Diving Into the Turn
By Carrie Carr
Disclaimers: This story has instances of women getting it on, sometimes a bit more graphically than I’m used to writing. Don’t blame me, it’s the characters fault <g>.
Also, this is a rough draft of the story – there are probably some nasty editing mistakes (since I didn’t have an editor while I was writing it), and there are scenes in the published version that aren’t here (they were written *during* the editing phase). This story was previously only found on my yahoo group chat list, email@example.com , where I also post the latest bits of my stories before being posted to the web. Check my website, www.carrielcarr.com for more details. I want to thank everyone on the list who cheered me on, especially since it took me almost two years to write this one.
I’d love to hear what you think – let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org .
THE DINGY MOTEL room was dark, and the only sounds that could be heard were the guttural moans of two people in the throes of passion. Two sets of clothes were strewn about the room in no particular order, leading up to the king-sized bed. Boots, one pair scuffed and dusty, while the other were bright red, were by the door, followed by a well-worn pair of jeans, and then a pair of small red, knit slacks. The shirts that were tossed on a nearby chair were about as unevenly matched, since the ratty denim shirt was covered by a red soft silk, with a scattering of rhinestones over it. The tiara on the red western hat sparkled in the dim light from the neon sign outside, and the ragged brown felt hat next to it seemed poor in comparison.
“God, baby. Yes.” The woman sitting up in bed swayed her hips, her head thrown back. Heavily teased, dark hair cascaded around her shoulders, as her body glistened in the faint light. One hand from the body beneath her slid up her torso, the short nails raking at the woman's skin. She rocked again, and the person below moaned as well. The feeling of a callused hand squeezing her breast was the woman's undoing, and she gasped and fell forward, spent. After a moment, she slid off to one side, and rolled over onto her back. “You're good at that.”
“Haven't had any complaints, yet.” Rising into a sitting position, the other person reached for the cigarettes on the nightstand and pulled one from the pack. “You want one?” Her own hair, dark and in disarray, barely come to her neck. She propped herself up against the headboard and took a long drag on the cigarette.
The other woman shook her head. “No, I can't. It might darken my teeth.” She got up from the bed and walked into the bathroom, well aware of the appreciative glance she received from her bed partner.
“I never could understand rodeo queens, more concerned about how they looked, than how they felt.” The woman in the bed took another deep drag, watching in a disinterested gaze the smoke rings that floated around her head.
ONE TANNED HAND snaked out from under the covers, turning off the alarm clock before its shrill buzzing could start. Rebecca Starrett yawned and stretched, excited about the day ahead. She sat up and brushed her hand through her hair, then swung her legs over the side of the bed and hurried to the bathroom. Glancing out the window while brushing her teeth, she decided that it would be a wonderful day.
Today she would load up her horse Patches in a borrowed trailer and compete in the local rodeo for the first time. At twenty-six, she'd probably be the oldest 'new' rider there, but Rebecca didn't care. The one thing that mattered was that her dream would come true today, and nothing would be able to ruin that. She hurried through her morning ritual so that she could take care of her chores. Her thick red hair fought with the heavy brush as she tried to bring some order to it, so it took Rebecca a little longer than usual to go downstairs.
Rebecca lived in an apartment above the stables where she took care of someone else's horses for room and board of her own. She worked full-time at the small western wear store in town, and considered herself lucky to find this place. Although her parents lived in town, she wanted to be on her own, and this option allowed for that. Her life was just like she liked it, and she was happy with her choices.
It didn't take long to feed the horses, and then she was at the stall where Patches stayed. The horse had been a gift from her father a few years ago, when she expressed a desire to learn to barrel race. “Good morning, girl. We've got a big weekend planned.” Rebecca rubbed the velvety nose of her best friend. “Do you think we're up to it?” The mare seemed to be, and Rebecca just hoped she was, as well.
THE INDOOR ARENA was empty, except for a few of the performers milling around. Early matinees wouldn't begin for a couple more hours, and most of the performers were putting last minute touches to equipment and taking care of animals. The dust wasn't too bad yet, and for that Shelby was thankful. By the early evening, the noise and dirt would be heavy in the air. She slapped her leather rider's glove which was used to grip the bull rope, against her thigh, keeping an eye out for someone in particular. Passing a few other women, she nodded. “Ladies.” Her eyes continued to scan the area, and she really didn't pay much attention to the circle of women she just saw.
Tittering, and a few grumblings could be heard. One voice in particular stood out from the rest. “That Shelby thinks she's God's gift to women.”
“From what I've heard, that's not too far off,” another voice added. All heads turned to watch the bull rider move away, and more lewd comments were whispered out of hearing.
Two cowboys, leaning against the arena gate, watched the scene, bemused. “I don't know why, Rob, but women flock to that gal like flies to a pile of manure.” His companion, more handsome than smart, shook his head.
“I don't understand it myself, Henry. Maybe it's that damned quiet way of talking she has. Women seem to love it.” He spit a heavy stream of tobacco into the dirt, then studied the passing form of the bull rider. She was slim and the denim jeans she wore fit her like a second skin. “Or, more'n likely, it's that tight little ass she has.” Rob laughed, although his smile didn't quite reach his eyes. This was the third rodeo in a row where he had seen Shelby Fisher this year, and he was tired of her beating his score every time. Although the women didn't compete with the men, it didn't stop some of the guys from picking on Rob when her score was higher. “Damned unnatural. Women don't belong in rodeos. They should be at home, cooking, cleaning, and having kids. Like my mom did.” He glared at her retreating form until it disappeared toward the barn adjacent of the arena.
The air in the barn held a strong smell of hay and manure, although the stalls were cleaned out several times a day. The few people that were here were busy with their own animals and tack, but Shelby finally saw who she had been looking for. She was able to walk up behind her target, and get her arms around the buxomed woman. “Hey, beautiful.”
Natalie fought the arms off and spun around. “What do you think you're doing?” She quickly looked around to see if anyone had noticed what Shelby had done. Satisfied they were still alone, she patted her fluffed hair to make sure it was still in place. So much hairspray had been used to get it in that condition, there wasn't much that could budge the teased mess. “Keep your hands off me, Shelby.”
“I thought you said you enjoyed last night.” Shelby couldn't understand what Natalie's problem was. They had just enjoyed a night of what she thought was mind-blowing sex, and here the woman acted as if they didn't even know each other. Even though she was a woman, she decided that she'd never understand the rest of them.
“We can't be seen together. It would ruin me.” Natalie was the Rodeo Queen, and she didn't want any kind of scandal to cause her to lose the tiara that she wore so proudly upon her western hat. The honor had cost her father a lot of money, especially since she was older than the runners up. Her hair was teased out as wide as her shoulders, and the expensive green outfit was just as gaudy as the red one she wore the night before. “Last night was fun, but that's all it was. I thought you understood that.”
Shelby's jaw clenched. She should have known better. Some things never changed, and she had yet to find anyone that was different from what her father had warned her about. She struggled to keep from yelling at the superficial woman before her, and tried to save face the only way she could. “It might have been fun for you, but I've had better.” When Natalie raised her hand to slap her, Shelby nodded in the direction of a pair of boys who were cleaning nearby stables. “Uh-uh. Wouldn't want your adoring public to know you're not only a whore, but a bitch, too.” She tipped her dusty brown hat at Natalie, and pushed by her. “Have a nice ride, tonight, Your Majesty.”
Shelby was so angry that she didn't even notice where she was going, when halfway through the barn, she suddenly slammed into another woman. They both fell back onto the sawdust covered floor, and Shelby picked up her hat that had fallen off during the collision. “Why don't you watch where you're going?” She stood and dusted her hat against her leg, and was suddenly eye-to-eye with an angry redhead.
“Me? You're the one whose hat was so low that she probably couldn't see her damned feet,” the other woman snapped. She was almost the same height as Shelby's five-feet, eight inches, but where the bull rider was thin, this woman was much more curvy. “I think you owe me an apology.”
Still mad at Natalie, Shelby crammed the hat back onto her head and pulled the brim low over her face. “Okay, fine. I'm sorry you're such a klutz,” she muttered, sidestepping the upset woman and going on her way.
“Why, that, that—”
“Bitch,” a woman that ran up to her helpfully supplied. “I saw what happened, Rebecca. Are you okay?”
Rebecca wiped the hay from her clothes and was thankful she didn't land in a pile of something more fragrant. “I'm fine. Pissed as hell, but fine. Who did that woman think she was?” She had already changed into her “rodeo” outfit, and used her hands to brush off her bright blue spandex jeans. The white silk shirt she wore didn't seem to have any stains on it, and Rebecca thought to herself that the woman she ran into better be thankful for that fact.
“That was Shelby Fisher. No one really likes her, unless they're in bed with her. Then, I hear, they just tolerate her long enough to enjoy the ride.” Rebecca's cohort helped brush the back of her clothes off. “Not that I have any practical experience, mind you. My husband would kill me if I even thought about it.” Paula Fay Winger shook her head. Only five years older than Rebecca's twenty-six, nothing she'd heard or seen shocked or surprised her anymore. Curious as to how her new friend thought, she couldn't help but add, “She's really kind of cute, when she's not being such an evil bitch.”
“Paula!” Rebecca wasn't sure what shocked her more, the way Paula casually talked about the sexual escapades of Shelby Fisher, or the fact that no one seemed to mind that there was a lesbian 'carrying on' right in front of them.
“Well, it's true. I heard one of the other girls talk about her. They say when she's cleaned up and not hiding under that hat, she can be almost attractive.” She stood by while Rebecca rubbed hard at her saddle and gear, for the third time that day. “You're going to wear all the leather off if you keep that up.”
Embarrassed, Rebecca stopped. “I know, I can't help it. This is my first rodeo, and I want to look good.” She had been practicing for years, and had gotten the entry money she'd need from her parents. The hard part was to get up her nerve to compete. Rebecca checked all her gear again, then placed it carefully back where it belonged. “And as for Ms. Grump, I don't care how attractive she is under that hat. She's rude, crass, and just plain mean. And I'm not looking for a quick jump in the sack with some old dusty rodeo rider, anyway.” Especially a woman. Have all these people gone mad?
“Suit yourself. But I kind of like that dangerous type. Just ask Buddy.” Paula's husband was the least dangerous person that Rebecca had ever met. He was short, pot-bellied, and had the friendliest smile in the world. His balding head didn't help his case much, either. Since Paula was the short, dumpy type herself, they were a match made in rodeo heaven.
“Ah, right.” Rebecca was barely able to hold off her laughter at the thought of the cherubic Buddy being dangerous. “You just keep living that dream, Paula.” When she arrived at the barns a few days previously, the gregarious couple practically adopted her. Paula and her husband had taken Rebecca under their wing, and she felt a certain duty to make certain their charge was taken care of. And that meant warning her against the likes of Shelby Fisher, as well.
Rebecca was older and a lot less naïve than she looked. She was ready for a little excitement in her otherwise dull life, and hoped that this rodeo was it.
FIRST NIGHT PRELIMINARIES were rarely anticipated, and the arena was only about one-quarter full for the afternoon matinee. More people would be coming in for the evening show, when a lot of the more popular events would be held. The excited voices of children intermingled with those of their parents, who could be caught bragging about their first experiences at the rodeo. People who otherwise didn't know one end of a boot from another could be found dressed to the nines, wearing brand new denim jeans and starched western shirts, topped off with cowboy hats that usually still had the price tags inside.
Shelby stood behind the arena fence, her arms draped over the metal bars and one boot braced against the bottom rail. No matter how often she witnessed it, the opening of the rodeo always brought a small thrill to her, and reminded her of a time when she stood in this very spot with her father. He would point out the more outrageous outfits in the stands, and they'd both share a quiet laugh at how people would dress. It was days like this when Shelby missed him the most.
She pushed away from the fence and shook her head. Thinking about people long gone wouldn't make them come back, and she knew that if she wanted to get a decent meal in and give it time to settle, she'd better do it now. Shelby decided to just grab something from concessions, because she didn't feel like going out to her truck and searching the unfamiliar town for an eatery. She spied a hot dog vendor, who was completing a transaction with a woman dressed in a flashy blue outfit.
He looked up and saw the rider, while he finished counting back the other woman's change. “I'll be right with you.”
“Take your time, I'm not in that big of a hurry.”
With her food in her hand, the other woman turned around and looked into the rider's eyes. “You?”
“Yeah?” Shelby didn't recognize the redhead, but from the way the other woman was acting, they'd obviously met. “Should I know you?” She did a cursory glance down the voluptuous body. Far from being overweight, the woman had curves in all the right places. At first, she thought it might have been another one night stand, but she would have remembered holding a body like this one. “I don't think I do, but I'd like to.”
“I can't believe your attitude,” Rebecca huffed, shoving by Shelby.
Shelby watched her leave, enjoying the way the blue pants clung to the woman's form. “Nice.”
The vendor couldn't agree more. “You got that right.” Then he realized he was talking with another woman, and looked almost ill. “What can I get for you, ma'am?”
“Chili dog, hold the onions.” Shelby gave him the three dollars he asked for, and turned to go to the back pens, where the bulls were kept. She wanted one more look at the bull she had drawn, and really had no interest in watching the first event, which was the team roping. She almost choked on her hot dog when she heard a woman laugh.
“Losing your touch, Shel?” the voice taunted, then its owner stepped forward. Dressed in creased jeans and a matching western denim shirt, the figure was about the same height as Shelby but was a lot more muscular. With her shortly cropped, blonde hair and small breasts, most people mistook Andrea Graham for a man. “I hope you do better with the bulls than the ladies.”
Shelby edged by her competitor. Andrea was years younger than she, and was forever bragging there wasn't a woman she couldn't have. “Scared, Graham?” She continued to eat her meal as she walked, and wasn't surprised when Andrea hurried to catch up.
“Are you asking if I'm scared of you, or the bulls? ‘Cause either one of you ain't worth worrying about.” She spat off to the side. Thinking it made her look better to the ladies, Andrea was never without a dip of snuff between her lower lip and gums. “I'll ride both of them better than you this time.”
“Mmm.” Shelby continued to chew her hot dog, hoping that Andrea would just give up and go find someone else to torment.
The walk to the back pens kept Shelby on edge, as Andrea continued to taunt her about everything from her choice in women to the fact that she still drove around in her father's old truck and camper. The last comment finally got a rise out of Shelby, who spun on her heel and threw the remainder of her hot dog at Andrea's feet. “Shut your fucking mouth, Graham, or so help me, I'll shut it for you.”
“You and who else?” Tilting her Stetson back on her head, Andrea leaned forward, hoping that Shelby would take the first swing. “Your old man's been dead for a long time, and I heard that your momma was a whore.”
Before Shelby could launch her attack, a pair of strong arms wrapped around her and held her back. “Let me go!”
“Cool down, Shelby.” Henry glared over the angry woman's shoulder. “Andrea, you're up early, so you'd better go get your equipment.” He waited until she was gone before he released his grasp. Once they were alone, he let go of Shelby and stood by passively as she vented.
“Goddamn it, Henry! Why'd you go putting your nose in where it didn't belong? I've had about all I can stand of that bitch.” Shelby glared up at the older man as she tucked in her shirt where it had come loose during the scuffle.
Henry waited until she stopped yelling long enough to take a breath. “I don't blame you none, girl. But all that would have done is get you tossed out of the rodeo, and I know you don't want that.”
Shelby grudgingly agreed, but that didn't make her feel any better. She still needed to lash out at someone, and Henry was the closest target. “I'm a grown woman, and I don't need a keeper.”
“No, you don't. But I was a good friend of your father's, and I figured he wouldn't mind if I kept my eye on you a bit.” He looked down at the remains of the partially eaten chili dog that littered the floor near the indoor pens. “You've got time to go get you another one, if you want. Things don't kick off here for at least another hour.”
Shelby shook her head. “I've lost my appetite.” She stepped by Henry and strode out into the open air.
AFTER COOLING OFF, Shelby decided to go through the barns and check out some of the other animals. She had just passed an empty stall when a hand grabbed her by the back of her belt. “Whoa!”
“Hey there, Shelby.” A smiling woman stepped out of the shadows of the stall. Another one of the queen's court, her blonde hair was teased high, and the bright pink stretch jeans and top matched her boots and hat. “Where are you off to?”
“Hi, Jessica.” Shelby's response was deliberately cool. She had heard from some of the other rodeo people that Jessica tended to be on the possessive side, and she didn't want any part of it. “I'm going to go watch the opening parade.”
Jessica tugged harder on Shelby's belt, pulling her into the stall. “I only have one question for you.”
“Is all royalty your type, or just the Queen?” She had seen Shelby and Natalie enter the old motel together the evening before, and hoped it was the ammunition she needed to get what she wanted, namely Shelby.
Shelby slapped at Jessica's hands, which were trying to unbutton her shirt. “I don't know what you're talking about.” Her shirt was soon opened, and it didn't take Jessica any time at all to unzip Shelby's pants and pull them down around her ankles. “I don't think —”
“You don't have to think, baby. Just let me take care of you,” Jessica breathed, dropping to her knees in front of the bull rider. She tugged Shelby's underwear down slowly, savoring the moment.
For her part, Shelby had to stretch her arms across the rail beams of the vacant stall to keep from falling down while Jessica pleasured her. After she slammed her head against the wood, it took her a couple of minutes to get her bearings. With shaky hands, Shelby pulled up her underwear and pants and buttoned her shirt.
Jessica wiped her own mouth, pleased with herself. She was unbuttoning her blouse when Shelby stopped her.
“Sorry, darlin', but I've got to go help with the chutes.” Shelby patted Jessica on the ass as she walked shakily out of the stall. “Thanks, though.”
“Damn you, Shelby!” Jessica yelled, not realizing that they'd had an audience the entire time.
STEPPING FROM THE shadows, the rodeo clown pulled his hat lower over his face and followed Shelby at a discreet distance. He had been on his way back from his trailer when he'd heard the noise in the stall, and the sight of the two women together was almost more than he could stomach. The way that bull rider allowed that other woman to put her mouth on her is against everything I've ever been taught in church. Almost as if he had an acid like taste in his own mouth, Fred spat on the ground.
Fred had once been a popular bull rider, but some disreputable things in his past had forced him to change his name and go on the smaller rodeo circuit where no one would know him. His new career left him bitter and usually at least marginally drunk, and he longed for the glory days of his youth.
“How's it going, Fred?” one of the wranglers asked, slapping the painted clown hard on the back. “Looks like we have a mess of kids near the front rows, so at least you'll have a good audience for the matinee.”
Fred tightened the belt on his well-worn, brightly colored chaps. “Just great. One of them will probably puke a hot dog on me, or something,” he mumbled, shoving by the pens and making his way to where he could watch the Grand Parade and sip on a hidden flask of whiskey.
Shelby stood behind the chutes with the others, and yet she was removed from them. She never felt a kinship with the people she met on the circuit. Some she saw more than others, and some were just locals who tried their hand at rodeoing. When she turned to go outside for another cigarette, she saw Queen Natalie near the door flirting with several of the cowboys. Once the men left, Shelby ambled over. “Making the rounds, aren't you?”
“Shelby, go away,” Natalie hissed, looking around. “Someone could see us talking.”
“Yeah. That's a great crime these days, isn't it?” As much as she hated to admit it, Shelby felt something for Natalie, and the persistent denial of their brief relationship hurt.
When a young boy brought Natalie's horse to her, she instantly became the Rodeo Queen. “Thank you, handsome. I bet you're going to break some hearts when you grow up,” she told him, her voice syrupy sweet. The boy reddened, but took off happy.
Natalie turned her attention back to Shelby. “If I mean anything to you, just go away. This could be my only shot at Rodeo Queen.” She put her foot up into the stirrup and climbed onto the saddle.
Shelby grabbed the horse's halter. “Dammit, Natalie. You chase me all over the place, finally get me to agree to sleep with you —”
But Shelby wasn't finished. “and then kick me aside like yesterday's trash.” Her voice had risen, and several heads had turned and were now looking their way. “I'm not going to stand for this, Natalie. No one makes a fool of me.”
Natalie jerked hard on her horse's reins, breaking Shelby's hold . “Fuck you, you little bull riding tramp. You're dirt, and you'll always be dirt.” She kicked the animal hard, and almost ran over Shelby as she guided her horse toward the ring.
FOCUSING HER THOUGHTS, Rebecca put the finishing touches on her tack; her horse was all saddled up. She could hear the other riders around her gossiping, and almost felt sorry for whomever it was that they were talking about.
“…charmed the pants right off her. As a matter of fact, her husband caught them in the hay trailer,” one woman exclaimed. “They claimed it was some sort of Oriental massage, but what kind has both people naked, I ask you?”
Rebecca rolled her eyes. Don't these women have anything better to do with their time? Then a name came up that caught her attention.
“She's been traipsing around too long, if you ask me. That Shelby Fisher needs to settle down somewhere. Just how long can a person ride those monstrous bulls? And why would a lady want to?” one of the women asked.
“She's not a lady like we are,” another answered, and several of them laughed knowingly.
Inching closer, Rebecca was shocked at the topic of conversation the so-called “ladies” were pursuing.
“It's a shame, really. The rodeo used to be good family fun. Now, so many of those kind of people are here, it's hard to tell the men from the women.” Several other women murmured their agreement. “And,” the speaker, now emboldened, continued, “I think we should find a way to get that Shelby off the circuit, for good!”
“Amen,” the others chorused.
The argument between the rodeo queen and the main focus of their conversation drew all eyes to the door of the fair barn. When Natalie rode away in a huff, almost running down Shelby in the process, several women couldn't help but smile triumphantly.
“Looks like she bit off more than she could chew this time,” the ringleader mocked. “Our queen won't let someone like that pester her.”
Rebecca watched as Shelby dusted herself off and looked around, before skulking out through the doors again. She thought about riding over and seeing if Shelby was okay, but after their previous encounters, thought better of it. After all, the woman was a pain in the ass, wasn't she?
THE GRAND ENTRY Parade - that's what they called it, but Paula secretly joked about it being the Grand Pain in the Patootie, because it took her away from her preparation time for the barrel racing events, which were usually the first of the evening. Paula looked around for Rebecca, and was relieved when the other woman raced up beside her. “Is everything okay?”
“Sure. I was just afraid I'd miss my big entrance,” Rebecca joked. Patches jangled her bridle and snorted while her mistress looked around at the half-empty stands. “Early birds are bustling with excitement, aren't they?”
Paula laughed. “Not. It's good practice for you, though. And, it'll help you to see if your horse can handle the noise in a covered arena.”
“Noise?” Rebecca's eyes widened. She hadn't thought of that before. What if I get out there and fall off Patches? What if we both freeze up? What if —
“Are you okay?”
Rebecca tried to peer through the throng of riders ahead of them to the area ahead. “I didn't even think about the noise factor. Do you think I'll look like an idiot?”
“I doubt that very seriously,” Paula assured her. “But just to be on the safe side, ride here between me and Therese.” She nodded to another woman. “Therese, this is my friend Rebecca. It's her first rodeo.”
The quiet woman with dark hair and eyes nodded to Rebecca. “It's very nice to meet you, Rebecca. Don't let Paula scare you. I've never seen anyone get thrown during the Grand Parade.”
“Thanks. It's nice to meet you, too.” Rebecca stuck her tongue out at Paula, who laughed heartily. “I'm telling Buddy on you.” She watched as the participants who did not use a horse, such as rodeo clowns, bull and bronc riders — went to the front of the line. I wonder if Shelby had time to get up there? Then she wondered why she even cared. She'd only spoke to the woman twice, and both times left a bad taste in her mouth.
HAVING BEEN IN enough Grand Entries in her day, Shelby opted to skip the matinee version. She needed her bull riding gear, and decided to go back to her trailer before it got too hot outside. The old travel trailer was the same one her father had bought when she was born. It had been old then, but now it was what she called a dump on wheels. But it was cheaper than a hotel room every night, and it had been the only real home she'd ever known.
Shelby's mother Vivian had been a rodeo queen and barrel racer. In a moment of bad judgment, she fell for Ted Fisher's good looks and charm. Nine months later, she had a daughter of her own, but lost her family because she'd had the child out of wedlock. They wanted nothing to do with her, or the child.
Vivian sold her horse and belongings to survive, while Ted, a bull rider, bought the trailer so they could keep up with the circuit. They married, and then spent most of their time drinking, fighting, and making up. When Shelby was six, Vivian hooked up with a carnival worker at one of the county fairs they were at, and wasn't seen or heard from again. He didn't force her to go to school, and Ted had taken Shelby with him on the circuit. When she was twelve, his drinking and riding got him gored by a bull and killed.
That moment changed Shelby's life as she knew it. Not only was she a witness to the horrible accident, but she was sent to live with Ted's sister. Nadeen Fisher was an old maid who lived a boring life in a small and boring town. When Shelby turned sixteen, much to her aunt's dismay, she took her father's truck and trailer and went to ride in the rodeo.
Now Shelby sat in the old trailer and looked around for her spurs. They were purely for show since she never raked the bull, but the kids loved seeing someone dressed the part, and Shelby was arrogant enough to enjoy the attention. She picked up her chaps and bull rope, then lit another cigarette. Sitting on the bed, Shelby looked at the dismal shape of the trailer. It was clean, but it made last night's cheap motel look like a four-star establishment, and once again she found herself wondering what she was doing there.
WHAT AM I doing here? The butterflies in Rebecca's stomach turned to full-fledged hawks the moment the riders in front of her moved forward. She had only ridden in small playdays to prepare herself for that moment, and she felt faint as they crossed the threshold to the arena to a smattering of applause.
Paula saw Rebecca's face go pale and leaned over to her. “Wave and act like you've done this before, hon. They'll never know the difference.” She was glad for the small turnout for the matinee, as she didn't think her new friend could have handled a full crowd her first time out.
The horses moved along at a sedate pace, and by the time they were halfway around the area, Rebecca felt more comfortable. She looked at the men and women who walked along the front of the line, and couldn't spot Shelby.
“Are you looking for someone in particular?” Paula teased. “I thought she wasn't your type.”
“She's not! And for your information, I think she's obnoxious.” Rebecca didn't even like women, at least not in that way. At least she didn't think so. She spent so much time with the horses, that her dating experience was limited to one boy in high school, and a few single dates after she graduated. Since the town was so small, it was more like going out with a brother than a real date, so she didn't have much to go by. “But, you're right, I don't see her anywhere.”
Paula made eye contact with a group of school children and waved to them, causing several of the girls to squeal with excitement. “She's most likely getting ready for the bull riding competition; some of the prelims are coming up shortly.” She noticed that their talking had brought her new friend out of her shell, and Rebecca was waving at the crowd just as enthusiastically as she was.
Once the Grand Entry had made its circuit, all the performers went back behind the threshold. Next up was the queen and her court. The lights of the arena dimmed, and, a rider emerged from each side: one carrying a United States flag, the other carried a Texas flag. They raced down the sides of the arena at a full gallop and crisscrossed at the end. When they stopped, they were ready for the queen and her procession.
Suddenly, the spotlight hit Natalie in all her splendor. The incandescent green outfit could be seen from every seat in the arena, which was exactly how Natalie wanted it. She waved, then kicked her horse into a full gallop, leaning forward to bring some excitement to the usually dull routine. Halfway through her run, something went terribly wrong, and the saddle slid from the heaving animal.
Natalie's boot caught in the stirrup and she was dragged around the arena, her horse still at a full run. The lights went up to the stunned silence of horrified onlookers. The clowns raced out onto the dirt, while several people, including Shelby, hurried from behind the scenes to catch the frantic horse.
Battered and bleeding, Natalie pointed an accusing finger at Shelby. “Keep that bitch away from me,” she gasped.
Quickly an ambulance rolled into the arena, and a man and a woman jumped from the vehicle just as it stopped. They ambulance attendants moved everyone away and checked the extent of her injuries. After checking Natalie's vital signs, they strapped her to a backboard and loaded her into their van.
One of the men who had helped catch the horse stepped forward. “Her cinch strap was cut,” he announced.
Everyone looked at Shelby.
“What? You don't actually think I had anything to do with that, do you?”
“Well,” one of the girls in the court reminded her, “you were seen arguing with her earlier today.”
Rebecca looked on in shock. She was. I saw it. But, unlike so many around her, she didn't want to accuse anyone without more proof.
“Let's worry less about that, and pray that poor Natalie recovers okay,” Paula reminded everyone.
Agreements were murmured, and the performers went back to their duties.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the announcer began. “While our lovely queen is going to be just fine, in order to give her time to recuperate fully, our runner up – the lovely Jessica Anders – will be the reigning queen for the remainder of the rodeo.” The announcement was followed by a polite smattering of applause.
Shelby found herself a good place from which to watch the first round of calf roping. Although she had no skill in the sport, it fascinated her to watch man or woman versus the animal. She was jostled slightly as another person moved to stand next to her.
“Amazing, aren't they?” Rebecca asked. “I can barely walk and chew gum at the same time, much less ride and toss a rope.”
Turning her head slightly, Shelby studied the other woman. Unlike a lot of the women at the rodeo, this one wasn't wearing a lot of makeup, and she had her red hair pulled back in a ponytail. Her forehead had a slight crease where her hat had been, and her blue eyes were clear with excitement.
Not too bad. Easy on the eyes. “Is this your first? Rodeo, I mean?” Shelby asked.
Rebecca almost jumped. They were the first non-threatening words she had heard from the woman, and she realized that Shelby had a nice voice. Soft, with a slight accent that said she was a native Texan. “As far as participating, yes, it is. Although I've done a lot of small playdays for practice.” She watched as the contestant jumped from his horse and flipped the calf over, tying its feet almost immediately. “I probably sound like an idiot to you, though. My name's Rebecca.”
“I'm Shelby, and you don't sound like an idiot at all.” Shelby eyed the woman appreciatively. The fair and rodeo would last a month, and she bet herself she could have the woman in her bed by the end of the week, if she so desired. She already wants me, I can tell. “Everyone has to start somewhere.”
“Oh? Did you start out in playdays, too?”
Shelby laughed. “Hell, I was born on a bull, I think. No, darlin', I've been eating rodeo dust my entire life.” An announcement boomed over the P.A, system and Shelby nodded. “I think they're calling the racers to draw numbers.”
“Oh, shit.” Rebecca turned to leave. “Thanks.”
Rebecca looked down at the ground shyly. “For, well, just thanks.” She hurried off, leaving a bemused Shelby behind.
SHELBY THOUGHT ABOUT going back to her trailer for a nap, but decided to stay and see how Rebecca fared in her first ever rodeo event. She'll probably be nervous as hell, and I'm sure a friendly face in the audience couldn't hurt. Shelby had to laugh at that. She was anything but a friendly face. But, she's pretty enough to warrant a little extra attention.
Rebecca had drawn number eight. She didn't know if she drawing that position made her more relieved, or more anxious. Many of the women before her had been riding the same circuit for years, some were nowhere as old as she. When the announcer called her name, every thing else shifted out of focus, and she saw only the first barrel in the cloverleaf pattern.
Urging Patches to the barrel on the right, she leaned in as they went to the inside of the barrel. Diving into the turn, Rebecca and the horse moved as one, lightly touching but leaving the barrel standing. Her adrenaline pumping, Rebecca didn't feel the loss of her hat as she and Patches went for barrel number two. Hooking to the right of the barrel, they spun and easily made the turn, racing for the third and final barrel at the top of the cloverleaf design. Taking the right-hand side again, the barrel wobbled slightly, but it didn't fall. Horse and rider were back to the starting point before it stilled.
Shelby expelled her breath. She normally didn't watch the barrel racing, but decided that if all of them were half as good as Rebecca and her horse, then she'd have to start paying better attention. Yeah, right. You're just hot for her. Don't lie to yourself. She pushed herself away from the gate and wandered off, hoping to calm her heavily beating heart.
The announcer read out the top five contestants, and Rebecca was thrilled to be at number four. There were two more heats in the event, and she knew that the standings could quickly change. She was leading Patches back to the barn for a good rubdown, when a horrible crash came from behind the pen area. She hurried toward the sound to see what had happened.
Several other men were helping Rob to his feet. Nearby, a large light fixture was shattered into pieces. “That was a bit too coincidental for me,” he snarled. “I checked all the fixtures myself, yesterday. There was nothing wrong with that one.”
Rebecca looked around for Shelby, who was conspicuously absent. Keeping her thoughts to herself, she led Patches to her assigned area of the barn. Shelby was there, sitting on a bale of hay, a broad smile on her face.
“You did really well. Congratulations.”
“Thanks.” Rebecca pulled off her saddle, and switched Patches' bridle for a blue halter.
“Want some help?”
Rebecca looked at the woman sitting so close to her. “No, that's okay. I'm used to doing this.” She gathered up a brush and began a gentle stroking, letting the familiar routine relax her.
Obviously not making any headway in her private bet, Shelby stood up and dusted off the seat of her jeans. “Anyway, I just wanted to let you know I enjoyed watching you ride.” She headed for the exit, reaching for her cigarettes.
“Wait.” Rebecca cursed herself for her rudeness. She waited until Shelby turned around. “Thanks for watching me.”
“You're welcome.” Tipping her hat, Shelby left the barn.
What an enigma you are, Shelby Fisher. I don't know whether to be afraid of you, or intrigued by you.
ONCE OUT IN the bright sunshine, Shelby adjusted the tilt of her hat to protect her eyes from the glare of the sun. She was almost to her trailer when a voice called out to her.
“That fresh meat just keeps getting better and better, doesn't it?” Andrea Graham leaned against a horse trailer nearby. She was wearing her customary tank top, which showed her muscles; she wouldn't put her denim shirt on until right before it was time to ride.
Shelby turned. “You leave her out of your petty little games, Andy. She's too good for the likes of you.” And me, her conscience silently added. But she couldn't admit out loud that she liked what she saw, too. Her advance was abruptly halted by a strong hand on her forearm.
“Oh, I don't know. Maybe we should let the little lady decide for herself.” Andrea pulled Shelby closer. “Or are you afraid she'll choose me?”
“You're the last person I'm afraid of,” Shelby ground out, jerking her arm free. “But I also know you like them more experienced, and I think you'd be sorely disappointed.” She hoped that she could keep a predator like Andrea away from Rebecca, who seemed naïve for her age.
Andrea laughed. “Right. And you're saying this because you're just such a nice person? Or maybe you want her for yourself.” She followed Shelby to the run-down trailer. “Haven't you gotten rid of this thing yet? I figured it would have collapsed by now.”
Glad that the topic had changed, Shelby felt on more even ground. “Don't even start about my trailer, Graham. At least I don't have to live out of hotel rooms.”
“Don't you mean you can't afford to live out of hotel rooms? When are you going to admit that you're a has-been, and give it up? How many bones did you break last year, old woman?” Andrea was almost ten years Shelby's junior, and rubbed it in the older woman's face every chance she got.
She's got a point. Bull riding is a young person's sport. Or, at least a sport for someone who's good at it. I'm neither, really. Shelby unlocked her trailer door with a sigh. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a quarter and tossed it to Andrea. “Here. Go buy yourself an ice cream, compliments of an old woman.” Without another word, Shelby closed the door in Andrea's face.
Andrea looked around and saw several familiar faces nearby. She waved to them. “Wait up, guys. I'll join you.”
PAULA FOUND REBECCA sitting on the bale that Shelby had vacated earlier. “You did so great! I bet your folks will really be proud of you.” She beamed.
“I guess. Maybe they'll be here for tomorrow night's ride. There was just no way they could afford to take off work to watch me, although they both sent their love.” Rebecca's thoughts seemed worlds away.
“Are you all right? They're not giving you a hard time about all of this, are they?”
Rebecca picked at the straw. “No, nothing like that. They've been extremely supportive. I'm just a bit confused, that's all.”
“Oh. Well, if I can be any help, let me know. Buddy says that I'm almost as good a listener as I am a talker – and you know how much I love to talk.”
“Thanks.” Rebecca glanced around to make sure they wouldn't be overheard. “Is Shelby Fisher everything people say she is? I've had a couple of run-ins with her, and I can't quite figure her out.”
Paula gave the question some thought before answering. “Well, if they say she used to be a pretty good bull rider, then the answer is yes. But too many years of drawing the tough rides have been hard on her.”
“What about personally?”
Although Paula was a chatterbox, she claimed to dislike anyone who gossiped needlessly. She could discuss any range of topics. “What are you asking about?”
Rebecca turned to face her friend. “I've heard that she goes through women pretty easily,” she related. “Not that it matters, but I spent a little time with her earlier today, and she seemed almost nice to me.”
“She can be. I've never had any problems with her, but then again we run in different circles. I can't tell you what I don't know.” Paula bumped shoulders with Rebecca. But, if you want, we can go make Buddy take us out to dinner before the bull riders compete. Unless you'd rather get something at the fair.”
“No, that's a great idea.” Rebecca stood from her perch and hugged Paula. “Thanks for being such a good friend.”
“You're welcome.” Paula hooked her arm around Rebecca's and looked around. “Let's go find that handsome man of mine.”
THE REST OF THE matinee went as expected. Shelby drew a bull named Diablo's Pet, and was mentally prepping herself for the ride. She was about to go to the chute area when a light touch on her arm drew her attention.
Rebecca's smile was nervous. “Good luck.”
It felt good to have someone say that to her, especially since she couldn't actually remember anyone ever saying it. “Thanks.” Shelby put on her gloves and adjusted her chaps. “Are you going to watch?”
“Do you mind if I do?”
Shelby grinned. “The best spot is over where we watched the calf roping earlier. Just stay off the fence and you'll be perfectly safe.”
Shelby tipped her hat and sauntered to the chutes.
Rebecca watched the woman leave, then found herself embarrassed when she realized she was checking out Shelby's butt. Well, it does fit in those jeans nicely. No one can fault me for being aware of that. She hurried over to the spot Shelby had designated, her excitement evident to everyone around her.
“What's the matter? Haven't you ever seen bull riding before?” Rob asked. He had seen Rebecca talking with Shelby, and didn't like the way it looked.
Ignoring him, Rebecca squeezed between two older men to get a better view of the area. She smiled at them and was rewarded with a pat on the shoulder and smiles from both.
Rob was not to be deterred; he nodded at one of the men, who vacated his spot. “If you know what's good for you, you'll stay away from Shelby. She's bad news.”
“I'm fully capable of taking care of myself,” Rebecca assured him. “So, if you'll excuse me, I'd like to be left alone to enjoy the event.” Tired of his attitude, she turned away from the bronc rider.
Several men around them chuckled at how the sweet-looking woman had verbally cut Rob off at the knees, while still being nice. Extremely angry, Rob stormed away.
“I'm afraid you made an enemy of that one, miss,” one of the older men said. “He's not used to anyone standing up to him, or telling him no.”
Rebecca looked over her shoulder. “Then he'd better leave me alone, or it'll be a new learning experience for him.” She tensed as Shelby's name was announced and turned her attention back to the floor of the arena. Here she goes.
It took a full minute or two for them to calm the bull enough to get the chute open; each second that ticked by made Rebecca more and more nervous. She was glad she was in a group of other rodeo people; if she'd had to wait alone, she might not have been able to wait it out.
When the chute finally opened, the massive black bull leaped into the air, tossing its rider up with it. Shelby managed to hang on, then almost lost her grip when the beast suddenly spun to the left. It was apparent she had been expecting a right turn, and she was hanging on for her life as the bull changed direction, this time adding another leap.
Shelby's hat fell from her head, and all she could see was dirt. She knew that Rebecca was out there somewhere, watching, and wanted to make the full ride, if only to impress her. With Shelby's mind being occupied with something other than the two thousand pound animal she was tied to, she never saw the bull toss his head back and hit her right between the eyes.
Everyone else in the arena saw it. A collective gasp rose from the sparse crowd as Shelby dangled helplessly from the bull. Two riders on horseback raced in to help free her. She clung to the saddle horn while the rider helped her from the bull. Shelby dropped to her feet and waved to the crowd, indicating that she was okay.
Rebecca was shaking. Although Shelby hadn't made her time, it had still been one of the most exciting and terrifying things she had ever seen in her life. She shoved her way through the crowd, back to where the ambulance was parked.
Shelby waved off a paramedic who was trying to get her to stay still long enough for them to treat a cut on her forehead. “I'm fine, dammit.”
“You don't look fine,” Rebecca popped off. “You look like you could use at least a bandage or something.”
“No one asked you,” Shelby bit off, mad at herself for allowing the woman to cause her to lose her concentration.
The attendant frowned. “She could probably use some stitches and an x-ray.” But he satisfied himself with using several butterfly closures and a gauze bandage. “Change the gauze at least once a day, and if it looks infected, have your doctor check it.” He knew Shelby would probably tear the gauze off the moment he wasn't looking, but he had to do his job.
Someone handed Shelby her hat and she placed it on her head, although further back than normal. “Thanks.” She decided to stop being such a bitch, and tried to smile for Rebecca, but the movement hurt her head. “Sorry I didn't stay on. I never expected that bastard to come out away from my hand like that. But you should watch some of the other guys; it's really good when they cover their bull.”
Rebecca frowned. “What?”
“You know, stay on for the entire ride. Something I can't seem to do lately.” It had been close to a year since Shelby had made any money at all, and her savings were almost depleted. She'd either have to win something at this rodeo, or find something else to do. Or go spend some time with her aunt, who actually lived in a town not too far away from where she was now. She could always find work flipping hamburgers or doing farm work long enough to pad her account again. But that was one option that Shelby didn't want to even consider.
“Are you going to watch?”
“For a little bit, probably. Have to keep an eye on the competition,” Shelby joked. She hopped from the back of the ambulance with a wave to the attendant. “Thanks, Joe. I owe you one.”
He stripped off his rubber gloves and shook his head. “Staying in once piece for a change would be a nice start.”
Shelby ignored the jab and headed back to the chutes. “I volunteered to help for a bit, so if you've got something else to do —”
“No. I think I'll go back to my spot and watch.” Rebecca winked and left, knowing that Shelby was watching her as she walked away. The thought should have bothered her, but it intrigued her instead.
SHELBY JOINED SEVERAL others on top of the chute as the bull was prepared. She almost wished she could have followed Rebecca to watch, since the rider she would be assisting was none other than Andrea. The men crowded around and did their assigned jobs without much talk, since they'd been doing it most of their lives. Henry was the flank man, or the person who pulled a leather strap across the bull's flank to enhance the natural bucking motion of the animal. He gave Shelby a nod as she helped him.
“Well, lookee here. Grandma's got a boo-boo,” Andrea joked as she settled onto her bull. She kept one leg on the wall of the chute while the bull fought the confines. “Why don't you just find a nice rocker, and sit back and let me show you how it's done?” Her skin-tight shirt showed muscles that rippled, and the denim jeans she wore looked as if they'd split if she moved wrong.
Tired of Andrea's mouth, Shelby snapped, “Why don't you worry about yourself, and just leave me the hell alone? You've still got a ride to make, you know.” She decided that no matter how much she needed the extra money, she wouldn't help around the chutes any more than she had to. The small rodeos were always in need of an extra hand, and willing to pay for it. Putting up with the likes of Andrea was just too much for her nerves.
Andrea grinned and blew her rival a kiss. “Piece of cake.” She pulled her white felt hat down tight and nodded, signaling for the chute to be opened.
Her 'piece of cake' went well, until the bull slammed its side against the fence in an attempt to dislodge its rider. Unable to break free from her rope, the woman started to scream. By the time they got her off the bull, Andrea's face was covered in blood and she was unconscious. Her arm that held the rope was bent at an unnatural angle in several different places, and a splinter of bone appeared through a rip in her shirt.
Once again, an ambulance was rushed to the main floor of the arena. Although it only appeared to be Andrea's arm, they weren't taking any chances with other possible injuries. She was quickly loaded into the back, and whisked off to the hospital, while several of the other contestants looked on from their positions around the arena.
Shelby stood unmoving at chute, watching the tail lights of the vehicle until it was out of sight. She pulled her last cigarette from the pack and placed it in her mouth, her shaky hand the only outward sign of her distress.
THE BULL RIDING had been the final event for the matinee, so the arena director decided it was in the best interests of all to postpone the rest of the rides until the evening show. No one complained, although several could be heard grumbling about the “coincidences” that kept happening.
Rebecca watched the ride from her usual place, glad to be in between the same men she had found before. When the ride went bad, she felt what little food in her stomach attempt to escape. She wanted nothing more than to find a nice quiet place to get her nerves back under control. Rebecca decided the best place for that would be with Patches, so she headed back toward the barn.
On her way, she noticed a solitary figure moving away from the arena. Rebecca changed her course, intent on intercepting her. She wasn't sure why she was so concerned about the surly bull rider, but there was just something about the loneliness in Shelby's eyes that kept her moving.
Shelby walked away from the chutes, ignoring the mutterings around her. More than once she heard her name mentioned, and she knew that some were taking her rivalry with Andrea into consideration. As much as she disliked the other woman, she never wanted to see another person come to any harm.
“Is she a friend of yours?” Rebecca asked, catching up. The bloody ride had upset her terribly, but at the moment she was more concerned with what Shelby was feeling. She wanted to try and be a friend to the quiet woman, if Shelby would let her.
“No.” Shelby continued to walk, not in the mood to talk at the moment. Any time she saw another rider injured, no matter who it was, it upset her. The next time it could just as easily be her.
Rebecca continued to follow after Shelby. “Is there anything I can do?”
“Just leave me alone, okay?”
“But I thought—”
“You and I are not buddies, and we'll never be friends. Just go back to your perfect little world, and leave me the hell alone.” Shelby stomped out into the warm night and lit her cigarette. The whole evening left her unnerved, and now having to make conversation with a woman she found attractive was wearing on her. The old Shelby would have just seduced her and been done with it, she told herself. I'm tired of the old Shelby. And I don't know why, but she's different. I don't want to do that to her.
Rebecca hurried to get in front of Shelby. “I understand that you're upset about your friend, but don't take it out on me.”
“I told you, that bitch is not my friend.” Several drags later, the cigarette was finished, and Shelby crushed it beneath her boot. They continued walking though the parking lot until they were where most of the performers kept their “homes” and Shelby had never been so glad to see her trailer in her life.
“But you're both—” Rebecca found she couldn't even say the word.
“Lesbians? Yes. And we're both bull riders. But she likes to compete for more than scores, if you know what I mean.” Shelby went inside her trailer for more cigarettes and came back out with another one lit one between her lips. “As a matter of fact, she was talking about you earlier today.”
“Me? But I'm not a lesbian!”
Shelby laughed. “Right. And I'm not a has-been. Darlin', the way you've been eyeing every woman around here, I'd say you're either in serious denial, or you're trying to lie to me.”
“I'm not lying,” Rebecca told her. Then she realized what option that left her. “Not that I'm in denial, either. I've dated a few men.” Even to her ears the excuse sounded lame. Wouldn't I know something like this? Why is she giving me such a hard time?
To this, Shelby laughed so hard she started coughing, which caused her head to hurt. “I rest my case.”
Rebecca stormed away, with Shelby's laughter ringing in her ears. I can't be a lesbian. I've never had those kinds of thoughts. Not really. She continued to walk back to the barns, her mind spinning with the new revelation.
If it were true, then certain aspects of her life finally clicked into place. Growing up, all those crushes on other girls were one of the first things to pop into her mind. Her best friend when she was a pre-teen, and how much it hurt to lose that same friend several years later.
Tonya moved in just up the street from where Rebecca was raised when both girls were eleven. They had the same interests and tastes in music and clothes, and neither could understand why all the girls in their class found boys so attractive. Even when Tonya moved away right before high school, they vowed to stay in touch.
They did, for a while. Tonya even came to spend the summer with Rebecca and her family when the girls were seventeen. But then something happened that ruined their childhood bond. Rebecca caught Tonya smoking marijuana in the guest bathroom, and told her that she wouldn't allow that to happen around her baby brother. Tonya agreed to keep it out of the house, but the next day, Rebecca caught her again. Although it killed her inside to do it, Rebecca made good on her threat, and kicked Tonya out of the house.
Thinking back to that day, Rebecca felt the pain as if the wound were fresh. They'd never spoken again, and she lost more than a friend. She never allowed another close to her heart since.
TWO DAYS LATER, Rebecca was going over some last-minute grooming details when Paula showed up with someone. “Hi.”
Paula motioned for the man to step up beside her. “Rebecca, I'd like for you to meet Cleve Winters. He's a friend of Buddy's, and another roper. We just ran into each other and I didn't know if you two had met.”
“No, we haven't.” Rebecca wanted to use the brush she held to whack Paula in the head. I hate it when people try to play matchmaker. “It's nice to meet you. Have you known Buddy and Paula long?”
Short, with brown hair and eyes, Cleve nodded. “Quite a few years. As a matter of fact, it was Buddy that taught me how to rope.”
“That's great.” Rebecca turned back to Patches and began to brush, even though the horse's coat already gleamed.
Paula, sensing Rebecca's anger, realized her mistake. “Cleve, would you mind helping me find my wayward husband? It's lunch time, and he's got the money.”
“I'll do better than that. Why don't you let me buy your lunch?” Cleve offered. He turned to Rebecca. “How about it, Rebecca? Would you care to join us?”
Damn. How do I get out of this easily? “That's very sweet of you, but I really want to make sure everything is perfect for my ride. Maybe next time, okay?”
“Okay.” He winked at her. “I'll hold you to it.” Cleve allowed Paula to lead him away, listening intently as she chattered about the rodeo.
Rebecca heaved a sigh of relief. The last thing she wanted to do was get involved with someone at the rodeo. But you're already involved, aren't you? Or at least you wish you were. Angry at her own thoughts, Rebecca went back to brushing poor Patches.
THE NEXT TWO nights of the rodeo went off as planned. The workers and contestants both relaxed, and some of them got together for a friendly game of cards. They set up a table behind the pens, and someone brought in several bottles of alcohol.
Men of all ages were gathered around the makeshift table, some already quite drunk, while others were well on their way. Bawdy jokes were followed by drunken tales of conquests, as some bragged while others learned.
“Well, Rob? Are you going to join us, or what?” Henry asked. He noticed how the younger man had been sulking around the area for a while, and figured he was just too shy to join in without being invited.
“Sounds good to me.” Rob sat down next to another man, who was a bit younger than him. “I'm Rob. What do you do ‘round here?” He already knew the other men at the table, and decided to try and be sociable.
The other man shook his hand. “Cleve Winters. I'm a roper, but I'm hoping you won't hold that against me,” he joked. He liked the camaraderie of the men around him, and was glad he had been invited to join them.
“Nah. We're pretty good about that,” Henry assured him. “As long as you don't win too many hands, that is.”
“Then I'm perfectly safe.” Cleve flashed a ready smile to his new friends, all the while listening to their stories. He allowed Rob to pour him a drink of whiskey, which he downed quite easily.
“Slow down there,” Henry warned. “You'll want to be able to last more'n a hand or two.”
Cleve laughed. “No problems there. I've been drinking for years, and it's never effected me yet.” He swallowed another shot and gasped. “Although this stuff is a bit stronger than what I'm used to.”
Standing in the shadows, Shelby listened to the men play cards for a while. She took a small sip from the bottle of beer that she held, not wanting to be hung over the next morning, like most of the men would be. At times she wished she had done something different with her life, but she didn't know what that something would be. Standing there watching the men get drunker and drunker, she thought back to the time she met her only other living relative, or at least the only relative that would have anything to do with her.
As if the shock of losing her father wasn't enough, being placed with someone she didn't even know was more than the twelve year old could handle. Almost from the very beginning, Shelby fought her “confinement”, and tried to run away several times.
Nadeen Fisher tried everything she could to make Shelby feel welcome in her home, even going so far as attempting to home school the youngster. When that didn't work, she was forced to send Shelby to the local high school, where her differences made her stand out. Many days the girl would return from school, so upset she'd go up to her room without dinner.
She barely made it in school, and only then because of her aunt's insistence. Shelby had dropped out when she was sixteen and never looked back, but now she was remorseful. She knew that people like Rebecca and Paula and even the flighty girls in the Queen's court all had high school diplomas. They would certainly have nothing to do with her outside of the rodeo arena, and that thought hurt.
After draining the bottle of beer, Shelby tossed it in a nearby trash bin and lit another cigarette. She took another bottle from the six-pack carton at her feet and twisted the top from it. She felt her life was an old beat up vehicle, and someone had wrecked the car.
Inside the adjacent barns, Rebecca locked up her gear for the night. The area was quiet, and even Patches seemed content to stand nearby with her eyes closed. The stall was open, but Rebecca wasn't worried about her horse leaving. Patches had always been an easy-going ride, and had never given her any trouble. She added clean hay to the floor of the stall, while her horse stood outside of it, apparently asleep.
Drunken singing could be heard from nearby, and Rebecca frowned. Deciding that she wasn't anyone's mother and they could drink if they pleased, she went back to her work.
“There ya are. I've been lookin' fer you,” the drunk slurred.
Rebecca looked up. “Now you've found me. Why don't you go and sleep it off? You're going to feel it tomorrow as it is.” She never had been one to drink, and couldn't understand the appeal.
“I'd rather feel you, sweet thang.”
Suddenly Rebecca was afraid. This wasn't just a friendly drunk. She picked up the broom she had been using and held it out in front of herself. “Don't make me hurt you, Cleve. You seem like a sweet guy.”
Cleve moved in closer, knowing she didn't have enough room to do much damage with the broom. “You like me and you know it.”
“Yes, I do. But not in that way.” Rebecca looked around desperately for help, but the barn seemed empty except for the two of them.
“Are you another one of those fags? ‘Cause if you are, I can fix that.” Cleve squeezed at his crotch. “Rob says all they need is a good man.”
Great. He's been getting lessons in love from Rob. “Cleve, go into one of the empty stalls and sleep this off. Believe me, in the morning you'll be thankful you did.”
He stepped closer and grabbed Rebecca's shirt, accidentally ripping it from her body. She screamed, and he pushed her back against the stall. “I'm sorry. I'll buy you another one.” Cleve leaned in and started to kiss Rebecca on the neck, until she screamed again, this time in his ear. “Shhh! Not so loud!” Seconds later, a hard crack across his back dropped Cleve to his knees.
Shelby, having been nearby and heard Rebecca's screams, picked up the discarded broom and used it as a weapon. Since he was already off balance, she was able to grab Cleve by the collar of his shirt and slam his head into the wall. Shelby then stepped over his unconscious body and checked Rebecca over for injuries. “Are you all right?”
“I'm fine. I don't know why he did that, but thank you.” Rebecca tried to cover herself up with her hands but failed.
Noticing her dilemma, Shelby removed her outer shirt and draped it over Rebecca's shoulders, leaving herself in a white tee shirt. “Sorry it's not very clean.” She hadn't changed from the day, and knew that she had worked up a sweat helping out around the arena and barns.
A group of men showed up while Shelby helped Rebecca with her shirt. Fred Tanner, out of his clown makeup, grabbed Shelby and jerked her out of the stall. “Get away from her, you pervert! Can't you leave decent people alone?”
“Go to hell, Fred,” Shelby shouted back, fighting against his hold.
“Maybe we should teach her a lesson,” another man said. “She could be the one causing all the problems around here.”
Fred, who was much bigger, had no problem holding the struggling bull rider. “She very well could be. We should—”
Rebecca pulled Fred's hands away from Shelby and helped her get free. “You should shut up and leave us both alone. She helped me. Or maybe you didn't notice the guy lying on the ground,” she shouted, pointing at Cleve.
Some of the men grumbled, but quieted. They helped Cleve to his feet and took him away, while Fred continued to stare at Shelby. “This isn't over, Fisher. I'll have my eye on you.”
“Why don't you watch yourself, and your little cronies? Stupid men and booze never mix.” Shelby waited until they had all left before turning her attention back to Rebecca. “Do you need a ride home?”
“No, I have my car.” Rebecca buttoned the shirt and was glad they were about the same size, although Shelby appeared much larger to her. Maybe it's just because of that swagger she has. The way she moves should be registered as a lethal weapon. “Thank you again for your help.”
Shelby looked down at the hay-strewn floor. “I'm sure you'd have beaten him to death with that broom, but I'm glad I was around.”
They both stood quietly for a moment, neither ready to leave. When she noticed the nice boots and crisp jeans that Rebecca wore, once again Shelby was reminded of their differences. The woman before her didn't look rich, but she wasn't dirt poor, either. “At least let me walk you to your car.”
“Thanks. But then you'll have to walk back alone.” Rebecca knew for all her bravado, Shelby wasn't any more able to take care of herself than she was.
“Don't worry. If they get me under a light, they'll let me go,” Shelby joked as they walked out into the evening.
Rebecca stopped. “I don't think that's funny. You shouldn't put yourself in danger.”
“Do you remember what I do for a living?” Shelby asked, following dutifully beside Rebecca. “It's not the safest field.”
“That's true. But you at least have some control over it.” Rebecca stopped next to a recent model Toyota Camry. “Here's my ride.”
“Thanks. My parents bought it for me last year when I turned twenty-five.” Opening the door, Rebecca studied her companion's face. “Thank you again.”
Shelby blushed. “You're welcome. Do you have someone you can stay with? I mean, after what happened tonight, is there someone at home you can talk to? Boyfriend, husband?” Girlfriend? Damn, I bet I really sound pathetic.
“I'm staying with my parents. They have a house in town.” On impulse, Rebecca leaned over and kissed Shelby on the cheek. “Now get back inside before I have to get rough with you.”
“Yes, ma'am.” Shelby waited until Rebecca's car cleared the parking lot before heading back to her trailer. Her hand stayed on her cheek where it had been kissed, and a silly smile played across her face.
THE RODEO HAD long been over for the night, and the man at the end of the bar tossed back shots of whiskey as if they were water. His friend, sitting next to him, was in no better shape. “I know that bitch had something to do with it.”
Cleve looked down into his half empty mug of beer and sighed. “I can't believe I was so stupid, Rob. I thought she liked me.”
“All women are sneaky sluts. They want you to be interested, but the moment you are, they won't give you the time of day.” Rob motioned to the bartender to bring him another drink.
“What about your girlfriend, Carla? You don't mean her too, do you?”
Rob turned his head and looked at Cleve as if he had two heads. “Of course I do. She's only with me because I'm good in bed, and I win my events and always have money. Don't let her fool you. If I stopped winning tomorrow, she'd leave me in an instant.”
“That sucks.” Cleve took another sip of his beer. “I really needed this rodeo, man. I was going to use the money to find my dad.”
“Is he lost?” Finally, something else to focus on. Rob downed another shot and grimaced as it warred with his empty stomach.
Cleve nodded. “Yeah. I don't know him that well, but I heard he's got a place somewhere not too far from here. I haven't seen him since I was a kid. He rode in rodeos, too.”
“Another winner, huh? Guess we all have stories like that.” Rob was bored. “Fisher's old man sucked at bulls. I heard that he was totally shit-faced when he rode that last time.” He cracked open a peanut and ate it, leaving the shell on the bar in front of him with its fallen comrades. “Stupid-assed thing to do. They say he was almost gored in half.”
“God, that's nasty.” Cleve got the bartender's attention and ordered another round of drinks. “How old was she?”
“Just a kid, from what I heard. She saw the whole thing, too.” Rob accepted the new drink and quickly downed it. “Thanks.” He wiped his mouth with his sleeve. “Guess that explains why she's so fucked up.”
Cleve didn't think there was much wrong with Shelby, other than she was gay. He thought it was morally wrong, but didn't feel like getting into it here. “I guess.”
Rob belched, feeling the acid rising in his stomach. “I'm going to the john, then head back to the motel to give my old lady what she wants. You all right?”
“Yeah. I'll just finish this beer, and head on out. Thanks for listening, man.” Cleve decided a change in scenery was in order, and he resolved to start looking around the following morning for some idea as to where his father could be located.
THE FAIR GROUNDS were still quiet, with only the vendors and a few rodeo contestants milling around. Shelby lit a cigarette, but her inner turmoil was interrupted by Rebecca's voice.
“Those things aren't good for you.”
“Neither is riding bulls,” Shelby retorted. She was in no mood to be mothered, especially by Rebecca.
Deciding to be silent, Rebecca continued to follow Shelby as she checked out the fair grounds. She studied the other woman, and couldn't understand why she felt this need to reach out to her. It wasn't long before she broke her promise to herself and spoke up. “So you were raised around rodeos?”
“Yeah.” Shelby continued to walk, kicking at small rocks with her boots.
“What about your family? Don't they care?”
“They're dead. Not much they can say about it,” Shelby retorts. “Well, my old man is, anyway. My mom probably is, too.” She stopped and turned to face Rebecca. “Why the twenty questions?”
Rebecca looked down at her sneakers. “I was just trying to learn more about you.”
Shelby reined in the urge to walk away. “You want to know about me? Fine. Let's walk, and I'll tell you all the gory details of my miserable life.”
“If it's going to upset you, you don't have to tell me anything.”
“I know, but you're not going to leave me alone until I do.” They passed by the closed up carnival rides, where very few people were stirring. “My mother was a Rodeo Queen and barrel racer, who should have learned to say no where my dad was concerned. That's how I got here. They ended up living in that trailer I use now, until Mom left when I was six.” Her voice told of the pain the desertion still caused. “I'd go with dad to the rodeos, at least until he died on a bull when I was twelve.” Shelby lit another cigarette.
“That's horrible. But—”
“Then I was sent to live with his sister, where I lived until I was sixteen. She was nice, but boring.”
Rebecca touched Shelby's arm, but pulled her hand back when Shelby jerked away. “And you've been doing this ever since?”
“Yeah. It's not much, but it's all I know.”
Now Rebecca felt bad asking Shelby about her life. If she was looking for some romantic ideal, she certainly didn't find it. “I'm sorry.”
Shelby looked at the woman standing beside her. “Me too. So if you don't mind, can I just please—”
A loud rumble came from the rodeo arena, where men's shouts and women's screams could be heard. The two women looked at each other then proceeded to run back to see what the problem could be.
WHEN THEY GOT to the arena, they could see the dilemma: the retaining walls of the pens collapsed, and now all the bulls that were housed there were running all over the place. Men were putting the pens back together, as others worked to wrangle the cattle. Several of the more experienced ropers were trying to get their horses saddled, while other men were using blankets to try and herd the frightened animals back to their pens.
Shelby grabbed Rebecca by the arm. “Come on! I think you'll be safe in the stands, until they're all rounded up.”
Rebecca resisted Shelby's attempt to lead her away. “Shouldn't I help?”
“Have you ever been around a scared, two-thousand pound animal?”
“Then get your ass up there! I don't want to have to worry about you, as well as these damned beasts,” Shelby yelled. She shoved Rebecca over the pipe fence.
“I don't appreciate being manhandled like—Shelby! Look out!”
Just as Shelby's feet hit the dirt, a mottled brown bull charged her. Not even bothering to turn around, she instinctively jumped up and climbed the fence, raising her legs. Her own heart in her throat, Shelby gave Rebecca a shaky smile. “Thanks.”
Rebecca waved. “You're welcome. Be careful with the rest of them, okay?”
Shelby nodded, and took off after the bull. She knew that most of them weren't bad, but they were all running scared, and the sooner they were herded back into the pens, the better it would be for them, and for everyone else.
Watching Shelby help round up the frightened animals showed Rebecca another side of the bull rider. Where some of the cowboys were rough with the bulls, Shelby showed an almost reverent attitude toward them.
Rebecca didn't know she was the focus of someone else's attention until Therese sat down beside her. “She's dangerous, that one.”
“You know who I'm talking about,” Therese stated quietly.
Rebecca turned so that she could see the other woman's face. “Shelby? I don't think she's dangerous at all.”
Leaning back in the plastic stadium seat, Therese shook her head. “I didn't take you for a fool, Rebecca. But she'll chew you up and spit you out, then step on you.”
“Are you speaking from experience?”
“No. For some reason, Shelby has never pursued me. And that's just what it is, when she wants someone, a hunt. Don't let her slow southern drawl fool you. She's a viper.”
The half laugh that escaped Rebecca's throat sounded almost bitter. “Trust me. I'm not being pursued by her. She barely gives me the time of day.”
“Maybe. But she can make a woman want her so easily. She's hard to deny. And even harder to forget, once she's discarded you.” Therese's eyes were almost threatening.
“How do you know so much about her?”
Therese stood and brushed off her jeans. “Let's just say a friend of mine wasn't as lucky as we are, and leave it at that.”
ONCE THE BULLS were all rounded up, Rebecca went in search of Shelby. She found her by the barn door, smoking a cigarette. “Where were you? I was worried.” She hated the way her voice sounded, but she couldn't help it. The pleading tone was against her nature.
“We finished, and I thought I'd grab a quick smoke before the matinee started.” Shelby took a long drag and looked around at the parking lot, which was quickly filling up. “Saturday's are always good matinees. You should hear some great cheering during your ride today.” Their earlier conversation had left her hurting inside, and she didn't feel like talking about anything consequential.
Rebecca was secretly pleased that Shelby seemed to be keeping up with her schedule. “Are you going to watch?”
“I'll try, but I've got some other stuff I have to do to earn my keep around here. As you've seen, I'm not much of a bull rider.” Shelby wished she was better, if only so that Rebecca could see that she wasn't a failure in everything she did. For some reason, what the other woman thought mattered to her.
“Is there anything I can help you with?”
“No.” Shelby wanted to put a little distance between her and the woman before her. She was starting to care for Rebecca, and that's the last thing she needed right now. She purposely lit another cigarette. But the sad face she saw was her undoing. “Why don't you go get ready, and I'll try to get all my stuff done. Then I'll be able to watch, without feeling guilty, okay?”
Rebecca nodded. “That sounds good. I need to give Patches a little bit of my time, anyway. She's going to think I've deserted her in this strange place.” She took a step forward, then swallowed and turned on her heel. That was close. I almost gave her a hug. As much as Rebecca wanted to give it, she knew that it would have made Shelby extremely uncomfortable. She had to get her emotions under control, where Shelby was concerned.
Shelby watched her leave, confused by Rebecca's actions. “I wonder what that was all about?” She shrugged her shoulders and took a deep drag on her cigarette.
REBECCA'S NEXT TIME was consistent with her first, and she ended up in fifth place, right behind Therese and Jessica, who placed second and fourth, respectively. The woman who was in first, Debbie, was a local who kept to herself. She did come up to Rebecca after her ride, however.
“Nice run. I haven't seen you here before. Are you new?” Tall, with brown hair and eyes, she obviously enjoyed what she saw in Rebecca. Her swagger showed that she thought more of herself than others did. Only the lines in her face showed her true age, somewhere between thirty and forty.
The smirk on her face was almost more than Rebecca could stand. Rebecca was taking care of Patches and stopped long enough to talk. She looked over at the woman, who would be considered handsome, in her own way. She's not as pretty as Shelby. That thought startled her. Since when have I started thinking about how other women look? This rodeo is messing with my mind. “Thanks. I'm new here. But I've been doing some of the local playdays for a few years, now.”
Debbie nodded. “That's great. I love to see ‘new blood' come in. Once I retire my horse, I think I'll follow him,” she joked. “I'm Debbie, by the way.”
“Rebecca. And, for the record, I think you have plenty of years left in you,” Rebecca returned the compliment. The woman seemed friendly enough, but there was something about her that just didn't feel right to Rebecca. Maybe it was the way she looked at her, like she was the last piece of chocolate cake on the platter. Whatever it was, it made her feel extremely uncomfortable.
“Thanks. Well, I'll leave you to your grooming. If there's anything I can do to help, just let me know, okay?” Debbie left as mysteriously as she arrived, stopping to talk to others on her way out of the barn.
Rebecca turned back to Patches. “That was just strange.”
Caught off guard, Rebecca dropped her brush. “Damn, you scared me.”
“Sorry about that. I just wanted to congratulate you on another good ride.” Shelby stood nearby, her hands in the front pockets of her jeans.
“Thanks. But if I don't shed a few tenths off my time, Patches and I will be going home tomorrow.” The thought saddened Rebecca more than she thought it should. She knew the rodeo wouldn't last forever, but she wanted more time to get to know Shelby.
Shelby picked up the brush and handed it back to Rebecca. “I also came by to give you some good news. Because your event is a crowd favorite, the arena manager said they plan on taking the top six this time, instead of the usual three. So you've got a good chance.”
“Really? That's great.”
“Yep. So you just keep riding like you are, and you're a shoe-in for the finals tomorrow night.”
Rebecca could barely contain her excitement. “I think we can handle that, can't we, Patches?” She looked back over at Shelby, who seemed embarrassed. “Thanks for letting me know.”
“No problem.” Shelby coughed nervously. “I guess I'll be going. I just wanted to keep you up to date.” She turned and left, feeling Rebecca's eyes on her the whole way.
THE NIGHT PERFORMANCE went off without a hitch. Everyone kept waiting for something else to happen, and more than one performer claimed the fair grounds were cursed. Because so many of the grumblings were aimed in her direction, Shelby was in a particularly foul mood. The draw didn't go in her favor, as she drew another bull that was hard to ride. She was buckling her chaps on behind the pens when Rebecca came upon her.
“Do those actually do any good?” Rebecca asked, curious.
“I don't think so, but it looks great for the crowd. And we do anything for the crowd, don't we?” Shelby put on her spurs. The round, loosely locked rowels were harmless, but made a nice jingling noise. She was tired of drawing the impossible bulls. “For the record, I don't use these, either. But a bull's hide is seven times thicker than humans, so he wouldn't feel it even if I did.”
Rebecca shook her head. “I wasn't going to ask. I know you wouldn't purposely hurt something.”
“Do you?” Shelby started to say something else, her dark eyes glittering dangerously, but she turned and walked off to the chutes instead.
Rebecca thought about following her, but decided to wait until after Shelby's ride.
The bull in the chute wouldn't stay still, and Shelby hoped that she'd be able to stay on her required six seconds. Yes, it was less than the men's eight seconds, but that didn't make the ride any easier. She often felt that they somehow padded the draw to even it out, but she didn't have any proof.
Shelby climbed on the bull, and quickly got back up when it went wild again. She used the slats on the sides of the chute to balance on, and tried again to slowly lower herself onto the agitated animal. At least it's a muley. The hornless bull wouldn't be able to gore her, but it was still a dangerous ride.
After several tries at getting seated, Shelby was finally ready to go. With her left arm on the gate and her gloved right hand firmly holding the bull rope, Shelby nodded to the men at the gate. With a leap, the time started.
The bull, Hank's Dinner, first moved backward while simultaneously bucking to the left, for which Shelby was ready. She almost laughed at the move, until he spun quickly to the right, putting her “down in the well,” which brought her down into the vortex of the spin. Stretched as far as she could, Shelby could only hang on and not touch the bull until the buzzer, and then wait for help.
At her dismount, the crowd cheered, and she was glad that she survived, much less cover her bull. She waved with her left hand, and used her right hand to pick up her hat, feeling the pull of the strained muscles. That's going to be sore tomorrow. But it was worth it. I just hope that Rebecca saw me. Her thoughts betraying her, Shelby left the arena amid the cheers of the crowd.
THE SUCCESSFUL RIDE hadn't changed Shelby's mood much. She tried to tell herself to get over it, but knowing that Rebecca would be leaving in the next day or so depressed her more than she cared to admit. She thought about going to Patches stall and waiting for Rebecca, but decided to quit seeing the other woman. It would only hurt more when she moved on if she kept torturing herself. Shelby went outside to have a cigarette instead, not knowing that's where Rebecca would be waiting.
“There you are! I was hoping you'd come out to your old haunt,” Rebecca teased. She stepped forward into the light so that Shelby could see her.
“Here I am.” Shelby lit her cigarette and watched Rebecca closely. What does she want from me? She's had to have heard all the rumors about me by now. Plus some I don't even know.
Rebecca stepped closer and touched Shelby's right arm. “That was an incredible ride. You didn't hurt yourself, did you?”
Shelby shrugged the attention away. “I'm fine. It happens a lot in my line of business.”
Knowing a rebuff when she heard one, Rebecca tried for a safer subject. “What would you do if you weren't doing this? I mean, I know you can't ride bulls forever.”
“I guess I'd hire on as a wrangler, or something. Rodeoing is in my blood, and it's all that I know.”
“That's not true. You're good at a lot of things. Look at everything you do around here.” Rebecca offered. She shivered slightly. A weather front earlier in the day had brought nicer days, but much cooler nights. “I'm sure you could do whatever you set your mind to do.”
“Then you just don't know me that well.” Shelby started to walk away, but was stopped by a hand on her forearm. “What?”
Rebecca was confused. “I thought we were becoming friends. What's happened to you?”
“Give me a break. I've seen a hundred of you on the circuit, and the story never changes.” Shelby decided it was time for a little tough love, for both their sakes. It was already too late to keep her heart from being broken, and they were just now becoming friends. Maybe she could protect Rebecca from her own fate.
Rebecca opened her mouth to speak, but was silenced by the stormy dark eyes inches away.
“You're just a kid, probably still in your teens.” Shelby leaned in even closer, their breaths mingling in the cool night air. “You drive a small, safe sedan, probably still live at home, and had to borrow either your daddy's rig, or someone brought you in order for you to compete.”
Shelby ran a finger down the side of Rebecca's face, so tempted to give in to the desire that fueled her anger. “Kids like you are a dime a dozen on the circuit, Rebecca. They play cowboy, or cowgirl, then when the rodeo leaves their town, they go back to their safe little lives. Most of us follow the circuit, trying to make a living. We eat fast food when we can afford it and sleep in the cab of our trucks, or the bottom of someone's trailer when we're broke.” She leaned in and brutally covered Rebecca's mouth with her own, not surprised when her kiss was returned almost as rough. Hearing a noise somewhere close, she jerked back. “Go home kid, and stay the hell away from bastards like me.”
Touching her bruised lips with one hand, Rebecca watched Shelby storm off into the night.
SHELBY WENT INTO her trailer and locked the door behind her. She reached into the tiny refrigerator for a beer, opened it, and swallowed half of it before stopping to take a breath. Tossing her hat on the bed, Shelby followed it and laid back, the half empty bottle on her stomach. She felt tears burn her eyes, and for the first time since she was twelve, Shelby Fisher cried.
She remembered back to that horrible day, when she stood in her customary place to watch her father ride, with a friend of his. She also remembered the talk of the other participants, who murmured amongst themselves that Ted Fisher's drinking would kill him one day. Most of them just didn't think it would be because he was stupid enough to get on a bull while drunk.
The bull came out, much like hers did tonight, and went into a spin. Ted was too uncoordinated to handle what was happening. His hand slipped just loose enough for him to be tossed forward and onto the sharp horns. Before they could get to him, the bull tried to toss him up in the air, which gutted him more. It wasn't an easy sight for anyone, especially his daughter.
Before Shelby knew it, she was whisked off to live with her maiden aunt. The woman was kind, but she had no idea how to raise a child. Especially one as wild and unruly as Shelby.
The young girl had constantly been sent home from school for fighting, and had been suspended more than once. Shelby was always respectful to her aunt and other adults, but she never could handle being around other children her age. Their tauntings about her clothes and the way she talked was always a source of great embarrassment to her.
When Shelby turned sixteen and decided to run off to re-join the rodeo, Nadeen gave her blessing, and didn't bother to fight her. She loved Shelby enough to let her go, and just hoped that the life she craved would be what she needed to make her feel whole again.
The thought of her aunt made Shelby realize she hadn't contacted the woman in over a year. She wondered what Nadeen was doing now, and if she even missed her.
FROM THE BARN, Therese had seen the entire scene. When Rebecca rushed by her, she followed, then sat on the bale of hay that was outside Patches stall. “Are you okay?”
“I'm fine,” Rebecca sniffled, more angry with herself than anything else. “Is there something that you need?”
Therese tried to handle things another way. “I worry about you, Rebecca. You haven't been here very long, and you don't know what that woman is capable of.”
Remembering the kiss, Rebecca drew a shaky breath. I think I have a pretty good idea. Damn, but she can kiss! “Thank you, Therese, but I'm old enough to handle myself.”
“It's just that they haven't caught whoever is behind all the accidents around here.”
“Are you suggesting that Shelby is to blame?” Rebecca asked.
“Think about it.” Therese came into the stall so they wouldn't be overheard. “She argued with Natalie, and you remember what happened. The light back in the pens fell and almost hit Rob – and we both know how well they get along.” She picked up an extra brush and got on the other side of Patches, gently brushing the brown and white coat. “And don't forget about Andrea. She never gets hung up, but Shelby was assisting in the chute.”
Rebecca shook her head. “I don't believe it. Shelby is a gentle person. She'd never purposely do any of those things.”
Therese put the brush down. “Just think about it, and watch your back. You could be next.” She left as quickly as she came.
MEN'S BRONC RIDING was the final event, and several of the men were milling around waiting for it to begin. Shelby came in to join them, and to observe. She had drunk three beers, and was more than a little relaxed. She stumbled, which caused several of them to laugh.
“Hey there, Fisher. You taking up where your old man left off?” Rob yelled, from his perch. He could see Shelby's unsteady walk, and couldn't resist the chance to get in a dig at her expense.
“Actually, I came by after my second place ride to watch you fall on your arrogant face.” Shelby joined several other riders on another piece of the pipe fencing.
Rob wasn't deterred. “They only gave you second place because they felt sorry for your pitiful ass.” He saw several women walk in from the barns. “Hey, isn't that your latest ‘distraction'?”
Shelby ignored him, but she could see out of the corner of her eye that Rebecca had heard him, also. “Shut up, Rob.”
“You must really be bored, because she's not your usual type. But, then again, the pickings have been small this year.” Rob was really proud of how angry he was making Shelby.
“You'd know all about ‘small things,' wouldn't you?” Shelby asked, and several of the men around them laughed.
“Fuck off, Fisher.” Rob gathered his gear and readied for his ride.
From where she and Paula were, Rebecca heard the entire conversation. She was still upset about the kiss, and the fact that Shelby seemed to have written off what she hoped was a budding friendship. Once they were back in the barns, she stopped Paula. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure. What's up?”
“I've heard some nasty rumors about Shelby.”
Paula was wondering when Rebecca would ask these questions of her. “What kind of rumors?”
“Someone seems to think that she could be behind all the accidents around here. Do you think so?” Rebecca didn't know why she was so insistent on knowing, but something told her she had to find out the truth.
“Shelby?” Paula thought about the question for several minutes while they walked back to where their horses were. “I don't think so, but then again, I only see her a few times a year. For all I know, she could be off killing kittens the rest of the time.”
Rebecca couldn't help but laugh. “That's a bit harsh, isn't it?”
“It got you to quit being so blasted serious.” Paula took Rebecca by the arm and led her to the women's restroom. “What's brought on this kind of talk?”
“I just wanted to know, that's all.”
“Bull. There's more to it than that. Spill it.” Paula leaned up against the closed bathroom door to keep the room to themselves. When Rebecca turned away from her and started checking herself in the bathroom mirror, Paula's eyes widened. “You haven't.”
Rebecca continued to fluff at her hair, pulling it from its ponytail and then tying it back up. “What?”
“Don't tell me you've gone and fallen for her. Oh honey, no.”
“No, of course not. I was just curious.”
Paula walked over to the mirrors and stood in front of Rebecca. “She's not a bad person, but you're just looking at getting hurt.”
The door opened, and Debbie and another woman walked in. “Hey girls. Imagine meeting you here,” Debbie voiced. She looked at Rebecca. “Are you okay? You look a bit out of it.”
“I'm fine, thank you.” Rebecca stepped away from the sink area and moved past Debbie. “Good luck on your next ride.”
“You, too.” Debbie's eyes followed Rebecca and Paula, and a thoughtful look crossed her face.
To be continued in Part 2.
Return to the Academy