This story is by Linda J. Newlin and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The bell chimed, announcing the young man’s entrance to the eclectic arts and crafts shop. The Pagosa Springs shop, replete with handcrafted consignment items and clothing for the well-dressed hippie, was no stranger to his kind. Clair glanced up, over her reading glasses, from the computer screen. Her first analysis, another twenty something, consignment prospect. Typical for the area, he donned blue jeans, a well worn tee-shirt, thinning sandy blond hair, and muscular arms covered in tattoos. A fad that Clair could no without, that and those damn saggy pants. At least, he did not wear those, she thought; one point in his favor.
Hesitantly, he approached the counter, “Excuse me, Ma’am,” as politely as he could muster, “I’m looking for a C. Carlson.”
Clair expressed amusement, which confused him a bit, “There’s a few of us here. Would you mind telling me what this is about?” He fumbled with a newspaper clipping and Clair realized the reason for his visit. “Oh, you are here to apply for the ranch hand. You want to talk to Corrine. I’ll give her a call. What’s your name?”
He blurted out, “Bucky,” but when Clair grimaced, he added, “but my given name is James Bucknell, Bucky to my friends.”
Corrine burst into the store like a whirlwind, smelling of horse, with her daughter Shiloh trailing close behind her. She was a small, muscular woman in her early thirties. Her light brown hair pulled back off her face which diminished her beauty. She was all business, all the time. The love of her life died in Iraq before they could marry. Her daughter, who her fiancé never had the privilege to see, was now ten. Raising Shiloh, going to veterinary school and tending the ranch took up all of her time.
Shiloh hugged her memaw and whispered in her ear, “Any sweets in the back?” A gentle smile crossed Clair’s face, “You know where they are.” With that, Shiloh disappeared.
Corrine conducted the interview at the local coffee shop, away from prying ears. Within minutes, she was back. “Mom, I need you to watch Shiloh, I’m not sure I like him. He seems rather brash and he thinks if he flirts with me it will somehow put him in my good graces.” Exasperation animated her face and Clair rolled her eyes while Corrine rattled on. “I want to bring him to the house to see how he is with the horses. I know I can’t be too choosy. Not many people will work for room and board and the pittance I can pay.”
“You do what you need to do,” Clair mused, “we’ll be fine. We’re making butterflies for the window.”
Bucky’s room, above the stables, held a bed, side table, an overstuffed chair, an antique TV and sporadic internet. One plus, the room had a splendid view of rolling fields and an Aspen grove. Bucky did not care, it would be a year away from his Dad and the drudgery of school. His surfer looks betrayed his intelligence. He had finished up college at the top of his class with a law degree. He even passed the bar his very first try, a feat not even his father could boast. The last thing he wanted was to dive into corporate law at his father’s firm. Bucky enjoyed the hard work and found he was a competent handyman, mending fences, cleaning stables and brushing down the horses. This calloused hand city boy did all right as a ranch hand or so he thought.
Dinner at the main house was usually filled with laughter and Shiloh’s constant chatter. This particular night became tense and fraught with Corrine’s nit picking.
Clair had had enough. “Corrine Carlson, all you have done this past week is criticized Bucky. Does no-one live up to your standards? Good Lord child, you need him here so you can get on with your studies.”
Red faced with frustration, Corrine spewed, “That’s just it Mom, they turned me down for my school loans. If I can’t figure this out, there will be no studies. Dad’s insurance covered you and this house but I’m on my own with schooling. I…I just don’t know where to turn!”
Bucky’s eyes lit up. “Hey,” he interjected, “if you are done pinching my head off and can give me internet access, I think I might be able to help. I’ve helped a lot of my law buddies get grants, not loans to pay for school. I mean, it’s just a thought.”
Corrine was about to take another pound of flesh when Clair gently placed her hand on Corrine’s arm and calmly said. “I think that’s a fine idea. You can use my computer in Rob’s old study.”
The next few days, Corrine had to work side by side with Bucky, while he dragged information out of her to properly word the requests. At one point, Clair even thought she heard laughter coming from the study. Even sweet little Shiloh raised her eyebrows and smirked at the sound.
Responses were mixed with, not at this time, a hundred dollars here and there, then a large offer came in from a man whose son had died tragically. A veterinary scholarship had been set up as a memorial to his son. His son’s unfulfilled dream would now complete Corrine’s. When Bucky showed her the email, Corrine grabbed him and they danced around the room. Bucky cupped his hands on her face, and for just a moment she thought he was going to kiss her.
“Congratulations!” he said sweetly.
Life ushered in a definite upturn after the grants were secured. The usual frosty Corrine became amenable to Bucky’s teasing and subtle flirtation. The ranch was secluded from neighbors where they would go riding through the Aspens or just walk the expansive grounds, talking about anything and everything. A genuine friendship bloomed and flourished.
The leaves of the Aspen turned bright yellow, promising relief from the hot summer days. September meant Shiloh and Corrine’s school began and Clair was away at the shop most days. Bucky thought the silence would drive him crazy. As time went on, he found a profound peace working the ranch. After school, Shiloh would beeline to wherever Bucky was working, talking his ear off while helping him with his chores. The description of babysitter was not part of his job but he truly enjoyed this bubbly little girl.
Weekends became date night via FaceTime. In order to hide how dog tired she was most of the time, Corrine put on mascara and a little lipstick. Since the calls were in the evening, Shiloh spoke first, at length, about everything. As much as they both loved the little munchkin, they cherished their alone time, talking until sleep beckoned.
Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year came and went. Bucky chose to stay on the ranch rather than go home. Every time he talked to his father, it became a heated argument. So, home for the holidays was not an option. Spring break arrived and so did Corrine, her brother Ross, his wife and two girls. The house was brimming with little girls talking, giggling and just being silly.
A cornucopia of food splayed the dining room table. Everyone talking over each other, a lively banter which drowned out the sound of Bucky’s phone.
Shiloh leaned in and reached into Bucky’s jacket pocket to steal his phone to play a game he installed for her. She immediately let go and nudged him, “Your phone’s buzzin.”
He glanced down and saw the call was from his father and declined it. Immediately, it rang back. This time it was his sister. Amy never called. It had to be bad news. He went to Rob’s office for privacy and returned with a grim expression on his face.
“My mom is in the hospital and I have to leave right away.”
Panicked, Corrine asked, “Are you coming back?”
“I don’t know. At any rate, I may be awhile.”
The old Wrangler was almost ready for the trip. Corrine gripped his last suitcase.
“Come back.” That was all she could say.
“What are you saying? You’ll miss me?” A sly grin crossed his face.
“Shiloh will miss you.”
“And you, will you miss me?” More seriously this time.
“More than you know. What I am saying, is I want you to stay here with us. You can practice law anywhere.” Corrine pleaded, but Bucky interrupted her by cupping her face in his hands. A tear fell down her cheek. “Well, now that I have a reason to return…yeah, I’ll come back. Father be damned, I’ll come back.”
He kissed her softly, then held her close enough to feel her heart beat against his chest.
The taillights became tiny spots of red as the car disappeared down the main road. Shiloh came up to Corrine and took her hand.
“I like him mama.”
“Me too, angel, me too!”