He Found Me(5)

By: Whitney Barbetti

Though it was still early in the day, the heat was strong and with no trees to provide shade, the back of my neck was starting to collect sweat. I bent over at the waist and pulled my long, chestnut-colored hair into a messy bun on top of my head.

Just as I started running a soapy sponge along the fence, I heard Rosa call from the porch. “Annie, do you not understand the definition of a break?”

She knew how to make me laugh. I turned towards her and shielded my eyes from the sun so I could see her, knowing full well her hands would be on her hips. “Apparently not!” I called back.

She meandered her way down the steps. Her limp was still present as she made her way towards me, though it didn’t take any power from her walk. Rosa was in her fifties, short and fit, and the most resilient woman I knew. She’d inherited the ranch from her father and had kept it running like a queen residing over her kingdom. But this queen didn’t wear gowns and often spent time cleaning up horse shit. Her black hair hung in a bob to her shoulders, though the top half was pulled back in a style that was entirely functional. Around her neck was a tied handkerchief, something I should have thought to grab myself.

“Get your skinny butt back in there and fiddle with some numbers. I want projections for next month. I have had three inquiries for boarding and I think I need to add more stalls to the barn.” The reason Rosa and I worked so well is that we both knew how to be brief. We didn’t waste time explaining our thought process because half the time, we practically read each other’s minds.

“I’ll get to it after I finish this section. I want to finish it before noon, so it has time to dry in the sun.”

Rosa allowed me a small smile before swinging an arm around my shoulders. “You’re my favorite, you know that?” She laughed and glanced towards the barn, where her ranch hands were taking care of the boarded horses. Rosa oversaw the operations of the ranch, but I was the only one she worked closely with.

“You mean Farley has been demoted?” I laughed, and gestured to where Farley was currently mowing the area around the pond, down the hill from the house. He was zigzagging across the area adjacent to the beach. He kept glancing all around him, the look of “oops” clearly written across his face.

Rosa sighed. Farley, while clearly inexperienced, was a sweet kid and eager to learn. He’d get there, and we both knew it. “That mess is my fault. He needs to be trained. I need to get around to doing that at some point, but for now I ‘spose we’ll just pretend the zigzags are on purpose.”

“I had that on my mental list. To train him, that is. I can do it this weekend before that family reunion       pulls in for a week next weekend.”

“I completely forgot all about that. We’ll have to get the arena ready for them too.”

We both glanced to the fenced arena past the barn. “That’s why I started on the fence. And Dylan knows. He’s going to work on the arena after the rain we’re expecting tonight. I reminded him to wear a mask, too.” Dylan was one of the ranch hands who helped the most in the arena when we had tourists come through.

Rosa’s ranch also boarded horses whose owners couldn’t properly house and care for them themselves. The big house served as a bed and breakfast, with outlying cabins that came in handy when a large party like the family reunion       rolled through. I lived in one of the cabins. Most of the ranch hands lived nearby, but Dylan was the only one who also lived in one of the cabins, which was convenient if the horses got out, or if any wild animals ventured onto the property. The inconvenient part about him living a few cabins down from me was that he was a former one-night stand of mine. Though truthfully, it wasn’t all that awkward now, as a deep friendship had grown from that experience.

When I first came to Rosa six years earlier, I behaved a little recklessly. Six had kept me on lockdown for five months until things died down a little. After he’d procured enough documentation for me to live freely under my new, chosen name, Andra Walker, he sat me down and told me he was going to send me to stay with his mother’s friend, Rosa. I knew Six had to get on with his life, and I needed to get on with my own, so he sent me here for employment and a place to live. For a foundation. And, I think he knew I needed a babysitter.

It took me a week before I’d set my sights on Dylan. I know how it sounds. I needed to experience something consensual. I wanted power, I wanted the choice. Call it what you will, but I needed to move forward in all aspects of my life.

Unfortunately, I didn’t make my intentions clear to Dylan before the night I followed him into his cabin. I was a “one and done” sort of girl. That night was the beginning and end of our sexual relationship.

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