Nettie brushed the dust from her shiny black boots, stretched her shoulders in the unusually warm early spring sunshine, and breathed in the familiar animal sweat aroma. I’ll ride this steer, show Mama how good I am. She could already hear the crowd’s cheers in her head and saw herself accepting a Top Cowgirl trophy. I will be a star, maybe even the next Marie Gibson.
She turned to Jake. “Well, Mr. Moser, how about giving your bride a hand?”
Jake grinned. “Well, Mrs. Moser, I’d be delighted.” He helped Nettie steady herself as she climbed down from the top of the chute onto the bare back of the big red steer. She snugged her hand under the surcingle rope, feeling the animal’s muscles tense beneath her as it kicked against the fence.
Jake squeezed her shoulder. “Ready?”
Nettie took a deep breath. She tightened her knees and nodded. Here you go, Mrs. Moser. She almost giggled. Funny how she still couldn’t get used to her new name even after three months.
The steer crashed through the gate, bellowing a protest at its burden. Nettie leaned back as the big animal kicked its hind legs toward the sky. Gotta find the rhythm. The steer twisted and leapt. Nettie’s body snapped forward and back and flopped side to side. Every jump jolted her from her tailbone to her teeth. She fought to gain her seat on the back of this nearly half-ton of muscle and bone, hearing yells from the Model Ts parked around the corral. Where is my rhythm? The arena whirled around her. Choking dust rose from the ground.
Nettie opened her eyes and saw nothing but blue sky.
Jake leaned over her. “Honey, talk to me. You all right?”
She blinked, wiggled her toes, clenched and unclenched her fingers. “Uh, yeah. How’d I get here?”
Jake smoothed hair back from her face. “Well, little gal, I’m sorry to say, you got bucked off.”
“Oh, fiddlesticks.” Nettie let out an exasperated sigh. She accepted a hand up, dusted herself off, and retrieved her hat. Why did she have to fail today, of all days, when her mother was here watching? Nettie gave herself a mental slap. I was daydreaming. I wasn’t focused on the ride. She tried not to limp as she exited the corral, rubbing her bruised hip and bemoaning her bruised ego.