The Cowboy that Got Away by Patty Flook

By eleven o’clock we were at the auction, and it was busier than I remember. I held Avery close, so she didn’t get swept away in the crowd, or stepped on by a bull. Wes was with my brother divvying out the cattle, Avery and I were standing back watching. She was in a daze looking at all the cows walking out of the trailer; sometimes I forget this is all new to her.

The cows were stressed and getting restless from the long drive and now the chaos here. A couple of cowboys had to be called over to help with the unloading. Figures my brother didn’t bring enough help. At least we were early bringing the cattle otherwise this would have been a mess.

As the men started shouting, the cows matched their volume. Metal clashing began ringing out from the gates. Colton was starting to get angry, noticeably too. Avery was getting nervous and so was I, so we went inside the auction house to walk through the sale barn. To her, this was probably like the fair; animals in wooden pens, hay and straw everywhere, people walking around. It didn’t bother her though, she only wanted to see the animals, maybe pet a few.

Avery was drawn to the horses as soon as she spotted one. I had to chuckle knowing where this was going. “Mommy, Mommy look at this one!”

When I was younger, I used to walk these same aisles with my father. We would always come to the sale Saturday night, so when we purchased horses on Sunday, we knew who we wanted and how much to bring.

“Mommy, what’s wrong with this one?” We were stopped in front of a smaller horse, who seemed a bit underweight. I was surprised she noticed something was wrong, I had to look at him to see it. She climbed up the fence, standing on the middle plank to get a better look at the horse. She reached out for it like you would a dog and got upset when it didn’t come forward.

“Avery say nice things, the horse can hear you!”

“The horse can hear me?” I nodded and she giggled.

I clicked my tongue and encouraged the horse over while looking for some sort of identification sign. Avery giggled and tried to click her tongue as the horse slowly trotted over. It seemed to have some trouble walking which was odd. The horse cautiously watched Avery and me before it came closer.

“My daddy always told me horses can tell if you’re a good person or not. They may not be able to talk to you, but they can sense you. If you are scared, mean, or happy. Whether you’re here to be friendly or not.”

“Hold your hand out like this, so it can meet you.” I watched my daughter do as I say, and the horse sniffed the back of her hand. She flipped her hand around and started to pet the soft muzzle of the horse. 

“You know who that reminds me of?” I jumped at the voice, only to find Wes standing beside me.

I shook my head and smiled. It was nice he kept those memories of me. He threw his arm around my shoulders which made me tense for a second. We walked around the side of the pen; I could see the joy in Avery’s eyes.

“I can remember a time where every month there would be a new horse in the barn, with you right in the stall with it. One like this paint; needing a bit of TLC.”

From the side where I was standing with Wes, I could see the overgrowth of its hooves and the ribs along its side.

“What’s a paint?” Avery was still petting the horse. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say she wanted to take him home. Wes let go of me and walked up beside my daughter, lightly petting the horse’s forehead.

“It’s a type of horse. This is an American Paint, a pretty one too. Such a shame he is in bad shape.”

“He? How do you know it’s a boy?” Wes turned and looked at me with a grin, I rolled my eyes. This is not the time or place. He shook his head and kissed Avery on the head before walking away. He was good with Avery, and I appreciated it. It’s going to break her heart when we must leave.

“His name is Trigger.”

“Trigger? How do you know?

“He told me.”

“Well, say bye to Trigger, we need to go get some lunch and find a seat.”

As we walked to the parking lot Avery went on and on about the horse. I could only think about Wes. There was something about him today, he has been more… present. Since I moved in, he has given me my space, so why is he getting close now? I was broken from my thoughts when Avery let go of my hand and ran. I panicked for a second before I saw she was running to Wes and Colton. Colton’s distaste was enough for me to take my daughter and walk the other way, but she was with Wes, so I endured.

After we got our greasy food from a burger joint down the street, we found a picnic table to sit at outside the auction house. The auction starts in about an hour or two, so I imagine Colton was waiting for a call.

“So, I heard you found yourself a project.” Colton didn’t seem interested at all. I could tell he was trying to make conversation.

“Yeah, Avery found him. She likes him.”

“The Horse?” Avery cut in, “His name is Trigger!” Wes smiled and Colton frowned, Wes started to talk to Avery about Trigger and my brother just starred me down.

“No, you can’t bring another horse to the barn.”

“I wasn’t asking to.”

“Good, we have no room to make any more exceptions.” His emphasis on ‘exceptions’ made me stop eating.

“Colton, I’m not here to start a fight. But if you’re trying to insinuate something, your better off just saying it to my face. I’m trying to enjoy a day out with my family.”

“People have been asking questions about your family. All day I’ve had people coming up to me asking who that is with you.”

“And? Is it a terrible thing that you have a niece?”

“Chey, you’re twenty-three now. When you disappeared, you were seventeen and pregnant, people are asking questions, questions I’m tired of answering.”

“So, stop answering. I was damned whether I had her or not. But it doesn’t affect you that I choose to have my daughter. Maybe you would understand if you were in my shoes.”

“I am affected because you ruined the reputation of our family! You don’t even know who the father is!” I just laughed and stood up with Avery grabbing her food. If he wants to try this in public that’s fine; we have avoided the conversation since I moved in again.

“You want to do this here and now? You know, our father never knew; what makes you so entitled to know? In fact, whether he liked my situation or not he would have found it in his heart to accept her. Why can’t you?”

“I’m the only family you have left, as well as you live in my house. You both do.” I turned and looked at Wes, the poor man stood there lost. I know he has been dying to know who the father was since I left.

“Wes, can I drive your truck home?” He just nodded and threw me his keys. I walked off with Avery to find his truck. I heard my brother say something, but I couldn’t be bothered to listen. I think Wes had enough as well.

I heard him chase after us, but I wasn’t stopping for anyone. When he finally caught up, I couldn’t stop the lone tear from falling. He pulled me into a hug and picked up Avery. He walked me to his truck in silence, but it was comforting. At the truck, he buckled Avery up and whispered something to her which made her smile. At least she could forget about what just happened. When he came around the truck to me, he pulled me into a hug.

“Chey, it’s been six years since you left. Don’t leave again.”

“Why shouldn’t I? He hates her and me.”

“Stay for me.”

“What?” At this point, I was ready to cry and run away. I felt like that seventeen-year-old all over again. Cornered and alone. I step away from Wes to look at him, he was serious.

“Move in with me, stay with me. I’m not losing you again.”

“Why do you want me to stay so bad? No one else wants me, us, around.”

“Because the day I lost you, is the day I lost my child too. She doesn’t even know I’m her father, does she?” He paused for a moment; I couldn’t find the words to say I’m sorry. “I’m not mad, I saw how your father reacted when you told him. I just didn’t piece it together till you came back. It’s been six years since you left, six years since you and me.”

I could only look at him, by now we were mere inches apart. He leaned down to kiss me and I gave in.

“Stay for me, please.”

“I will.”

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