“I knew I had to quit one day when I was working the ER,” she says softly. “It was early in the morning. A couple came in, young, with a little boy. He was maybe four months old, just a little baby.” She’s quiet for a second. “He was having an allergic reaction. Bright red, all blown up. They wanted to give him an IV but those little baby veins are so tiny. Anyway, they tried and tried but the baby was screaming, nearly passed out. I had to step in and do it, just barely found a fucking vein. In the end, they didn’t need the IV at all, just gave him steroids and he improved.”

She clears her throat and lets out a sigh. “That’s not the part that got me really. I mean, that stuff happens. We caused pain at that hospital all the time because we meant well but people are imperfect. What got me was what one of the nurses said afterward.”

“What did she say?” I ask her softly.

“She said to me, ‘Doctor, wow, that baby really did scream. Think he was being dramatic or what?’ I honestly couldn’t believe she said it. I mean, a baby being dramatic? With a needle in its arm, screaming in pain? I realized just how jaded you get, just how far down that path you can go to the point where people are barely people anymore, just patients that need fixing.”

I watch her carefully and part of her story rings true to me. I know what it’s like to wake up one day and realize you’re not the person you want to be and if you keep going down the road you’re on, it’ll only get worse.

“I didn’t leave right away,” she continues, speaking softly. “Other stuff happened. Other bad stuff I don’t want to talk about. But that was the first time I realized what was happening all around me.”

I step into the stall. She’s blinking a tear away so I pull her against me and hug her tight. I hold her like that for a little while, standing in Dodger’s stall, the horse breathing slowly and ragged next to us.

“Anyway,” she says, breaking away. “It’s not easy to change your whole life.”

“No,” I agree, “it’s really not. Although it helps when you have a lot of money.”

She laughs at that. “I bet it does.”

I linger there next to her, feeling the heat of her body close to mine. I feel so strangely comfortable and happy in this little space, this dirty little stall with my old horse and my new girl.

“Listen, you should take a break today,” I say softly. “I can monitor Dodger if you need someone here. Go out with the cowgirls, Violet and Tina.”

“Yeah?” she asks, raising an eyebrow.

“Sure. I bet they’d love it.”

“I don’t know. You’re just trying to get me to work your damn ranch.”

I laugh at that. “Nah, they won’t make you do any work. But they’ll show you a thing or two about living out here, if you want.”

She nods a little at that. “Okay. I think I’d like it.”

“Good. I’ll tell them to swing past later today.”

“What are you busy with?”

“Oh, you know me.” I step out of the stall, almost wrenching myself away. I could stay here all fucking morning and talk to this girl about our lives, but I know I’ve gotta work. I’ve been spending too much time away. “Just maintaining this enormous damn ranch, is all.”

“Sounds like a blast.”

“I’ll come find you later, too.”

“Okay.”

“And listen. I’m sorry about all that. I really was trying to help.”

“I know you were. Just, don’t next time, okay?”

“Hell, girl, if you think I’m gonna get involved again then you must think I’m a very dumb man.”

I laugh and grin at her. For a second, I want to kiss her, but I hold back.

I give her a nod and pull myself away. I’ve got work to do, even if all I want is to linger by this stall and flirt with this gorgeous fucking girl.

11

Holly

Just like he said they would, Tina and Violet swing past around noon and take me out with them for a few hours. I get my own ATV and I ride with the girls, watching them work and listening to their advice.

It’s surprisingly fun. I thought it would be just more work but they don’t make me do anything. Mostly we ride around the cattle, checking them out, herding them where they need to go, and watching the land.

“It’s a boring job, mostly,” Tina says to me as Violet checks on a nearby pregnant cow. “We ride around and get all muddy and shit then go back to the ranch and shower. That’s about it.”

“Sounds like a dream.”

Violet makes a face. “If you’re into that.”

“Come on. You two are cowgirls. I mean, that’s cool, right?”


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