Sitting here on the plane waiting for it to take off all I can think about is not being there for my grandparents in the end. I always promised I'd come back after prep school, after college, when I got time after I got my big job, for the holidays. It seems I was always putting off coming home. It was really the only place I ever called home. I stayed in New York with my father but I really didn't have any choices. It's what he wanted. I wanted to go home.
My parents left me at the ranch when I was five. They said they would be back for me after their business trip. I never saw my mother again. My father stayed in New York, his business was there, he needed to run things, pay for my mothers alimony after the divorce. Going back to the ranch was never something he wanted. My mother is somewhere in Europe with her new husband and his money that she found more appealing than me. I was never appealing to either of them it seemed. My grandparents raised me without a question about why my parents would leave me. Now I'm going home for the first time in ten years and I have no idea what I will find.
The entire morning everyone has mourned knowing it's all coming to an end. It's been hard to just get the work done and do business as usual around here. We all know she's coming today and everyone is acting like it's the greatest thing in the world. Why? Charlotte Layton has had the opportunity to come home for ten years while her family was still alive and she was too busy for the two people who raised her. Too busy to call them, too busy to come for a weekend, a birthday or a holiday. She's no better than her parents are. They abandoned Gramps and Stella long ago and when Gramps couldn't handle the ranch alone none of them came, none of them cared. Why should they care to come now? This whole running around to impress her is bullshit! I'm not gonna give a shit what she thinks of me or of what we've done around here. Her opinion means nothing to me. Fucking nothing! This ranch should belong to me or to my father, we're the ones that have busted our asses day and night to make sure this ranch kept going. We're the ones that took care of the animals, nursed them back to health, birthed their babies, buried their dead. We work when we're sick or healthy.
Where the hell have they been? Sitting in their fancy homes, driving fancy cars, taking elaborate vacations. All the while Gramps and Stella struggled. No, she can kiss my ass and go home.
"Ry! We got a mare about to birth in the stable she's having a hard time. You better get in there." Dale yelled as he rode across the field.
"Fuck! That's just what I need right now! I'm on my way!" I yell out and turn my mare around and headed back towards the stable. There's a storm coming in, I've got cattle stuck out in the far pasture that need to be moved and now a mare going into foal. I can only do so much.
The thunder rumbled across the sky as the horse races across the field. I don't have time to worry about Charlotte Layton and what she wants right now. I have a working ranch to run that isn't going to stop just for her. As I reached the stable, I dismount the horse quickly and tie the reins around the post inside the barn to keep her out of the storm. Then move into the stall where my girl was struggling with her baby.
"Sometimes Ryan, I think you care more about these horses than you do about people." Jose remarks as he hangs over the gate.
"The horses are easier to get along with. They listen a hell of a lot better too." I tell him, earning a slap on the back and myself a laugh.
"You know the lady is coming in soon. Your Pops went to the airport to get her." Jose made a point to tell me my dad's doing what I was supposed to do.
"He can get her. I don't have the time to entertain her highness today. There's too much shit hitting the fan at once. Go out to the far pasture, help the guys get the cattle moved in. They're gonna need vaccines tomorrow and then we have to do branding on all the new calves. Next week we deal with the steers." I kneel down and brush my hand over the mares snout. She's breathing hard. I'm gonna have to help her give birth.
I grab the long gloves and shove them on high up my arms hunkering down near the top of her rear to stay out of kicking range. It's gonna be a long day.
"Let's go sweetheart, you're doing fine. I'm right here." I quietly coo to my mare. She been my sweetheart since we started breeding her. This was her last time. My last foal from my girl. "Let's have our baby."
I need another drink.
"Can I get another Jack and coke please, just hold the coke." I give the stewardess a strained smile. I don't think there's enough whiskey on this flight to get me home to face what's waiting for me.
I should have gone back for Christmas like I promised, but I was so busy with the catering business for Steven I didn't have time to think, much less take a few days off. This is what I get for going into business for myself. As long as I work I make money, but taking time off means no income. This trip alone is costing me a fortune. I had to cancel three jobs and pass tho to a another caterer that at least was willing to give me a finders fee. It wouldn't even cover my flight. At least I know I have enough in the bank to cover the week. I'll check out the ranch, pack up what's needed, meet with the family attorney and a realtor and get home by Sunday night, just in time for to prep for the Lewis meeting on Thursday. I can do this.
"Please fasten your seatbelts we are experiencing some turbulence." The pilot says overhead.
Shit! I really hate to fly! I swallow down my drink and wish the flight attendant would come back so I could get another one. My knuckles are turning white as I grip onto the armrest tight. If only it didn't take so long to drive from New York City to Texas, I would have driven in a heartbeat. I close my eyes and hope I can fall asleep for the rest of the flight. I hate this.
The rest of the flight I thought I was going to throw up. By the time we landed I was sick. I grabbed my laptop bag, my purse and walked quickly off the plane. I headed straight over to baggage claim grabbed my suitcase and look around. Nothing looks familiar and I don't see anyone here that I know from the ranch to pick me up. God, did they forget I was coming in. It wouldn't be the first time I was forgotten. The thunder rumbled through the airport, the lightning flashed causing the lights to flutter on and off. I really don't have a good feeling about any of this.
"Charlie! Charlie!" The older man's voice got closer to me until he touched my arm. "Darlin, didn't you hear me calling you, Charlie?"
As soon as I turned around and faced him I knew him. He was my grandparents right hand for years, but I thought he had retired and his son had taken over. Maybe it was better a familiar face picked me up. Someone who knew me, knew who they were looking for. It was understandable. I don't think I could even remember what Ryan looks like. He wasn't around the house much. If I remember right he spent most of his time with the cattle and horses. I remember he wore a black hat and jeans all the time. I don't think I even know what color his hair is.
"Charlie? You okay you look a little green, girl." Pops rubs my back gently.
"I don't fly well." It's been years since I went by Charlie. I'd forgotten my grandparents and everyone on the ranch called me that. "I'm sorry, Pops. I've been going by Charlotte the last several years. I forgot my nickname. It's good to see you."
"You certainly have grown up, Charlie. Fine beautiful filly you've become, honey. You're Gramps would be so proud of you." Pops said as he envelopes me in a tight hug. I'm so not used to being touched like this. I awkwardly pat him on his back and step back giving him a tight smile. Why am I so awkward with people that knew me from a lifetime ago? "I got the truck out here, sweetheart."
We hurried out to the Ford F-350 and I stood for a moment before Pops laughed and came around to me. "Come on kiddo just like when you were little, huh? Boost it is."
"Jose sent a message said Little Miss is birthing right now. Ryan has his hands full with her." Pops tells me as we travel along. Little Miss was my horse when I lived here.
"She's still..? Isn't she too old for that?" I ask I've been gone a long time granted she was a yearling when I left but still.
"It's her last one, honey. Ryan would never breed her to hurt her. He loves that mare probably more than you do. She's been his baby ever since he took over." Pops goes on. "Not to brag, but he's got a good head on his shoulders, Charlie. You should listen to him. He knows the ranch as well as your Gramps did."
"I'm sure he learned most of it from you. You were amazing as manager." I smile and take his hand and squeeze. He was always wonderful. "Can we stop by the stable first. See the foal?"
"Ha! Ha!" Pops laughs "That's my girl! Of course we can!" He grinned as he turned down the dirt road and drove over the cattle guard.
We drove straight to the stable. By the time we got there it was pouring rain and pitch dark. The lights were on inside the barn, we knew they were still inside. Pops came around and helped me out. I had pulled off my shoes and landed in a mud puddle, the wet mud mushing up between my toes. Racing through the rain we pushed open the door and shook the rain from our hair. I must look like a drowned rat because all four of the ranch hands turned around and their mouths dropped looking at me. My long blonde hair was wet and plastered to my face, and I'm sure the white blouse was all see through now and my white satin bra was in full display.
"You're catching flies boys, close those mouths." Pops told them as we walked over to the stall. I got up on my toes and peeked over, there laying in the hay was my Little Miss, hunkered down at her rear was a cowboy in a black hat helping her give birth.
"Can I help?" I ask Pops softly. It's been a long time since I've done anything like this.
"Do you remember, sweetheart? Why don't you, sit up with her and soothe her while I help Ryan. He might need a bit more muscle than you have for this one." Pops opens the gate slowly and I slip in with Pops right behind me.
Kneeling down, I stroke her nose and neck started cooing to her softly. Ryan looks up once briefly at me, then to his father, grumbling under his breath before he goes back to work with the foal. Pops joins him. It's a struggle for another hour. Ryan's hat is tossed aside, my sleeves are pushed up, my silk shirt ruined and the three of us bring in the most beautiful foal I've ever seen.
"You're first as owner Charlie. What are we naming her?" Pops asks as I crawl over and help wipe her down.
"You name her, Pops." I say softly. I can't do it. I'm choked up. I haven't seen a birth in so long.
"Charming Charlie, I think fits." Pops grins at me and I hear Ryan snort as he hits his hat against his leg. "Ryan, this is Charlie Layton, Gramps granddaughter."
"I know who she is. So you birthed a horse and seen the ranch. Now, go back to where you came from and leave us to it." Ryan growled and walked out.
"Ryan!" Pops yelled, but I touched my hand to his arm and shook my head. I deserved that one, but it's the only free swipe at me he's gonna get.
I made it back to the main house and carried in my laptop and suitcase. Looking around not much has changed. It was basically a large room that was separated into different areas. Other than the bedrooms and bathroom the living room and kitchen was joined. I laid my laptop on the dining room table and looked at the old desk covered in bills and invoices and documents that I would need to sort through. I looked over at the kitchen and could remember seeing my grandma cooking there morning and night. That was her domain. She was the one who taught me to cook, the reason I pursued my catering business and the reason I love to cook. I use only her recipes. She used to cook every holiday meal for all the hands and she would have a full house. Her family was everyone on this ranch. My parents were never missed. I wonder if I ever was.
Walking over I grab my suitcase and carry it to the bedroom. Setting it down I smile at the pictures on the walls. Of the hands, of my parents and grandparents and me. Everyone was important in their lives were here. My eyes were burning. I haven't let myself cry yet. It's not been time. I've been so busy and had so much to think about and deal with and now with these decisions of what I should do with this ranch. I have one week to decide. What am I going to do? How do you say goodbye to your past in a week? What happens to the hands and the animals and Little Miss and Charming Charlie? How do I make these kinds of decisions?
I go into the bathroom and strip down, I need a shower and a good night sleep before I can do anything. Turning on the hot water I step in under the hot spray and sigh. I bet my Gramps left a bottle of whiskey around here somewhere. That sounds good right now. I clean up and dry off and change into some yoga pants and a hoodie then go on my hunt in the kitchen, I'm bent over searching through the lower cabinets when I hear the front door open. Turning around I see Ryan staring at me.
I wasn't expecting to see her again tonight. Nope, I'm standing here staring at her and she's not the social city bitch that I left in the stables. Her hair still damp, but down in natural waves long down her back. Her face is clear of any makeup and I can see that she obviously doesn't need to wear it. She's stunning without it. She's wearing a fucking hoodie and those tight exercise pants that show off a woman's ass, and damn if I didn't walk in when she was bending over just right in the kitchen. Those pants showed off her ass so much better than that skirt and high heels did. Now she's standing there looking at me. Like I'm the one trespassing. Fuck! I probably am. It's her house now.
Christ, I was rude as fuck when I walked out of the stables. You'd think the girl would be a little pissed off at me for being such a dick. Nope she's smiling at me. Like she knows I want do some things to her that my Pops would string me up for. I don't like any of this and I'm really not liking the fact that I'm standing here with a hard on for the woman that's about to put me out of a job. What the fuck is wrong with me?
"Ryan? You okay? Can I help you with something?" Charlie asks as she takes a step towards me.
Damn! she's tiny. I didn't realize how small she was. She reminds me of Stella. Same beautiful blue eyes. Shit! Get it together! She's selling the ranch you idiot!
"Sorry, I'm just dropping off some papers for tomorrow." I tell her and walk over to the desk. Setting down the paperwork then quickly turn to leave the way I came.
"Ryan? Do you by chance have any whiskey you're willing to share?" She asks I can hear the hope in her voice. "Or know where Gramps hid his?"
I smirk, whiskey, huh? I took her for a wine drinker or one of those fruity drinks. I walk back over to the old desk and open the bottom drawer and pull out a bottle of whiskey. It's dusty and hasn't been touched in a while but it'll still have a good kick to it. I know I've had a drink of it when I got the news of Gramps passing. Pops and I shared a drink in his honor. I held out the bottle for her. She looks like she needs it.
"Thank you." Her voice is smooth and soft. Her eyes stay on the bottle like she recognizes it. Maybe she does. "I sent him this for Christmas last year." Shit! This was from her? Well she knows her whiskey. "Would you like to join me?"
"I've still got some work to do." I tell her. Drinking with her isn't a good idea. I turn around and head back the way I came.
"I'm not a bad person, Ryan. I loved them so much." She yells at me as I go to leave. It was the wrong thing to say to me. I turned and glared at her with all my attitude ready to explode at her. She pushed on the wrong day.
"You fucking left them when they needed you. They were old. They were struggling and you were the only family they had left and you walked on them. You want to tell me you loved them. Where were you when Stella died or when Gramps broke his hip? Where were you when the bank tried to take the ranch for the third time? You weren't fucking here. So don't tell me you cared. The only one I see you caring about is yourself. Good night Ms. Layton." I slammed the door and walked out. I couldn't hold that in. I stood by and watched the closest two people I had to grandparents suffer because their blood refused them, I wouldn't stay quiet. Not now.
I've only felt this horrible once before in my life. The one time I was down for days and could barely move without pain. I think this is worse but again I'm alone. I took the bottle of whiskey and one of my Grandma's blankets and curled up in the corner of the couch. Sipping straight from the bottle, I let the tears fall hot and wicked down my cheeks. I deserved every word he said. I called as often as I was allowed. I even snuck some calls when he didn't know. I worked hard so I could send the bank the money to keep the ranch going. I never told them I did that half the time because I knew they'd get mad. But most of my money went into this ranch for them. I did what I could for them, at least I thought I had. Nothing was ever enough.
In the end everyone I love has left me and now I'm alone, stuck with him. Ryan was right. I'm a horrible person, and I didn't deserve them. I cried and cried as I curled myself into a ball and eventually fell asleep on the couch as the sun slowly began to rise. The ranch would soon be waking and I would have to put my emotions on hold yet again for another day.