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Jesse double checked her saddle bags to make sure she had everything she needed. Small vet kit in case she needed to doctor a cow, check. The little medical kit, check. Box of ammo for the rifle, check. Fencing pliers and a few staples, check. Lunch, check.
She slid the Henry into the scabbard and remembered the day that Dad had sat at the table with Jesse and both her brothers to put together the vet and medical kits. He had explained how they needed to keep it light and have the most necessary things at the same time. How they should always carry these things in their saddle bags even if just out for a short ride.
As she lead Easy out of the barn and mounted, she also remembered the many lessons they had over the years in regards to firearms. Lots of target practice and safety instructions. She realized that their father had taught them a lot about a great many important things over the years. Things that had equipped them well for ranch life and life in general.
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The sun was just beginning to show itself as Jesse Lee rode out across the field. She looked down at Jax along side. The Border Collie was always happy to go and he might be needed.
She felt both nervous and excited about the day. She would meet Avon down by Dawn coulee in less than half an hour. The Star Fire ranch bordered the coulee at the far end and he said he was familiar with it.
The many warnings to stay away from Avon rolled thru her mind. Again she was frustrated that no one offered an explanation with their warning. Why? He had been a perfect gentleman at the barn dance. The memories of that night were still vivid. She hoped she possessed more composure today and yes, she would be a bit wary as Dee had warned her to be.
Easy snorted and his ears perked. She had reached the coulee and saw a rider coming. She reined in her horse and watched him riding toward her. He was on a big sorrel and there was no doubt of his skill on a horse. He rode at an easy trot, one with the horse under him.
Jesse stepped down to remove her heavy jacket. Avon pulled up with a big smile and a “good morning.” .. He stepped down a moment as well, to adjust a spur.
They exchanged pleasantries and mounted back up. “That’s a nice mare.” Jesse started. “She is headed to her new home on Saturday. Boss thought a good workout today was a good idea. We don’t want any surprises for the new owner.” Avon answered.
They chatted about horses as they rode in the direction of the mountains. Jesse learned that he had rode in Indian Relay while growing up. You had to have some real skill to jump from the ground up on those excited ponies and then race to the next one and next. Each time jumping off and on. Jesse had been to a couple of the Indian Relay races. Those guys could ride bareback better than most rode with a saddle.
Jesse relaxed a bit more. She found Avon very easy to talk to. His voice was almost soothing. He asked about the upper pasture they were going to and she explained how it sat in a nice range higher than where they were, but not all the way up in the high country. It was the perfect summer grazing area and the distance from their ranch made it an easy days ride.
They reached the gate and before Jesse could step down, Avon was down and to it. Jesse pointed off to the left. “We will work around from this direction. It’s the hardest part due to having the most timber and there is a gate to check. People come up from Trotting now and then and sometimes a gate gets thrown open…. Well, you know how it goes.” she grinned. “Oh you bet.” Avon replied. “I ride a lot of the Star Fire ranch while working some of the horses. You never know when you might find a gate open. Mostly folks are good thou.”
They rode along quiet for a bit as they started into the timber. Jax let out a low growl and Jesse pulled up sharp. Before Avon could draw up he heard a shot and saw the cat drop. Even thru the timber they had both seen what the dog spotted. Mountain lion on a dead calf.
“DAMN”.. Jesse said as she moved her horse in the direction of the mess. “Damn is right, damn good shooting.” Avon replied. “How did you get that rifle out of that scabbard so fast?” Jesse laughed, but she was far from happy and she knew her father would not be either.
“Not much to do here. I guess the coyotes will clean it up. But I better get a couple of pictures for Dad.” Jesse said as she swung down off Easy and pulled her phone out. Jax was still growling, and he moved closer to Jesse as she neared the kill. Avon dismounted as well and came closer. “That had to be just minutes ago and that is one big cat. Looks like an old male.” “Yes, lucky we caught him. Usually they bolt and disappear before we get close.” Jesse went on. “We lost one calf last year and two the year before.” she frowned.
Jesse cut the ear tag out and took photos of the calf and the cat. They mounted back up and moved out. Mama was coming this way now. Jesse knew she would bawl for a time but not linger in the area long due to the smell of the cat.
They rode some fence, checked the west gate and found their way to the little lake. “Good place for lunch?” Jesse looked at Avon. “Looks perfect.” he answered. They tied the horses, loosened the cinches and pulled their lunches from their bags. A couple minutes later they took a seat by the lake shore.
“This is a beautiful place Jesse.” Avon noted. “Yes, one of my favorite spots. It’s so peaceful up here.” Suddenly Jesse thought about showing Avon the photo of the women she had on her phone. She was not sure why but she felt she could trust him to keep it to himself.
She pulled her phone out and scrolled to the picture she had taken in Dads office of the woman on the horse. “Wonder if you might know anything about this woman?” she said as she handed the phone to him. Has hand brushed hers as he took it and Jesse felt that same warmth that she felt when they had danced. Don’t start, she said to herself. She did not want to become flustered again.
“This picture looks to be an older one.….. No, she doesn’t look familiar.” He widened the screen and looked again. “She is Native thou…. If you want, I can show it to my Grandmother. She would know if this was a local woman.” he finished. Jesse mulled that over a moment. “Well maybe… I just don’t want word to get out. My Dad would be furious ……….. ” she trailed off. She had said more than she should have.
Avon grinned at her. “Were you poking around where you should not have been?” Jesse flushed with embarrassment. “Yes, I suppose I was.” “My Grandmother is an honorable woman. If I ask her not to speak of it, she will not. But, she might want to know — why you want to know. ” Avon said, looking at Jesse quizzically.
Before Jesse gave it thought, she spilled the whole story to him. From the gossip she heard the last day of school, her suspicions and questions, about who her parents might be, finding the photo, and how Dee and her had been on a mission to find out, and lastly, finding the marriage certificate. She only left out the warnings she had got to stay away from him.
Jesse had shocked herself by letting it all out. And it appeared it may have shocked Avon as well. He looked at her with questions in his eyes as he sat quiet for a few minutes. “Oh my gosh, I am so sorry Avon. I don’t know why I dumped that all out there like that… I …. I …….. ” “It’s Ok Jesse.. Seems like this is really eating on you and I can tell it’s been stressing you out. I understand that.” Avon started.. and continued……. “Tell you what, if you want, I would be willing to help out if I can.” He reached over and put an arm around Jesse’s shoulders. She almost broke down. Almost!
“You would?”… she touched his arm. “I don’t want to cause you any problems. I just want to find out the truth and get this over with, … but…. my parents cannot find out. Dee is the only person I have confided in.” “Then mum’s the word.” He smiled as he tried to lighten her mood. He gave her his cell number and told her to send the photo to his phone. He would show it to his Grandmother next time he saw her. “Thank you.” Jesse nodded. “Now, we better get back to business.” she smiled a little.
The rest of the afternoon went by without any issues. Cattle all looked well, the calves were big and healthy. No fence work needed and the weather was great.
As they rode Avon had disclosed some of his sorted youth of bouncing back and forth between his mother and Grandmother. He told her there had been a short time when he was not sure who his father was. “That’s why I said I could relate. ” he mentioned.
They got back to Dawn coulee and Jesse did not want to part ways. Other than the dead calf, it had been a perfect day. She felt very comfortable with Avon and it seemed he with her. They reined up along side each other.
“Guess I better get back to the ranch.” Avon started. “I think this mare is good to go………. Um.. Can I call you?” he asked. Jesse looked at him and smiled. “Yes, I would like that.” Before she knew it he reached over, pulled her to him and kissed her. It was a gentle kiss and short. He smiled. “Talk to you soon.” and he rode off.
She watched him ride away until he was out of sight. The kiss was a surprise. The only thing she wished was that it has lasted longer. She turned Easy towards home. She would be there in time for supper.
She washed up and helped her mother set the table. Jesse could still feel some tension – but, at least she was talking to her.
During dinner, she filled them in about the loss of the calf and showed Dad the photos she took. He was not one to heap praise but she could see the approval in his eyes. Thomas looked at the photos. “Good shot there Jesse Lee. You were lucky to even get one off. They are usually gone so fast.” he said with excitement. “I know…. we were lucky to catch him.” she answered………. “WE ?? “” her mother looked up. Jesse thought fast. “Yes, me and Jax. That dog let out a growl and that alerted me. It all happened so fast.”
After supper Jesse headed up to her room. She had to call Dee. She also let out a sign of relief. She nearly messed up with the ((we)) thing. Thank goodness for Jax. She felt a bit guilty for keeping the fact that Avon was along.. but she hadn’t lied.
She filled Dee in on finding the marriage certificate and her day with Avon. “Wow, Jesse, now that is weird. So you were born before they even got married. Makes no sense. If your Mom was pregnant it seems they would have gotten married right away. I mean…. why wait until months after your born?” ……. Jesse could visualize Dee twisting her hair. “I know. It doesn’t make sense. What are you doing Thursday morning? I think I can get away for a bit if you want to meet for brunch at the cafe.” Dee agreed and added that she had a new idea.
Jesse went to bed to tired to run any more questions thru her mind. She reflected on the day with a smile and was asleep in minutes.
2020 copyright Linda Carlson
What’s next? Will Avon find out something from his Grandmother? What does Dee have up her sleeve?
Leave your guess in the comments