Working on a short story for an anthology…
Comments welcome as always!
Grady Hart, twenty-six, lean, wiry, and needing a haircut pulled into the little north Texas rodeo arena late on Friday afternoon and backed his old Chevy and trailer in between two brand new rigs. Must be nice. Hell, I bet those are nicer than my damn house. He sniffed the air, Ah the aroma of the rodeo…
Ed Fuller ambled over. “Bout damn time you got here. I was beginning to wonder if you were going to make it,” he said with a grin.
Looking up at Ed’s six feet two, Grady sighed. “Got tied up trying to get a couple of damn cows back in. They pushed the fence down to get at the grass on the other side…again.” He walked to the back of the trailer and carefully opened it. “Better get out of the way. Rocky’s in one of his moods.”
Ed stepped quickly to the side of the trailer, holding one side of the butterfly gate open. “Oh hell. That’s all we need. If he’s…I hope he’ll be okay to work tonight.”
Grady untied Rocky and slowly coaxed him to back out of the trailer, whispering to him the whole time. Rocky humped his back and Ed could have sworn the hair on the lineback dun’s spine stood up as Rocky made a try at Grady’s hat. “Lemme know when you’re ready to make a practice throw or two. They got us up early in the schedule tonight.”
“Gimme a few to get him calmed down. Where you parked?”
“I got here early, so I’m in the back,” Ed said with a smile as he walked off.
“Asshole,” Grady said but smiled. “Alright Rocky you over your little mad?” He reached up and caressed Rocky’s forehead, making sure to stay well above his nose and lips. Rocky blew softly and sidled toward Grady as he tied the hackamore off to the side of the trailer. “Oh no you don’t.”
Twenty minutes later, he rode Rocky around to the back of the arena and found Ed sitting on the tailgate of his truck. “You ready?”
Two runs later, Ed looked over at Grady as they rode out of the arena. “Got a bee in your bonnet tonight? Two runs in the low fives! We keep that up, we’ll be in the money tonight!”
Grady shrugged. “Just concentrating and Rocky’s on a roll. I’m gonna go rack out for a bit. Wake me up in time to get saddled up.” Ed nodded as he turned toward his trailer.
He loosened Rocky’s saddle and replaced the bridle with a hackamore, tying him loosely enough that he could crop the grass at the back of the trailer and settled down for a nap, safely out of Rocky’s range.
A high pitched “Horsieee!” woke him up and he saw a determined little blonde girl racing by him to embrace Rocky’s head, much to Rocky’s surprise. Grady bolted up as he heard a frustrated female drawl, “Patti, come here right now. That’s not your horsie, horse.”
He almost knocked the petite blonde over and grabbed her arm to keep her from falling as he turned toward Rocky, afraid of what he would see. To his amazement, Rocky was standing stock still and not reacting to the little girl who was petting him on his nose. He blew softly and she giggled then let go of him. Just as he went to reach for the hackamore, Rocky softly lipped the little girl’s hair and whinnied gently, setting her to laughing again.
She toddled back to the blonde he now realized was standing behind him. “Sorry, ma’am. I didn’t mean to—”
The blonde picked up the little girl and started apologizing, “I’m so sorry. She…got away from me when she saw your horse. I hope she didn’t hurt anything!”
Grady blew out a relieved breath now that the little girl was safely out of range. “Rocky’s a bit rough around the edges, I was more worried about your…charge there than anything else.”
The blonde made a moue. “She’s my daughter. Patti’s four and loves all animals.”
Grady let his mouth run away, “You don’t look old enough to have a four year old daughter!” When he realized what he’d said, he blushed and started trying to apologize.
She laughed bitterly, “You sound like my parents, just before they disowned me.”
“I’m sorry. I…”
Patti, picking up her mother’s bitterness piped up, “I sorry, Mommy! I no mean to do bad.”
She patted her daughter, “Oh honey, you didn’t do bad. Well, you shouldn’t have touched his horse without his permission. Next time please ask me, okay?”
Patti glanced at Grady, “Me ask him?”
Grady chuckled. “Yes, ask me first, okay little one?” He impulsively stuck out his hand. Grady Hart.”
She took his hand. “Sandy Riley, and this is my PITA, Patti.”
“We get pizza, Mommy?” Both of them laughed at that as Ed rode up.
“You ready, partner?”
“Gimme a sec. Let me get the bridle on and we’ll go do it.”
Sandy asked, “You a team roper?”
Ed said, “We try.”
She smiled. “Who’s the header and heeler?”
Grady replied, “I’m the header. Ed’s just bringing up the rear as usual.”
Ed snorted at that and said, “I’ll meet you at the back.”
Trading the hackamore for Rocky’s bridle, he quickly mounted. “You going to watch?”
She shrugged. “For a little while. Patti needs her sleep, so we’ll probably leave pretty early.”
Rocky shoved his nose at Patti and whuffed as she gently petted his nose, scaring the hell out of Grady. “Rocky, stop that! If y’all will excuse me—”
Sandy stepped back. “Good luck!”
Twenty minutes later, Grady and Ed sat behind the gate with two runs under their belts, both right at five seconds each. “One more good run is all we need,” Ed said softly.
Grady sat relaxed in the saddle, idly looping and shaking out his lasso. They were finally waved into the chute and they bumped fists as they went into the chutes. Grady reached up and made sure his hat was tight on his head, glanced at Ed, checked the arena, and nodded to the cowboy releasing the cow. “Let ‘er rip.”
The steer broke from the gate, the barrier dropped, and Rocky charged out of the chute. Grady got a quick loop on the steer, pulling its head to the left until his foot slipped through the stirrup. He managed to get it back out, but his motions confused Rocky who didn’t finish heading up the steer as Grady catapulted off of him. The announcer was saying, “And some bad luck there for Hart. I don’t know what happened, but they’re done for the night. It is a shame, because they were in the lead!”
Grady got up spitting arena dirt and limping. He walked around Rocky and searched until he found the miscreant heel of his boot. He started to throw it, but just gripped it as he remounted, shook the loop loose and waved to the crowd as he and Ed trotted out of the arena. “What happened, Grady?”
Holding up his boot heel, he grumped, “Damn heel came off just as I pulled the steer.”
“I think so. I’m gonna hurt in the morning, but…ain’t a damn thing I can do about that.”
“Yeah. Might as well go home. We’re out of the money and everything else.”
Ed shrugged. “Nothing you could do about it. We gonna enter the rodeo in Lubbock next month?”
“Yeah, I’ll get the entry fee in. I owe you one after tonight.” Ed turned toward his truck and trailer as Grady rode back around to where he was parked. He was surprised to see Sandy and Patti standing at the hood of his truck. He got off Rocky, tied him to the trailer and limped toward his pickup as Patti started toward the trailer.
She stopped and looked up at him. “Horsie okay?”
He chuckled as Rocky whinnied and lowered his head. “Horsie is fine.” He held out his hand. “Let me introduce you to him. She took his hand and he led her to the horse. “Rocky this is Patti, Patti this is Rocky.” Rocky gently lipped her hair, causing her to laugh and pet his nose.
He blew in her hand and she giggled. “Horsie like me!” She threw her arms around his head and kissed him. Grady limped to the bed of his truck and threw the errant heel in the bed, pulled his muck boots out from between the bed and cab, and sat down to take his boots off.
Sandy asked, “Are you okay? You took a helluva fall out there.”
He started to shrug and winced. “I’m going to hurt in the morning, but I’ll live.” He tried to brush some of the dirt off his shirt and pants, but gave up.
Without the heel on his boot, he couldn’t get enough leverage to get it off and she said impatiently, “Give me your leg.” She straddled it giving him a nice view of her posterior as she tugged until the boot finally came free. “What do you want to do with it?”
He pulled on his other boots and stood, stamping his feet into them. “Throw it in the bed. I’m not sure if they can salvage those old things again.”
She smiled and said, “I hope you feel better. Patti say goodbye to Grady and Rocky, we have to get home now.”
Patti pouted but hugged Rocky’s face again and trilled, “Bye, Rocky!” She trotted over to where he stood and hugged his legs. “Bye, Grady.” She looked up at him and added, “You keep Rocky safe!” Running to Sandy, she grabbed her hand and pulled. “We go now, momma.”
Sandy shook her head and said, “It was a pleasure to meet you, and I hope you have better luck next rodeo. Take care of yourself, too!” She smiled as Patti tugged on her hand impatiently. “We are going, young lady!”
Grady chuckled. “It was nice to meet y’all, and good luck with her,” he said, pointing at Patti. “She’s gotta be a handful!”
Sandy smiled ruefully as they turned to go. “She is. She definitely is, but I love her anyway. Bye.”
Once they had left, he loaded up Rocky, slipped his revolver back on his belt, and slid the speed strip in his weak side pocket, then patted his chest ensuring his medicine bag was still there.
Ten minutes later, Grady pulled onto the county road and headed for the ranch. Almost a mile down the road, he saw a figure walking on the side of the road, then a second smaller figure. Is that…That’s Sandy and…Patti! What the hell are they doing walking out here? He flipped on his flashers and pulled over ahead of them. He hopped out of the truck and made sure his pistol was safely under his vest as he walked back. “Sandy? It’s Grady. What are y’all doing walking down the road?”
Sandy and Patti’s faces were highlighted in the flashing red warning lights as she walked up. “We’re walking home. My car…wouldn’t start. We don’t have too far to go, just to the trailer park on the other side of the freeway.”
Grady looked down the road and could see the freeway in the distance. “Y’all want a ride? It’s…not a good idea to be out here walking when the drunks start leaving the rodeo. I’m going that way, if that means anything.” He sighed. “But I don’t have a car seat for Patti.”
She smiled. “It’s not far, but…yes, we would appreciate a ride. I don’t really…like walking out here, but Patti really wanted to see the rodeo.” He led them around an helped them into his old Chevy, moving some things to the floorboard to make room for Patti in the middle. Between them, they got the center seat belt around Patti as she squirmed, and he finally got behind the wheel with a sigh.
“And here we go,” he said as he carefully checked his mirrors before he pulled back onto the road.
As they passed under the freeway, he saw a Waffle House at the end of the off ramp and Patti started singsonging, “Awful House. Mommy, want Awful House!”
Sandy looked ruefully at him. “She likes Waffle House. I…can’t afford it often, but…”
On impulse, he pulled in. “I can afford to buy you and her something. Ain’t no biggie.”
“Yaay! Awful House!” Patti squealed.
Grady winced at the pitch and tone, but laughed as Sandy shook her head. “Sorry,” she said. “Excitement makes her forget her inside voice. Inside voice, Patti, please.”
Patti immediately quieted down, saying softly, “Sorry, momma.” She drooped in the seat as Grady maneuvered the truck and trailer in the parking lot so that he was facing back out and wouldn’t be blocked in. They got out and walked slowly to the door with Patti singsonging softly under her breath. As soon as they were inside, Patti ran to the back booth and hopped up on the seat. Grady let Sandy go first and happily watched her walk back to the booth. He appreciated the fact that she left the side of the booth facing the door open for him as she got Patti in a booster chair she’d grabbed on the way by.
Patti was looking around and squealed again, “Joseph! Mommy!”
Grady watched as the fry cook looked sharply at them, then dropped the spatula on the grill and walked back to the booth. This dude…pale as a ghost, and sunglasses at night? What the hell?
Sandy glanced back and said, “I’m sorry, Jozef.”
Grady could tell the man was staring at him as he bent over. “Ah, copilul meu, what are you doing?” He bent over and gracefully kissed Patti on the head, causing her to giggle. Grady didn’t understand what he’d said, due to his thick accent. Then the man smiled, and he saw the large canines, which made him wonder. “Sandy, you grace us with your presence. To what do we owe the honor? Slavic accent? Definitely central European…he knows them. What…is that the daddy?
Sandy laughed. “Stop it, Jozef. Grady, Jozef is my neighbor. He…sometimes watches Patti when I work late.”
Jozef stood up, bowed and extended a pale hand. “Jozef Tomáz. It is my good fortune to be this gracious lady’s neighbor.” His grip was surprisingly strong, considering that he didn’t look that muscular at all.
Grady shook his hand carefully. “Grady Hart, I’m just giving them a ride home and buying them…food.”
Jozef nodded. “You were in the rodeo tonight, yes?” Grady nodded and Jozef continued, “I will prepare their normal meal. What would you like?”
Taken off guard, Grady stuttered, “Uh, whatever Sandy is having is fine with me.”
Jozef nodded and walked back to the grill as Sandy grinned at him. “Jozef is a…bit…different. He’s been here for a while. He has…some kind of issue with his eyes, he can’t be out in the sunlight, so he’s the night cook here. Usually, he doesn’t come in this early though.” She lowered her voice, “I think he might be in that Witness Protection Program, too. He’s…from somewhere in central Europe, but he’s…evasive about where.”
Grady smiled at her. “Anything’s possible. I…was…”
Sandy shook her head sadly, “No, he’s not the daddy. That…sumbitch is long gone.”
Jozef delivered their waffles with bacon, presenting the one with a smiley face in whipped cream to Patti. “Here you go copilul meu, enjoy. More coffee?”
Grady nodded. “Please.” As Jozef walked back to get the coffee pot he asked softly, “What does…whatever he said to Patti mean?”
Sandy laughed softly. “He calls her my baby in…I think it’s Romanian.”
“Oh.” Jozef poured more coffee and he added, “Thank you.” He topped up Sandy’s cup and went back to the grill as one of the waitresses yelled an order from the far end of the restaurant.
They finished their meals, with Patti starting to nod off and Sandy said, “Well, time to get this one home and in bed.” She reached for the bill, but Grady quickly snagged it.
“I said I was buying.”
“Okay, I’ll leave the tip. That’s kinda Dutch, right?”
Grady chuckled. “More or less.” After they loaded back in the truck, he asked, “The trailer park to the right?”
“Yes, please. You can just drop us at the gate.”
He pulled out of the parking lot, drove down to the entrance to the trailer park, then swung in. “It’s pretty dark in there. I’d rather see you safely home.”
Sandy cocked her head as she looked at him. “Well, I guess. It is kinda dark in the new section. You can circle around and not have to back up, if that works for you?” He nodded and she directed him to the back of the property. It was definitely dark back there, and he felt the hair on the back of his neck rising.
“Why no lights back here?”
She shrugged as she unbelted Patti. “They’re working on putting them in. We’ve only been back here…a month or so. It’s a nicer trailer than I was living in up front.” She sighed. “It’s a little more expensive, but it’s got more room for Patti and two bathrooms, which is great.”
Grady hopped out of the truck, pulled his pocket light out and flipped it on, lighting the way to the door of the trailer as Sandy carried Patti up the steps. She deftly manipulated the key and door, then flipped the inside light on. “Dammit, that’s another light bulb burned out. I swear, I’ve already put two in that…lamp outside the door.”
Patti woke up and mumbled, “I go bed now, momma.” She tottered down the hall as Sandy smiled ear to ear.
“She thinks she’s old enough to go to bed by herself. I’m glad she is finally sleeping in her own bed, she kicks like hell!”