“Come on Tank, I know you can do it.” I try to coax the little foal to walk with me on his halter, but the little shit refuses. “I’ll give you a sugar cube if you take a step.”
“I can’t believe you’re bargaining with a colt.” Beau chuckles, leaning against the barn door, watching me intently.
“Hey, it beats abuse, so you can shove it.” I glare at him after successfully getting Tank to walk with me. Lucy finally took to him about a week ago, and now the shit has become the biggest pain in the ass I’ve ever experienced.
“Let me know when you’re ready for me to take over. I’ll be cleaning tack.” Beau waves his hand as he heads back into the barn, and I step in front of the colt and lower my head so I’m eye level with him.
“Okay, boy. We’re going to show him how smart you are. You don’t need Momma Lucy to show you how it’s done, do you?” I ask the colt, who throws his head back with a whiny. I chuckle and stand up straight, before coaxing him into following me by sticking the sugar cube that was in my other pocket into the pocket closest to his nose. Tank can obviously smell it and keeps nipping at my hip trying to get it while he walks all over the yard following me.
“Beau! Come watch us!” I call into the barn when we pass it, and he comes out with an oiled rag in his hand and watches us with a raised eyebrow.
“Congratulations, you can con a foal into following you.” He rolls his eyes with a smile, and I feed the cube to Tank as I take him over to the paddock where Lucy is waiting for him and release him kicking and galloping into the pen.
“I bet I can con you into kissing me.” I grin, walking towards him.
“I’m not that easy, Stella.” He smirks, tossing the oil rag back into the tack room and crossing his arms while he leans against Apollo’s stall.
“Oh yeah?” I challenge, grabbing his wrists and pulling them away from his chest. “But you love kissing me.”
“I am so powerless against you.” Beau groan, locking his hands around my waist and pulling me against his chest. I smile up at him until he finally closes his eyes and kisses me.
“I told you’d I could make you kiss me.” I grin like a puppy after he pulls away, and he glances down at me.
“I’m weak. I need to work on that.”
“I’m just irresistible. Don’t feel too bad about it.” I smile, pressing my lips into the skin of his chest that I just exposed while running my fingers slowly through the pearl snap he’s wearing.
“I’m going to have to try to build an immunity to you, because you absolutely are tantalizing.” He growls, leaning down and kissing me again. “Where’s your dad?”
“Went to town for lunch with some buddies. Shouldn’t be back for another hour.” I mumble against his lips, wrapping my legs around his waist as he hoists me up and heads up to the bed upstairs.
Twenty minutes later, I’m lying in his bed with my shorts unbuttoned and tank top twisted from his hands, arguing with him about something so stupid, we shouldn’t have interrupted our make out session to debate it.
“You are NOT going to Club Rodeo tomorrow night.” Beau groans at me as he stares up at the ceiling beside me.
“Last time I checked, you are NOT the boss of me, either.” I argue, reaching to re-button my shorts, not wanting to sit around listening to a lecture.
“Stel, I’ve spent a lot of time at that place, and you’re not going! It’s not safe!” He argues, and sits up when I stand up and straighten my tank top.
“Look, we’re going to celebrate Gemma’s birthday, and that’s final. I’m not planning on drinking or smoking or doing drugs, just dancing all night with my best friend and watching some amateur bull riders get bucked off pasture bulls.” I tell him before marching my happy ass out of the loft and whistling Zeus’s whistle as I walk out of the barn. I haven’t been on a pasture ride for a while, and I heard Dad say earlier that he was missing a couple of steers in the back 40.
Zeus meets me at the fence with his head hanging over, waiting for the clip to be hooked to his halter. I use the fence to swing on him bareback, and rest my cheek against his neck as I point him towards the pasture I want him to go to. “Why do boys have to be so hard-headed?” I grumble against his neck, knotting a handful of his mane into my hands as I push myself back up so I’m sitting, and squeeze my legs so he picks up a lope. I wave at a car driving down the gravel road that belongs to Cecilia Clearwater, our local neighborhood grandma. She’s such a sweet and kind lady who loves baking and horses more than anything else. Cecilia was actually the one who gave my first pony to me, after I had made Dad stop so I could pet Minnie, the little Shetland that stayed in her yard without a fence. I was three. Minnie was the best pony a girl could ask for, but my dad made me give her back to Cecilia when he bought me my first actual horse, Sassy. Minnie passed away just a few years ago.
It takes us another ten minutes of a soft lope to reach the pasture I want, and after counting only 56 of the 60 steers that are supposed to be on this summer grass, I do the first logical thing and ride the fences, looking for holes, downed or loose wires, or an open gate at the far side. Zeus is starting to sweat by the time we’re back at square one, literally standing where I counted the steers half an hour earlier. They’re all standing there, watching the two of us with cud in their mouths curiously, and start raking my brain trying to figure out why we’re missing only four steers. If there were more gone, I’d probably think it was cattle rustlers, but we haven’t had any of those around for years. Plus, there were no cut fences. I didn’t see any stragglers in the gullies, but I didn’t check the pond that sits right in the middle, so I head Zeus that direction, thinking that at least if the steers aren’t there, at least he can get a drink. I didn’t think about how hot it was before I left the farm in a hurry, and I’m kind of regretting it myself.
This summer has been unusually wet and rainy for central Georgia, and Zeus actually loses his footing on our trip down a small hill towards the pond. He rights himself before I tumble to the ground, and by some instinct I know the missing steers are by the pond. Dad had the pond cleaned out over the winter while there weren’t any cattle in this pasture, and there was a huge pile of dirt off to the side that still hadn’t grown any foliage. I have a bad feeling that they’re bogged down in the mud. I wasn’t wrong. I look at the four steers, sunk up to their midsections in mud, and I frantically reach for my phone and call my dad. He should be home by now, and I don’t think Zeus and I could get them out alone, even if my halter rope was long enough. When the steers see me, they start bawling frantically and start resisting the mud, which only causes them to be sucked in tighter. I wish I could tell them to stop resisting, but obviously they won’t be able to understand me.
“Hey dad, I found your missing steers.” I tell him as soon as he answers.
“Oh good. Where are they? They’ve been missing for a couple of days.” He answers, and I hear some guys talking in the background.
“They’re stuck in the mud behind the pond you had cleaned out over the winter. All four of them are up to their middle in mud.” I answer, steering Zeus around to the far part of the pond where he can reach the water without getting muddy.
He sighs into the phone before I hear a chair scrape backwards and him apologizing to his friends. Apparently he stayed longer at lunch than I thought he would. “I’ll be there in twenty minutes. Have you called Beau yet? He could grab rope and chains and anything long and flat that he can find and I’ll meet you guys there.”
“Yeah. I’ll call him right now. Love you, bye.” I call into the phone before scrolling for Beau’s contact and hitting the call button.
He answers on the third ring, and I think he’s inside watching baseball, according to the ‘AND THAT’S MAD BUM’S SECOND HOME RUN THIS GAME’ I hear in the background. Apparently he’s watching a Giant’s-Brave’s game. He promises he’ll be here as soon as he finds everything I asked for, but Dad even beats him here.
“I mean I knew the kid was slow, but I didn’t think he was THIS slow.” Dad grumbles when he sees Beau isn’t here yet.
“In his defense, he’s probably still looking for something flat and hard. I should have told him to grab the plywood sheet out in the garage.” I roll my eyes at my dad from where I’m sitting still on Zeus while I let him do a little grazing. He leans against the grill of his truck and studies the four stuck steers.
“We’ll probably be able to get the brockle face out the easiest, but I bet we’ll lose the red one in the deepest. It depends on how long they’ve been struggling in this muck.” Dad shakes his head. I know he hates losing the summer steers, but sometimes it has to be done. A couple summers ago, we lost 12 steers that all had their heads stuck in a metal bale feeder that was struck by lightning. Electrocuted every single one of them. That was the most sickening sight I think I’ve ever seen, plus the stench of burned hide.
Beau finally pulls into the pasture a few minutes later after Dad and I started talking about college, and when Gemma and I were planning on moving in. He climbs out and I noticed he grabbed my saddle and bridle along with everything else he needed. It looks like he even found the plywood I forgot to tell him about.
“How are we going to do this?” Beau asks, glancing at the steers that started bawling at the sight of the feed truck. They must be hungry.
“I think Stella should be able to get brockle out with the rope if she saddles Zeus up, but the rest will probably need the truck and chain, if not a bullet.” Dad mutters, already tallying up the losses in his head, I’m sure.
I go ahead and get off of Zeus so I can saddle him while Dad and Beau work to get the rope around the steer’s body.
“Dammit, I lost a boot.” Beau curses, hopping around in the muck while he searches for his lost boot. “I sunk just enough that the mud sucked it off. Can you get any closer, John? I’m as close as I can.”
“Not without losing a boot of my own. This is what sucks about getting old and fat, Beau. Can’t do much of anything anymore.” Dad grumbles, and I cinch the girth up before handing the reins to Beau and testing the muck that is dry on top but sinks away to wet goop once you pass the surface.
“I’m lighter than both of you, maybe I can crawl closer.” I suggest, taking Beau’s end of the rope from him, and taking a small step onto the bog. It holds me, so I sink to my knees and crawl a few more feet closer to the steer, who starts flipping his shit when I start to get close. I feel the bog beneath me start to sink with my weight, so I hurry and loop the rope behind the steer and dart back across the mud and take Dad’s end and tie it in a slip knot that I can cinch back to the steer.
After I’m sure that the rope is secure, Dad holds the rope while I climb on Zeus and he hands me the rope and I tie it down to my saddle horn. I hope Zeus can get enough traction to pull the 900-pound steer out.
“Come on boy.” I coax, trying to ignore the rope that’s digging into my side as Zeus strains against the pressure.
“Get the board and put it out there.” Dad urges Beau, and I let Zeus rest for a minute while Beau pushes the board out so if the steer can get a leg loose he can step on it. “You’re good to go, Stella.”
I push Zeus again, and this time I can feel and hear progress being made behind us. The steer grunts as he struggles to get his front hooves free, but eventually there’s slack in the rope and Zeus lunges forward, nearly toppling me off his back.
“You good, Stella?” Dad asks while he’s trying to get the rope loose after I let some slack out from where it was wrapped around my saddle horn.
“Just peachy.” I groan, and Beau gives me a half smile while he comes and grab’s Zeus’s reins so I can crawl back towards the next steer.
Three hours, and three bullets later, I’m putting the pan of hamburger helper onto the table that Dad and Beau are sitting grumpily at. Beau hasn’t said much to me after our little fight about me going to the club with Gemma tomorrow, and I kind of just want to put this behind us. I mean, I do leave in just a couple of weeks.
“Milk or water?” I ask my dad as I’m heading back to the fridge for my bottle of water.
“Milk please, thanks darlin’.” He answers.
“Beau?” I ask, trying to get him to look at me while I pour my dad’s glass of milk.
“Yeah, milk sounds good. Thanks.” He mumbles, still looking down at his plate. I frown at him while I pour his glass too, and carry all three drinks back to the table.
“I’ll take the backhoe up to the pasture tonight so we can bury those guys. Don’t need any more coyotes coming around here than what we’ve already got. I’ll call Bill in the morning and tell him the bad news, too.” Dad mumbles while he’s scooping a bite of the macaroni and beef into his mouth with a bite of toast.
“He’s not going to be thrilled.” I sigh, pushing my noodles around my plate, not at all hungry.
“You can say that again.” Dad chuckles, guzzling down his milk and standing up to get another glass after he’s finished his plate. “I better get going.”
Beau and I watch him walk out of the house before resuming the awkward silence that has stood between us since we argued about Club Rodeo. Finally, after 5 minutes of silence besides the sounds of chewing and swallowing, I’ve had enough. “Are we having our first couple’s fight?” I ask, breaking a small grin as I try to lighten the mood.
“I don’t want you going to Club Rodeo without me.” Beau states, this time changing his words from earlier.
“Is someone jealous?” I tease, waving my fork around in the air at him.
“Hell no I’m not jealous. I’m worried about your safety, Stel.” Beau glares at me across the table, and I return it, before he slams his glass down on the table and stands up, marching out of the room. I glare at his back as he enters the stables, completely fed up with him.
Annoyed as all hell, I furiously take all of the dishes to the kitchen and wash them, before proceeding to clean every inch of the kitchen and living room to cool off. Dad still isn’t back yet by the time I’m done and there isn’t a speck of dust anywhere to be seen, so I glance out the window at the barn where I see Beau’s shadow moving around.
“If it makes you feel better, would you be okay with me going if you came too?” I ask, startling him and causing him to topple the broom he was using to sweep the aisle to the ground. Beau glances at me before rolling his eyes and leaning against the stall he’s standing by, which happens to be Apollo’s. I glance at the horse who’s happily munching on his hay net, and step towards Beau, reaching for him and uncrossing his arms.
“I don’t want you to go to that god forsaken place, period. But if you insist, then hell yes I want to come with you.” He murmurs, pressing his palm into my cheek and brushing a piece of my hair behind my ear. “I don’t want anything to happen to you.” He whispers, leaning down and brushing his lips against mine before kissing me passionately.
“Okay.” I manage to breathe against his lips while my fingers cling to his waist. I’m completely oblivious to what’s going on around me, until a loud yell from Beau’s lips against my neck yanks me back to reality while he’s sending a string of curse words at the horse behind us.
I gasp and leap back from Beau, trying to get him to turn around so I can see the bite. “Beau, that’s pretty bad. We need to get you to the hospital.” I tell him, trying to hold back a giggle at the colorful language still flying out of his mouth. I hurry to the tackroom and grab a clean towel before hurrying back to Beau and making him stand still while I try to clean up some of the blood so it doesn’t get a truck all bloody.
“Mother of hell that hurt.” Beau mutters, clenching his fists while I’m cleaning the blood up.
“Yeah, he took about the size of an apple out of you.” I chuckle, before wrapping the towel around Beau’s shoulder and tying it so it’ll be secure, at least until we get to the hospital. “Come on, you’ll need stitches.”
“I can’t believe you’re laughing at my pain.” Beau feigns hurt while I lead him to my Jeep.
“You forgot, I’ve been there too. At least he got the meaty part of your shoulder and not the tender area near the pit.” I shake my head, remembering that horrid day. I’ve never felt pain so bad in my entire life as that bite.
“I guess you win in the pain department. I couldn’t even imagine that.” Beau shudders before I manage to head to town, meeting Dad on the way in and telling him what happened. He laughs, too, despite Beau’s protesting that he’s the victim and should not be laughed at. That only makes Dad laugh harder.
“Beau, can we promise each other that we’ll never fight again? I don’t like us when we fight.” I murmur, twisting my fingers into his later that night after he’s received 28 stitches and was ordered to take it easy.
“Fighting sucks. That’s for sure.” He sighs, pressing his lips into my hair and running his thumb along the bare skin of my shoulder before finding the scar. “I wish we could stay here forever.”
“We could. I don’t have to go to college. We could stay right here on our little farm forever. Get married, have kids, take a summer vacation to Hawaii every couple of summers. We could do it.” I sigh, pressing my temple into his chest and listening to his heartbeat.
“Marriage and kids talk already. Moving pretty fast here, Stel.” Beau chuckles, but doesn’t shy away from it. “How many kids do you want?”
It’s not like I haven’t thought about the answer to that question before, I’m just taken by surprise that he sounds so serious talking about it. Most guys shy away from wanting kids, or try to put it off as long as they can. Not Beau though. “I don’t know, a couple of them for sure. Maybe three?”
“Three’s a good number.” Beau chuckles, tangling his fingers in my long, blonde, ratty hair. “Two boys and a girl.”
“Two girls and a boy.” I challenge, glancing up at him.
“Three girls.” Beau answers, and I actually shudder.
“Could you imagine having three girls and all the drama and expenses that would involve? Do you know how much money we spend on tampons and pads and birth control and cramp medicine every year? That doesn’t include bras that everyone seems to think we have to wear, that can cost $80 each, and god forbid we wear them more than twice before washing them. Hundreds, Beau. We spend thousands of dollars every year just to be women. Honestly, boys have no idea how easy they have it.” I shake my head after going on my mini rant, and Beau chuckles.
“Wow, we do have it easy.”
“Not to mention the prom dresses that we have to buy that costs hundreds of dollars while guys get to rent their suits for maybe $50.”
“Yeah, that is a rip off, I agree.”
“And the fact that guys clothes are nearly a universal fit, while girls clothes depend on the time of the day, the phase of the moon, and what you had to eat for lunch last week on whether or not they’re going to fit.”
“I think that one’s stretching it a bit, darlin’.” Beau chuckles, squeezing my shoulder in comfort.
“You think I’m kidding? You wear a size medium, my dad wears a size medium, my ex wore a size medium, hell, our football linemen wore size frickin’ mediums. I can wear a size medium in men’s. But I swear, our medium shirts would barely cover half of you, and don’t even get me started on how temperamental jeans are.”
“Okay, I see someone ate their argument Wheaties for supper. I believe you, Stel.” Beau chuckles, trying to tickle me to get me on a different topic, but I’m too worked up now.
“Gah, why did I have to be a girl?” I gasp, pressing my forehead into his shoulder and groaning.
“Well, I’m glad you’re a girl.” He grins, kissing my temple before I finally sit up to head to my bed. Dad insisted Beau sleep in the guest room tonight so he’s close to medicine if he needs it for his stitches, and I wasn’t going to complain about my boyfriend sleeping in the room beside mine.
“Whatever. Good night, Beau.” I smile and lean down to kiss him before heading to my room and changing into my ratty old t-shirt and hipsters to sleep in.
While in bed, I can’t stop tossing and turning and having nightmares about everything that happened today. I finally wake myself up from some horrible dream that I was trying to pull Beau out of the mud instead of a steer, but he was stuck and Dad said we should just shoot him like the rest. When I look at the clock, it’s only 5:30, but I’m terrified of what I’ll see if I close my eyes again, so I head to take a shower and clear my mind.