The summer is burning hot, it’s the type of summer that stops you in your tracks as soon as you go outside, it’s the type of summer that makes you wake up in your own sweat.
The land is dry, crusted and radiating heat, just stepping onto the dirt without shoes could result in serious burns.
I watch as the sun goes down, I sit on a fence with my face turned to the sky as I watch it become tainted in colours of pink and orange.
My name is Elena Ryder, I live on my family’s farm with my parents and my three siblings. We live in a growing town called Blackstone, it’s a mining and lumber town that is starting to come into its own with the growing demand for coal and timber.
My family farm cattle and corn, every four years, during the autumn, my father musters half out herd to the next city where they are sold for a very good profit. From there, the cattle are split up, some go to butcher shops and others are loaded onto boats and shipped across the sea to other countries.
As I contemplate my future, I hear a horse whinny from the barn. I leap off the fence and race into the stables, my father is already there, watching as the white mare as she huffs and pushes.
“It’s time,” my father says, his voice low and soft.
I watch with wide eyes as the mare pushes her foal into the world, my eyes widen when the black foal nickers and takes its first breath.
“Make sure you feed them,” my father says, walking away from the stall as Bella, the mare, sits up and looks to her foal.
My father is a man of few words, he is stoic and strong with hard eyes and a mean, grizzled look that scares most men in town. But my father isn’t as hard as everyone perceives him to be, his whole expression changes when he’s around my mother, his face softens as they kiss, people say they have an ‘epic’ love.
I run my tongue over my teeth and turn my attention to the foal, the baby is suckling and its tail flicks and wags almost as if it has a mind of its own.
I go to the feed and prepare the horses buckets, we have a total of six horses, seven now that the foal is born. All of the horses are valuable, they were bred and reared to be mustering horses, they are smart and loyal to a tee.
I make sure to give Bella an extra helping of oats and then look to the black stallion in the stall at the front of the barn. Cobalt, our prized stallion, is the father of the new foal, he is tall and strong with a stubborn head but a gentle heart.
After feeding the horses, and checking on the foal again, I leave the barn and walk to the house that my father built.
“You are covered in muck!” my mother says by way of greeting, she looks me up and down and then raises an eyebrow, “Boots outside.”
“Yes mam,” I smile, I kick my boots outside and kiss my mother on her cheek before washing my hands in the sink.
“Dinner will be done soon,” my mother says, swatting my hand away as I try to reach for an early pick of food, “Go help your brother set the table.”
I smile and watch as my mother cooks, if people are scared of my father, then they’re terrified of my mother. Some compare her to a mountain lion, especially when she is protecting her children. My mother has tan red skin and deep black hair that she keeps pinned up or braided back. She’s a goddess in the saddle, so my father says, no one can ride better than her, she forms a connection to the horses and it’s almost as if they hang off her every word.
If only she had that same power when commanding the twins, my youngest siblings are monsters, they’re like hurricanes that breeze through and disrupt order.
“Hands!” my mother says as the twins blow into the kitchen.
“Hands!” the children echo, they hold up their dust-covered hands and giggle as my mother sets to chasing them, trying to get them to wash their hands.
I walk into the dining room and my older brother, Michael, is setting the table.
“You put the fork in the wrong place,” I say, switching the cutlery’s placement.
My brother shrugs his shoulders and then smiles as he deliberately places the cutlery in the wrong position again.
“You illiterate beast,” I hiss, making Michael laugh.
“You know, I’d take a lot more offence to that if I knew what illiterate meant,” Michael snickers, though he fixes his mistake.
My brother, bless his heart, is a giant asshole. He is protective of his family, if he ever heard anyone talking smack about us, he’d beat them into a bloody pulp, however, he is unequivocally the biggest pain I’ve ever met. He likes to start fights with me and loves teasing me, we wrestle and hurt each other in ways that only siblings could.
The biggest thing he likes to do is try to convince me that I’m adopted, he’ll call me names and pull my hair, but I know he’s only teasing, and if I’m honest, I do start at least half of the fights we get into.
I run my tongue over my teeth as my mother brings in dinner, followed by the twins, who now have clean hands.
My father walks into the room and sits at the head of the table to cut the meat. My mother serves, giving my brother more beans than meat, claiming that he needs to eat his vegetables, seeing how he didn’t eat any last night.
“Don’t you argue with me,” my mother warns, fixing Michael with a glare that shuts his mouth.
I snicker under my breath and my brother jabs me in the ribs.
“Alright,” my mother starts, sitting down at the table and wiping her hands on her apron. My mother extends her hands, holding one out to my father, and one out to one of the twins.
We all hold hands and my father says grace.
“Thank you Lord for this food we are about to eat,” my father says, “let it nourish our bodies and give us strength. We thank you for the life you have given and I pray you keep my family safe from those who wish to harm us.”
While my father says grace, I take my hand from Michaels and nudge my plate closer to his.
My brother opens his eyes and smiles at me as he pushes some of his beans onto my plate.
When my father finishes, I pull my plate closer and we start eating before my mother could notice our changed portions.
“So, how’s Sally?” my mother asks, looking to my brother as he shovels food into his mouth.
“She’s fine,” my brother says, speaking around a mouth full of food.
“Michael James Ryder,” my mother gapes, her eyes widening in shock as a bean slips out of his mouth and plops onto his plate, “Do not talk with your mouth full.”
“Well don’t ask me questions when me mouths full,” Michael says, continuing to talk around chewing, the sight is sickening.
My mother sighs and mumbles under her breath as she turns her attention to the twins, she cuts up their food and helps them create less of a mess than usual.
After dinner, I help clear the table and then help my mother wash dishes.
“Have you seen Bryan lately?” my mother asks, drying the plate I hand her, “He hasn’t been around.”
I roll my eyes and run my tongue over my teeth as my mother brings up the dangerous topic of my friend.
“He’s fine,” I answer, “he’s been hanging around the doctor and helping out in the bakery when he can.”
“I don’t see why you can’t accept his feelings for you,” my mother sighs, wiping the plate she holds as she looks longingly out the window, “You two would make a wonderful couple, he’s going places.”
I bite my lip to hold back my remark. According to my mother, everyone in the town of Blackstone are ‘stuck’, she says that once someone settles into town, they’ll never leave, but not Bryan, oh no, he’s ‘going places’.
“He’s the son of a baker,” I sigh, shoving another plate into the sink, “He’s most defiantly going to be a baker too.”
“He wants to be a doctor,” my mother says, “he’s going to go to the big city and get his degree.”
“And then he’ll come back to this town,” I sigh, “he’s not going anywhere.”
My mother just sighs in frustration and puts the dishes away as I drain the sink and shake out my hands.
“You used to want to marry him,” my mother sighs, “I can’t count the number of times I found you two in the church, you’d say vows and then he’d try to kiss you.”
“I’d never let him though,” I say, wiping my prune hands on a towel.
“Because you were afraid of cooties,” my mother says, sighing and turning back to look at me, “All I want is for you to find a nice man and settle down.”
“Mother, I’m seventeen,” I sigh, folding my arms over my chest, “A relationship isn’t really the most important thing on my mind.”
My mother just sighs and walks away from the conversation, she mumbles under her breath and I roll my eyes before going upstairs for bed.
“You know she’s just going to keep hounding you to marry him,” my brother says, walking into my room as I brush out my hair.
“And I’m going to keep ignoring her,” I sigh as I start to plat my hair over my shoulder.
“You know, Bryan does love you,” he says, leaning on the door frame, “If you don’t reciprocate his feelings, then you should just break his heart and let him move on.”
I turn around and face my brother with a raised eyebrow, since when does he know what reciprocate means?
“That’s big talk coming from you,” I scoff, crossing my legs and watching as my brother straightens, “Shall I tell our parents how Sally really is?”
Michael steps further into my room and glares at me, “Don’t you dare,” he hisses under his breath.
Sally and Michael haven’t been together for months now, he’s been stringing on her feelings then finding someone else to chase after.
Sally is a good girl, a good Christian girl who doesn’t want to have sex until marriage, my brother, like the typical male, doesn’t find that good enough. So he finds his pleasures elsewhere, most of the time paying for said pleasure.
“If you’re not going to reciprocate her feelings, break her heart and let her move on,” I say, mocking my brother’s voice.
“That’s different,” my brother stutters, he kicks his feet and looks to the floorboards, “You wouldn’t understand.”
“Right,” I scoff.
“Look, I’m just concerned for my little sister,” my brother smiles, holding his hands up again, “I don’t want you falling in with the wrong type of man.”
“A man like you?” I ask, Mick lowers his hands as his face becomes hard as stone.
“I’m trying to find me a girl,” he says, “Someone to be my wife.”
“Well, you ain’t going to find her in a brothel,” I say, putting my hands on my hips, “You aren’t going to find love by paying for it.”
My brother opens his mouth, but he shuts it again before walking out of my room and closing the door behind him.
The next morning, I get up early and start mucking out the stalls, I turn the horses out and make sure that Bella and her foal are in a separate paddock.
“You’re up early,” a voice says from behind me.
I look over my shoulder and see the farmhand, Thomas, standing behind me with a lopsided grin on his face.
“Hey,” I huff, I turn around and sweep a strand of hair out of my face, “yeah, I needed to get into my chores early so I could go into town later.”
“Maybe I’ll see you there?” Thomas asks, a twinkle in his eyes as he steps further into the stall I muck out.
“Your daddy up?” he asks with a thick drawl.
“Not for few hours,” I breathe, I feel my heart race and Thomas steps closer, I step back and find myself pressing against the back of the stall, Thomas pins me to the wall by placing his hands next to my shoulders.
“Good,” Thomas says, “I’ve missed you.”
“Thomas,” I breathe, I look over his shoulder and then his lips are on mine, his tongue making its way into my mouth.
“Stop!” I hiss, I push Thomas off of me and he pouts.
Thomas is five years older than me, and he’s been fascinated by me ever since he started working at my parent's farm.
“I’m not interested,” I say, “I’ve told you that.”
“Come on,” Thomas sighs, “Stop being a tease! I know you want a real man to treat you right.”
“Leave me alone, Thomas,” I say, I push past him and go back into the house with my hands shaking and my heart racing.
I set to my other chores once my heart stops racing, I keep my distance from Thomas and make sure I’m close to the house.
But once my father is up, Thomas isn’t as much of a pain, like I said; everyone is scared of my father.
At midday, I saddle Cobalt up and gather my things before riding into town.
“Get some more bread,” my mother calls from the veranda as I ride off.
The town isn’t far from the farm, only a couple minutes away, but in the heat, it feels like hours.
When I get into town I put Cobalt in the town’s stables where he can have access to food and water and shade.
I walk to Alexandria’s shop and as soon as I walk inside she sees me and her face lights up.
Alexandria is the only person in town who makes quality makeup and perfumes in bulk, she sells it herself because the old shop keeper who owns the convenience store down the road believes that makeup is the work of the devil, only harlots and sinners wear makeup.
“Do you have it?” I sign, she nods her head eagerly and walks me over to where she keeps her lipsticks.
Alexandria is deaf, her mother translates for her to the other people in town. I had her mother help me learn to sign so that Alexandria wouldn’t feel so isolated and alone.
“Do you lunch today?” Alexandria asks me, her hands move quickly and sometimes I can only catch the second or third word she signs, “Me?” she adds and I realise what she’s asking.
I nod my head and smile as she hands me a tube of lipstick, it is light pink and subtle, close to the colour of my actual lips.
“Not that one,” I sign, I scrunch up my face and then see another lipstick, one that is redder than apples.
“I made with roses,” Alexandria sighs, her eyes alight with excitement, “That one for you!”
“Not sure,” I sign, I purse my lips and she grabs my hands to gain my attention.
“You’re the only one who can pull that off,” she signs, her hands move slower so she can get her point across, her eyes are wide and her lips form the words that she cannot say.
“Ok,” I smile, Alexandria claps her hands and then takes my money, after she puts it in the draw, she hands me a mirror and I put the lipstick on.
“Won’t rub off,” Alexandria signs, she rubs her bottom lip for effect and I mirror her action, true to her word, my thumb comes away clean with no hint of red lipstick.
“So how do I get it off?” I ask aloud, Alexandria frowns and I notice my mistake, she can read lips, but she isn’t very great at it. I repeat my question in with my hands and Alexandria nods her head and then puts a small bottle of oil on her bench.
“Put some oil on a rag,” she signs, “wipes off like a dream.”
“Thank you,” I sign with a smile as I mouth my words.
I have lunch with Alexandria at the café and then go into the bakery next door.
“Lena!” Bryan smiles from behind the counter and I’m reminded of the conversation I had with my mother.
“Hey,” I smile, ignoring my mother’s voice that nags at the back of my head, “I need a loaf of bread.”
“Nice lipstick,” Bryan blushes, not moving from where he stands behind his counter, “Do you want to go to lunch?”
“I just had lunch, with Alexandria,” I say, “Just the bread will do.”
“Are you going to the wedding on Sunday?” Bryan asks, finally moving and grabbing a loaf of bread and stuffing it into a brown bag.
“Of course I am,” I scoff, “I made the dress.”
“Lena!” a voice shouts, the door to the bakery opens and Mariana strides into the shop with wide eyes, “Thank the stars, it is you! I need you!” Mariana grabs my wrist and pleads with me, “Only your hands can fix this.”
Mariana drags me out of the bakery and I look back to Bryan apologetically before following Mariana to her own shop across the street.
It is there that I find Jenny, standing on a stool and looking hopelessly at her reflection.
“What happened?” I ask, tying my hair up with a worn leather strap.
But immediately I can see the problem, Jenny has gained weight and in trying on the dress, the back has torn.
“Ok,” I breathe, “I can fix this.”
“The wedding is in three days!” Mariana stammers, her hands shaking, “How are we going to fix this?”
I roll up my sleeves as I run my tongue over my teeth, I help Jenny out of the dress and take her new measurements.
“You can’t be seriously considering starting again?” Mariana gapes, “We don’t have time!”
“It’s going to be fine,” I assure her, smiling as I finish the new measurements, “We’ll fix it.”
My mother taught me how to sew, and when I turned thirteen, Mariana took me under her wing and I became her apprentice.
For months now, we’ve been working on Jenny’s wedding dress, she kept changing her mind or finding some small thing to pick at, we thought we were finished, there was only one more try on to go and now this happens.
“This is all your fault,” Jenny huffs, stepping out of the change room, now fully dressed, “You should’ve got my measurements right in the first place.”
“Of course,” Mariana says, “We are so sorry and we will not stop until the issue is fixed.”
“Just wait until my father hears of this,” Jenny sighs, “if you ruin my wedding day, I’ll make sure you never work again!”
Jenny storms out of Mariana’s shop, flicking her hair over her shoulder as she steps into the street.
Jenny is the Mayor’s daughter, and although she is a relatively nice person, being engaged has turned her into a bit of a bridezilla.
“What am I going to do?” Mariana sighs, sitting down at her desk, “It took us months to get that dress to her standard, we may as well throw the whole thing away!” Mariana puts her head in her hands and sighs, “I have so many other projects to do.” She starts to cry, her shoulders shaking as a sob rakes through her.
“It’s alright,” I soothe, taking the ripped dress and laying it on my desk, “I’ll do it, I can do it.”
“What?” Mariana asks, she looks up to me and wipes the tear off her cheek, “You can’t do it by yourself. I can’t do it by myself.”
“This is what you trained me for,” I say, looking over to her in confidence, “I can do this.”
Mariana looks at me sceptically, but then she nods her head and moves on to her other projects.
Throughout the rest of the day, Mariana checks in on me and asks if I need help, but I’m in my own world, I keep my head down and my eyes focused on my work.
“Hey!” Bryan smiles walking into the shop, “How are you doing?”
“It’s going to be fine,” I say, reciting the same answer I’ve been saying to Mariana.
“I’ll keep you company,” he says.
Bryan takes a seat next to me and watches me work, he looks over my shoulder and annoys me with questions.
“What are you doing?” “Why’d you do that?” “Does it have to be white?”
“Bryan!” I snap, finally looking up from my work as Bryan sighs out another pointless question, “I have to focus!”
“Am I annoying?” Bryan asks, looking at me through his lashes.
I let go of my anger as Bryan blinks his big puppy-like eyes.
“No,” I sigh, pushing back a strand of hair that has come loose, “no, I’m just stressed and you being here... it’s hard to focus.”
“So it’s hard to focus when I’m around?” Bryan says, a lopsided smile spreads onto his lips and I just agree with him, hoping it would get him out quicker.
“Well,” Bryan sighs, standing to his feet, “I’ll remove the distraction,” Bryan kisses my forehead and squeezes my hand before heading to the door, “Try not to think about me too much.”
Bryan winks and then he leaves the store, as soon as he is out of my sight, I look back down at the dress and continue working, forgetting all about Bryan as I pick up where I left off.
“It looks worse than when she tore it,” Mariana sighs as I lean back in my seat to stretch my back.
“Don’t worry,” I say, standing as I hear my joints crack.
“It’s going to take a miracle to fix this,” Mariana sighs.
“Then I’ll make a miracle.”
I look out the window and see the sun is starting to set, the time has passed so quickly and I still have so much to do.
“You’re welcome to stay,” Mariana says, noticing my attention on the setting sun, “Gerald is cooking dinner now, we’ll have plenty enough for you, and I’ve always got that spare room for you.”
“Thank you,” I smile, looking back to Mariana.
I eat dinner with Mariana and her husband and then I return to my work station and from then on, I don’t rise from my spot until the mantle clock chimes at midnight. I look back at the dress, happy with my results but unhappy with the amount of pinpricks in my hands and the stiffness in my back.
I stand from my spot and stretch as I unlock the front door and walk out onto the veranda for some fresh air.
As I look up to the stars I inhale deeply and exhale as my eyes adjust to the darkness.
“Burning the midnight oil?” a voice asks, I look to my left and find a stranger sitting on the railing at the end of the veranda, smoking a cigarette.
“Who are you?” I ask, my heart starts to race as the stranger gets off the railing and saunters over to me.
“My name’s Luke Sakho,” he says, flicking away his cigarette and then extending a hand to me.
“Elena,” I respond, shaking the man’s hand, “Ryder.”
“So Miss Ryder, it is miss, isn’t it?” I nod my head and stifle a yawn, “What are you doing up at this late hour?”
“Big project,” I say, “Something went wrong and I’ve got three days before it needs to be ready.”
“The wedding dress?” Luke nods his head to the window and I turn to look at the dress that hangs off the mannequin.
“Yeah,” I sigh, I glare at the monstrosity and from this angel I find more things that I want to change.
“Yours?” Luke asks, watching me like a hawk.
“God no,” I scoff, scrunching up my face, “it’s the mayor’s daughter’s dress.”
I look to Luke out the corner of my eye and ask, “So, what brings you to town?”
“What makes you think I’m new?” Luke asks, leaning back on the railing.
“Because I know everyone in this damn town,” I laugh, “you’re new.”
Luke smells heavily like cigarettes and cologne, he has a crooked smile and deep dangerous eyes.
“Came here looking for work,” he says, though I feel as if it’s a lie.
“Mining or lumber?” I ask, tilting my head at him and watching as he looks me up and down.
“Haven’t decided, probably lumber,” he answers, “So, is this your shop?”
“I just work here,” I respond, I lose focus and tilt my head as I stare at the dress.
“You’re going to stare at it until you hate it, aren’t you?” Luke says, snapping me out of my glaring.
“That’s what all great artists do,” I say, looking back to Luke to find him pulling out another cigarette from his pocket.
“I don’t suppose you could give me a tour of the town?” Luke asks, striking a match and lighting his cigarette, after a long drag he adds, “Introduce me to the locals?”
“Don’t worry,” I say, moving away from his exhalation of smoke, “Come morning you’ll meet everyone, they can’t help themselves.”
“Much trouble go down in this town?” Luke asks, I frown at him and watch as he takes another drag of his cigarette, his question is odd and I decide to put some more space between me and him.
“This is a quiet town,” I answer, watching smoke blow from Luke’s mouth, “The people like to keep it that way, soon as that peace is broken, they’ll come down on you like a ton of bricks.”
“I’m not looking to cause trouble,” Luke says with a wink as he holds his cigarette between two fingers, “I’m looking for a peaceful town, where no one will bother me.”
I let out a breath and squint at the stranger, he is intimidating and behind his soft eyes lays a dangerous glint, one that tells me that I should be wary of him.
“Well, goodnight, Mr Sakho,” I say, backing into Mariana’s door and grabbing the handle behind my back.
Luke just tips his head at me and I back into the shop and lock the door behind me.
I lower the blinds and then sit back at my desk, staring at the dress that I’m starting to hate.
“Damn it,” I curse, letting out a breath of exhaustion as I start fixing the dress.
I continue to work on the dress until I can’t keep my eyes open, I end up falling asleep hunched over with my head on my desk.
“Oh, my stars!” Mariana squeals, making me jerk awake from the sudden noise, I sit up and my back aches from the position it was in.
I stretch my back and squint at Mari as she looks over the dress, “It’s a work of art,” she breathes, her hands running over the fabric, “How? How did you do this?”
“Coffee,” I grumble, finally standing from my station to shuffle towards the kitchen.
I find a pot of coffee already waiting on the kitchen table, I pour the black liquid into a cup and scrunch my nose up at the milk and sugar that I can’t be bothered with. I gulp down the hot beverage and smile as I feel the coffee warm up my blood.
As I pour another cup, Mariana walks into the kitchen, her mouth still hanging in shock as she looks at me,
“A miracle,” she breathes, I look to the clock in the kitchen and growl under my breath.
“A miracle that will not happen again,” I say, finishing my second coffee before washing the cup and placing it in the drying rack, “Tell Jenny that if she rips that dress again, she can walk down the aisle naked.”
I kiss Mariana on the cheek and then run a hand through my hair that is barely held up by the leather strap.
I gather my things and walk out of Mariana’s shop, turning the sign from ‘closed’ to ‘open’ as I pass the door.
As I step onto the veranda, I look over to where Luke was standing last night, I can still smell the faint scent of smoke on the air. Did I dream up that encounter?
I shake the thought of the stranger from my head and make my way to the towns stable. Cobalt has been put into the paddock and is kicking up a fuss.
I pay his fee to the stable master and then gather cobalt from the yard.
“Come here, trouble maker,” I sigh, once Cobalt sees me he relaxes and trots over, eager to return home, “Can’t leave you alone for one moment, can I?”
Cobalt just nickers at me and nudges me with his nose before rubbing his head on my shoulder.
“Ok!” I sigh, pushing away the horse before he can knock me over, “Let’s go home.”
As I ride out of town, I spy the stranger standing on the balcony of the saloon, Luke takes a drag from a cigarette and tips his hat at me.
A shiver races down my spine and I push Cobalt into a gallop, needing to get away from the strangers stare as quick as possible.
When I arrive home, my father is already out by the paddock, watching the cattle with a stoic look on his face.
“Hey,” I puff, pulling Cobalt to a halt before I dismount, “I’m sorry, I was at Mariana’s-”
“I know,” my father says, turning to me, “Bryan came by to drop off the bread, he told us what happened.”
“Oh,” I breathe, rubbing the back of my neck, “Well, I’ll put Cobalt away and do my chores.”
“Mick already did them.” My father takes Cobalt’s reigns from me and then a ghost of a smile plays at his lips, “You should go inside, have a bath and a meal, I’ll put Cobalt out in the paddock.”
“Thanks,” I sigh, I kiss my father on the cheek before going inside where I find breakfast already waiting for me.
That Sunday, I dress in my best clothes and go with my family to the church for Jenny’s wedding.
The dress turned out great, and thanks to my lace-up design on the back, the weight that Jenny gained wasn’t a problem. After the wedding, the mayor hosts a luncheon in his gardens only a select few are invited, and seeing how I helped make the dress, my family and I were invited.
“It was a beautiful wedding,” my mother sighs, still with tears in her eyes as she watches Jenny and her husband, “They make such a lovely couple.”
“Too bad it won’t last,” I say, feeling a sour taste in my mouth as I watch the couple giggle together.
“Lena!” my mother hisses, she slaps the back of my hand and I turn back to glare at her.
“It’s true,” I whisper back, taking my hand from her reach and lowering my voice further, “Sure, they might go strong for a few years, she’ll pop out a few kids and have a somewhat happy life, but then he’ll lose interest in her or find some pretty girl to warm his bed. Jenny will blame herself but she’ll never leave him. That is until he starts blatantly flirting with women right in front of her, she’ll get mad and want a divorce but of course, she’ll never mean it, after all, she won’t be able to support the children by herself. Her husband will promise to change, because little does she know that half of his money actually belongs to her, thanks to a few contracts that Mr. Mayor had drawn up. So they’ll stay together and he’ll continue to have affairs and eventually she’ll have an affair of her own, he’ll get mad because how dare she have an affair when she’s married to a man who is also having an affair? They’ll fight and he’ll start beating her, now this will end one of three ways, he’ll either beat her into submission, kill her, or, and this is my favourite outcome, she’ll kill him in an extravagant way, possibly while he’s in bed with his mistress.”
“Elena Ryder!” my mother hisses, her cheeks turn red as she chastises me, “Where do you come up with these wild stories?!”
I press my lips together and then press my tongue to my teeth before turning away from my mother with a shrug.
“Honestly Lena, how are you ever going to find love with an attitude like that?” my brother asks, kicking me with his foot under the table.
“Love is overrated,” I say, smiling as I turn around to glare at him, “Besides, women need men like a fish needs a boot.”
“Fish don’t wear boots,” my little sister giggles.
“Exactly,” I say, winking at her as she laughs at my joke.
A smile comes onto my mother’s face and she looks over my head, I inwardly cringe as I recognise that smile.
“Mr Ryder, Mrs Ryder,” Bryan greets and I roll my eyes before turning to face them.
“Hello, Bryan,” my mother coos, “Elena was just saying how beautiful your cousin’s wedding is.”
“Is that so?” Bryan asks, raising his eyebrow as an amused smile plays on his chapped lips, “do you mind if I steal your daughter away for a dance?”
“Oh, go ahead,” my mother gushes, “She’d love to dance.”
I glare back at my mother before taking the napkin off my lap and taking Bryan’s offered hand.
Bryan leads me to the designated dance area and he spins me around before pulling me into his arms and leading me into a slow dance.
“You look absolutely stunning,” Bryan says, smiling down at me as he pulls me even closer, almost possessively.
“And you look...” I look to Bryan’s suit, which is two sizes too big and seems to hang off him awkwardly, “Ridiculous.”
Bryan laughs off my insult as I flick his ear, he spins me around and I feel nauseous.
“This is my father’s suit,” he says with a laugh before kissing my cheek.
“And it looks perfectly handsome on him,” I say, looking to where Bryan’s father watches us.
“You wound me, my lady,” Bryan says, attempting to flirt, “but you could make it up to me with a kiss.”
“Keep dreaming,” I say, dodging his attempt to kiss me again.
As we dance, I look over to my mother, her eyes are sparkling and I can tell she is already planning my wedding. I look back to the boy who dances with me and his eyes hold the same sparkle.
I don’t love Bryan, he’s too... small for me. He wants a simple life with no adventure, he wants to stay in this town, no matter how many times he says otherwise. I want to leave this town, everything I do is to help me leave this town.
If I were to marry Bryan, I’d be stuck, just like everybody else. He’d love me tender and he’d treat me good. Hell, maybe he would leave, and maybe I’d go with him to the big city where he’d get his doctors degree, but Bryan would want to return to Blackstone, to be closer to his family. But the more likely case would be that Bryan wouldn’t take me to the city, several times he’s told me that the big city is no place for a woman like me. In that case, we’d fight about that, but I’d stay in Blackstone, I’d take over Mariana’s store when she retires and while Bryan is gone, I’d probably take another man to my bed, possibly Thomas.
When Bryan returns a doctor, he’d want to start a family with me, he’d move us into a big house and would want me to have as many kids with him as possible. Bryan seems like the man to insist that I give up dressmaking to raise a family, we’d fight about that.
Bryan would be a doctor, but only for a short time, when his father passes, Bryan will take over the bakery and he’d teach our children to be bakers, we’d fight about that and I’d seek comfort in another man’s arms.
Bryan isn’t a stupid man, he’d know what I would be doing and we’d fight about it. I’d swear not to do it again after hours of Bryan making me feel guilty. Bryan wouldn’t be satisfactory in bed, and I would break my promise again and again.
Bryan wouldn’t hurt me, he isn’t cruel and would want our family to stay together. I’d probably drive him to drink, money would become tight and I’d have to start working again despite Bryan’s dislike of the idea.
In the end, there are always three outcomes, the first, and most likely, is that Bryan would ignore my infidelities, he’d trick himself into believing that I love him and because I’d feel guilty, I’d try to be better and make our relationship work and we’d die together as a broken couple.
The second possibility is that Bryan would leave me, he’d see how bad I was for him and he’d leave with the children, he’d start practising again, opening the bakery on weekends while I would leave town.
The third possibility, is that Bryan would become alcoholic, he’d try to drink away the pain, but it wouldn’t work, so he’d get a gun and put it to his head, leaving me alone, widowed with the children.
Bryan loves me, no matter how cruel I can be, he loves me, but I will never love him, not as he wishes for me to love him.
Bryan is a tame man, he wishes to tame me and make me into a broken, dutiful wife who he can show off to the world.
“What are you thinking about?” Bryan asks, snapping me out of my dark thoughts as the song ends.
“My future,” I say, not technically a lie.
Bryan’s eyes sparkle and he kisses my cheek again, the feeling of his lips on me is enough to make me nauseous.
Thankfully Bryan takes me off the dance floor and returns me to the table.
“You both looked so beautiful out there!” my mother swoons.
I take my hand from Bryan’s and roll my eyes.
“I’ve had enough for the day,” I sigh, folding my arms, “I’m tired. I’ll see you at home.”
My mother pouts at me, but luckily my father puts his hand on hers and I’m able to leave without much of a fuss.
Back at home, I find Sally’s horse tied up to the post in front of the barn.
“Oh, honey,” I breathe, I look up to the loft window where I hear my brother and Sally giggling, “You poor fool.”
I go out to the paddock fence and watch as Bella’s foal, who I’ve taken to calling Eryn, kicks up and plays around, much to the annoyance of the other horses.
When Bella sees me, she calls out and comes trotting over, her foal also calls out, but Eryn races past her mother and greets me first.
“Oh!” I hear Sally gape, I look over my shoulder and see her staring at me, “Hi Lena.”
I nod at her and her cheeks turn crimson as she wipes her mouth and finishes buttoning her blouse.
“Hey sis!” Michael says, joining me on the fence as Sally leaves, “didn’t hear you come home.”
“So you’re back with Sally?” I say, looking to where Sally rides down the road.
“I thought about what you said,” Michael says, “She found me at the wedding and asked for a second chance, I think she might be the one.”
“Why?” I scoff, looking to my brother with a smirk, “Because she finally let you fuck her?”
“Brr,” Michael teases, “Maybe you’ll understand once you get laid.”
“Shove off, pig.” I push Michael off the fence and he lands on the ground with an oomph.
Michael retaliates by grabbing my leg and pulling me down, startling the horses and causing them to back away.
Michael and I wrestle on the ground, punching each other and fighting dirty, but it’s all in good spirits, he doesn’t hurt me too bad and I don’t leave too much of a mark on him.
“Is that all you got!?” My brother crows, pinning me down.
I lift my hips and wrap my legs around his waist, I grit my teeth and pull him off of me before pinning him down so he can’t get out of my hold.
“Uncle, uncle!” he says, tapping my thighs.
“I win,” I smile, letting him go and standing to my feet as the victor.
“I let you win,” he says, standing and stretching his back, “I didn’t want to hurt you too bad.”
“Oh, so do you want round two?” I ask, raising an eyebrow in challenge.
My brother just cringes and then walks away, rubbing his neck in defeat.