"The winner of East Haven's Big Britches Barrel Racin' is…" The announcer paused for dramatic effect, "Emma Winser ridin' Cobalt!"
Cheers rose from our small crowd while Emma rode over to the announcer deck and collected her reward check. I trained Cobalt two years ago and gave him to Emma as a birthday gift. Emma is my closest friend and works with me on my ranch.
The late spring breeze blew loose hair from my braid into my face as I rode to meet her. Barrel racing had ended for the day, well our class finished, and we trotted over to my trailer.
“Great job, Emma!” I hollered as we dismounted, I hooked my lead rope onto Mia’s halter.
Mia is my fifteen year old mare, she is a beautiful 16 hand tall quarter horse. Her mane and tail are jet black while her coat is a dark chestnut, her beautiful blue eyes make her stand out while the white lightning bolt on her forehead only adds to the effect.
Emma had taken Cobalt’s bridle off and was doing up his halter as I walked around his backside, trailing my hand on him as I went to let him know I was there.
Cobalt is also a quarter horse, gelding, and a ten year old, who stands at 15 and a half hands tall. He has a dark mane and tail that contrasts well with his blue roan coat, dark face, and white diamond on his muzzle.
“Ellie, we actually won.” She said as I squeezed her in a tight hug.
“You won, Em, you and Cobalt. I just trained him, the rest was all you.” We stepped back and I walked back over to Mia and started to take off her bridle.
“You know I couldn’t do this without you,” She said and started to undo the cinch, “If you didn’t haul us everywhere we would have completely missed out.”
I slid Mia’s bridle onto my shoulder and started to undo her breast collar.
“Awe, come on, if I didn’t drag you anywhere I would go everywhere alone.” I told her as I moved to undo the cinch and slid the saddle off.
“Well if you didn’t drag me everywhere a whole lot more horses would get trained and we would lose a whole lot more.”
I hopped up in the tack area at the front of the trailer after sliding my saddle and pads of Mia and slid them onto a rack and flipped the pads upside down on top of the saddle to dry. I reached over and hung the bridle across from it on the other wall.
The small room was no bigger than a walk-in closet, only about 6 ft by 5 ft, with two saddle racks stacked on the far wall. One corner had a bucket full of brushes and I grabbed one as I headed back out.
“Did you find out what event they're holdin’ next week.” I asked.
Emma took my place in the tack room and grabbed a brush as she jumped out. “I believe it’s calf ropin’ with a $250 grand prize. Plus a 25 dollar entry fee.”
“Nice,” I started brushing Mia down, “Wanna be a team? I’m a better header than a footer.”
“Why not,” She says as she starts brushing down Cobalt, “We’ll have to practice more, I'm a little rusty.”
I finished brushing Mia and led her into the trailer. I tied her to the side and swung the end of the lead rope to dangle outside. I stepped out as Emma led Cobalt in. Once she was out we closed the gates and latched both sides. I walked over to the front of the trailer and unlocked my Chevy Truck.
I climbed in and stuck the key in the ignition as Emma hopped in the passenger seat. I started her up and cranked the air conditioner, the radio came on and we both started singing along.
I pulled out after putting my seat belt on and started down the dirt road. I came to the end and pulled onto the pavement, we had to stop by Dine In, our small town diner, to pick up dinner for tonight.
“I have to stop by Dine In and pick up the usual before headen home. Nick was supposed to call ahead so it shouldn’t take long.” I told her. Nick is my oldest brother, he has taken care of me and my three other brothers since I was thirteen.
Our Mama died in an accident and Daddy couldn’t handle us all too well so Nick had taken care of us.
We are all two years apart and I happen to be the middle child. Since my parents had all boys they expected me to be one too, but surprise, I came out the opposite of what they were expecting. Which is why I was given the name Elliot, I make sure everyone calls me Ellie, but my brothers call me Elle Bell.
“No problem, I can wait here.” Em tells me.
“Great, I’ll try and be quick.” I respond.
After a few minutes I pull in the dirt parking lot right up front before quickly jumping out and running in. My spurs weighed down my boots and one almost fell off so I walked the rest of the way and pulled open the door. Cool air blasts my face as I wander in, as usual for this time of day there was barely anyone in here except one person at the counter.
Dine In has a rodeo theme with benches instead of chairs and fake hay bales as tables. There’s pictures of anyone who has won a rodeo in town up on the walls, so Em and I are up there quite a few times, they are circulated through often and when your picture comes off you get to keep it.
I wandered over to the counter and Dan came out with food already in his hands. Dan is the owner of Dine In with his wife Sarah, he is around his mid-forties with a couple grey streaks in his hair, his broad shoulders held this place up when no one else could. The old owner went bankrupt and if it weren’t for Dan, the place would have been torn apart and replaced with who knows what.
“Awe, Dan, you heard me pull up didn’t you?” I asked, as I rested my arms on the counter.
“Your beast of a truck can be heard from a mile away.” He responded, his green eyes shone letting me know he was joking.
My truck is a 2018 Chevrolet Silverado 2500hd lifted, black, and a bit of a beast. It wasn’t that loud and I loved the thrum from the engine and the way it purrs when I decide to really step on it.
“Hey, don’t mess with my baby, she is just fine. If anything your truck needs to speak up.” I tell him.
Dan smiles before saying, “My tacoma is just fine, we’re just shy, that’s all.”
I laugh softly, but someone clearing their throat catches my attention. He looks familiar, but I can’t quite place him.
“Care to introduce me?” He asks with an accent I can’t quite place.
His hair is a dirty blonde, probably brighter if he were out in the sun more, with beautiful hazel eyes. His shoulders are quite broad and with his sharp jaw you would think he was carved out of stone.
“Now Dawson don’t be rude,” Dan says and gestures to me, “This here is none other than Elliot Johnson, our town's sweetheart, and best horse trainer.”
“Now, I wouldn’t say that Dan.” I say as I turn to Dawson, “Everyone calls me Ellie, I own a ranch about a half-hour from town.”
“Impressive, I never thought someone so young would have their own ranch…” He says and takes a bite of his french fry, Dan makes them with a special seasoning that makes them taste amazing.
“Why would you say that?” I ask.
“You just seem a little...inexperienced, if you ask me.”
I know that tone, it’s haunted me since 7th grade. It’s Dawson Lawson, rhyming name, I know. He had been my best friend from kindergarten up till he decided to turn his back on me and completely ice me out while simultaneously spreading rumors about me, it was 7th grade, some people were still petty. The last day he was there, we got into a fight.
I used to tell him everything, he knew the pressure I got from my parents to do good in school and how I never thought I was pretty compared to anyone else in the class. He knew I always wanted to run my own ranch and win as many rodeos as I could. He told me I couldn’t, that my dreams were stupid, and that anyone else looked better than me. Even better, his timing was just a day before my siblings and I had to bury our Mama and Daddy had shooed us all to school so he could get things organized, even though Nick took care of everything.
I hated him. To my very core, I hated him. It’s faded over time and I barely feel it anymore, it’s been five years. Eventually I forgave him, I don’t like holding grudges and even though he never knew I forgave him, I knew, and that’s all that matters. I should thank him really, he made me realize it doesn’t matter what other people think of me because all that mattered was what I thought. In a way, he made me stronger, I know how to handle things now.
That doesn’t mean I would be a perfect angel to him.
My brows lowered and my eyes narrowed, giving him my eat-crap-and-die look as my little brother calls it, “Well...I didn’t ask you, now did I. It was nice to meet you Dawson, I’m sure we’ll meet again.”
I smiled before I turned and took the to-go boxes off the counter while pulling out some cash for Dan.
I told him to keep the change and headed for the doors without looking back.
When I hopped back into the cab of my truck I handed the bags to Emma.
“Will ya tie ‘em up and set ‘em in the back?” I asked, she nodded. “Thanks.”
I pulled out of the parking lot and turned to head home.
“What were you doing in there?” She asked.
“Someone new was in there with Dan today. I happened to remember him.” I say and start fidgeting with the strap on my Justin Ranch Hand cowboy hat.
“Who was it?”
“Do you remember, Dawson?”
“Dawson, Dawson, Dawson…” She started to repeat, trying to remember. “Dawson Lawson, your ex-best friend from 7th grade. Yeah I remember, we all used to have so much fun together.”
Once we reached third grade Emma’s family moved here and we all had been inseparable, doing everything together, he got in a fight with her when he left too.
“Yeah, well he’s back for who knows what, I don’t even remember seeing another car there.” I told her while resting my elbow on the door and setting my head on my hand.
“I saw one, a white Ford...F-150, it looked like it hadn't ever seen a dirt road.” From my parefreal I saw her fake a shiver. “The horror, a truck like that deserves it.”
I shook my head at her and smiled, this truck has had her fair share of dirt roads.
We didn’t really talk on the way home except to crank up the radio and sing along until we pulled up at the gate. Em got out and pushed it open, I pulled in as she shut it, then jumped back in.
I pulled around the back of the house by our personal stables, there’s eight stalls just for those who lived here and fifteen for boarding or training. Currently eleven are filled and two are supposed to arrive tomorrow.
I turned my truck off, Em and I jumped out to put our horses back in their stalls. They all open to a big arena so we really don't have any assigned to a specific horse, they go to their own places automatically. We walked to the back and unlatched the gates, the trailer could easily fit five horses, it was a gooseneck with no living quarters.
Emma led Cobalt out and I did the same with Mia and let her go in one of the stalls. I walked back to the trailer's tack room and grabbed my saddle, pads, and bridle. Emma followed me to our half-tack, half-storage shed after she grabbed her tack. Nick had split it down the middle with two wood panels and installed another door. We always had it locked and each of us had a key.
“How’d the barrel racin’ go?” Levi, my younger brother, asked as he walked out of the tack room as I walked in.
I set my saddle on it’s rack and repeated my usual routine of keeping the pads flipped and putting the bridle and halter on their designated hooks.
“Not bad little bro,” I told him as I ruffled his hair as I passed, “Emma won.”
Levi smoothed his hair back down and flashed a smile at Em, “Well, good job Emma! I knew you would.”
She put her bridle and halter on the hook, then turned to look at him.
“Thanks, Lee!” Emma beamed.
Levi flushed at her response and turned away, he has had a hopeless crush on her for the past few years and tried not to show it. Emma had the same boyfriend since high school graduation, then she broke up with him a month ago because she found out he was cheating on her.
I hooked my arm around his neck, I was easily a few inches taller, but not for much longer. He and Wyatt eat like there’s no tomorrow.
Nick stood at 6’2 with Jasper ahead of him at 6’4 and Wyatt at 5’11. I am not what you would consider short, nor tall, I stand at 5’9. My daddy was a tall man and is the same height as Jasper, Jasper even looked the most like him.
“Come on Levi, I have food in the truck and you are welcome to dig in.”
“Sweet, I’ll have to thank Nick later for it.” He responded as he smiled.
Emma had locked the tack room behind us and was trailing behind as we walked over to my truck.
“I was the one who picked it up and paid for it, all Nick had to do was pick up a phone.” I told him.
“Yeah, he really works hard.” Levi said, his sarcasm just gets better everyday.
I flicked the back of his head and he laughed as I opened the back up and handed him the bags.
“Will you help me back this up?” I asked Em as Levi jogged away.
“Sure,” She responded.
I got in the cab and cranked the engine over, the trailer had a special place in between both stables, in front of the pasture. The trailer backed in with ease and we set to unhooking everything.
Once finished I pulled upfront by the three other Chevys and a Dodge Ram. We all had our pick of vehicles, but Wyatt and Levi, they had to share one. At one point we all did.
Em followed me up to the front door and walked in. Voices and the clicking of paws from the kitchen told us where everyone was.
We all live in a two story ranch house with a guest room, game room, storage room, one bath, kitchen, dining room, and living room on the first floor with six bedrooms and four bathrooms on the second floor. All are occupied, but one, and we have been trying to find another hand to help out around the ranch.
We walked down the hall, past the living room and up to the kitchen. The walls were a light brown with stained plank boards that lined the floor, with tile in the kitchen and carpet in all our rooms.
I turned the corner where everyone was sitting at the island in the center of our kitchen. Nick somehow managed to be at the head, don’t ask how, some instinctive thing because he was technically the head of the house.
Nick is twenty-four with brown hair with sun streaked highlights. His blue eyes were obviously from our mom and he was built like dad with big, broad shoulders and a big physique that made him bigger than most men. Since he was seventeen he had to take care of us, he wanted to, we have no other family than each other. So, we stayed together and when we could we did odd jobs to get enough money to pay for electricity.
His serious demeanor helped us with the difficult tasks while his playful and lighthearted personality helped us the most.
Jasper was sitting on a bar stool to Nicks right, like I mentioned before, he looked just like dad. His dark brown eyes and sun streaked brown hair made his features look sharper, more defined. His broad form made him look even bigger than Nick thanks to the extra height. He is more serious than anyone, and quiet as well, but once you get by his intimidating height and silence, his light comments and deep insight make him really comfortable to be around.
Dad was on the other side of Nick, he hasn’t had a job since Mom died, but he helps out around the ranch. He is weaker than when he was younger, but is still strong enough to work and discipline the horses. His hair is almost fully grey with a sprinkle of brown, his eyes softened with age almost the color of aged whiskey. Dad used to look like Jasper, I had seen the pictures, but everything softened when he stopped working and fell apart. When Nick helped me get the ranch, I had Dad move in so we knew he was taken care of, my younger brothers were coming here anyway and I have the room, so here he is.
Wyatt was next to Jasper, he has similar features to Nick, same hair and eyes, but was leaner. Not fragile by any means, but sturdy, he was all muscle. His personality is different than everyone else’s because he can be a bit of a jerk, and the only reason he gets sarcasm was because we all use it. Despite being a jerk, for some reason, he has always had a soft spot for me. Even though I’m two years older he has a need to protect me, and has a side he only shows me.
They were all passing around food that Levi brought in, Levi was by Dad taking everything out.
Our dogs Bently, Diesel, Sadie, Max, and Cooper, were circling the stools waiting for some food to drop.
Bently is my dog, he is an australian shepard and has a grey coat with ink spots sprinkled down to his hind end where it splashes all black. His legs start with white and darkens to grey closer to his belly. With his sky blue eyes, I can’t help but adore him.
Dad dropped a fry down to his dog, Sadie. She is a mix of a jack russell terrier and yorkshire terrier. Her face is all yorkie with big brown eyes, her coloring is yorkie with the tips faded grey as she has gotten older, and a jack russell body.
Max runs up to Emma and almost knocks her over, he is still a puppy and learning. She laughs and scolds him. He is a german shepard, that looks like a standard shepard, but he has a lighter coat and chocolate eyes.
I walk over to sit by Wyatt and steal one of his frys. I laugh as he moves the small box to his other side. I sit on the stool and grab my container, I always get medium fries and a classic cheese burger.
A bump on my leg made me look down, Diesel was looking up at me with puppy eyes.
Diesel is Nick's dog, according to Nick, but not Diesel. Whenever I’m around Diesel is always by me, if I’m not around, he is attached to Nick. Diesel is a double merle australian shepherd, all white with mixed spots of black and brown. One ear is fully black and flops when he looks up at me with his blue eyes.
I shook my head ‘No’ and he walked over to Nick who secretly gave him a fry.
I rolled my eyes and took a bite of my burger, the grease hit my mouth and I couldn’t help but sigh. Everyone else was already done with their first and moving onto their second.
All but Em and I. I glanced at her from the corner of my eye and she was silently chuckling to herself.
“So, Elle Bell,” Nick started, “Any candidates for a new ranch hand helper?”
“Not yet.” I told him.
When Nick and Jasper decided to focus more on college, they didn’t have any extra time to help out. To help, they suggested hiring someone new...That was three months ago, I don’t even know if the flyers are still up. He still asks me once a week, even though there’s no one new at the table. So, what's a girl to do?
“I wish I could help out more, Darlin’ Elle,” Daddy said, “My back just ain't what it used to be.”
“I know Daddy, and I appreciate it, when someone finally does we’ll know it’s meant to be because it took so long. The right one always takes a while.”
“Well, they better be really good,” Levi said, “I need someone else to rough house with. Wyatt won’t anymore, plus, he has all these new muscles.” He shivered. “I can’t even beat him because he never goes easy.”
“Not my fault you’re weak.” Wyatt said.
“Was that a joke?” Em asked as she looked over at Wyatt.
I did too, he had a faint smile playing on his lips and slowly shook his head.
Everyone was quiet as we finished eating and threw our trash away. Cooper, Levi’s dog, tried to pull it all out. Cooper is still a puppy, a mix of poodle and labrador retriever, Levi continues to train him and he can’t seem to break the trash habit.
Cooper is light brown with puppy blue eyes and it’s hard to be mad at him.
“Alright, Levi, your dog went to the trash first so you get you get to take it out.” Jasper said in his monotone voice.
Levi sighed and did as he was told.
I kissed Jasper and Nick on the cheek as they left for the night. They share an apartment closer to our small university and had school in the morning.
Speaking of which, “Levi,” He just came back in, “Go shower for the night, ya got school in the morning. Did you do your homework?”
Levi sighed again and muttered a yes as he trudged up the stairs.
With Daddy, Em, and I left we went and watched FRIENDS reruns on the T.V. and Levi eventually joined us.
It was half past ten when I finally looked at my phone, so I sent Levi to bed. Daddy already turned in with Sadie, and I had let the other dogs out for the night. Em was asleep in her favorite chair so I put a blanket over her and headed upstairs.
My room is the first on the right after going up our carpeted stairs. The hall is all carpet that leads into all the bedrooms with light brown walls and picture frames that lined the walls and I always stopped to look at the one by my door.
It’s a picture of my mom when she was around my age standing with Dad infront of Dine In. It was one of the pictures where you don’t know someone is taking the picture, both of their backs were turned with their heads close together and hands intertwined.
I took one more second to look at it and headed into my room. I flicked on the light. Shelfs line the walls with assorted ribbons, trophies, and pictures that I have collected over the years. My bed was against the far wall with soft brown sheets with matching pillows and my Mama’s old quilt on top. My dresser was across the room with the vanity next to it. In the opposite corner was my walk-in closet, next to it was the door that led to the joint bathroom I shared with Emma.
I have a full length mirror on the other side of the closet and stopped to hang my Justin on it’s hook.
I have long blonde hair that reaches my waist and I always have it tied back, the top is lighter than the bottom and closer to my neck it’s almost brown. My blue eyes seem to look green in darker light and seem to shine in the morning. I have a tan complexion from always being outside that is lighter in the winter, but it seems like I can’t get rid of my farmers tan even when winter comes. I swim occasionally and the lake, but only a few times a year.
Since I was little I have always been told I have a cute nose, it seems to fit just right.
My 17 year old build is different than most people I’ve seen, I have broad shoulders that seem to fit me and don’t make me look like a boy either. I don’t have a flat nor very round chest and medium hips. My thighs are a bit bigger than average from the muscle I built up with long legs.
I took out my braid and brushed it out while deciding to take a shower in the morning. I walked over to my dresser and pulled out an old tank top with shorts then went to the bathroom to wash up.
Splashing my face with water and washing away the dirt and grime from today helped relax me and as I curled up in bed I fell asleep almost immediately thinking of someone I thought I would never see again, Dawson.
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