHIVES.  On my website you'll also find a link to free reads on Wattpad, including an epilogue for The Long Ride Home and my latest short stories. 

For ordering info or links to any of my work, visit my website at KariLynnDell.com.



 

Copyright © 2017 Kari Lynn Dell, All rights reserved.


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