Taylor moved into our small high school at the end of her sophomore year. The students accepted her though I doubt it’s easy to break into a small group of students who have been together since Kindergarten. At the beginning of her junior year, she had made the cheerleading squad and was dating the son of a local rancher who is a standout athlete. She came to me to talk about college and not being a townie. She devoured the books I suggested to her and made excellent grades. As football season neared its end and chilly weather covered eastern Colorado, Taylor seemed to withdraw from her friends and looked increasingly tired.
It’s easy to be famous nightly when you rodeo for a living. Every small town you roll through looks similar and people turn and pause and look as you pass by, diesel engine whining, to catch a glimpse of which cowboy is behind the tinted truck windows. Travis had been famous nightly in the professional ranks since he was in college. He pulled into a café in a plains town without much thought. He stepped out of the truck and as he strained to straighten, his back and knees reminded him that he had been rodeoing for a living for 20 years and countless miles. He limped a little and the glass door dinged as he entered the café and took a seat, he and his hauling partner had time to kill before that night’s performance.
When Grady finished the morning’s cattle work and returned to town with an empty stock trailer, Drew sat in the backseat fighting off sleep and happily covered with dirt. Drew sat up straight in his seat when they passed through town and by the café and he caught a glimpse of the flashy aluminum horse trailer with Oklahoma tags.
“Grady, look!,” Drew was glued to the window, watching the trailer disappear. “That looks like my dad’s rig! Over there! I bet he’ll come see me!”
Drew continued to watch the trailer as Grady rolled through town. At home, my phone was silent.
That evening Drew and I drove to the ranch for dinner, Drew sitting shotgun trying to balance a complicated dessert on his lap. His football was rolling around in the back of the car and the evidence of his earlier cattle work was smeared across his face and under his fingernails. We rattled over the cattle guard and pulled into the yard in front of a cloud of dust. Grady was still in the feed truck and he stopped long enough for Drew to clamber into Grady’s lap to offer his driving help. I took the dessert in the house and then flopped into a chair on the porch. The auger in the feed truck was running and the dust from the feed was blowing back toward the truck. The cattle in the lots were milling in front of the bunks and I could hear the truck horn from time to time, undoubtedly courtesy of Drew. Wes’s truck rolled to a stop in the yard and he joined me on the porch.
“Your boy was a big help this morning,” I wasn’t sure if he was serious or not knowing how helpful Drew could be sometimes. “Boy, he just does what Grady tells him to and he listens real good.”
“Well, he sure enjoys helping,” I said. “I appreciate you taking him with you.”
“When we were on our way home, he thought he saw his dad’s trailer in town at the café,” he said and I tried not to let my surprise show. “Is he in town for some rodeos?”
Taylor’s shoe was rubbing a blister on her foot and she was trying to relieve the pain and still walk into church without slipping on the steps. She followed her mother and older brother into the church where her father served as pastor. He had been called there almost a year ago and Taylor found herself in yet another small town fish bowl as a preacher’s kid. Her parents were strict and didn’t know that her brother drank beer on Friday nights after football games and that she wore makeup she applied in the bathroom at the high school. She was feeling sick in the mornings and knew that she would soon be forced to reveal her pregnancy to her parents. Today, however, was not the day.
When she told her boyfriend, they shared a sense of panic and uncertainty. Both seniors, he was slated to play ball for a junior college north of their hometown and she planned to enroll there as well. The pregnancy threatened to change their plans but at that point, they weren’t sure how. They hadn’t been careless the first time they had slept together and he never suggested that he would not support whatever decision she might arrive at.